Total Distance: 7199 km
Distance covered today: 372 km
Start: Peace Guet House, Kamembe, Rwanda
Finish: Bunyonyi Overland Camp, Kabale, Uganda
This morning was the first morning on the trip that we got up with a cloudless day. And what a day it was to be. We took the road running along Lake Kivu from Kamembe to Kibuye. If you look at the photos you will see only the tip of the iceberg. Drawing a straight line between the two towns it is 66km but the road itself is 130km. It is the most winding road I have ever been on in my life. Not even New Zealand could come close. Hundreds and hundreds of hills and mountains drop down into Lake Kivu and we have to go up and down each of them. The going was really slow because of the road condition and so far it was the slowest road - 4.5 hours on 130km. To start trying to explain the scenery will be very hard however I have run out of adjectives and words like 'unbelievable, incredible, awesome, magic, stunning, spectacular' don't do justice to landscape. The mountains and hills are terraced and planted with food. Even rice paddies cover the valleys. This road is very seldom if ever used by tourists as every kid possible came running from miles away to wave us on shouting 'Muzungu' (White Man) in happiness to see a stranger. I can easily imagine the landscape, the lake and the mountains to be somewhere in Switzerland but just so the mountains are just so much higher. Lake Kivu is lying on 1800m above sea level so it is everywhere nice and cool.
We hit the tar road in Kibuye and drove east to Kigali where we stopped to see the Genocide Memorial and Museum. The scale of planned extermination of a tribe was on par with the Nazis with the Jews. The conservative figure is 800 000 lives lost during just over 3 months. We saw heartbreaking videos of survivors recalling the horrors and barbaric rituals. The involvement of the French government actively training and arming the Hutu military is something off course the Western world still does not condemn as the international courts are only looking for Africans who were responsible and not the agencies arming the militia. It reminds me of the movie 'Lord of War' with Nicolas Cage as a weapons dealer who makes millions but is untouchable by the courts because he is protected by the very same people who fund the United Nations. The words of Kofe Annan, then the Chairman of UN, are so hollow and shallow when he said that he is 'sorry so little was done by the UN'.
We continued north from Kigali and crossed the border at Katuna. Again painless except for the pocket as Uganda is charging us US$50 per person for a visa. As the sun was setting we drove over an escarpment to Lake Bunyonyi where the green surroundings drop into the calm lake. We are staying here 2 nights.
17 December 2010
Stay at Bunyonyi Overland Camp, Kabale, Uganda
A VERY relaxing day of doing absolutely nothing. Our camp site is really divine. We are on a terrace some 15 meters from the lake's edge. We sat the whole day around the camp and watch the local people coming and going with their little dug-out boats from the mainland to the markets and the islands.
We also met an English couple, Rob and Sarah, who are on their way south after starting their trip in London. We shared info and they confirmed that there is no strange 'atmosphere' in Sudan so we are more at ease.
The camp is rather popular amongst tourists looking for some R&R and also as a base camp for trekking to the gorillas. Rob told me that soon the US$500 pp gorilla permit will be increased to US$1000! Ouch!
The lake is not very big but littered with more than 20 islands but as said, we were happy to just relax at the camp site. Had a steak braai tonight and that went down rather well.
18 December 2010
Total Distance: 7569 km
Distance covered today: 370 km
Start: Bunyonyi Overland Camp, Kabale, Uganda
Finish: Nkurumba Community Camp, Outside Fort Portal
We went into town to refuel and just outside Kabale we came across a fantastic fruit and vegetable market. As we stopped we were swamped with hawkers selling everything from peas to pineapples. We stocked up on various veggies and I am afraid of turning green due to a lack of meat. No, actually so far we have eaten every single day meat, so there is no starvation. In fact with Arina's cooking, I think I will gain even more weight.
The countryside is changing slowly. Actually happy to see straight roads again and the landscape is now soft short grass-covered green hills with the valleys under cultivation of items like maize, beans, potatoes, cotton and other agricultural items.
We soon turned westwards and headed towards Queen Elizabeth park which we were planning to visit. Just before reaching it, we were spoilt by a wonderful view from the escarpment to the park below. The park itself is rather beautiful - very tall grass, acacia trees and giant Euphorbias (Afrikaans: Naboom), dotting the so quaint-essential African landscape.
With the very tall grass comes one problem - very hard to spot animals. We only saw a few buffalo and antelopes but the vegetation kept us interested. We had lunch overlooking Lake Edward and at this moment we are ticking off a number of the Great Rift Valley Lakes
Each one has its own charm and we are happy to see them all. We heading further north to Fort Portal. Sorry, there is no fort or castle here. Just part of the English colonial era. The famous Ruwenzori Mountains (also called Mountains of the Moon) were lying to our west but we could barely see them and for the next few days we can't see more than 20 - 30 km into the distance due to smoke. It seems that they are burning a lot and we are not quite sure where the smoke all comes from. Due to a lack of wind, it does not clear either.
The area around Fort Portal has a number of lakes that filled old volcano craters. The one where we stayed is no more than a 100meters in diameters and the crater inner wall is carpeted with pristine indigenous forests. We heard a number of monkeys in the trees but they are hard to spot. We were camping on the rim of the crater and could walk down a footpath through the forest to the water below. Rather idyllic setting.
19 December 2010
Total Distance: 7933 km
Distance covered today: 364 km
Start: Nkurumba Community Camp, Outside Fort Portal, Uganda
Finish: Nile Safari Camp, Murchinsons Falls National Park, Uganda
The road today was rather interesting. The tar road ran out shortly after leaving Fort Portal and it must have been the worst stretch of the trip so far. Not because the road was bad, but due to the fact that it was extremely narrow and dusty. So taxis, cars and motor bikes would come flying towards us trying to compete with the speed of light and making as if our vehicle does not exist. I often tried to play their own game of playing chicken which means you drive towards each other on a collision course and just before impact you swerve hard to the left and immediately after you pass each other you swerve hard right again and continue as if nothing happened. Well, this did not work when a bus overloaded with people came flying around a corner. We had no choice but to drive nose first into a ditch and wait for the dust to settle before limping out again. Arrived in the last major town before the park called Masindi and decided to stop for a toilet at a rather promising looking hotel called Masindi Hotel. At what a little oasis. The hotel was built in 1923 and still being maintained at full throttle. We were told that Catherine Hepburn stayed here while they shot the famous movie African Queen. By the way the Murchinsons Falls also feature in that movie. I must get this movie when at home.
The left back wheel is still spilling a lot of oil and I discovered that the bearings are loose. Fortunately the hotel manager knew the 'best mechanic' in town. John Kiiza arrived half an hour later on his motor bike and I followed him to his workshop. Well, let me re-phrase, open piece of land in the town with 2 other broken down trucks and various other bush mechanics all around the street fixing cars. He had no tools and had to run around from one friend to another looking for it. Fortunately I could give him everything he needed from my supply. In no time he had the half shaft out and the seal we replaced in South Luangwa was shot again. Fortunately I brought a spare in Lilongwe and at 4pm we were on the road again but with 3 hours lost, we had to rush to get to the park before sunset. This was not quite possible and it was getting dark when we arrived at our camp spot.
20 December 2010
Stayed over: Nile Safari Camp, Murchinsons Falls National Park, Uganda
This morning we could properly see our camp site. There was only 1 other vehicle and nobody else. We looked down and endless expanse of African savannah with the Nile flowing just below the camp. It was Arina's first sight of the Nile and it will be incredible to see the various stages of it. We will still see it at its origin at Jinja where it flows out of Lake Victoria and then where it meets the Blue Nile in Khartoum and then sail on it on Lake Nasser to Aswan and at various stages throughout Egypt and see it flowing out into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria.
We took a car ferry across the Nile at Paraa to the northern side and immediately were blown away again by the beauty of the park. The grass covered hills rolled endlessly to the horizon and there are areas covered in a palm trees not too different from the Botswana makalane palm and other areas covered in huge acacias. As we got closer to the delta which the Nile forms as it flows into Lake Albert, the grass got taller, the bush thicker, the road more overgrown and the vehicle covered in tsetse flies. Suddenly Arina shouted at the same time I spotted it right in front of the car but too late to stop and when I hit the brakes and look in the rear mirror, I realised I drove over a massive python which covered the road from the one side to the other. We were dreading that I killed it because if the spine was snapped it would die a slow death right at the same spot as it could not sail away. Fortunately as I reversed to check he disappeared into the undergrowth and relieved it was ok.
The highlight of the day was to see a journey of giraffe of 25 in total and close together. We sat and watched them cross the road not more than 30 meters from us. So graceful and elegant.
Also spotted newbies like the Kob and the Jacksons Hartebeest. Also saw plenty of elephant, buffalo, warthog and red hartebeest. Was surprised not to see zebra or wildebeest. However the landscape is truly phenomenal. At 2pm we went on a boat cruise upstream to the Murchinson's Falls where the Nile blasts through a very narrow gap as it comes down the escarpment. Along the way we saw some truly gigantic crocodiles, plenty of hippo and elephant coming to drink. The bird life is also prolific and saw a few newbies on the list including the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill (blue throat pouch rather than red like the ones in Southern Africa), red throated bee-eater and many more. Sadly did not spot the African Shoebill which I was really hoping to see. During the boat cruise, Arina was the centre of attention from 4 Indian men who could not believe she is driving through Africa, camping along the way and all in a Land Rover. Each one took a photo with her and I am sure they will tell everyone back home they met the real African Queen!
Tonight we have the whole camp site for ourselves and surrounded by the soft sounds of the bush like the frogs, crickets and a smokey smell of the fire close-by, we know we are in the heart of Africa.