African Safari (Prague to Cape Town)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Xpat, Jul 4, 2015.

  1. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Rwanda

    Rwanda is a small rural African country, that most people didn’t even know existed, until 1994 when it sadly became a byword for a mass genocide. Triggered by the death of then president who’s airplane got shot down supposedly by Tutsi rebels (but possibly set-up by rival faction in the government), majority Hutu population prompted by their leaders turned on their Tutsi neighbours and within 4 months between April and July 1994 massacred up to 1 million of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This wasn’t an industrial cold efficient affair perfected by totalitarian regimes in Europe, but messy gruesome one with fanaticized ordinary people eagerly taking part in the killings using rudimentary agricultural implements. The genocide was eventually stopped by the Tutsi rebel movement RPF, which defeated the government forces and took over the country. In the aftermath millions of Hutus run into the neighbouring Congo fearing reprisals from the new government - which did follow them across the border contributing to the civil war in that country.

    While I do not generally share the western guilt about everything that goes wrong in Africa and this horrific act was primarily internal Rwandan affair, I think the world represented in Rwanda by the impotent UN peacekeepers did fuck-up big time and many people could have been saved if UN leadership have shown some courage. I understand that Americans have just burned their fingers in Somalia and weren’t interested in another African adventure, while UN was heavily involved in the war in Yugoslavia. But there seems to have been a solution available (and I think I read somewhere that UN honcho Kofi Annan did consider it at the time) - using private mercenary company such as South African Executive Outcomes to put out the fire quickly. Executive Outcomes have done exactly that successfully in Angola and Sierra Leone for a fraction of the costs of any UN deployment, and with zero political risks stemming from possible casualties - they are just disposable dogs of war at the end of the day in most people's opinion. Instead UN leadership decided to keep supposedly high moral ground and avoid using the mercenaries. Which most probably resulted in avoidable death of hundreds of thousands of people - not the first or last time that empty morality costed many people's lives.

    When I arrived, 10 years after the genocide, the western media were portraying Rwanda as a country that has been through hell, then catharsis and is fast on the mend. I didn’t see it that way. Most predominantly Hutu people seemed stunted and withdrawn - there seemed to be palpable poisonous undercurrent of guilt and defeat just waiting to get out. Given half a chance I felt they would be back at it again in the blink of an eye. There are many people - including some of the former RPF fighters criticizing the current government, and I’m sure they are no saints. However, it seemed to me that possible alternatives were much worse and strong government was reasonable price to pay to prevent another catastrophe.
    My route through Rwanda:

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    I crossed the border in Gisenyi, which is basically extension of Goma on the other side of the border. On the border I got accosted by a local guy with horrific scar across half of his neck - somebody clearly tried to cut off his head with machete and got only half way through, how he survived that is beyond me. He was friendly, spoke English (Rwanda, apart from local languages of course, is part of the former francophone Africa) and helped me through the procedures - I didn’t dare to ask about the scar.

    From Gisenyi I headed on good widing tar east to Ruhengeri sitting on the southern side of Ruwenzori mountains. Ruhengeri is the place in Rwanda to visit gorillas. I found accommodation in a local guesthouse and started to ask around about the gorilla trek. Many people warned me that the treks are booked months ahead and there is no way to just rock-up and go - which didn’t dissuade me to do exactly that, I hate booking anything ahead. People in the guesthouse didn’t know if there are any spaces left, and told me the best would be for me to try arrange the trek next morning at the park headquarters about 20 km out of town.

    Next morning I followed another car with tourists heading for the trek to the park headquarters, where they said no problem, I paid my admission fee of 370 USD, was allocated to a group of 4 other tourists waiting for the trek and got introduction of the gorilla family we are going to visit (there are multiple families and each is visited every day only by one group of tourists and the visits are limited to one hour). We were assigned English speaking guide and a very professionally looking military support group with clean fatigues and more importantly clean well maintained AKs. They kept their distance and didn’t want us to take the pictures of them - their presence felt reassuring as there were 8 tourists killed on gorilla trek on the Ugandan side by Congolese rebels few years back. There were trackers since early morning up the mountains looking for the gorilla family - the gorillas are habituated to human presence, but they migrate every night, so park sends a forward party every morning to track them down and direct tourists to the apes. Occasionally they fail and the tourists will miss the gorillas.

    We drove few more km and debussed at the local school playground to start the trek checking the mountains above us. The Rwenzori mountains are impressive chain of 6 or 7 volcanoes towering over 4500 meters high. Their higher reaches are overgrown by dense rainforest, the lower reaches are heavily populated and the forest was cleared for tea plantations, sadly encroaching on the gorillas habitat.

    At the park headquarters:

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    The schoolyard - star of the hike:

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    The lower reaches of the forest have lots of bamboo - gorillas love bamboo shoots as they keep them slightly intoxicated:

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    Once you reach the slope of volcano the going gets really steep:

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    And then there they were . I have seen most of the african animals in the wild - including great white sharks and saltwater crocodiles, but nothing - and I mean nothing - matches meeting gorillas in the wild. It’s probably cliche to say that they look like long lost forest tribe, but they do. It’s just eerie feeling to be completely exposed in the midst of a group of animals that can take your head off with one blow while they just go quietly about their business unperturbed by the bunch of neurotic hairless apes in their midst trying to keep their little anxieties in check. And there is something very humbling when they look you in the eye without any trace of aggression or nervosity, just curiosity.

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    Mother with a baby:

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    This one seemed to be the group's intellectual:

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    The males - youngster and the dominant silverback, who most of the time kept away from us:

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    Mischievous youngsters - a bit of a problem as they tried to touch us and we were told to avoid any contact so that they do not catch our ugly diseases. We ended up back-pedalling a bit from the little ones:

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    About half way into our visit I almost screwed-up big time - I was busy taking pictures of the young male lazily showing off about 3 meters from us, when unbeknownst to me the silverback (dominant male) crept to about meter and half of me and started pissed off growl and aggressive display - telling the youngster to cut it off or something. Taken completely by surprise by the sight of 200 kgs of pissed of meat within an arm's reach, my immediate instinct was to run. Now in the induction we were told that whatever we do, we should never run as it will trigger the hunter’s instinct in the animals and they will give a chase, which of course we are going to lose. We were supposed to stand our ground and if shit hits the fan, bow down in a display of submission. Now that is nice and dandy if you at least have a clue that it’s about to hit off, but I didn’t and taken by surprise my instincts took over. Luckily, the guide has seen it coming and pinned me down to the ground (I was crouching to get picture and he was standing behind me) with all his weight hissing through his teeth “Stay where you are!”. Which I did and everything returned back to normal as soon as the silverback felt satisfied that the young jock got the message.

    The young jock showing-off - just yawning, not threatening:

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    And the boss:

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    Funnily enough, exactly an hour after we found them and our allocated time slot expired, the gorillas all stood up as one man and moved off - not unlike most other 9 to 5 employees I know.

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    #81
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  2. Dillard

    Dillard Seeker

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    Volcano and Guerrillas, pretty amazing stuff.

    Lots of Adventure in this RR. Really enjoying it.
    #82
  3. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

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    Great report...thanks for taking us along. I saw the gorillas in Rwanda in 1990...only paid $100 with a student ID (even though I wasn't a student). I agree with you...it was the single greatest animal viewing experience I've ever done.
    #83
  4. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Thanks, good to hear people like the report.
    #84
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  5. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Rwanda - part 2

    Next day I went for another hike up one of the volcanoes (not tracking gorillas this time), this time with a Russian dude and Slovenian girl, who were in Africa on some kind of charity or study gig. They have travelled all the way from Malawi and then decided that gorillas were too expensive so they are not going to see them - now, they are expensive, but if you already paid all the money to get there it seemed silly to me not to go and see them. Funnily we have actually bumped into a gorilla family, but were pushed on by our guides as we didn’t pay for the privilege.

    Pics from the hike:

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    Sneaky one of our machine gun support barely visible in his fatigues:

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    And the crater lake at the top at about 4500 meters:

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    And the way down through the rainforest:

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    And the tea plantations encroaching on the forest higher up:

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    With the main attraction - gorillas, safely stored on the memory cards, I headed back west to explore a bit more of Rwanda in a roundabout trip. I retraced back to Gisenyi and took a dirt road following the eastern shore of the Lake Kivu south to Kibuye. The dirt road snaked over the sea of typical green hills - the reason why Rwanda is called a country of thousand hills, along the eastern shore of the lake providing beautiful vistas. While this is pretty remote area, I could see that overpopulation is a problem here as there was no forest left and almost every piece of land was covered by the terrace fields.

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    Kibuye turned out to be a lovely little town perched on a hill above the lake. And sadly, as any other major settlement in Rwanda, was a site of one of the worst massacres during the genocide, when people who took a refuge in picturesque catholic church up on a hill were handed over the the priests to the wild crowd outside and massacred. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the place - I happened to find an accommodation in the old monastery/cloister adjacent to the church, and marvelled at the tranquility of the place. Until I found about its history, that is. There is a little museum there documenting the genocide - I didn’t go for a visit there or in any of the multitude of other genocide museums dotted across Rwanda. I knew enough about what has happened, and could almost sense in the air why, so I didn’t see a point at gawking at the pictures or even human remains of this horror. I find the modern visual fascination with death too voyeuristic, selfish and insensitive to the victims.

    I went for a late lunch to the restaurant at the shore of the lake, where I’ve spotted a whitey approaching across the lake on a canoe. It turned out to be Chris from the Wadi Haifa gang - he hooked up with some expat who lived in a house on the shore of the lake and borrowed his canoe for a little trip. Over a bottle of beer or three we caught up on our travels - Chris has done gorillas trek in Congo and then managed hitchhike his way all the way to Goma, where he took a boat across lake Kivu to Bukavu at the southern tip of the lake - the place I wanted to go originally when I planned to circumvent Kivu on the congolese side. He got into massive problems there as the local honchos told him that his visa was valid only for North Kivu province and he was now in the South Kivu illegally. He managed to get out of that predicament somehow - probably paying some fake fine or something, jumped across the border to Rwanda and hitchhiked/public transported his way up to Kibuye. Well, it was probably a good thing then that I didn’t go to Bukavu. Somehow, I have lost al the pictures from Kibuye, sorry.

    Next day I continued on the dirt track south all the way to Gisuma at the southern tip of the lake where I hit tar and turned east towards Nyungwe Forest NP, another place to go see chimpanzees, which is what I wanted to do. On the tar I have come across one of the most bizarre manifestation of the European guilt - the Germans, decided that the best way to heal Rwandan scars is to provide their police with a fleet of BMW GS1150s. When I first met one going in the opposite direction on otherwise empty road, I thought I’m hallucinating - and the same seemed to be true about the policeman. Later on in Kigali I found a compound that was supposedly servicing the bikes - and about half of the fleet was already there in different stages of disrepair. But it was all good and provided for a nice ice breaker at the police checkpoints all over Rwanda.

    Once in the park I found accommodation in one of the chalets at the headquarters and went for a hike with an American couple, who worked in Peace Corps in Kigali. The forest was impressive, but we haven’t met any chimps - except once the guide pointed up to the canopy about 20-30 meter above saying there is a chimp there. We all strained our necks and did that “Oh, yeah!” sound, but we’ve seen bugger all. the highlight of the trek came when we were going through a dense undergrowth and out of a blue the rangers tensed noticeably and indicated to us to keep quiet. There were poacher in the vicinity and they were going to try to arrest them. I imagined hardened rebels armed up to their teeth prowling around and felt distinctly exposed in the group - I’m the opposite of the herd animal, when the shit hits the fan my instinct is to go on my own as far as possible from any group. Well, the poachers turned out to be 4 local motherly ladies getting some wood in the forest which is prohibited. They had to follow us up to the ranger station where after a little talking to they were released.

    Nyungwe Forest NP:

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    From the Nyungwe Forest NP I headed to Kigali - the capital. Even by african standards, Kigali is a dump. It is more or less an impoverished village of the little rondavel houses spread across the surrounding hills with a little big of incongruous glass and concrete buildings in the middle. I’ve spent there about a week on the internet updating my family and friends, doing little maintenance, lazing about and planning where to next. Chris - who funnily enough was ahead of me on public transport, sent me a e-mail warning me off the area in Tanzania adjacent to the Rwandan border at Rusuma Falls. He has hitched a ride in a local 4x4 and out in the sticks a minibus they were following came into a crossfire from the bush, one of the ricochets going through their front window. They managed to turn around and get away safely - and later found out that minibus also got away with two people injured, but he strongly recommended to consider different route. There were reportedly lots of Rwandan refugees living in the area and having no other way to provide for themselves they resorted to road-side robberies.

    It was exactly where I was heading so I pondered for a day or two my options - the only other option being to back track through Uganda. Eventually I decided to risk it - I felt the weird big bike and my space shuttle attire, gave me the necessary element of surprise and speed to make it through a potential ambush. I would feel differently in 4x4, but I believe the crime is a business as any other and while the robbers would see a value in 4x4 which they may sell or use, there was no value for them in a bike that can still carry at most 3 people with no luggage to speak of, while burning as much fuel as a car. So after a week in Kigali I packed up and set-off to the Tanzanian border at Rusumo Falls.
    #85
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  6. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Tanzania

    Tanzania, together with Kenya, is the main tourist attraction of Eastern Africa, its highlights including Serengeti – the most famous national park in Africa, Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world, and exotic Zanzibar. It had pretty standard Africa history: Being colonized first by Germans during the scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, it was taken over by British after German defeat in WWI and finally became independent in the early 60’s. Ruled by the lefty intellectual Nyerere it followed one of those hefty nice sounding ideas of socialism, third way or some such, which brought it to the verge of starvation and made it dependent on the foreign aid. It has returned to multiparty democracy some time ago and after decades of social experiments it started slowly inching forward like the rest of sub-saharan Africa.

    My impressions of Tanzania are pretty bland - which in comparison with Rwanda or DRC is not necessarily a bad thing. There are some wonderful things to see and experience, but it seemed to miss the lively energetic vibes of Uganda, Ethiopia or even Kenya. It was probably just the route I took, but the country felt a bit like a african theme tourist park, rather than a place with its own strong character.

    Regarding the route - I was a bit torn. On one hand I was quite keen to explore the less travelled areas of western Tanzania along the coast of Lake Tanganyika - the name of which itself for me is a synonym for mystery and adventure. On the other hand, I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro and explore the areas around Ngorongoro, which both sit at the opposite corner of the country north east along the border with Kenya. After a bit of deliberation I have decided to head east and maybe head back to Tanganyika later.

    My route through Tanzania:

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    I’ve crossed to Tanzania via the Rusumo Falls border post and made it in two days tar to Shinyanga about half way through to Kilimanjaro. Most of the route was good tar with minimum traffic under the broadest sky I’ve ever seen (I promise you much broader even than the Makgadikgadi pans in Botswana - no idea why), last about 100 km was good gravel. I’ve made it to Shinyanga without a glitch - no dodging of automatic fire, I’m glad to report.

    Once settled in a guesthouse In Shinyanga, I’ve run into a problem though. The shortest way to get to Ngorongoro crater - the first objective, was on what looked like a main dirt road crossing from west to east Serengeti NP. Now I knew that normally they wouldn’t let me through NP on a bike, but in Uganda they did and as this was a main thoroughfare from Lake Victoria to Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro about 400 km east, they may let me go as long as I stay on the main road (as they do for example in Chobe NP in Botswana). But the tourist information centre in town told me there is no way they will let me in. The only alternative was a long boring way around on tar south to Singida then up north to Karatu and from there back west to Ngorongoro. I wasn’t thrilled.

    But then looking at the Michelin map (if you need one map to cross Africa, this is the one - or the three of them covering whole africa) I’ve seen there was indicated trek going almost in a straight line from Shinyanga to Ngorongoro running on the southern boundary of Serengeti and north of lake Eyasi. First half it run along Serengeti, the second half run through something called Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Well, if it doesn’t have national park in the name, surely I’m allowed in, right?

    With that settled I prepared for departure next day, and went to do a bit web browsing to the local Telkom office with the local youngster named Deo, who was brother of my hotel’s manager. He was quite helpful so I paid for an hour of internet for him and logged into my website so that he can browse through the pictures of my trip. When I checked on him after the hour expired, he was still on the same page I left him on - only with some message window with OK/cancel on it. The poor soul didn’t have a clue how Windows or mouse work. Now, if he has been a Masai herds boy I could understand, but Deo was university graduate and lived in a hotel where he had access to a computer in reception. This experience left me wondering about prospects of this African country.

    Next day I packed up and set-off on the gravel roads east. After about 70 km I reached the south-western corner of Serengeti and continued along the boundary on rocky double track winding in and out of bush. There was no traffic whatsoever and I felt a bit apprehensive as I half expected a lion leaping out of the bush for a bit of petting. I haven’t encountered any game worth mentioning though. My speed was quite low - there were few quite technical rocky sections, creek crossings and such, which sapped my energy quite a lot.

    I have eventually arrived in the afternoon to the western gate of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and as I expected will be the case despite my NP theory, was told by the Masai rangers, that it’s no go on the bike. They were friendly though and interested in the bike as there are probably none coming this way. Sensing the potential opening and not keen to backtrack just to ride almost full circle on hundreds of kms of boring tar, I just kept straight face and lied. I told them that I do not have enough petrol to go back and am scared of the track I just came on as it’s too tough. Being nice hosts they were, the commander called his boss at the park headquarters on the top of the Ngorongoro crater about 70 km east, who eventually granted permission for me to cross next day. The commander even invited me to stay the night with him in his room, which I gladly accepted not keen to camp in the prime animal area.

    Karma caught up with me immediately next morning. I packed up early and set-off for the 70 km ride to the Ngorongoro crater. Those 70 km took me better part of 8 hours to ride. The double track was running across those trademark african plains with thousand and thousands of wildebeest, zebra and buffalo around.

    That on its own proved to be a challenge, as I worried that there must be swarms of predators following along, so I was constantly scanning the plains for a sign of lion or hyena. To my dismay I fully realized how scared I am of the animals. I had glimpses of that fear before when encountering bulls parked square in the middle of the road and completely ignoring my attempts to pass. I would try different tactics from blowing the horn, revving the engine to making a snake eyes a la Clint Eastwood and snarling something threatening - and nothing. Invariably, this impasse will end with a 10 kg child jumping out of the bush screaming at the 1 ton bull which at that point will be running in blind panic away for dear life. Done with the bull the kid would turn to me - staring mesmerized by the whole scene - and scream “Give me money/candy/pen!”. At which point I would snap out of my daydreaming, kick in the gear and ride away in the cloud of dust and panic, with rear wheel spinning. The police should use these for the crowd control.

    The bigger problem though was the rain season and the fact that the whole track was covered by that bloody cotton mud. TKC 80s are reasonably decent universal tyres, but they are useless in mud clogging very quickly and not cleaning themselves. I found this viscerally within a few hundred meters when out of a blue the bike without any provocation flipped from underneath me and I connected with the ground - hard. Trying to pick the bike up in the mud once I got my breathing going proved to be real joy. As soon as I got the bike to about 45 degrees, it would just slide away from me in circles pivoting on the rear wheel, and there were few instances when I did few full circles before I eventually managed to get it up somehow. I had to pick the bike up at least 10 times on those 70 km and ended up duck walking the bike probably at least 20 km constantly on the verge of fall or broken leg.

    The mud doesn't look like much, but believe me it will have you on your ass within 15 meters:

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    Giraffes wondering what is this idiot up to:

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    At one particularly yummy swamp I caught up with two Masai woman carrying heavy load of water and wood to their village few km away. Now you do not want to be born as a Masai woman - that’s about the toughest existence I can imagine. In the polygamous society where Masai man has many wives, the women have to do all the hard work and are literally valued way below the cows. Unexpected audience - of female type no less - made me to stand up for a bit more flattering form, inevitably ending up in a faceplant. With my dignity gone I asked this hard working women if they would be so kind and help me lift my ridiculously overweight and overloaded bike, which they did. Just for me to bite the mud about 5 meters further. They looked at this idiot riding around with a shit worth probably more than their whole village, including all the women, with those tired eyes of suffering mothers - they were both probably 15 years my juniors. Beyond shame, I looked back with the begging eyes of basset, and putting down their heavy loads once again, they helped to get me up again.

    The inability to lift the bike quickly combined with the potential predator threat made me very jumpy on the plains while standing next to laying bike. On few occasions I’ve heard something approaching on the track behind the bushes, flapping big time looking for some hide-out. These always turned out to be Masai children walking from a school somewhere between 10 - 30 km away. But they had a stick, while I was completely defenseless! All this hard work resulted in no pictures unfortunately from this track.

    Eventually I made it in the afternoon tired, wet and muddy to the headquarters on the top of the Ngorongoro crater, where the head honcho adopted me, showed me to the campsite on the top of the crater and gave me for me his own (well government’s) car to take me to for safari to the crater next day. I’m sure none of the money I paid (including special 100 USD enviromental fee to enter the crater on top of standard admission - I mentioned the tourist theme park earlier, didn’t I) didn’t go to the government or national park, but hey - who am I to judge.

    The campsite, with the scavengers ready:

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    Ngorongoro crater from the top:

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    Ngorongoro crater, as the name says is a crater 20 km in diameter and 600 meters deep, at the bottom of which live separated the full variety of the african animals, big five notwithstanding. The set-up of the crater is impressive, and the animal viewing opportunities unparalleled as the animals are confined to the crater area with relatively very few places to hide. But this also gives it a bit of a zoo feel, where not much effort is required to see the animals. It’s limited size in combination with its accessibility along the main tourist route also results in the season in the ridiculous traffic jams when you just move slowly in the long train of 4x4 vehicles crawling across the crater floor. I was lucky and there wasn’t too much traffic, the game viewing was great, but still, not my favourite place for safari.

    Ngorongoro safari:

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    One of the biggest killers of african savannahs - Tse Tse fly:

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    And the pussy cat - isn't it cute:

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    And probably the biggest elephant I've ever seen:

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    The lions don't even bother to get off the road:

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    Last look back:

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    #86
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  7. WilliamArcher

    WilliamArcher Been here awhile

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    Apr 26, 2014
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    Awesome report! This is one of the best I've ever seen on this site. :clap

    Good choice not taking the boring route through Singida, though I'm amazed the guards let you through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I'm pretty sure that won't fly nowadays. Especially since the first part of the road you took now runs through the Maswa Game Reserve—leased out to private hunting companies who will straight up shoot trespassers—I think you got to take a unique ride. There is a another road that runs just South of Lake Eyasi. I did it in February, and Michael and Tanya over at the Earth's Ends report took it on their way in the opposite direction last month. It's rough and requires ferrying your bike in a dugout canoe but quite pretty as well. Maybe next time you're passing through... :lol3
    #87
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  8. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Thank you William. But don't laugh, I may be back - this time exploring west along lake Tanganyika.
    #88
  9. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Johannesburg, South Africa
    Tanzania - part 2

    Once back from safari I packed up and set-off east out of the Ngorongoro conservation area toward Arusha. But I had one more detour to do. You might remember that the Frenchie volcano enthusiasts I’ve met on the top of Nyiragongo above Goma told me about another active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai sitting to the east of the Ngorongoro at the southern tip of Lake Natron (I love that name, sounds like something from James Bond). I was keen to go as it seemed to be properly off the beaten tourist track and seemed like a good antidote to the Ngorongoro zoo. But it was late, so I slept over in catholic mission in Karatu and set-off north next day.

    The track followed about 120 km along the eastern flank of the Ngorongoro. First 40 km or so were good gravel, which turned into a double track and eventually turned into properly deep sand track for the last 30 km to the lake. I arrived there in the afternoon and enquired in the small Masai village if I can hike up the volcano. They said sure and will provide guide and one porter, just not now. They told me that I cannot walk during the day because of the heat (it was bloody hot), so we will go at 10 pm and walk overnight up for the sunrise at the top. It is almost exactly 2000 altitude meters up from about 900 meters to 2900 meters at the top - proper walk by any measures.

    Ol Doinyo Legai from the campsite and close-ups:

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    And the top with the smoking lava chimney's sticking out of the flat top:

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    So I tried more or less unsuccessfully to catch some sleep in the midday heat before we set-off. At about 9:00 pm we were picked up by local 4x4 which took us 3 the 15 km or so to the bottom of the mountain, where we picked up the luggage and set-off. I’m not professional mountaineer, and there is something cool about climbing a volcano in the darkness of the night. However it became obvious that this is going to be hard work. The sides of the conical volcano are steep and made of hardened lava - like walking on tiles angles at about 45 degrees. If you slip there is nothing to hold on to so its not inconceivable that you just roll down back most of those 2 km. The guide told me that right now there is no visible lava at the top - a bummer as the French guys few weeks back have witnessed lava eruptions. On the other hand I could see fresh lava streams all around me and when I asked innocently how fast does lava flow, the guide told me that faster than water, so maybe not so bad.

    I do not have any pictures from the ascent as it was pitch dark, so I've stolen these from Google to give you some idea:

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    We made it to the top before sunrise, and it was bloody cold - freezing actually. So from the risk of a heat stroke working pig in the heavy sand to the hypothermia in the space of few hours. Idiotically I didn’t bring sleeping bag, only mattress to sit on and some thermal underwear.

    Eventually the sunrise came, and it was worth all the hard work and the freezing balls. Here are the sunrise pictures of Kilimanjaro (left) and Mount Meru about 200 km away:

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    As I said, it was bloody cold and my two companions sat shivering until the sun came fully up and the day warmed up:

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    Unlike other volcanos the top is not a crater, but flat with few chimneys towering above the hardened lava. I didn't have wide enough lens to capture it so here is another steal from Google:

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    I gingerly walked around on top of the hardened lava keeping to the outer perimeter not keen to crush through into a hot lava lake:

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    Hardened lava I tip toed on:

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    The main overflow - but there are couple of others on each side:

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    The views of the nearby Ngorongoro massive and Lake Natron from 2 km above are impressive indeed:

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    As I wasn't lucky enough to catch lava on top, here are few more pics of lava on top shamelessly stoled from internet:

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    After few hours on top, we made our way back down and then walked those remaining 15 km to the village in the midday heat. Tired as dog I fell asleep and woke up only next morning, when I packed up and retraced back to Karatu and onwards to Arusha and Moshi, the base for Kilimanjaro climb.

    On the descent:

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    Lake Natron:

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    My Masai porter back at the base:

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    And few more from the ride back to tar in Karatu 120 km away. Pig with OL behind hidden in the clouds:

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    Wildlife along the way:

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    Masai and baobab:

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    This Ol Doinyo Lengai trippie was definitely my highlight of Tanzania. It is impressive in its own right, but the fact that it's off beaten tourist circuit and doesn't feature as a prominent highlight of Tanzania helps one to keep his expectations at check and be very much impressed when there. As my pictures suck (I've lost some good ones unfortunately) I will close this one with few more stolen ones to give OL the proper send off:

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    #89
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  10. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2007
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    723
    Location:
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    Tanzania - part 3

    Moshi is a town sitting at the foot of Kilimanjaro, at 5895 meters highest mountain in Africa and highest freestanding mountain in the world. As a base for the Kilimanjaro treks the whole town is geared towards the tourists keen to pay lots of money for high-altitude headache, vomit and frostbite. The town’s main revenue sources are hotels, souvenir trinket shops and agents organizing the Kili trek.

    I have arrived from Ol Doinyo Lengai in the late afternoon and found accommodation in one of the many guesthouses along the main road. I was immediately hassled vigorously by swarms of hustlers trying to sell me the Kili trek. In a country devoid of opportunities, Kili provides one of the few rare places to make buck and therefore attracts disproportionately more sellers than buyers, with all the attendant hassle. They were not allowed up into the rooms, so I managed to get my luggage up to my room and get out of the biking gear and then headed back down to face the gauntlet and arrange the trek. With the benefit of hindsight I should have probably go to one of the upscale hotels and organize the trip through them, but I felt street-wise enough to be able to deal with these hustlers associated loosely with one of the few independent trek providers. I have picked the least untrustworthy looking guy and he took me to their nearby office to discuss specifics.

    Kilimanjaro towering 5000 meters above Moshi:

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    Standard Kilimanjaro trek takes 5 days - 3,5 up and 1,5 down. I suck at altitude - literally. I’ve been to altitudes above 5000 meters in Tibet, Ladakh, Karakoram and Altiplano and almost always ended up gasping for breath with bad headache and occasional throw up. So I opted for a 6 day trek - the extra day giving me more time to acclimatise. It cost more but I was happy to pay to increase my chances of making it to the top - which is not guaranteed by any chance. I’m not sure there is anywhere else in the world where you have to climb 5 altitude km from the feet of the mountain to the top.

    There are number of different routes to the top - the easiest main one being nicknamed ‘Coca Cola route’. Being the snob I am, I would normally opt for one of the less travelled more difficult alternative routes but, after short deliberation about my prior high altitude fails (I tried to climb 6000 meters mountain in Bolivia and didn’t make it), I have decided to be safe and take the Coca Cola route. Being the least strenuous it also provided cottages for sleepovers, while other routes required camping - with more stuff to lug around and hence more porters. And it was a rain season - I didn’t fancy sleeping for 5 nights in freezing temperatures in a wet tent.

    We agreed on the route and price, but not the departure date. I was keen to start next day, but they were non-committal, as they yet didn’t yet have enough tourists for a group for next day - they pool people together from different agencies to split the costs. I have prepared and packed for next day departure anyway to be ready should other hikers show up and went to bed.

    They managed to get a group together, so late next morning I boarded minibus for the ride to the Kilimanjaro national park about 20 km away. On the way we picked up the other 3 hikers - 2 ladies and 1 man. They were together volunteering in a Tanzanian hospital somewhere in the sticks - 2 of them were doctors and 1 a british nurse Hannah. An interesting fact - Hannah once dated a heir of the Cadbury chocolate company, which for some reason I will remember till I die. In stark contrast, the names of the two doctors - a lady doctor from Germany and gentleman from Austria, who both helped me great deal when I got sick on the way down, sadly completely elude me (though I have an inkling that the guy’s name was Florian, so that is what I’m going to call him).

    We have debussed at the gate to the NP where we met with our guides and porters - a lot of them. I didn’t start on the right foot with our guide chief a young chap of about 30. During introduction he said ‘Good luck’ to which I answered ‘And good luck to you’ to which he visibly irritated replied that his name is actually Goodluck. Now I must have bumped into this African habit of naming people with characteristics like Pretty, or Patience (the best I’ve heard was in Malawi, where a guy was called Section 5 - after the section of the hospital he was born in) before, but this was the first time when it properly sunk in.

    After registration and payment of the admission fees we set-off towards the first camp about 2700 meters high. It was an easy hike raising very gently along well trodden wide track and we made it to the first camp without sweat in the late afternoon despite the late start and over 1700 altitude meters we had to climb. We were assigned into a cottage and went for a walkabout while our support group prepared dinner.

    Secondary Kilimanjaro peak with the main one hidden behind to the left:

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    Next day we continued on the gently rising trail to the second camp at about 3700 meters. Camp with the main massive in the background:

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    My hiking group:

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    On day 3 we have arrived in the early afternoon to the last camp situated at the start of the steep crater wall we were to climb to get to the rim and the top. The camp was at about 4700 meters and I was supposed to stay here on more day to acclimatize before the final push. but I already knew that they mixed me with a group that was here only for 5 days. When I found out in one of the previous days I had a word with the guide reiterating that I paid for 6 days. I could sense that he would prefer I didn’t bring it up, but he said that I may stay one more day in the top camp. As an alternative he suggested that I may attempt to go with the group and if I’m sick I may return and retry next day. I felt surprisingly good with no hint of altitude sickness so I stupidly agreed to his alternative not realizing that should I not make it first day, I will be too knackered to attempt the second anyway.

    The huts with the track sneaking up the mountain behind:

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    We had an early dinner and then were ushered to beds very early at about 6 pm. The reason was that we were to wake up and start climbing at midnight to make it to the top by sunrise. We all dug into our sleeping bags - as soon as the sun set-down it was freezing properly. I was feeling chuffed and strong. Not so Florian. He was suffering badly from the altitude already on our arrival and despite the rest was getting worse quickly. Eventually, it was decided to get him down asap (people die here from the altitude regularly), and he was put in his sleeping bag on a funny stretcher, which had under a center a one wheel (with suspension and all) and 4 porters set-off with him at admirable pace down with the stretcher bumping on the rocky path.

    Our group, as well as all the other groups we were sharing big room with, raised at 12:00, geared up and set-off. Most of the people didn’t manage to sleep much due to the early bed-time and cold. Contrary to the prior days, we were in for a very steep over 1000 altitude meters on a loose dirt, in which after each step you slipped half a step back. This is the the steep part of the crater the one usually white on the pictures of Kilimanjaro as it used to be covered in snow. There was no snow when I was there, thanks to global warming.

    We walked in almost complete darkness, the path illuminated only by dozens of head torches. We sneaked upwards slowly and I was on high alert for any sign of altitude sickness, which weren’t coming. This was proper work-out but I felt fine and despite deliberately going as slow as possible was in the leading group that separated soon from the slower core group.

    That lasted to about 50 altitude meters from the rim of the crater, when the altitude sickness struck me with a vengeance. I started to feel weak, got horrible headache and my stomach started churning. I continued, but slowed down almost to a standstill, being taken over by most of the stragglers, including the two ladies from my group. I pushed on and eventually made it to the Gilman’s point at the top of the crater rim at 5681 meters. From here we were to walk another few km along the crater rim and then climb another 200 altitude meters to the top.

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    But it wasn’t going to happen for me. I was in a bad way - I have had altitude sickness enough times before to know when it is serious. And I was weak, dizzy, feeling like vomiting and of course freezing - it was still dark and probably -20 degrees Celsius. I knew it’s game over for me, but the junior guide they left with me while the rest of the group continued to the top, tried to prompt me to push on clearly worried that I will not be inclined to tip him if I do not make it. I still had enough wits about me to make very clear that it’s not going to happen and after 10 minutes or so on the top where I caught the sight of diminishing glacier in the crater, we set off down.

    Soon the sunrise was upon us and my mood improved as with every step down into the more dense air my situation gradually improved.

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    This is what remains of that trademark white snowcap - and it will be gone by lunchtime:

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    We have made it to the 3rd camp, where we waited for the rest of the group to come down from the top. Now, theoretically this was my chance for a sleepover and second attempt next day, but I knew it’s not going to happen - I just went too far today and wasted too much energy to have a repeat. Both ladies made it to the top, while both guys failed - I’m sure there is some joke about the weaker sex somewhere there. For the rest of the day we pushed on through the 2nd camp to the 1st camp for the overnighter.

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    The whole group - minus Florian - on the descent with guides and porters

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    While I have recovered from the altitude sickness, some nasty virus/bacteria (I have a sneaky suspicion that we have run out of the water that has been boiled and the guides gave untreated water from a stream) - probably in combination with dehydration - latched into my weakened self and I got proper nausea and fever. I thought a good night sleep will take care of it, but in the morning I felt only marginally better. I have managed to walk down the the reception where we were to be picked up by bus, but I just turned into a pile of jelly on the ground. I haven’t been this weak without excessive abuse of alcohol probably ever.

    When the bus came the ladies and guides basically loaded me in and we returned to Moshi. Now in the last push to extract some money from the poor hikers, the groups are usually on return brought to the agency shop for a ‘celebration’ where they are of course encouraged to buy some souvenirs. They tried that with us, but laying on the seat I told them in uncertain terms to take me straight to the hotel, which they eventually did. Once there I said feeble goodbye to the ladies and crawled into my room to die.

    Later on somebody knocked on my door, and it was Florian - now fully recovered - who came to check-up on me as a good doctor he is. He gave me some pills that I took and managed to survive the day between bed and toilet. Next day he checked on me keen to take me to the hospital, but luckily started to improve gradually. I’ve spent one or two more days doing bugger all in the hotel room until I recovered enough to start moving again.

    By now I felt ready for another break from this overlanding business. The logical solution would be to ride down Dar es Salaam and spent a week or on the beaches of Zanzibar. But I was keen on exploration and rather craved something familiar. So instead I decided still a bit feverish to backtrack a bit illogically 350 km back to Nairobi for another lay-about in the Jungle Junction.
    #90
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  11. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2007
    Oddometer:
    723
    Location:
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    I run out of material and am going for a trip next month, so I have to take break from this RR. I will continue in a months time.

    Thanks for following so far.
    #91
    ferals5 and micko01 like this.
  12. sages

    sages Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2008
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    213
    Enjoy your trip. Your effort into writing up the trip reports is really appreciated.
    #92
  13. RiderRick

    RiderRick Been here awhile

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    Apr 24, 2013
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    Southeast Minnesota
    Wow another incredible installment, what a great story and pictures!
    #93
  14. Dillard

    Dillard Seeker

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2010
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    in my mind
    Hell man, the ride from Prague to SA would have been epic without all of these side trips of safaris and mountain climbing. I like how you took the time to experience these countries, not just ride through them.
    #94
  15. legasea

    legasea Ape on wheels

    Joined:
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    Hanging on in a garden by the sea
    We will patiently wait. But will miss you.
    Enjoy that month the best you can.
    #95
  16. Xpat

    Xpat Been here awhile

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    Thanks guys, will be back.
    #96
  17. micko01

    micko01 another DR650 rider

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    Back to reality.... WestOz
    Lovin it xpat! Keep it up.
    #97
  18. tehdutchie

    tehdutchie Long timer

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    Amsterdam or on Twitter @antal
    Great write!! Some story teller you are!!
    #98
  19. johnnybgood8

    johnnybgood8 Been here awhile

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    Awesome!
    #99
  20. NSFW

    NSFW basecamp4adv

    Joined:
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    Burbank CA
    i will remember this ride report for a long time!

    brilliant writing!