When I left Specsavers in 2000 the lovely team I worked with gave me a perfect farewell gift: A book by Chris and Tilde Stuart: ‘Africa’s Great Wild Places.’ Right up my alley. If the Stuarts think these places are special you can bet they are. They have been all over Africa and they don’t flit in and out; when they go somewhere, they stay a while!
I had been to seven of the fifteen places they chose for the book and immediately set about getting to the eighth:
Luangwa in Zambia
Okavango in Botswana
We had this book at home growing up and I loved it. It describes the Okavango in 1958; Moremi and Chobe weren’t parks yet, but the story about two crazy loons driving a great lumbering gas-guzzling, wartime D.U.K.W amphibious monstrosity led to a fascination and – years later – many trips there starting in 1985. The latest trip was in March 2018. While there I read her new book Starlings Laughing, under her new name June Vendall Clark. I’m pleased to report that exactly fifty years later the Okavango is still the amazing paradise June Kay loved so much.
The Kalahari – Gemsbok Park in SA and Makgadikgadi Pans Botswana
1969 school tour and 1996 with Aitch; In 2010 with Janet we saw the Green Kalahari!
Etosha in Namibia
Hwange in Zimbabwe
Probably my favourite. In 1997 we went to Makalolo and in 2010 to Somalisa
This was one area I thought it unlikely we’d get to visit. Then Mike Lello got to go! His son Chris worked in wildlife safaris in Tanzania and arranged a fly-in trip. And lately, wonderful news: My bro-in-law Jeff and nephew Robbie have bought a farm near Iringa. I may not get all the way west, but I’d love to go to the Selous and Ruaha National Park! Time will tell!
More to see:
Uganda, the Serengeti, the Soda Lakes, the Great Selous
In Tsavo East we walked down a long underground tunnel from Elephant Hills Lodge on the hilltop in the first pic below, to the waterhole below the hill, where the tunnel ends in an iron-barred underground hide looking out at elephant feet and buffalo legs as they drink within pebble-tossing distance.
In Tsavo West we climbed down into an old metal tank with glass portholes looking out into the crystal clear waters of Mzima Spring, where fish swim past and hippos can be seen looking like graceful ballerinas who have ‘let themselves go’ as they move daintily by, holding their breath. We watched and waited but not a one of them farted while we were there.
The spring bubbles out of the hillside volcanic rock, crystal clear and forming a sizeable stream.
Aitch and I went to Mombasa in 1995 and checked in at a hotel on Diani beach. The next day I walked the crowded streets of Mombasa looking for a cheap hired car. Mombasa is quite a place:
I did my sums. I’m meticulous. Not.
While Aitch chilled on the uncrowded beach and pooldeck, no doubt quaffing ginless gin&tonics. She used to do that! Tonic & bitters. Ginless! I know! You’re right. Search me. Where’s the medicinal value?! The personality enhancing factor, PEF? Still, she loved it.
I found a lil Suzuki jeep. Marvelous. I could turn round from the drivers seat and touch the back window! Almost.
Birding Advice: Back at the hotel I went for a walk, leather hat on my head, binoculars round my neck. An old man came cranking along slowly on a bicycle, swung his leg high up over the saddle and dismounted next to me.
‘Ah!’ he said, ‘I can see you are English.’ I didn’t contradict him. ‘You are looking for buds,’ he said, also in a way that made me not argue. ‘There are no buds here,’ he said emphatically. ‘If you want to see buds you must go to the west, to the impenetrable forest. There are many buds there.’ And he put his left foot on the pedal, gave a push and, swinging his right leg high over the saddle, wobbled off. After a few yards he had a thought, slowed, swung off in the same elaborate dismount and came back to me: ‘But in this hotel over here you can see some peacocks in the garden,’ he informed me re-assuringly.
‘Ah, thank you sir. Thanks very much,’ I said, wishing him well and thinking of Kenya’s 1100 species of birds – eleven percent of the world’s total. The USA has about 900, and the UK about 600. He was a character a bit like this:
Traveling Advice: We also got pessimistic advice on the roads. We were on our way to Tsavo National Park the next day and we wanted to avoid the main road to Nairobi. We’d heard it was crowded with trucks and buses and we’d rather avoid that, if at all possible. On our Globetrotter map I found a little road south-west of the main road that showed an alternative route via Kwale, Kinango and Samburu.
‘No you can’t; No, not at all; There’s no way,’ says everyone. Even the barman! ‘The bridge has been washed away by cyclone Demoina,’ they all said. This was a bit weird, as Demoina had been in 1984, eleven years earlier, and had mostly hit Madagascar, Mocambique and KwaZuluNatal, well south of Kenya.
Usually I can eventually find ONE person to say ‘Don’t listen to them, the road is FINE,’ but this time I was stymied. No-one would say ‘Yes!’ nor even ‘Maybe.’
SO: We headed off along the road toward Kwale anyway. ‘Tis easier to seek forgiveness than permission, we thought. Aitch, what a trooper, was right with me in adventurousness. ‘We’ll see new places,’ was all she said. She knows me.
As we neared Kwale a minibus taxi approaching from the other direction did a strange thing: They actually flagged us down to tell us ‘Stop! You can’t go this way! The bridge is gone, Demoina washed it away!’ We nodded, we agreed, we thanked them kindly; then we kept going.
And they were right: The bridge over the river between Kwale and Kinango had indeed washed away. But there were recent tyre tracks down to the river which we followed. Below and just upstream of the wreckage of the bridge we stuck the Suzuki in 4X4 and crossed the low river. Then we stopped for a break, parking our mini-4X4 under a beautiful shady tree on the river bank:
And we were right: Besides being devoid of traffic, the road surface was mostly good, sometimes great:
Then the honeymoon ended: We ran out of detour and got back onto the main Mombasa-Nairobi road at Samburu: Aargh! Every so often a blob of tar would threaten to cause damage. Huge holes had the traffic all weaving from side to side so trucks seem to be coming straight at you, but it’s actually quite safe. Its rather like slow-motion ballet. Cars and trucks went slowly, the only vehicles ‘speeding’ – probably up to 60km/h – were big passenger buses with their much better suspension.
Thanks to Google Earth we can find the place where the bridge had washed away. Here’s the new bridge and new road on the right, with the old road on the left where we crossed the drift (yellow arrow) and that beautiful tree (red arrow and top picture ) that we rested under. The long red mud scar is a new road and new bridge that wasn’t there back then.
Then we got to Tsavo! I’d wanted to visit Tsavo since I was ten years old, and read books by Bernhard Grzimek and others! Well, here I was, thirty years later! Yavuyavu! Fahari!