Sunday, 26 April 2009
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Of the white-water rafting, Max Le Breton wrote:
"We are staying at Explorers camp. The Camp is close by the White Nile. Today Jake and Big Max went in an orange boat. There were seven other boats. We waved at them as they went past."
Watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpZggdagofU to see for yourselves!
The Colobus Monkey video is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoztThfLMjM
Hope you enjoy them!
Wisely, perhaps (given that the Falls are some 50 metres high), we decided against. There was a campsite a couple of hundred metres upstream from the Falls, and it was said to have a natural pool in the river, calm enough to swim in. So off we went. But when we got there, there were four hippos in it. If we jumped in, they’d have no way out except over/through us. But we were roasting, and there was no way we could sit by and watch them frolicking. So in we went, keeping a wary eye out for them. Although not what you’d call relaxing, it was a heavenly swim.
We’ve had some awesome swims along the way, although they rarely come without some form of additional excitement. There was a hot spring we came across at an oasis in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Wonderful to jump into, after several days without a wash, but as Little Max shows here, it came with a powerful smell of rotten eggs!
Then there was the river in the Omo where tiny, almost invisible fish nibbled us persistently as we were swimming, convincing us we were under some form of sustained attack (much to the amusement of the onlooking Mursi tribespeople). Don’t ask about the headgear!
In 45 degree heat on the shores of Lake Turkana, we were reliably assured by Kenyan National Parks staff that swimming in the lake was quite safe. We desperately wanted to believe them, as it was hellishly hot. But when we reached our campsite at Alia Bay, we saw not less than four crocs at any one time eyeing our children, and had to rethink.
But then, occasionally, the perfect swimming spot appears. This was one of them. In the Chalbi Desert of northern Kenya, there’s an oasis called Kalacha, where some far-sighted person has helped the local community develop a small lodge with a swimming pool. It wasn’t a big pool, but my goodness it was a welcome one. No hippos, no crocs, no nibbling fish and, best of all, cold beer.
Now that's what I call a perfect swim!
A Night Time Thunderstorm (by Mands)
Restless, disturbed sleep, tossing in the sticky heat of the tent. Too hot to have anything touching my sweaty skin, let alone have the synthetic sleeping bag on top. My consciousness wakens, more from a sense than a sound, until my foggy brain recognises the distant but encroaching rumblings. The sky is lead-like, groaning from the heavy load it carries, desperate to burst apart and break the terrible tension. I want it too, in a small way – a rainstorm would relieve me of this sleepless wrangle. But already I recognise the ominous rumbles in the sky as being far more serious than a refreshing down pour. This storm that is stomping its way toward us is angry. The sky booms louder in deep throaty outbursts. The wind lends its support to the fury and blows up strongly, without any warning, without any apology. It too is furious and it is scary. Now I realise the trouble we are in! Torches outside light up around the tent: on-off, on-off, on-off. But there is no one outside; the flashing light comes from the sky. It is another accomplice in this imminent raging storm that is about to wash our tents away. I am fully conscious now and worried for the children in another tent. Will they be fearful? The thunder is louder and the lightening brighter and the wind stronger than they have ever experienced before. And all there is between the rampaging elements and ourselves is a piece of nylon, which right now is fighting for its life to stay pegged into the ground!
Then suddenly I feel calm. I remember to relax, not to resist, to tell myself that All Is Well. I know somewhere deep in my Being that we are protected and even as the first bursts of raindrops splat against the tent – slowly at first, then faster and heavier and more solidly – I have a strange feeling that we’ll be all right.
The crescendo lasts a mere five minutes – but it is emotionally exhausting experiencing so much anticipation and excitement of a true tropical rainstorm. Incredibly, the eye of the storm decides to bypass our solitary campsite just in the nick of time. It takes the thunder and the lightening and the wind and all its fury elsewhere. I am filled with relief and gratitude. Moreover, the air has cleared and I crawl into my sleeping bag no longer listless, contentedly acknowledging that we have been spared a wet and uncomfortable night! Sleep comes easily.
We are in Uganda. It is lush, verdant, fertile and absolutely awesome! With such healthy rainfall here, there is a proportionately healthy presence of rainforest. And in the rainforests, there is an abundance of life! One of the more special species that resides in Uganda’s forests is the smaller cousin of the more commonly-regarded mountain gorilla. Unable to afford US$500 a head for the gorilla tracking, however, we decided on seeing chimpanzees instead. Sadly, no children are allowed on such trips, so the ‘Lighties’ had to stay behind at the Kanyiye Pabidi eco-tourism lodge, where we were staying.
So, early one morning last week, with long trousers tucked into socks (as warned to do, in case of vicious soldier ants), we headed out and along the road track that we had driven in on. The morning’s walk was to take up to four hours, with no guarantee of even seeing the chimps, but as we strode along the track, optimism sounding in every step, we just knew we would not be disappointed.
After a couple of kilometres along the dirt road, a hole appeared in the seemingly impenetrable green wall of the forest. It was our cue to enter this unique world of primary, unspoilt rainforest. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t so dark inside after all. Yes, it was thick bush and plants and trees grew at every level, but in Nature’s perfect way, every different living representation had its perfect place in which to survive in this busy and phenomenal ecosystem. Fortunately, set paths had been cleared to make our tracking that much easier.
With happy thumping hearts, we commenced our walk, absorbing every sound that was possible to be heard: more than anything, the birds constituted the main sounds of the forest. Constant songs, each talking to us in their own way, each trying to make its voice heard in the thick foliage.
We had literally walked a mere few minutes inside the forest, when Joshua our guide stopped, lifted his arm in a definitive gesture to Stop! and Be Quiet! He had seen something. Surely not a chimp? So quickly, so close to the road? This was too good to be true! My heart raced; I ached to see what was ahead of us on the path further along. A dark shape. Oh, my word! It was indeed a chimpanzee! It had seen us too, of course, so moved off into the forest. But it was soon followed by another and then another: Joshua had found us a small sub-group of chimps! It was breakfast time for these little guys, so they were on the move in search of berry-filled trees. We immediately headed off the track and into the thick, entwining branches towards this small community of chimpanzees. Fortunately, they are very vocal animals and in telling each other what was going on, they also told us where to find them! We tried our hardest not to disturb them too much, but it was difficult not to tread on the odd dried twig that snapped loudly underfoot. We soon stopped and stood in wonder as we came to an area dominated by one particularly large tree, whose extensive branches provided perfect chimp platforms. There before us, was a sub-group of about 12 chimpanzees, although it was difficult to see them clearly through the thick bush and even harder to get good shots of them with the camera. But somehow having to work so hard to catch sight of each one, made every individual sighting all the more precious. These small hairy “people” in the trees were extraordinary: so human in the way they looked around, picked berries, checked themselves for nits, scratched their face or arm or back, gestured to each other. And yet, the sharp reality of them as wild animals – still so far removed from us after all – was immediately apparent when we saw how they leapt from one branch to another, so agile, so balanced, so confident 20m above ground.
At one point, Big Max slipped down a muddy bank, which sent the alarmed group into a frenzy of ape-screams, frantic and hysterical. It sent chills through me to hear such a cacophony of intense screaming. We laughed nervously amongst ourselves, shocked but delighted to have witnessed such an extraordinary display of chimpanzee behaviour.
We were transfixed for the half hour we had watching the chimps. Sadly, they moved on, busy with another agenda for the day. But what a privilege it had been for the six of us and one of the highlights of our trip to date.
Monday, 20 April 2009
We were fortunate enough to not run into any bandits (they've all gone home to be pirates) but we were awed by the lake and disorientated by the vast pans of the Chalbi.
Apparently you can swim in Turkana, as long as there is someone standing on the bank to throw stones at the crocodiles. Hmm. We bunked out of that option and admired from a distance. It is a beautiful lake, fed only by the Omo river and with no outlet except evaporation. As a result it's very salty. But still spectacular.
The Chalbi is nothing like the Sahara. It floods occasionally leaving massive, wide open salt pans with a crusty top but soft sand underneath. We attempted a crossing but were beaten for the first time and had to switch routes.
And it is impossible to talk about that area without mentioning North Horr. The centre point, yet as remote as Gokwe or John O'Groats. I liked it though. It had character that can only develop in those circumstances. We were able to find chai, chappatis and there was even a bar with satellite tv.
This only skims the very surface of the very north of Kenya b ut hopefuuly gives some idea as to some of the aspects.
Over the past couple of days we have rounded the mighty Mt Elgon, from the Kenyan side, through the delightful, sleepy border post at Suam, and into Uganda. A slippery, treacherous road snakes for eighty kilometers round the Ugandan side of the mountain, to Sipi, where we stay the night at the "Crow's Nest", overlooking Sipi Falls. In the morning, a steep climb down to the pool below the falls, then a drive down to Jinja, and the source of the Nile. Now we are at the Nile River Explorer's campsite; Max and Jake have had an exilarating day white water rafting on the river that has accompanied us through so much of the Jangano expedition; an appropriate farewell, as tomorrow we move on to Kampala, and so say farewell to the Niles, Blue and White, that have been beside us, more or less, since January.
Today we went to the milking barn. We waited for someone to come and tell us there is a cow ready to be milked. What you do is you put your hand in Vaseline and rub it on the udders to stop it from hurting. The you would put a bucket under the udders. Then you would squeeze and pull and the milk sprays out. Waiting outside is a cat that is waiting to drink the left-over milk. The cat was big, fat and grey and looked like it had drunk a lot of milk in its life.
From Western Kenya, where I’ve been indulging in a spot of traditional ancestor worship, visiting some of the spots my ancestors frequented and marvelling, once again, at the feats they achieved.
The first ancestor due for some respect is my Mum. We visited the Kaplong mission hospital where she laboured for the best part of 48 hours to produce me (during which time she endured a minor earth tremor and a slightly alarming one-on-one visitation from the local village looney). Then it was but a small mission outpost in rural Africa, conveniently situated to provide succour to the massed labour forces of the tea estates around Sotik. Today it is a sizeable hospital serving hundreds of thousands of people. Even so, I think it would take considerable courage to book into their labour ward today, and I can only imagine how much courage that required 42 years ago! Respect, Mum!
Sadly, in the torrential afternoon rains that have become a feature of our lives since coming to Western Kenya, we didn’t have the time to find the Ngoina Estate near Sotik where my father was working at the time I was born. But we did manage to find a car very similar to the one he used to drive around in. He called it the Ngoina Ferrari. At 850cc, it may well be the smallest car ever built. Certainly the smallest car he’s ever driven. This specimen was found in the garden of a small lodge next to the Tea Hotel in Kericho, and seemed a suitable substitute. The kids loved it, too. So here’s to you, Dad!
From Kericho through Kisumu and Kakamega (where my grandfather once joined a swarm of other impecunious settler farmers in a largely pointless and unproductive goldrush) and on to Kitale. Kitale was the main town market town for my grandparents and retains a faded colonial charm lost in most of Kenya. It is also home to the Kitale Club, where my folks had their wedding reception and from which several of the photos on our mantelpiece at home were taken.
Amazingly, the Kitale Club has enjoyed a revival in recent years and is in immaculate form, complete with golf course, swimming pool and several rentable cottages. We stood on the front step for a mandatory photo, and then poked around inside. Although I obviously wasn’t there when my folks were married, I doubt it has changed much since then. All the photos on the wall date from the 1930s, and even the billiard balls in the billiards room are probably the same ones that were used after dinner at the club in fifty years ago.
We found it. Definitely not in the same state it was when my grandparents left it in 1969, but very definitely still standing ( a minor miracle, given that it was built from timber nearly 80 years ago!).
As we climbed up the hill, the first thing we found was a sizeable collection of shops built around Mr Patel’s original Duka (which I think was this one below).
It was, of course, an emotional moment, seeing this farm that has been so much a part of my life, but on which I’d never actually previously set eyes. Although it seems hard to imagine now how remote it was then, the scale of their achievement in developing this small piece of Africa from nothing is still evident. I’ve never doubted that they were true pioneers, but it brought it all home for me, and I left with a strong sense of responsibility to continue the tradition.
And here ends the self-indulgent ancestor worship. We’ve loved every moment of it, and the whole experience has been much enhanced by the commentary (not to mention the extraordinary hospitality) of Tony and his wife Adrienne, who still farm the Trans-Nzoia without electricity, drawing water from a river and knowing every single one of their several hundred dairy cows by name!
Today we leave for Uganda, and tomorrow we will visit the source of the White Nile at Jinja.
Thursday, 16 April 2009
Today we arrived at Sand River Camp. I got out of the car and went for a swim. The camp was on a river bank. There were two big shady trees, some rocks and some long tall grass. We are camping with our friends called the Stevensons. Their names are Chris, Karen, Jasper,Barnaby and Daisy. We went on a game drive and we saw something really cool - three cheetahs.
It was so cool because they were very rare. They ran after a Tommy's Gazelle.
What made us laugh is that they rolled on their backs and gave big yawns. They were spotty and slim and moved very stealthily.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Saturday, 11 April 2009
You can find the new video on youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmWykH9YusE - or on the Videos - Going Down page of our www.jangano2009.com website. It gives a taste of travel in Kenya's wild Northern Frontier District, east of Lake Turkana, south of the Chalbi desert. Cineastes among you might enjoy the homage to the great Francis Ford Coppola in the second half. "I love the smell of bacon in the morning. It reminds me of... JANGANO!."
There are not many borders in this scared and surveilled world where you can just fall off the map, but we found one of the few. We drifted down the Omo towards Omarati, a desiccated township beside the Omo river, marked only by a vast, and failed, North Korean attempt to build a collective farm. Nothing of which remains now but powder-dry field markers where the irrigation scheme failed, and a ten-acre yard full of rusting North Korean bulldozers.
In a baking border control office we checked out of Ethiopia, sitting on requisitioned school benches while a charming young immigration officer stamped us out of his country.
We then drove sixty kilometers further through Ethiopia, heading south towards the top of Lake Turkana, seeing virtually no-one except a young warrior who stopped to share our lunch and drink several gallons of our water. While he rested, I cleaned and oiled his AK for him, then (after I'd removed the mag - and the round that was in the breech) he let the boys all hold it.
The border was marked on our GPS, but as we circled towards the Lake, there was nothing to see - no border marker, no barrier, no sign saying "Ethiopia wishes you a safe journey" or "Welcome to Kenya". And so we crossed into Kenya - across a tangled thicket of thorn scrub, with no witnesses, no officials, no sign. We met Matthew and Alice, and Ruby and Guy, and Mike, under a tree, as planned; ten minutes late, in the middle of nowhere, on a plan that had been made six months earlier - which is, I think, not bad.
We chose to go to the police post at Iloret, a blasted, ruined collection of buildings overlooking the Turkana basin, no sound but the blast-furnace wind and the crackle of static on the police radio. The cops registered us; and that was it. No stamp in the passport, no paperwork, no checking of visas. If we had decided to go round Iloret, rather than through it, we could have disappeared.
And this is a good part of the world to disappear; Sudan, Chad, CAR, Congo only a few hundred kilometers away; this is a part of the world where those with an inclination to drop off the map could indeed drop off - and stay off.
This is a time when governments in the West are becoming more and more fascist in their obsession with watching their own citizens - yet where known terrorists can pass through immigration into the UK on a student visa with evil intent. A time when the citizenry of the West seems to be sleep-walking into a police state that would delight a Stalin or a Hitler.
Yet down here, where the world's bad guys come to play, you can drift out of one country, switch passports in the bush, and simply vanish.
Excellent. Sleep well.
Hamer Women at Jinka Market compare fashion notes..
How would this dress go down in Paris or Milan?
Xander and friend
Max looking pensive.
Nicky looking lovely
Hamer women comparing scars. Her AK sling is (apparently) made by Giorgio Armani.
Hamer men having a quick drink while they decide which chick is worth beating up next.
about our time in southern Ethiopia, but I'd like to recount my own
From Addis, we wound our way down into the Omo Valley, in southwest
Ethiopia. Left almost entirely to their own devices by successive
Ethiopian governments, the Omo tribes are cut off from the rest of
the world by the vast Sudd Marshes of Southern Sudan to the west, the
mountain fastness of central Ethiopia to the north and east, and the
barren wastes of Kenya's Lake Turkana region to the south, the Omo is
inhabited by tribes of semi-pastoralists who have been barely touched
by the twentieth century. With a couple of fine young guides, we
descended a thousand meters into the Mago National park, and camped
beside a river where our askari talked quietly and conversationally
to himself through the night to advise the elephants crashing through
the undergrowth nearby of our presence.
The next day he took us to a village of Mursi people, where we
dropped through the time-space continuum into the late stone age. The
hundred or so Mursi have the most extreme body adornment of any
people I have come across - lip plates 20cms in diameter, inserted
into a slit cut in the lower lip which is extended over time till it
will take a dinner plate.
The encounter was uncomfortable - the Mursi have, in the past couple
of years, become something of a "must-see" on the global adventure-
tourism circuit (a circuit which we would like to think we are not
following, of course). The encounter between heavily armed stone age
pastoralists and twenty-first century high-end tourism has not been
an easy one, with both parties seeing the other through hunter-
gatherer eyes. The tourists want photos, the Mursi want money. The
tourists try to get photos without paying, the Mursi have no interest
in letting them get away with it. For a society which half a decade
ago had virtually no concept of cash - and had never seen a camera
- , these guys have picked up the essence of mercantile capitalism
pretty fast. They make the bazaar merchants of Khan el Khalil and
Luxor look like amateurs.
Andrew, our guide, worked extremely hard to break the ice -
suggesting that we get out our fishing rods and spend a couple of
hours fishing with the Mursi in the river before even thinking about
showing our cameras. Which we duly did - though only the Mursi caught
fish, which they left gasping in the mud on the river bank until we
dropped them back in the river, as it offended their totems to eat
fish. When we thought we'd shown them we meant well, we produced a
camera or two - and were promptly overwhelmed by aggressive demands
for "picture, one picture, you give five Birr". Women thrusting their
plated lips at us, or (most disconcertingly) popping the plate out
and entwining the rope of loose lower lip around their finger; men
with AK's - the only sign of modernity in the village was the AK
every man carried (presumably that's what they buy with the money
tourists give them for photos) - pushing bead-bedecked children in
front of us; a mob, really.
And of course, we did want to take pictures. But more than that, we
(rather naively, perhaps) wanted an "encounter". Wanted to reaffirm
our essential liberal white African belief that we are all the same
under the skin. Wanted to understand and be understood.
The Mursi, bless 'em, where having none of that. We were only there
to open our wallets in exchange for pictures. They have this down to
a fine art; every person in the photo gets paid, and every shutter
click is counted. It can add up pretty quickly, when there are twenty
women barging into your frame and their menfolk stand behind you with
locked and loaded AK's. We tried to explain that we were not only
there to take photos - and were treated with much the same contempt
as the fish they had hooked with our rods and lines minutes before.
As we left - more of a rout than a dignified exit - we were treated
to an example of why this problem has occurred. A white Landcruiser,
with a bling-laden young Ethiopian guide from Addis and two rather
fey women tourists, raced into the village. The windows slid open,
camera lenses stuck out the side like a gunship, and the new arrivals
clicked away for all they were worth as the driver executed a neat
three point turn, waited till the mob had almost engulfed the car,
then slalom-ed away in a cloud of dust, leaving the Mursi scrabbling
for the fluttering one Birr notes that were their "payment".
No wonder they gave us a hard time.
Monday, 6 April 2009
Hi, this is Jake
I arrived in Nairobi on Saturday the 4th of April 2009 at 19:30. As I got out of the plane and walked halfway across the airport, I couldn’t stop thinking about seeing everyone else. Just before I got to the baggage hall, I had to get a VISA. This was annoying as I am sure all of those travellers will know by now, especially if you have travelled to Africa recently. I was required to fill in a form, which I filled in, then stood in a huge queue but when I got to the end, they said that I needed another form! Anyway, I was so excited once I finished the form, I ran downstairs to get my bags, and looked out to where everyone was waiting and I saw my family there with a big Zimbabwean flag. Luckily, Vicki was still there and I had time to say hello, before I had to say goodbye.
For all those interested, school has been brilliant. My house, Matopos, is on top of a hill and so I have to walk up and down that at least three times a day, with bags. The sport is so much better than at HIS and it is good fun. The school is based on Outdoor Education and so there are a lot of good outdoor sports that are available, but this term I haven’t taken part in many of them, though I did do the Sole Survivor challenge, where you go out with only clothes and one can of food and have to survive 24 hours out there by yourself. Actually you were allowed to bring a sleeping bag, but being Zimbabwean, I didn’t. Then the only thing that you could do to make sure you didn’t get bored was to make things from whatever you found. I got a nasty surprise when I opened the can as the teacher organizing it had taken off the label so I didn’t know what it was, but I am guessing it was sadza and mince (mealie meal) or mashed potato and mince. Whatever it was, it was expired and tasted disgusting so I threw it away and didn’t eat anything the whole 24 hours which for me, is a record! It wasn’t too bad though and will give me good memories of boarding school.
Anyway it is great to be back with the Jangano team and I am sure you will hear more stories soon,
Sunday, 5 April 2009
and power for the laptops for the first time in a fortnight; so I've
cut and uploaded two new videos to our youtube channel and our website.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anzS02vG8t4 is a piece by Alexander
about our trusty Volcano kettle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=0jl8FAzuEn4 is a longer story about our days out in the Great Sand
Sea searching for a truck abandoned by the Long Range Desert Group in
Both of these will shortly by linked through the "Videos - going
down" page on our website at www.jangano2009.com and there will be
more videos coming up soon - including something from the Omo Valley
in Southern Ethiopia, a bit of off-road fun in the Luggah's of
northern Kenya, and the long-awaited "Mandy's Desert Salon"!
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
container-loads of US and British military kit turned up in the
bazaars of Peshawar, in Northern Pakistan. Korean war-vintage flak
jackets, baggy US-issue cargo pants, water bottles, compasses - and a
consignment of British Army desert boots. As a young reporter for the
Daily Telegraph, with a beat covering mujahedeen-controlled
Afghanistan, I was always on the lookout for good walking kit. The
lightweight, high sided, canvas and suede boots fitted perfectly -
with a stitched tongue so dust and stones didn't get in, they dried
fast, packed small, and when worn with normal trousers looked much
like normal suede shoes.
These boots first saw action in Jaffna, covering the war in Sri
Lanka, in the summer of '91; they covered three "Falls of Kabul" - in
'92, to the muj; '95, to the Taliban; and '01, to the Coalition. They
climbed mountains in Tibet and Pakistan and Kosovo. They held me
steady under fire in Bosnia, and Somalia, and half a dozen other
summer-time wars of the nineties and noughties. They waded through
swamp and march in Eastern Congo and the Zambezi Valley. They shod me
to interviews with Benazir Bhutto, and Fidel Castro, and Ahmed Shah
Masoud, and the mad, bad Hitler Hunzvi during Zimbabwe's farm
invasions. They kept me upright in the opium fields of Nangahar, and
amidst the bones and scraps of clothing at a massacre site in Eastern
They were, in short, a favourite pair of boots.
They began to fall to pieces in the luggahs of northern Kenya, back
in January, near the beginning of the Jangano expedition. I had them
stitched together in Axum in Ethiopia, but by the time we reached the
Western desert they were, as it were, on their last legs. They are
now, it seems, irreperable - at least to me. I know Africa well
enough though, to know that nothing on this continent is irreperable.
So I will be leaving them here, in a glade of acacia trees under
mighty Mount Poi, a few kilometers from South Horr, where we have
camped the past two nights, confident that before the sound of our
engines has faded into silence after we leave tomorrow morning, some
Samburu warrior or passing goat herd will have picked them up, shaken
them out, sniffed them, and decided that as far as he is concerned,
they have at least another eighteen years of life left in them.
I wish him safe travels and a smooth road.