Wachizungu Wanderings 2016 – Lakes, Lions and The Shoebill


25th to 26th July: Lake Kivu, Hotel Rwanda

The morning of 26/7, we took the high-speed boat back up Lake Kivu to Goma, where we met and escorted back over the border to Gisenyi. It was just one night at Gisenyi before getting back on the road and starting the long haul back home.

There are still plenty more places to visit on the way back, the first being Lake Bunyoni, Uganda.

We headed out early to make the border at Cyuve. This was the simplest and easiest, hassle free border in the whole of Africa. Why can’t they all be like that? The police and officials were really helpful, directing us to where we needed to go and we didn’t need to deal with hordes of free loaders trying to rip you off for all and sundry.

The drive over the border in Uganda was most pleasant. It was an indigenous forest for the first part, then pretty mountain passes (elevation 2800m) before we started the descent to Lake Bunyoni. We skirted Lake Bunyoni on the western shores before arriving at our destination, Crater Lake Cottages.

26th to 30th July: Crater Lake Cottages, Lake Bunyoni, Uganda

Everyone we spoke to in Uganda said Lake Bunyoni is a must see / do. When I asked what’s so special I really didn’t receive any particularly exciting feedback but with such strong recommendations we decided to give it a go. Crater Lake Cottages are very good value, perched just above the eastern tip of the lake; it’s very pretty and boasts tropical vegetation.

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We had initially planned to stay at Lake Bunyoni Overland, which is next door. On inspection, it was very big and busy; good decision.

The first night we were kept awake until 3:45 am by English lasses (Essex accents) staying at Overland. They were screaming, shouting and singing. Well done girls, Ibiza comes to a quiet peaceful retreat in off the beaten track Uganda!

The next night was party night at Overland with music blaring out until the early hours. So much for the R&R!

Lake Bunyoni is a little like staying on a Scottish Loch with guaranteed sunshine. The Lake is very placid, extremely still waters and there are a number of activities available; boating, canoes, fishing etc. We took a canoe out to see the otters; it’s famous for its otters. We managed to see them on a couple of occasions but from a long distance.

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The nights were very cool as it is at an elevation of 1500m but the days lovely and warm and peaceful. There’s hotel close by called Bird’s Nest. We ate there twice as the food was delicious and the hotel has a beautiful setting.

30th July – 1st August: Nsibuku Garden Cottages, Mpigi, Uganda.

It was a long drive to reach Mpigi. We almost didn’t make it! We had a break down in Mbarara. Fortunately, this is a large town and we broke down right outside the police station! The Landy wouldn’t budge an inch and I couldn’t engage it in gear at all. Breaking down here really was divine intervention. We have travelled over 15,000 kms and over 95% has been either rural travel or in National Parks etc. Cutting a long story short, the police mechanic really didn’t have a clue how to fix Land Rovers, everything is Toyota in this neck of the woods. He said it was the clutch and drove me to find a replacement, fortunately, there were none available. Then a Landy Fundi showed up. He  diagnosed the diff as the problem and when he took out the prop shaft, asked me why I had not had the vehicle serviced! I was shocked, I’d had two full services – one in SA and the other in Nairobi. Both had overlooked changing the rear axle oil, the result being dirty, black and thin oil, resulting in the drive member being stripped. Fortunately, I had a spare and we were back on the road in no time. Another lesson learned – go through every single item with the mechanic when having the car serviced.

Emma had been so disappointed that we had passed the equator previously but not noticed, taken photos or celebrated. She was determined to make up for it on this route! This Equator crossing cannot be overlooked, it’s colourful, large and up there in lights (well almost!). Lots of shops, cafe’s and a life-size equator sign on both sides of the road.

Our next stop is Mabamba Swamps, home of the Shoebill – or so we hope. The place we were advised to stay at turned out to be a place of ill repute; you know, sauna and massage parlour?! So we decided to give it a miss and find something else. This part of the world is a sleepy backwater and well off the tourist track. Finding accommodation was a mission. Eventually, we found a perfectly decent place, Nsibuku Cottages, off the main drag, where we stayed for two nights.

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I had organised a trip to Mabamba Swamps through one the community guides – Irene. I can highly recommend her, she may be contacted on Uganda 07 77 81 80 57.  She met us at a  tiny village, Kasanje from where she escorted us to the swamps.

If you are thinking about visiting Mabamba, please note, (and I will use diplomatic language here) that the guy that most people know of w.r.t. Maramba is Hannington (he is even mentioned of Tracks4Africa). He has been allegedly dealing with a Japanese Egg Collector i.e. scum that are the birder’s world equivalent of poaching. Collectors will pay a fortune for rare birds eggs, and they don’t come any rarer than the Shoebill. Apparently Hannington  was virtually caught red handed leading the dealer to two Shoebill eggs and is currently under investigation by U.W.A. It’s still not known whether the Shoebill will hatch the eggs (takes two months) as the bird was apparently scared away from its nest. When you consider that it takes five years for a Shoebill to lay two eggs (from which only one will hatch) this is a disaster for this highly endangered bird.

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In contrast, Irene was charming and devoted to preserving and conserving the whole area; she’s a diamond.  We took a boat out at 07:30 am. It took us about half an hour to get our first glimpse of the Shoebill. It was quite surreal as it was a misty morning, with mist on the water and quite low key eerie light, making it difficult to make anything out. But there was no doubting that statuesque sentinel type shape on the edge of the swamp – we had found a Shoebill. Another Eureka moment! They really are huge and look quite prehistoric. We spent a couple of hours with the Shoebill. They can stand motionless for up to 3 hours but we got lucky. He swooped to catch a fish, missed, and having given himself away, had to fly to a new venue. Please see the pics and see him in flight.

Apart from the Shoebill, the birdlife at Mabamba is excellent. We got up close and personal with all manner of aquatic birds, cormorants, African Darters, Egrets, Kingfishers (Pied and Malachite), Blue Throated Bee Eaters (a first), Purple Heron (another first), Jacanas, Squacco Herons etc.

Apart from a brief stopover in Jinja this was our proper last destination in Uganda. Thanks Uganda, we’ve had a ball, you’ve been amazing. As Winston Churchill wrote in his book “My Africa Journey” written in 1908, “Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa”.

 

1st – 3rd August: Hotel Bridgeway, Jinja.

This was just a stopover, nothing much to report. I ate street food and survived…..rather nice actually. Just missed the newspaper and vinegar! I did come across a some really odd gates of some kind of institution in the main town. The Gates were decorated with the Swastika (see the pics); couldn’t believe what I was seeing and still have no explanation. I jumped out to get the pics and my lovely Lumix 100 camera got smashed on the ground – feckin’ Hitler cursing me from the grave!!

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3rd to 4th August: Siawa Swamp, Kenya.

So, after the last border post being a breeze, it was time to balance things out a bit at Malaba Border Post! First up was the rather large female police officer on the Ugandan side. She was rather officious, asking for all manner of paperwork, hitherto not requested by anyone. Then the classic “I want to search your car or you can buy me lunch”. I felt like saying “Looks like you’ve had far too much to eat already love!” but refrained. I took the easy way out of this one, gave her the equivalent of $3 and she waved me on.

When I arrived at the Ugandan side of the border, there were queues on both sides of the counter. The official asked me for my documents, which I duly handed over. Then all hell broke loose. It turns out the guy on the other side was in line before me and took deep offence, playing the race card and accusing the official of racism and white bias! It was all quite embarrassing as he made a complete arse of himself. I asked for him to be served first and said: “don’t sweat the small stuff, it may just be a genuine mistake”. The irony is how many times on this trip I’ve been the subject of unwanted and uncomfortable attention (I’m being diplomatic here) because of the colour of my skin…….but let’s not go there.

OK, now to the Kenyan side of the border. here we go again! On entering Kenya and East Africa in April, we bought 6 month $100.00 Visas, which allow free travel across Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. The Immigration official questioned the validity of my Visa. Why? He said it’s a mistake, you can only get a 3-month visa. This is not the case and I’m still not sure whether he genuinely ignorant of the fact or just playing a game. He insisted I paid for another Visa, I refused. He called his Boss down. His Boss was just as adamant that I needed to pay again. This stand off lasted about an hour. I asked them: “is this the way to treat your tourists?” and asked if they could provide me access to the internet so that I could prove the case. They eventually let me through without buying another Visa. It just beggars belief, doesn’t it? African border posts – Grrr….and I still have three more to go!

It was clear that I would not make Nairobi that day and a stopover was required. I decided on Siawa Swamp National Park in Kenya. This is home to the very rare Sitatunga. To the uninformed, the Sitatunga is a kind of antelope that has adapted to living in swamp areas and has splayed hooves that allow it to move around. It’s very shy and elusive and few people ever get to see them. This 9 square mile National Park has been preserved for them and is probably the best place in the world to tick them off – if that’s your thing!

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On arrival, I was informed that the accommodation had been infested by bees – this day just gets better doesn’t it? OK, the camping area looks fine, so camping it is. You can only walk around this park so I had a walk that evening and the next morning. I got to see two Sitatungas from a raised hide and plenty of Colobus monkeys. I applaud the fact that important habitats like this are being protected and I suppose it made the trip worthwhile but it’s not somewhere I’ll be returning to.

4th to 7th August: Karen Camp, Nairobi, Kenya

There are bad African roads and bad African drivers and then there’s Kenya! OMG – they are so feckin’ crazy, it’s beyond comprehension. ‘Nuff said! So……Nairobi – to service the Landy (properly this time!) and do the shopping.

I went to collect the car but it wasn’t ready. The Purdy Arms Pub is just across the road so I popped in for a pint. One led to another and I met a group of people staying at Kaen Camp. I eventually left them around midnight and walked the 500m back in the dark……..I know, a silly thing to do.

They left 20 mins after me and were assaulted and robbed by an armed gang of four, just on the corner, close to Karen Camp. It was horrendous, they pistol whipped the blokes and threatened to rape the girls (there were about 10 in the group). The Tour Leader was bricked as well and had a bad gash on his head.

They robbed them of everything – jewellery, phones, wallets, passports – everything. Some of the girls were hysterical and unconsolable when they got back.

I was still awake and heard the screams and confusion but thought it was just drunken people. 

I sat up with them and helped clean them all up and just tried to restore some sanity. I didn’t get to bed until 6am.

Needless to say, I didn’t venture out after that experience and still cannot understand why I wasn’t targeted. I can only think that one person is not a big enough haul?!

On Sunday 7th August, I left Nairobbery at first light to make my way back to Tanzania. The road out was just awful but eventually improved as I made my way through the Masai homelands.

I picked up an old Masai man walking on the road, must have been in his late 70’s (there’s a pic of him), making his way to Namanga – the border town. He still had about 20 kms to walk. He smelled really good, it’s some natural perfume they wear, I think? Smells very much like the ochre that the Himba tribe use in Namibia. Anyway, when I dropped him off he was so grateful and kept hugging my hand – Bless him.

The border was fine and hassle free, thankfully.

Over the border is the heart of Masai territory. I climbed a rise, there was a dust storm and I was presented with this image of a Masai Tribesman, arms outstretched across the stick about his shoulders, amongst the burned golden grasses, herding his cattle in the shimmering heat, all diffused by the colossal dust in the air.  It brought a lump to my throat. I dunno why really. Was it that the image captured and reflected the passing of time and seasons (this area was green in March when we travelled through) or just simply a something that served as a catalyst and evoked all we’ve been through on this epic trip? I suppose if you bundle it all up, there’s been plenty to get emotional about! Africa has cast its spell on me, and I’m comfortable in the knowledge that it’s one from which I will never escape!

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7th to 10th August: Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

How could I drive past Tarangire? Well, I couldn’t! We spent 3 nights here in March earlier this year. Then it was the wet season, everything was green, grasses extremely high and very few people. The animals were scarce as they disperse over a huge area to graze when there is plenty of water.

What a transformation! Now the grasses are a beautiful burned yellow, there are herds and herds of wildebeest, zebra, elephant, eland and buffalo everywhere, and of course, there are lots of  people that have come to witness the spectacle of Tarangire. 

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I’m camping at Public Campsite Number 1. It is literally in the heart of the best game viewing area and beats any of the top lodges in terms of location.

Back in March, I managed to find a lioness with three small cubs, I have some lovely photos of them playing in the river bed. They must have been about 8 weeks old then, just little bundles of fur. Above all, I wanted to see them again. Lions suffer 40% mortality rate, it’s tough raising lion cubs, so how will they have fared?

I soon got to find out. I’d just set up camp, it was about 5pm and I went out for a drive. After only minutes, one of the Guides points me in the direction of a lion they had found. I got to the spot and it was a lioness. She was walking straight toward me – see the pic. She crossed the road and I continued photographing her as she made her way across the savannah. Then, she stopped and looked to her right. Suddenly as I’m busy snapping her, something creeps into the frame of my camera – it’s a cub! It must be her, yes it is, another two cubs come running up, hugging and kissing her, big licks all around. My how you have grown – it’s definitely them but now it’s 5 months later. I’m overjoyed to have found them again.

The next day is very quiet game wise. A German couple, Sven and Rebecca, camp next to me. They’re over the moon, they’ve seen their first leopard.

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Next morning there is word of lions on a kill (wildebeest). I find it, it’s the lioness, the 3 cubs, and another two lionesses. She’s a great Mum; it’s clearly her kill and she is making sure that her cubs get their fill before the other lionesses. At one stage, the one lioness get close, and she flies out (quicker than I could capture) and sorts them out big time! After that, I just try the place where the leopard was seen in the branch of a tree. He’s still there and I got some nice pics of him. He must have a larder but I can’t see it.

About 4:30 pm I think it’s time to check up on the lions. They’ve moved off the kill but are just down the road. They’re very active and on the move. I see them heading up the hill and tail it around to catch them on the other side. As I race around, the Plains game are showing me where they are by body language and gaze. All the lions have stopped at the base of a leaning tree. Next thing you know, they’re all up climbing it. It’s very open, the light is  bathing them in perfect golden light, there couldn’t be a finer sighting of tree climbing lions (see pics). Fortunately, I was first on the scene as it soon got very crowded when word got out.

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I was done for the day but on the way back I saw a ruck of vehicles and went to investigate. A Cheetah. She was just sitting on a small termite mound. This was just around the corner from the campsite. I knew I could sit it out, as all the other cars would need to leave latest 6pm and I’d be alone. It went according to plan and I had some nice private time with her.

My last early morning game drive in Tarangire was 10th August. I got lucky again. 5 mins outside of camp and I found the lion pride. They were just waking up and getting active at 6:15am, one of the cubs was climbing a tree whilst the others were fighting and playing. They eventually did get around to hunting but didn’t look that serious, more like opportunism. Time to go, bye bye lions!

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10th to 11th August: New Dodoma Hotel, Dodoma, Tanzania

I have found a new 5 star winner – the road from Babati to Dodoma gets first prize for Bone Shaker of The Year!! My, it was horrendous. Best avoided folks, take the long way around, as we did on the way up, via Singida.

I was in need of some decent accommodation after this hack and have to say the New Dodoma Hotel was fab. Great value, nice swimming pool, wi-fi, two good restaurants and they even turned my washing around in 3 hours! Unheard of!

Next up is Ruaha National Park. I got fined for speeding ($15.00) and pulled over 7 times in a single day – for just being on the road. 

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Categories: Kenya, Rwanda, Safaris, Tanzania, UgandaTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

3 comments

  1. Hi Charlie……hoping my mail finds you safe. Your travels are still mesmerising me…..the shoebill is quite remarkable- so lucky to have found it. Re: the swastika- it has it’s origins from a zillion years ago & is actually a sacred religious symbol far from the meaning that the Nazis used it for………apparently it means “good fortune or well being” – ironic…….Be well…..Lol Peta

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  2. Agreed on Peta’s comment re: the swastika. We saw lots of them in Asia and Indonesia, usually on entrance gates and also used as the icon indicating a temple on maps.

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