Journal 7

Wonderful Wildlife

No-one has shot a bull's eye.

November 2005

Contact Us: |

Home | Route | Map (updated 14.03.06) | Photos 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Journals 1 | 2|3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 |

Thanks Updated 15.03.06 Virtual Tour of Mel Please join us - added 20.02.06

Rather prudently, as it turned out, we decided to head to Bwindi a day early, where Cheryl had a date with the mountain gorillas. This was just in case there were any delays, as there often seem to be in Africa. Heading up the steep and winding roads we found ourselves in a traffic-jam due to a truck getting stuck on a sharp bend. All the locals gathered to watch as the overloaded truck was eventually pulled free. So we carried on until we were delayed by another stuck truck. The minibuses of passengers again traipsed up to gawp at the spectacle, whilst impatient drivers parked into the space that the truck needed to get out. The time taken to free the road was doubled by these Einsteins and chaos ensued, until finally they moved.

Leaving Mgahinga Mel in Garage
Traffic Jam Mel in for repairs Descent into the Ngorongoro Crater

At last we were on the move again, until we realised that our radiator was leaking and the engine was getting dangerously hot. We stopped but refilling the radiator was no use as it just flowed out straight away. Some locals helped to glue up the holes, as children hovered around asking for money. We were off, but keeping an eye on the engine temperature. We got quite a way but then it was too hot again, the only thing for it was to keep turning the engine off down hills to keep the engine cool. A torrential rainstorm began….typical … water everywhere except where we wanted it! In the town of Kabale we managed to get it welded in a garage down a slightly dodgy looking street. I also noticed that our front left leaf spring had snapped so the garage welded that as well. However it took over two days as they bodged the job … but on the plus side we got a free nights camping at the garage, with an armed security guard and actually one of the quietest nights sleep for a long time.

The next afternoon we were back on our way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the west of Uganda. We drove through some spectacular scenery of tree-covered mountains, with huge prehistoric ferns and so many different colours and sizes of butterflies. Above us black and white colobus monkeys leapt through the tree canopy with enviable agility. We drove up into the clouds and became enveloped by the mist and then as usual in the afternoon it started to rain. We reached the campsite safely and retired early, for tomorrow Cheryl was to have the hike up to see the mountain gorillas.

Impenetrable Forest Gorilla Trekking
Impenetrable Bwindi Forest Meeting gorillas

At the gate at 7.45am sharp all the registration was complete and then all those who were to visit the gorillas were given a briefing and allocated walking sticks… or our "third leg" as the warden called it. My gorillas, the Rushegura group, were nearby so we set off walking straight away up the green mountain. The going was relatively easy for about an hour and a half, other than its upward direction, but then as we got closer it was off the beaten track and through the vegetation. The guide cleared the little-used track with his panga, but it was still quite hard going with vines clutching at our legs and stinging nettles threatening to get us. But it was very enjoyable and felt so much more adventurous than the "highway" track we had been using earlier. Then we were told to collect our cameras and to leave everything else with the guards. As I was fiddling with my bag I looked up to see, through the legs of someone else two young gorillas come bounding into the small forest opening. Our bags were whisked away and we were left to spend our hour….and not a minute longer we had been told, with the gorilla family. The young gorillas were incredibly cute, with round, fat potbellies and thick, black fur. They chased each other round, climbing up and falling down trees. A female adult was sitting nearby, looking unamused by the shenanigans going on around her. We couldn't see the silverback dominant male, but could hear him nearby to our left rustling around in the foliage. We carried on admiring and taking some photos. Then, suddenly the silverback must have had enough of these strange animals looking at his family, as he rushed through from the side, barging his whole family away from us. Wow what a size! at about twice the size of the adult female they are supposed to weigh about 160-180 plus kilos. His family did not mess with him and obligingly were escorted away. We followed from a respectful distance and found some of the gorilla family members eating and lazing around. The hour was a quick but extremely enjoyable one, despite the 8 tourists feeling a bit crowded. It was a hefty price to pay to see them, but it was an unforgettable experience that makes you understand why people such as Dian Fossey fell so deeply in love with these really quite serene creatures. I just hope that they continue to exist as their numbers are low and they are only found in a couple places in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.

On Cheryl's return from the jungle, she found Andy recovering from a day of mainly rest and reading. In celebration of seeing the gorillas they decided to go for a drink, which then turned into a mini pub-crawl around Bwindi. We bumped into two Dutch people who had been our customers whilst we had been working as dive guides in the Red Sea. Well, it's a small world! And of all the places to meet people; a jungle in Uganda! Andy remembered that they owed us a couple of beers: no one gets away from buying him an owed beer.

The next day we aimed to get as far down the road back towards Kenya as possible. On the way, happily doing around 20 kms under the speed limit we were stopped by three policemen for speeding. After smiling at them nicely, letting them inflate their egos and pretending not to understand their hint at a bribe, they let us go once they got bored with us. But then the car wouldn't start … "Not now Mel! Not here, please just start" we prayed and eventually she did; huge sigh of relief. We arrived at the campsite just before sunset. However, very little of that night was spent sleeping thanks to the campsite's dog holding a discussion all night with another at the opposite side of town all. The dog decided this was best done right next to our car. After about five hours of almost constant howling we were weighing up the possibilities of using a stick or catapult to shut it up. But the loud growling noises we heard between barks sounded like they came from a pretty large animal, big enough so that we were too scared to mess with it.

The next day we carried on heading eastward, via a garage that had a group of six yellow and black ducklings waddling around, eating bits of wire but turning their noses up at the bread we tried to feed them. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and playing pool - badly - in Kampala. The next two days were spent at a garage getting the starter motor serviced and having some worn mounts replaced. Then we went to Entebbe for the day to visit the zoo, the most interesting animal was the endangered Shoebill stork, a large grey prehistoric looking bird with a huge bill. It stares with round orange eyes in a very serious manner, looking most unamused. The car had not sounded right since we left the garage so Andy decided to have a look under the car and what he found was not pleasing. When the "spanner boys" changed the mounts the car had been jacked up on the oil sump, so that had been dented and worse still the whole engine was unaligned, sending vibrations throughout the car. On Monday we took the car back and Andy watched their every move like a hawk as they undid the damage they had made. We did get complimentary colas though.

Shoebill Stork Sipi Falls Rock crystals
Shoebill Stork Walk to Sipi Falls Rock crystals in cave.

At last we left Kampala and headed towards Sipi Falls, on the outskirts of Mt Elgon National Park. On the way a rock the size of a football was hit by an oncoming taxi, which caused it to go hurtling in a big arc straight towards our windscreen. I did not have time to break or swerve but luckily it came down and hit our bull bar with a huge thud, leaving behind a couple large dents. It isn't even worth thinking what could have happened if it hit any other part of the car. A little shaken we carried on, stopping for a chocolate cake and ice cream to settle our nerves.

Driving around Mt Elgon there are waterfalls everywhere you look. Even in our campsite one of the three tiers of Sipi falls cascaded down at the bottom of the garden, lulling us to one of best nights sleep in Africa. The next morning we were off for a walk to the most spectacular tier of Sipi falls. Our guide led us down a rickety path, past coffee and banana trees to where water drops down 95 metres over the rock face. Below green vegetation trembled as the power of the spray blew past them. We then were shown a small cave, where two local children followed us, using our torchlight to try to find rock crystals, whilst bats flew around our heads. This was our last adventure in Uganda as it was time, at last to head back towards Kenya, or at least we thought so until we had tyre puncture number 13 just 10km from the border, but it was routine procedure by now and sorted in 15 minutes.

We arrived at the Naiberi campsite near Eldoret quite late, so we were dazed by the experience. The gates are decorated in camouflage painted flowers, then you park the car and walk through a tunnel that meanders down a hill until it opens into what looks like a huge cave, with two rivers flowing through it. At one end is the bar, to get it you have to cross over two bridges. The owner was really friendly and was trying to rearrange our whole trip so we could see his factories and do this and that, but we wanted to get moving so we decided to head off. This was not before stopping at the dairy factory for some cheese tasting. Not quite the posh experience of wine tasting in South Africa, we stood outside a barred window where samples were passed out to us to taste. Still it was delicious and we bought loads of cheese….great!

  Lake Bogoria Flamingoes at Lake Bogoria
Cheese tasting Hot springs at Lake Bogoria Flamingoes at Lake Bogoria

The drive east to Lake Bogoria was amazing, the road yo-yoing down and up 1000m and then down again into the Rift Valley. The whole ambience of the soda lake is a primordial one, with steaming hot springs bubbling over encrusted rock and geysers shooting jets of water high into the air. In the distance the water is turned pink by the thousands of flamingos gathered at the waters edge feeding on cyanobacteria that thrive in the alkaline conditions in the lake. Meanwhile ostriches wander by and zebras graze among the clouds of steam. A fish eagle flew over the lake causing the flamingos to scurry towards the middle of the lake, in a Mexican wave style, for a fish eagle would quite happily take a flamingo for its dinner. At the campsite we had the whole lake to ourselves, other than a huge man-eating, deadly poisonous snake (at least according to Andy) and some baboons. We watched the sun go down and then the fireflies come out, sparkling around us.

The next day was a relaxing one sitting by the lake, having another look at the hot springs and then off to Kembu Farm campsite which claimed to have chameleons. Once it was dark we went searching for one in the hedges and eventually hit the jackpot with a beautiful green, blue and purple creature, hanging on to a branch that was swinging in the wind.

Cooking at Carnivore Restaurant Defeat
Chameleon Cooking meat at Carnivore Restaurant Putting the flag down in defeat

It was time to hit Nairobi, a hectic city that had an air of hell about, with dark clouds looming and ugly Marabou storks perched on trees and billboards. The roads are crazy, packed with cars and it's everyone for themselves: we both seethed with road rage. But actually the city was not so bad and we had a few nice outings. We went to the Carnivore restaurant where they kept bringing meat until you put your little flag down to say you had given up. We left with a protein overdose and could barely walk as we were so stuffed. In the nice suburb of Karen we visited the AFEW Giraffe centre, which breeds the rare Rothschild giraffe (there are about 300 in the world now, but when they started there were only 133). There is a feeding platform where you can get REALLY close to them and even get covered in their slobber! We also visited the Sheldrick elephant orphanage. This sanctuary looks after orphaned elephants, rhinos and other animals until hopefully they can be released back into the wild. I especially feel the care of rhinos is so important, having seen so few on our travels, they seem to be at serious risk of extinction. This is partly due to the ridiculous use of their horns in traditional medicine around the world (the horn is just of the same stuff that your finger nails and hair are made of). The elephants as always were great fun to watch and it was even more humorous with the human "Mothers" chasing them around, covering them in mud, shading them with umbrellas and pulling the smallest ones from the mud puddles (to prevent them getting pneumonia).

 Elephant and nursemaida Up close
Orphan elephants with 'mothers'. Big Kiss I needed a shave!

We ended up spending six days in Nairobi, buying supplies for us and the car, fixing things on the car and researching our next move. Having lived in and not particularly loved Egypt for two years, as well as all the ridiculous taxes etc that you have to pay to get into Egypt with a car (around 1000 euros), we kept trying to find another way up to Europe. Maybe Chad via Sudan? But you have to go through Darfur. Maybe across the Democratic Republic of Congo? But there are still rebels running around with guns and the roads are so bad it would take months to get through. Maybe drive back down and go through Angola via Namibia? But we may not be able to get an Angola visa, which would be a real blow after driving almost back to our start point. Maybe just keep to the original plan and go through Egypt? But now there are riots in Ethiopia. Maybe ship the car up some of the way? But that's cheating. Ahhhhh!!!!! What do we do? We keep deciding on a plan and then changing our mind. We meet Jo and Dave, some friends from England who have just started on their own adventure around Africa and so spent a couple days with them at Lake Naivasha trying to decide what to do. We make a final decision that we will go through the DRC. By the next morning we have decided that actually we will definitely go through Egypt. We sleep on it and come to the best conclusion that we should go via Angola. The next day Jo and Dave ask us if we have made a decision? No, not yet we are still deliberating. We eventually leave Lake Naivasha and head down the road to ……

To Top