I *was* going to do a bunch of posts about different activities and aspects of our African leg but I’m starting to think that if I don’t get it all down now I won’t get it all down at all, so get ready for some stream-of-consciousness ramblings that will jump around in time and subject, leaving you confused and probably slightly annoyed.
Firstly, a couple of events that I haven’t written about.
Queen Elizabeth National Park.
We camped in this park and it was the first time we’d done a game drive in the overland truck – normally we decant into jeeps or vans. Doing it in the truck meant we were all higher up and we got to take turns sitting in the seats that let a row of people sit half out of the roof of the truck at the front and back. Initially when Steve said ‘roof seats’ I was a bit concerned that meant getting up via the outside and sitting on the roof… it’s best described in a photo. Here’s the second proper group picture I took, which shows people in the top of the truck.
Queen Elizabeth Park doesn’t have giraffes or zebras (boo!) but it does have lions. We saw a few but they weren’t as close as our Serengeti and Masai Mara experiences. We did see groups of elephants reasonably close and it was the first place I heard an elephant trumpet.
We also saw a big lizard by the side of the road (Lucas spotted that, I think) and some interesting birds. QENP was also where we did a boat cruise – a really nice way to see animals from a different angle. We saw hippos yawning, elephants deep in the water, buffalo, eagles and lots of birds. One of my favourites was the malachite kingfisher. Birds are not easy to photograph, particularly small ones so here’s a photo I stole from the internet.
We camped at a Rhino Sanctuary but I opted out of the rhino trek. I can’t even really remember why… I felt tired from traveling I guess and I ended up helping Mash with dinner. Working with Mash was one of the highlights of the tour for me. He was so much fun and towards the end of our tour leg he would ask me after meals how it was and I would always say ‘terrible!’ or ‘almost good enough!’ and he would laugh. He was a brilliant cook and I’ve written down some of his recipes to try when I get home.
The morning after the rhino trek there was a walk to spot shoebills, which are a type of bird. However the people who went saw a *leopard* on the track, which I think would’ve scared the pants off me if I’d been there. I didn’t know anything about shoebills before the tour and having watched them on a documentary after we finished I’m rather glad I didn’t see them. They are tremendously ugly birds that looks like zombies when they blink. Their beaks are so heavy when they are young that they can barely lift their heads.
The other notable animal experience we had before leaving was in Nairobi.
We went to a giraffe sanctuary where there was a platform from which you could feed giraffes – although there were signs warning people not to stick their heads out without food as the giraffes could headbutt you. We all took turns feeding the giraffes with a food pellet in our mouth. It was sort of l like being licked gently by a big cat. A bit droolly but not very much.
Our trip to Africa was certainly primarily about the animals. I remember the same thing about my trip to South Africa years ago. While the culture and art in Africa interests me the tourism there is almost totally animal focused. Our trip was greatly enhanced by the passion and knowledge of our tour leader, Steve, who, although he is English, has spent many years in Africa and is completely dedicated to experiencing the wildlife there. When I look back at some of the photos I got I can’t believe that we managed to get so close to some animals that are dangerous, endangered and truly magnificent. Like these four cheetahs we saw in the Masai Mara, just lazing around on some rocks a few metres from our jeep.
What to do with all my favourite photos? Luke’s uncle has a bunch printed out as glass-topped placemats, which is kind of neat. At least that way they get looked at. I’m not sure I could narrow mine down to my favourite 8… or 12. I want to look at these *all the time*… but how? Suggestions welcome!
Anyhoo, next topic. The people on our tour. Our truck had space for about 23 passengers and was nearly full on both legs. Some people had been on the truck since Cape Town, a whopping 71 (I think?) days. I’m not sure I could’ve handled that many nights camping – although there was often the possibility of upgrades – and just the moving around every night or two. I like a slower pace of travel but at least on the tour we had Steve to do the thinking and ordering us around;).
The people were brilliant. A range of ages and we all got on pretty much the whole time. You’re never going to see eye to eye with 20 other people every day (or even just one other person, as Luke will tell you) but on the whole it all worked really well. There were quite a few Aussies, for example Deb and Pete were an older couple from Sydney who became like the parents of the group – well, Deb did, Pete was more like the class clown who was the life of the party. They were both first in when jobs had to be done and last to finish helping with the cleaning up. After the tour finished Team Toto hung out with them for an evening in Nairobi before heading to the airport. We watched a doco and surfed the net and generally invaded their space for a few hours and they were the best hosts. They were off to climb Mount Kenya a couple of days later, which totally blows my mind as I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do something like that (I look forward to the photos, guys!).
There were quite a few couples on the truck, but there were also a few singles, like Emma from the UK, who was cheeky as anything and hugely fun to have around. Plus Jess and Adele, two friends from the Isle of Wight who knew a friend of Kat’s who was supposed to come but didn’t. Luke and I are going to do our best to get down to visit them when we return to the UK and travel around the south.
Although I can’t mention everyone I must leave a shout-out for Joan, who did most of the tour with us with a broken foot but still managed to do the gorilla trek – I didn’t ask but I have a feeling Joan must be in her late 50s or early 60s and her energy and determination was inspiring. However she snuck off without saying goodbye, so if you’re reading this, Joan, we missed giving you a hug and I’d love to send you some postcards from our travels so email me at a1lenon at yahoo dot com. Although I can’t blame you, I usually hate goodbyes and do a lot of sneaking out myself;).
Apart from Steve, our leader, we also had the company of David, who was a driver and mechanic and all-round lovely person who was always there to lend us a torch, help set up a tent, or in my case, palm me his dirty dishes after dinner when he thought he could get away with it. A bit of a gentle giant, David’s serious face could hide a great deal of mischief and I often realised, halfway through, that his stories were complete lies.
Theres’ so many more things I could write about. How beautiful the countryside was in Uganda and Rwanda – two countries I didn’t really expect much from. It’s funny how you don’t even realise you have expectations of a place until you get there and see that, unconsciously, you had some serious misconceptions.
And I know I’ve written this before, but the people in Africa were ludicrously friendly. Even when trying to sell you something (which was most of the time) they wanted to chat as well, even after you’d said no thanks. One of my favourite experiences was with a fellow in Rwanda. I went for a walk from our hotel into town and he came up and said hi and walked with me a way. I was waiting for a sales pitch that never came. He was a tourism student and after showing me the markets, translating what people said, telling beggars to leave me alone, he walked me back to the hotel and just said thanks and wanted to swap emails.
Oh, one last thing I have to mention is the clothing women wore in Africa. I’m already regretting not buying a few metres of fabric while I was there as it’s *amazing*. So colourful, such bold prints and some of them are quite funny too – traditional designs with modern things like dice incorporated into them. The fellow above took me to a market where people where selling fabric and making clothes and it was fascinating. In Africa most people use pedal-powered old singer machines.
I should add here, for new readers, I’m an avid sewer and make a lot of costumes and non traditional stuff. I make patchwork clothing and I am a terrible hoarder of material and craft supplies. In fact I threw out 12 garbage bags of stuff a while back and barely made a dint. So perhaps it wasn’t all bad that I didn’t buy anything but the temptation was certainly there!
So there you go – my last, longest, and probably worst post about Africa. We spent over a year looking forward to this leg of the trip, and in many ways it wasn’t at all what I expected and in many ways it was better. I’m not entirely sure I’ll go back, but if I do Rwanda and Uganda will be top of the list. And if you’re thinking of going I have a few recommendations.
1. Take lots of US currency in small and large notes. Don’t expect change everywhere.
2. If you plan to go to the Serengeti save up and fly in. It’d be totally worth it. And do the balloon flight – it would have to be one of the best places in the world to do one.
3. Learn a little of the local languages, even if it’s just ‘thank you’ and ‘delicious!’. People’s faces just light up when you speak to them in their tongue.
4. TREK THE GORILLAS… maybe even twice.
5. Always carry toilet paper. ALWAYS.
I’m sure all the people who went on the trip with us could add plenty more in the comments. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many things already. But next: Turkey!