Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back to Zambia

The drive back
Our return trip to Zambia was always meant to be a quick one and I thought we did well to get back to Lusaka in around 3.5 days, although our days were very long!

From Diani Beach we headed south back into Tanzania, a very quick border and the Tanzanian customs officials were great giving us a cheaper visa for transit ($30pp for 7 days).

We were dreading the drive back through Tanzania; many of the roads are 50km because of the back to back “towns” (does three huts REALLY qualify as a town?), the endless speed bumps and the MOST CORRUPT police we came across during our entire time (all 2 years) in Africa. And Tanzania didn’t disappoint!
Baobab Central

Day one of the drive was pretty easy. A couple of issues with police but we felt $6 for the day was ok J. However the second day, the road between Mukumi and Mbeya, was particularly bad. At one police stop they wanted to get us for speeding, the crack in our windscreen and Mike’s “open” shoes (he was wearing his Havianas as per usual). Tough negotiations from Mike saw the price come down from 60,000tsh (~$40) to 30,000 (~$20). Still too much but better than it could have been.

We also had another problem when somehow, a guy driving a Toyota Starlet managed to run into the back of poor Ruth, while she was MOVING! We still have no idea how he managed to do this; we hadn’t stopped, slowed, etc. But he definitely gave us a bit of a shock. Fortunately the police turned up at the accident seen and the guy’s employer was forced to pay for the damage to our bumper bar, which was the ONLY damage we received. We really were very lucky but at the time it was definitely something we didn’t need.

Poor Ruth
A crowd: This must have been the most excitement they'd had in weeks!

Day three went perfectly. We left Mbeya early and headed straight for the Tanzanian-Zambian border, passing through all of it in around an hour. A surprise given how busy this border was!

From the border we headed south, making great time, arriving at the “Africa House” by around 12:30pm. Initially we had planned on staying there for the night in the nearby campground, however we soon changed our mind when we realised that we wouldn’t be able to view the house until the following morning. We were also keen to keep moving given the good time we had made so far that day. And so we took a few photos of the house from the outside (it really was  nice house too) before we headed off further south.

Africa House

Path up to Africa House

By a bit after 5pm we had made it to the town of Serenje where we opted to stay at Mapontela Guesthouse, a family run business which was very clean, with hot water and overall very comfy. A great find and nice place to stop.

Our fourth day, was a short one with a brief stop at the Fig Tree CafĂ©, just outside the town of Kabwe, before getting to Lusaka and our friend Rob’s house, around lunchtime.

All in all a successful trip; not exactly the same as getting to Ethiopia, but nonetheless, achieving the desired outcome.

Our last week in Zambia (and Africa).

I won’t go into too much detail here. Our final days in Zambia were very enjoyable catching up with friends, eating nice food, a birthday party, a braai and a final visit to Olga’s in Livingstone. I even got to see my puppy dog Rambo, who is now living with our former landlord, for one last sad (and teary) goodbye.

An old friend
My happy puppy Rambo

One super cool thing we did do was the “Devil’s Pool” at the top of Victoria Falls. Despite living in Livingstone for nearly a year and a half we never actually got around to doing this one and had been regretting it. So when the opportunity once again presented itself we went for it.

We did the Livingstone Island tour on the breakfast run; this includes the boat to/ from the island from the Royal Livingstone Hotel, the swim out to/ in the pool and then breakfast. It is run by Tongabezi, cost $70 and can be booked either via Tongabezi or most hotel and tour operators in Livingstone.

Moments before the big jump
Awesome shot of Mike taking the big leap
I on the other hand was more focused on what was in front of me
The Devil's Pool....

A totally crazy and exhilarating thing to do!

...on the edge of Victoria Falls
Back on Livingstone Island for breakfast
Coffee, cake and scones, yummy!
All topped off with Eggs Benedict
And so we went out on a bang before a long journey back to Australia!

Back in Lusaka for Rob's birthday

I’m not sure how to wrap up….clearly travelling in Africa is not meant to be easy and at times was incredibly frustrating. However without the work you will never get to see the things we saw and we saw some amazing things!! Even if travelling in Africa self-drive is not for you, just make sure you get there at least once to experience sights, people and events that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world.

Mombasa and Kenya's coast

The road between Nairobi and Mombasa is long and scary! Only 500km away, we expected a good steady drive, nothing like what we encountered.

The number and the condition of the trucks on this road make any travel for cars extremely long and frustrating. Add that to Kenyan driver mentality and you have quite a dangerous drive ahead of you. As we discovered on a number of occasions, just because the road law says you should drive on the left hand side of the road, it doesn’t mean that’s what people are going to do! We lost track of the number of times a driver coming in the opposite direction on OUR side of the road would flash their lights at us telling us to move out of the way. And it’s actually dangerous not to, or least slow down allowing them time to merge back in to the right hand side of the road. CRAZY!!

Beautiful cloud covered mountains on the way to Mombasa

We arrived in Mombasa in the late afternoon and headed to the Nyali Beach area to a backpackers called “Backpacker’s Nirvana”; we’d been tossing up between that one and Mombasa Backpackers. In hindsight I’d have gone to the other one as “Backpacker’s Nirvana” felt a little weird and facilities a bit run down, although the staff were all quite friendly.

What we were drinking in Kenya :-)

We only had a few days in Mombasa but still managed to squeeze a bit in. We started with the usual touristy stuff like a visit to Fort Jesus and the “Old Town”, both a tad disappointing although I suspect that’s more a result of having been to places like Stone Town in Zanzibar. The fort was ok and we wondered around the grounds and museum for about an hour. The Old Town in the neighbouring area was probably not worth the effort; in fact I’d say give it the miss if you’ve been to Stone Town or places like Ilha de Mocambique. It has the same sort of architecture and narrow laneways, but completely unpreserved and quite (very) filthy in many parts. It really isn’t nice. 
View of boys playing football @Fort Jesus
Me @Fort Jesus
Canon @Fort Jesus

Inside Fort Jesus
Heavy wooden doors.....
......and stone stairs
Looking at the bottom of the fort
Old Mombasa Town
Alley way in the Old Town
One of the nicer building fronts

Cutting our time short in the Old Town meant we had time to head to Mombasa Beach where we spent a lovely afternoon having lunch at Yuls Restaurant (including the biggest pizza ever), a walk along the beach and afternoon cocktails. Very enjoyable.

No...I did not eat the whole pizza...plenty was left over for lunch the next day :-)
Mombasa Beach
Cocktail hour!!

Mike taking it all in
On another day we headed a little bit up the coast to check out the beaches there. We made a big mistake of saving Jumba Ruins Monsoons for dinner instead of lunch. We were lucky as it was to get a dinner as they are normally only open for lunch, however we didn’t see the ruins in the dark, which you walk through to get to the restaurant. Nonetheless the food in this place was great and I’d highly recommend this one for a seaside lunch.

Nyali Beach, Mombasa
Cargo ship @Nyali Beach, Mombasa

More great coffee (try Cafesserie Mombasa) and relaxed days near the beach and we were ready for a quieter beach destination.

The streets of Northern Mombasa...not as I had pictured them AT ALL!

Enjoying a cold pineapple and mango juice at a nearby hotel
Our next stop was a tough choice; Lamu Island or head south? Let me back up a minute……

Our original plans as described on this blog had been to head north to Ethiopia from Kenya, but due to the following factors we had made a decision to return to Zambia and fly back to Australia from our starting point:
  • The requirement to sell Ruth before we went home…easier in Zambia (as she is Zambian registered)
  • The wear and tear on Ruth from driving the northern road to the Moyale border which we decided to avoid
  • The visa requirements and logistics for Ethiopia; definitely doable but still difficult
And so, knowing that we had to return south pretty soon, we made the decision to head to one of Kenya’s Southern beaches, Diani Beach, not that far from Mombasa.

The Likoni Ferry, taking us South of Mombasa
On the ferry
As disappointed as I felt originally about missing out on Lamu, this disappeared pretty quickly when we arrived in Diani. What a lovely beach! A little piece of paradise.

Diani Beach: A little piece of paradise

Mike and I decided to stay in the Simba-OryxBeach Cottages given this was the last real part of our holiday. These cottages were a great deal, paying $55pn for a fully self-contained cottage, fully equipped kitchen, hot shower, ceiling fans and a beautiful porch to enjoy breakfast and sunset drinks. Our three night stay doubled to six in the end as we just never wanted to leave!
Heading down to the beach
Simba & Oryx Cottages @Diani Beach
The front porch of our little cottage:
A great place for breakfast.........

Our days consisted of breakfast on the porch, a morning swim, lunch, reading and relaxing, afternoon run on the beach, shower, sundowner drinks and dinner. And I loved every second of it!

......and a great place for a beer in the evening
White sand and turquoise water
And even camels!

The beach was beautiful; the seaweed in parts was a bit annoying, as were the beach boys, but we found ways around both and were able to enjoy the white sand and warm water. Some days we had guys bring fresh fish to our door (yay!!) which we brought and cooked up, the fresh prawns being an absolute winner.

Prawns delivered to our door
Mike cooking up a storm
And the finished product! Boy, were they good too!!
Unfortunately all good things come to an end and after nearly a week in paradise the time had come to leave Diani Beach and Kenya, at least for a while L

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A visit to Kenya's capital

The road up to Nairobi once again started out pretty bumpy. In fact we found it easier to use “side roads” instead of the road as it was quicker and had less impact on Ruth (the side roads are just tracks resulting from vehicle use overtime). As we got closer to Nairobi (from Narok Road) the road did improve significantly. It is perhaps worthwhile mentioning here that only weeks before we arrived, Maasai Mara tour drivers had actually gone on strike for two full days over the state of the road. From what we were told, no one was allowed in or out of the park. The result was that the government of Kenya had six weeks to make a start on improving the road before further protests. See what happens!
The road to Nairobi?? Hhhmm!

We were told lots of stories about the roads in Nairobi and were expecting the worst only to find them actually quite civilised. We headed directly to Jungle Junction, an unsigned haven for self-drive overlanders and backpackers near the centre of town. Jungle Junction was great; if offers camping, dorms and rooms all at very reasonable rates and the owner, Chris, is full of information and was very helpful regarding car matters (c_handschuh_68@yahoo.com)

I found Nairobi to be one of the nicer Africa cities we had been to, nothing like it had been described to us "Nairobbery", although admittedly we didn’t venture far from the better parts of town. We did head into the city centre one day, however it was a weekend so probably not as crazy as busy as it would normally be. It was also surprisingly cold. I don’t know why but I’ve always pictured Nairobi to be hot, however given its 1500m+ altitude, it makes sense that it’s not so warm.

In the city centre we visited the Kenyatta International Conference Centre which offers a great view of the city from the top of its tower. 

Kenyatta International Conference Centre
View of Nairobi city centre from Kenyatta International Conference Centre
Much greener than I expected!
.....and me!
More of Nairobi
The building from where we had our great views
Evidence of the colonial influence left behind
We also checked out a couple of the local malls which offer significant evidence of a growing Kenyan middle class as well as the strong expat community there. The malls were amazing despite the rigorous security checks required before one can enter them.

Westgate Shopping Mall
Evidence of the ever growing middle class in Africa
One of our afternoons in Nairobi we headed out to the Karen Blixen Museum which is definitely worth checking out! Neither Mike nor I (I’m embarrassed to say) had read any of her books or seen the movie “Out of Africa”; I definitely think it would have helped to have this background. But the tour guides are great and when I left I was keen to at least see the move. From memory entrance into the museum was around $8pp, so pretty reasonable.

Karen Blixen Museum....

....and old colonial house
Set on large grounds

In Nairobi we also ate extremely well with visits to Artcaffe as well as a much anticipated BBQ meal at "Fogo Gaucho" Steak House and Lounge Bar. We had actually planned on eating at the famed “Carnivores” well known in the past for its variety of exotic meats on offer, e.g. Giraffe, hippo, zebra, etc. Carnivores haven’t been offering these choices for a while however we both thought that they would still have a reasonable selection of game meats. However it turns out that this is not the case, with beef and chicken the standard fare but at exuberant prices. Given this information we opted for "Fogo Gaucho" Steak House and Lounge Bar, a Brazilian style of BBQ with an awesome salad bar, leaving both Mike and I very happy J

Mike waiting for his coffee :-)

Anyone for meat??
Happy customer :-)

We only spent a few days in Nairobi and I would say that’s enough. I really enjoyed the little luxuries it offered, but at the end of the day it is just another city and we had sun and sand on Kenya’s coast calling us.