A Travellerspoint blog

June 2009

Animals in trees

In what will rapidly become an extremely boring tradition, todays snippet of African news comes from another newspaper though i have forgotten which, but mentions that a big but struggling South African TV station has paid a huge sum of money to the grandson of Nelson Mandela for exclusive rights to the funeral of the great man, reasoning that coverage of the funeral will magically solve all the stations problems. Now whilst i know that he is not the youngest of people, I didn't think he was dead just yet, and buying funeral coverage for somebody still alive (and not even from the person in question) just seems very wrong to me.

Anyway.

I miss Fred

And there is nothing I can do about it as he is now enjoying constant attention, booze and saunas in Finland.

With thoughts of doom in my head, and increasingly not wanting to actually be involved in what I had just spent 540usd to do, we left Moshi just after a lucky break in the clouds had allowed me to see the summit Kilimanjaro towering over the town.

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Though it was never clear enough to see in all it's glory, i did at least get to see the peak of Kilimanjaro sneaking through the clouds

My spirits were hardly raised when we collected the other 4 people on our tour: an American couple plus their daughter and her friend, and I discovered that (a) they were from Iowa – not necessarily a bad thing, but in my case there are 2 separate stories in the midsts of time there – and (b) the father, Jeff, had never before left the USA. I admit that a feeling of dread started to descend over me. The fact that they spent the next several hours pretty much discussing every college student and shopping mall in Iowa in great detail, and lots of religious discussion did not exactly help. Happily, I need not have worried. They all turned out to be really nice people, and the tour guide Simbo was also superb.

I actually enjoyed the tour. After driving to the small town of Manyara we set up camp and headed out to Lake Manyara National Park. The Lake takes up a fairly large proportion of the park, meaning the area to drive through is fairly compact. But it also has a good variety of wildlife, of which we saw lots: elephants, giraffes, buffalo, flamingo, antelope of various breeds, zebra and several species of monkey amongst much else. But what Lake Manyara NP is famous for is Tree Climbing Lions, which are very rare in the wild. Apparently, the lions climb trees up to 4 or 5metres in order to avoid being attacked by certain insects which proliferate around the alkaline lake.

And we saw some. They were great, though I am not sure I have ever seen animals looking quite so content and uncomfortable at the same time. Though obviously at ease with the tree, they were also resting with paws literally holding on for grim death: they reminded me of a small child who has happily climbed a tree without fear before suddenly looking down, realising what he has done and then refusing to move/climb down again, out of a massive sudden fear of falling.

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Now, if only we can find that elusive giraffe climbing a tree, we'll be all sorted!

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No, they are not tree climbing giraffes (sadly), but I liked them just the way they are. And with Fred awol, they are my only reminder of him

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This family of baboons was over 100 strong, and walked in an extremely ordered fashion

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This guy was happily standing by the side of the road until we approached, whereupon he embarked upon a great branch waving ceremony, seemingly solely for our entertainment

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A view across Lake Manyara

Posted by Gelli 02:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animal Comments (0)

Gelli's super patented 'impeccable timing' strikes again.

I'm not entirely sure why I will start with a note from the national news, but as nobody complained last time I did it, i figured i may as well do it again. Todays snippet comes from a Tanzanian paper that might have been 'the Guardian', but then again, might not have. It was a small item announcing that Norway were opening a new Consulate on Zanzibar today. In itself, that is not particularly amazing, I grant you, but two small things jumped out at me about it: The first was that whilst the Norwegians said that really, the amount of trade and interaction between Zanzibar and Norway was too small to normally warrant such a move – perhaps understandably: After all when you think of the worlds largest or most important trade partners, they aren't two that instantly spring to mind -, 'an increasing number of Norwegians are finding they require assistance on Zanzibar, but generally only of the consular nature'. Translation: lots of Norwegians are 'losing' their passports (and almost certainly most are not accidental loses, either) and need new ones in a hurry*. The second thing that amused me was that the consular officer who has been appointed is actually Danish, after a thorough search for a qualified Norwegian familiar with the island was, apparently, 'sadly unsuccessful'.

And now I've happily wasted a paragraph.

As you might deduce from the fact i was reading a Tanzanian newspaper, i was back in Tanzania and bouncing merrily down the not yet built Arusha-Nairobi main road (although the later part, you might not have deduced. If you did, serious kudos). I was back in Tanzania for a couple of reasons, most relevantly of which was that my previous days violation had gone reasonably well and I now had almost a week free before I needed to be back in Nairobi. My love of that glorious city has already been documented in these annals, and thus (especially as I have a still valid Tanzanian visa) I had resolved to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Bouncing down the 'hopefully-will-be-a-real-road-in-a-few-years' south of the border, the only tourist on the bus and on a gloriously sunny morning, I suddenly felt perfectly content: I was no longer in Nairobi, my rear end was coping with the bouncing with surprising ease, I was listening to some good music and gazing happily out of the window whilst my mind merrily wandered. Then, from above the layer of cloud, I saw Kilimanjaro – or at least the patchy snowy sides of the top kilometer or so of Kilimanjaro, and its summit – in the distance, and for the first time in a while i actually felt properly happy with the world and was enjoying my travels again. Great stuff.

Sure, there was a small (OK: really large) pang of regret that I wouldn't be able to climb it anytime soon (for reasons of both current issue and Italian exploits from last year....), but that just gives me an excuse to return to East Africa, and hopefully soon. More than that was the joy at realising that it actually exists: Maaret and I had traveled this way twice when we went to Arusha, without being able to see it and I had begun to wonder whether my relationship with the mountain would turn out to be similar to that of Mt. Fuji-San (for those lucky enough not to remember that tedium – or the non Kiki parts anyway – there is more detail here.

Oh great. The electricity has just died completely. So I am now sitting in the bowels of a pitch black hostel, with just the strange glow from my laptop for company. But lets move on, and see if i can finish this warble before the battery dies.

But as I mentioned above, there were a couple of reasons for coming, and here we explore the main one. Back when I was still pretty much chained to a loo in Nairobbery, I had spent some time googling and looking at ideas. After realising that independent travel to most of the East African parks is either not possible or hideously expensive, I had begun to investigate tours. Though I generally detest guided tours, i am also realistic – and poor – enough to accept that sometimes, they are the only way I will be able to visit certain places.I have long wanted to visit the Ngorongoro Crater and the nerd inside me (or, perhaps more correctly, the nerd that is me) really wants to visit Olduvai Gorge and see the area where the Louis Leakeyand family had done so much brilliant archaeological work, and found the remains of Homo Hablis (aka the Handy man) a major link in the evolution of humans. I had found a decent sounding and affordable tour from a company who had been recommended to me, and provisionally booked it on the hope that I would be well again. So far, so good, i hear you say.

However, all Ngorongoro trips come tagged onto trips to a much larger and generally better known attraction: The Serengeti National Park, and here lies the issue. Although Ngorongoro is a famous and compact game reserve in its own right, I want to visit for the geology of the Caldera as much as anything else. And when provisionally booking this trip, it looked like it would be perfect timing to catch the wildebeest migration, and a safari in the Serengeti sounded brilliant. But, of course, I had not been to the Masai Mara.

Now, I suddenly find myself heading to arguably the most famous and well known game reserve in the world (you could probably argue Kruger, but that would be it), an area of vast grassy savanna of the sort that, I'm sure will now realise, I have been to a week ago - the much smaller Masai Mara is actually part of the Serengeti ecosystem, and separated only by the irrelevant political boundary – and ended up hating immensely.

And, apparently, the wildebeest have moving on from the area that we will be in. Yup, I have been here for the whole of the most famous animal movement in the world, an event of apparently unrivaled grandeur, and despite visiting the middle and the end, will probably miss them in both locations by a matter of days.

My timing is impeccable as ever.

I am going to try and go into it without any preconceptions and take it on its own merits and experiences. And obviously, things might work very differently in the Serengeti to the radio-linked hunting madness of the Mara, especially given it's much greater size, although I sadly doubt it. But i must admit that pretty much the last thing that I want to do at the moment is go on a Safari (I am kind of animaled out and don't currently have the “wow” factor that you should have for such trips. I have, after all, recently seen the big 5...) in grassy savanna, much less one where there will be lots of other vehicles around all driving off-road – and thus affecting the habitat – whilst hunting down sightings mercilessly.

I will of course let you know how it went when I actually know, but if I don't, and you hear reports of, say, a crazed gunman killing lots tourists in different buses near some rare animals in the Serengeti, I wouldn't try to hard to put 2 and 2 together...

  • Technical note: Despite the fact that Zanzibar is part of Tanzania (it is, in fact, the central 'zan' part of it), it maintains many independent rules and regulations, including running its own immigration checks. As a result, you have to fill out immigration forms and get your passport stamped on arrival/departure from Zanzibar, even if you have come from/are going directly to the mainland. Which means that it is not quite as simple for Norwegians – or anybody else – who have lost their passports to just get a boat to Dar and replace it at the embassies there, as one might suppose

Posted by Gelli 20:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The trouble with dreams*

I probably dream about all sorts of exciting and exotic things and am periodically a superhero. Actually, scrub that. I probably dream of sheep, London bus routes and comparisons between the drying abilities of glossy and matt paint. But either way, I just don't know. I have often marveled at how people can remember often bizarre dreams in great detail, and then regale them to friends or colleagues hours or even days later. I can't do that, so as far as I know, everybody else could be making all the bunkum about their dreams up. For myself, I can generally tell you within about 10seconds of waking vaguely what i was dreaming about, and within 30seconds if I had been dreaming or not. Within 90seconds of waking, it is extremely unusual that i can even remember if i had been dreaming, let alone what it may have been about if I was. The only dream in my entire life i can remember is the toilet dream (which is vaguely similar to a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip where Calvin dreams he has got out of bed and got to school, or, alternatively, Groundhog Day). Details are unimportant, except to say that it is an occasional recurring dream which gets longer each time i have it, and has potential to end very, very badly if I really don't wake up.

I have never been a consistent sleeper. As a young child i have a vague idea that I used to fall asleep quickly, sleep deeply and for long periods, though how much of that was actual sleep and how much was just me really not wanting to get up for school is now lost to time. Since then I have regularly struggled. I have had a couple of periods of really bad insomnia (at one point, I slept about an hour a week, which was drug induced), and even now can easily go periods of a couple of days or more without sleep if i need to. The last few months have generally seen me awaken between about 3.15 and 3.35am, for no obvious reason.

I am also generally an extremely light sleeper. I have such an inbuilt paranoia complex that anything moving in the room/area where I am sleeping will pretty much wake me, even if it is something insignificant like a s0dding mosquito. The average person, apparently takes 8minutes to fall asleep. Some – like Hanna, her of the Namibian adventures – are pretty much out from the second they hit the bed, whereas I am at the other extreme: Anything under an hour or so is good for me, and it is not unknown for me to still be sleepless 2 or 3 hours later.

And unless I am traveling (on a bus, train, boat or occasionally as a car passenger), I find it pretty much impossible to take a daytime nap, regardless of how tired i feel or how much i yawn. Even the act of lying down on my bed during the day can wake me up. It is very odd, and also kind of frustrating. And even when I am traveling, I tend to sleep much less than other passengers: I sometimes find it spooky to look around and see everybody else on my bus or train carriage asleep, and occasionally wonder if I have some inbuilt immunity to this drugged air that they must have pumped in for nefarious reasons in order to send all the passengers asleep.

But the worse for me is when I know I have to be up early for a specific reason. Take today, for example**. I had to be leaving early, and so had arranged a taxi for 5:45am and set the alarm for 5:25. The previous night, i had started to feel tired around 21:30 but for reasons unknown had ignored it and not gone to bed until after midnight. I was awake by 4am. So last night, I was determined to try and get some sleep and not make the same mistake. Thus I was in bed by 22:15 and even fell asleep quite quickly. And so it was that I woke up several hours later, happily refreshed and ready for the day, and a few minutes before my alarm was due to go off so as not to wake the others in the dorm. Perfect, I thought.

Until i looked at the time. 00:11, it said.

  • I have shamelessly stolen the title from The Eels, and in fact got the idea for this utterly irrelevant post after re-hearing the song. So blame them. But not too badly. I love that song (and can even envisage where it should go in a film soundtrack: In fact I have long had pretty much an entire film soundtrack in my head, where i can see what should be playing at certain scenes. All I need to do now is write a damned film script that draws them altogether – which will be tricky as they are diverse – and i'm pretty much onto a winner).
  • * Yes, I know that by the time I actually get around to posting this thing, it won't be today, or probably even this week. But, honestly, who cares.

Posted by Gelli 15:24 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

What a difference a week makes.

What a difference a week makes. A week ago I had no expectation of ever leaving Nairobi, let alone being able to go to the Masai Mara, having the anticipation, experience and ultimately disappointing end to the trip.

Heck, a week ago, I was still essentially undiagnosed, though feeling not too bad compared to previous weeks, excepting for areas around the TV violation. Then they found the parasite and removed it. That was both a very good and very bad thing. Very good, because I finally knew exactly what was wrong with me and it seemed like the problem was almost over. Very bad because, well, how would you like it if somebody pulled a 5cm long centipede out of you by using what is essentially a piece of wire with a hook on the end shoved up your arse?

As a few people have been asking for details, i figure I may as well put a condensed version here. Very roughly, a parasite got into my system. Exactly how, where and when it got in will forever remain a mystery. My personal suspicion is that it got into me in Zambia, during Kuomboka, and probably when wading through the Zambezi flood plain chasing the king. It is a very rare parasite (because I could never get a normal damned parasite, could I?! Oh no. I just had to go and get a frickin special one) and also quite a clever and evil one. Like bilharzia, it can get into your system directly through the skin: it doesn't even need a small cut to infiltrate.

Anyhow, it probably got in when quite small and then slowly grew and moved around my inards (which would explain why I was on-and-off iffy for 2 or 3 weeks after Kuomboka until we got to Kenya). Then at some point it finally found a place it liked and made a home in my bowel and intestines, which is why i got rapidly worse in Mombasa. It stayed there for a couple of weeks, and decided it liked it so much it would like it spawn to experience it, and then laid its eggs and kind of went to sleep. Thats when i slowly started feeling better.

That is pretty much all conjecture by the doctors and myself, but it all fits reasonably well.

Basically, as it stands now, it is believed that I only had one parasite in me and that has been removed. However, it has laid an unspecified number of eggs in my bowels and intestines. Exactly when they were laid is obviously unknown, as is the number and exact locations of all of them, and this is where the fun starts. Essentially, if all of the eggs hatch, i'm pretty much doomed: One of these parasites was enough to make my life a misery and confine me to a toilet for a month, so I don't want to imagine what a dozen or a hundred would be like. The eggs are too small and well hidden to be removed (and it would be impossible to guarantee that all of them would be found) so have to be dealt with in-situ.

I am now actually feeling pretty good by all accounts, but am in the most dangerous phase. So, very roughly, I am currently undergoing treatment to try and kill the eggs and prevent them hatching. It is not a fun set of treatments, and it is impossible to know if they are working just yet. The total incubation time is guesstimated at 10weeks, give or take, so i expect to still be around here until mid July or August. But what it does mean is that i currently only need to be seen once a week for a day or two and thus assuming I don't get any side affects/reactions, it gives me some leeway and possibility to go away for periods of 4 or 5 days between treatments. Which is how I ended up in the Mara and Nakuru and is what I intend to keep doing if at all possible.

Note: this post is put up for information only, so people don't keep nagging me about what is going on, and I figured this was easier than emailing people individually. I have also very deliberately omitted the parasites name – although i have started to call him Hamish – and intend on keeping it that way. I won't tell you what it is, so please don't ask. It's not important. I am fine. I will be fine. And I will finally be away from s0dding Nairobbery and off traveling – and thus boring - you all again very soon. I have confidence in the specialists and procedures, and i don't need anything or sympathies or any help, thank you

Posted by Gelli 09:16 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

A sea of pink that smells

sunny

In today's Daily Nation, probably the most serious of Kenya's English language daily newspapers, I came across two great stories from the nations students. In the first, they were protesting about a decision to reduce the semester by 2weeks, thus giving a longer summer break. In the second, a number of students walked out of an AIDS/HIV exam (apparently this is studied by all University students as part of their first year studies) in disgust because it was far too easy, and also included some recycled questions that they knew the answers to.

Neither article bears any relevance to the rest of this tale, but I was slightly tickled by the fact students were basically complaining that their courses were too easy and they were getting too much holiday: It's not something I can ever imagine British students doing, for example – There, almost certainly most would happily have completed the easy paper before gleefully retiring early to the pub/SU, happy in the knowledge they had gained two extra weeks boozing time.

Moving on.

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The final part of my 4day jaunt was to Lake Nakuru National Park, and i must admit I enjoyed it significantly more than the Masai. Located in the Great Rift Valley about 5km south of Nakuru, Kenya's 4th biggest city, Lake Nakuru national park is quite small and compact, but includes a great deal and, crucially for me at least, is nowhere near as popular or famous as the Masai Mara. With Joseph still driving us around, we lost the two English guys and gained a Nigerian travel agent, and after a night in Nakuru city (where we watched Nigeria beat Kenya 3-0 in a World Cup 2010 qualifying match in a great atmosphere with lots of animated Kenyans, and Juba, our newly joined Nigerian, being extremely vocal at every goal without even a hint of trouble or bad blood in the air: I somehow doubt that, say, a loud German fan in a packed English pub during a 3-0 German victory over the English, would have escaped so lightly) we were ready to enter the park.

It was a glorious day, and a fruitful one. Nakuru is famous first and foremost for its flamingos, who's number is unknown but estimated at roughly 3million or so. Large chunks of the lake shore were a mass of pink and despite the presence nearby of buffalo, hyena and a white Rhino, we were able to get out and have a walk close to the flamingo. They seemed non plussed by our presence, but also casually moved away to ensure that we never got closer than about 50metres from the flock. The constant sound and interesting smell will long linger, whilst one of the highlights for me was the presence of small groups of 5-10 who periodically walked quickly up and down in the area between us and the flock, in a manner of beggers following a rich person (or safari touts following a white person) or outreach security patrols. It just looked funny.

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In the 4 or 5 hours that we were in the park, we saw flamingo, pelicans, vultures, assorted birds of species that I have no knowledge of, several species of monkey and baboon, ostrich, warthogs, Rothschild giraffe, hyena, zebra, dik-dik and several other species of antelope as well as the 4 of the famed 'big 5'* that live in the park: Buffalo, Lions, Leopard and Rhino, both black and white.

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At one point and almost entirely by luck, we were privileged to have 2 leopards mating a couple of hundred metres away on one side, and a black rhino a few hundred metres away to the other side. Two of the most sought after and elusive animals to see in the wild, and we could see both and were one of only two vehicles nearby watching. It was infinitely better than the hoards of the Masai.

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The White and Black Rhino, so called because both of them are, erm, gray. The White Rhino (above) is generally lighter coloured, larger and has a large flat squarish mouth, whereas the very rare Black Rhino (below) is darker, smaller – but still big enough to cause serious damage to you or your vehicle if it gets p1sed off and decides to charge you – and has a rounder mouth

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But the thing I loved more than anything else was the scenery. As well as the Lake and flat areas around its shores, there was grassland, forest, savanna, rocky outcrops, hills and a small escarpment – a whole range of different environments. On the rocky outcrops there were some gorgeous and stunningly coloured lizards (bright blue, often with red heads), whilst in the forests and on the plains were lots of absolutely brilliant trees: fantastic shapes, and colours, with many characterized by a wonderfully green coloured bark. I would have happily wandered or cycled around the park even if there had been not a single animal in it. About the only thing that was a bit off was that the park is so small that in places it felt more like a large open zoo than an open wildlife reserve, and so you weren't always convinced that the animals were truly 'living in the wild'. But after the Masai, i'm not really sure that I cared.

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Happy, we then left the park for a quick stop at a curio shop that even by East African standards was impressively packed with assorted, well, curios, before having lunch and then parting from the excellent Rwandan/Tanzanian-German duo of Sam and Lena, who were heading off to Kampala. And with that, it was time to return to Nairobi and its traffic chaos, where certain medical 'professionals' and student doctors were awaiting me, ready to insert more long sharp pointy things into my arse again.

Traveling is such fun sometimes.

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Vultures (though not of the same sort that tracked the Leopard in my previous post) attack the carcass of a recently deceased Buffalo. Lake Nakuru National Park had a surprising number of large bones scattered around

  • The 'big 5', is a slightly strange concept that doesn't really have any modern relevance, but which is still mentioned endlessly in guide books, and peddled relentlessly by tour operators, t-shirt sellers and touts right across East Africa. For the record, the Big 5 comprises Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lions and Leopards, and originally stems from the time when tourists were rare and the only visitors were rich colonial hunters: the Big 5 was a hunting term, and rich Americans and Europeans came to Africa with sole intention of tracking and killing what were considered to be the 5 largest/most impressive animals, and whose heads, tusks, horns or skin was brought back to their homes and mounted (or turned into rugs, in the case of the leopard) as trophies. Even today, to many tourists their Safari (in the western sense, as opposed to the actually Kiswahili meaning of 'travel' or 'journey') is not complete without spotting/ticking off the big 5, even though Buffalo at the very least are not that rare, exciting or hard to spot. And just what Giraffe, Cheetahs and Hippo, amongst others, think of their exclusion from what people are told that they really want to see, is anybodies guess.

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Top to bottom, a family of warthog oddly standing to attention, a Rothschild Giraffe eating, two Lions resting under a tree, and two monkeys, the bottom of whom really did seem pleased to see us...

Posted by Gelli 04:08 Archived in Kenya Tagged animal Comments (2)

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