Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

Part 2: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Helmeringhausen to Damaraland, Namibia.

January 24th, 2017

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Day 10, October 20: Helmeringhausen.

Being located on a working farm there isn’t much to see around the Helmeringhausen Hotel. We therefore, on the suggestion of the hotel proprietor, made a short road trip on our day in the area.

This turned out to be around 250km.

This was a circuit from Helmeringhausen down the C13 to the D707 then clockwise back via the C27.

The countryside was varied, starting with outcrops of boulders along the C13, through red desert along the D707 and then past the Tirasberg Mountains. At the junction with the C27 we headed east again, back to Helmeringhausen.

The mountains certainly influenced the weather as there was a build up of clouds and virga (rain falling but evaporating before reaching the ground) on the higher peaks.

Our constant companion, while driving on the gravel roads, has been a rooster tail of fine dust.

This changes colour according to the material the road is built from.

We have had reds, light grey, dark grey and black.

It gets into everything.

The Helmeringhausen Hotel boasts ‘The best apple cake in Namibia’ and they have T-Shirts, and a sign out the front, promoting their claim. Yet it’s never the dessert that’s part of the evening’s fixed menu.

You have to order it separately, at an extra cost of course.

Don’t you just love marketing.

What’s not promoted and a missed opportunity for the hotel is the ‘Sundowners’ walk. Just behind the hotel is a hill with a well laid out path to the top. There you get great views of the surrounding landscape and, more importantly, the setting sun.

There were six of us up there the night we went, all wishing we had taken a drink to celebrate the sunset.

I am sure the hotel could have provided a bar service, as well as snacks.

After all there was no shortage of chefs.

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Day 11, October 21: Helmeringhausen to Sossusvlei.

We drove north up the C14 then turned west on the C19 towards Sossusvlei.

Again there was a dispute between the TomTom and MapsME, in regard to the distance we had to travel.

This time the TomTom won.

Sossusvlei is in the Namib Desert, one of the world’s oldest. It stretches for nearly 1,000km along the Atlantic coast.

Sossusvlei is one of the easiest places to access the desert and our hotel, the Sossus Dune Lodge, was surrounded by it.

There was a rocky ridge behind our room and a vast expanse of the Namib Desert in front.

At check-in we received yet another baboon warning, telling us not to leave any windows or doors open. After our experience at the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, everything remained shut.

Why we were booked into the honeymoon suite I have no idea. It was about as far away from the office, restaurant and bar as you could get. Our area was huge and it even had a swinging day bed at one end of the wide veranda.

Being in the heart of the desert the winds ebbed and flowed, gently rocking our day bed. This was a wonderful vantage point to take in the spectacular desert scenery.

In the late afternoon we headed out to explore the famed dunes of the Namib Desert, especially Dune 45.

This is what’s called a ‘star dune’ and gets its name from the fact that it’s 45 kilometres on the road that connects the Sesriem Gate and Sossusvlei. It’s made up of 5 million year old sand that was accumulated by the Orange River and came from the Kalahari Desert, then blown into the Namib Desert.

As the sun sets, one side of the dune is thrown in shadow, while the other side glows bright orange.

I can understand why Dune 45 is the most photographed dune in the world.

As tourists we tread gently.

Whatever country you travel in, it isn’t yours, unless you live there of course, you therefore need to be mindful of offending people.

Some tourists believe it’s their right to demand. It could be what they want to eat, what language they want to speak, or even where they want to sit.

These people are rude.

We witnessed one such couple rearrange a table for four, at a window seat, just to suit themselves.

Everyone in the restaurant looked on in disgust. Especially those who had taken the tables for two, that were not by the window.

Ironically the light vanished within minutes of them sitting down, so they had no view anyway.

As it turned out the couple were celebrating a seventieth birthday and the restaurant staff made a big fuss, giving him a very large birthday cake.

It was so large that they shared it with the other diners in the restaurant.

We felt that our judgement of them may have been a little harsh.

That’s until we bumped into them again the next day – they were just as obnoxious.

Our first impression was the right one.

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Day 12, October 22:  Sossusvlei.

We ordered a packed breakfast from the hotel and headed out just before dawn.

It was hazier, with more cloud around, so the photos weren’t as striking as we had taken on the previous evening.

When we reached the end of the 60km stretch of paved road, we went for a walk in the dunes.

Despite the fact that the car park was full of people, 4WDs, buses and safari vehicles, the dunes were surprisingly quiet.

The light had improved and there was a real contrast between the orange dunes and the bright blue sky.

Our only companions were three Oryx grazing in the distance and the occasional lizard scurrying over the sand.

Our next move was a mistake.

We took the shuttle down a 4WD track to see more of the dunes.

So did everyone else.

There were hundreds walking and climbing over the dunes and along the dry river bed.

It was like Kurfurstendamm on a warm summer’s evening, complete with the chatter of Deutsch.

Then, when we decided to return to our car again, so did everyone else.

The shuttle bus drivers never stopped at the same spot, to drop-off and pick-up passengers.

This meant that random groups of people gathered where the last bus made a drop-off.

However they never stopped there.

There was a further complication, in that some of the buses went an extra kilometre down the road to the end of the track – so we never knew where they were going to end up.

Again there was no obvious pattern, so we decided to get on any bus we could, and stay on it until we eventually got back to the car park.

This strategy worked and we had the bonus of doing the full circuit and seeing the last of the Sossusvlei Dunes.

With all the confusion I wished I had taken the Toyota and driven myself, that’s until we saw two 4WDs up to their axils in sand.

Our hotel, the Sossus Dune Lodge, was one of the first lodges to be developed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts in 2007.

It is literally perched above the Namib Desert.

The lodges, walkways, restaurant and even the pool are all built on stilts. The only footprint left by the lodge are the holes in the desert floor.

Just as we arrived back from our drive in the dunes, a tour bus came out of the dust and heading for the Sossus Dune Lodge.

At dinner we found out it was a Chinese tour group.

Now Chinese tourists are very valuable to a hotel, they can also can be very disruptive, as ‘they want it and they want it now.’

There were 24 in the group and they returned to the restaurant at 8pm, after a sunset tour, looking to be fed. It took well over an hour for them to be served, yet they consumed their meals in less than 20 minutes.

There has to be a more efficient way to service their needs.

If the Namibia Wildlife Resorts want the Chinese tourists they’ll have to do better than that.

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Day 13, October 23: Sossusvlei to Swakopmund.

Continuing on the C19 we now headed north.

About 70km from Sossusvlei is the tiny town of Solitaire.

It was suggested that we stop there as they have a good bakery and an espresso machine.

The cake was better than the coffee.

There was no parking in front of Moose McGregors Desert Bakery, so everyone parked under the two trees that were conveniently out the front.

A much better option, considering the temperature was now around 34°C.

It was a rather long, 375km, drive from Solitaire to Swakopmund and the terrain became flatter and dryer with little vegetation.

We hit the Atlantic at Walvis Bay and drove to the Walvis Bay Lagoon to see the flamingos.

There were a lot.

They were the Lesser Flamingo and not surprisingly, smaller in size to the Greater Flamingo.

When we got out of the car to take some snaps, we found that the temperature had plunged about 20°C.

Walvis Bay plays an important role in the oil and gas industry as well as being a vital port for Namibia. It is also growing in tourism and is the second most important coastal resort town next to Swakopmund.

When we arrived in Swakopmund it was as quiet as a church mouse on a Sunday. About the only thing that was slower was the internet in our hotel.

After wandering around the town and finding nothing open we returned to the hotel.

Not surprisingly it was very busy, as everything else was shut.

The Anchor Point Restaurant, within the Swakopmund Beach Hotel, has an interesting history.

It’s named after three rather ornate brick structures that are just outside the hotel. These were anchor points for an 86 meters high communications tower that was used by the Germans during WW1. This transmitter was a vital radio link to Lüderitzbucht, Windhoek and Berlin. In 1914, when war broke out in South West Africa, the local German military destroyed the tower, fearing it would fall into enemy hands.

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Day 14, October 24: Swakopmund.

Our hotel was right on the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Swakop River.

The river was the boundary between the town and the desert.

On our first morning we couldn’t see much as the fog had rolled in and visibility was down to a few hundred metres. This is caused by the hot desert air running headlong into the sea breezes from the cold, moist Atlantic.

Swakopmund is the second largest town in Namibia and the resort capital. It remains cool when the rest of inland Namibia boils.

There is 1,570 kilometres of coastline in the west, stretching from the Kunene River in the north to the Orange River in the south. The coastline north of Walvis Bay is referred to as the Skeleton Coast and most of it is desert. The entire Namibian coastline has been designated as a national park. In fact the Namibian government has become a trailblazer by using tourism to fund conservation.

Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are an oasis of cool sea breezes and Atlantic swells in the otherwise dry south.

We spent the day walking around Swakopmund, meandering through the wide ordered streets.

It was good to get some exercise – we walked over 14km that day.

The fog lifted by late morning but then settled again. However by the late afternoon it was gone completely and the sky was blue.

The air was still chilly and we kept our jumpers on.

There are number of good examples of Colonial German architecture from the early 1900s in Swakopmund.

There’s the Evangelical German Lutheran Church, built in 1912. Just over the road the Namib High School, built a year later in 1913.

The best for me was the former railway station, or Bahnhof, built in 1901 and now the five star Swokopmund Hotel.

The large in ground pool sits on platform one, where the locomotives once chugged in and out of the station, bringing holiday makers from Windhoek.

In the evening we decided to go German and visit the Swakopmund Brauhaus.

We were lucky we set off early as the place was fully booked.

Monday night was almost as quiet as Sunday and there were only a few places open.

Those who knew had booked the Brauhaus in advance.

We did get a table but were told we had to be out in an hour and a half. However with some clever table manipulation by the staff, we got to stay longer.

The Swakopmund Brauhaus was very German, like a small slice of Bavaria in the heart of the Namib Desert. They served hearty German fare and a great variety of German draught and bottled beer as well as German and South African wines.

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Day 15, October 25: Swakopmund to Brandberg.

The sea mist was back the morning we left Swokopmund.

It is truly a different part of Namibia, in all aspects. The architecture, the people, the Atlantic and of course the weather.

The drive to Brandberg White Lady Lodge was relatively easy, although there was some confusion as to where it actually was.

For the first 70 km after leaving Swokopmund we were on a sealed and then a salt road.

We had experienced this surface coming into the coast at Walvis Bay and it was a surprisingly smooth ride.

Namibia has more than 44,500 kilometres of roads and they are regarded as some of the best in Africa. There are only 288 kilometres of salt roads, which are limited to the Atlantic coast, inside the mist belt. These road are constructed from concentrated salt water and a gypsum-rich material.

Over half the roads in Namibia are a standard gravel road, covered with imported gravel.

When we arrived in Brandberg White Lady Lodge there were signs warning us of the dangers of Desert Elephants – the place is apparently famous for them.

Was this going to be the same as Sossus Dune Lodge, where were warned about the Baboons but never sighted one?

The White Lady Lodge is named after the famous cave paintings that were discovered in 1918 by the German explorer Reinhard Maack. They are in the Brandberg Mountains, not far from our hotel.

There is significant conjecture as to the origins and authorship of the paintings. The current theory is that they were created at least 2,000 years ago by the bushmen or San People.

The ‘White Lady’ is not a woman at all but a medicine man, with painted legs and performing a ritual dance.

In every place we have stayed the layout, style and ambience have been unique. The Brandberg White Lady Lodge was no different.

It was divided into three distinct areas: The restaurant, bar and swimming pools were the hub, then about 200 metres into the bush were the stand alone chalets, where we were staying. There were seven of these, spread throughout the bush and all under trees. The trees kept the room cool and also provided shade for our car. Within this area there were also two sets of seven rooms apartments.

The third area was for the campers. There was a combination of tented camps and camp sites. These were set around the dry beds of the Teisen and Ugub Rivers.

All this was set against the backdrop of the Brandberg Mountains.

Brandberg or Fire Mountain is Namibia’s highest peak, with its zenith, the Königstein or ‘King’s Stone’, 2573 metres high.

It was a hot, dry and dusty environment, that was both hostile and stunning.

Power for our chalet came from a 12 volt battery that’s charged by a solar panel that was just outside. While the hot water was provided by a solid fuel boiler, that was behind a high stone wall next to our chalet – it was lit twice a day.

There was no WiFi or connectivity of any sort. If you needed to charge your devices you had to take them to the main lodge area, where there was a generator.

Dinner was served at 7:30 so we went up to the lodge to have a pre dinner drink at the bar.

We were alone.

Everyone was up on the hill, behind the bar, at the ‘Sundowners’ seats.

We didn’t bother. I think we have become a little blasé about sunsets, as we get one most nights in Sandringham.

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Day 16, October 26: Brandberg.

In the morning we headed out to visit the site of the White Lady rock art.

This is only one of a reported 40,000 individual pieces that are on Brandberg Mountain.

The art in the caves vary from 2,000 to 5,000 years old.

The White Lady was name as such by the French anthropologist Henri Breuil in 1929, believing the art could have been painted by Phoneticians from the Mediterranean. The headwear was very similar to that worn by Egyptian women.

This theory has since been discounted.

The organisation of the cave walk was very well done. Firstly we were checked in and had everything explained to us. Then we were given a guide for our 45 minute walk to and from the cave.

Marcus could talk and didn’t stop chatting the entire time.

On the way there we were in constant lookout for the elusive Desert Elephant.

Native Africans have a very well developed fear of elephants, more than any other animal it seems. We noticed this in Kenya, Tanzania and now in Namibia.

There’s were plenty of smelly signs that elephants were in the area and it was only when we arrived at the cave did we actually see them.

They should be really called ‘Rock Elephants’ as they were perched on a rocky ledge, over the dry river bed that was opposite the cave.

We heard them before we saw them, as they were snapping off tree branches for food.

All along the track to the cave the trees had also been devastated by the hungry mammals.

Camp gossip told us that there might be more elephants up the dry river bed, not far from the lodge.

So in the afternoon we headed off, hoping that my limited 4WD experience would get us through the sandy river bed.

We gave up on the elephants after travelling 6km up the river and turned around. Then we sighted two on the river bank – one was giving himself a sand shower, while the other was asleep under a tree.

Dinner is a fixed menu with an entrée, main course and desert.

There is little variation.

There was a family of seven, mum dad and five children, ranging from five to fifteen.

All the family were served the same meal as everyone else and it was interesting to watch them divide up the food. In the end all the appetites seemed to be satisfied.

I guessed they had done this before.

At the end of dinner the staff put on a performance. On our first night there were fifteen of them and on our last, seven.

The size of the ensemble is determined by how many guests they have to serve.

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Day 17, October 27: Brandberg to Damaraland.

There was no water in our chalet on our last morning. We went outside and discovered our hot water service lying on its side, with all the connections broken.

After reporting it to the staff, we were told to shower at one of the campsite facilities.

When we got back to our room after breakfast there was a guy there repairing our broken water heater.

He explained that the damage was done by an elephant looking for water – they can smell it.

Apparently this happens all the time.

In the end we didn’t see the Desert Elephants in the camp but knew that they had been there.

It was a long drive from Brandberg to Damaraland, as we had to make two diversions.

One to the Petrified Forest and the other to the San rock engravings at Twyfelfontein.

The Petrified Forest is an area of land where 280 million years ago large pine trees were washed into Namibia from Central Africa.

They were subsequently covered by alluvial sand. Deprived of oxygen, they couldn’t rot and over millions of years underwent silicification, fossilised, and subsequently turned to stone.

Almost of as much interest as the trees, was the Welwitschia. This is ancient plant that taps water from the coastal fog. If can live for hundreds of years and is considered a living fossil.

The rock engravings at Twyfelfontein date back 2,000 to 2,500 years but the site has been inhabited for 6,000 years.

The area was made Namibia’s first UNESCO World heritage site in 2007.

The most famous is the ‘Lion Man’ engraving. This depicts a lion with five human like toes on its feet and one on its tail.

This is believed to be a depiction of a Sharman or Witchdoctor’s dream of his afterlife form.

The image of the lion is a cross between an animal and a man.

A lot of the rock art was created to be as much educational as spiritual. Many engravings were designed to teach current and future generations about the bush, animals and where to find water.

They were like a ‘blackboard’ of information on learning about nature.

There was one particular engraving of an ostrich with four heads. This was a form of animation that depicted the ostrich standing then lowering its head to drink. The direction the bird faced indicated where water could be found.

The name Twyfelfontein means ‘Doubtful Spring’ in Afrikaans. It was used by a German settler, David Levin, to describe the place. He didn’t believe that the water from the local spring could sustain his cattle. Levin’s friends started to call him David Twyfelfontein or David Doubts-the-spring.

The name stuck.

Because of our diversions it was 3pm before we started the drive to Darmaland. And as usual there was confusion between the TomTom and MapsME as to how long it would take.

However the difference wasn’t as large this time.

It was going to be a long drive whatever device we used. And all of it, apart from two short stretches, was in gravel roads.

The benefit of travelling on dirt roads is that you can see vehicles coming, way before they get to you. The plume of dust is visible, even if the car isn’t.

We covered about 500 kilometres that day, so my evening beer was very welcome.

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Day 18, October 28: Damaraland.

We were staying at Toko Lodge in Damaraland. Now Toko is the local word for Hornbill and they were everywhere.

Their squawk woke us up at five and just to make sure we were awake, they then knocked on our window at seven.

There is plenty of food for them, both indigenous and provided, so they naturally hang around the hotel.

The birds and animals took it in turn to eat at the feeding points.

In the morning the Tree Squirrels were there, they were replaced by the Hornbills who grazed all day. In the evening the Guinea Fowls then waddled in for a meal.

After breakfast one of the staff told us that there was a problem with our car.

Fearing the worst we went to have a look. As It turned out we only had a slow leak in the right rear tyre and it was soon repaired.

The staff operated like a Formula One pit crew. The problem tyre was soon off the Toyota and replaced with one of the spares. Then they found the cause, it was part of a valve shaft that had imbedded itself through the rubber. Once that was fixed the original tyre went back and then they gave our vehicle a bonus car wash.

All this cost us the equivalent of A$5.

As it turned out this was the only issue we had in the entire 4,800 kilometres of our Namibian road trip.

Just down the road from the lodge is a Himbas Village and we decided to do the village tour.

The Himbas people actually come from an area that’s about 300 kilometres north of Damaraland and that’s where they graze their cattle.

Traditionally they were nomadic but these days the women and children live in the village, while the men stay with the cattle.

The Himba are traditional people who escaped being converted to Christianity by the zealots of the German Colonial Missions.

The women are topless and don’t bath. They use a combination of perfumes and smoke, infused with herbs, to cleanse and beautify themselves. They also rub ochre on their skin as another form of beauty treatment.

Their traditional clothing, like belts, anklets, loincloths and headwear all holds spiritual or social significance.

There were single women, mothers, babies, young children and an assortment of small farmyard animals. Often some of the teenage girls have to stay at home, rather than go to school, to learn the Himba ways.

I only sighted one male – I guess the rest were off tending the cattle.

Some of the tourists came laden with Chupa Chups for the children. It wasn’t long before there was a small white stick hanging out of every mouth in the village.

I am sure that that the kids could have been given a more appropriate gift than sweets.

At the end of our visit we were given a very enthusiastic performance of singing and dancing as well as an opportunity to buy souvenirs.

We bought a small carved African Elephant. The tusks were made from the lollypop sticks, so at least they were being put to good use.

Part 1: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Windhoek to Helmeringhausen, Namibia.

January 11th, 2017

Day 1, October 11: Dar es Salaam to Windhoek.

Our flight from Dar es Salaam to Windhoek, went via Johannesburg.

It was on this first leg of our flight that I read Australia had been thrashed by the Proteas in their fourth ODI.

The article was in a South African newspaper, and were they gloating. It looked like the series could be a whitewash and as it turned out it was.

I certainly wasn’t going to enjoy discussing cricket with the South Africans, once we reached there in a months time.

Having been up since 3am, for our flight to Windhoek, we needed an early night. We found an Italian restaurant a short walk from the hotel.

It was full of Western faces.

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Day 2, October 12: Windhoek.

Namibia, well at least Windhoek, is very German. The faces look German, they speak German and everything has a German efficiency about it.

Even the breakfast at our hotel, Palmquell Hotel Pension, was typically German with fruit, bread, cold meats and a selection of cheeses.

We were served by a very pleasant, but serious, woman with a very German accent.

Most of the hotel guests were also German. In fact 80% of tourists to Namibia are German.

Getting a new SIM card was the easiest we have experienced.

MTC (Make The Connection), the local provider, put Vodaphoney to shame.

Picking up the car was also very efficient. They knew our name as we walked through the door and then they proceeded to take us through a very thorough process of legalities and responsibilities. We were then passed on to another person who briefed us on the vehicle.

Our rental vehicle was a rather large, white, Toyota Fortuner 4X4, equipped with two spare tyres, an air compressor (for inflating and deflating tyres), towrope, two jacks and jumper leads.

Hopefully I will never have to use any of it.

After picking up the car we drove to Maeria Mall to get some supplies.

We were told not to leave anything visible in the boot of Fortuner. This was made difficult as there was no cover supplied, so we decided to buy a black sheet to put over our luggage. Plus we need a good supply of water and snacks for our days on the road.

The meal on our second night was at a Portuguese restaurant.

The food was very basic.

We decided to have some of the local meat and chose Oryx. It was an island of overcooked meat in a lake of rich, salty sauce and lacking in taste.

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Day 3, October 13: Windhoek to Kalahari.

Before driving south towards the Kalahari Desert we spent some time motoring around Windhoek.

With a population of less than 400,000, it’s a bit like a large regional town, rather than a capital city.

But then the entire population of Namibia is only 2.2 million.

As we drove south the geography changed to a semi-arid red sandy savannah.

The road was good and it was only when we reached the turn off at Kalkrand did we hit the gravel.

It was only 262 km from Windhoek to Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge, so our first drive in Namibia was relatively easy.

The lodges sat along side a dry lake bed, or vlei and there was a small water hole about 150 metres from our veranda.

We were expecting wildlife to visit the waterhole in the evening but they didn’t come until the next morning.

There were four large blocks, that looked like concrete, scattered around the waterhole. When a family of Eland came to drink at the vlei, we discovered that these were blocks of salt.

They are there to give the animals extra minerals.

Late in the afternoon, when the temperature had dropped below 30°C, we went for a bike ride.

The lodge has a number of ‘Fat Bikes’ that they encourage you to take out into the dunes.

The super large tyres make it easier to ride on the soft sand.

Unfortunately my bike didn’t have an adjustable seat. It had been set for someone far taller than me, which is most people, so I struggled.

We returned just on sunset and managed to get some hero shots of the sun setting behind the ubiquitous Acacia tree.

The evening meal at Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge was a fixed menu.

Oryx filet was our only choice.

Having had the very badly prepared Oryx steak in Windhoek, I wasn’t happy.

I needn’t have worried, as our meal was in total contrast to the one the previous evening.

It was a small portions with just the right amount of a creamy pepper sauce and plenty of fresh vegetables.

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Day 4, October 14: Kalahari.

Even though we had our own 4X4 we decided to take the afternoon game drive, provided by the lodge.

Jonathan was our driver and guide for the drive, which started at 4pm, when the heat of the day had subsided.

We were out for three hours, meandering around the park, but not really straying too far from the main camp.

As Jonathan explained, there are no predators in this part of the Kalahari so the animals can wander around in small herds without fear.

And so can the visitors.

There are many walking and hiking tracks around the lodge, which the Germans, being great walkers, love.

We saw oryx, Blue Wildebeest, Common Springbok, Ground Squirrels, ostriches, Black Springbok, Common Zebra and a Yellow Mongoose.

Apart from having an excellent knowledge of the animals, Jonathan also knew about the flora and especially its relationship with the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari or San people.

The San are believed to be the first inhabitants of Botswana and Southern Africa and were traditionally nomadic hunter gatherers.

There were eight guest from the lodge on the drive, all of them spoke German, except Thea and me. Of course they also spoke excellent English. Jonathan’s, sometimes amusing commentary, was in English so everyone could understand.

We ended the drive with drinks and snacks, watching the sun set over the Kalahari.

Our first Namibian ‘Sundowner’ experience.

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Day 5, October 15: Kalahari to Quivertree Forest.

We continued our drive south on the B1, which was arid with sparse vegetation.

We could be forgiven for thinking we were anywhere in the world that was dry and rocky. That’s until we came across three largish black baboons crossing the road.

We knew we were still in Africa.

Then, just after we arrived at the Quivertree Forest Rest Camp, a warthog wandered past.

It seemed to know its way around, as it headed straight for the restaurant kitchen.

Apart from the warthog there were three Border Collies and a very large, black greyhound hovering around the common area.

Two of the Border Collies like to chase dragon flies around the pool.

The next morning we discovered another three collies, now there were six.

That wasn’t the total menagerie as their was also at least one black cat and two small dogs that seemed to control the inside.

The Quivertree Forest Rest Camp is on the Farm Gariganus, which is 13 km north east of Keetmanshoop. It’s a very large working sheep station and like any farm, domestic animals are always present.  However I don’t think any of these animals did much work around the farm.

Just on sunset we went for a walk in the Quivertree Forest.

The Quivertree or Aloe Dichotoma, got their local name from the San people who used to hollow out the branches to make quivers for their arrows.

The tree is native to Southern Africa and protected there. There are fears of it becoming extinct due to climate change.

Isolated trees are spread around Southern Namibia but only three areas of forest are left in all of Africa.

Quivertree Forest in one of them, the others are a different variety of Aloe Dichotoma and on the east coast.

The forest is set in a Luna landscape of rocks and boulders and in the twilight the trees looked prehistoric.

Once we got over our excitement of the trees we started to see small brown creatures scurrying over the rocks and bounding up the trees.

We had seen rock rabbits, dassies or rock hyrax, as they are variously known, but certainly nowhere near as many as were here.

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Day 6, October 16: Quivertree Forest.

The next morning we had an early breakfast as we wanted to visit the Giants Playground before it got too hot, which it never did.

As we arrived at the restaurant we were greeted by the local cheetah who had wandered in for a feed.

She was 18 years old, which is a great age, even for captive cheetah.

Abandoned as a cub, she has lived on the farm all her life. Once rehabilitated she couldn’t be reintroduced back into the wild, as she would have posed too big a risk to the domestic livestock.

She wouldn’t be much of a threat now, as she has hardly any appetite and only eats small portions.

That evening she returned but this time she brought a friend – a seven year old female.

And she could eat.

She finished off both her dinner and that of the old cheetah.

The Giants Playground displays impressively weathered dolerite dykes which form part of the Keetmanshoop Dolerite Complex or Dolerite Swarm.

They were formed when volcanic magma rose to just below the earth’s surface. This was in the form of hundreds of individual dikes or sills that radiated from a single volcanic centre.

Over time, erosion has revealed these columns and blocks of basalt to create an unearthly landscape.

From the Giants Playground we drove a further 25 km to the Mesosaurus Fossil site.

Here the owner of the farm Spitzkoppe, Geil Steenkamp, discovered the fossils of an ancient crocodilian type creature named as a Mesosaurus.

The Mesosaurus came from the Early Permian period and became extinct over 299-280 million years ago.

The Mesosaurus Fossil site is convincing proof to support the theory of drifting continents. The same genus of Mesosaurus, in the same rock formations, can also be found in South America.

Geil was an old bushman who could spin a good yarn and told many stories about discovering the Mesosaurus.

Half of which were believable.

He could also play a tune on the Dolerite rocks that were on his property. These rocks are so dense that they resonate like chiming bells.

Adjacent to the Mesosaurus Fossil site is the grave of J. Splittgerber, a German soldier killed in action on November 13, 1904.

More evidence of Namibia’s colonial past.

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Day 7, October 17: Quivertree Forest to Fish River Canyon.

The owner of the Quivertree Forest Guest Lodge suggested we take the more scenic route to Ai-Ais Hot Springs on the D545.

We stopped at Naute Kristall for coffee. This is a small vineyard and distillery with a newly installed espresso machine. It’s just next door Naute Fruit Farm, a huge government complex that grows dates, pomegranates, prickly pear and pecans.

Some of the fruit from the farm is used in the distillery. And apparently the dates from the farm are of such a good quality that they are exported to the Middle East as well as Europe.

Not far from Naute Kristall is the Naute Dam, a lunar landscape of rugged rocks and an acacia tree that looks very similar to Australian Wattle.

Water from the dam is used to irrigate the Naute Fruit Farm.

On the way to Ai-Ais, Thea decided that we should make a detour to the premier viewing point of the Fish River Canyon.

This was a great decision as the views were spectacular. The Hobas View Point is situated 820 metres above the canyon and was very well designed with excellent facilities for picnickers.

The formation of the Fish River Canyon started about 350 million years ago.

Measuring 90 to 160 km long, 27 km maximum width and 549 metres maximum depth, is cited as the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The Mexicans might disputes this as the Copper Canyon is reputed to hold that honour.

There was a dispute between the TomTom and MapsME on how far we needed to travel to get to the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, which is at the southern end of the Fish River Canyon.

The travel phone with MapsME won, as the TomTom was 50 km out.

There were hardly any guests at A-Ais Hot Springs at Fish River Canyon. However there was plenty of enthusiastic staff waiting to please us.

We decided to have a pre-dinner drink on the terrace, overlooking the campground and the river.

Our waiter had the dinner menu in front of us before we took our first sip.

They had a Hansa Draught on tap, which was very good and a pleasant change from bottled beer.

There is very little draught, let alone craft beer, in Namibia, it’s all bottled. The big brewers have a stranglehold on production and distribution. It’s a familiar story of the large breweries trying to restrict competition and then buying out any craft brewery that makes a success of it.

The camp ground was one of the best I have seen. Every site had a solid fuel BBQ, or braai, running water and electricity. Plus there were full camp kitchens and shower blocks every 50 metres or so.

All this was set in a garden area with a huge thermal swimming pool at one end.

The entire area of Ai-Ais is set against a backdrop of rugged mountains, that border both sides of the Fish River.

The dry river bed is etched with footprints, human and animal.

It’s interesting trying to identify the animal ones.

The trip, so far, has been very relaxed and that’s probably due to the fact that we are spending thirty days in Namibia, not five to fourteen as most people do.

We are seeing the ‘A’ sites and probably the ‘B’ and ‘C’ sites as well.

On some days there is nothing to do but relax and see no sites at all.

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Day 8, October 18: Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Fish River Canyon.

It’s great to be greeted by irony first thing in the morning.

There we were, staying at the Ai-Ais ‘Hot Springs’ and there was no hot water for our shower.

At breakfast almost everyone sat on the terrace, yet all the tables were set inside. It was the same with dinner the previous evening.

Either the guests are silly or the hotel hasn’t noticed where most people prefers to sit.

The customer is always right – allegedly.

Having spent many hours in the car over the last few weeks, Ai-Ais Hot Springs was a good opportunity to go for a long walk.

About 300 metres from the hotel is a dam wall across the Fish River. I fully expected it to be full of water behind the wall. However it was a sandy base with a intermittent springs along the edges.

How could such a relatively dry river have carved out the mighty Fish River Canyon we had seen the day before?

Namibia is in the grip of drought, but when it rains it must really pour down.

There wasn’t much wildlife on our walk but we did see a few family groups of baboons, one lone stallion, a pair of very frightened Kudu and a couple of talkative German tourists.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the hot springs, that were just below our room, and wallowed for a while.

Pale-winged Starlings were everywhere, especially around the restaurant. They have shiny blackish-blue plumage with fiery orange eyes.

I thought they were a member of the crow family at first, that’s until they opened their beaks.

They were definitely not crows as their call was much more melodic.

In Africa there are two types of tourists. The bird watchers and everyone else.

We have constantly run into ‘Birders’ as they are known. They have binoculars as well as cameras and always carry a complete field guide to the birds of whatever country they are currently travelling in.

We met a delightful South African couple in the Quivertree Forest Guest Lodge. They had only been birding for three years but had managed to sight over 700 of the 900 birds species in South Africa.

They were very proud of this achievement.

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Day 9, October 19: Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Fish River Canyon to Helmeringhausen.

We left Ai-Ais and headed south towards the Orange River, the border between Namibia and South Africa. There was much more water in this river than we had been used to seeing.

The roads were all gravel but excellent and we could drive up to the 80kph speed limit quite comfortably.

The locals drive much faster than that.

Just near the ferry crossing, to South Africa, we headed north, onto a sealed road – this was still on the C13. About 105 km from Helmeringhausen, it reverted to gravel.

Strangely we found our next sealed road again at Helmeringhausen. It was a stretch of about 400 metres that ran through the tiny village, past our hotel.

Helmeringhausen Hotel is on the 11,000 hectare farm, Helmeringhausen. The farm was established during the colonial period, in the early 1900s, by Mr Hubert Hester of the Schutztruppe or German Colonial Infantry.

It was famous for Karakul sheep which originated in Central Asia.

We were certainly made to feel welcome an the Helmeringhausen Hotel, as our names were on the door to our room when we arrived.

Most hotels have their idiosyncrasies, the Hotel Helmeringhausen was no different.

All the staff are chefs, with a chef’s uniform of hat, jacket and checked pants.

Thea was greeted at reception by a chef. All the wait staff, apart from the sons of the owners were chefs. Even the cleaning staff are chefs.

I think they were trying to promote their culinary expertise.

The sea and the city – Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam.

January 1st, 2017

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Zanzibar.

Vasco da Gama visited Zanzibar, or Unguja as it was known in 1499. This was at the end of his epic journey that linked Europe and Asia, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.

His voyage of discovery gave the Portuguese access to the Indian Spice routes and led to the age of globalisation by the European powers.

Spices became an important industry in Zanzibar, so much so that they are sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands.

The Portuguese took control of Zanzibar from the Arabs in 1504, making it part of the Portuguese Empire.

If remained under their control for nearly two centuries.

In 1698, Zanzibar became part of Oman, under control of the Sultan. In 1840 Said bin Sultan, the Sultan of Oman moved his capital from Muscat, in Oman, to Stone Town, in Zanzibar City.

Britain took formal control through the 1890 Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty. In 1896 there was an slight altercation, known as the Anglo-Zanzibar War. After which Britain put Hamoud bin Mohammed into power.

This was known as shortest war in history, lasting only 45 minutes.

In 1897 Hamoud bin Mohammed yielded to British pressure and brought an end to Zanzibar’s involvement in the slave trade.

And to add to the magic of Zanzibar, there was even a British administrator, named Harry Potter who was in control from 1954 to 1959.

Zanzibar became an independent nation in December 1963 but it didn’t last long.

A revolution took place in January, 1964 and in April it signed an agreement of confederation with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Zanzibar is officially part of Tanzania but it is very different.

We stayed at Hotel Al-Minar, in the heart of Stone Town and only a few minutes walk from most attractions.

It’s was a quaint Arab styled building with carved timber beams and heavy wooden furniture and doors.

The staff were fantastic and even tracked down a lost sock, that vanished from our laundry.

Having spent the last few weeks in the Kenyan and Tanzanian bush, it was great to be beside the seaside again.

There are a number of rooftop bars, along the waterfront, that take advantage of the views and the balmy evening air – we took advantage of them.

We were in Zanzibar for some R&R but with so much history to explore, we doubted that would be the case.

After all Stone Town in Zanzibar City was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, so there is plenty to see.

Stone Town is the largest, living, Swahili stone town in the world. There are over 1000 coral ‘stone’ buildings with architectural significance.

The features that make this city unique are written on a sign at the door of the House of Wonders Museum.

“It is the confluence between Africa and the Indian Ocean. 

From a fishing village at Shangani, it developed as a cosmopolitan society with a unique architectural synthesis. 

This was based on Swahili building technology, the elegant simplicity of Arab tradition and ‘saracenic’ features imposed by the British.”

Coral stone isn’t as robust as granite, marble or even concrete and the city had a distinct feeling of being in decay.

Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with over 50 mosques on the island.

Each morning we were woken to the sound of the Imam calling the faithful to prayer.

A majority of the women wear modest clothing and there are even some full burkas.

The big difference is that the clothes are much more colourful, compared to Arab countries, especially the headscarves.

The first morning was spent on some housekeeping. Firstly we extended our stay by another night, then it was off to find an ATM and after that, down to the ferry office to buy tickets to Dar es Salaam.

I was well overdue for a haircut, so that was another challenge we had to face.

I eventually did find a barber and paid more for a cut in Stone Town than in Barcelona.

They saw me coming.

In Zanzibar there are more taxis than passengers and more guides than tourists.

It’s the low season but at every turn you are expected to part with your money. It can be a bracelet, a selection of spices, a taxi or a full day guided tour.

There are even people hanging around cafes, restaurants and the ferry terminal. They are waiting to guide you, those last metres, to where you were heading anyway.

Of course they are expecting a tip from you or a commission from the business, of both.

After our chores were done we headed off to do some exploring.

The Old Dispensary, was formerly the Jubilee Hospital, built by a wealthy Ismali Indian, in 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It is currently the Stone Town Cultural Centre.

It’s a testament to Zanzibar’s diverse history.

The wooden carved balconies and stained glass are of Indian influence. While the walls were made from Zanzibar coral rag and covered in European neo-classical ornaments.

We visited a private museum that was dedicated to Emily Ruete (1844-1924). Born Sayyida Salme, Princess of Zanzibar, she was the youngest of 36 children, born to Sayyid Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid, Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman. Emily is the author of ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’ This is an autobiography describing her love for a German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete, and her subsequent elopement to Europe. She then converted to Christianity and married him.

The Anglican Christ Church Cathedral is built on the site of the old slave market. The only remains of the market are the holding cells beneath one of the church buildings.

There is a well designed display giving a full history of Zanzibar’s involvement in the slave trade.

Many slaves that were freed were put into Christian missions. They were educated and indoctrinated into Christianity. This caused problems, once they left the mission, as they could not assimilate into a mainly Muslim society.

Zanzibar was one of the largest slave ports in the indian Ocean slave trade. It was dominated by Arab traders and originated before the creation of Islam.

Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a missionary, explorer and an important activist in pushing for Britain to ban the East African Arab-Swahili slave trade.

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Was the famous greeting by Henry Morton Stanley when he located David Livingstone in Africa on November 10, 1871.

One of Livingstone’s life goals was to find the source of the river Nile.

After his death Livingstone became a national hero in Britain. His exploits were a catalyst for the British and European’s rush to occupy Africa.

“It is not worth the while to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.” 

There is some conjecture as to whether this quote, from Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, is literal or metaphorical. 

I do however believe there is a lot of truth in the passage.

Zanzibar is a city of cats, they are everywhere.

The House of Wonders is one of six palaces built by Barghhash bin Said, the second Sultan of Zanzibar. At present it houses the Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar. It was built in 1883 and at the time a pinnacle of modernity, having electricity and even an elevator. It again used traditional coral rag but this was combined with concrete slabs and cast-iron columns, allowing for exceptionally high ceilings.

The Museum was as dusty and in need of upkeep as most of Stone Town’s historic buildings.

The Old Fort or Arab Fort was built around 1700 and is the oldest building in Zanzibar. It was constructed with materials obtained from a Portuguese chapel and ironically was designed to defend the island from the Portuguese.

There’s not much to see inside as it’s totally occupied with souvenir stalls.

However in one part an amphitheater has been built, this is home to the annual Zanzibar Film Festival.

Considering the heritage of Zanzibar it seemed only reasonable that we embark on a spice tour.

We engaged a driver through the hotel and travelled north, on Malawi Road, out of Stone Town, we then turned east towards Kizimbani.

The Ziti Spice Farm was a slick operation.

Our tour was three hours door to door but we did see and learn a lot. It was a show farm, just for the tourists and the only things they sell are to the visitors.

Apart from spices, Ziti sells soap and a perfume they call Chanel No. O. This is because it contains zero chemicals.

The main spice grown and exported from Zanzibar are cloves. These were introduced by the Omanis as a way of creating wealth. There is very little in the way of indigenous fruits or spices in Zanzibar. Everything comes from somewhere else.

The Omanis were also involved in the export of ivory, which was tied to the slave trade.

All the important exports in Zanzibar are controlled by the Tanzanian government. This seemed to be a pattern in eastern and southern Africa.

We finished our tour with a fruit feast. The fruit was excellent as it has been in all of our African travels so far.

In fact all the food in Stone Town was excellent. We had modern cuisine, local Zanzibar fare, Indian and on our last night we even had Ethiopian at Abyssinian Maritim. This had been recommended to us by the manager at our hotel.

We ordered lamb and beef, as well as an avocado salad.

When the meat dishes arrived they were ceremoniously poured onto a large woven basket. This was covered at the bottom with a very light pancake. We were also given a roll of the pancake to help us soak up the gravy.

The meats were infused with all sorts of spices.

It was interesting to taste the spices in our evening meal, that we had seen growing in the morning.

This was all washed down with a very pleasant Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa.

I am sure that this wouldn’t feature with normal Ethiopian fair.

We checked out late from the hotel on our final morning as we were booked on the 12:30 ferry to Dar es Salaam.

This was a two hour journey by high speed catamaran.

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Dar es Salaam.

On our first morning in Dar es Salaam we were again woken early, this time by Gospel music, not prayers. They were coming from the Azania Front Lutheran Church, which was right next door to our hotel.

Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania and the largest in eastern Africa. There is a decidedly German influence in the city, which is probably due to the establishment of the German East Africa Company in 1887.

Even though it’s not the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam has the bulk of its people, wealth, industry and commerce.

The Chinese influence on present day Tanzania goes back to 1965.

The first President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mwalimu J. K. Nyerere (1922-1999) had a strong bond with China and its system of socialism. He is still controversially regarded as the Father of the Nation, yet he left it one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Africa.

Like the late Fidel Castro, Nyerere created a brand of socialism that was more a dictatorship than a benevolent state.

By eliminating any opposition, from political rivals or unions, he managed to control power for twenty years.

We only had one full day in Dar es Salaam before we flew to Namibia so we decided to visit the National Museum of Tanzania.

We needed to put a cultural and historic perspective on all that we had seen and the museum was within walking distance from our hotel.

When the Portuguese visited Kilwa, an island of the southern coast of Tanzania, they were impressed by the wealth of the indigenous upper class. They wore silk and cotton with jewellery of gold and silver.

They subsequently returned to conquer the people and reap the rewards.

When the first Europeans visited Australia, the indigenous people would have appeared very poor.

There was no gold, silver or fine clothes, which is probably why they turned around and went somewhere else.

The museum exhibition included African rock art, European settlement, contemporary Tanzanian politics and human evolution.

The exhibition of human development was my favourite as it provided us with the other bookend to our trip to Ngorongoro Crater. There were some excellent illustrations depicting the path of evolution.

This was one of the best TSh13,000 (Aus $8) we have ever spent.

Kenya and Tanzania, hakuna matata.

December 19th, 2016

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Day 1, September 21: Nairobi, Kenya.

Hakuna matata means “no worries” in Swahili.

This saying, popularised by the 1994 Disney movie The Lion King, is so profound it’s frightening. As we found out on our 15 day tour of Kenya and Tanzania.

Our flight from Madrid to Adis Ababa, via Malta, was uneventful.

Except we didn’t stop in Malta.

We were expecting the worst, especially with our luggage, as the flight change was only meant to be 30 minutes.

We never did stop in Malta and the turnaround in Adis turned out to be two hours.

On arrival in Nairobi our driver, from Kenya Walking Survivors Safari Tours (KWSS), yes that’s the company name, was well over an hour late.

After two phone calls our driver arrived, he blamed the traffic. I had the feeling that our problems were far deeper than that.

We were driven to the office of KWSS, where we met Mr. Otieno Lysaniash, the owner.

He suggested that we change our itinerary and spend more time in Kenya and less in Tanzania. This was to make the most of the Wildebeest and Zebra migration which was happening while we were there.

Everything seems to move at a very different pace in Kenya.

It took us one and a half hours for Thea to get a toasted sandwich for lunch.

It’s a bit like Vanuatu and Fiji time – back in the 70s.

Another interesting aspect to Kenyan dining is that you never get a bill with a total.

You have to do the calculations and it’s only when you get your change do you find out if you were correct.

The population of Kenya is over 45 million and the official language is English. The common tongue is Swahili and there are 42 different tribes, each with their own language.

Kenya is named after Mount Kenya and is a combination word from the Kikuyu, Embu, Kamba and Kiinyaa languages, meaning ‘God’s resting place’.

Our driver and guide was David Mwendwa Kasau. He described the tribes in Kenya as being like football sides. They are fundamentally the same but fervently support their own origins and traditions.

In general the Kenyan population is very poor, with a third of people incomes going towards paying bribes, which averages 16 per month.

The largest contributor to Kenya’s GDP is tourism, so it’s not surprising that there are a lot of dodgy practices in this sector.

We were to discover this first hand.

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Day 2, September 22: Nairobi to Samburu National Reserve.

On our first full day we took Thika Road out of Nairobi where the traffic was light, however going in to the city was a car park.

As well as languages there seemed to be a mixture of religions, as we passed Buddhist temples as well as many Christian churches and church schools. There were also Mosques in certain areas.

Saccos are everywhere.

These are privately run mini busses, about the size of a small VW van. They have a driver and a ‘conductor’. The conductor’s job is to open and shut the sliding door, collect fares and direct the traffic so his Sacco gets into the best position.

The area north of Nairobi is the ‘fruit bowl’ of Kenya. On the roadside everything is sold, especially fruit and veg.

The fruit and juice beverage company, DelMonte, has a very big presence in Kenya and their pineapple plantations lined the roadside.

Greenhouses growing flowers for the European market, were also everywhere. Kenyan flowers make up 35% of the flower sales in the EU.

We moved from the very fertile red earth of the rain shadow area between the mountains to the black soil of the more arid valley. As we were told, Kenya is blessed with good soil but not enough water.

Furniture production replaced agriculture, with tables, chairs, sideboards and timber ornaments now dominating the roadside stalls.

Acacia trees started to appear, a true sign that we were in Africa.

We hadn’t seen a Caucasian since leaving the hotel in Nairobi – that’s until we made our first stop.

It was a souvenir shop and toilet break. This ‘opportunity to buy’ was full of whites.

I was sure that there would be lots more buying opportunities to come.

These souvenir places are called curio shops and in order to get the tourists in they provide clean washrooms (we call them toilets) and many either have food or at least a place to eat your packed lunch.

Even though we were happy to pay KSh10, (AUD13 cents) to use the toilets in other more convenient places, David insisted that we went to the curio shops.

I am sure that there was a reward involved somewhere.

We then passed over the equator. Here you could pay to see water turn clockwise on one side of the equator and in a anticlockwise direction on the other.

This is a complete con as this phenomenon doesn’t occur that close to the equator.

After a very long day on the road we arrived at Samburu Game Lodge.

No sooner had we got into the reserve, than we started to see animals.

Squirrels at first, then baboons and then they got larger – gazelle, giraffes and lions.

Plus there were birds everywhere we looked.

Our vehicle was equipped with a two way radio, which David put to good use. As soon as an animal was spotted, by the driver of any safari vehicle, he would radio the location. Before no time at all, other vehicles would arrive on the scene.

We were the first to spot a couple of lions and their cubs.

Once we retuned to the lodge and checked in there were even more animals. Monkeys, Baboons and a pair of Grand Gazelles.

After dinner we were heading back to our room, when we were stopped by one of the lodge staff.

He told us to wait as there were two elephants grazing in front of our lodge.

After they were chased back across the river we were escorted by two staff members and the chef, back to the safety of our room.

We locked the door, as instructed, because the Baboons often barge in unexpectedly.

What an eventful day.

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Day 3, September 23: Samburu National Reserve.

We were now into the serious business of touring with a guide. When you travel on your own you set your own schedule.

This doesn’t happen when you are under someone elses control.

They have a plan and you basically need to follow it. After all they know the local environment, where the best photo opportunities are and how long it takes to get from place to place.

We were away for three months, so 15 days of regimentation wouldn’t hurt.

We were up early for breakfast then on the road in the Samburu National Reserve.

There were two game drives planned. One in the early morning and another in the late afternoon.

These are the best times to see the animals, as it’s not too hot and they are active. It’s also the time they head to the river so they are concentrated into a smaller area.

Our lodge in Samburu National Reserve was very comfortable and the food was excellent. Original recipes, that used fresh and tasty ingredients. The presentation was just as good.

For most of our time in Kenya we got full board at the hotels, guest houses and game lodges. This means that there is more food, than one person could possibly eat, at every meal.

Our guide, David and the staff at the Samburu Lodge were shocked that we didn’t have all three courses for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The roads in most game parks are dirt and as this was the end of the dry they were also very dusty. In Sumburu it’s called Talcum Powder, not dust.

Once in Africa I found I was using my telephoto lens far more than I had done in Spain. In Europe the wide angle was the lens of choice as it better captures the architecture and scenery.

In Africa it’s all about the animals.

The Big Five are what most tourists come to see in Africa. They are the Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard and Buffalo.

There is far more than that, as the place is alive with life, on the ground and in the air.

The animals are only part of what is there. The birds, reptiles and flora are also unique. We were constantly asking David to stop in order to get a snap of something small and seemingly insignificant.

He soon realised that we were in Kenya to see much more than just five animals.

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Day 4, September 24: Samburu National Reserveto Lake Nakuru National Park.

After a short game ride following breakfast, where we again found elephants, giraffe and lions, we got onto the A2 Trans-East African Highway.

Our driver wanted to see how our Tom Tom worked, so we plugged it in and set the destination to Nakuru, where we were to spend the night.

It was interesting to see David’s face as the GPS gave directions, our speed, turns right and left and then it spoke to him, with a very English accent.

It was very entertaining.

What we did discover after a few days with the Tom Tom on, was that it’s no replacement for local knowledge.

It directed us up roads that David said were impassable.

We headed towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Much of the way we were retracing the route we took coming from Nairobi.

We then turned off on the C75 at Kiganjo.

Just past the turnoff we went through a coffee growing region.

Red onions were also a popular crop and the locals lined the side of the road selling bags of them. Then tea plantations took over.

It was a roller coaster ride as the road climbed then descended through the mountains.

We stopped for a quick boxed lunch at the equator and then continued on to Thompson Falls and Nakuru, in the Great Rift Valley.

We were told that there are many ‘Equators’ in Kenya. Each one is trying to separate the tourists from their money.

We must have been in ‘God’s Country’ as there were so many churches.

Names such as The Redeemed Gospel Church, Deliverance Church and the Higher Life Christ Church were all advertised with hand painted signs.

Many of the Saccos also have a connection with the almighty and they proudly display their faith on the sides of their vans.

Addicted to Jesus, Fruit of Faith and Miracle Child were some.

The best one I found was: I hope you are following Jesus Christ as closely as you are following me. 

Our last stop for the day was at Thomson’s Falls.

It was named, in 1883, after the Scottish explorer and geologist, Joseph Thomson’s.

It is rather a spectacular cascade of 74 metres, spoilt by the residential apartments right next door.

As our guide, David, pointed out Thomson would not have been the first human to have viewed these falls, surely that would have been a Kenyan.

Our hotel in Nakuru wasn’t a patch on the lodge we stayed in at Samburu National Reserve. Fortunately it was only for one night.

The dinner was a buffet. There was a reasonable choice of meat, fish, salad and vegetables. The problem was that the ‘buff’ was set up and there were only four people there to eat it.

We were outnumbered by the staff two to one.

Á la carte would have been a simpler and more economic option.

Then the staff came into the restaurant to have their meal. I think the buffet was mainly for them.

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Day 5, September 25: Lake Nakuru National Parkand Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Our schedule had be altered to spend more time in Maasai Mara, rather than the Serengeti.

They are both part of the great migration route and in the same geographical area. The only difference is Maasai Mara is in Kenya and the Serengeti is in Tanzania.

This required a change of plans and there was some confusion between the tour operator, our guide and us.

After the discussion over breakfast we went to Lake Nakuru National Park and spent a couple of hours on a game drive.

All the changes were in Mr. Otieno Lysaniash’s head and everything seemed to be very fluid and the detail was scarce.

Hakuna matata.

Overnight it rained and the temperature dropped. There was a feeling in the air that more rain might follow.

The Lake Nakuru National Park is much lusher than Samburu and there are different animals there.

The one we came to see was the White Rhino, we also saw Buffalo, Common Zebras and Rothchild’s Giraffes. These are a different species of zebra and giraffe to the ones in Samburu.

Place names and business names are a strange dichotomy in Kenya. On one hand cities, towns and geographic locations seem to all have Kenyan names. To our English speaking ears most are unpronounceable.

However, business names seem to have a very Anglo Saxon flavour.

George’s Resort and Coffee Shop, was where we had a lunch stop. Surprisingly they had an espresso machine and made us a good short black.

Other names we encountered were, Club Berry Lounge, Father’s Choice Butchery, Ribbons Café, Great Stars Academy, Spring Valley Machinery and one I particularly liked, Threads of Hope Sewing Centre. 

We then had to try and get our tongues around local names such as, Nyambururu, Kamirithu and

Empopongi.

It was a long 277 kilometre journey from Lake Nakuru to Maasai Mara and again I sat up the front to keep David company.

I noticed that a lot of vehicles have their registration number engraved on their windows and even the plastic weather shield.

Apparently this is a deterrent to cars being stolen and then wrecked for the parts.

On the country roads and even some of the urban ones, cattle, sheep, donkeys and goats wander across without care.

Even wildlife like baboons and zebras have free reign in the more remote areas.

About 65 kilometres from Maasai Mara the road changed from being sealed to a corrugated, bone rattling ribbon of red earth.

Driving on the left seemed only to be an option, as the drivers chose the path of least resistance.

This could be on the left or right.

The verge seemed to be the smoother ride but it was sometimes on an acute angle. I found myself wondering at what degree of tilt would our van topple over.

Apart from the road changing, so did the weather – at least the rain settled the dust.

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Day 6, September 26: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

We were told that our solar shower would take two or twenty minutes for the hot water to come through.

We weren’t quite sure which time was right

After twenty minutes it still hadn’t got much beyond lukewarm.

Our 15 day safari in Kenya and Tanzania had been paid for in advance and everything was included. Hotels, meals, our driver/guide, his van and petrol.

David seemed to have to go cap-in-hand, on a daily basis, to ‘Mr. O’, as he became known, to get money for petrol, water and our lunch.

This came via the M-Pesa through his mobile phone.

The M-Pesa is a bit like a bank, where you go to withdraw money that’s been put into your account. Your phone is your pass book.

It was a long day in the office. We spent nine hours snaking our way around the rough roads of Maasai Mara National Reserve. Our only break was to have our boxed lunch under a tree.

Here we we joined by a variety of birds as well as flying ants, who seemed very anxious to share our lunch.

We saw many animals, some we hadn’t seen before, like hippos, crocodiles, wildebeest and a hyena. The highlight was getting a close up look at a Leopard.

The Wildebeest and Zebra migration was passing through Massai Mara, so there were many thousands of them in the reserve.

Massai Mara National Reserve was established in 1961 and is 1,510 square kilometres in size. It is in the north of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem which covers 25,000 square kilometres of Kenya and Tanzania.

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Day 7, September 27: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

We started a bit later on our second day in Maasai Mara as our guide had to again get money from Mr. O, through the M-Pesa.

It seems that our guide was only being drip fed his spending money.

This meant he had to buy a new ticket to the reserve each day we visited, rather than getting a three day pass. This meant running the gauntlet of Maasai ladies who stood guard at the gate selling souvenirs.

They were very persistent.

The circle of life was evident everywhere, as carcasses littered the roadside. We even spotted a leopard’s kill up a tree. She had dragged a small wildebeest high into the foliage to escape a pair of lions.

One of the most interesting sights that day was a Secretary Bird landing. These huge long legged raptors are like A380s and have to run when they come into land – this can take metres.

Again we had lunch under a tree. The spot was right on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

Fortunately we didn’t have to share it with any critters.

We had crossed over the Mara River and were in the Mara Triangle. This is between the Tanzania border, the Mara River and the Oloololo Escarpment.

David left us to walk along the Mara River with crocodiles and hippos. Fortunately we were accompanied by by an armed game warden. Although I wasn’t that sure how effective his aged .22 rifle would have been against the predators.

No GPS was required In Maasai Mara, as David, with the aid of his mates and a unique sense of direction, seems to be able to find animals in the remotest of places.

The word goes out, over the short wave radio, and in no time at all we have crossed creeks, climbed hills and wended our way through a labyrinth of small tracks to find our prey.

Then the tourist vans gather like Vultures at the site.

At one point we were following a lioness stalking a zebra. No sooner had the call gone out we were surrounded by 10 tourist vans anxious to get a closer look.

The mornings were clear but by the afternoon the thunderstorms were back. This was a sure sign that the rains were on their way.

My iPhone app, ‘Health’, is doing strange things. On September 27 it told me that I had walked 10.01 kilometres. This is hard to believe considering I only got out of the van once to do the river walk.

This was only about 500 meters.

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Day 8, September 28: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

The Maasai village visit was first stop on the agenda on our third and final day in Massai Mara.

This was an hour spent being escorted around the village by one of the chief’s sons. The chief was at the entrance to greet us, but more importantly collect the money for our visit.

We were told this would go to buy food for the village as their only income comes from animal husbandry.

They don’t grow crops or vegetables and graze their herd in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Passports or visas aren’t needed for the herdsmen as they can move freely across the border.

The chief’s son was a teacher and seemed very progressive in his attitude to the world, conservation and education. He told us that he had personally pushed for girls to get an education as well as boys.

This normally doesn’t happen.

In the Maasai tradition the role of chief is handed down to the oldest son. Our guide hoped that his work in education would put him in a good position to leapfrog his older brother.

We were given a demonstration of jumping by the men and then the women sang two songs for us. After that we were shown around a typical mud and straw house.

It was a tiny space divided into three small areas. A cooking space and two bedrooms. One for the parents and the other for the three children.

Then came our opportunity to buy. An entire area of the village was set aside as a shop for souvenirs.

We did buy a couple of necklaces but that was the extent of it.

Then the tour was over.

It was very staged but interesting and we were allowed to take as many snaps as we liked.

This made it very worthwhile.

This was our day of grizzly experiences. We came across a lioness with a domestic cow that she had just gorged herself on and was resting. Apparently the Maasai graze their cattle in the reserve, even at night.

They become easy prey for the predators.

A cow is worth a lot of money and this would have been a big loss to the owner.

Not long after that we witnessed a cheetah stalk and then run down a Grant Gazelle. She was accompanied by three juveniles. They kept a respectful distance from their mother, that’s until it was time to feed, then she stood back and let them get stuck in.

We then came across the leopard, from the previous day, who had hung her kill in a tree.

Now she was enjoying her catch.

It was much busier in the reserve on our third day than for the previous two. It took time to find a ‘Lunch Tree’, as most of them were occupied.

Within the reserve there was a constant threat of getting bogged. There were many small creeks to cross and I was very surprised just where the HiAce could go.

Everything is a trial in Maasai Mara, even getting fuel. We dropped into Sarova Mara Lodge to fill up but it was just past 4pm and the generator had been shut down. We then had to go into the Maasai village near our lodge and buy ‘Bush Fuel’, which they pump by hand. The problem with this is that you have no guarantee of the quality.

Only time and kilometres will tell how pure it is.

While we were filling up and having the oil checked the bonnet cable broke. This required repairs by the local mechanic.

This took time.

We have spent three, long, nine hour days in Maasai Mara and each one has been full of different experiences.

Time spent waiting for repairs was yet another.

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Day 9, September 29: Maasai Mara National Reserveto Lake Naivasha. 

Living in tented camps can be a trial.

Hot water is solar and very unpredictable. On the first morning the water was cold, while on the second it was perfect, on the third and fourth it ran out.

You also spend your nights engulfed in a net cocoon, to protect you from malaria carrying mosquitoes.

Some mozzie nets are better than other and each one was different.

The ride back to the sealed C12, from the reserve, was yet another body shaking experience.

Over four days we had what’s described as a ‘Maasai Massage’. The roads are so corrugated and the surface so uneven that you need to get back your land legs whenever you stop.

This also had a detrimental effect on the vehicles that use these roads, especially the tourist vans.

On average they last about three years before they need replacing. They also need constant maintenance and repairs during that time.

Each morning our vehicle would arrive to pick us up looking like new, having been washed the previous night.

It’s what was happening beneath the surface that was concerning.

On the road to Naivasha we stopped to go to an ATM. I wasn’t fast enough retrieving my card and the machine swallowed it up, without an explanation and without having coughed up any cash.

It was panic stations.

Normally if this happens you have to wait for the bank to return you card by post.

Fortunately the bank manager understood our dilemma and opened the ATM and I got my card back.

Our driver banks with KCB, the same bank that swallowed my card. This also helped us, as he could go guarantor, just in case we were up to no good.

We tried again, under the watchful eye of the assistant manager and this time it worked.

He thought the whole incident was hilarious and told me to be faster next time.

Travelling has its adventures.

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Day 10, September 30: Green Crater and Lake Naivasha.

At Lake Naivasha we were ‘upgraded’ to the Fish Eagle Inn from Carnelley’s Camp, which was right next door. I think this was a bit of spin by Mr. O to put us into a hotel that he had an account with.

It was a hotel rather than a lodge and had 24 hour power and reasonable WiFi all set in a beautiful garden.

However it was old and had seen better days.

And to Thea’s annoyance they couldn’t even provide a hair dryer.

We met a New Zealand couple in the AA Lodge in Maasai Mara, they were also traveling with Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris and we’re having similar financial issues with KWSS. By now we all realised that Mr O was in a bit of financial strife.

Like us, this Kiwi couple had paid their money up front to Mr. O. Unfortunately for them they had also asked him to arrange their flights from Kenya to Zanzibar.

He hadn’t done so early enough and there were no flights available when he went to book. This meant they had to drive hundreds of kilometres to another departure point.

Mr. O was taking the money and spending it on other things – he was, in fact, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The word “Survivor’s” in the company name was now making sense.

Staying in this KWSS friendly hotel meant that David didn’t need to go to M-Pesa to withdraw money to pay our room bill.

There are seven lakes in the Rift Valley in Kenya, only Lake Naivasha is fresh water. Our hotel was right on the shores of the lake.

The main trip for the day was to the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary. This, as its name suggests, is a lake in a volcanic crater.

Anthracite, which looks like broken glass, littered the pathway around the lake.

I souvenired a small piece.

Crater Lake is unusual, in that it’s brown and salty. It has no exit for the water and is only fed by rain and a subterranean spring.

It changes from brown to green according to the seasons and the level of algae.

Anna was our guide and she was to take us for a walk around the rim.

Unfortunately Thea was having an off day and didn’t feel up to the walk in the heat.

So Anna and I did it alone. She was knowledgable about the area, the animals and especially the bird life.

The highlight for me was seeing the striking black and white Colobus Monkey. These are what’s called Old World monkeys in that they are native to Africa and Asia. However they may be related to the Barbary Macaques that we encountered in Gibraltar.

Anna had studied mammals at college but was really interested in birds. All kinds were pointed out to me but I only managed to see about half of them.

After our walk we had lunch on a pontoon by the lake. It was all very pleasant, especially the opportunity to get out of the van and have a good walk.

Mount Longonot, overlooking the Rift Valley, is still an active volcano and geothermal power is generated in the area that was near our hotel.

We had yet another Mr O interruption. This time David had to wait to have money transferred so he could pay for our lunch. In the end we paid the bill as we didn’t want to miss out on the afternoon boat ride on Lake Naivasha.

Peter was our guide and boatman for the afternoon trip and his first question was “What do you want to see, birds, hippos or both?”

We opted for both.

We then spent the next hour buzzing around the lake, sneaking up on birds and gingerly creeping up on hippos.

It was a lot of fun and every time we saw another bird Peter would yell out its name.

It was far too confusing so all the bird shots on Lake Naivasha will be annotated with ‘Birds on Lake Naivasha’

The boat trip was also a good opportunity for Thea to get out in the fresh air, especially after her morning malaise.

We did get uncomfortably close to many Hhppos. They float just beneath the surface, like giant black semi deflated rubber tyres.

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Day 11, October 1: Lake Naivasha to Amboseli.

To get to Amboseli we had to take the highway back to Nairobi. About an hour into our journey we were forced to make a detour, as the road was blocked by a broken down truck. We were onto yet another dirt track.

Another massage.

The dust was so bad in some spots that David had to use his windscreen wipers to remove it.

Once we returned to the main road we had a brief stop at a the Big Five Lookout to get the obligatory shot of the Great Rift Valley. Then we were on the relatively smooth, divided tarmac road into Nairobi.

The Great Rift Valley was once believed to run from Lebanon to Madagascar. It is now confined to Tanzania in the south and extending to Ethiopia in the north.

Once we were through the city we headed south on the Mombasa Road.

This is meant to be a motorway but there are still pedestrians, speed humps and hawkers.

It has a 120kph speed limit with commercial vehicles restricted to 80kph. We got nowhere near either of those speeds.

The road soon changed to a single lane and we slowed down to a sloth’s pace.

The GPS calculated that the trip from Naivasha to Amboseli would take around four hours. David’s estimate was for at least another two hours more.

We had lunch at Emali and then turned off the A108 towards Amboseli. There was still 113 kilometres to go.

I wondered how long it would take.

The landscape was now semi-arid and cement factories seemed to be the only feature on the landscape.

There is a new railway line running from Nairobi to Mombasa.

This, like a lot of other infrastructure in Kenya, was built by the Chinese. I am sure the cement factories are also part of China’s expansion plans in Africa.

With about fifty kilometres to go we had our first, very hazy, view of Mount Kilimanjaro. The snow flecked peak was just visible through a gap in the clouds.

Views of Africa’s highest mountain was one of the main reasons for visiting Amboseli.

We were hoping the clouds would soon shift.

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Day 12, October 2: Amboseli National Park.

In Amboseli we stayed at the Kimbo Safari Camp. It is regarded as a luxury tented camp. It’s tented only on the fact that the rooms are under canvas.

But the canvas is under a roof.

Dinner was the usual buffet in a large dining room.

To our surprise it was full.

This is the first time we had seen a crowd anywhere in Kenya. David explained that being a weekend many locals had come from either Nairobi or Mombasa for a break.

Amboseli National Park is in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Many in Kenya regard the mountain, the tallest in Africa, as the sixth main sight to see – even though it’s in Tanzania.

So now we have seen the ‘Big Six’. 

Apart from Kilimanjaro, the other attraction of the park is the large swamp area. This is like a magnet to the elephants, hippos and birds of all varieties.

Discounting the swamp, Amboseli National Park is very dry and dusty. Willy-Willys swirl randomly across the dry earth. Some of them spiral hundreds of metres into the air.

The park is more natural, in that there only a few roads to drive on, unlike Maasai Mara. The drawback is that you can’t get close to the action, when you need to.

The flamingos were hundreds of metres away.

Amboseli is for the animals while Maasai Mara is for the tourists.

We were witness to three kills on the game drive that were far less gruesome than we had seen previously.

A Saddle Billed Stork and a Purple Heron catching fish and a Yellow Beaked Egret scoring a frog.

We saw death and also creation as we watched two Ostriches mating.

I felt a little like a perve.

We had lunch at Observation Hill View Point.

It obviously had great views of the park and there should have been good views of Kilimanjaro, except it was still hidden by cloud.

Overall Amboseli seems to be a lot more peaceful reserve. If the lack of carcasses are anything to go by.

In the afternoon the Wili-Wilis all but disappeared and a dust storm took over.

Visibility reduced dramatically.

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Day 13, October 3: Amboseli National Park to Mto wa Mbu and Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

We were up very early to drive to the Tanzanian border.

This was our last morning in Kenya and as a farewell gift we got a good view of the ‘Big Rock’ (Kilimanjaro) and a sighting of two cheetahs.

As we left the Amboseli National Park the clouds rolled over Mount Kilimanjaro. It was like the curtain coming down on the final act of an MTC play.

We crossed over the border into Tanzania at Namanga.

It was very smooth, except we were stopped three times by police within our first fifteen kilometres after leaving passport control.

As we passed through small towns and then arrived in Arusha, my first impression was that Tanzania was more developed than Kenya.

This was confirmed when we found Msumbi Coffee, at our pick up point in Arusha.

We immediately ordered two espressos.

Other signs were better roads and public toilets. Even the villages were set back from the road and life seemed calmer and more ordered.

We passed the Tanzania Military Academy. This prestigious institution trains officers from across the region.

There was yet another change of plans. Our new driver/guide, Chris, told us we weren’t staying in Arusha but going to Mto Wa Mbu. There we were staying in the Fanaka Campsite and Lodges for two nights and travelling to Ngorongoro Crater from there.

Hakuna matata.

Our new vehicle was a heavily modified Toyota LandCruiser. It seated six on a raised platform at the back that also had a pop-up roof for game viewing.

These seemed to be the preferred tourist transport in Tanzania.

It was an ageing vehicle that could barely reach the 80kph speed limit.

Tuc Tucs were everywhere, replacing the Saccos we found in Kenya.

On the road to Mto Wa Mbu we stopped at Mbuyuni for a very colourful Maasai Monday market.

Everything was on sale from fruit, vegetables and meat to beds and sandals made from car tyres.

Memories of my hippy days in the 1960s’.

There were giant Boab trees along the way, a reminder that Africa and Australia were once joined.

There they are called a Boabad in this part of Africa.

There are more that 120 tribes in Tanzania, with English the official language. The common language is Swahili, however there are over 100 different other languages spoken.

Before independence in 1961 it was known as Tanganyika. In 1963 Zanzibar and Tanganyika merged and the country became known as Tanzania, a combination of the two names.

As we moved south the temperature warmed up and the humidity got higher. Then we arrived at Lake Manyara National Park, which is just near Mto Wa Mbu, Chris’s home town.

The lake is huge and surrounded by jungle, which explained the humidity.

As we wended our way around the park, there were plenty of baboons and birds hiding in the heavy undergrowth.

Once we reached the lake the undergrowth vanished and there was a flat open marshland filled with pelicans, Egyptian Geese, Marabou Stork, wildebeest and zebra.

The pelicans dominated the scene.

There were thousands.

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Day 14, October 4: Ngorongoro Crater.

Ngorongoro Crater is regarded as the ‘Cradle of humanity’

For us it was a void of whiteness, as the rim of the crater was shrouded in mist. When we descended the 600 metres to crater floor we were below the cloud.

Only then did we fully realise it’s grandeur.

Ngorongoro Crater measures between 16 and 19 kilometres across and has an area of 264 square kilomteres.

It is in part fed by water from Lake Victoria and is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It was formed between two to three million years ago.

It’s a very diverse eco system that has supported life for millions of years. It changes from arid grasslands and swamps to a verdant green, undulated Acacia forrest.

The animals that are in the crater, stay there and don’t migrate, except for some zebra and wildebeest.

Being a natural enclosure the lion population suffers from inbreeding. Any male lion that migrates there gets a very hard time from the indigenous lions of the crater.

We came across two lionesses asleep on the road. They had obviously had a big lunch and were sleeping it off.

It seems that siestas are also popular in Africa.

On leaving the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area we had a baboon experience.

There were a number of them hanging about at the gate. Thea had her side window open and in a flash one was through and snaffling leftovers from the lunch box on the back seat.

The baboon left as quickly as she came.

Not far from the Ngorongoro Crater is Laetoli. Here footprints were discovered by archaeologist Mary Leakey in 1978. These showed evidence that bipedalism (walking upright on two legs) preceded enlarged brains in hominids.

From this area modern man developed and populated the world.

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Day 15, October 5: Mto wa Mbu to Zanzibar.

Our final day was spent travelling. We drove from our hotel in Mto wa Mbu to the airport, on the outskirts of Arusha, to catch a 3:30 pm Precision Air flight to Zanzibar.

On the drive back we saw Massai boys dressed in black. We had seen many similar groups on the drive down.

These youths are partaking in their initiation into manhood. They paint their faces white, with a rather spooky mask and wander the roads on the tourist routes. (They also do more serious things like kill a lion).

If you want to take a snap you have to pay them. If you try and take one from your car, they will throw stones at it.

I kept my camera in its bag.

It had been an amazing 15 days, made even more interesting by the continually shady dealings of our tour operator.

In the end we saw what we came to see and got a wonderful insight into Africa and it’s vagaries.

There was even a Msumbi coffee shop at the Arusha Airport.

Hakuna matata.

Málaga to Madrid, with many
diversions along the way.

November 30th, 2016

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Málaga.

The relaxing and partying part of our trip was over and it was now down to the touring.

We picked up our rented Seat Leon in Granada and headed south to the coast and Málaga and eventually Madrid.

Our first stop after leaving Granada was at Alhama de Granada. The locals were preparing for a festival and bull fight, that was to start on the weekend.

Unfortunately we were three days too early.

It would have been good to be there for the festival but not the bull fight.

Our apartment in Málaga was in the centre of town and an olive’s pip spit away from the cathedral. There was a restaurant and bar, El Jardín, just outside our entrance. It was so close to our accommodation that the apartment’s WiFi still worked while we were having an evening drink.

The temperature was ten degrees lower than Granada but the humidity was way higher.

Our host, Pepe, had suggested that we go to El Pimpi, a wine bar and restaurant. Apparently it’s an institution in Málaga and not to be missed.

It was a very well oiled tourist machine.

The service was swift, the prices reasonable and it’s vast. It also proudly boasts photos of many well known people who have visited there over the years.

Sean Connery and Tony Blair are two that I recognised, however the snaps of them were taken well before they became famous.

Looking for some exercise we had a walk along Málagueta. This is a long stretch of sandy beach, not far from the centre of Malaga, but then everything is within walking distance there.

The Picasso Museum in Málaga is housed in the elegant Palacio de Buenavista, which was another short walk from our apartment.

The irony of the Picasso Museum is that Pablo, Málaga’s favourite son, last visited the city when he was 19 years old – he lived to be 92.

The narrative of the museum is all about Picasso’s belief in what art should do.

“Art is both an offensive and defensive weapon.”

The collection spans eight decades of his work and includes ceramics, portraiture, landscaped and sculpture.

One piece that fascinated me was his 1921 ‘Mother and Child’. This was done in the monumental style of Cézanne and Renoir and seems to allude to a father figure that’s almost fused in with the mother.

He is in the shadows but his face and left arm are distinctly masculine. This painting was a celebration of Picasso’s joy and amazement at becoming a father.

Picasso’s ceramics and simple line engravings still remain my favourites.

There was huge activity in the Cathedral, which was just across the road from our room. It was festival season in Spain and Málaga Cathedral was in the midst of the Festival of the Holy Virgin Mary.

The streets were shut off to make way for the bands, community groups, police and religious icons that were paraded around the cathedral. It was constant, as they came out of one door of the church and then in another.

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Ronda and the White Villages.

We were originally going to stay in Ronda and explore the White Villages from there.

However when we went to book accommodation there was nothing available within our price range. We tried to stay at the Parador in Ronda once before but it was closed due to industrial trouble. This time the rooms available were so expensive it would have used up a weeks worth of our travel allowance.

This all turned out to be due to yet another festival.

The Festival of Pedro Romero (1754-1839) is a celebration of one of Spain’s most famous bull fighters. Pedro is said to have changed the style of fighting bulls. He fought the bulls on foot, rather than horseback and used a cape and sword.

Our next option was to stay in one of the White Villages and explore the Pueblos Blancos from there.

We chose Júzcar.

This village wasn’t white at all but Smurf Blue.

In 2011 Júzcar was selected to be the venue for the launch of Sony Pictures ‘The Smurfs 3D’. This required the village to be painted Smurf Blue.

It took three weeks, 20 painters and 9,000 litres of paint to transform this white village to a blue one.

Later that year the residents voted to keep their village blue and were rewarded in 2013 by becoming the promotional venue for ‘Smurfs 2′.

The Smurf theme runs throughout the town with statues and murals of Smurfs, Smurf gift shops and mushroom shaped information booths.

It’s unique, a bit chintzy but a lot of fun.

And a very good marketing move by the residents.

Situated in the Upper Genal Valley, Juzcar is one of seven White Villages, Paruata, Cartajima, Pujerra, Igualeja, Faraján, Alpandeire and Júzcar.

Júzcar is more a Pueblos Azul than Blanco.

The White Villages were why we were in the area but discovering a blue one was a bonus.

The White Villages were originally built by Berber farmers from North Africa. They settled in Andalusia in the 9th and 10th centuries, during the early days of Moorish rule. By the 11th century the Christian reconquest forced the farmers to move to higher ground. The Moorish tradition of enclosed narrow streets, built in inaccessible hillside locations made their villages safer from attack.

But not that safe as every one has a church, convent or monastery. These were all built over the ruins of former mosques.

Our hotel in Júzcar, was the aptly named Hotel Bandolero, was run by David and Iván. David was originally from NYC while Iván is Spanish and comes from just outside of Madrid.

It had a pleasant atmosphere and the food was excellent, not surprising considering that Iván is a London trained, Cordon Bleu chef.

Iván’s talents when beyond the culinary, as he was responsible for painting many of the Smurf murals around the town.

We extended our stay by another night to give ourselves more time exploring the surrounding villages and magnificent countryside.

On our first day we drove via Alpandeire and the Cathedral Church of St Antonio de Padua then on to Cueva de la Pileta or Cave of the Pool, in English.

Luck can sometimes be on your side.

We arrived at the caves just before 1 PM,  just in time for the tour, the last before it reopened again at 4 PM.

The guide was excellent and did the tour in both Spanish and English. We had been told this isn’t always the case.

The Pileta Caves were fist discovered in 1905 by a Spanish farmer Jośe Bullón. They were opened to the public in 1924, after a more suitable entrance was discovered by Bullón’s son. The caves contain many paintings, that were first believed to be Moorish but later found to be Neolithic.

Descendants of Jośe still operate small group tours through the cave and they are very careful to protect what they have.

No photos are allowed.

We then drove to Grazalema via Mirador de Benaoján, where we got some great views of the imposing country side.

In this part of Spain the roads have more twists and turns than a US presidential election and there are very few opportunities to stop and take in the view.

Miradors or view points are rare.

In the heart of Grazalema is a statue of two men and a bull with a rope around its neck.

This is very significant in the history of this small white village. The ‘Roped Bull from Grazalema’ is part of a Celtic tradition that goes back 2,500 years. In Grazalema the Feast of the Tied Bulls goes back even further, as it celebrates the ancient sport of hunting wild bulls with ropes.

This was the forerunner to modern day bullfighting.

The next day we headed out again, this time to the south.

Our first village was Genalguacil and like many of the White Villages it has suffered from the financial crisis that has hit these small isolated townships.

Their answer was art.

Every two years Genalguacil holds an art festival. All the work produced over the two weeks of the festival remains the property of the village, so art is everywhere.

Genalguacil has a permanent population of around 522. The festival attracts 8,000 visitors biannually. And, like us, many more come to see this living gallery at other times of the year.

Their investment in art has certainly paid off.

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Gibraltar and Tarifa.

In a bizarre turn of events, as soon as we approached Gibraltar, British weather took hold.

The rock was shrouded in a thick mist, blocking out the sunshine that we had enjoyed for the past few weeks.

How very English.

” I hurts in places where I used to play.” These words from the late, master lyricist, Leonard Cohen, were very apt, after we spent a few hours clambering over ‘The Rock’. Having recently spent a lot of time sitting in a car, getting out and exercising had its down side.

The Barbary Apes or Barbary Macaques (they are not really apes) are everywhere on the rock of Gibraltar and they are a problem.

They are the only wild monkey population on the European continent and descended from North African Macaques. They have been there longer than the British and were most likely introduced by the Moors somewhere between 711 and 1492.

The problem is that people want to feed them, despite the signs that are everywhere. The monkeys know this and can become very aggressive in their search for the food that they believe is intended for them.

I found that the condition of Gibraltar, as a tourist attraction, was very poor. The infrastructure was outdated and the paths were in need of maintenance.

St Michael’s Cave is a network of limestone caves within the rock. Due to the discovery of two Neanderthal skulls, it is believed that the caves could have first been inhabited around 40,000 BC.

With a stage and flood lights in the largest grotto, St Michael’s Cave was in total contrast to the Pileta Caves, and more a disco than a natural wonder.

What was interesting were the Great Siege Tunnels that were built by the British during the American War of Independence. It is the longest siege that has been endured by the British forces, lasting three years and seven months.

These tunnels were dug for the fourteenth and final siege of the war and are a masterpiece of manual labour.

Thirteen men, using sledgehammers and crowbars, aided by gunpowder, took five weeks to dig a tunnel that was 25 meters in length and 0.74 metres square. Subsequent tunnels were dug and the total construction, which was completed in 1783, measured 277 metres in length.

The Moorish Castle which is near the entrance to the tunnels was started around 711, there is no record of when it was completed. The castle played an important part in the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

Dotted around the township of Gibraltar are token telephone and letter boxes and you can even see the odd Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze.

Just a reminder that they’re British on the Rock.

Our accommodation was at the Rock Hotel which opened in 1932.

Errol Flynn, Alec Guinness, Winston Churchill and Sean Connery have stayed there.

We had a ‘dock view’, which is about all you get from the Gibraltar waterfront.

However if we leant over our balcony and looked to the left we could see North Africa.

Dinner at the Angry Fryer was a curry with rice plus a steak and kidney pie with peas and chips.

You could get any combination of the dishes on offer, all with chips. The food was the old style ‘pub grub’ and certainly not influenced by Jamie Oliver.

Mine was washed down by a pint of John Smiths. The beer was good but the wine was cask, as you would expect in an English pub.

The British theme continued.

On the way to Cádiz we detoured to Tarifa. At 36 degrees latitude it’s on the southern most tip of Spain and continental Europe.

It’s also the wind sport capital of Europe.

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Cádiz.

Driving to Cádiz the scenery and weather changed.

The winds got stronger and coming into Cádiz we experienced a fierce thunderstorm. Visibility was reduced to 30 metres and the windscreen wipers were going at top speed.

It could have had something to do with the fact that we also moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

In Tarifa we saw hundreds of kite surfers and in Cádiz the board riders were out looking to crack the big Atlantic swells.

This coastline is certainly different.

In the evening the sun came out again but the temperature was lower and there was still a strong wind.

Cádiz is the oldest continually inhabited city in Spain, going back as far as 1104 BC, and one of the oldest in Western Europe. Being a port city it played a vital role in developing trade with the Americas. Christopher Columbus sailed from Cádiz on his second and fourth voyages and it was the home port of the Spanish treasure fleet.

The Spanish Constitution, of 1812, was written in Cádiz, so there is a great deal of history in the city. The constitution, although never fully implemented, was one of the most liberal for its time. It was repealed by Ferdinand VII in 1814, reinstated again in 1820 and then rewritten by the Progressives in 1837.

There are buildings and monuments all over the city tracing the history of Cádiz.

The Roman Theatre or Theatrum Balbi was thought to have been built during the 1st century BC and is one of the largest ever built in the Roman Empire.

It was abandoned in the 4th century AD and in the 13th century a fort was built on its ruins.

It was only rediscovered in 1980 while work was being carried out on the Arab fort.

The Cádiz Cathedral, built between 1722 and 1838, is known as the ‘The Cathedral of The Americas’ As it was funded by money that came from the lucrative trade between Spain and America.

It was designed by Vicente Acero, who also built the cathedral in Granada.

Inside the cathedral there is a net beneath the ceiling. This is needed, as there is a lot of fallen masonry caught in the net, between the ceiling and the congregation or in our case the tourists below.

I think some serious money needs to be spent again on the cathedral.

We climbed Levante Tower and got a spectacular panoramic view of the city.

In the Plaza de la Catedral there was an exhibition of six of Henry Moore’s monumental sculptures. They sat beautifully against the backdrop of the baroque/neoclassical styled cathedral.

In the Museum of the Cádiz Constitution there is a 1/250 scale model of Cádiz by Alfonso Ximénez  in fine wood, Ivory and silver. Created between 1777 and 1779. It’s a wonderful insight as to how Cádiz would have looked in the 18th century, its golden age.

On our second night we found Restaurate Sopranis.

We had to wander around Cádiz, for about an hour, waiting for it to open at 9 pm.

It was worth it.

Their opening hours were traditionally Spanish but their food wasn’t. It was Andalusian with a contemporary flair, beautifully presented with delicate flavours.

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Mérida.

We decided to have our ‘Paradore experience’ in Mérida.

Paradores are divided into three different types.

Paradores Civia, are urban hotels in the heart of the city. Paradores Naturia are where you can enjoy nature or the coast and Paradore Esentia are in historic buildings.

We were staying in the latter style.

Our Paradore in Mérida was originally an 18th century convent.

Mérida is full of Roman antiquity, so much that our Parador had them as garden ornaments.

There was so much to see that we decided to stay an extra night.

Mérida is a tale of two cities as we stayed, and loved Mérida in Mexico.

Augusta Emerita, now Mérida, was founded in 25 BC by Augustus to resettle emeritus soldiers who had been discharged from the Roman army.

With theatres, amphitheatres, aqueducts, temples and arches it is certainly a very well equiped retirement village.

The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, is one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

Mérida is sometimes known as the Spanish Rome.

After viewing the ruins you don’t go out for a spaghetti, pizza or gnocchi but rather tortilla, croquettes or jamon.

There is also the 9th century Alcazaba, or Muslim fortification, located very close to the Roman bridge or Puente Romano.

The Alcazaba has seen many battles.

Isabel Católica in 1479, Napoleon in 1811 and finally the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Preceding these, were conflicts involving the Romans, Visigoths and Arabs.

The 762 metres wide Puente Romano is the the world’s longest surviving bridge from ancient times. Just near the bridge is a statue of Romulus and Remus, a reminder of Mérida’s ancient heritage.

When we arrived Mérida was like morgue, even the fountain in the main square was having a siesta.

It was a different story in the evening.

The locals were out and they obviously knew something that we didn’t, as they all had on warmer clothes for the much cooler evenings.

I decided to buy a light weight jumper and found a Pull and Bear outlet.

For the cost of a main course, €15, I got a light weight cotton jumper.

I do like shopping in Spain.

After two full days of visiting the archeological sites of Mérida we gave ourselves a half day off.

An excursion to the Basíca de Santa Eulalia and the Circus Romano in the morning was followed by lunch at the Parador.

I had a siesta, Thea did some photo editing and then at 9pm we headed out into the town again.

It was alive – not with tourists but locals all enjoying the balmy evening air. I didn’t need the jumper I had purchased the night before.

Even at 11pm the plaza near the Parador was still crowded.

The Circo Romano is one of the features of Mérida, if only for its size. It was modelled on the Circus Maximus in Rome and could hold up to 30,000 spectators. It’s over 400 meters in length and 30 meters wide.

The construction of the circus is very symbolic, which is explained in the well organised and informative signage.

“The circus in the Roman world was a building full of symbolism.

The power of the emperor and the cosmos were one and the same, and both were represented in the elements of this building.

One could say the the circus represented a miniature universe.

The arena symbolised the Earth and its shape represented a full year, which the charioteers were to travel seven times atop their chariots.”

It continued:

“Turn your attention to the chariot gates located at the far right of the building.

Each one of them symbolises the twelve months of the year.

The chariot, pulled by horses, symbolises the sun and the charioteer represented the god Apollo.

The seven laps of each race were identified with the seven days of the week, and usually 24 races were carried out, equalling one day.

Four divisions, or teams, existed. Each one was identified by a colour.

The teams symbolised the four seasons of the year.”

Another sign read:

“Now take note of the central barrier which divides the circus arena.

The pool symbolises the ocean and the obelisk, located in the centre, represented the sun at dusk.

At the end of the central barrier, the starting point and goal were located: the ‘dawn starting point’ was where the race began and the ‘secondary goal point’ was where it ended.

Both represented the East and the West.”

It was time to leave Rome and head back to Spain.

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Trujillo, Toledo and Aranjuez.

On our way to Toledo we found a cafe right on the Plaza Major in Trujillo for lunch.

It was hard to find a free table as there were a number of large ones set.

Then a tour bus turned up and we realised why.

We left very quickly.

We wanted to visit Trujillo, as we now had a family connection. Andrea’s maternal surname is Trujillo, so it was important that we made a visit.

It is also has a many Medieval and Renaissance buildings that were either built or renovated by the conquistadors.

We arrived in Toledo late in the afternoon and after checking into our hotel we went for a stroll around the Old Town.

The Almunia de San Miguel Hotel, where we were staying, was in a narrow back street and took some finding.

I think it’s operated by just two people. The manager, who only turns up when there are guests to welcome, and the house maid who serves breakfast and cleans the rooms.

It was centrally located and in an old Moorish house with traditional furnishings.

We were offered a choice of rooms. In fact, going by the number of tables set for breakfast, I think we were the only people there.

This would have to go down as one of the weirdest places we have ever stayed at.

We didn’t see the manager again until our last morning, breakfast wasn’t available on the second day, as the house maid had to take her child to hospital. The Internet was promised but we could never log on.

The manager was very apologetic for the stuff-ups and gave us two nights for the price of one.

The next day we needed to prepare for our African trip, so went looking for a Lavanderias or Laundromat.

The house maid had no idea where there was one so we Googled a chain we had discovered in Granada.

Sure enough we found one but it was a taxi ride away.

Getting a taxi there wasn’t an issue but finding one to get back was.

You can’t seem to be able to hail a taxi off the street in Toledo.

Toledo is built high on a hill, so we resigned ourself to the walk back up that hill. Then we discovered the escalator, six levels of fast moving, leg saving luxury.

The afternoon was spent walking around city.

We spent an hour or so in the Cathedral, a magnificent structure, regarded by many as the best example of Gothic architecture in Spain. It was started in 1226 and finished during the rule of the Catholics Monarchs in 1493.

It was as much an art gallery as a church as there were examples from many artists. Goya, Titian, Rubens, Rafael and more are to be found in the Cathedral Museum.

Their pride and star attraction is The Disrobing of Christ by El Greco. Started in 1577 and completed in 1579, it now adorns the High Altar of the sacristy.

In Plaza San Justo, not far from our hotel, we came across Virtudes Café and Bar.

They had craft beer.

They had two varieties, a larger or rubia and a red beer, or roja, both in bottles and especially brewed for Virtudes.

It was great to have a change from the mass produced beers I had been drinking since leaving Barcelona.

The roja paired very well with the Manchebo cheese and Spanish olives we had for tapas.

After breakfast on our last day in Spain we decided to drive to Aranjuez, which is half way between Toledo and Madrid.

Firstly we found a good lookout, overlooking Toledo, and after getting a few snaps, from the other side of the Tagus River.

Aranjuez is the home to the Royal Summer Palaces. It has been one of the Royal Estates of the Crown of Spain since the times of Philip II in 1560.

All we really wanted was a walk so we strolled around the magnificent gardens of the palace.

Well they would have been magnificent in spring and early summer. The heat had devastated most of the flowers beds and box hedges and the the leaves on the plain trees were starting to turn.

Autumn was on its way.

Aranjuez was yet another diversion, before we headed to Madrid and our 9:40pm flight to Nairobi.

There spring had just started.

Granada, a special city for a special event.

October 13th, 2016

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The main purpose of our trip to Granada was for Hayden and Andrea’s wedding.

We had been to the city twice before in 2012 and had experienced its marvellous history in both summer and winter.

I was also in Granada way back in 1972, but that’s another story.

Our tourist adventures were very modest and mainly confined to walking trips around our hotel.

The Hotel Reina Christina is right in the heart of Old Granada so there was still plenty to see, even if it was done very casually.

While Thea was off having a manicure and pedicure with Kate; Evan, Stephanie and I spent an hour or so visiting the Granada Cathedral or the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

The construction of this cathedral was a long time in coming as it had to wait for for the acquisition of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers in 1492. As a result it was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was started in 1518 and built on top of the city’s main mosque, a common practice when one culture replaced another.

It took 181 years for the cathedral to be completed.

As part of the admission fee you get an audio guide to help you negotiate this very large and ornate place of Cristian worship.

I wished that I’d had a dictionary of architectural and ecclesiastical terms to help me interpret the very verbose descriptions.

We did venture, one hot afternoon, to the El Albaicin area, which is on the opposite of hill to the Alhambra, near Sacromonte.

This area features narrow winding streets that reflect Granada’s Medieval Moorish past. It was made a UNESCO World heritage site in 1984.

The group staying at the hotel for the wedding started with Thea and me and grew to fourteen over a ten day period.

We soon discovered the best coffee in Granada and possibly Spain. Visits to La Finca Coffee, or Plantation, soon became a daily ritual.

There were a number of other Australians in Granada, who were also there for the wedding, and they also discovered La Finca.

Thea and I hosted a cocktail party at the Hotel Vincci Albayzin. The idea was to introduce Andrea to those overseas guest who hadn’t already met her and to also give everyone a chance to meet Andrea’s immediate family.

It was a great success, going way beyond the predicted time.

The Spanish know how to party and so do Australians.

The wedding itself was a fabulous event, set in a spectacular location, on Sacromonte, overlooking the Alhambra.

The formalities started just before sunset, so everything was bathed in a magic evening light. Apart from a professional photographer and videographer, there were more cameras snapping than a frenzied pack of paparazzi at the film festival in Cannes.

I kept my camera in its bag.

The next day was to recover, not surprising considering we had been at the wedding for over ten hours and didn’t get back to the hotel until 6.30 am.

We weren’t the last to leave.

Olives are not tapas.

On our last night in Granada we went out for a drink and then a meal. Now in Granada the tradition is that for every drink you have you get a free tapa.

This didn’t happen.

At the first bar we got a very small bowl of sweets. And because we were waiting for our chosen restaurant to open, we were compelled to visit another bar.

Here we only got olives.

Sadly the partying is over and now it’s time for the serious touring to begin.

Barcelona old and new.

September 30th, 2016

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Barcelona was the first stop in our latest adventure.

Over the next three months we will be travelling to Granada, for Hayden and Andrea’s wedding, then on to the White Villages of Andalusia, down to Gibraltar and back north to Madrid. From there we fly to Nairobi in Kenya to start a two month tour of Southern Africa.

Barcelona seems to have become our second home and we are here to relax and acclimatise ourselves to the last warm breath of the northern summer.

It’s also a great opportunity for me to get used to my new Olympus camera, without the stress of missing any vital shots in new places.

Barcelona, while very familiar to us, is also constantly changing, so there is always something new to see and do.

Much to my delight the craft brew phenomenon has come to the city. There was in fact a craft Brewhouse right next door to our Air B&B in Raval. Ølgod has 30 taps, on a long white tiled wall. Surprisingly 25 were active, pumping out a variety of local and imported brews, with many from Denmark. Which is not unusual given that it’s named after a Danish railway town.

The ones I sampled were very good.

Barcelona has traditionally been the home of the big beer brands. Local brews such as Estrella and Moritz dominate while other European brands like Amstel, Heineken and Stella Artois satisfy the tourist tastes. It was exciting to see a move towards craft beers.

Over the first couple of days we had a number of déjà vu moments visiting familiar sites. We took the RENFE up to Badalona and had tapas in one of the temporary beach restaurants or Chiringuitos.

To get our legs ‘match fit’ for touring again we walked for hours around the city. Up the Rambla, through the Gothic Quarter to El Born and back from Gracia where the annual street festival was in its final days.

Looking for a completely new experience we took a return trip on the Port Vell Aerial Tramway to Montjuïc. The funicular isn’t new as it was built in 1931 and offers spectacular views over Barceloneta Beach, Port Vell and the city. We took the tramway from the Port to Miramar, which is halfway up the hill to Montjuïc.

After our funicular ride over Port Vell we walked along Barceloneta Beach towards the casino and the giant sculptural fish by Frank Gehry.

Barcelona has always been a creative city.

From the grand, Gothic inspired, Art Nouveau architecture of Antonio Gaudy to the small businesses, creating interesting and original craftwork.

We discovered Camino, selling handmade Spanish shoes and clothing. Effecto Limón making quirky dresses and bags all built around zips. And the Barcelona Duck Shop that has hundreds of different designs of rubber bath ducks.

We bought ‘Bat Duck’ a masked avenger version for Bruno, Andrea’s nephew.

Barcelona seems to be about two hours out of kilter with my body clock, or more probably what I’m used to.

Breakfast doesn’t start until ten or eleven, while lunch is at three and dinner isn’t till nine.

In keeping with the locals we walked down to Born and had a late lunch in one of the many outdoor restaurants close to the old market.

El Born CCM is a museum, where the ruins of 1700 Barcelona have been unearthed below the market area.

I get the feeling that Spanish dining times will become the norm once we reach Granada.

Following the plan to do something different while in Barcelona we took the funicular up to Vallvidrera Superior. This is a high point in Barcelona and has some spectacular views of the city and port. Overshadowing the sleepy hillside village, on Tibadabo Hill, is the Torre de Collserola or Collserola Communications Tower. Built for the 1992 Spanish Summer Olympics it stands 288.4 meters tall. It was designed by the British architect Norman Foster.

Kate, Mark, Alex and Sarah arrived in Barcelona and we had arranged to spend a few days with them before heading to Granada.

They would follow a few days later.

Sarah and Alex had arranged for us to go on a tapas tasting trail. This started in the Barceloneta district and then proceeded to El Born. We visited a mixture of four tapas bars and restaurants, each with a distinctly different style of tapas.

The first was La Bombeta, a bar that has been credited with inventing the bombeta. A round, deep fried ball of potatoes and minced meat, served  with a garlic and hot chilli sauce.

Next bar was Jai Ca, which was predominately seafood. It was a local place and our group of tourists stood out.

Next was my favourite, Cerveceria el Vaso de oro, a gastro pub serving their own craft brews – meat was their featured food.

This quaint establishment, with its long narrow bar, was brewing its own beer well before the craft beer revolution.

Our final stop was at Tapeo AMB Daniel Rueda, a very Catalan establishment. Here we were served a variety of dishes, including Ox Tail and a Catalan variation of paella made with noodles, not rice, and squid ink.

Next stop was Granada, this is Andrea’s home town and where Hayden and Andrea will be formally married.

Well that’s a weight off my shoulders. 

August 7th, 2016

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

I have finally taken the plunge and purchased a new camera.

Since my Sony Alpha 55 died in 2013 and I was forced to buy a new camera in Japan, I have had nothing but trouble.

Then in 2014 in China I had to buy a new Alpha 77 and another telephoto lens, after a major lens malfunction and an incompatibility issue with my Alpha 66 (the one I bought in Japan).

Another concern was that every new model in the Sony range seems to get larger and heavier.

So with two camera bodies, three lenses and the associated equipment, my camera bag was weighing almost as much as my luggage.

Definitely time for a change.

I decided to go with the Micro Four Thirds system developed by Olympus in 2008. This is a mirrorless digital camera with interchangeable lens and 16mp stills.

The Micro Four Thirds shares the same size image sensor as the Four Thirds system but because it’s mirrorless has a much smaller body size. I chose the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, despite its ridiculously long name, as it also has a built in image stabiliser, so the lenses are also smaller and lighter.

I have now reduced my equipment to one camera body and two lenses, which weigh a fraction of what I was having to schlep round.

All I need to do now is learn how to use it.

I purchased my new camera from Michaels Camera Store in Melbourne, as they were parity with their pricing and willing to give me a generous trade-in on my old Sony equipment.

So it’s not only a weight off my shoulders, it’s also a weight off my mind and my wallet.

Know your market. 

July 23rd, 2016

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We have recently travelled by road to Brisbane and back.

Travelling north was via the coast and the return journey was on the inland route, passing through Goondiwindi, Lighting Ridge, Bourke and Griffith.

For many evenings meals we availed ourselves of the various clubs, especially in NSW. These are reasonably priced, centrally located and offer some surprisingly good food.

In Swan Hill, Victoria, we had a meal at the RSL, which was next door to our motel.  It was a Sunday night and the only patrons were people of our vintage and many who were a lot older.

The bar and waiting staff were at least two generations younger and this was reflected in the music that was being played.

While the older generation were enjoying their Grilled Barramundi, Reef n’ Beef and Parmi, they were subjected to a medley of Chicago House, Rap and Detroit Techno.

Fortunately most of them could block out the music by turning down the volume on their hearing aids.

Photo composition by Steve McCurry.

June 20th, 2016

I receive countless posts, comments, opinions and videos each day on Facebook, most of them I ignore.

I must admit I’m a bit tired of cute animals, babies and people telling me about things that they have done, that don’t interest me in the slightest.

When this little video popped up it was so simple and to the point that I could’t help but share it on Facebook and post it here.

It’s by Steve McCurry an American editorial photographer, best known for his 1984 National Geographic cover titled ‘Afghan Girl’.

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The video is a simple explanation of his favourite 9 Photo composition tips. It uses some of his great shots and demonstrates graphically how they are achieved.

The Afghan girl, who was later identified to be Sharbat Gula, uses his seventh tip, Centre Dominant Eye, to great effect.

Of course if you aren’t interested in photography, it won’t interest you in the slightest.