“If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there” ― George Harrison.
It was very good to have Wayne Jos, our itinerant travelling companion back in camp with us. The word intrepid rolls off our tongues glibly but Wayne had really been up to something bordering on crazy. Young men in their prime are bullet proof, on top of this Wayne is fit, determined and strong. When we parted company in QENP Wayne was driving a little distance north to have a look at a couple of days hiking in the Rwenzoris. He had earlier in his trip summited Kili. He was now able to relate that he had summited the highest peak in the “Mountains of the Moon”, Margherita, in just 3 days. To put this in perspective, some Spaniards we met on the road were justifiably proud that they had achieved this summit, but they had done it in 7 days. When discussing the climb at the park bookings, Wayne recognized that he could save himself a small fortune if he could cut down the number of days spent on the mountain. Looking at the routes, ascents and hiking times he was convinced he could be off the mountain in 3 nights if he pushed it. He cajoled the park authorities to cut down his payment to 4 nights with the agreement he would pay in for extra days or be refunded if he was back earlier than 4 nights. Wayne says that he grossly underestimated the technical difficulties involved in scaling icy glaciers and ice walls. He realized the enormity of what he was attempting when he was issued with all his kit, most of which he had no experience of. These included ice picks, crampons and the various ropes and paraphernalia involved in serious climbing. To complete what he planned he had to do more than 2 stages each day and was well on schedule when on the final stages he joined a very experienced lady mountaineer who climbed the final stages with him and helped him understand the gear. The last day or so was in blizzard conditions. Imagine snow and permanent ice almost on the equator! His photographs are astonishing! Imagine the surprise and amazement of the park officials when he was back in their offices after 3 days looking for his refund.
Wayne was most envious (and this after what he had achieved), that we had been visited by forest elephants the night before and the broken branches and trees in the campsite and their fresh dung were there for him to witness. When he arrived we were up at the lodge booking supper and a little while before he arrived a family of chimps passed behind the lodge in full view. The strange thing was that he, of all people was envious. We spoilt Wayne by standing him to dinner at the lodge that night but we all agreed that although the food was good, they did not have a patch on Kluges.
We left early the next morning for Lake Albert Safari Lodge, with Wayne probably to join us the following day or so. Our GPS program Tracks4Africa had the Lodge in their data base but what a meal it made of the trip. To be fair a very new tarred road between the regional center near Lake Albert, Hoima, and the eastern shores of the lake, had fairly recently been opened and many of the old routes were closed. Nonetheless with a little skill, lots of luck and many “stop and ask” directions, we found our way there and except for the final bit, almost by the shortest route too. The details of the route and road conditions will not interest most and are posted in today’s Geek section. Suffice to say that the trip over some fairly bad sections of road took us about 6 and a half hours for only 245km.
The route took us through some lovely rural countryside, but innumerable villages. It is amazing to see how densely populated this isolated, but fertile and intensely cultivated part of Uganda is. We knew very little about the lake and Lake Albert Safari Lodge, except that it was lovely and was suggested by our mentors as an ideal stopover between the Fort Portal area and Murchison Falls NP.
We were totally bowled over by the stunning location of this lodge and campsite. Firstly it is situated in one of the newest conservation areas in Uganda, the Kabwoya Game Reserve, declared only about 5 years ago. However it is the location and siting of the lodge that bowled one over. It is situated right on the edge of a 60m cliff overlooking the lakeshore directly below with the lake seemingly stretching into infinity in the distance. Our first afternoon was a bit hazy but we were promised in the mornings one could see the distant blue mountains of the DRC in the distance. Unfortunately this was not the case. I think a bit of rain was needed to clear the haze. Below us fisher folk were plying their trade in dugouts, rowing boats and motor boats, a better view of them could not be asked for. The lodge offers a lovely variety of activities including horse riding, game drives and quad biking. The only game we saw driving in were some healthy herds of kob. They do not have the big 5 and are still busy introducing animals.
For our part this camp was all about its location and view. The campsite is at the northern end of the guest cottages with a view nearly as good as that from the main lodge. We were given the keys to the cottage on the end, just adjacent to us, for use of the solar-heated shower and flush toilet. We have not paid any park fees and are keeping mum about this. The camping is expensive enough at US20 pppn. Part of the campsite is an open-walled round, thatched shelter (a rondavel), with concrete benches and a large working surface, to be used by campers. There is not much shade in the campsite other than this shelter. There is place to make a campfire and there was wood. We were the only ones in the whole lodge facility and I understand that the lodge has recently changed hands, possibly because of hard financial times. Even with the lodge being occupied the campers are allowed the full range of facilities, including the pool, lounges, pub, view points and restaurant (dinner US$20).
One issue that has been occupying some of my thoughts is the absence of other independent vehicle-dependent travelers. Whilst for selfish reasons having the pick of campsites and not having to worry about availability has been a boon, one cannot but help feeling concerned about the future of this time honored pursuit. With all the empty campsites we have seen, how much longer will these facilities stay functioning? Traditionally the majority of trans-African self-drivers undertake the trip from north to south we have met none, only hearing of “wearthefoxhat’’, Scott and Helene , where we crossed paths in Mwanza Tanzania, but stayed at different campsites. We were really looking forward to the camaraderie and note swopping when crossing paths with fellow like-minded travelers. We now also have had to cancel arrangements to meet the “wazungus” in the Mara. I am not sure what is cooking here. Are travelers scared off by Ebola, extremist religious terrorist groups or what? Are financial times so tough that many cannot afford this rather expensive type of expedition? Do other destinations such as South and Central America seem more attractive given the prevailing conditions in parts of Africa? Has it become so difficult to ship an overland vehicle into North Africa? The quite marked drop in fly-in tourists is also being reported to us. This is really not good for African conservation. Hopefully it is just a temporary lull and I am worrying my bald head about nothing.
All I can state is that Anne and I are tremendously positive about our trip thus far. It has far exceeded my very high expectations and Anne has certainly enjoyed it and embraced the whole lifestyle far easier than might have been the case. I can only advise from personal experience that it has been far simpler, more comfortable and more exciting than I had ever envisaged. I would think the easiest way of doing it now is to buy a second-hand vehicle in South Africa, have any modifications done and then set off from south to north. Of course the easiest would then be to sell it to someone from northern climes in Egypt, with them then carrying on with their north to south trip. I have in fact had a couple of queries for my vehicle once we reach Egypt, with offers to buy. We have bumped into quite a number of Europeans, obviously of reasonable means, who own and store vehicles in Southern Africa and to a lesser extent in East Africa. They then use them for a couple of months a year. There appear to be ways and means of doing this, such as registering the vehicle in the name of a local friend (that you trust).
We spent the evening having sundowners and watching the fishing boats below, reveling in the view. This was exceeded if possible once darkness fell and the boats fishing for the small “silver fish” (kapenta in Lake Kariba), became visible by way of the lights used to attract these small fish to within range of their scoop nets. There was only a sliver of moon, ideal for this sort of fishing. By the time we retired to bed the entire lake was dotted to saturation with these lights out on the lake. As an illustration (if you have been there), imagine the lights of Cape Town when seen at night from Signal Hill or Rhodes Memorial. There was a veritable city out on the water. A totally unforgettable vista and experience. The different a life these fisher folk live compared to ours is a universe apart.
We had a lovely supper of fried fish, still the last of the Tilapia fillets we had bought in Rwanda, cole slaw and baby potatoes in their jackets.
This brings me to my next topic. Please do not imagine that we are living on scant provisions on this trip, or out of tin cans. With a little ingenuity and Anne’s dab hand in the kitchen, food on the road has been fine. When we eat out this is only to relieve the drudgery of cooking and washing up in camping conditions. Fresh produce and especially tropical fruit is no problem at all and is widely available from little roadside stalls or the more formal grouped trader markets in the larger centers. Just ask around there for prices from the various venders, they tend to automatically double the prices for wazungus. Fruit available almost everywhere includes bananas in every shape and size, paw paws (papaya), passion fruit, pineapple, watermelon and mango, all at very cheap prices. Other fruit such as apples, oranges and lemons are available but at a price. If you cannot rustle up a good fruit salad for breakfast from this variety then you will not survive the rigors of the African road. Likewise fresh veggies are also obtainable at reasonable cost. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes, aubergines, green peppers, onions, green beans and the like are freely available. We try to vary between cooking on the campfire or on gas depending on the facilities. A veggie favorite has been a mélange of chopped veggies cooked on coals in a cast iron pot. You cannot imagine perhaps how tasty a mix of carrots, potato (or sweet potato), onions or pumpkin tastes when done with a small amount of olive oil or water in the pot until partly caramelized. Protein is more of a problem. We, as yet have not yet had to resort to the use of bush-slaughtered or community butchery beef, mutton, goat or chicken, but those days undoubtedly lie ahead. If you ask the lodges or local expats you can usually find a reasonably priced outlet for good meat, cheese and butter. Whole frozen chickens can be located and fillet steak is not favored by the locals and is relatively cheap. We are not talking about buying from large chain supermarkets here, but from small mini-marts, present in even the smaller towns. We are falling down a little in trying local street food. It is fine if cooked freshly in front of you. We have enjoyed fried balls of dough, some fresh kebabs, chappatis, potato chips “mayo”, but yet have to try the famed Ugandan Rolexes, fresh omelet rolled with contents of fried onion, tomato etc. Fresh, good quality bread and rolls are a problem however and where found we are freezing these and refreshing them by toasting on the gas cooker and camping toaster. Many has been the lazy night’s cooking where we have toasted sandwiches such as cheese and tomato, tuna and even chicken mayonnaise on the coals of the campfire. To drink we are mixing a variety of the different flavors of concentrates with water and refrigerating. When dilute these are much more refreshing than the over-sweet sodas. Drinking water is either bought bottled or we are saving boiled water in these plastic bottles and using this to drink as well. We have not as yet had to use our hand-operated water purifier or any water purifying tablets. Neither of us has suffered any significant stomach upset thus far. Life is good and perhaps this little summary will dispense any myths that life has been tough for us in the “wilds” of Africa.
The weather has been very mild and there has been very little rain. This is no coincidence as we planned the timing of this trip to avoid most of the rains. On an almost year-long trip, it is inevitable that we will strike rain at some stage. In the higher lying areas it has been a little chilly at night, especially memorable was the cold windy night on the rim of Ngorogora Crater when we had to pull out the winter wear. Mostly it has been a sweater (occasionally two) and a track suit bottom. At lower altitude the days can be fairly hot at this time of year, but not uncomfortably so. The evenings are lovely and balmy for camping with short sleeves and shorts. For the most part we have been wearing open shoes (slip slops). Mossies and tse tse flies have occasionally been a nuisance but for the mosquitoes the skin sprays have been very effective. On one or 2 occasions we have made acquaintance with fire ants which sneak into and under your clothing, giving you painful bites in the underworld. We are in frightingly rude health and truly our spirits are not flagging despite the duration, trying conditions at times and the possible monotony of camping life. It has helped that we have made provision to spoil ourselves in better accommodation from time to time. However we have both noticed that we sleep best in our roof top tent. We are jokingly referring to pull a stunt on the kids on our first night home (in about 5 months!) and sleep in the RTT in the driveway.
We have been on the road for 4 months now and still wake up in the mornings excited about a new destination and discoveries. Africa has not failed to keep amazing us and has made us proud to be born-and-bred Africans. The people have been almost unfailingly kind and we have always been made to feel welcome. They are particularly interested to meet genuine wazungu Africans. Setbacks there have been, including my spell of illness and some major vehicle problems, which seem inevitable given the travelling conditions and the load carried by the vehicle. Bitter experience has taught me to respect the durability of Slow Donkey and to realize the limits of even a Land Cruiser. Your vehicle and your wife need an equal amount of looking after if they are to be at their optimum. However life on the road in Africa is not an absolute bed of roses. A trip like this will test any relationship. I personally have had to try and curb my innate impatience. Anne is by nature far more laid back and when it comes to navigation and periods of relative stress like border crossings, I am slowly learning to curb myself. I suppose it would be even more difficult if the travelling companions know and understand each other less well. If we had other travelling partners as well it might have been more testing. As it is any decisions as to destinations and time spent at various places require careful consideration before strong opinions are expressed. Thank goodness we do not need to have committee meetings before any decisions are made. The flexibility of the way we are travelling has been a major boon. I daresay that this undertaking will bring us even closer together as there is nothing better to cement a relationship than shared experiences and triumph over adversities.
Wednesday was spent blogging, researching the next couple of stages of the journey, taking some photos of the amazing view and bird watching. Some good new birds seen. Then of course there was the inevitable washing of clothes and tidying up to do. We have decided not to eat at the lodge, mainly because there are no occupants and we are not confident the fare will be up to their normal standard. The other disappointment was that their wi-fi was down so it may be quite some time before I can post again. I could be wrong but don’t think the game reserve around here is any great shakes and have elected not to do any game drives. Tonight it is campfire time again and braaing one of the Andrew and brother’s fillets, I hope they are up to standard as we bought quite a few. At the price we could even use them for beef stew. Anne and I are both real carnivores but also both enjoy fish, chicken and pork. I am hoping to see if I can organize some fishing for Nile Perch near Murchisons, but the prices scare me a bit. We shall see!
Main photo. View over the immensity of Lake Albert from the front of the campsite.
1, 2 and 3. Views from the campsite.
4, 5 and 6. Views of the campsite and facilities.
7, 8, 9 and 10. The Lodge and views from it.
11, 12, 13, 14 and 15. Boats and fishermen on Lake Albert as seen from our commanding view.