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Nigeria, Benin and Togo

Friday, March 12th, 2010

We travelled through these countries quite quickly, due either to their small size, security warnings, or as we had decided to spend more time elsewhere, so have grouped them together.

Thursday 4 February

Nigeria was a bit of a whirl for us and a shame that, due to the recent troubles and travel warnings, we chose not to explore the country.  The ongoing insecurity in the South around the Delta region and more recent outbreaks of violence in the North around Jos meant we didn’t really have much choice but to take a direct route through the middle.

Felicity was stamped in fine on arrival, but Marc’s visa for Nigeria had been completed with the wrong date on it by the embassy, with an issue date in the future.  We kept quiet while the policeman pondered what to do and in our heads thinking he is surely going to ask for a costly bribe to let us through.  Surprisingly though he just wanted to help us to make sure that we would not have any further problems throughout our trip, gave his stamp and wished us well.

We then began the very dusty drive to Enugu, which is not too far in distance, but due to getting stopped by the police literally every 5 minutes progress was quite slow!  However, we found the police to be probably the friendliest out of all the countries we had visited so far; very helpful and often very overexcited to see us.  We were stopped dozens of times at every single police stop en route and if they had not been so exceptionally friendly we would have become pretty irritated.  As the light started to fade we began to get the knack of a bit of a rolling stop at a lot of the checkpoints –  preempting the questions with “We’re going to Enugu, we’re trying to get there before dark, thank you!” usually met with a reply of “Enugu, OK go, safe journey” and even on one occasion “We love you!” 

We reached Enugu quite late and places did not allow camping and thought we were very odd for wanting to camp in their carpark.  We arrived very dirty, dusty and sweaty at what was the rather posh looking Placia Guest House.  The rooms were nice and pretty cheap and despite looking us up and down, due to the state of our grubby clothes, the staff were very friendly! 

Saturday 6 February

We made the drive to Abeokuta in good time yesterday despite the driving being a little crazy, due to the massive lorries that come hurtling towards you and often being diverted on to the wrong side of the dual carriageway into the oncoming traffic without any signs or warning, which helped to keep us alert!

After getting a little lost trying to find the right border town we left Nigeria today and crossed into Benin.  Upon arrival in Benin there was no sign of any officials, customs or immigration.  We eventually found customs many kms from the border, but they did not have a clue what to do with our carnet and even they had no idea where immigration was for us to get our visas and passports stamped in.  So we spent the next couple of days as illegal immigrants in Benin and hoped that it would not be too much of a problem when we came to exit the country!

Our first stop in Benin was Abomey, where we camped at a lovely campsite called Chez Monique’s; full of wooden carvings, huge African chairs and a nice shady place to sit and relax after a few days driving in Nigeria.  We spent a lot of our time entertaining a few of the local kids with balls and balloons and they enjoyed trying to pluck hairs from Marc’s chest!

The next day we pootled South, stopping at Ganvie, which is a stilt village on the lake.  We hired a pirogue and drifted through the village, enjoying watching the daily life on the water and the hustle and bustle of the floating market where everyone sells their wares aboard their boats.  We stopped at one of the stilt restaurants and were served one of the best fish dinners we have had, partly because it was huge! 

After Ganvie we drove along the coast to Grand Popo and camped on the beautiful beach.  A few travellers came by to take photos of Bob and to quiz us on the route down.

Monday 8 February

Today we slightly nervously headed to the Togo border, wondering how much of an issue we were going to face for having no arrival visa, so not officially being in the country yet.  However, to our surprise there was no hassle, we were stamped in and out on the spot and were quickly on our way to the Togo capital, Lome.

Due to it being such a short drive through this narrow country we were there in enough time to get our applications in for our Ghana visa and to walk round the hectic, bustling Grand Marche.  The heat and humidity was intense and people constantly make hissing and kissing noises at you to attract your attention, which got a bit much at times, but once we had switched off to them it was fun having a mooch around.  We were mainly looking for some cool material for Marc, as we had seen some great suits in Togo and thought he ought to really get into the West African fashion scene!

We camped at Chez Alice, a little outside the city, which was a good spot and we met up with a few other overlanders here; a nice French couple, a German couple and a Brit who was biking.  They were all heading South, so again we were quizzed a lot, particularly about some of the harder countries that lay ahead and they were a little nervous about, such as safety in Nigeria, the Congos and Angola.

Tuesday 9 February

After another discussion about the route with the German couple over pancakes we went back to the market early on to have more of a look before it got so hot and bought material Marc had seen and liked for his suit.  We picked up our Ghana visas and headed to the Fetish Market.

Togo is a centre for voodoo religion in West Africa, so we thought we would check out a fetish market to see what it was all about.  It was very DIFFERENT - monkeys’ heads, dogs’ heads, chameleons, bones and skulls of every animal filled the stalls.  We had to meet the Fetish Master for the market, who took us into his strange back room and blessed us by talking to the spirit, in the form of a lump of iron and earth with eyes gouged in it.  He then talked us through the various fetishes we needed to keep us safe on our travels and in life.  We felt we should buy one, so as not to offend.  However, the starting price was ridiculous at £40 and so we politely declined.  After further consulation with the spirits though he told us we were lucky today, as the spirit decided we could have one cheaper.  Eventually the spirit told the Fetish Master it was OK for us to pay just £3 for two.  All part of an interesting experience!

In the evening the French couple invited us over to their camper for a glass of French wine and to talk about our travels.  Their English was as good as our French, so the conversation was always extremely animated whilst we tried with odd words to make conversation.  Marc’s French is not too bad and improving, however a few times when he has tried to have conversations in French recently they have replied saying sorry they dont speak English!

Wednesday 10 February

Today we left Lome, crossed the border and headed on to Accra.  The Togo police gave us a bit of hassle and were trying to fine us for driving up the wrong street at the border, but were clearly just after a bribe.  Travelling has taught us a lot of patience and we didn’t have particularly long drive today, so we made it quite clear to him that we were happy to sit and wait.  Locals again suggested we should just pay, so we could be on our way, but we opted to sit it out and eventually he got bored, accepted our apology and we were on our way.

Cameroon

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Sunday 24 January

We crossed into Cameroon yesterday, obtaining our visas at the border and travelling from Oyem to Yaounde (the capital of Cameroon) in an easy day’s drive.  Once we entered Cameroon there were many stops along the way; police, immigration, customs and road tolls.  Most officials waved us on with a minimum of fuss.  However, just outside Yaounde one policeman decided he was going to take exception to our steering wheel being on the right, which was against a law passed in July 2009.  We accepted that this may be the case, but suggested that if it was “interdit” it should have been pointed out before we were allowed in to the country and asked what we could do about it right now. However, he insisted we could not continue, should step down from the vehicle, he said he was confiscating our passports and that we did not understand what he was trying to explain to us in French.

We stepped down, agreed our steering wheel was on the right and not the left and made it pretty clear that we were prepared to wait, ignoring locals who suggested we just give him a few thousand to carry on.  Fortunately, at the same time, a car driving in the opposite direction annoyed him enough that he needed to rush over waving his gun at them.  The female police chief then came over, so we apologised again and agreed that next time we came to Cameroon the steering wheel would be on the left.  She smiled and let us carry on!

At the Mission in Yaounde we met the first overlanders on our return leg apart from one Land Rover we had passed on the road in Gabon.  In the morning we went in search of a big open air Mass we had read about in the book, open to all, with drumming dancing and singing.  However, arriving at the parish church the priest said he had been the priest there for years and had never heard of it.  We wandered around town a little and then headed back to the Mission to exchange details with the German guys.  Sat in the grounds of the mission another English couple then arrived, then a Dutch couple and finally an English guy on his motorbike; it felt a bit of a culture shock and being the only couple heading north our brains were picked and we noted a couple of places recommended by them, obviously over a few beers.

Monday 25 January

We made the relatively short drive on good roads to Limbe, a small fishing town in the South West.  We parked up at the Park Hotel Miramar and then went off to explore the town.  We wandered around the Wildlife Centre, home to a lot of rescued primates and then stopped for a beer at the fish market beside the black sand beach.  It is quite a nice little port town, but the most significant landmark is the oilrig just a few hundred metres from shore in the middle of the bay - you can’t help but stare and wonder at it!  We had a good finish dinner at a restaurant set on the hill beside the hotel.

Wednesday 27 January

Yesterday, after a quick swim, we drove the few kms to Buea via a scenic dirt track through the hills, set up camp by the Presbyterian Synod Office Rest House, and stopped by the Wildlife Office to book our hike up Mount Cameroon. 

First thing today we had to go to the Nigerian Embassy to apply for our visas and after an interview and a bit of a wait they were issued the same day.  We set off up the mountain in the early afternoon, later than planned, but pleased to already have our visas back.

Friday 29 January

We really enjoyed the hike up Mount Cameroon, which took us through varied terrain and landscape.  On Wednesday we climbed pretty steeply through the forest and then bare slopes of volcanic rock.  We arrived just before dark at the hut we were to sleep at. The guides immediately called it a night and went off to sleep in their room/section of the hut.  The huts were very basic and there were a lot of mice running around inside, one of which ran up Felicity’s leg. We decided to set our tent up on the sleeping platform and sat inside, whipping up delicious egg with curry paste sandwiches followed by a chocloate bar for dinner!

Yesterday, we trekked about 4 hours to the peak with the high altitude starting to take its toll, leaving Felicity not feeling the greatest!  It was rewarding to reach the summit, but pretty cold and very windy, so after a few quick photos we began the descent.  It was quite a long day of hiking, past caldera and over vast lava flows from previous eruptions to the forest, where about 10 hours later we arrived at the camp.  We had time to build a fire this evening and so cooked up a tuna and tomato pasta.

Today we walked the last few hours through thick forest back to Buea to a welcome shower, cold Pampelmousse and the incredible spectacle of the enormous, but identical blisters on each of Felicity’s big toes!

Saturday 30 January

We headed for Bamenda today, stopping to camp at Awing Crater Lake about 20 km before.  We found a lady who, in exchange for a lift, directed us down the dirt track to a deserted spot overlooking the beautiful lake.  There werea few basic huts and shelters and apparently usually a guard, but he was away at the moment.

We opened a bottle of wine and were then joined by two young kids who found us very interesting and offered to camp by the car all night, take us horse riding the next day and kill and bring us a monkey; each of which we politely declined on this occasion.

Sunday 31 January

When we reached Bamenda we first got one of Bob’s UJs changed.  Then we spent quite a while driving around, back and forth trying to find somoene who would let us camp.  Eventually we found someone to help us at the Presbyterian and were directed to a nice spot on the lawn in the middle of the centre.

Keen to get a bit of meat we decided to go out for dinner and at Dreamland Felicity ordered chicken and Marc a steak.  Unfortunately, steak was not possible, as they had to buy it from the market.  Opting for a burger he was told, “no, you can have that tomorrow”, then fish “no”!  When we asked what was available the reply was “chicken”.  Then, as a bit of an after thought, fried beef with sauce was also offered.  It would have been best to have gone with the chicken!

Tuesday 2 February

We set off anti-clockwise around the scenic ring road yesterday and made it to Kumbo in less time than expected.  We stopped at a hotel for a drink where a very friendly guy on a motorbike pulled up and chatted to us about the community projects that his organisation ran.  He then led us to a cheap hotel with a good view where we could camp for the night. 

We realised we had left our USB key at the internet place in Bamenda, so decided to drive back and get it first thing today, as the drive had not been that long.  We then carried on clockwise towards Wum to see the Metchum Falls.  When we felt we may be getting close we stopped from time to time to ask how far to the Falls.  However, they seemed to be always just 2-3km further on.  After several 2-3 kms we reached them and were quite impressed, as we had started to imagine a small ripple in the river.  We opted to head back and overnight at Bamenda, as the road was quite bad and the scenery had been better on the eastern side.  

Thursday 4 February

Yesterday we drove the short distance to Mamfe, which was relatively slow going on dirt road winding through the hills.  We camped outside the Data Club Hotel and the friendly manager took us to see an old German suspension footbridge nearby, high over the Cross River - walking across it felt very precarious!

Today we continued to the border town of Ekok.  The dirt road was again quite slow going, but as it was dry was not too bad.  As we drove through big trenches in the road, the walls of which were almost the height of the car on each side it was easy to imagine what this quite infamous stretch would be like in the rains!  We left Cameroon and crossed the river to Nigeria where we were greeted by a very smiley policeman, “Welcome to Nigeria, the safest country in Africa!”.

Gabon

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Wednesday 13 January

After getting our official entry stamps on Monday we carried on to Mayumba, which we had been looking forward to.  However, as we arrived late morning in Tchibanga there was a terrible grinding, screaming noise from the transfer box.  A noise had been starting to develop for a little while, but the Land Rover guys in Kinshasa said no problem it’ll make it all the way to England! We had expected something major at some point on our trip and the cost of a replacement gear, or transfer box in Gabon was immediately going through our minds.

We stopped at a Total garage in town and after listening the guy put a little grease in the gearbox and also said we were fine to carry on to England.  The screaming noise from Bob suggested otherwise and we headed to another local garage for a second opinion and met Martial.

Opening up the transfer box the teeth had clearly been broken off two of the gears.  It just so happened that Martial had another box lying around, which would solve our problems if the gears matched.  However, the going was not quick, so at the end of the day we were still not sure how long we would be there, or at what cost.

Fortunately, toward the end of the day we met Jean from Belgium who had a place on the river, 2 minutes down the track and very kindly offered us a bed in his living room for the night.  This turned out to be even more of a result, as the managers of the Modibotie Hotel then invited us to dinner with him.  We had earlier been dreaming, as we sat around waiting, about what we would eat if we went there, but certainly wouldn’t have afforded the prawns, lobster, pizza, beef skewers spread that was laid out and enough to feed about 10!

Next day we learnt that the gears did not match and so Martial set about trying to find another option and Defenders that may be suitable donors for Bob started popping up all over the place!  Eventually one was found, but it was clear that we weren’t going to make it away that day, so we crashed at Jean’s again…. and again the following day after some last minute trouble and a replacement battery we camped at Jean’s for a final night.

Tuesday 19 January

We did eventually end up making it away on Thursday.  On the small ferry over to the Mayumba peninsula we met Richard and Aimee who lived in Mayumba and had been involved in the turtle and conservation projects there for a few years.  They invited us to camp by the research house and join them for dinner and a couple of beers, so after exploring the town a bit on our own we headed over to theirs.

Friday was Marc’s birthday, so we went in search of a deserted beach spot we had heard about to bush camp.  We picked up a fish from the market, a bottle of ‘special’ wine and few beers on the way.  We drove about half an hour through forest and open grassland with water spraying up over the car until we reached the perfect place to camp – about 100km of deserted white sand beach, backed by rainforest and the lagoon!  We put up the awning and did fairly little othe than watch the sea, swim in the sea and drink cold beer!  We then dug a pit on the beach and grilled our fish dinner over the fire.

It was leatherback turtle nesting season and this is also one of the best beaches in the world for them.  So at midnight we got up to walk along the beach to see if we would get lucky.  As we walked the phosphorescence from plankton washed up on the beach lit up the sand around our feet.  We also came across fresh buffalo tracks, but sadly no sign of turtles.

The next night we went looking twice during the night and found a couple of nests and one set of very fresh tracks from a huge turtle.

It turned out that Richard and Aimee’s place was very nearby on the edge of the lagoon.  We were loving our beach spot so much we had decided to stay another night and so on Sunday we wandered over to see them.  We borrowed their kayaks and paddled off through the forest on the lagoon to a little village to try to buy essentials; bread and some more beers! We went out again for turtles and still nothing.

We were finding Mayumba hard to leave though and so just one more day on the beach!  That night we did find tracks and a nest again, but had missed the turtle. Starting to give up hope that we would see a turtle we finally came across a single set of tracks and excitedly knew that meant it had not yet returned to the sea.  We quietly followed the tracks up the beach and then watched for about half an hour, as the turtle dug its nest, laid her eggs, buried them and then returned to the sea.

Of course we woke this morning to find another set of tracks and nest about 20 metres from our campsite!

Thursday 21 January

Our next stop was Lamberene.  By now we were loving the Missions and we camped with the Soeurs D’Immacule Conception for a couple of nights.  Drained of emergency cash by the transfer box we drove around Lambarene yesterday trying to find somewhere to change Traveller’s Cheques, pounds, or dollars, but it wasn’t a day anyone felt like doing it, so we had to accept the inevitable diversion to Libreville to find an ATM.

Getting cash from the ATMs in Libreville wasn’t a straight forward process either.  We drove around the city trying ATM after ATM, but it seemed there was a connection problem today. Inside the main branch of one of the largest banks in Gabon a guy tried to assist us, but had to agree that the ATMs weren’t working.  The lady with the VISA sticker on her counter window was also ‘unable’ to give us cash on our cards.  Seeing she also had a Traveller’s Cheques ‘Bienvenue’ sticker we attempted to change ours with her, but apparently today they were not ‘welcome’ either.

The day ended well though when we found a blue nun who ‘yes had somewhere we could stay 50 metres away’.  We went out to treat ourselves to dinner; steak and delicious king prawns.

In the night we were woken by the lady in the next door room with her baby who was very distressed, pointing toward the car and saying fire.  The smoke was coming from her room though and the fan cable was sparking, smoking and catching alight.  We used a broom to knock out the lead and then went back to bed, leaving some relieved looking nuns.

Friday 22 January

We made for the Cameroon border today.  This was a major route for convoys of logging trucks that travel at a pace downhill, usually led by a 4×4 vehicle with flashing lights, warning you to get out of their way.  Driving through the hills we were made to stop and wait, as a big cycle race ‘eventually’ went past.

 We stayed the night at a large Mission on a hill in Oyem with good views and facilities and asked for just a voluntary donation for camping.

The Congos (DRC and Republic of Congo)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Sunday 3rd January

Now in daylight we could see the spectacular scenery of the Congo River.  This border crossing broke the record as our longest yet, taking 4 ½ hours.  The first immigration guy spent 1 ½ hours picking up our passports, flicking through them, putting them down, staring at them, picking them up, flicking, putting them down and staring at them until finally, with the assistance of a second colleague, he put a stamp in, still looking a little anxious that he had put it in the right place!  Then the customs man was out. 

On the DRC side immigration was relatively quick and after sitting in a dark room with the Chief who examined every fine detail of our passports with a UV scanner we were told to go to customs before we could get them back.  The customs man was at church, so we sat and sat and sat until he finally returned just after lunch!  A brief check of our car and requests for presents and we were on our way to Matadi.  This was a considerably larger and more bustling town than Noqui on the Angolan side.  After a brief search we found the catholic mission where 2 very friendly staff let us camp and looked after us very well. 

Monday 4th January

Our aim today was to get through the DRC to Congo to stay in Brazzaville where we planned to apply for our Gabon visas.  DRC is very pretty, but massive and there are several national parks that would be great to visit, but unfortunately to get to these by road is almost impossible and in some areas a little dangerous.  

The road to Kinshasa is tarred the whole way, which was a real contrast to Angola and we made good time, but as it was a holiday today the ferry to Brazzaville was not working.  We found one mission, which wasn’t used to receiving campers, but they suggested staying across the road.  However,it wasn’t a very nice spot and we didn’t feel very safe there, so we went in search of another option.  We found another church and the lovely Father Theo, who was very accommodating and let us camp at St. Annes residence next to the cathedral for free.  It was a great place, we had use of a room for showers, the kitchen and free Wi-fi, the saff were lovely and we felt very safe.

Thursday 7th January

Our one night at Father Theo’s turned into 4 nights, as we decided to get our Gabon visas (which were completed the same day without an invitation letter) and found a Land Rover garage where we could get a few bits done on Bob.  We tried leaving Kinshasa several times, but each time there was a problem with the ferry, so we made the most of the free accommodation and the shop that sold ice-creams nearby.

Friday 8th January

We had been told the ferry would be fixed today, so we headed off in the hope of crossing to Brazzaville.  However, when we got to the port and met our very helpful immigration services contact, Bebe, she eventually confirmed it just wasn’t going to happen, as there was a serious problem and it still wouldn’t be ready until Monday or Tuesday.  We went back to St. Annes and comtemplated what to do, as despite it being a peaceful place to be delayed we were eager to get going again.  We then got a phone call from Bebe, saying come quick, as the ferry with the serious problem would now leave at 10.00.  We weren’t long at the port before it became clear that this was all a little hopeful, sorry but it wouldn’t be fixed until Monday. 

Off we went again, dubious as to whether the ferry would be ready for Monday.  We gave a couple of other routes into Congo some thought and decided another option through Cabinda (a small Angolan territory) may be feasible with our existing Angola visas. Despite having to backtrack to Matadi it would probably be quicker than waiting until Monday.  As we walked out the door to set off we bumped into Bebe and her colleague who had walked there to tell us that the ferry was again going today, but we need to rush.  3rd time lucky we did make it on to the ferry and it did make it across the river! 

When we arrived in Congo, we got through customs and immigration very quickly, despite a very forceful and annoying guy who insisted he worked everywhere, but was just after money from us.  Loving the nuns now, we headed to the mission in town and camped there for the night.

Saturday 9th January

We left early today on the road from Brazzaville to Dolisie, which we had not been looking forward to, having read a couple of other blogs.  The road passes through a region where a notorious rebel group called the Ninjas operate and some people had taken days to complete.  This road is clearly very dependent on the rains and we had got a bit lucky and caught a dry spell, managing to make it along the muddy trachks after a long day’s drive.  We fortunately did not meet with the Ninjas and the only bribes/fees we had to pay were to people working on the road who had blocked the way.  Each toll started high, but after some negotiation was reasonable and we were happy to pay a little for them making the route passable.  Half expecting to get robbed we managed to complete the journey down only CFA2000 (about $5), a few cigarettes and a packet of crisps!

Sunday 10th January

We left the mission in Dolisie early again, keen to have plenty of time to make it across the border into Gabon today.  The drive was more scenic and relaxed than the previous day, passing through some unusual dome shape hills and across a few rivers and the dirt road was in reasonable condition. 

The most time consuming part of the journey was the number of staggered customs, immigration and police checkpoints along the way that you had to stop at to register all your details and get stamped out of the Congo a couple of times between Nyanga and Ndende.  There were the usual requests for ‘cadeaux’, which we responded blankly to and at Nyanga the Chief insisted we pay for a form that we did not need.

The police station in Ndende where we had to get officially stamped into Gabon was closed, as it was Sunday, so actually already in Gabon we headed for our intended bush campsite about 20km north of the town by an old quarry with a good view over the forest and a large rocky outcrop.

 

Angola

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Angola

 

 

 

Wednesday 23 December

We said goodbye to tar roads at the Ruacana border between Namibia and Angola.  After a relatively smooth border crossing and a small bribe we bounced along the bumpy, vague tracks of Angola hoping to make it to Namibe in one day.  The pretty much non-existent roads and marshy swamps made it slower going than we expected and when we finally got onto one of the main roads through the country it was probably even worse!  The GPS described it as badly potholed but this was an understatement and we drove most of the way on the muddy side tracks.  We stopped briefly to winch out another 4×4 that had got stuck in the mud and, having long before abandoned the idea of reaching Namibe in a day, just made it to Lubango as darkness fell.  We found a campsite marked on our GPS, but were sure we were in the wrong place, as we pulled up into the carpark of the posh Casper Lodge.  To our surprise they did have a camping area, although we quickly learned camping in Angola, as with most things (diesel excluded), is not cheap!

Whilst the driving was slow going, the scenery of Angola is beautiful and varied and the roads definitely make it interesting! 

Friday 25 December

Yesterday we made it to Flamingo Lodge in the desert just south of Namibe.  This place really is in the middle of nowhere, but situated in a good spot overlooking the coast and surrounded by sand dunes and canyons.  To be honest our first impressions were not amazing, as we thought back to the previous Christmas kite-surfing in Zanzibar!  Many reviews we had read described this as the highlight of most people’s visit to Angola and we were slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead!  However, as the manager and our guide, Bruce said when we were out driving it grows on you.  And we had to agree as we pulled up into an impressive canyon, having spent the morning driving along the deserted coastline; either that or the Christmas beers were taking effect!

We started our Christmas Day cooking up pancakes in the desert and ‘Flashing Santa’ was up early! Bruce had also invited us poor campers up for a free Christmas dinner at the lodge and despite still finding campsites in Angola pricey this was one of the first all-inclusive we had been to!  It was a fantastic fish buffet, including oysters the size of your hand, from a spot we stopped at that morning.  The others guests were a mix of nationalities and great company, the hospitality at the lodge was exceptional and we had a very memorable and enjoyable Christmas. 

Sunday 27 December

After Flamingo Lodge we drove along the coastal road to Baia Azul.  It was a beautiful drive through the mountains, although again with little tar it was slow going and we got a puncture on the way.  We made it to the beach and were told it was fine just to drive down someone’s driveway onto the beach and camp there the night.  It was a pretty little bay, a nice beach and free, the only drawback being the unusual private house/club we had parked next to started to pump out loud dance music not long after we climbed into the tent!  

In the morning we went for a swim before pottering along the coast to Benguela.  We found a lovely place run by an American lady, named Nancy, who didn’t have camping facilities, but said for Christmas we could stay in a room for the same price as we would normally pay for camping.  We enjoyed the luxury of an ensuite with hot showers and with internet access to try to make some plans for our route and visas!

Friday 1 January

We left Benguela on Tuesday to continue north to the capital, Luanda.  We enjoyed being on one of the very few tarred roads in Angola and stopped briefly along the way at a beach called Caba Ledo where we were considering staying for New Year and Miradouro de Lua; a viewpoint with strange rock formations just outside the city.  Our only other brief delay was at one of the police checkpoints we were stopped at.  The policewoman wished us ‘Bon Fete’, which means Happy Christmas/Holidays, or give me a present!  This started a game of us playing extremely dumb, unable to understand any language and simply repeating everything she said: “Bon fete” “Bon fete”, “Para mi” “Para mi”, “Bon fete para mi” “Bon fete para mi” “Dinero” “Dinero” ……… until she got a bit bored and wondering how such stupid people had ever got here indicated that we carry on.

We were a little apprehensive about Luanda, as the most positive comments people had made until now were “In the top 3 worst cities in Africa” and “Avoid at all costs!”  However, we were lucky to have been invited to stay with a lovely French couple, Benoit and Coralie, who we met at Christmas and found their condominium quite easily.  Their house was really nice, with a swimming pool and a gym and large pool on the complex.  We made the most of the luxury for a couple of days and they looked after us very well.  The first day Benoit even arranged for his driver to take us into town to sort out our Congo visas, so we travelled into town in air-conditioned comfort.  The following day we went to collect our passports and Congo visa on our own and despite crawling back in traffic with our windows wound halfway for security and sweaty pants again without the A/C we agreed that Luanda was not really quite as bad as had been made out.

We saw the New Year in with a couple of bottles of champagne and a midnight dip, refreshed and ready to continue our journey on New Year’s Day!

Sunday 3 January

We knew the roads heading north were not so great and so we planned to make it across the boarder to Matadi in two days.  We stopped the first night at Nzeto, quite a big town, but without much in it! Despite seeming a little odd we found the people friendly and felt safe, so we drove on to the beautiful stretch of beach and a little north of the town and camped there for the night.  Felicity’s main worry was the size of the monster crabs that started coming out at sunset and seemed willing to stand and fight if you approached them.

We had a bit of a delayed start yesterday trying to find gear oil in Nzeto.  After paying quite a lot for a couple of litres we were not too convinced was gear oil and refusing their hugely inflated diesel (no pumps up here at all), we found another guy who very kindly gave us some of the oil that he had for his lorry, so we topped up an carried on.

After about 100km of good resurfaced road we turned off toward Nqui, the border town in Angola, with about 150km to go and were soon questioning who actually crosses this border, as it was a small rocky, muddy, hilly track through the jungle, not passable by the majority of vehicles.  As we plodded along we started to realise that we may not make it across to DRC; not our ideal situation between Angola and DRC!  However, we were a little reassured by how friendly the people were as we drove through the small villages; the adults and kids would suddenly give beaming smiles, double handed waves and cheers.   

When we passed a big truck stuck in the mud the guys waved at us to help them out and feeling we would quite like to have some new best friends about now we decided to put Bob to the test.  We hooked the winch on to their lorry and slowly, but surely and to the delight of the drivers and few passengers Bob dragged the vehicle from the mud – our new best friends were secured! We carried on ahead until at one bad uphill there was a huge explosion.  We stopped to find that one of our shocks had broken and sliced through the sidewall of the tyre.  With the light starting to fade there was no time to hang around, so we quickly set about changing the wheel and removing what was left of the shock.  During this time the guys in the lorry had caught us and stopped to check we were OK, then confirmed that they would find somewhere for us to stay when we reached Nqui.  

We followed on now in the dark and when we got there the guy who owned the lorry parked up between a few homesteads and directed us to park alongside, a little out of sight and with our broken French confirmed we would be perfectly safe camping here for the night.

In the morning we set about assessing the damage and replacing the shock and arrived early at the border post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namibia - Part 2

Thursday, December 31st, 2009
Namibia - Part 2

 

 

Tuesday 15 December

After crossing the border into Namibia, we stocked up with supplies in Katima and headed for a campsite which we liked the name of…’Bum Hill’!  It was a brilliant community run campsite where you had your own ablution block and private viewing tower over the Kwando River.  The next night we camped at the West of the Caprivi Strip in another great spot, Ngepi camp.  Again located right on the river and we even had an open-air tin bath at sunset looking out at the hippos!

Thursday 17 December

From Ngepi we drove to Etosha National Park to meet up with Marc’s mum and celebrate an early Christmas together.  ‘Flashing Santa’ from Tanzania was brought out of his crate and we had picked up some cheap Christmas lights; we even managed to find crackers and a bit of Christmas cake to make it seem more Christmassy!  We had a good couple of days game viewing and saw lots of Springbok, hyenas and giraffe.

Monday 21 December

We left Etosha through the northern gate to explore Kaokoland in the far North-west of Namibia.  After getting stopped and Felicity being told she was going to be arrested for not having paid road tax, we had to make a quick detour to the nearest border to pay the toll.  We then went to Kunene River Lodge on the border of Angola, which is owned by a family friend of Marc’s.  It was a beautiful spot and we had a relaxing afternoon after the long hot drive. 

The next day the adventure began in 4×4 territory.  Roads dissappeared and we followed the gravel and GPS to Epupa Falls first to see the waterfall and camp for the night. Next day we headed for Van Zyl’s Pass, a notorious and very challenging track West through the mountains. The gravel had soon become rocky trails and much slower going.  As we got closer to the campsite just before the pass we had to drive some very steep, rocky and narrow sections, which left us apprehensive as to what was ahead of us the next day.

We woke early to do the 16km pass before it got too hot.  The pass is very up, down, windy and rocky and in some places a bit ridiculous what you had to go down - this was a day of serious 4×4!!  The guidebooks describe it as a treachorous pass.  At each tricky bit we stopped at the top to assess what was below us, plan our route of attack down the rocks and Marc to have his nervous wee! It was brilliant fun, a real adventure and definitely got the adrenaline pumping! Got some good videos, which we will try to upload.  The pass is also worth the challenge for the absolutely amazing scenery.

Kaokoland is a really beautiful wilderness area and we had a brilliant few days exploring and seeing the Himba tribes people as we travelled.

 

 

Zambia and Zimbabwe

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

 

3rd December

Our last week in Malawi was hectic running around saying our goodbyes but we finished on a high with a great party!  The local staff who we have been working with have been amazing and became good friends and we were very sad to say goodbye to them.  As a surprise we told them all to meet us at 12 at the house, played a few games and then took them out for a boat trip on a posh boat that we had borrowed from a nearby lodge.  They absolutely loved it and spent the entire time singing and dancing (oh and drinking!).  We then continued the party back at the house, where we had traditional dancers in and a few goats roasting on the fire, some fireworks and the atmosphere was great as most of the village came.

The next morning we headed off on the next leg of our adventure.  We crossed into Zambia and headed to Chipata for a much needed rest after our busy week.  The following day we hit Lusaka with the aim of getting our visas for Angola. 

It is now day 4 in Lusaka and we are still waiting to see if we are successful in getting the visas.  Angola is not an easy country to get the visa for, so we have our fingers crossed!  Marc has made friends with the embassy receptionist on Facebook so hopefully that will help!!! 

8th December

Success in getting the Angola visa! Many people had told us that we wouldn’t get it so we were pleased to have it and headed straight to the Democratic Republic of Congo Embassy to get that visa, which was a lot more straight forward and ready the same day for us.

The next day we headed to Livingstone to check out Vic Falls. It was great to see, as when we had seen it from the Zimbabwe side in May there was so much water thundering over we could barely see anything through all the spray.  We took the walk, quite literally along the top of the falls, to Livingstone island and jumped into Devil’s Pool, which is a small pool on the lip of the falls that is safe (ish) to jump into.  You had to swim across the river just a few metres back from the falls and head for ‘safe areas’ as the water was neck deep with strong currents in some places.  Once we were at the pool and perched on the edge of the falls, the guide then informed us it was quite dangerous today, due to the rain and high water and that they would stop tourists going in any time from now! 

We did chuckle (afterwards!), as the group who went in following us consisted of a man who clearly was not a confident swimmer and decided to swim back stroke, not looking where he was going, nor following the guide and kept ending up in the strong currents, which resulted in everyone fearing that he was going to get swept over the edge. Even once he jumped into the pool the group had to shout at him to come closer to them as he was heading for the ‘no return’ bit of the pool! It was a great day and we headed back to find a nice campsite on the edge of the Zambezi River for sundowners.

 The rains have staretd here and we have had some intense thunderstorms, although this has resulted in a slightly soggy car inside, due to Bob’s holes and gaps in the floor and doors!  We have also had a bit of mechanical work done on Bob, by Foleys Africa, here to make sure he is ready for his adventure home and hopefully should be on our way to Zimbabwe tomorrow!

13th December

With Bob mechanically checked over and ready to carry on our journey we headed into Zimbabwe to Hwange National Park.  We had a great time in Hwange and once again had the park to ourselves, as very few tourists go there still.  We had good game viewing and spent the last night sleeping out in a hide by a water hole.  As soon as it got dark, the elephants began to appear silently from all directions to drink from the waterhole.  Our spotlight had run out, but there was a huge electric storm on the horizon and the flashes kept lighting up the elephants white against the darkness and there were soon 40-50! They continued to appear throughout the night only given away by the sound as they sucked the water up through their trunks.

It was a little scary with all the animals around and no barrier between us and them, and Felicity was worried about spiders crawling on her in the night.  However, in the night she jumped up saying she had tomato in her eyes and was scooping the tomato off!……it was actually a frog not tomato that had jumped onto her face and she flicked it off on to Marc!

After a relaxing few days in Hwange we carried on to Botswana to spend the night in Chobe before continuing to Namibia the next day.

 

 

Malawi 2

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Malawi June 2009 – December 2009

Sorry for the delay in updating…we have just been having too much fun!  Since our last blog we have been working in Malawi for Malawi Volunteer Organisation.  Malawi Volunteer Organistion is focussed on community projects along the lake shore near Monkey Bay.  MVO works in 3 main areas which are Medical, Sports and Education.  The medical programme is fantastic as the volunteers assist at the local underfunded and understaffed hospital, work in the communities educating them in Home Based care and also the Malaria prevention team do a fantastic job of distributing nets. For the teaching side of things we work with 2 local primary schools assisting in classes of up to 200 kids and running afterschool activities for them, plus we coach a variety of sports each day too. 

Its been fantastic and we have both learnt so much from this experience and it is a place that we will never forget and the people will stay in our hearts.  In particular the team of local staff that we work with here and the kids from our local sports team have really made this experience for us.

Our days revolve around ensuring that all the volunteers are doing well at the projects (and answering there never endless questions that they have), managing the staff, helping out with new ideas and project initiatives, teaching volleyball, football, computer lessons and wildlife lessons.  All in all it has been amazing and we are both going to be sad to leave.  However, the new adventure beckons and Bob is keen to get back on the road.

The 1st December will see our new adventure begin, driving back to the UK, this time through West Africa.  We could have been sensible and return home, get jobs and put Bob on a ship, but that would be BORING! So in our plan to circumnavigate Africa we will be on our way again in the next few weeks!  West Africa is a lot more unknown to both of us, but we are ready for the challenging countries and challenging roads that go with it.

 

 

Zambia

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Tuesday 19 May

Due to time and funds we had decided we wouldn’t do much in Zambia, except for go to South Luangwa National Park.  Yesterday we stopped off in Lusaka overnight and today at Mama Rula’s just outside Chipata. We had a couple of beers with Martin, a biker who we met in Lusaka who was biking around the world.

Wednesday 20 May

We drove the final 130km to South Luangwa today, which took 3 hours; the dirt road started off OK, but then became pretty crap.  We arrived at Wildlife Camp and were initially given a room, which was very nice.  Then we went to look at the campsite and asked if we could move, as it was a beautiful spot, right on edge of the river, overlooking a hippo island.

We were taken on an evening game drive into the Park.  We saw an incredible mount, including elephant, wild dog, lion, hyena, leopard, hippos and much more.  However, it was a little like being on the M25, especially when it got dark and the spotlights were turned on, as we could clearly see the convoy of vehicles that were driving the same circuit.  When we found a leopard we were soon joined by a number of other vehicles and they all lit him up like a Christmas Tree, by which point Marc’s blood pressure had started to go through the roof, feeling stressed for the leopard!

Friday 22 May

Yesterday we had a morning game drive, where we saw less, but also fewer vehicles.  We chatted to the owner and then relaxed for the rest of the day.

Today we made the very short drive to Nkwali Lodge.  This was very luxurious, but without being over the top and with open fronted rooms overlooking the river.  Shortly after we arrived we also had a look at Luangwa House, which is for exclusive use of groups of 4-8 and is seriously grand with its own staff and each en-suite bedroom in a unique style, like wood, glass, brass! 

We had lunch and then went out for an evening game drive with our own guide.  We didn’t see much, but it was very peaceful, as there were no other lodges driving the area and we stopped at great viewpoint for sundowners.

Saturday 23 May

Today we visited another lodge, before having a game drive to the more remote bush camps.  On the way we saw a big male lion.  When we got close to the bush camps we were met by staff and an armed scout in a small fibreglass boat that they poled across the fast flowing and hippo filled river; we didn’t feel very hippo proof!  We had lunch t one of the camps before making the journey back.

We were going to have the afternoon off and give Kanga, our guide, a break, but then they told us the Wild Dogs had been just across the river in the morning, so 45 minutes later (allowing Marc just enough time to have a quick migraine) we were off again.  This was probably our most enjoyable drive, as we found and then just sat with the dogs until they became active and then started hunting impala, which was very exciting.  There was also a guest appearance from Robert the warthog, who had been orphaned and hand reared by one of the guides, so is semi-tame.  He emerged from a storm drain and in a fairly surreal scene wandered around between the two vehicles of photographers with such confidence and total disregard for the dogs that they didn’t know what to make of him.

Zimbabwe

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Sunday 3 May

At the Zim border we got charged the customary high Visa fees for being British and the various other taxes that the customs guy was adding up for us included a $5 ‘handling fee’, which they didn’t issue a receipt for.  We questioned this and he said sometimes he let people off it.  We asked why he didn’t like us and then he decided that he would also let us off on this occasion.

We arrived at Vic Falls and found a backpackers to camp at, half the price of the local campground. Then we went down to the Victoria Falls Hotel to enjoy the view over a couple of ciders (not the traditional afternoon high tea).

Tuesday 5 May

It was a drizzly day yesterday, so we caught up with email etc.  This morning the rain had stopped, so we walked to Victoria Falls.  The water was very high, due to the exceptionally high rainfall there had been this year and it was also a bit misty when we got to the Falls, so it was quite hard to get a view of them through all the spray, which drenched us as we walked along the trail.  However, once the mist had burnt off there were waves in the spray when we could get a decent look at the Falls and a good impression of how powerful and immense they are.

In Vic Falls you could get a strong feeling for just how desperate a state the country is in.  Although it is quieter being low season the town looks pretty rundown for what was one of Africa’s most popular tourist attractions.  Most obvious though was how desperate the street traders are.  The currency is now completely worthless (Forex being used instead), except as souvenirs sold to tourists who want one of the newly printed 100 trillion dollar notes, and the traders are willing to barter almost anything for their ware, including one guy who wanted to trade for some bread we had in the back of the car!  Despite this though, our experience wasn’t that they became a nuisance; a polite and firm no was still accepted and often resulted in a friendly chat.

 We left Vic Falls for Hwange National Park and had a game drive through to our campsite when we arrived.  It felt like we had the park to ourselves (we saw one other vehicle while we were there) and we were surprised by the amount of wildlife we saw, including good general game, a large herd of sable, quite a lot of ele, giraffe and buffalo.  

Wednesday 6 May

We had a morning drive in the Park, stopping at a viewing platform to cook up bacon sandwiches for breakfast.  During breakfast we spotted a cheetah; actually the giraffe spotted and stared at it for long enough for us to notice it too and we watched it for a while until it was time to head off to Bulawayo.

We arrived just after dark at Packers Paradise where we stayed and after some negotiation on price we were going to reluctantly leave Bob and the gang to catch the coach back down to South Africa.

Tuesday 12 May

On Thursday afternoon we caught the coach down to Joburg and then on to Durban for the Indaba travel show; a business to business trade show where lots of tour operators, lodges etc. exhibit.  We spent 3 days there and caught the coach back on Monday evening, arriving back in Bulawayo late today.  Our experience of the coach journeys was not fantastic and definitely no plans to trade this for driving.  The 4 journeys included one where we seemed to have one of the very few working speakers which meant we were blasted by the Best of Jazz Hymns and crap African dramas loud enough for everyone else to hear, one very religious route where the entertainment was almost entirely preaching and one sweaty sauna coach where they seemed unwilling to put the air on at all.

However, our most surreal story from the few days was from our journey down to S.A. from Zim.  We reached the border at about 20.45 and crossed quickly through Zim immigration.  However, reaching the S.A. border post we found a queue of literally thousands of people and none of them white, which was barely moving at all (we later learned that about a week earlier S.A. government had granted free visas to anyone from Zim).  As we stood waiting, lightning approached, the wind picked up and eventually it began pouring with rain.  The crowd ran toward the buildings, trying to get some shelter from the overhanging roofs and squeeze into the sheltered passageway.  We were still stood out in the rain with no coats, getting soaked and in the crowd Marc luckily felt someone trying to unbutton his pocket and pick his wallet.  The queue still seemed to be going nowhere, but we squeezed with the crowd into a covered entrance to a courtyard.  This started to feel a little unsafe, as the crowd would surge forward from time to time and it was becoming quite crushed.

Eventually we made it into the welcome space of the courtyard where we could see the entrance to the immigration office that thousands of people were waiting to get into.  In the chaos and rain there was no semblance of a queue and it seemed immigration were refusing to let people in, shouting at them that they must queue, but no one could really hear them in the crowd.  We tried to join what looked like some form of main queue and continued to wait in the rain.

At about midnight, all of a sudden an immigration official came charging out of the office door with a large cane bull whip, running at the crowd that we were stood in and whipping violently at them.  Everyone panicked to try to get out of his way and we got swept back with the running crowd, struggling not to trip over and losing our shoes.  Everyone then stood pressed up against the walls surrounding the courtyard with loads of shoes scattered in a pool of water in the middle and all too scared to try to get them.  Both of us were completely shocked by this and Marc had enough and walked out to find our shoes, luckily without a further attack from psycho whip man!

Still there was no real order and it was difficult to know where the queue was intended to be, so we just moved a little away from the place where whip man was and watched.  Again he launched an attack on the crowd like something out of a movie.  After this whipping was over one woman stood nearby us was crying and rolling up her sleeve to look at her wrist, as if it were broken and revealing a large, bleeding whip mark across her arm.  We tried to move to where we thought the guy was forming the queue and he suddenly started coming at the people we were walking with, shouting ‘doesn’t matter black or white’ and caught Felicity on the heel with the whip.

Finally, after about 4 hours, another immigration guy managed to lead some South African passport holders, who would not take long to process, out of the courtyard to form another queue outside and then file around to the exit side of the immigration building.  We jumped at the opportunity and snuck ourselves into the small group.

Finally we were stamped in and made it back to the coach where we had to rest while those who had given up trying earlier had to go back again with the driver.  A couple of hours later everyone was back and we just had to unload all our bags and carry them through customs before we could set off. 

At 4am, after about 7 hours of a completely unbelievable experience we were on our way to Joburg again!

Thursday 14 May

We left Bulawayo and drove to Antelope Park yesterday.  After a good 3-course dinner we rushed back to the room, excited that we could finally start watching Prison Break Season 4!

Today we were up early for a walk with some of the lions that are part of the rehabilitation programme there.  We then had to drive all the way back to Bulawayo, because we had left the power cable for our laptop at the internet cafe and chances of picking up a replacement anywhere on our route any time soon were very slim.  Thankfully the drive was at least worth it, as the cable was there.

As soon as we got back to Antelope Park we went on an elephant ride with some rescued elephants and then lazed in the sun by the lake.

Saturday 16 May

Yesterday we made the long drive to Mana Pools, which we had really been looking forward to.  Everyone who we had spoken to who had been and even many who had not had raved about this place and rightly so.  We camped last night at a perfect spot right on the edge of the Zambezi River, which is packed with hippos and enjoyed the sunset to the tune of their calls.

This morning we had an early drive and explored the fairly minimal network of tracks along the river and Long Lagoon slightly inland.  Late morning we found a lion and lioness mating, which someone had told us were in the area.  We got back to camp to find a large ele bull stood under the tree that the night before had been our shade and sat and watched as he nonchalantly did a massive poo in our camping area and then strolled lazily past some of the other tents that had been left set up.

After sitting out the heat of the afternoon we were packing up for another drive when we spotted what we thought was the same ele bull, or actually the tip of his trunk, making its way across the wide river to a small island in the middle, which had obviously taken his fancy. 

This evening we stayed at a private wilderness campsite again by the river, because it was so close to where the lions were.  We set up camp, lit a fire and a semi-circle of tea-lights, had a good dinner and then retired to Bob’s deck for an open air cinema viewing of Prison Break under an amazing starry sky with lions calling in the background!

Sunday 17 May

We had just enough cash to stay another night and get through the border to Zambia and we really wanted to see the Wild Dogs, so we stayed another day.  On our morning drive we saw 4 hyena one with an impala head and horns in its mouth.  After our drive we parked up and then went for a walk – Mana Pools is one of the only parks in Africa that has lions and elephant and you can walk unaccompanied.  

Monday 18 May

We had decided not to drive to Livingstone in Zambia today, as it was a very long diversion off our route and we were going to be there again in December, so there was no rush to set off.  We had a short drive and then breakfast by the river, but sadly still no Wild Dogs.  

On the way out we drove through a blizzard of white butterflies for kilometres along the road. Then way up in the distance Marc spotted something lying in the road and then we made out it was a Wild Dog!  As we got closer we could see there were quite a few of them lying just beside the road and they were very relaxed with us.  We parked up and watched them for a while, with no one else around, and counted 21 in total; an excellent finish to our stay in a very beautiful Park.