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DRAGOMAN: AFRICA JAN-MAR 1998
This is the text of a journal I kept during a 5 week overland trip with the British Overland Company, Dragoman in the Spring of 1998. This trip convinced me that using an Overland Company is the best way to see Africa cheaply if you don't mind camping and roughing it, have limited time, and don't mind sharing in various duties. I'm normally an independent traveller and abhor anything that smacks of being organized, but when you have to be back at a job 8 weeks down the road and want to fit in as much as possible, especially when spending megabucks on airfare, this was a good compromise. Another recommended company is Guerba. Our trip took us from Nairobi, Kenya to Harare, Zimbabwe. If you are looking at a shorter trip, I would highly recommend Zimbabwe over Kenya. Kenya has definitely passed its peak and is now overcrowded, expensive, and downright dangerous. Zimbabwe, on the other hand is far less crowded, relatively cheap, safer, and has the added bonus of Victoria Falls and easy access to Chobe and the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This is the last trip I took with my soon to be ex-wife, Megan, but that's another story. (I have included a couple of links to a tour operators in Zimbabwe who seem okay, at the bottom of this page, I would be interested in any feedback from anyone who has used them)
Note: Since writing this, conditions in Zimbabwe have deteriorated to a point where it is now one of the poorest countries in Africa. It pains me to see this, I really liked the place & its people.
Map of our route .......................................... Dragoman Truck
THURS JAN 8, 1998
My ex-wife, Megan and I arrived at Nairobi Airport late at night. We have heard that Nairobi is not exactly a safe city to walk around even in the daytime, and a previous experience with being mugged in Lima, Peru has made me somewhat gun-shy. We have pre booked a room at the 680 Hotel which happens to be the hotel that the Dragoman group is to leave from. We figure, if things looked really rough, we can simply hole up here and get over our jet lag in relative safety. Upon arriving after a somewhat lengthy and expensive taxi ride from the Airport the 680 has turned out to be a bit of a dive, considering its $60 US/ night price tag.
FRI JAN 9, 1998
We got up late this morning and decided to risk a walk around Nairobi. The weather was a little unsettled, not a good sign since this is supposed to be the dry season. We are aware that the severe El Nino this year, could throw the normal pattern off, but we have decided to risk coming at this time, anyway. The first thing on the agenda is to try and find an internet cafe and send an E-Mail home to let everyone know we arrived safely. We found a place a few blocks away and spent an outrageous amount for 15 minutes on line. It would have almost been as cheap to phone. Nairobi does not seem as dangerous as we were led to believe, but it is definitely a city on the decline. The streets are breaking apart and it is dirtier than I expected.
SAT JAN 10, 1998
We are getting a little bored and irritable from jet lag. We decided to arrive 3 days early just in case we got delayed leaving Vancouver or at Amsterdam. It seldom snows in Vancouver and when it does, the city grinds to a halt. This time last year, we had the worst snowfall ever recorded and the airport was closed for 3 days. We did not want to take a chance of being delayed and missing our rendezvous with the overland truck.
We have decided to take a one day tour with a hustler we met on the street outside the hotel named Francis. He is a member of the Kikuyu tribe and he has wasted no time in talking politics. Apparently his tribe are enemies with the tribe of the recently re-elected president, Daniel Moi, and Francis is not too happy with the election results. He is, however, very happy to snag a couple of clients. The recent pre election violence in Kenya has discouraged a lot of tourists and pickings are slim.
Francis first took us to the former residence of Karen Blinkin, the author of "Out of Africa". Naturally, we made the obligatory stop at a gift shop where he obviously has an arrangement with the owner to deposit his clients. This is a common practice in all 3rd world countries. He seemed rather disappointed that we did not purchase anything, presumably he gets a cut. Next, we visited the giraffe reserve where the endangered "Rothschild" giraffes, who have lost their regular habitat are being rescued from extinction. There is a very expensive hotel on the site where one can drink tea while giraffes poke their heads through the windows for titbits. This activity, however, is reserved for guests only, the lowly backpacker types, like ourselves, have to be satisfied with feeding them outside. Francis, next took us to an expensive restaurant for lunch, where I suspect he also received a cut. He managed to con a couple of beers from us and is actually starting to become rather irritating. We finished this afternoon off with a visit to "The Bombas" to view traditional Kenyan Dance. There was a display of traditional Kenyan Villages on the grounds next door, which Francis tried to charge us an additional $10 each to go and see (this is above the $40 each we had already paid him). We told him to forget it, but decided to go look at the place on our own. It turned out to be free. I am starting to suspect that Francis is somewhat of a con man. I guess he felt his potential tip was in danger, so he ended up coming with us anyway. After returning us to Nairobi, he actually came right out and requested a tip from us. We told him the several free beers and the food he had hit us up for, was his tip. Despite the irritating tour guide, it was nevertheless, quite an enjoyable day and it sure beat hanging around the hotel.
SUN JAN 11, 1998
We basically spent today, just hanging around the hotel. It pissed hard all last night and continued into the day. The weather is not looking very promising. The TV is full of stories about flooding throughout the country. This is not a good omen.
MON JAN 12, 1998 DAY 1 OF OVERLAND TRIP-(Nairobi)
It rained hard again, all night long. Both of us already have several mosquito bites. Despite the rain, it is quite hot and we have to leave the hotel window open. For $60 a night you would expect Air Conditioning, a ceiling fan or at least mosquito nets. The 680 Hotel has none of these, and we have spent the last few nights being continuously dive bombed. The walls are covered with the bodies of swatted mosquitoes, it must be a regular sport in this hotel. I hope we can get through the next 5 weeks without coming down with Malaria or Dengue Fever.
After breakfast, we headed for the cafeteria to meet up with the rest of the Dragoman group. This turned out to be 16 others beside ourselves, plus our driver, Dale. Our other driver, Dave is trapped in Northern Kenya due to the flooding. Most of the passengers are in their 20's. At 48 years old, Megan and I are the oldest of the group. We had expected this. In fact we had to fill out a questionnaire when we booked, to assure Dragoman that we weren't cruise ship types, and had no objection to being in close proximity to party animals. After the usual introductions and "where are you from" type questions we proceeded to the new Nairobi "Hard Rock" cafe, where I was pleased to find 2 computers with internet access at a reasonable cost. Another opportunity to pass some E-Mail back and forth.
At 4 PM, we loaded up the truck with all our gear. As I suspected we have brought far too much stuff. I suspect we have more than anyone else, but maybe it just looks that way since we have 2 sets of camping gear in one bag. Fortunately we had an empty fold up bag which we filled with our cold weather stuff, and I stashed it on the roof where it can stay till we get to Harare. We drove about 30 minutes out of Nairobi to a Hotel where we set up camp on their lawn. It is still raining, so it looks as if our first night is destined to be a wet one. The first order of business was assignment of work duties. I was put in charge of the kitty, I guess my advanced age was equated with fiscal responsibility. A couple of the girls volunteered for roof duty, loading and unloading tents. I suspect this might prove too much for them as they are both quite slight. Megan gets truck cleaning duty. If it keeps raining, she will have her hands full with that one.
After setting up our tents, we all headed off for our last restaurant meal for some time, at a local Indian Restaurant. I'm not particularly fond of Indian food, but I made sure I relished it as much as possible. God knows what the food is going to be like for the next few weeks. I dislike pasta, and I couldn't help notice that there was a large stock of it in the bulk food bins. It is obviously going to be a staple.
We went to bed in our tents in a heavy downpour. I am quite glad we invested in a couple of Thermorest self inflating air mattresses, which are extremely comfortable. I noticed some of the others only have 1/4 inch foam pads. Despite the heavy rain, the tents seem to be completely waterproof.
TUES JAN 13 DAY 2 (Masai Mara)
It rained torrentially all night long and it was still raining when we woke up this morning. Fortunately, the grass seems to be quite well drained and mud is not a problem. We took down our tents, packed them away wet and headed back into Nairobi so cook group #1 could buy supplies. The 18 of us are split into 6 cook groups of 3 each. Tent partners are split up, so I am in a different one than Megan. This is because you don't have time to take your tent down when it is your turn to do breakfast. I am in group #5 and Megan is in group #6, so both of us have plenty of time to learn from the foibles of the other groups. A 2 hour stop in Nairobi was all that was required. I suspect cook group #1 is already spoiled, grocery shopping will not be as easy as the trip progresses.
We have camped adjacent to a Masai village in Southern Kenya, close to the Tanzanian border. The sun has at last made an appearance, it is nice and warm and our wet tent is pitched and drying. Just before we set it up, a bunch of Masai were beating at something in the grass, which turned out to be a cobra. I may have to re-assess my habit of walking in sandals through the long grass.
It seems that our driver has some sort of arrangement with this particular village and we spent the afternoon listening to a lecture by Mr. Paul, western educated Masai, on Masai culture. We sat inside the traditional Kraal, ankle deep in cow shit as Mr. Paul took great delight in describing Masai sexual habits and demonstrating the teenage circumcision ritual. He used a stick for this purpose, apparently the last group through here was fortunate enough to watch the ceremony for real, causing a couple of girls to faint. As Mr. Paul gave his talk, his mother in law entertained us by scooping up large wads of cow shit into an old ice cream pail and using it to re-roof their house.
By supper time the rain had started again and we had to cook our first meal under a large tarp. Once again, its off to bed in the rain.
Mr. Paul's, Mother in Law applying cow dung.
WED JAN 14 DAY 3 (Masai Mara)
We woke up this morning to find the campsite a sea of mud after the all night downpour. Dale figures we will have to put chains on the truck in order to get back out to the highway. In the meantime, we have paid Mr. Paul to arrange some demonstrations of Masai Dancing and spear throwing. I saw native tribes in the Amazon a few years ago and suspected that they couldn't wait until we left, so they could get back into their western clothes. The Masai , on the other hand, still walk around in their traditional costumes, especially while they are in the teenage "warrior stage" following circumcision. We sat and watched for about 40 min. as they chanted and did their distinctive jump dance and we even received invites to participate ourselves. I have a twisted ankle, but this did not excuse me. I actually did better than I expected.
Next came the spear and club throwing demonstrations. The spear part goes all right, but for the club throwing, they get Dale, our driver to go to the far end of the camp and lob them back. Dale has a good arm, but lousy aim, and we have to dive for cover as wayward clubs fall amongst us. Dale, being Australian, seems to find the thought of caving in one of his clients heads, extremely amusing.
About noon, we decided that it was time to see if we can get the truck out to the main road. A quick walk of inspection confirms our fears, and we decide to fit chains to the truck. We set about gathering pieces of wood, etc. to lay in the worst sections and I have a couple of Masai warriors assisting me. They amuse themselves by trying to teach me various Masai words and laugh uproariously as I repeat them back. I'm sure I'm saying something like "I'm a white warthog" or something.
Our efforts are successful, and we climb back into the truck, coated in mud for the short trip to the border. I'm sure we are going to make a real good impression. I have two passports (A Canadian and a British) and I have to exit Kenya on my Canadian and enter Tanzania on my British, due to the visa's I have in each one. I did this on the border of Peru and Bolivia a few years ago and the guards went ballistic. This time everything went relatively smooth.
We drove from the border to the town of Arusha, which the "Lonely Planet" guide describes as a beautiful city. The author must enjoy open sewers, the place is one of the worst holes I have ever seen. We do a quick grocery shopping, change money and head 50 km out of town to the "Snake Pit" campsite, so called because the owner has a huge display of African snakes. Its a beautiful starlit night and, convinced it will be sunny tomorrow, I decide to do some laundry. We will be back here the day after tomorrow, so I'm optimistic it will dry by then.
THURS JAN 15 DAY 5 (Arusha, Tanzania)
Once again it rained overnight and we eat breakfast in the rain. I may be packing up my laundry wet. It has been determined that it is possible for us to get up into Ngorongoro Crater National Park. We had expected to not be able to do this because of the weather conditions, but we have found someone willing to take us up there in Land Rovers. (Sunny Tours). It will cost us an extra $20 apiece, but we decide its worth a try. First we head back into Arusha for a bit more money changing and shopping and head back to the Snake Pit to meet our jeeps by 2 PM.
After the usual chaos, we managed to get our tents and camping gear packed on board and we started the 4 hour drive to a campsite just outside the National Park boundary. This stretched into 6 hours as the road is in an unbelievable state. It is completely underwater for long stretches, and a sea of mud elsewhere. We pass several stuck and overturned trucks. We were lucky we didn't attempt to get he Dragoman truck up here, we never would have got through. The campsite is surprisingly good, and it has thankfully stopped raining.
The road to Ngorongoro Crater
FRI JAN 16 DAY 6 (Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania)
We got up at the ungodly hour of 5AM this morning. More rain overnight has made the trademark Red African mud around here like glue. Its kinda like walking on Velcro.
We had the luxury of a supplied breakfast cooked by our tour guides this morning. A nice break from having to cook our own. An hour after leaving the campsite, we descended into the crater and started our game drive. Considering the swampy conditions, we were very fortunate to see Elephants, Lions, Gazelle, Buffalo, Hippos and various forms of Birdlife. Our driver decided to demonstrate his prowess with the 4-wheel drive and promptly got us well and truly bogged. We spent 2 hours jacking the thing up and collecting rocks to fill the ruts as various forms of carnivorous wildlife eyed us. After all our efforts, one of the other jeeps came over and towed us out in 10 minutes. Why they didn't do this to start with, I'll never know. Its the African way I guess.
After our little adventure in the crater, we faced a 7 hour drive back to the snake pit. Unfortunately our driver only owned one cassette tape, "Aqua", so we were treated to hearing it over and over again until I was ready to scream. I think I'll kill myself if I ever hear that "Barbie Girl" song again. I intend on buying the CD when I get home and burning it. (By the way, we used "Sunny Safari's" who I highly recommend, despite their choice in music.)
We had a nice barbecue waiting for us when we returned to the Snake Pit, but I'm too tired to enjoy it much, and the "Barbie Girl" song is going through my head. Aarrggg..
Lion in Ngorongoro Crater
SAT JAN 17 DAY 7 (Moshi, Tanzania)
We woke up to the first truly sunny day of the trip this morning. After breakfast, we packed up and headed back into Arusha where my cook group, consisting of myself, Rene (an Australian) and Stacey (a fellow Vancouverite) headed to market to buy supplies for our cook duty day. We ended up having one of the Tanzanian vendors run around for us and collect everything we needed. A bit more expensive, but it saved a lot of hassle and bargaining. About 2 PM we drove to the grounds of a hotel at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. As soon as we arrived the rain started again in earnest. This time it was one of the heaviest downpours I have ever seen. We pitched our tents in the mud, cooked dinner under an overhang in the hotel and spent the evening in the bar, playing cards and drinking. I just hope I don't have to get out of the tent in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It doesn't look like the rain is going to ease up. Megan, of course won't have any choice in the matter. Her bladder is not as good as mine.
SUN JAN 18 DAY 8 (In transit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
It rained hard all night long, real hard. I also have a case of the runs this morning as do several others. Last nights cook group bought rice in Arusha and did not rinse it before cooking, so I suspect it may be the culprit.
We got our act together about 1/2 hour late this morning and Dale (our driver) chewed us out for it. He has already gained the nickname "Camp Nazi". It is actually a little unfair since he has to do all the driving, with our co-driver missing and I think the rain is getting to him as well. Megan and I are also getting a little on each others nerves. I'm glad it was HER idea to come in the rainy season, or I would really be in trouble.
Its an 8 hour drive to Dar es Salaam and 2 hours into it we hit a wash out. The village right next to it is a sea of mud. I decided to walk to the front of the line and take a picture. The men on the other side of the blockage doing the digging got very angry at this, and I had to beat a hasty retreat back to the truck. The wash out wasn't too serious, and after about an hour we were again on our way. Its very ominous that there is no traffic coming the other way.
An hour further down the road, we reached the cause of the problem, a massive tangle of trees and mud blocking the road, with the missing traffic backed up on the other side. To the left are the remains of a village that has all but disappeared under a landslide. (We later found out there were several fatalities). Rather than sit and wait, most of us decided to go help clear the highway, and we waded waist deep into the muddy mess. The villagers already working were glad to see we had some shovels and saws, as they only had their bare hands. As the hours wore on, the line up behind us stretched out of sight. Several Tanzanian buses were backed up behind us, and their passengers just stood and watched us dig, none offering to assist. With the help of our trucks' winch and our limited tools, we managed to clear a navigable path after about 4 hours of digging. We proceeded on our way to the cheers of the local villagers. I think the reputation of the western tourist has been elevated somewhat in that village, at least.
Clearing the road of a landslide in Tanzania (I'm in the hat and purple shirt)
Our elation at being on our way was short lived. Several kms. further on, a river had overflowed the road and it was impassable. We had no choice but to wait for the river to drop. It was getting late by this time and we dined on cold spaghetti out of cans for our dinner. I declined. I had a beer and my Larium (anti-malaria) pill for dinner instead. By 11 PM the river had dropped enough to allow some of the larger vehicles through. It was still a 2 hour wait for us to reach the front of line. Dale suggested we walk behind the truck as the road looked very unstable, but I decided to ride. It turned out to be a good decision. The ones who walked were nearly washed away as the road started to collapse. We were one of the last vehicles to get through. We drove on looking for a place to bush camp, but eventually had to settle for parking the bus in a parking lot in a town. We have to sleep upright in our seats tonight.
Traffic lined up waiting to cross flooded road in Tanzania.
MON JAN 19 DAY 9 (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
After an extremely uncomfortable night sleeping in the truck, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day this morning. We cooked breakfast in the parking lot, which seemed to be a deserted Hotel. Someone showed up and tried to charge us an exorbitant amount for being there, but Dale told him to piss off.
We had an uneventful 5 hour drive to Dar es Salaam, where we camped on the beach just north of town. We all ran into the ocean with our filthy clothes on and did a pre wash. With the hot sun, wind, and access to fresh water, this spot is our first opportunity to do some serious laundry. I think I will have to throw out some of my clothes, the red mud is like a dye.
Since my cook group escaped having to cook last night while we were stranded on the side of the road, we are stuck with it tonight. Our supplies are now 2 days old, so we decide the best way is to stir fry everything and disguise the fact. The meat is as tough as leather. It was covered in flies when we bought it in Arusha, so we had to make sure it was cooked to death, anyway. Unfortunately, we underestimated the amount of food we needed and some people went hungry.
Tomorrow we go into Dar es Salaam, where I hope to find someplace to check my E-Mail.
TUES JAN 20 DAY 10 (Dar es Salaam)
Another sunny day, this is looking most promising, maybe the rain is behind us. We headed into town after packing up our gear. Dale has gone to buy tickets for the hydrofoil to take us to Zanzibar. We managed to locate the local Internet Cafe and check on our E-Mail. Megan has found out she is an aunt to her brothers new born daughter. I send home news of our misadventures, which I'm sure will cause my mother even more worry.
We boarded the hydrofoil to Zanzibar around 1:30 PM. The boat is surprisingly luxurious; air conditioning, Videos and comfortable seats. It was a 2 hour trip. Zanzibar is technically part of Tanzania but they value themselves as independent and call themselves the "revolutionary government of Zanzibar". We were required to go through customs. Weird.
We booked into the Karibe Hotel in Stone Town and the 3 married couples, including ourselves, managed to secure the only 3 double rooms. The others got dorms. It is a nice break from camping.
Tonight we visited the night market with its hundreds of food stalls, one of the best I've seen anywhere. Against my better judgement, we ate there.
WED JAN 21 DAY 11 (Zanzibar)
I woke up this morning with a bad case of the runs, I guess the food stalls were not such a great idea afterall. We have booked the obligatory spice tour and I am determined to go, sick or not. Linda, the Danish girl on our truck is really sick. She is displaying Malaria symptoms. I hope its just food poisoning.
The spice tour was gruelling in the incredible heat and humidity, but a couple of Imodium pills saw me through it. I ended up spending most of the afternoon in the washroom and have decided to skip dinner. Megan also has the runs, but she is the opposite to me, and wants to eat. I hope she doesn't end up in the washroom all night. I have signed up for a swim with the dolphins on the south coast tomorrow and I hope I'm still up to it in the morning. The best part of the Spice Tour was actually a visit to the old slave market. Crawling into the room where 70-75 slaves used to be chained together, waiting to be sold, was a sobering experience.
THURS JAN 22 DAY 12 (Zanzibar)
Half of the group, including Megan, have headed up for the northern beaches this morning. Myself and 5 others are headed south for our swim with the dolphins. I have my doubts about this, but figure its worth risking the $10 for a go at it. We all piled into a very leaky boat with no lifejackets and headed out into the Bay. I guess we cruised around for about an hour looking for a pod of dolphins, which eventually did appear. Our guide yelled for us all to jump into the water, which we did, upon which the dolphins promptly scattered and re-appeared a couple of hundred meters away. Apparently, they had no desire to swim with us. After we were quickly hustled back on board, we proceeded to chase the dolphins and the whole procedure started over. The dolphins scattered again. These guys were definitely not Flipper. After several repeats, I decided I would see more by staying in the boat. The whole exercise turned out to be a waste of time. On the way back to town, we stopped at a monkey reserve. I saved myself $5 and stayed in the truck. Previous experiences in Indonesia have showed me that I don't like monkeys, especially when they crawl all over you.
We eventually arrived at the northern beaches around 5 PM to find all the others nursing painful sunburns. The hot sun and white sand had taken its toll. I guess after 2 weeks of rain, the temptation to lie out was too strong.
We had booked a cheap hotel which has turned out to be a real dive. The one next door is much better and the same price. In the interest of a good nights sleep, we decide to forfeit our deposit and move.
FRI JAN 23 DAY 13 (Zanzibar)
We did little today except lie around on the beach and relax.
SAT JAN 24 DAY 14 (Dar es Salaam)
We caught the Hydrofoil back to Dar around 1 PM this afternoon. It is hotter than hell today. We returned to the same beach side camping spot as before.
SUN JAN 25 DAY 15 (In transit, Tanzania)
We got up real early this morning. We did not sleep too comfortably last night because of the heat and high humidity. We have learned to orient the screen of our tent towards the ocean for the breeze after the last night we spent here, so we were more comfortable than the others who did not not think of this. We have a long 2 day drive ahead of us to the Malawi border. There is still no sign of our co-driver. We expected him to have caught up with us by now.
We passed through one National Park this afternoon, and since the highway goes right through it, they can't charge, which is nice. We did not see too many animals, but did see some Elephants, Giraffes and Zebra's on the side of the road. The Elephants in this park are supposed to be a pygmy subspecies. They did look rather small, but I haven't seen any others to compare them with yet..
We arrived at our camp at dusk this evening. The rain is back, but it is only light showers. We seem to be at quite a high altitude, as it is quite cool. Despite that, there are tons of mosquito's around. We were supposed to bush camp here, but an English lady has recently inherited the land and has constructed a campsite. A decent place with flush toilets but cold showers. Best of all, she is raising cattle, and has sold us some good quality beef, a rarity in Africa. The lucky cook group for tomorrow at least have something to work with. Most of the meat we have purchased so far has been inedible. The best thing so far about food and drink in Tanzania is "Stoney Tangawiza", the best ginger beer I have ever tasted. I hope its available further south.
MON JAN 26 DAY 16 (In transit, Tanzania/Malawi)
We got up very early this morning and packed up for a long days drive into Malawi. We stopped for lunch at a very pleasant spot where some of the girls on the truck made friends with some women selling potatoes. They seemed to be really fascinated with the blond hair, and Megan's grey streaks really intrigued them. One very irritating male tried to charge us to take photos. We really pissed him off when we gave some coins directly to the women. The only downside to this was that we were surrounded as we ate lunch.
We crossed into Malawi this afternoon and the border proved to be very hassle free. I don't think I've ever seen such a relaxed 3rd world border crossing. The guard also handed us a note from our missing co-driver. Apparently he is waiting in the next town.
We caught up with Dave, our co-driver at a hotel/campsite in Karonga on the northern tip of Lake Malawi. He appears to quite different in personality than Dale, who is a stereotypical Australian male. Dave who is English, seems to be very easy going and quiet.
The campsite we are in is surrounded by a high chain link fence. It seems to be there to keep the local kids out. There seems to be a steady contingent of about 20 of them looking at us through the fence. I went over and talked to them and showed them some pictures of Vancouver. They seemed to be especially fascinated with the snow covered mountains, not surprising, I guess.
Someone has had the bright idea of doing a major clean out of the truck, so we piled all our stuff on a tarp near the fence. This turned out to be a big mistake. One enterprising lad on the other side, managed to snag my hiking boots with a stick and they were gone over the fence before I knew it. I guess my earlier friendliness with them paid off, as they returned them to me once they realised they were mine.
TUES JAN 27 DAY 16 (Kandi beach, Malawi)
Another early start today. We drove along the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi and made a noontime stop in the town of Mzuzu to change money and buy groceries. Its not our turn to cook for 2 more days, but we have to buy food for it today anyway. This happened to us last time. It restricts our choices somewhat and we run the risk of tomorrow's cook group using some of our supplies if they run short. To make matters worse, the other two members of my cook group have to go and try and make phone calls home, and because I am in charge of the kitty, I have to go to the bank and change the communal money. By the time we join up again, its a mad rush to get the shopping done in time.
We eventually arrived at Kandi Beach around 7PM this evening and had to set up in the dark I decided to go for a swim in the lake despite the croc and hippo warnings which I suspect are highly exaggerated. There is also a Bilharzias risk in Lake Malawi, but it is supposedly curable if I get it. I am relying on information from Mike, the American Chemist on board. He works for the drug company who makes the cure. Mike's nickname is Veg-a-Mike. This is because he is one of the few vegetarians on board. The Australians coined the name, as it is similar to the disgusting yeast extract sandwich spread they consume, called "Vegemite". They all seem to be addicted to the stuff ,and most of them have brought a large supply of it along.
We didn't get to eat until 10 PM tonight, and dinner was a disaster, the worst so far. I don't want to criticise it, though, as our effort tomorrow may not be any better.
WED JAN 28 DAY 17 (Kandi beach Malawi)
We were awakened last night at 2 AM by the most violent thunderstorm I've ever experienced, even elsewhere in the tropics. At one point, I got up to go to the washroom (extremely smelly drop loo's) and was blinded for 30 seconds after looking directly at what seemed to be a ball shaped flash. The bang came almost simultaneously and was deafening. The odd thing is there is no rain and I can see plenty of stars. I am very careful of the pit toilets at night. Last week someone fell down one and had to be rescued. Apparently he spent 3 days in the lake trying to get clean.
This morning is bright, sunny and hot. I am really looking forward to spending some time on the beach. The only down side is that we are responsible for lunch and dinner today. Just my luck, I get to cook on a beach day. I still have a black spot in front of my eyes from the flash last night, but its fading, thank god.
There seems to be a big labour dispute between the South African owner of this campsite and his workers. We can hear several arguments and the workers have organised a strike. I don't think he pays them much, I saw one of his workers going through our garbage and salvaging overripe bananas, etc. I felt sorry for him and gave him a few Kwatcha. He seemed very appreciative.
THURS JAN 29 DAY 18 (Salima Bay, Malawi)
Another electrical storm kept us awake most of the night. It was not as bad as yesterdays, but still very violent.
I had to get up real early this morning to cook breakfast. The way the cook groups work is that you shop one day, cook lunch and dinner the following day, then breakfast of the next day. You then do the following lunch, dinner and breakfast dishes. Yesterday's cook group made the mistake of cooking French toast for breakfast. It attracted a whole swarm of very bad tempered bees, presumably the dreaded African killer bees. I was stung on my hand which seemed no big deal yesterday, but it has now started to swell up. Hopefully I can cure it with antihistamines.
We tried to get away at 8 AM but the truck wouldn't start. Fortunately there is an Exodus Overland truck nearby and with 40 of us pushing, we get it going.
After a 5 hour trip down the lake, along with a souvenir stop in one town, where I bought a small carved table to Megan's protests (she'll come around later), we arrived at Salima Bay. This campsite is the best so far, hot showers, laundry facilities and flush toilets. It is Megan's cook group tonight and she is very frustrated, as she hates cooking and her 2 partners don't know how to cook either. I end up taking charge, and we end up with a passable chicken dish. She now owes me big time.
Megan on the beach in Malawi.
FRI JAN 30 DAY 19 (Steps Campsite, Salima Bay, Malawi)
We spent a great day just relaxing on the beach today. The rain of the first 2 weeks is now just a memory. The hotel at the end of this beach is outrageously expensive, it costs the annual average Malawi wage for just one night. I paid $10 US for a short water-ski and managed to get a nasty sunburn for my efforts. Megan has come down with a dose of dysentery, I guess its time to dig out the heavy duty anti-biotics we brought.
SAT JAN 31 DAY 20 (Lilongwe, Malawi)
We woke up to torrential rain this morning. Some of us tried to talk everyone into skipping breakfast, but 2 people objected, so we ended up setting up in the bar and got away late. On top of that we had to turn around and go back after 1/2 hour as one of the girls realised she had left her coat behind. Megan is still sick.
It was about a 2 hour drive to Lilongwe, Malawi's Capital, a surprisingly modern looking city. Three cook groups had to do shopping here, since there is little decent food available in Zambia, where we are going tomorrow.
This afternoon, we set up camp in the Lilongwe Golf and Country Club, the hangout for the local colonial types. Its a nice place, and some of us went to play golf, but were kicked out for improper dress. The place is full of ex-pats. I didn't feel too well, and decided to go find the pool (yes there was one) instead. I haven't eaten for 2 days and I've had the runs off and on for nearly a week. I've decided to join Megan and take a course of Cipro. It seems to be doing wonders for her. Its Larium night, but I think I'll postpone it a day. We have a long, rough ride into South Luangwa Park in Zambia tomorrow, and I prefer to have a settled tummy.
SUN FEB 1 DAY 21 (S. Luangwa national Park, Zambia)
I didn't sleep too well last night. My Thermorest has developed a leak and I can't find it. There is also a Mosque next to our campsite and we were awakened at 4:30AM with the call to prayers.
We crossed into Zambia around noon. Some of us had some visa problems, but they were ironed out eventually. Roger, the Swiss in our group was really singled out for the third degree. I guess the Swiss government has done something to piss off the Zambians; probably refusing to launder El Presidentes money or something. We stopped for lunch in a farmers field shortly after lunch and were soon surrounded. They turned out to be quite friendly and I gave the farmer my left over Malawi coins, which he can presumably change this close to the border. He seemed very happy with them, anyway.
This afternoon we negotiated the very rough road up to South Luangwa park and arrived at "Flat Dogs" campground on the bank of the South Luangwa river. (Flat Dog is African slang for Crocodile, I guess a croc does resemble Canine road kill a little). This seems to be another nice campground. It has hot showers and even a very dirty looking swimming pool (I have one at home, so I notice these things). There are also tons of Baboons around with very distinctive powder blue balls (genital variety). I've never seen anything like it. The river appears to be full of hippos, but we can hear them more than we can see them. We have been warned to sleep in our tents tonight, not under the stars. Apparently the hippos come out of the river at night and graze around the campground. They look upon a tent as a solid object, but may crush someone sleeping outside in a sleeping bag.
Dale went off to try and negotiate a game drive for tomorrow. He came back pissed off, because the guy is trying to soak us $40 apiece for 2 games drives. Last time he was through here , it was $25. We are threatening to leave and go to Chobe in Botswana instead. Dale thinks he will come around, as we are the only people here.
MON FEB 2 DAY 22 (S. Luangwa Park, Zambia)
We got up this morning to the news that $25 was sufficient. I guess he saw 20 people at $25 apiece ready to disappear and reconsidered.
The morning drive was not anything special, the only animals we saw close up that I hadn't already seen elsewhere were Zebra's. The Land Rover we were in was barely holding together and we resolved to try and get into one of the other ones for the evening drive tonight.
I spent the afternoon trying to fix the hole in my Thermorest. I finally managed to find it by dunking it in the pool. It turned out to be at face level. I suddenly realised, that this was in fact, Megan's Thermorest and the hole was likely the result of her habit of wearing earrings to bed. Knowing Megan, it would not have surprised me if she had pulled a switch on me. Anyway, I successfully fixed it.
This afternoons drive, was far more successful. On our way into the park, we heard news of a Leopard being spotted close to a village in the Park. We found it at the base of a tree full of very distressed baboons. We drove right up to the cat, which was a little disconcerting, since we were in a completely open vehicle, and it did not look too pleased with us interrupting its hunting attempts. This park has an incredible array of wildlife and we seem to be the only tourists in here.
Our attempts at spotting game after dark was not overly successful, although we did see hyenas and one Hippo out of the water.
Hippo's in South Luangwa Park
THURS FEB 3 DAY 23 (Lusaka, Zambia)
It was a very long drive today. Fairly uneventful, except for a 2 hour delay while we cleared the road of a large fallen tree. We drove late into the night and bush camped somewhere north of Lusaka.
WED FEB 24 DAY 24 (Lusaka to Kariba, Zimbabwe)
Today is another very long drive. This morning we were stopped on the side of the road, while a man with a butterfly net came on the truck to capture any tsetse flies we might have on board. Weird.
After a lunch stop near Lusaka, we continued on to cross into Zimbabwe at the Kariba Dam across the Zambezi river. Its a brutal hot day and we are delighted to find a swimming pool at the campsite. This is probably the best campsite so far. I have a feeling, I'm going to like Zimbabwe. Dale has already pissed off the vegetarians on board by announcing that we will be on a straight carnivorous diet for the next couple of weeks, and I think he means it. Apparently food in Zimbabwe is good and plentiful. We are a little concerned about the reports of Food Riots in Harare (Mugabe has just raised the price of staples), but a couple of locals tell us things have calmed down. Some white Zimbabweans, we talk to around the pool think the country is going downhill rapidly. Right now, it looks pretty good to us.
THURS FEB 25 DAY 25 (Kariba, Zimbabwe)
We got up this morning to head into town to change money and make phone calls. We were immediately charged by an angry Bull Elephant as we left the campsite. I guess he took the truck as a threat to his territory. Fortunately, he thought better of it and stopped a few feet short of us, much to the relief of those sitting on that side.
In town, I managed to make a short call home before being cut-off. At least they know I'm still alive. As soon as we went shopping, it became apparent that Zimbabwe is no problem for finding decent food. Dale has gone off to try and rent us a houseboat for a couple of days. One advantage of an overland trip is that this is not a huge cost when split between 20 of us.
By noon, Dale had managed to arrange a houseboat for us, $25 apiece for 2 days including food, not bad. We spent the next 4 hours sailing up the lake with its floating islands of water hyacinth. We also made a swim stop in the middle. The lake has a huge population of crocs, but supposedly they don't venture out to the middle. The boat has a swim cage, if we feel like swimming close to shore.
In late afternoon, we arrived at Gordon Bay and anchored off shore. Around sunset we took off in small pontoon boats and saw mainly Elephants and Hippo's. The lake is really strange with its petrified submerged trees. It was created by the Dam in the late 60's.
After supper we all got well and truly pissed. The party was interrupted at one point by the sounds of lions hunting on shore. We eventually passed out on deck, where most of us spent the night.
FRI FEB 7 DAY 26 (Kariba, Zimbabwe)
Woke up with a nice hangover this morning and apart from morning and evening game cruises, spent most of the day recovering and sunbathing.
SAT FEB 8 DAY 27 (Kariba, Zimbabwe)
It is raining this morning, the first we have seen for quite a while. Some of the others went on another game cruise, but I didn't feel like getting wet. About 9AM we headed back to Kariba and by noon the weather had cleared and it was hot and sunny again.
Our friend the Bull Elephant was blocking the road to the campground again, but he seemed in a less aggressive mood. We all headed straight for the pool and spent about 3 hours there talking to the same white Zimbabweans again about the mess the country is in. They seem quite bigoted, but I guess I would probably be the same if I was born and raised here.
The practical jokes and water sports have started in earnest tonight. I'm surprised it has taken this long. I found a sand mat under my tent.
SUN FEB 9 DAY 28 (Binga, Zimbabwe)
We got up early this morning for a long day's drive over dirt roads to get to Binga, a town on Lake Kariba about 3/4 of the way to Vic Falls. We arrived at 5PM at a nice Campsite/Hotel with hot springs. We decided to splurge $10 on a room instead of camping. Luxury.
MON FEB 10 DAY 29 (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe)
We got up at a leisurely pace this morning and drove the remaining 5 hours to Vic Falls and set up camp in the municipal campground.
We spent the afternoon booking our various adrenaline activities such as white water rafting, bungi jumping, skydiving, etc. This is obviously going to be the most expensive few days of the trip. We are getting quite spoiled in Zimbabwe with the good food and infrastructure and are quite glad we did not do this trip in the reverse direction.
Tonight we went to a local hotel and had the best meal of the trip so far. Norm and Naomi, the American-Australian couple decide to splurge and spent $80/night for the 3 nights we are here. Megan is bugging me to do likewise. We compromised and decided to spent our last night in Vic Falls there. At least we weren't the first ones to do it. I'm afraid of getting soft.
Dale, our driver has come down with Malaria. I don't think he's getting much sympathy from the vegetarians. Personally, I think he is underappreciated. He is very good at organising and has seen us through some very difficult situations.
TUES FEB 11 DAY 30 (Rafting the Zambezi)
We got up early this morning at 7:30AM to join our raft trip. Both of us were quite apprehensive about rafting the Zambezi, due to its reputation as the greatest commercially raftable river in world. After an hour of orientation where they tried to scare the shit out of us, we headed for the gorge below the falls for the steep climb down to the staging area. Megan has decided to go on the safer, non paddle type boat while I opted for the adrenaline rush.
After the climb down, we sat in a calm part of the river, while our guides took us through the various practice sessions of throwing our bodies to one side of the boat or the other and climbing back in after getting dunked. Then we proceeded to the first rapid. The first "Safer" type boat promptly flipped, which made Megan really happy I'm sure, but hers made it through okay. So did mine, but most of the others flipped. I was quite glad not to receive my oral enema on the first rapid.
We took most of the subsequent rapids without mishap, although most of the other rafts managed to flip in one or two of them at least. At rapid 18, "Oblivion", I was chucked out of the raft at the beginning of the rapid and promptly sucked underneath it. I was unable to get out and just when I thought I couldn't hold my breath any longer, I suddenly surfaced, had a quick breath and was promptly sucked down into a whirlpool. I was trapped in this for a mercifully short time, but a rescue kayak, who had seen me go down, headed towards me. I surfaced right in front of him and he rammed me in the chest. Fortunately, my lifejacket offered some protection, but I'm sure I'm going to have a nasty bruise. I was extremely proud of the fact I had managed to hold onto my paddle through all of this, but I later found out I had lost it almost immediately and had snatched someone else's paddle as I went under the raft. Even more remarkable, one of my sandals had come off while I was under the raft. By pure coincidence, it floated right past me and snagged itself on my wrist as it went by, a one in a million chance.
After lunch, we did the last 3 rapids and started the long climb out of the gorge. I was very grateful for having both my sandals. A lot of people had lost theirs in the river and had to do the climb barefoot.
We went to Shearwater (the rafting company) this evening and watched the video they took of our trip. I probably wouldn't have done it if I'd seen the video beforehand. I've rafted in Peru and British Columbia, but the Zambezi is in a class of its own. The river was not actually at its worst (or best if you want to look at it that way). I paid the outrageous cost of the video. We are hoping it will copy okay and we can split the cost with the other Canadians & Americans on the trip.
I stole the left-hand picture off fellow traveller, Norm Countryman's Homepage (see end of this page). I'm in the centre.
I hope he doesn't object. If he does, I'll publish a picture of him in his wife's Bathing suit (see Day 34).
WED FEB 11 DAY 31 (Victoria Falls)
Several of the group are going Bungi jumping today off the Zambezi bridge. I was tempted, but my bruised chest gives me a good excuse. I would hate to get up there and wimp out in front of the others. Supposedly, they will push you if you request.
We decided to pay for a helicopter ride over the falls. It cost us $60 apiece, but was well worth it. We spent the afternoon seeing them close up. Absolutely awe inspiring. They are the most impressive natural thing I've ever seen.
TUES FEB 12 DAY 32 (Victoria Falls)
We found out this morning that an American tourist was killed river rafting yesterday. Apparently he was sucked into a whirlpool and never came up. All they found was his helmet and lifejacket. Its a sobering thought.
We spent last night in a hotel, which made Megan extremely happy. (The Ilala Lodge, nice place, see end for info)
We went back to the campground around 11 AM to take our tent down, and then spent most of the day souvenir shopping. I decided to try and change some money on the black market. They were offering 24 Zim to the US dollar while the official rate was 17. One of our group was passed counterfeit money in Tanzania doing this, so I was resolved to be careful. At first the money changer wanted me to go with him, but I refused and told him to go get the money and come back. I have no desire to be rolled in a back alley. We have traded money on the black market in several countries in the past. Twenty Five years ago, Megan and I were caught and spent a few hours in a Turkish Jail, so I'm extra careful when I do this.When the money trader came back, he tried to pawn worthless Zambian Kwatcha off on me. This might work on a Japanese tourist, but I'm able to read English, and the word "dollar" does not start with a "K". I told him to piss off, and went to the bank instead.
We have decided to catch the night train to Bulawayo. This will give us an extra day, since we are running behind schedule. Dale will bring the truck to Bulawayo during the day tomorrow.
WED FEB 13 DAY 33 (Bulawayo)
We spent a somewhat restless night in the train sleeper due to the high heat and humidity. It seemed to spend a lot of time in sidings, during which the temperature in the cabin rose considerably. I have also noticed a festering opening on my leg, which does not look healthy. (Click HERE to view disgusting image of my infected, festering leg)
We arrived in Bulawayo at 7AM and now it is cold, especially since we are in shorts and T-shirts. The fellow we had pre-arranged a safari with picked us up at the station and took us to a Swiss style restaurant for Breakfast. It was expensive by Zim standards, but a nice treat. It sounds a little racist, but black Zimbabweans dressed up like Heidi, make for a somewhat amusing sight.
By the time we had finished breakfast, the sun was out and it was warming rapidly. We headed off for Matopos National Park. My leg seems to becoming more nasty looking as the day progresses, I may have to go see a doctor.
We spent the morning driving around the park looking at its impossible rock formations, reminiscent of the Road Runner cartoons and we also visited Cecil Rhodes burial site, where we were entertained by the famous lizard man. He's a 97 year man who care takes the site and is noted for his ability to call up lizards, who crawl all over him.
In the afternoon we drove into the park proper where we at last saw some Rhinos, the only members of the so called "big five" we have not yet seen.
This evening most of the group headed off into Bulawayo to find a night-club. My leg is getting really painful and is rapidly turning purple. The burning sensation spreading half way up my body, is scaring me. I have visions of flesh eating disease. I have to go see a doctor tomorrow, first thing.
SAT FEB 14 DAY 34 (Kwe-Kwe, Zimbabwe)
I woke up this morning with my leg looking real ugly. I had a bit of trouble getting out of my tent, as the group from the Exodus truck which has been travelling with us have decided to Zap Strap our tents closed. Dale had one of the locals look at my leg and he figures its either an infected ulcer or a Putzi fly infestation, both of which need immediate medical attention. I bummed a ride into town and went to see a doctor who said I was lucky I got to him when I did. He did something to my leg and gave me a prescription for antibiotics and I went on my way.
We met the others at the famous Natural History Museum in Bulawayo, said to be the best in Africa. I wasn't that impressed, but then I wasn't feeling that good either. Besides, I must have seen half the Museums in the world by now. You can only take so much.
After lunch, we drove to Kwe-Kwe for our last nights camping. There is a bar here and tonight Norm (a lampshade on the head at a party type) got a hold of his wife's bathing suit, and showed up in it. This started a trend and several of us joined him. Megan was asleep, already, and I couldn't find her bathing suit, so my opportunity to dress in drag, passed.
SUN FEB 15 DAY 35 (Harare)
We got up at 6AM this morning. The person who runs this campsite has horses and we are going to play polo cross. I must be crazy, with my leg hurting the way it does, but how often do you get an opportunity to play polo on a horse unless your Prince Charles? Megan decided to opt out.
Despite my leg and several excruciating incidents when an opposing horse squashed it, the opposing team still went down to a humiliating 6-3 defeat. I suspect I am going to pay for this for the next few days. Sore leg and saddle sore as well.
About noon, we did our final 4 hour drive into Harare. This is probably the cleanest and most attractive "3rd World" city I have seen, especially after Nairobi. We booked into the Selous Hotel, at $20 a night, its is a big improvement over the hotel in Nairobi.
Tonight we went out for our last group dinner and blew the balance of the kitty money. A couple of people have planes to catch right after dinner. They sure didn't leave any margin for error, considering the delays we had in the early part of the trip. We have a couple of days here before we fly to Cape Town and hopefully meet up with my internet acquaintance, Mike.
More Pictures (Slow Loading)
We flew to Cape town for 10 days after this trip in order to unwind and get some beach time. I had corresponded with Mike Gregory over the net. Mike runs a backpackers page (see South Africa Section of my title page). He had agreed to put us up for a few days, which was nice of him since we were total strangers. It actually worked out very well, and I'm sure he will get great service at Saddles Steakhouse in Durbanville for the rest of his life (I accidentally left them a 50% tip).
Here is a link to the homepage of Norm & Naomi Countryman, who were on the trip with us: Norm and Naomi's Africa Page!
Overlanding the African way - another overlanding page.
The E-Mail address for Shearwater the biggest company doing rafting on the Zambezi is mailto:email@example.com
For information on safari's in Zimbabwe, you can try http://www.zambezi.com/. I have heard good things about them. They are upscale, but certainly no more than you would pay for an organised Safari in Kenya, and therefore, probably better value for the money.
If you want to stay in Luxury in Vic Falls, I can recommend the Ilala Lodge, 411 Livingston Way, at about $80 US a night. Too rich for my blood except for a one night splurge. They have excellent food as well. Phone 4737 8/9. Fax (263) (13) 4417. Telex 51686. PO Box 18, Vic Falls.
Here is another good Africa site http://www.outthere.co.za
Click for Safari Links
The Africa Guide This one has a good travelogue section.
Note: My wife, Megan and I parted company the summer following this trip after 25 years of marriage. Without going into details, I would just like to say that she was an excellent travel companion over the years and I will miss that aspect of our relationship.
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