East and South Africa 2019-20

November 2019 - February 2020
November - December 2019
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  • Journey to Nairobi

    November 23, 2019 in England ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    The long awaited day had arrived for my journey to the legendary continent of Africa where my ancient hominid ancestors had lived, loved and died for generation after generation over millions of years to bring me the chance to come into being. And now I was returning to their hallowed ground shared with a myriad of creatures and large mammals that I would hopefully witness for the first time in my life.
    I had gone to sleep very early in the evening at around 8pm so that I could get up at 2.45am, get a shower, light breakfast and dive into the booked taxi with my small and large rucksacks at around 3.45am. The taxi driver was friendly as I told him of my planned journey across East and South Africa. We drove down through the dark, wet, and largely deserted streets of Bristol, with a few waifs and strays staggering drunkenly back from their Friday night out. We arrived at the coach station where I waited for my National Express coach to arrive. A drunk man staggered around the waiting area asking me and others for a light for his cigarette and making the atmosphere tense in the way that someone disinhibited by alcohol can do. The National Express coach eventually arrived at 4.25am. I stowed my large rucksack in the hold beneath the coach and boarded to take my pre-booked seat by the window. The coach was surprisingly busy at this time of the morning filling with fellow travellers heading for Heathrow airport and their flights to various parts of the world. We set off up the M32 out of Bristol, with rain drops blowing across the window, I looked out into the darkness at the familiar terrain by the motorway and felt that strange melancholic nostalgia of leaving a city in which I'd lived for over 25 years and wouldn't be seeing again for several months. I travelled with a mixture of tiredness, nervousness and excitement at the long journey ahead of me.
    I tried to get some sleep on the coach journey, but to no avail. as I always find it difficult to sleep on any transport no matter how tired I am. This would prove to be a challenge in my long journey across Africa. The air conditioning/heating was also set too high on the coach and the heat was unbearable. I ruminated that this would be good training for the heat of Africa to come. A passenger asked the driver to turn the heating down, which he did, but it made little difference.
    We arrived at Heathrow airport terminal surprisingly quickly and I disembarked, reclaimed my large rucksack and entered the terminal. I hadn't flown for several years and it took me a while to get my bearings in the busy terminal. I asked a helpful member of staff where to check my rucksack in and she pointed me in the right direction. I had a wait for the check in desk to open, and used the time to put my rucksack in a protective cover and to eat my pre-prepared brunch. I then checked my bags in without difficulty and walked up the escalator to pass through the security and into the departures area. I messaged my family to let them know that I'd successfully passed through security and would soon be on the long flight to Nairobi. My sister passed on a request from my young nephew, Luke, for a photograph of the airplane that I would be flying on. After a wait, I took the long walk to the departure lounge in terminal 5, took a photo of the plane for my nephew, and waited to board the plane. I was feeling excited as I enjoy flying and looking down at the wide expanses of Earth below from such a great height. Even though I have flown many times, it still seems like a miracle to me that I can be so high up and looking down over the Earth like the gods of Olympus in Greek mythology.
    I boarded the plane and was pleased to find that I had nobody sat immediately next to my window seat so that I had more leg room and also had room for my ruck sack which I had taken on board as hand luggage. There was an attractive, well dressed, black woman sat across from me on the aisle seat who was quite taciturn but not impolite during the flight. I listened to the various announcements on the intercom and watched the stewardesses go through the emergency procedures before preparing myself for the take off. The plane taxied out onto the runway, opened the engines into a powerful roar, we thundered down the tarmac, angled upwards and rose peacefully and gracefully into the morning air. I was surprised at my lack of anxiety on take off which I had experienced more on previous flights. I think I had reached the age where I could say 'Que sera sera' in such situations. The flight was roughly on time at around 10.10am. There were some nice views of London's dense urban landscape as we rose up through white clouds and slowly banked towards continental Europe. There were some breaks in the cloud cover over the English channel and I could see the long thin white beaches of the northern French coast before the clouds closed in again and covered the view in an undulating white duvet of air moisture for a few hours. We were served breakfast and later a lovely hot lunch of vegan thai curry which I had pre-ordered. I was still unable to sleep, so I watched some wildlife documentaries on the video screen in front of me. I avoided films of Africa as I didn't want to colour my own visions of the African wildlife that I would hopefully see during my own journey. The clouds parted again over, what looked like, the coastline of Croatia with dramatic mountains and steep river valleys flowing down to the sea. We then reached the far side of the Mediterranean sea and the first sight of the continent of North Africa and what I assumed to be Egypt where I had spent an epic week visiting ancient temples and the great pyramids of Cairo over twenty years before. Long wide beaches stretched down to the sea. As we flew inland I could see across immense deserts with endless rock formations casting long shadows in the hazy yellow late afternoon sunshine. We continued on across the desolate expanses of North Africa's deserts. We passed over an enormous inland river delta over what may have been the Sudan, its waters gleaming, as a golden sun descended over the curved rim of the Earth. The clear sky turned deep red up to turquoise blue, to deep blue, and then to velvet black. Venus and Jupiter were sparkling brightly in the evening sky. As the darkness descended, I could see glittering towns with bridges lit up like bejeweled bracelets by their street lamps over black ribbons of water passing slowly underneath us. There were so many lives below, and so many stars above, all uncountable but equally precious.
    After around 10 hours of flying we had reached the great rift valley of East Africa and began to descend towards Nairobi airport. The lights of the airport and the surrounding city only appeared relatively close to landing as we descended through rain clouds to land with a thud on the wet tarmac and taxi in towards the terminal. We arrived earlier than the scheduled 21.50 local time and we all left the plane to get a packed airport bus to the one remaining terminal following an airport fire several years earlier. I then had to wait in a queue to pass through security, but my queue was happily shorter due to the fact that I had already secured an East Africa visa from the Kenyan High Commission while at home. As I offered my passport for inspection I was confronted with the finger print scanner favoured for security in East African countries and it took me a while to figure our how to present my fingers and thumb to the green lighted scanner and in which order. The surly female immigration officer was not amused by my confusion. I eventually got through the immigration booth and made my way to claim my baggage from the carousel. It was a relief to find that it had accompanied me in the hold of my flight and had not been left at Heathrow or flown somewhere else. I made my way out of the terminal and walked down a long series of stone steps to a waiting area for taxis. It was here that I began to experience that apprehension and disorientation of being in a foreign culture with people speaking in a language (Swahili) that i didn't understand. I looked for the Oasis sign that should have been there with a man called, Smiley, who was due to pick me up from the airport and drive me to my accommodation at Karen Camp on the outskirts of central Naorobi. However, there was no Oasis sign to be seen and various taxi drivers picked up on my lack of available transport and kept asking me to take their taxi which I had to politely but firmly decline. I called Smiley and managed to speak to someone, who I initially thought was Smiley, but later realised was his brother, Peter. It was a slightly confused conversation where Peter asked me where I was waiting and I explained where I was. He told me to wait there which I did for a slightly anxious ten minutes or so when he eventually arrived on foot and we were able to introduce ourselves. However, Peter didn't initially tell me that he wasn't Smiley so I called him that until he put me right when we walked back to a multi-storey car park where he paid for his parking ticket and we found his car. We then drove through the night out towards Karen Camp. We talked about the rainy weather in Nairobi and Peter said that there had been far more rain than is usual in the short rainy season which had caused a lot of flooding across Kenya. The heavy rains, caused by climate change, the El Ninho effect, and moisture laden weather heading across the Indian ocean to East Africa instead of India, would become a significant feature of the first half of my trip in Africa. We also talked about Premier League football, which I found to be a very handy topic of conversation with virtually all the taxi drivers I encountered during my trip. Peter supported Leicester City and I told him that I supported Liverpool. We discussed how well Liverpool had started that particular season as they were now sitting pretty at top of the Premier League. The easy and friendly conversation was welcome as the drive out to Karen Camp took nearly an hour on the clear night time roads. I noticed that as we drove down a long highway, we passed a huge shanty town with rough single storied houses made with corrugated iron bulged out onto the edge of the highway for over a mile. This brought home the grinding poverty that I was going witness in many parts of East Africa. We then passed an open fenced area which Peter informed me was a large national wildlife park that bordered the road. It is apparently the only wildlife park in Africa that sits right next to a major city. Peter said that he would often see elephants, giraffe and antelope by the roadside as he drove by. The reality that I was now in a continent where such large and exotic wildlife could be seen from the rush hour traffic excited me. We eventually turned off the main highway and down some residential streets until at last we arrived at Karen Camp and the first leg of my journey had been completed safely - I was in Africa! Peter showed me into the entrance to the hostel. The hostel was fairly tatty and underwhelming and I was met by an older woman who seemed to be the hostel manager but her clearly inebriated state made me wonder about this as she clasped my hand for an uncomfortably long time. There was also a barman there behind the bar called Michael who met me with a friendly handshake and smile. I said goodbye to my driver, Peter, and thanked him. I decided to stick with the dorm room accommodation which had been booked for me by the travel company that I was doing my overlanding tour with, Oasis Overland. This proved to be a mistake as when I was shown to the room, I realised that it was more of a shed with a clean but musty smelling bed and a big gap under the rickety old door. I would definitely be needing the old grey mosquito net to keep out the mosquitoes. I didn't relish the prospect of spending two nights here and began to wonder what kind of trip I had embarked upon. However, I was exhausted after my long journey, so I unpacked my sleeping bag, silk liner, a few of my things, let down the mosquito net, put my ear plugs in, and eventually crawled off to sleep in the hot night air.
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  • First day at Karen Camp, Nairobi

    November 24, 2019 in Kenya ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Old original Blog:
    Woke up with a bug inside my mosquito net – moved him to a new location afterwards! Met Brian, Grant, Gemma and other fellow travellers. Saw monkeys in the garden! Chatted a lot with Brian. Put rucksack on the truck. Spoke to an artist who   Had Swahili beans (Kenyan food). Big thunderstorm and lightning show in the late afternoon and early evening which caused a short power cut. The weather got much cooler with the storm. Felt very tired and got an early (didn't have the energy to mix with the rest of the group as I wanted to.

    New updates Blog:
    Once I had managed to go to sleep, I slept fairly well, despite being woken up during the night when one of my fellow Oasis Overland travellers, Vincent, arrived on a late flight and had been brought to my dorm to sleep in the bunk bed adjoining bottom of my bed. The disturbance woke me up, but Vincent quickly settled into his bunk and I fell back to sleep.
    I awoke around 7am and as I opened my sleepy eyes and looked around me, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a large insect on the inside of my mosquito net. I hastily jumped out of bed and raised the mosquito net to have a closer look at my sleeping companion to check that he wasn't dangerous. On closer inspection he was a harmless, large 'grasshopper' like insect with one of his long back legs missing. I carefully removed him from the inside of the mosquito net and put him several metres away from the dorm room on the grass and resolved to tuck my mosquito net up under my mattress in future to prevent future sleeping companions from crawling up the inside.
    I then got up to get a shower. I had been tipped off by the barman, Michael, that the showers on the first floor of the main hostel building were hot rather than the cold showers of the very basic toilet and shower blocks near my dorm room. I somewhat sheepishly walked through the bar area and up to the shower as I thought that these showers were most likely reserved for those in the first floor rooms. I had a welcome hot shower in the basic but large shower room.
    After getting dressed, I went to the bar to order some beans on toast for breakfast. There I met my first fellow traveller on this long trip across the African continent, Brian. He was a friendly and kindly Irishman, approaching his 70s, with a stutter. We quickly established that we would both be travelling all the way to Johannesburg. We also discovered that we both worked as therapists and therefore had quite a lot in common. Brian quickly demonstrated a good sense of humour coupled with an easy and enjoyable Irish wit. I immediately felt pleased and relieved that I would be travelling with someone whose company I would enjoy. I then noticed a woman walking busily through the bar who looked like she might be our Oasis tour leader. When I stopped her to ask, I was right in my assumption. Jemma was an English woman in her late thirties who had worked for Oasis Overland in Africa for a number of trips and was well experienced in such travel. She was very friendly, informative and organised about our trip ahead and I again felt relief that she would be a friendly and competent leader for our journey. Another fellow traveller, Grant, then entered the bar. He was a very friendly, talkative and gregarious New Zealander in his late forties who was an experienced overland traveller. He was also joining our trip all the way to Johannesburg. Meeting Brian, Grant and Jemma had put my mind at rest that I was going to have some nice and friendly travelling companions on the long trip ahead.
    I had breakfast with Brian, while Jemma and Grant headed off to buy provisions for the truck to keep us fed on our long journey. I later learned that Grant and Jemma were a couple, but didn't know that at this stage. Brian and I talked about our work, life, and our thoughts and plans for the future. I could see that we were going to get along very well.
    After breakfast, I returned to my dorm room to organise my things. There I introduced myself to Vincent who was a Canadian in his mid-twenties, and was already an experienced traveller. He would be travelling with us as far as Cape town and, again, he would be a friendly and positive character on our trip ahead.
    I re-joined Brian who was sitting at a picnic table in the hostel back porch, typing his blog on his laptop. We had more pleasant conversation on various topics, when there was a rustle in a nearby tree and, to my delight, there were two vervet monkeys picking small fruit from the tree. These were the first African wild animals that I had seen and it was amazing to me that I could see such wild animals in an more urban setting like a hostel garden. I later learned that I would see troops of vervet monkeys regularly passing through campsites and hostel gardens mischievously taking food where they could. The two vervet monkeys in the tree then chased each other across the corrugated roof of the nearby toilet block and around the garden. One sat long enough on the grass in front of me for me to take a photo before the monkeys were themselves chased off by the two barking hostel dogs. I was delighted to have seen these playful, wild animals so close by.
    Brian and I continued to chat through the afternoon as a heavy rainstorm passed over. After Jemma and Grant returned from buying provisions, Jemma showed us the inside of the big yellow truck that we would be travelling on, and calling 'home', for our long journey across Africa. Here I met 'Often' our driver for the journey. Often was a Kenyan born and bred man in his fifties with a wife and children, now of adult age, living in Nairobi. He was a friendly, humorous and positive character with a passion for wildlife that I was very pleased would be our driver and all around helpful person to guide us along our great journey. We were delighted to find that Often had fitted the inside of the truck with electric plugs so that we could charge our phones and electrical goods while we travelled. The truck was named 'Chui' which is Swahili for Leopard and was clearly dear to Often and later became known by us as Often's second wife. The seating in the truck faced each other across the middle floor which would allow us to talk to each other during the trip. The clear plastic tarpaulin sides of the truck could be rolled up so that we could kneel on the seats and look out over the landscapes that we travelled through. There were large storage areas under the seats where I stored my large rucksack alongside Brian's rucksack for the journey ahead. There were also large storage areas under the central floor of the truck where much of the food provisions were stored.
    There was an arist selling his accomplished artwork of African animals in the hostel garden and I went to have a chat with him about his artwork and my own interest in making art of animals and wildlife. As I returned to the hostel, Jemma and Grant, invited me to join them in a card game of 'Gin Rummy'. I had never played this type of Rummy before and so they taught me as we played. I then had 'beginner's luck' and somehow managed to win the first two games. I decided to quit while I was ahead and retired undefeated. Later in the afternoon, Jemma invited me to show my travel insurance papers and a copy of my passport, and give her the local payment of $1600 for the journey ahead.
    As the evening approached and the light dimmed, I ordered some dinner of Swahili beans and ate and chatted with Brian on the back porch area. As the darkness if the night descended a torrential, dramatic thunder and lightning storm came over the hostel and flooded the garden area.The electricity cut out at one point for several minutes which would become a common feature of our travels through Africa. Many of our fellow Oasis Overland travellers were arriving ahead of our departure the following day. They all sat together chatting in another seated area of the back porch. I began to feel quite tired and wasn't sure if I could summon the energy to go and socialise with my new fellow travellers. However, Brian headed off to his room for night and I did go over to introduce myself to my fellow travellers.
    I met Linda and Heather who were a friendly mother and daughter from Scotland who would be travelling with us around Lake Victoria and back to Nairobi before departing. Linda was a retired GP and Heather was working in London. I also met Sam, who later became known as 'English Sam' to distinguish his name from the other Sam on our trip who was living in Dubai. Sam was a friendly young man who was living and working in England and had previously done an Oasis Overland trip several years previously. I met Jesse and Alick who were two young, friendly and sociable New Zealanders who were doing the Oasis Overland trip having won it after visiting an Oasis Overland stall at some event. They were also doing the trip as part of their further travels around the world. As we were talking in the newly met group of fellow Oasis Overland travellers, an American, Kristen, arrived. Kristen was in her early thirties, originally from Chicago, and worked as a teacher but had quit her job to go travelling for a year. She was another experienced traveller, although she hadn't done an overland tour before and was a little nervous about the camping aspect of the trip. I later learned that she had a strong academic interest in rock/cave paintings and ancient human ancestors which I also shared. She also taught religious studies so had an academic interest in religious history. I also met Steph (Stephanie) who was an English woman from Coventry. She was a friendly person with a humorous, outgoing and slightly mischievous character which became apparent during our journey. Earlier in the day I had met James and Gabby (Gabriella) who were a young Brazilian couple who were doing the trip from Nairobi around Lake Victoria and back to Nairobi. They were also doing the Oasis Overland trip as part of more extensive travels around the world. They were a lovely, good humoured and friendly couple who brought a nice South American flavour to the trip.
    As I chatted to my fellow travellers, i was aware how tired I was feeling, and decided to return to my dorm room for a fairly early night ahead of the start of our journey the following day. There was another disturbance during the night when another of our fellow travellers, Luke, arrived in the early hours having been delayed on his flight. Vincent had to get up to let him into the dorm room which we had locked from the inside. I later learned that Luke was originally from Northern Ireland, but now worked in Scotland as a doctor working in peadiatrics. He was another experienced traveller with a gregarious, outgoing and humourous character.
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  • Day 1

    Journey to Lake Naivasha

    November 25, 2019 in Kenya ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    I got up early to get a hot shower so that I could pack and load my things onto the truck before breakfast. On returning from the shower, I discovered that I had accidentally locked my fellow traveller, Vincent, in the dorm room by paclocking the door out of habit while I was half asleep. I apologised profusely and Vincent took it all in good humour which befitted his calm and seemingly implacable character.
    I had omelette on toast for breakfast before we were all ushered to the truck to be given a brief tutorial by Jemma and Often about the trucks facilities, where everything was kept and stored and the various 'dos and don'ts' of life on the truck for the coming three months. We saw where the food, table and canvas stools were kept. We were shown how we would wash and rinse the dishes in three bowls before flapping them dry rather than using a tea towel as it is more hygienic. This became a very well worn routine during our trip. We were also told about how we would be divided into 'cook groups' with one lead 'chef' and that it would be each cook group's responsibility to shop for and cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for a particular day. We were also shown where our provided tents would be stored and also where the chlorine treated water was kept in large black plastic canisters. We were also shown where the extra food was stored under the floor of the truck and where we could store our possessions under the seats and in overhead storage. We were also shown how to use the on board electricity on the truck to charge our electrical goods. We were shown 'The Beach' which was an area above the front cab of the truck which could be opened so that we could look out the top of the truck or sleep and rest there.
    The final task before we set off on our first day's journey to Naivasha Lake Park, was to be shown how to roll up the tarpaulin sides of the truck and attach with the velcro straps so that we could get plenty of ventilation and look out at the view during our trip.
    I sat at the very back of the truck where I could see out of the back window. I sat next to Brian and opposite Linda and her daughter, Heather. The streets of Nairobi were very busy with queues of rush hour traffic. As we left the outskirts of Nairobi we were caught in a very long queue which we eventually realised had been caused by flooding from the heavy overnight rain. We later learned that many people had died as a result of this unusual and severe flooding in Kenya. The unusually heavy rain and flooding became a consistent feature of the first part of our trip through East Africa and around Lake Victoria. This provided a sort of ominous backdrop to our journey with thoughts and communal discussions often turning towards the threat of global warming and climate change to people, animals and the environment.
    As we left Nairobi we travelled through green and lush bush and farmlands with small villages and scattered small holdings with families outside working and their children playing. My imagined view of East Africa in the dry season as a parched and yellowed landscape was immediately assuaged by this verdant green landscape surrounding us. When we knelt up on the seats to look out the windows we were met with excited waves and calling from children and adults alike. This was another consistent and heart warming feature of our travels across East Africa. It seemed that our white faces and big yellow truck were quite a novelty illiciting happy, sometimes bemused, and very occasionally negative responses from local people - but there was nearly always a response. We, of course, waved and smiled back. The people often called out 'Mizungu' which means 'aimless wanderer' in Swahili and has become the ubiquitous term for travelling tourists such as us.
    We stopped in a shopping mall to buy some fresh food provisions for the evening meal in Naivasha lake park. I decided to stay on the truck as a truck guard, talked to Jesse about her half Polynesian ethnicity in New Zealand and watched local children playing football on a nearby football pitch - a scene familiar the world over.
    We drove on until we reached the edge of the lake park and I was thrilled to see my first large African mammals living in the wild - an unrepeatable special first experience. We saw zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, and eland, all feeding, wandering and almost impossibly existing from my western perspective of never seeing such large wild mammals in the English countryside.
    We eventually drove off the main road and down a narrow track and into a beautiful campground, Fish Eagle Inn, covered in green grass and dotted with several tall yellow barked 'butter' acacia trees. The campsite was well named as I was amazed to see several large fish eagles settled high in the trees. This was when I began to have to adjust my expectations about how much wildlife I would continually see in East and Southern Africa. If I ever saw a single Golden eagle in Scotland it would make my entire trip. Here, I counted at least nine enormous eagles all circling together above the lake nearby. The sheer density and proliferation of life, plant, insect and animal, in Africa took me to a new normal of how much life can and should exist in the natural environment and brought home the comparative paucity of life in England where insects have been decimated by pesticides and the majority of large wild mammals have been driven out of existence. The contrast re-affirmed my passion for rebuilding the English countryside with it's original animals and insect ecology - the wolves and bears must one day return and we humans have a duty and a responsibility to learn to live alongside these wild animals once again.
    We took our heavy tents down from the truck and people were allocated their tents. Brian had his own tent and I was left without someone to pair up with in a tent. This allowed my, fortunately, to have my own tent to myself. My tent was called 'Queen Elizabeth', somewhat ironically with my republican sentiments. Often gave is a quick tutorial on how to put up our tents and we went away to find a spot to pitch out tent. I pitched my tent facing the gently lapping lake shore. Often was kind enough to come over to help me pitch my tent as I was putting it up on my own.
    I then returned to the truck to begin to organise my things to put in the tent. This felt quite disorganized and quite discumbobulating at first, but after a week or so became an organised rhythm, and by the end of the trip a finely tuned, honed and efficient procedure
    After we put the tents up and collectively made our lunch. After lunch the grey clouds over the still, reflective lake began to thicken and it started to rain and thunder. I talked with Often about our mutual interest in wildlife and nature. Often said that he was particularly interested in birds. He took me down to the lake shore to show me the tall papyrus reeds growing there as a fisherman bravely collected his nest waste deep in the lake where hippos lived in numbers. I was pleased to know that Often would be able to share his knowledge of the African flora and fauna during our long journey.
    We were due to have a boat trip out on the lake in the afternoon with the chance to see hippos for the first time and, to my great disappointment, the trip had to be cancelled due to the inclement weather. As an alternative, a small group of us decided to take a small minibus down the road to where Joy Adamson of 'Born Free' fame had lived with her husband, George Adamson, in a large house on the Naivasha lake shore. We toured the house and saw Joy Adamson's artwork of the local tribal people's (who I was politely informed by the local guide should be called 'communities' rather than 'tribes'). We also saw her furniture and bombings and had tea and biscuits at the back of the house with nice views across the large lawns leading down to the lake. We also watched a couple of rain bedraggled colabus monkeys who were resting high. in the trees. These monkeys had apparently lived there since Joy Adamson was still alive and in residence. My amazement at seeing such animals I'm the wild remained undimmed as it did throughout the trip. We then watched a short video about Joy Adamson's life and her conservation work with lions and other animals. She expressed her deep passion and love for lions which is an emotion I would later understand and experience for myself. She described several affairs with men outside of her marriage which eventually led to her marriage to George Adamson who she met out in the bush. She recognised herself that she was a cantankerous character and probably preferred the company of animals to humans. This may have led to her falling out with one of her local employees who took revenge by shooting her dead. She was clearly an interesting, unique character while also a difficult personality socially it seems. Her portraits of local tribes men and women are now a celebrated vusual record of Kenyan cultural heritage which has now disappeared. The guide told me how he and his urban friends have now lost contact with their old tribal community heritage.
    When we returned to the campsite, and the evening light began turning to darkness, we collectively cooked and ate our evening meal using pots, pans and utensils from the truck. We cooked in an external covered kitchen area with it's own electric lighting. We sat on the collapsible canvas stools from the truck eating our meal and chatting. We all then helped to wash the dishes and dry them using the surprisingly effective and hygienic flapping method. Just after we had cleared everything away, something magical happened. Someone spotted a hippo had climbed out of the lake in the darkness and was feeding on the grass a few metres from where we had just eaten. We excitedly trained our phone torches on the large pinkish grey flank of the hippo. I was transfixed by this unimaginable close encounter with the reputedly, potentially very dangerous wild animal. There was a thin wire electric fence between us and the hippo offering us some protection, but I considered that such a big animal could trample through such a thin electric wire if she was exorcised enough to do so. However, the hippo continued feeding seemingly unconcerned by us and slowly walked past. Then another hippo emerged from the black lake waters, this time with a small infant hippo just behind her. I was so delighted to witness this animal at such close quarters and it completely made up for my disappointment at missing the boat trip earlier in the day. I was lucky enough to get a few good photos of the hippos and we all looked at each other's photos as we excitedly discussed what we had just seen as the hippos walked on back into the gloom of the dark from which they had miraculously emerged.
    We all retired to our tents as the rain began to fall again. I settled as best I could into my sleeping bag and reflected on how I had earlier summoned the spirit of the hippo after I was disappointed to miss seeing hippos on the boat trip - it was then astonishing for them to appear to us later that evening. I went off to sleep, my tent facing the lake with hippos moving through its waters, pondering the amazing sights of African animals and birds that I had already seen on my first official day of the trip - I could only wonder at what was yet to come....

    Old Blog: Naivasha Lake Park = Packed early and set off in the truck on the first day of the trip. Huge traffic queues after heavy rain all night caused flooding of already poor condition roads. Enjoyed the bus journey. Local children waving. Saw zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, and eland from the back of the truck on the way into the park. Set up tents on campsite by lake shore. Sadly boat trip on lake cancelled due to heavy rain and thunder. Went to Joy Adamson's house for museum, film and tea – saw colabus monkeys in ther garden. Had hot meal in the evening and magically saw three hippos feeding on ther grass by the shore feet away from us, including a mother and baby – this absolutely made my day! Three electric fence around the campsite kept us safe and you would never get this close to wild hippos on land in any other way. Earlier when I was disappointedabout the river trip being cancelled, I asked the spiri of the hippos to come and visit us later. ‘Often’ the driver is wonderful to talk to about wildlife and told ne about the yellow Acacia trees on the campsite.  His truck is called Chui which is Swahili for Leopard – his spirit animal. 
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  • Day 2

    CraterLake Park, Journey to Lake Nakuru

    November 26, 2019 in Kenya ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    Walking Safari at Crater Lake Park.

    I didn't sleep particularly well as I adjusted my sleeping layers in the cooling night and got somewhat tangled in my sleeping bag and silk liner. I would need to work out a better sleeping 'system' as the journey progressed. I woke up early at 5am with raindrops drumming on my tent which thankfully remained waterproof during the night. There was something particularly miserable about going to sleep in the rain and then waking up in the rain. There was clearly going to be a lot more rain on this journey than was anticipated and was usual for this time of year in East Africa. The issue of climate change and extreme weather therefore became an ongoing backdrop and point of discussion on our journey. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, put on some damp clothes and flip-flops and traipsed up to the shower block through wet grass and heavy rain. I therefore got a good soaking before before I even reached the shower. The shower was full of moths, beetles and various other insects, which would be 'de rigour' for all the showers on the journey and evidenced the density and profusion of all life in Africa. Such densities of insects no longer existed at home thanks to years of intensive agriculture and pesticide use. Those that had an aversion to our insect companions on this world would therefore have an uncomfortable time getting a shower. At least the shower was hot, but this was soon forgotten as I trudged back to my tent to get dressed. I walked over to the truck where I made breakfast of cold oats and a cup of tea.
    I had decided to do the early morning walking safari at the Crater Lake Park which would be my first ever safari in Africa. The rain had begun to abate somewhat but the sky was still overcast with dark skies and there was a strong likelihood of getting wet. However, there were some hopeful glimmers of brighter skies in the distance and I decided to take the chance to have my first encounter with African wildlife on foot. Only two of my fellow travellers, Jesse and Alec, had braved getting up in the rain to join my on the safari. Jesse and Alec, who proved to be lovely company on the trek, were a young, bright, friendly, and exuberant young couple from New Zealand who liked their alcohol/parties and were travelling to various places around the world. They had actually won this trip around Africa through a lottery they entered at a New Zealand travel fare - quite a stroke of good fortune for them!

    Our tour guides, Mike and his colleague, both local men born and bred, arrived in a safari vehicle to take us on the safari. Mike and his colleague (who's name has escaped my memory) were friendly, but also quite taciturn men of few words. I had that sense of their world weariness with tourists which I can encountered on other occasions during the long journey. After some discussion it was decided that the weather was good enough for the safari and Jesse, Alec and I boarded the vehicle with my levels of anticipation riding high. We headed out of the campsite and onto a main highway. After some time we turned off down a long rough road which was heavily flooded in places due to the heavy rainfall overnight. Mike had to navigate the floods, sometimes by slipping and sliding through the mud at speed to avoid getting stuck. This added to the excitement and jeopardy of the safari trip.

    Then the magic of Africa began to seep in through our wide open eyes. We saw two wild jackals trotting energetically along the side of the road and then in front of the vehicle as we pulled to a stop, before darting off onto the thick Bush and on with their lives. Then, even more dramatically, we came across a large, loping giraffe, feeding on the abundant trees that lined the road. We stopped and were able to spend several minutes watching and photographing this huge, majestic animal standing spray legged, curling his huge lips and tongue greedily around the lush leaves and tearing them off into his mouth. He was wary of our uninvited presence and was eventually got startled and lolopped away from the roadside. We then saw another giraffe a little further down the road. This was my first close up encounter with the large African megafauna, and my efforts to get up early for the safari had already been repaid generously. It was a deeply moving experience to see these large animals in the wild.

    We eventually entered the Crater Lake Park and drove for a while along rough tracks through the park. We saw two warthogs trotting through the undergrowth before stopping and parking to begin our walking safari. The weather had continued to improve, much to our relief. We walked along a rough track out into a wide open area of grassland with white trunked acacia trees standing majestically around the edges, with green volcanic hills rising behind. Mike explained how a series of eruptions had formed the volcanic landscape of the park, a long time ago, but also while human ancestors would have been living there - it must have been a dramatic sight at the time of the eruptions, and I wistfully imagined the scene back then.

    As we walked over a low rise and into a dusty wide bowl of yellowing grassland, we suddenly saw a herd of large, elegant, long-horned, Elan, the largest of Africa's antelopes. They shifted uneasily at our approach, and moved off into the safety of the surrounding bushes, where they disappeared like wild apparitions. As we turned along the path, the scrubland and trees closed in around us. We saw another warthog cross the path up ahead of us. Mike pointed up to a black faced monkey eyeing us from a nearby tree. Then we saw the long neck and head of a large giraffe poking up above the thick bush nearby. Each wild encounter was all the more thrilling as we were on foot, with the feeling of human frailty and vulnerability engendered by being exposed to this wild landscape with no physical protection of a metal shelled vehicle. I noticed my breath quickening with excitement. This was like my nature walks at home in England, so felt familiar in that sense, but this time I was surrounded by large African game for the first time in my life. The thrill was palpable. Then we came across a small herd of zebra in bushes around 20 yards away. Their black and white coats shone vividly in the brightening sunlight as they nodded and snorted nervously. Then behind them we saw several of the mighty African buffalo lying relaxed and chewing, regarding us with an uninterested air. I asked Mike if we were safe to be this close to buffalo as I had heard that they can be very dangerous animal to encounter, but Mike nonchalantly reassured me that he had grown up in this park, walked in it every day, and that we were not in any danger from these relaxed buffalo. Mike exuded a kind of tolerant world-weariness with tourists' ignorant questions such as mine. We spent some time taking photos of the buffalo and zebra feeding together.

    As we walked on, we entered another more open area, interspersed with majestically beautiful, high, green-crowned acacias, backed by more green grassed volcanic slopes. A large eagle sat at the top of one of the acacias, surveying the surrounding woodland for prey. A small brown bushbuck daintily crossed our path in front of us, before disappearing forever from our view into. We turned down a more open path of tall grasses edged with pale green leafed bushes and encountered a large herd of small, orange-brown, impala antelope, very close to the path. They nervously kept a little distance and hid behind bushes, but we could see the shiny, black, twisted horns of the males and the twitching white tails of the females to confuse and bamboozle chasing predators.

    The path then opened out further into a lush green, grassy bushland skirted by thick acacia woodland. This green bowl of bushland, contained my first exhilarating experience of the kind of timeless wild magic that Africa can produce when several species of large mammals all congregate in one place like the proverbial 'land that time forgot'. A herd of large Eland fed and wandered towards the woodland. More impala twitched and flitted through the gasses. A herd of zebra nodded, snorted, and fed in the bushes. Just cap this moving scene, a herd of tall giraffe loped through bushes towards the woods. A young giraffe stood nearer us and cocked his head to watch us warily, before deciding we were too worrying to remain there, and ran in that distinctive graceful gait of the giraffe to be nearer his tall, elegant, brown, patchworked mother. Suddenly, two male zebra decided to chase each other aggressively. They both thundered down the path towards our group, red dust flying up from their departed hooves. As they got closer, we grew more nervous, until, to our great relief, at the last second they saw us and parted in opposite directions. We continued on, adrenaline rushing and, after seeing a huge sea eagle circle majestically above our heads, we returned to our waiting safari vehicle, grateful for a wondrous first experience of the wild wonders Africa offers in such abundance.

    We trundled along an uneven, stony track, through thick woodland. We startled a tiny Dik-dik, one of Africa's smallest antelope, who darted into the woods as we approached. We began climbing up a steep incline and Mike parked by a steeper dusty path. Mike's colleague took us up the path on foot. He had been very quiet and shy during our earlier walk, talking mostly in Swahili to Mike, but now he began to show his deep connection with the nature in the land of his upbringing, by pointing out medicinal plants that we passed. He broke off leaves and buds and explained how they were used traditionally to cure ailments in local communities. One plant he explained helped reduce malarial fevers. We reached the top of the path and turned up through some bushes to a large rocky ledge with many scattering Spiny-tailed Agama lizards who'd been bathing on the sun-baked rocks. There we were greeted with a glorious wide view over an ancient, volcanic crater, thickly lined with trees and with a large, still lake at its centre. We soaked in the view, and could see a few wooden buildings far below on the lake's which was to be our next destination.

    We made our way back down the path, and were welcomed to the timber entrance buildings of the restaurant by a troop of mischievous vervet monkeys scurrying loudly across the tin rooves. In the entrance way were laid rows of giant skulls belonging to the megafauna of Africa; buffalo, hippos, giraffe and antelope of all kinds. We left this animal 'cemetery' descending a long series of stone steps to the restaurant, which was in an idyllic situation, nestled on the lake shore, with spectacular views across the lake. Alec, Jesse and I were apparently the only patrons for lunch at this hidden gem of an eatery, and were led to our seats by the staff with a politeness, care and attention only really due to royalty, not the travel weary, dusty travellers that we were. We were then treated to the most sumptuous four course dinner, with fruits and vegetables too various and many to mention, as we looked over the great lake before. We all laughed at our good fortune to make this our first safari, and new that our fellow travellers would regret not having got up early to join us. The early birds definitely got the proverbial worm today!

    When we could eat or drink no more, we said our goodbyes and gave our thanks to the wonderful staff of the restaurant, and drove back towards our campsite, thrilled at our day's events. I couldn't have imagined a better way to experience my first African safari, and knew that my 'first time' would live long in my memory. However, the drama of the day was not quite finished, as the earlier rain had flooded our return road, and Mike had to engineer some hair-raising maneuvers through the waters, with the bonnet sometimes momentarily disappearing under the muddy water. We were also running late for our rendezvous with the big yellow Oasis truck, Chui, that was to become our African home. Thankfully our truck was still waiting for us as we arrived back at our campsite. We thanked Mike and his colleagues for a wonderfully guided safari, boarded the truck and we were on our way. There were some envious faces as we described our day's dramatic events to our travelling companions.

    We drove on to a large shopping mall, whose western-style consumer modernity contrasted sharply with the wild landscape we had spent the morning in. This became a common, jarring juxtaposition, of the ancient and the profane, during our journey through the rapidly expanding and developing populations of East African nations such as Kenya. The 'cook group' of four fellow travellers were to buy the ingredients for our evening meal there, but I was tired after our day safari so volunteered to remain as a 'security guard' for the truck, talked to Jesse about her interesting mixed Samoan, New Zealand heritage, and watched Kenyan children play football raucously, and enthusiastically on a nearby football pitch. We travelled on through lush green countryside filled with butter acacia trees, and epic wide vistas of the rift valley with hazy mountains beyond. The landscape was already on a gigantic scale that it takes time for a northern European such as myself to adjust to, as we never can see so far, at least in England that is. After a long afternoon's drive we arrived at a lovely campsite, Punda Milias Nakuru Camp, with good facilities near lake Nakuru. Our cook group cooked us a good, hot, hearty meal in the outdoor kitchen, as we sat in a rough circle on our camp stools, under a clear, jet black, star filled sky, watching shooting stars leaving trails in our eyes and our memories. We all settled down to sleep in our tents, in preparation for the next safari adventure in Lake Nakuru National Park very early the following morning.

    Old Blog:
    with Mike and his friend guiding us. I hoped the weather would improve and gladly it did.  We saw two giraffe close by the road and jackals around the car. Then we entered the park and started the walking safari. It was an amazing experience for my first safari in Africa. We saw a heard of Eland. Then we saw warthogs. We saw a black faced monkey. We saw a giraffe. Then we saw some zebras next to laying buffalo. We walked through beautiful acacia woodland. We saw bushbuck and then lots of impala. I couldn't believe how close we got to the animals. Finally, we were surrounded by zebra, eland and saw several more giraffe. There was a baby giraffe with its mother. Two male zebra charged out of the heard chasing each other towards us on the path then broke off the charge when they saw us. We walked back to the van, seeing a fish eagle in the sky, and headed towards the Crater lake view, seeing dick-dick – the smallest antelope along the way. Mike and his friend did a great job showing us the animals and going is their knowledge about them. The friend took us to the amazing view, with geckos on the rocks, and told us about the volcanoes and various plant medicines. We then walked down to a restaurant on the lake shore and had a wonderful 4 course meal. Returned to the truck, nearly getting stuck on a flooded road along the way. Stopped at mall to buy food – I stayed on truck to rest. Great views of rift valley on way to  next lovely campsite, Punda Milias Nakuru Camp, with good facilities – did my laundry. Clear night with amazing starscape and shooting stars. Got an early night for safari at Naguru Lake park tomorrow 
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  • Day 3

    Safari at Lake Nakuru National Park

    November 27, 2019 in Kenya ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

    Got up very early at 5am. Stomach was bad in the night and thought I might have picked up a stomach bug, but thankfully didn't. Had early breakfast with FTs (fellow travellers). Then drove to Naguru Lake park in van driven by Often's son, ‘Rinnuck'. Drove through a Kenyan towns and saw lots of locals going to work. Entered the park. We saw many, many animals along the way including zebra, impala, Thompson’s gazelle, hyena (who was clearly running away from something), buffalo, Eland, baboons (a baboon got into one of the other vans and stole Ganrkelle and her partner's lunch and ate it in a tree above our van.We also saw a python and cobra snakes. We saw thousands of white butterflies, a black rhino from a distance and later we saw several white rhinos along the lake shore on foot with an armed park ranger at very close range which was the highlight of the safari.We also saw flamingos and pelicans, as secretary bird and a large sea bird whose name I can’t remember but I have.a photo. We saw lots of colourful song birds and Guinea fowl. We saw giraffe and in one lovely spot giraffe sitting and behind buffalo and zebra. We saw several eagles. After walking along the lake shore to see  flamingos and pelicans we stopped at a high point with beautiful views over lake Nakuru – below buffalo walked to shore through the lake water – the scene had a primal feel. Rock hyrax came up close to me as well as a bright blue lizard on a rock below. We drove over a broad flat plain with a huge escarpment behind full of animals which also had a ‘dawn of time' feel. We bounced along the road looking out the raised roof and seeing countless animals and birds. We stopped at a large waterfall for lunch. After we took a detour and saw jackals. We stopped at the park’s restaurant and bar for tea which had a beautiful view of the lake. Later, after seeing the white rhinos’ we saw hyenas hunting and a jackal eating a hyena kill. As we returned we saw hippos mostly hidden beneath the water and a huge troupe of baboons. We returned to the campsite through the Kenyan rush hour – it was fascinating to see all the people living their lives – I wondered what their lives would have been like before modernisation? Returned to camp and had dinner – I felt exhausted on the trip back to camp and had a crisis of confidence about whether I could make it through the whole 93 days with such a pace of activities and intensity of activities? I decided to look after myself and bow out of Sam's evening.quiz.Read more

  • Day 4

    Punda Milias Nakuru Camp to Eldoret

    November 28, 2019 in Kenya ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Long drive Northwest to Eldorat which at over 2000 metres is where athletes do altitude training. The countryside with views of large plains speckled with trees were beautiful. The trees changed more to pines as we climbed. Played football at the campsite in bare feet and was declared man of the match! Nice evening meal of ratatouille and early night for early start and long drive into Uganda tomorrow.Read more

  • Day 5

    Eldoret to Jinja

    November 29, 2019 in Uganda ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

     Long drive from Eldorat to Jinja – didn’t go off to sleep for hours, so felt really rough when I got up at 6am. The weather is getting much warmer than earlier in the week with a very hot equatorial sun. We travelled to the Ugandan border and through the town of Bo? Where here the young chap I met in the supermarket was from and told me that his tribe came up the Nile and spread into modern day Kenya and Uganda and that they were fishermen on lake Victoria and that Barak Obama’s father was from their tribal community. We crossed through immigration at the border without too much hassle. The countryside in Uganda was beautiful, lush green and quite tropical with interesting rock outcrops by the road in one place. The Ugandan children and some adults waved at us as we drove by and we waved back. There seemed to be people with street businesses and workers in the farms by the roads all along the route. We arrived in Jinja town which is a bustling, energetic African town. The campsite had a beautiful view over the river Nile and a pitched my tent looking out to the river. I walked down to the river to watch the sunset. Their were birds returning to roost including a long necked river bird. The view was beautiful with a new crescent moon with Venus and Jupiter sparkling below and Saturn shining above. There are many activities to do on the Nile which I will choose tomorrow.Read more

  • Day 6

    Kayaking and River Cruise on the Nile

    November 30, 2019 in Uganda ⋅ 🌧 20 °C

    I slept quite well for the first time and.got out of my tent as a troupe of vervet monkeys walked and bounded past the tent – I love how these little creatures behave – mischievous and lively – there was a mother with her little baby hanging onto to her stomach.  I organised to kayak with a ncie guide, Abraham, up the Nile from a lovely campsite with beautiful views over the Nile river. It was early morning and the river was full of birds such as kingfishers (small blue malachite and larger Pied), cormorants (great and smaller reed), hamerkop, kites, a fish eagle, crowned hornbill and many more. We saw monitor lizards by the bank. We looked for river otters and eventually found about 3 otters along the bank which was wonderful to see! I enjoyed talking to the guide about wildlife in Africa and England and comparing the two. The guide gave me a gin and tonic before we started to paddle back to the campsite. We passed rocks across the river which used to be a walkway for locals across the river before the new dam was built and the river rose to more of a lake. We paddled through the river islands which were full of birds and paddled back to the jetty. I nearly fell into the river as I was getting out of the kayak! Then I went on a river cruise on a larger boat up the same stretch of river all the way up to the upper dam. It was sunny as we started and took photos of the river and fishermen in their boats, but then the clouds darkened dramatically and we sheltered from a big storm for almost an hour. The weather began to clear and the boat staff hauled up the tarpaulins. It was an anxious moment when the boatman couldn't free us from the muddy river bank where we had sought shelter. After a few minutes and a lot of heaving with an old oar he managed to extricate us and we sailed back down the river. We saw river otters on the way back as well as the many birds including kingfishers and evrets. It was an eventful but still enjoyable second outing on the Nile. In the evening I had a nice conversation with Kristin (an American girl that will travel with us all the way to Johannesburg) about visiting the earliest sites of human evolution in Africa during our trip, early cave paintings in France and American politics. Kristin susports Bernie Sanders which I liked about her – we agreed to continue our conversation during the trip. I watched Liverpool FC beat Brighton (just!) on the bar TV and talked to Linda (daughter – Heather). I then got an early night with a misty crescent moon and chirping insect calls as I got into the tent. PS – I met a Frenchman who is cycling through Africa as part of a ‘self-powered' trip around the world. He walked across Alaska and Russia – swimming across the Beiring Straight.  He will cycle across Africa to Namibia and then row to Brazil! Read more

  • Day 7

    Eventful Journey to Kampala

    December 1, 2019 in Uganda ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    After a relaxed morning in Nile Adventure campsite, I bought what is known locally as a 'Rolex' which is a capatti filled with various ingredients of your choice - I had egg, green pepper, onion and tomato filling and it was delicious. I took it down to the river to eat and saw two big river otters tracking across the river about fifty metres from the jetty. There were also river birds such as the large black and white, hovering, pied kingfisher and the tiny iridescent blue malachite kingfishers and a smaller reed cormorant (that swims very low in the water with only its head above the water) spreading its coat-hanger shaped wings to dry. There were also lots of 'tiamata?' fish by the shore coming to the surface for insects which look like piranha but without the bite and are a staple for the local fishermen. I recorded the tropical sounds of insects and birds in the trees surrounding the campsite where vervet monkeys played, bounced across tents and roofs and occasionally squabbled angrily, chasing each other through the trees. The heavens opened about midday and a big, lightning flashing, thunderstorm soaked everything. As we left the campsite on our truck the drama began - we bumped about a quarter mile down a slippery and muddy track when we slid off the road into a deep ditch, throwing us and various objects across the truck and leaving the truck at a worryingly steep listing angle. As we exited the truck and slipped through the mud to take up various positions at the side of the road, many local men came running up the road to try and help free the truck. After several failed attempts, a digger was summoned from a nearby garage where it was being repaired to try and extricate the forlorn, entrenched yellow truck. After several unsuccessful attempts to tow the truck out from both ends, brute force was the final desperate solution as the digger lifted and shoved the truck backwards where our truck could then be towed out and we were free at last after about two hours. (In the meantime a young boy from the next door house came and said 'hello' - he said that he had been to school but that his mother could no longer afford the fees. He wants to be a mechanic when he grows up - he asked about my trail running shoes and said he had no shoes of his own - this put our temporary difficulty in stark perspective!) Often, our driver, then accelerated forwards in a brave and successful bid to set the truck free, continuing on to the main road. We all slipped and staggered in the mud to catch up with the truck. Then further drama ensued as the locals asked for payment from Often who remained remarkably calm amidst the melee. I also became embroiled in it as I was trying to wash my muddy feet from a water tap on the truck - a local helped, unbidden, to wash my feet - but I had to then extricate myself from the jostling crowd of locals with the help of Often. We headed for our next stop in Kampala with a story of our stranding to tell our fellow travellers who were taking alternative transport from the campsite after their whitewater rafting trip.Read more

  • Day 8

    Road to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park

    December 2, 2019 in Uganda ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    I decided to upgrade to a private room with a shower and fluffy white towel after the muddy trials of the previous day which felt like the lap of luxury after a week of camping. I spent a long time in the shower washing the ochre red, ingrained, mud from myself and my shoes and slept well on the plush surroundings despite having to get up at 5am for a long truck journey to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park where we will hopefully see the dwindling population of those 'gentle giants' the mountain gorillas. As we left Kampala the sun rose reddening in the dusty air of the awakening city streets already bustling with people on their way to earn their living on foot, motorbike, vans and cars. I saw one of those huge marabou storks flying like a contemporary pterydactyl overhead. We also saw them pecking the turf of a rugby pitch in Kampala yesterday. As we slowly escaped the urban influence of Kampala, the vista opened out into tropical green, lush forest expanses infused with banana plants, and high hill peaks rising all around us, punctuated with small roadside villages summoning legions of Ugandans to their daily business. After the equatorial line (see footprint) we travelled through more lush countryside populated by a special breed of cow, Ankore, (possibly named after the Ugandan tribe of the same name who bred them) which has giant horns like the ancient and long extinct aurochs of old.Read more