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Kenya

Day: 210

KLMS: 31,113

As time frames and money begin to run out, Kenya for us was really going to be little more than a pitstop in Nairobi to get the visas we needed for heading north into Ethiopia and Sudan. Despite the less than ideal situation in Northern Africa, we have had confirmation from both locals and other travellers that it’s still ok to travel through, as long as certain areas are avoided. So with the decision made, we braced ourselves for a stressful few days, tackling the hell-bound traffic, in a notoriously dangerous city, to dance through the ridiculous hoops of the visa application process.

As we entered into Kenya, we began the steady climb up onto the western rift to the town of Eldoret, which at 2,500m provides the tough training ground for most of Kenya’s marathon champions. The cooler climate, the open fields and the roadside markets selling carrots, cabbages, onions, rhubarb(!), made it all suddenly seem very British, it was rather lovely. We found a great camp just outside town called Naiberi, where we could have happily stayed for a few days, but alas it was full steam ahead to Nairobi the next day.

Eldoret - Wall of champions

Eldoret – Wall of champions

 

Driving into the city, we were both quite surprised at how smart and modern everything looked. I think due its reputation we’d expected nothing more than some slum-ridden hole and as we drove into Karen to find the legendary campsite Jungle-Junction, the tree-lined streets could have been taken straight out of Richmond! Jungle-Junction is famous amongst overlanders – the central must-stop place to re-stock and repair before heading either north or south. As a famous cross-roads, it also means overlanders can swap valuable information about the ‘other side’ as well as finding new buddies to travel with on the lesser known roads. However, being low season and with problems in North Africa putting off many, we were disappointed to find that the usually busy campsite was pretty empty, just us and an Austrian couple, who are also heading north but at a slower pace. We spent the evening discussing strategies for the next few days and working out which embassy to tackle first.

And so the visa dance began. A trip to the British Embassy for a letter of introduction to the Sudanese embassy, because a passport is not verification enough? 3 hours later, and 50quid down, (yes, 50 whole British pounds for a letter confirming our names and passport number!) we left with our letter. Of course, this took us past 12pm, which meant that visa application hours at both the Sudanese and Ethiopian embassies had closed, so we headed back to camp. Day 2, we left at 8am and took 2hours to travel the 8km into town. We decided to take on the Ethiopian embassy first as the ambassador, according to many overlanders, is a face-tattooed witch who takes great pleasure in watching people lose all dignity by running them round in circles and then grovel at her feet for a visa. We had also been warned by other overlanders that this face-tattooed (yes, a crucifix is tattooed onto her forehead wish I had a photo!) is also a man-hater, so must only be approached by women. On this good advice, Richard was left to ponder his fate outside, while I tackled the witch alone. I must have danced for her well, as after a long interrogation about every single stamp in my passport and the third time of being sent for more copies of different paperwork she signed the application form and told us to come back after lunch with a receipt showing we’d made the payment at the bank round the corner. Lunch breaks at embassies are 2hours long, so we loitered around outside, hoping not to get car-jacked until their excessively long sandwich break was over. Returning triumphantly with our bank receipts, the clerk handed over our passports with the golden tickets to Ethiopia inside. Win!

Exhausted we headed back to JJ’s to compare notes with our Austrian friends, who’d similarly had success with their Sudanese visa. We swapped notes and prepared to tackle the next embassy the following day. We all headed to bed early, resting up for another day of visa hunting, but let’s just say that night we realised that the security at Jungle-Junction was far from adequate for a city like Nairobi and the next day we all packed up and moved onto a much nicer, secure camp called Wildebeest Eco Lodge which is run by a pair of Ozzies!

It took 4 full days of driving round Nairobi to get the visas for Ethiopia and Sudan sorted, we were exhausted! Once the visas were firmly embedded in our passports, it was back to Jungle Junction during the day to give the car a full service, changing filters and all fluids as well as a good clean out to ensure she is in tip top shape for the next adventure.  Once all the jobs were finished, we treated ourselves to a trip to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a charity which provides care for orphaned baby elephants until they are old enough to be re-introduced to the wild. It was amazing to see the keepers feeding and interacting with the babies, who now seem them as their ‘mothers’. The project is incredibly successful in reintroducing the elephants as well as continuing the fight against poachers, I just read the British Army are now going to provide more support which is fantastic news.

We are still in Nairobi, the lovely Wildebeest is a sanctuary I’m reluctant to leave! We are waiting for our replacement shocks, provided by RAW 4×4 in Australia (thank you for your continued support!) to arrive before we can head off north.  We have decided to take the most direct route along the Marsabit to Moyale road, the one part of the trip that we’ve not been looking forward to and with the rains about to arrive any day, we will be very happy to finally leave Kenya and get to Ethiopia!

 

Feeding time at David Sheldrick orphanage

Feeding time at David Sheldrick orphanage

 

Keepers and their babies form strong bonds

Keepers and their babies form strong bonds

 

Playing is exhausting

Playing is exhausting

 

I just love mud!!

I just love mud!!

Swakopmund to Etosha

Day: 131

KLMS 20,865

Swakopmund is another very German town in Namibia –it definitely doesn’t feel like Africa! We treated ourselves to a posh camp at Alte Brucke where you’re given your own en-suite facilities and endless hot water! Luxury! The next day we found ourselves a mechanic and to our surprise (again) he said he could easily get transfer case seals from Windhoek by the next day for us, so to come back and see him tomorrow. With the car booked in, we decided to treat ourselves to some fun and went off for an afternoon of sandboarding. The dunes just outside the town are huge, so armed with a super hi-tech piece of MDF board (specially designed for sandboarding apparently, with one side rough and one side super shiny for extra speed – haha!) Specially designed or not, oh my god, these things fly, sliding down the dunes at nearly 80km/hr is an unbelievable amount of fun – it was hard to hold on for laughing so much! Swakopmund was a great town to be based in for a few days, but once the car was sorted we were excited to be heading out of town and back into the bush again, heading north to Etosha National Park.

Big Rich at 80km/hr!

Double trouble!

Double trouble!

Etosha is over 20,000km² but due to the vast salt pan that covers the majority of centre the wildlife is forced to stay around the waterholes along the southern edges. The high concentration of animals, make it one of the best places to view wildlife in the world. We headed up to the park, but as we hadn’t booked ahead all the campsites were full, so instead we camped at one of the lovely lodges just outside and made the most of the free wi-fi, pool and bar before getting an early night. Safari days start early, 5am! I’m usually terrible in the mornings, but as the alarm went off i could hear a lion in the distance so was out of bed like a shot, desperate to get to the park to try and find the lion we could hear. And as we drove through the gates, the sun was beginning to rise and there in the early dawn light, there he was, our first African male lion! Strolling through the grassland, he kept doing his deep, bellowing call for other lions which is the most awesome sound. There were no replies this time but we followed him slowly for awhile before he disappeared off into the bushes. First sighting within 10minutes of arriving – it was going to be a good day! We spent the day driving round the edge of the pan, the white salty expanse disappearing off into the horizon on one side, and scrubby bush and grasslands on the other. We drove slowly from waterhole, to waterhole where we could just park up and watch the different herds of animals wandering in for their daily drink, elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, every kind of antelope you can think of and an array of birds – including Zazzoos! (Yellow horn bills to those who haven’t seen the lion king!).

Zazzoo!

Zazzoo!

Etosha pan

Etosha pan

 

 

The sheer number of animals at any one waterhole was just staggering. We drove to Halali which is mid-way through the park and thought we’d ask about camping on the off-chance they had availability. ‘Yes of course we do, we have plenty of spaces’ the receptionist said and booked us in for the following night. Having been told repeatedly over the phone, email and at the gate they were fully booked, we couldn’t believe how empty the camp was!!! The NWR park management are incredibly frustrating,  it’s all very ‘computer says no’ and they seem so uninterested in their jobs – there is no point asking questions about the park or the animals – they won’t know! Fortunately maps and guide books are available. The only other grumble i have about the parks, is the other people and the lack of ‘safari etiquette’, we saw some shockers, particularly when elephants and lions were involved.  People forcing their cars past to get a better view, resulting in them either blocking everyone elses view or scaring the animal off. One afternoon, we were meandering along when we turned the corner to see 3 large elephant bulls walking up the road towards us. We stopped to give them as much room as possible (having both read the ‘Elephant whisperer’ we know what can happen if an elephant decides you’re too close!) but couldn’t believe it when 2 cars flew past us and drove right up to where the elephants were. They were lucky these elephants were so placid, but what idiots!

Day 2, bought us one of the most memorable experiences of the trip so far. Just after arriving at a waterhole, we were so excited to see a herd of elephants appearing from the bushes, striding over towards the water. The matriarch leading the long line, they marched right in front of us, heading straight into the cool muddy water where they began to splash, spray, swim and play. There were about 15 of them and it was brilliant to watch an entire family, the boisterous ‘teenagers’ charging about, the babies doing their excited squeeling trumpet sound and  slipping and sliding in the mud whilst the mature elephants kept a watchful eye over them. We were so absorbed with watching this family that we hadn’t seen that other elephants were also making their way over. We sat opened mouthed as elephant after elephant appeared from out of the bushes until there were over 50 elephants all splashing around in the muddy water in front of us. The noise, the smell, the presence of that many elephants was just incredible. We watched them for over an hour, both just sitting in complete awe of what was happening in front of us, before gradually the matriarchs decided it was time to go and one by one lead their families back into the bush where they simply vanished.

Elephant play - Rietfontein waterhole

Elephant play – Rietfontein waterhole

 

On a complete high from our afternoon of elephant play we headed into Halali camp in the middle of the park. Armed with a couple of sundowners we headed to the waterhole viewing deck, to see whether we’d be lucky to have any other visitors to join us watching the sun set. The day was going to get even better. A family of elephants soon arrived and with the waterhole only feet away, it was amazing to be so close to such giants. The elephants were soon joined by 2 black rhinos, but not wanting to share their water with anyone we watched as the older elephants began squaring up to the rhinos. We watched some pretty intense scuffles between the two animals and only being feet away added to the intensity!  As night fell and the elephants moved on, the waterhole was now clear for other animals to return and to top off our amazing day a pair of white rhino brought their tiny calf in for a drink, the peace of the African bush only interrupted by the rhinos slurping sounds.

Sunset at Halali camp

Sunset at Halali camp

 

After 3 wonderful days in Etosha, it was sadly time to move on so with heavy hearts we left the park, hoping very much that will come back one day. We are heading north now, towards the Angolan border to spend our last few days in Namibia in the Caprivi strip. We have absolutely loved our time in Namibia, and have been completely bowled over by it’s beauty, it’s remoteness and the generosity of the people we’re meeting along the way. But just as you become at ease with one country, it’s time to move onto the next and the familiar butterflies return as you begin to wonder what the next country has in store for you. Botswana beckons!

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