A Travellerspoint blog

First few days in Ethiopia

Moyale to Addis

rain 23 °C

I am finally up to date!

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We left very early in the morning and drove to Moyale, the town on the Ethiopian border. It took several hours at the border to get stamped into Ethiopia and, once clear, we headed into town to get some coffee. Ethiopian coffee is said to be the best in the world and, from my experience so far, I'd agree. I had a shot of the strongest coffee I've ever tasted - it was like taking a mouthful of the 80% Stroh Falcon bought in Namibia, but the flavours were incredible. We were all wired that morning on the truck.

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If you don't want to walk your camels, pack them into a truck!

The roads in Ethiopia were a thousand times better than the ones in northern Kenya; tar sealed and so smooth. Bliss; it was possible to read again.

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Termite mounds everywhere.

We camped off the road in a quarry. A few guys came up to meet us and explained that they were engineers working on the roads, and that they would be delighted to let us camp there.

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Andi and Grant (trip leader and driver), with their new friend.

The guys stayed around all night, chatting to us and making sure we were ok. In the morning we gave them a lift to the next town.
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Ethiopia has one of the highest populations in Africa (and is the most populous landlocked country in the world) - there are people everywhere! Quite a contrast compared to northern Kenya, where we'd seen very few people. Wherever we stop, within seconds a group gathers around the truck; you can see them running.

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The people in Ethiopia are some of the friendliest we've come across. A mixture of Arab and black African, the women are stunning too ;).

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Delicious avocado, mango and pineapple smoothie, with fresh lime juice, in a town we stopped in for lunch. Because there are hardly any places to stop on the side of the road, making truck lunches virtually impossible, Andi has been giving us money to buy our own local food.

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Fantastic coffee.

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As we got further north, and higher in elevation, it got colder and wetter. Lush greenery replaced dry desert. We were planning to camp fairly near to the capital, Addis Ababa, however, the logging roads leading to suitable bush camps had all been washed out. It's hard to believe that there is one of the worst draughts in history happening only a few hundred kilometres away. As camping was off, we had to stay in a hotel, which we later discovered was a brothel. Still, no other option.

From here, we drove to Addis Ababa. The third highest capital city in the world, at 2350 metres, it's pretty cold, especially at night. Today I went out for lunch and, when we were in the cafe, the heavens opened and there was a loud thunder storm. Perfect weather for sitting inside, drinking coffee. Lots of it.

Heather's (30th) Birthday today - we're all going out for a meal tonight and then it's sampling Addis' bar/club scene. Should be fun!

Posted by AlTiffany2 06:56 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (1)

Kenya

sunny 33 °C

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Crossing the equator again, back in Kenya. We’ve crossed it properly at least seven times on the trip, but at one point the road ran along it for an hour or so, so we probably crossed it many more times without realising. It’s strange not knowing which hemisphere you’re in. Gary sometimes used his GPS to see exactly where the line was.

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We stayed at a campsite on a dairy farm near Nakuru. The green grass and rolling hills looked much like Worcestershire. Not a scene I thought I’d see in Africa.
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In the morning we all got up very early and drove to Lake Nakuru National Park for a game drive.

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Baboons are cute when they’re babies
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Pelican

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Marabou stork. These things are huge and very prehistoric-looking. When they fly, they look like pterodactyls.

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The lake is swarming with birdlife. There are thousands of flamingos, looking like a pink carpet on the surface of the water.

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We saw black and white rhinos.

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We call these ‘push-up lizards.’ They lie on a rock doing push-ups, presumably to help them see further.

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This male lion was by himself, resting. As we were watching him, another one showed up and they lay down together, snuggled up. This, apparently, is unusual behaviour for mature male lions.
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After lunch we drove to Lake Naivasha.

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High tea at Elsemere, home of Joy Adamson, from ‘Born Free.’ Her house has been left largely untouched; the garden goes down to the lake and is often visited by colobus monkeys.

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One of which jumped onto our table and stole a piece of cake.

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Baby in the tree.

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George Adamson’s Land Rover, in which he was shot dead by bandits.

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When marabou storks attack.

The next leg of our journey was going to be possibly the toughest. The road north from Nairobi to Moyale, on the Ethiopian border, is one of the worst in Africa. There’s currently a draught in this part of the Horn of Africa, so we had to be very careful with conserving water. We would be bush camping for five nights straight, driving through the sparsely populated northern provinces of Kenya. Bandit country too – Shifta, a group of Somalian bandits occasionally make raids along the (only) road, and the area is so remote, it’s effectively lawless.
So, armed to the teeth with bows and arrows, machetes, hunting knives and a crossbow (Michael’s invention), we set off.

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The gang. Changing clothes would have been really pointless; with the amount of dust pouring into the truck, and the ban on washing with jerry can water (need it all for drinking/cooking etc.), every item of clothing would’ve been filthy in hours. Thus, in true adventurer style, we all agreed not to change any clothes until we got to Ethiopia. Dirty dirty.

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Equator, again.

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Mt. Kenya.

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Camels here were huge. And everywhere!

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Twister at lunch. Dan ran into the middle of it, and turned brown.

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The road was very good to begin with.

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Awesome scenery.

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Tribal villages. Only two or three overland trucks pass through here every year. These people see very few foreigners. This is the real deal, they’re not dressing up for tourists, it’s how they live. We got a glimpse of their lives, albeit a very small one, but it was incredible.

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First bush camp.

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When the tarmac ended, the road got very bad.

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The road is never graded, so the corrugation caused by trucks driving on it gets worse and worse. We were averaging about 15kph, with bumps so big they threw us out of our seats about a foot into the air and slammed us back down. Standing up at the back, it was like we were jumping, our heads almost reaching the ceiling. I have some hilarious videos of the chaos and carnage.

Although we all got pretty sore, it was such fun – some of the best driving days we’ve had. And because we were going so slowly, you could really appreciate the landscape.

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Unfortunately, Gary became a casualty of the road. He smashed his head on a metal edge and cut it badly. Blood everywhere, he took it pretty well. Though I can’t imagine the constant bumping would have been much fun with a banging headache.

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Looks like a war vet, just come back from 'Nam.

About halfway through, we stopped in a little town for lunch. The place was so remote; two days’ drive from anywhere, and we attracted a fair amount of curiosity. But because the people there don’t have any contact with tourists, people weren’t hassling us, trying to sell us stuff, which was refreshing. Kenya is such a touristed country, however the north is like being on a totally different planet. Goat and camel herding nomads, and hundreds of kilometres of dry, dusty nothingness.

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A delicious meal in a little café. Albeit a huge carbohydrate overdose!

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Everyone we saw was chewing on a leaf called chat, so we thought it fitting to get some too. A very mild narcotic, we hoped it’d make the bumpy road more comfortable. After chewing wads of the stuff for two hours however, we agreed it wasn’t really worth the effort.

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Lee – could’ve passed for Shifta, I recon. It was the only way of reducing the amount of dust you breathed in. With the truck’s open sides, every square millimetre of everything ended up coated in it.

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A very dusty Mike.

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Mandy.

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Zoe and Jen.

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Murph and Gary.

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The only road workers we saw.

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Lee Shifta.

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Me.

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We all ended up looking like coalminer Matt.

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We thought this might’ve been a meteor crater.

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More camels.

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Another bush camp. Absolutely nothing on the horizon; remote is a huge understatement! That day we saw no vegetation whatsoever. It was like being on the surface of Mars. A few of us slept outside, without even a mosquito net, every night for these few days. This particular night, Andi said she saw a camel spider scurrying around... Thankfully, we didn't know this - ignorance is bliss!

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Nomads moving on, their houses all packed up.

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Extreme bocce (like boules) – our last bush camp in Kenya. This was awesome terrain for it - gullies, holes, bushes, speed-killing sand... I managed to get my ball lodged inside a hollow log. Reaching in to retrieve it, I was conscious of the deadly snake which may have called this log home. Thankfully, not.

Posted by AlTiffany2 03:08 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Back to Uganda

sunny 28 °C

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Back in Uganda, we drove up to Lake Bunyonyi – a lovely, peaceful place in the mountains above Kabale.

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A great relaxing spot – totally unspoilt – it would be ideal for a holiday to get away from it all.

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On our second day there, I hopped on the back of a motorbike taxi which took me down to Kabale. Here I met a friend I’d made when we stayed there on the way to Rwanda, the week before. I jumped on the truck on its way back down the following day. You can always leave the truck whenever you want and catch up with it later on; the flexibility of it all is great.

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Making chapatti pizzas – bush camping on the way back to Kampala.

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With some very horny cows.

In Kampala, a few of us decided to go to the cricket. An international Twenty20 tournament was being played when we were there, and entry was free.
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Ghana (red) vs. Nigeria (green).

We were virtually the only spectators there and sat on the bar terrace drinking beer in the sunshine. As you do.
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We could walk down these steps and chat to the players; the atmosphere was very relaxed.

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Ghana beat Nigeria, for the first time ever.

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But the Nigerian coach didn’t seem too upset.

There were two more matches the next day; Uganda vs. Ghana and Namibia. We had so much fun the previous day, we decided to go again.

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After the first match, we had a little game of our own on the pitch. See the players in the background, watching!

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Dan got the entire Ugandan team to sign our bat.

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And found himself being interviewed on TV.

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They didn’t seem to mind that I was wearing Lee’s Ghana football shirt.

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Back in the bar we had a good chat with the umpires. Dan and I swiped their hats for this photo.

In the afternoon, I took a motorbike across town to meet up with a friend from home, Becky, who’s currently doing volunteering work in Kampala. It was strange to see a familiar face after so long and great to catch up and compare our different experiences since we’d seen each other last (on an orchestra tour, in China).

Due to our extra day in Kampala, we had to catch a minibus to Jinja, where the truck had gone that morning. Jinja is a town on the River Nile, just down from Lake Victoria, the source of the river. We stayed out of town at a place called Bujagali Falls. This stretch of the Nile is famous for its white water rafting. A group of us did a day of rafting and loved it.

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The rapids are Grade 5, the most extreme classification you can do commercially.

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It’s recognised as being one of the best places in the world to raft Grade 5 rapids, and possibly the safest. All good.

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Safety kayaks come to the rescue if you get into difficulties…

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We managed to flip the boat four or five times. It’s pretty scary as you approach a large wave. You have to paddle as hard as possible in order to get enough speed up to clear the hydro. Of course, it doesn’t always work and you end up in the water. It’s fine on the surface, but sometimes the boat can flip over on top and trap you underwater, which isn’t pleasant. Occasionally, if you come out of the boat, you end up having to swim the entire length of the rapid; with waves several metres high crashing down on you and sucking you under. It’s a bit like being in a huge dishwasher. Mostly though, you just wash out the other end coughing and spluttering, having swallowed large quantities of Nile water. It’s great fun though – a massive adrenaline rush.

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It got a bit much for Heather and Jen, who opted to go in the safety boat for the last few rapids. “I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m going to die!”

We remaining ones, however, tried to backflip over the last, four metre high, wave. It almost worked…

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The pair of legs disappearing into the water belongs to our guide!

The following day we did a sunset booze cruise up to the source of the Nile, the mouth of Lake Victoria. No photos unfortunately.

In the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed (not), we drove to Kenya.

Posted by AlTiffany2 05:56 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Mountain gorillas in Rwanda

semi-overcast 25 °C

Rwanda has a very different feeling, compared to its neighbouring countries. The whole place is spotless – no rubbish, partly due to a ban on plastic bags in the country. It seems that every piece of land is cultivated; there are fields and terraces in the mountains all growing crops, mostly potatoes. This part of the continent is extremely mountainous; Rwanda is known by the locals as ‘The Land of a Thousand Mountains.’ It’s a tiny country but the terrain means the roads are extremely windy and travelling around takes time. Driving up to Ruhengeri , I sat on the roof enjoying the spectacular scenery.
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As we were preparing lunch, a group of kids came over and we had a kick about with Lee’s football, which he gave to them afterwards.

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Not the best of places to overturn a truck. Thankfully, Grant drives more sensibly.

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Falcon, our American friend, on 4th July – US Independence Day.

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Andi, trip leader.

Following a very early start the next day, we split into groups and drove up to a small village at the foot of a volcano, in the Volcans National Park.
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The areas around the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are the only places in the world where you can see mountain gorillas in the wild. Permits allowing you to trek to see them are expensive and there is a long waiting list, so I had to apply when I booked my trip with Oasis last summer.

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Jungle Man Lee.

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We had to trek through thick jungle in search of a gorilla family. Because the families move around every day, our guides cut paths with machetes through the undergrowth in order to reach them. We all got horribly stung by vicious nettles and tripped over vines – real bushwhacking.

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Rangers armed with AK-47s, to protect the gorillas from poachers. Every year, gorillas are killed for trophies, superstitious medicine and by political dissidents. There is a shoot-to-kill policy regarding poachers and, thankfully, gorilla numbers in Rwanda are increasing. Unfortunately this is not the case in DRC, where the National Park service is not as well equipped.

My first glimpse of a gorilla was a moment I’ll never forget. Stepping over a large branch, I saw one sitting on the ground, munching on some mountain celery.
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They’ve all got very individual faces and personalities.

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My group was fortunate enough to see the largest family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda; 32 members: three silverbacks (older, dominant males) and two babies only two months old.

When they gazed into my eyes, I felt a real connection. You can see them contemplating you and their expressions change as they decide what to make of you. It’s almost like looking into the face of another human, seeing them thinking, frowning and shrugging as they come to the conclusion that you’re not a threat.

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Some were quite inquisitive; others didn’t seem at all interested that we were there – showing their differing personalities.
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It made me wonder how similar our thought processes are, with our eyes locked on each other.
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You are supposed to stay at least seven metres away from them; however the curious ones came right up close to us as we sat on the ground.

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One gorilla, keeping its eyes glued to mine, walked right up to me and stood there, staring. These animals are very strong, seven times more so than an average human, and could easily kill a person. Even though they are gentle animals, with this gorilla’s face only a metre away from mine, my heart was beating pretty hard. Although a little frightening, the experience was truly amazing; just the two of us, locked in each other’s gaze.

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This one decided to play with Dan’s shoes.

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It felt so special to be visitors in their home. They don’t mind a small group of people being there at all, but the permit system regulates the amount of contact they have with humans, thus not habituating them too much. You are only allowed one hour with the gorillas, and they rotate the families visited around every day to minimise the impact of people on these wild animals. I was very impressed with how responsibly and sensitively the eco-tourism is managed here.

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Big Boy – the oldest, dominant, silverback male. Head of the family, this bruiser weighed 250kgs! We kept a good distance away from him and he barely acknowledged our presence – far too important for a bunch of camera-wielding tourists.

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Time for a rest. All this eating’s tiring work.

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One of the babies.

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Play fighting. One minute they’d be hugging and grooming each other; the next, beating their chests and throwing fists. Then, back to hugging.

Sad to walk away from such an amazing experience, we had to head back down the slopes once our time was up.

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Driving back from the village, we were followed by a mob of grinning kids, waving and shouting out after us.

The following day, Dan, Murph, Mike and I decided to get a bus down to Lake Kivu, on the DRC border. The beach was practically empty, apart from a few locals who were curious yet happy to see us. French is one of the main languages in Rwanda; I took this opportunity to practice my (rusty) French, however many people there don’t speak much French themselves. There is a local language which most people speak, and some people don’t understand much English or French. This made some conversations a little tricky, but we got by with fragmented pieces of both languages and big smiles.

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The lake was lovely and warm and the beach very clean. Much nicer than the average border town.

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Ryan tried that day to get a visa for DRC to see Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo, and the volcano which destroyed a large part of it a few years ago. Lava flows ran through the streets and across the airport’s runway – would’ve been cool to see. However, he was turned away at the border as apparently they’d recently decided to stop issuing visas on arrival. I would’ve tried too, but the visa would have been prohibitively expensive; supposedly to prevent smuggling across the border.

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Rwanda is so clean and has great roads.

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But dodgy scaffolding.

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Back in Ruhengeri. The volcanoes in the background are part of the Volcans National Park, where the gorillas live.

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Mincing beef for the burritos we feasted on that night.

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Driving to Kigali, the capital.

In Kigali we visited the Genocide Memorial, a museum dedicated to informing people of the horrors of the genocide which ripped the country apart in the 1990s.

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Heading back towards the Ugandan border.

Posted by AlTiffany2 05:23 Archived in Rwanda Comments (1)

On the way to the gorillas

sunny 26 °C

Due to our visa problems, and the resulting extra week in Zimbabwe, we had to rush through Kenya and Uganda in order to reach Rwanda, where we would be trekking to see the mountain gorillas. There are very strict rules about the permits required to see the gorillas, and we had to be in Musanze (formerly Ruhengeri) by 4th July in order to trek on the 5th.

We had a few days layover in Nairobi, staying in a suburb called Karen. I really liked the place; everybody was very helpful and polite (more so than in Tanzania, I found), there were all sorts of amenities, good shops, the surroundings were green and gardens well tended. Very pleasant.

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The Sheldrick elephant orphanage takes in orphaned baby elephants and raises them by hand. These babies would otherwise die in the wild, so it was worthwhile supporting the centre.

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Giraffe sanctuary.

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Rift Valley.

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One of the not-so-nice African toilets.

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The first time we crossed the equator. We were so high up, it was cold!

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Especially with the open sides. I quite often get in my sleeping bag when it's cold on a drive day.

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Crossing the equator a second time in Uganda. Back down under. The cafe here made the best cinnamon muffins I think I've ever eaten.

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The obligatory pee stop pushups.

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Markets on the side of the road in Uganda. They display their produce beautifully.

We spent a night in Kampala, and the next one in Kabale. As we got further south, and closer to Rwanda, the scenery became more mountainous.
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Posted by AlTiffany2 05:26 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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