Welcome all to our third newsletter, from the Big White Hunters. The adventure from Capetown to Nairobi continues.
True to form and 'Africa Time', nothing went according to plan. The parts from Ireland took three weeks instead of one to arrive, then customs held them up for another week and then our Landrover mechanic was too busy to help us. So one month after the breakdown, having paid Harry to put Rosie back together, we were finally ready to leave Livingston (Vie Falls).
James Wright (JW) and Angus Craigie (AC) who stayed with Rosie for the duration were not overly upset about the hold up, but instead rather enjoyed the opportunity to stay somewhere long enough to get to know the locals. James Coonan (JC) left the lads to go to South Luangwa to do a walking safari, expedting to be picked up within the week once the repairs were done, but this was not to be.
(JC) got a lift to South Luangwa with an Israeli couple called Assi and Billi, in their own Landcruiser and were accompanied by a Dutch couple called Michelle and Monique (M and M). Assi and Billi are religious Jews who live on a Kibbutz. They have very strong beliefs, they dress up and pray twice a day, they only eat kosher food, they don't drink and on the Sabbath, cannot work, they can't even cook, travel or switch on a light bulb. It was fascinating to learn all about their culture. (M and M) were trainee vets backpacking around Southern Africa, having just finished a placement in Johannesburg. They were great fun and luckily had no problems with a drink or two. Our favorite medicine in Africa, apart from the beer, was cane spirit (sugar cane alcohol) and coke, affectionately known as cocane.
The journey to South Luangwa was a tough one as the roads were strewn with large potholes and the last 130km was on dirt track, which took 8 hours to negotiate. There is more than a touch of the Irish in Africans. Case in point, when asking for directions we were told we should take the short cut- reasonable enough, until we learnt the short cut was 25km and the long way 1km. It turned out that the villagers had dug up the road, so that it filled up with mud and water, they could then charge unsuspecting drivers $100 US to be pulled out of the bottomless pit.
South Luangwa Game Park is inaccessible to all but 4W drive vehicles, it is wild and beautiful, with a huge amount of wildlife. We saw a great variety of game including, buffalo, lion, giraffe and elephant. Unfortunately the walking safari wasn't possible due to the dense vegetation at the end of the rainy season but we took a night drive with park guides, to lamp for leopards, which was excellent. Campsites often attracts animals such as lion, hippo and elephant, who scavenge for food and we were not to be disappointed. JC awoke to find 2 Hyenas prowling his bed (A mattress on the floor and a mosquito-net over the top). We escaped lightly compared to one guy we heard about. Baboons are frightened of snakes ani a rubber snake is a great deterrent to keep them away from food, camp tables and chairs. This cunning fellow decided to put a rubber snake on the bonnet of his brand new Mercedes, only to return and find the baboons up a tree, hurling sticks and stones at his now battered vehicle- ouch!
With little progress on the Landrover and his visa about to expire, JC continued alone to Lilongwe, thecapital of Malawi, where he hooked up with his old friend Harry Gibbs, who he hadn't seen for ten years Luckily Harry owns a hotel, which is the best place to hang out in Lilongwe. After a weekend of celebrating Harry's recent marriage and birthday, JC was on the road again, to Inkata bay on Lake Malawiby public transport.
The public transport system in Africa is cheap and quite efficient. Countless Hiace vans and buses, knownas Matatus, run in every direction, and can be waved down anywhere. When you are driving they are a serious hazard, pulling on and off the road at high speed as if you don't exist, it seems their sole aim in life is to run you off the road. But wait till you get into one, you are crammed in like sardines, with luggage and animals throw in on top and scared senseless by their wild driving.
(JC) stayed at the beautiful Njaya beach resort, on Lake Malawi until the lads caught up, living in a bamboo dacha on the lake edge, it was a wonderful place to be stranded for 3 weeks and the hospitality was great. JC hooked up with M and M again. Traveling is like that; you keep meeting the same people as you move from country to country. It makes for great reunions but it can be quiet disconcerting when you arrive in a new place and everyone has heard of you,' Are you one of the mad Irish lads traveling in the red landrover?' (M and M) always on for the crack decided to go fishing with JC. They hired dug out canoes, which turned out to be more than a little troublesome. Because you can't sit inside of them, you have to sit on them; it is basically like trying to canoe a slippery log. After falling off countless times they managed to paddle 100 m out, only to realize they were unable to turn the canoes around. Luckily the locals, who had been splitting their sides from the shore, came to their rescue.
By coincidence Sam and Ros Mackey, and Sofia Couchman, friends from Ireland, who had helped with our fundraising, were flying into Lilongwe to start their own African adventure. They tracked JC down and joined him on Lake Malawi for a week. They spent their days in the sun and nights either partying or watching shooting stars from their balcony, with the occasional midnight dip, another tough week in Africa!
Inkata Bay is a great place to buy crafts. Like many craft markets in Africa there are some amazing carvings, furnishings, materials, baskets and curios. There are some great bargains to be had but serious haggling is needed, as their starting price may be ten times the bottom line price. Negotiations may take up to an hour, or even over days and may include not only money, but also your clothes, food or any other possessions you have.
Inkata Bay is like many Tourist towns and Cities in Africa. You are pestered by people, calling you Mazungu (Swahili for White man who travels), asking for money or presents, trying to sell you things and if possible to rip you off in the process. But this is not the ftll picture, once you get outside the cities the people are extremely friendly and generous. They may Still call you Mazungu and even ask for money, but as is their custom, it is ok to ask and equally ok to poStely decline. Despite the poverty (The average wage in Malawi is 80 p/ day) they seemed to us very happy, they were very hospitable and had a great sense of humour.
For AC and JW the long stay in Livingston was made bearable by the hospitality of Sam and Paul Quinn, the most generous hostel owners you could have the pleasure of meeting, in fact the lads got a freebee for a month! Not forgetting Don, who also worked there, who was not only a cheat at backgammon (Not proven) but had to ply them with herbal tea to beat them. AC's constant flirting with the cooks kept them well fed and the fact that they rebuilt the bar- well AC did, JW was more like management (unable to lift a finger in the heat), kept them well oiled.
Quinn had been running Jollyboys for seven years and so was well known around town. He knew how to play the system and took SH-T from nobody. One time his mother came to visit and was fined for not wearing her seat belt. Quinn not too happy with the cops taking advantage of his mother, found the cop in question, grabbed him by the ankles and hung him upside down on a nearby fence. Surprisingly this earned him respect not prison.
Once the car was fixed they hotfooted to (JC) in Malawi, stopping four nights en route. They went into Zambia where there were roadblocks every 50-km. One night in Lusaka, they encountered not the most pleasant police, who arrested them and brought them to jail, for a broken taillight. Having paid the fine, they went on to Lilongwe and met Harry, who mentioned the three girls (JC) had organized to meet on Lake Malawi. They were now getting suspicious, because (JC) hadn't mentioned anything, 'did he knobble Rosie and leave us behind on purpose?' Far-fetched but you come up with these theories when your on the road for a few days doing nothing but driving. They spent another night at the gorgeous Luwawe forest lodge with the Monk, whose hair had been expertly cut by (AC) back in Livingston. They did some proper four wheel driving in this part of Malawi, a good 6 hours on unused roads, grass over the bonnet etc. They finally met up with JC who had been having a stressful time on the beach.
We had a small celebrattion when we hooked up again which started in Inkata Bay and seemed to finish a few days later in Usisya, further up Lake Malawi, a lovely little secluded spot in the middle of nowhere.
We met two beautiful Ladies, Sam and Trish, who run Usisya Lodge, they had little trouble convincing us to visit. Before leaving Inkata Bay, we went shopping with them in the market, to buy fancy dress clothes for the Lodge. James Wright (JW) decided to try on some of the gear, namely a frilly see-through top, a sarong and a bonnet. He then bravely took up the dare to run around Rosie in his fetching outfit. The locals were in for a rare treat as James Coonan (JC) took off in Rosie, leaving JW to streak down the street in hot pursuit.
Because Usisya is so remote and inaccessible most people get there by boat, but with Sam and Trish guiding us, we had confidence. What they failed to tell us, was that they had never taken the road either. The golden rule when asking for directions in Africa is to ask one person, then get it confirmed by at least two others. Also never ask a direct question like; 'Is this the road to Usisya?' The answer will always be 'yes'. The safest option is to point in the opposite direction and ask 'Usisya?' If you receive a negative response you can proceed. These complications seem to arise because of the language barrier and because they like to please, so will nearly always answer in the affirmative, even if they have never heard of the place. We did get there, along a little used dirt road, which was in very poor condition and which had many dangerous hair pin bends. It brought us through some beautiful mountainous countryside. This is where the Rift Valley crashes down into Lake Malawi.
When we arrived, it was after dark. There was no road down to the lodge, so we had two options, park and walk the last kilometer, or risk driving along the beech, which had never been tried before. Ever on for a challenge we tackled the beach. With Rosie in 4W drive, low box, diff-lock engaged and a bit of a push from the twenty kids, who had followed us from the nearby village, we made it- just. The girls were great fun, but unfortunately with time and money running short we could only spend two days in this paradise. From Unisia we headed to the Tanzanian border and on to Dar es Salaam.
We failed to find a campsite en route and so had to bush camp. Due to the risk of being robbed we would wait until it was nearly dark before going bush, always making sure nobody saw us leave the road and covering our tracks so that we couldn't be followed. This may sound fairly simple but in reality was very difficult, even in the remotest areas, people would appear out of nowhere.
We only spent a day in Dar es Salaam. Just enough time to send and receive E-mails, change money in the bank, stock up on provisions, visit the craft market and fuel up. Only the most basic provisions could be bought in the small towns and villages or food along the side of the road.
On our way North, only a few hours late this time (shopping in the craft market- not AC's fault this time), we saw a bit of the solar eclipse, 2000 miles further south for the full effect. We were unable to take the coast road as we had been told the Ferries were not working. We went up the main road and took the alternative track to Pangani, on the Indian Ocean. The heavens opened and the road turned to mud. The road kept branching and because it was after dark and due to the rain, there was nobody to ask directions from. After an hour of hard driving we found a small village, saw a pub on the corner (Just like home) and nipped in for a swift one. The people especially the soldiers were very suspicious of us and asked a lot of leading questions as if they thought we were spies. This was not typical behavior until we realised that we had taken a wrong turn and ended up at a military base. Who was more paranoid at this stage it would be difficult to say, but finally they told us which way to go, through the gates into the Military Zone, were we to become their target practice?
The rain got heavier, the road kept branching (we were driving by compass now), the road conditions got worse and turned into little more than a footpath, as the jungle closed in. To prevent ourselves getting bogged, or stuck on a sharp incline, we had to keep moving. Driving was interesting, as visibility was poor, we could only see part of the windy track and never knowing if there was a washed out bridge, bottomless pothole or fallen tree ahead.
One hour later after numerous close calls we finally bottomed out on a steep incline. AC in defiant mood was not to be beaten by a mere hill covered in the greasiest red mud you could imagine. So with our shoes off, we got out into the rain with our shovels and highlift-jack. Before long someone came walking down the path towards us, saw us and scampered in the opposite direction- ok, so we are in the middle of nowhere and they have never seen whites before. Later three more people turned up and helped us to try and dig out, but to no avail. To their delight and amazement, we thanked them with Polaroid pictures of themselves. After three hours of digging we gave up and camped on the side of the road.
The following morning we awoke to find fifty people around Rosie. After two hours of digging, with the villagers watching on and laughing, we were ready to try again. But would they push? Not till we had negotiated a price for their help. With no Swahili and only a phrase book to help, we negotiated with the chief to pay them the equivalent of three pounds, the price of a half bag of meal, to be divided amongst the villagers. We spent the next 5 hours going from village to village navigated with the help of locals wanting a lift. On the final stretch to Pangani we picked up people going to market and carried them on the roof rack. They directed us and helped to dig us out when we got stuck. The sixty-kilometer road to Pangani ended up taking nearly twenty-four hours.
When we arrived in Pangani we went straight to the Indian Ocean to swim and take a sand scrub, to wash off the layers of caked mud. The next day we hired a boat and went out to a Marine Nature Reserve, around a stunning coral island. We walked the island, collected shells, snorkeled on reef and went fishing. That evening we bought pounds of King prawns and crayfish, which cost nearly nothing, from the local fishermen on the beach and barbecued them ourselves. Another example of African logic- the coral island used to be covered with palm trees and dense vegetation, but the army, under the Presidents instructions, cut it all down. He was worried that the Ugandan Navy (Does landlocked Uganda have a Navy?) were hiding behind the island, ready to launch an invasion.
From Pangani we went up the coast to Mombassa then to Amboseli National Park, in Massailand. As per usual the journey to Amboseli took longer than we planned and so we arrived at the park gates, after closing time and in the dark. There were no campsites in the vicinity so we ended up camping at a police roadblock for security. This was pretty much how we traveled, we had an rough plan formulated from the guide books, but mostly improvised from day to day, depending on the advice we received from other travelers or when the unforeseen happened.
In Amboseli we saw a lot of game, but what made it more fun, was that we had the chief of the local Masai village as our guide. We picked him up when we visited his village and told him he could drive Rosie. The Chief delighted to be behind the wheel of a Landrover, stopped to talk to all his mates. We organized to go hunting for guinea fowl with one of the Masai warriors, using throwing sticks and were told we would have to dress up in their traditional red and black costumes (designed to ward off the Lions). Unfortunately the Guinea fowl weren't roosting nearby that evening.
We stayed with Orson Taylor, a friend of JC's, in Nairobi for a week. It was great to have a real bed, clean clothes and good food again. We were looked after really well when we were there, the hospitality was the best. In Nairobi we started the paperwork for getting Rosie imported. We also took the opportunity to check out the nightlife. One night we went out with Orson, his wife Sheilah and brother Gerald, to Carnivores. In Carnivores you pay and then eat as much meat as you can, everything from ostrich and crocodile to zebra. The Taylors took us clay pigeon shooting and Angus Craigie (AC) managed to pepper two unfortunate black fellows with buckshot. That put an end to him calling anyone else a racist, seeing he had shot two locals himself.
From Nairobi we went down into the Rift Valley to Nakum, to deliver Rosie to her new home. Rosie has been donated to ARDESC, a farmers Coop, with 6000 members. ARDESC has been set up by the Diocese of Nakuru, but is an ecumenical organization and will eventually be self run. ARDESC offers training to its members and encourages sustainable drought resistant farming methods, with a view to breaking the poverty trap, by raising income levels. The farmers can then afford to send their children to school. With new skills their children can then hopefully find alternative employment. This is necessary, as the average farm size is only four acres. ARDESC also has a Credit Union where the farmers can save their money and also get a loan. Profits from the Credit Union are invested back into training, equipment, seeds and livestock for the Farmers. Rosie will be used for moving equipment, delivering seeds and collecting crops etc.
We visited a number of these farms and were shown around by William Keyah and his team of Rural Development Trainers. When the land was retaken from the white settlers it was redistributed to the local people in four-acre plots. To make them sustainable, it is necessary that they be farmed intensively. They are run very much like a Market Garden, with crop rotation, inter-planting, a great variety of different crops, fruit and veg, the animals are kept in pens and all waste materials recycled. We were amazed how well the farms were run and how productive they were.
While in Nakuru we were on best behavior as we were staying in a seminary. There was an official handing over ceremony for Rosie. 400 farmer's representatives were in attendance. Amongst the dignitaries on the podium were two Bishops, members from the Ministry of Agriculture, directors from various banks, credit Unions and organizations, plus AC and JC feeling very out of place in their travel worn clothes and being the only white guys within 100 miles. After 6 1/2 hours of singing, praying and speeches, including one from AC, showing oratory genius, Rosie was blessed by the Bishop of Kericho and handed over to the farmers. We were sad to say goodbye to her, she had carried us safely over 8500 miles, from Capetown to Nakuru, without a single puncture, but delighted to see her new owners will put her to good use.
Next year the ITT will send over a large sun flower press, designed and built by the students from the Agr Eng Department. A month over due and penniless, we flew home the next day, laden with our souvenirs and presents from Africa. AC managed to talk his way onto the plane with 40Kg over the 20Kg weight limit. Had they known that amongst his luggage were Masai swords, a pickaxe, a club and 400 cigarettes, we would have been arrested.