2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

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Back home.

We’re back now and it’s fantastic. Sam is still in Bracknell looking after her grandkids for a while and I’m in wonderful Exeter. The flight back was a bit manic as by the time we landed at Athens we only had 20 minutes to get the connecting plane. Surprise, surprise everyone’s luggage was left off the flight to Heathrow and 2 days late we’re still waiting! I don’t care as seeing my son, being a normal temperature and sleeping in my bed negates all other things.
Jay and I went to see a new puppy last night, Dogue de Bordeaux (Hooch dog), and I pick her up on Friday. It was very odd, quiet and lonely yesterday without Delilah. We definitely need the patter of tiny, soon to be massive, paws here!
I may well do one more blog after this just wind everything up, put in some final thoughts and download some more photos now I’ve got decent wifi. If not thank you all for following and I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings?

The classic hippo pose.

The classic hippo pose.

Mr Beardy, but long gone now.

Mr Beardy, but long gone now.

On the River Chobe cruise.

On the River Chobe cruise.

The Death Jump at Victoria Fall!!!!!!

The Death Jump at Victoria Fall!!!!!!

On the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

On the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Only a very small electric fence between us.

Only a very small electric fence between us.

Tea picking in Kenya.

Tea picking in Kenya.

Restaurant / hamster cage in Ethiopia.

Restaurant / hamster cage in Ethiopia.

The Nubiian desert, Sudan. HOT!!!

The Nubiian desert, Sudan. HOT!!!

Still some left and solid poo’s!

Egypt has been a revelation for Sam and I. We’d thought and been told that the place was dirty, the people would hassle you and there were terrorists round every corner. Not the case at all.
Things didn’t start well for Sam as she continued to be ill for several more days and missed out on, what for many was, one of the highlights of the trip. Three days floating down the Nile on a Felucca. We were obviously concerned about toilet arrangements and the heat so Sam did it in luxury and went on one of the huge Nile cruisers, a floating hotel. But I went on a Felucca. It was magical. It had a huge covered area with mattresses to lie and sleep on and when that got a bit too hot (45c) you simply rolled off and floated down the beautifully cool Nile. We spent the days reading, swimming, eating the meals the crew cooked for us and getting very stoned on the local weed. All this for $20 a night. Someone worked out you could live full board for $7000/£5000 a year floating and sailing up and down the Nile. Yes please.
We only got twenty odd miles down stream so you can tell how hectic it was. We were picked up by the truck and headed for Luxor. We were getting the luxury treatment now as our rooms had aircon and there was a swimming pool. Luxor is one of those places where’s there’s so much history it’s hard to take it all in. We were on the West Bank of the Nile and had to catch a ferry across to the main part of the city (about 10 pence). You get off walk up some stairs and there right in front of you is the Temple of Luxor! It’s bizarre to think that building had been there for 3500 years and there’s a Mac Donald’s next to it. We were shown round a mosque that’d been built into the temple. It had been there for over a thousand years, quite new really!
The people of Luxor were very friendly and like a lot of other African nations desperate to encourage tourists to come back. Things have been bad since the Spring Revolution and the continued terrorist attacks have made things even worse. However, for us it’s meant things are very cheap. Eating out, hotels, entrance fees to historical sites have all been slashed to encourage tourists back. So we went to the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatsheput, Ramesseum and went for a dawn hot air balloon ride for a fraction of the normal prices.
We had four days in Luxor then headed to the Red Sea and the resort of Marsa Alam. Heaven on earth. I’ve never had such a wonderful time snorkelling. I spent so much time in the water my mouth came out in ulcers from the salt water and snorkel but boy was it worth it. Unfortunately, spearfishing is very illegal but no big deal as the marine life was amazing. Hundreds of different species of fish from Puffer fish to Barracuda to giant Moray eels. At one point I was able to follow a turtle for fifteen minutes as it flew majestically through the water stopping to feed on the sea weed. We upgraded to a massive double room with a beautiful bathroom, a swimming pool and three meals a day. All for an extra $10 each a day! I was up at 5.30 each morning and out into the sea by 6.00 for a couple of hours of snorkelling in fantastically warm clear water. We’ve already talked to the owner about coming back next year. We’ll get a “very special price”!
After three glorious nights it was onto Hugharda. This is a serious tourist destination and not really very nice. The town itself seemed to be half finished and the streets full of rubbish. The hotel was a bit of a dump and we were all happy to leave for our last ever bush camp half way to Cairo near a place called the Monastery of St Paul. Another wonderful historical experience. It’s the third oldest monastic settlement in the world and dates back to the third century AD. We were shown round by a novice from New Jersey, USA, who’d been there for three years and was about to take his vows. They gave us access to every part of the monastery from the original cave where St Paul lived for sixty years, still covered in painted frescos from the 13th century, to the spring where all their water came from until 10 years ago ( we all drank from it). Apparently two of the order live as hermits. They both dug out there own caves in the mountains, come down to the monastery twice a year and have been Hermits for 15 and 30 years respectively. The novice said they have difficulty coping with the visitors!
So we had our last bush camp in the desert. It was horrible. I’ve never been so hot. It seemed worse than the Nubian desert and neither of us slept. And so onto our final destination. Cairo.
There’s 24 million people living in Cairo so it’s pretty busy here but again everyone has been helpful and friendly. We’ve been in a reasonably nice hotel and done the normal touristy things. The Pyramids of Giza, massive, the Sphinx, not as big as we thought and the Egyptian museum, very hot and very badly curated.
So that’s it really. We leave tomorrow and I can’t wait to be home. I’ve enjoyed the past few weeks the most but have found the whole experience quite difficult for lots of reasons not least how much I’ve missed my children and my freedom. It’s given us the taste for more travel and the confidence to go to unusual destinations on our own but I don’t think either of us are cut out for “truck life”. I leave Africa with teabags I bought in swakopmund, Namibia and plenty of toilet rolls still left over!

Elephant sands

Elephant sands

The heat is on!

There was us complaining about how cold it was in Ethiopia and then we hit Sudan!
After leaving Addis and it’s beautiful women, they really were amazing, we headed north to a place called lalliabella the home to all those amazing stone churches you see in films (Indiana Jones and the last crusade etc). I must say we didn’t bother as it was very expensive and actually we walked around by ourselves and saw enough. We did have a great lunch in the most weird and wonderful restaurant that was built on stilts with pods sticking out and a 500ft drop off the side. It looked like one of those hamster homes that you can add too bit by bit. It was constructed like on too!
The next day went carried onto Gondar which is the ancient capital of Ethiopia. Not a good time! I was ill yet again and unfortunately Sam was mugged on the street. One bloke grabbed her arm and shouted in her face while another pulled her purse out of her handbag. By the time she realised what had happened they had both run off! Luckily she wasn’t hurt but definitely pretty shaken. She went to the tourist police, which was closed and so had to wait until the next day. Then we both went, as I’d finally finished sitting on the toilet, but yet more problems as we couldn’t find anyone who’d help us even when we’d been to three different police stations. It was always someone else’s district or the chief was on holiday……! In the end the hotel manager helped and actually they caught the men involved after being identified by a taxi driver. Sam also gave a positive I.d but we still didn’t get a crime number for our insurance claim.
Ethiopia is situated at one end of the Great Rift Valley that runs from the Red Sea all the way down the Eastern side of Africa and stops at the coast of Mozambique. At the northern end Ethiopia is perched on the mountains that this has created. The scenery is fantastic as you climb up thousands of feet through all these mountains but it also means it’s bloody freezing and rains a lot. So we were looking forward to Sudan. The difference in temperature was incredible as soon as we got to the border as the mountains stop there. We went from 23/4c up to 35c and then to 45ish by the following day. I’ve never felt heat like that before. When we’d gone through the Sahara it was winter. We were about to travel 300 kilometres through the Nubian desert in high summer with no road!
We spent the first few days in Khartoum the Sudanese capitol which actually was a really very pleasant city. Hot and dusty but the people were all very friendly and pleased to see us. A bit like Bamako, Mali, but much more modern. It was HOT. We then hit the road looking forward to possibly 4/5 nights of bush camping in the desert. It’s really hard to describe the heat not only during the day as you hurtle along in the back of the truck with a hairdryer full blast in your face, but also at night when you’re desperately trying to sleep in a tent on sand that’s been super heated by the sun all day. It wasn’t very nice at all and poor Sam was not only coming down with tonsillitis but had also just been told her father had died on the Monday. Yet more awful news. We’re not coming back as the funeral will be postponed until our return. The heat made the whole thing a lot worse as she became extremely dehydrated. You have to be drinking at least 5 litres of water a day. Luckily for us our brilliant driver, Gareth, found his way through the unmarked desert, the only reference point being a railway line, with us only having to dig once. They had allowed 3 days and we did it in about 7 hours. A record apparently.
So we’ve now been in Egypt for 3 days and it truly feels like civilisation. Air Conditioning and, I never thought I’d say it, Mac Donald’s chocolate milk shakes. I’ve had three today already!!!

Chalk and cheese. Genocide and Jinja. Beauty and the not so handsome!

Although I’d found it very upsetting going to the orphanage in Bwazei, and possibly more so writing about it I decided to have a look at another project at a place called Lake Bunyonyi. We had all travelled there on our way to Rwanda. Bunyonyi itself has two claims to fame. Firstly, it is over a kilometre deep and secondly good old Idi Amin had one of his many residencies there after he’d kicked out a university professor from a magnificent country home. I’d not be surprised if the said professor found out exactly how deep the lake was!

The project had been funded by Oasis Overland itself a number of years ago and consisted of a school that was primarily for orphaned children and local poor people, which in fact means nearly everyone. The buildings were very basic and only partially built but the feeling from the staff and kids couldn’t be more different from those in Bwazei. Everyone was very positive and enthusiastic. The children had boundless energy and entertained us for hours with songs and games. They have big ideas for the future and were incredibly grateful for all our help. The children were happy and well fed. The teachers were fantastic. The project leader was an example to us all. He had 11 children living with him with only 3 being his own. Like a lot of people in the area they would take on kids who’s parents had died of HIV/AIDS often relatives but not always. Chalk and cheese!

The next day we moved onto Rwanda and a number of people went to see the gorillas. However, most came back saying ” yes it was fantastic but not sure about $900 price tag”! Then it was the capital city Kigali. For some of us the overwhelming association with that city will be those awful images shown on TV in 1994 of people being hacked to death with machetes. The city itself is absolutely beautiful. Easily the cleanest city we’ve been to in the whole of Africa, due to the ban on plastic bags and how every Rwandan has to complete some sort of community service once a month including cleaning the streets. The purpose of this is to instil and cultivate a feeling of togetherness where there is no Tutsi or Hutu only Rwandan! We went to the genocide museum which was a very moving experience for everyone. The thing that struck me most was how complicit the church had been in the genocide. There were accounts of priests and nuns encouraging Tutsis to seek shelter in their churches then reporting them to the Hutus to be massacred by burning down the buildings, throwing in grenades or simply bulldozing the whole place. Don’t you just love the church!!!!! It was a great shame to have only spent one day there and I would love to revisit and actually get to know the place properly.

It was back on the truck and off to Uganda again to a place called Jinja which is right on the source of the Nile. We stayed at a nice site on the river and then it was time for activities! The first day I went fishing for Nile Perch which apparently top seventy kilos. Unfortunately, Lake Victoria has been so heavily fished in the last few years that there are very few left. So despite all the most modern fishing finding technology, nothing. Quite disappointing but quickly forgotten after the next day. Some of us went body boarding down the river Nile rapids. It was very scary, not as bad as the gorge jumping at Victoria Falls, but bloody close. The idea is very simple. You put on a life jacket, a hat, you’re given a body board and off you go. Obviously, there’s far more to it with loads of support from a lot of guys in canoes and a bloke with us showing us e way through the rapids but basically you’re on your own in the end. You go through eight sets ranging from level 3 to level 5. Twice I thought I was going to die. The worst was a set called The Bad Place! It was like going through a washing machine on spin cycle. Battered, bruised and absolutely exhausted we were called over by our guide “come this way for a moment guys as there’s a green Mamba just next to you”. What a great end to a very frightening day!

Quite a number of us are now counting down the days as we head towards the end and our final three country’s. Yesterday we arrived in Addis Ababa the Ethiopian capital. The country is lush and green with some wonderful mountain ranges and some really beautiful women. There is a massive contrast in Addis itself between the rich and the poor, the modern and ancient and most definitely the beautiful and the not quite so handsome!

Finally, for those who knew her, I’m sad to say that Delilah had to be put to sleep last week having suffered a kidney and liver failure. She will be very much missed by us all but particularly Jay who was there all through to the end. Thank you very much my wonderful boy.

“There’s no rape in Bwazei”

We’re in Uganda now and have just spent a couple of days in Kampala. Since we started this trip we’ve wanted to have a proper look at what it’s like to actually live in a big sub-Saharan city but there’s always been the spectre of voyeurism associated with doing a “slum tour”. The difference with this was that we were walking everywhere.

We got there via a Matatu, crazy little mini buses packed with locals weaving around the traffic. Our guide was called Saleem who had been born and raised in Bwazei, the slum we were heading for. There are 50,000 people living packed into huts made mostly of mud and corrugated tin. Saleem is 32 and set up the tours in 2004 to help fund an orphanage for 25 children and it was him that made all the difference. Everyone knew him and so realised we were there not just to look at them but also to donate towards the orphanage and other self help projects they have such as micro-credit to set up businesses. There’s no proper infrastructure, electricity is stolen from the overhead poles, sewage is washed down the drains when it rains and if you can’t afford to buy a token to get fresh water you get it from the local well. They’d recently been given some money to build long drop toilets so although the place was muddy and very dirty it didn’t smell. Apparently this is a new phenomenon as before the long drops they had “flying toilets”. Shit in a bag and then let it fly!

We met loads of the locals and recipients of donations from the charity who invited us into their homes with huge smiles. All of them were women looking after numerous children or grandchildren as the parents had often died of AIDS. Most of the kids were HIV positive. One lady had seven children living with her in a hut that was about ten foot square. After about a couple hours we got to the orphanage with a big bag of bananas for the kids. I’m not too sure why but we didn’t look inside. There probably wasn’t  any point as the three rooms they had for the 25 children had nothing in them except a couple of foam mattresses when I sneaked a look. The kids ranged in age from about 13 downwards. One child who looked about 18 months and was in fact 3 years, had been thrown from a truck and brought to Saleem a few months previously.

We were then taken through the red light area. Over 50% of the girls/women are prostitutes which helps to explain the huge prevalence of AIDS, that and the fact it only costs 500 Ugandan shillings for sex. Saleem proudly told me there was no rape in Bwazei. I gave it a bit of thought and realised that’s probably because it only cost 10 pence to have sex with a young girl, the same price as a chapati ( a flatbread) from the local street vendor!

There were 6 of us on the tour, the first group for a month, and we collected $150.00 to give to Saleem. With that he could set up another small business or buy 150 kilos of rice to help feed the children and women. The children only get meat very rarely as its too expensive but they always try to give them chicken at Christmas so they can be normal for one day a year.

Its difficult to do justice to what we saw and were told by the people of Bwazei but I will certainly never forget it. Throughout our journey I’ve been amazed by the resilience of people but coming into such close contact with those who actually live in such conditions…. What can I say except at least there’s no rape in Bwazei!!!!

The countdown is on!

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We’ve only got nine weeks left and people are beginning to leave. We’re in Nairobi at the moment and just about to lose four people from the truck. We’ve four new ones joining us but most of us starting to make plans for getting back to our different countries.

After our trip to Zanzibar we headed inland and stayed in the grounds of a hotel just outside the Mount Kilimanjaro national park. The hotel itself was a real throw back to colonial times. It looked like it’d been built in the 1930’s with beautifully manicured lawns and a fantastic menu with possibly the best vegetable samosa I’ve ever had. We did manage a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro but it’s rainy season in Tanzania so lots of cloud.

Our next stop was Snake Park. As the name implies this is an overlanders site that doubles as a small zoo. The couple who started it have created a whole Masai village around the operation and employ 60 of the locals, which is a fantastic boon where any employment is a rarity. A bit like the crocodile and chicken episode in Ghana, we witnessed the weekly feeding of the snakes with no worries about the RSPCA! A whole variety of small fluffy animals met their doom in those tanks. Baby guinea pigs were paralysed with poison, mice were squashed to death and the chicks were almost teased by the huge black Cobras before they finally struck. Fascinating and horrifying at the same time!

We’re in the outskirts of Nairobi in a place called Karen. There’s a sign plastered all over the place which reads as follows. ” Walking outside the camp is not safe. Walking at night is crazy”!