Monday, January 29, 2007

Photos are up!

I've managed to get some photos up on previous blogs (see below) and in the photo links on the right. Enjoy!

Giraffe Sanctuary

Still on the animal theme, we also visited the giraffe sanctuary in Nairobi. It was pretty cool because you stand on this platform so you're at eye level with them and you feed them. You can also get a kiss by putting a pellet in your mouse. Their tongues are really slimey so the kiss wasn't pleasant but giraffes are beautiful animals so I'm not complaining.

Elephant Orphanage

The elephant orphanage came highly recommended to us. Elephants were big on our list and since we didn't get to see any up close, we thought we'd give this a shot. I'm really glad we went. The elephants here ranged from 2 months to 2 years. It was educational and the babies were super duper cute. I just wanted to take them home!!!

Nairobi National Park

While in Nairobi, we went to visit the Nairobi National Park. It's a little odd because you can see the skyscrapers from inside the park while doing a game drive. All the comotion doesn't seem to bother the animals though.

With the great luck we've been getting, the public game drive bus that runs on Sundays broke down. After waiting for 2 hours, they tell us we can pay extra for a taxi to take us in. We gave up and decided to visit the animal orphanage instead.

To our surprise, the orphanage turned out to be fantastic! We were just in time for the feeding and the first animals we saw were cheetahs! As I was trying to take photos of them, the feeder asks me if I wanted to go inside. I asked him if he was serious and he said yes. I asked if it was safe and he said yes. Sounds good to me! He told me to go ahead and pet the cheetah, just don't touch her food!! No worries there! It was really cool, their fur was coarser than I had thought. What beautiful, sleek animals.

We also managed to finally see lions up close (even if they weren't "wild").

Monday, January 22, 2007

Africa Travel Co.

I cannot believe we had such a terrible experience with the overland company we booked with. It was the most expensive portion of our entire trip and the most disappointing. We're now done with them and aside for the fantastic leader, cook and driver, the impression we've come away with is that ATC is all about making money.

I've already blogged about the terrible experience we had at the Serengetti and the Crater. After speaking to others who have been there recently as well, it sounds like it's come down to the guide/driver you have during the safari. Ours was constantly in a rush and they seemed to always be on a schedule so we would be racing back to the stop point so they could break. It felt like we spent more time speeding around and resting than we did searching for animals. Others had amazing experiences out there because their driver took the time to find the animals.

I also talked about the Masai being closed. Well it turns out it wasn't closed! It was only closed to large trucks like the one we were in. They could have easily booked smaller jeeps and we could all have gone in. We've met or heard about different people who have been during the times we were supposed to be going and had great game viewing. It makes me so mad to think that they cheaped out like that. Not only did they cheap out, the money they saved from not taking us to the Masai was never returned to us.

This company had rated pretty well when I was researching so I am very surprised at the outcome. If anyone is researching a safari company, look elsewhere.

Nightime border crossing

I had forgotten to post about this crazy experience we had crossing the border into Rwanda from Uganda. We were trying to get to the border crossing by 6pm (closing time) but were driving on those crazy cliffs in Uganda. Since driving fast was out of the question, we knew there was no way we were making it on time. Our leader had friends at the border crossing so he made a call to get them to hold the border open for us.

Finally, at about 9ish or so, we get to the border. It was pitch black, our truck could not cross into Rwanda and neither could our leader because he lost his passport in a mugging in Nairobi before he started with us. We had to follow this so called trainee who basically drinks all day on the truck. Swell.

We all got off the truck on the Ugandan side with all our bags, hand our passports over to the trainee and stand around in the dark. After a while, some guy tells us to follow him. We all do so blindly and cross the border by foot, again it was pitch black. The trainee still had our passports and we weren't even sure where he was! Definitely did not feel legit at that point. We felt like we were being smuggled into Rwanda!

Once over in Rwanda, we wait around again and the trainee shows up with our passports. We fill out papers in the dark and hand them over to some guys. After about 30 mins, we all have our passports in hands with official stamps! It was quite the experience and by far the most memorable border crossing we've had!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

No more Masai :(

Well, we got the bad news yesterday. The Masai Mara game reserve is closed again. Trucks have been getting stuck. There goes our last chance of seeing big cats or elephants. What a complete disappointment this overland has been.

It looks like we'll be going to another national park instead but there are no cats or elephants there. We might try to go to a national park in Nairobi on our own but seeing that it's in the middle of the city, I find it highly unlikely we'll see anything good there, keeping fingers crossed though!

Our overland ends in a few days which we're both pretty happy about. It's definitely been trying the last few weeks travelling like this but we had some great moments seeing parts of Africa so it wasn't all wasted. Next time, we're renting a 4x4 and driving/camping through southern Africa! We've seen others do it and it looks like so much fun!!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Trekked and back

Thanks to all for the birthday wishes! We are now back in Kampala after heading to Rwanda to trek the gorillas. Lucky me got to trek them on my birthday so it's definitely one I'll remember!

The trip to and through Rwanda was amazing. We managed to visit the genocide museum in Rwanda which was very interesting. Also managed to visit the actual hotel from Hotel Rwanda. It's such a beautiful country and I'm still amazed at what they went through just 12 years ago. We'll have to go back again someday.

The roads through Uganda were a little crazy though as we had to go through these hills/mountains on dirt rutted roads. I was sure we were going to fall off the cliff multiple times. I didn't realize we would be hitting terrain like this! It didn't help that we saw 3 big trucks tip over the cliff. Glad that is over with.

Seeing the gorillas was fantastic. Our group was 'lucky' enough to have a blackback (second in line to the silver back) who was extremely friendly and came after 2 in our group! We didn't think he was going to let one of them go. We'll have to show the footage when we get a chance. The silverback was massive and very impressive. We were supposed to stay a distance of 7 metres from them but we were usually much closer. It was a little intimidating but very cool.

We'll be heading to the Masai Mara in the next couple days and then back to Nairobi!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What you can catch in Africa

Before we came to Africa, I never really worried about the potential health risks. We had our malaria pills and I figured you just had to be careful overall. After being on this safari trip for the last couple weeks, I now see a potential need to worry. :P

When we first joined the safari group, we heard about this fungal disease that had affected half the group! Lovely. Those who had it had memorable scars to display. It wasn't pleasant and us newbies knew who the fungal group was and tried to stay clear of them. I think that's all passed though.

Then, the morning we were heading into the serengeti, two guys got tested for malaria and were positive. They were on Malarone too which apparently is one of the best drugs out there for this. They both got some pills to fight it and off we went to the Serengeti. One guy recovered really quickly while the other felt terrible for the next couple days. When we got back to Arusha, he got tested again and he still had malaria. The docs put him on a more advanced course for 5 days and yesterday, he said he was feeling much better now. Apparently, if you're going to get malaria, this is the best place to get it! They have tons of pills here to fight it.

The first guy who got malaria and recovered quickly soon felt like crap a few days later again. We all thought the malaria was back but it turned out he now had a bacterial infection in his blood and intestines. That just sounds bad. They ended up injecting him with 40mls of something and gave him pills. I don't think I would have readily accepted a needle in this part of the world though.

Another girl we know had a worm in her foot and she got it extracted while it was still alive. Nice huh?

Won't you all be happy to see us when we get home? ;) Don't worry, we've got our full physicals scheduled shortly after our arrival.


Also affectionately known as Nairobbery. Nairobi has surprised me with how modern parts of the city appear to be. There are nice shiny buildings and sidewalks! What a concept. The parts of Dar that we saw were fairly run down and a little more chaotic. Nairobi is full of contrasts though as you'll see nicely built condos and just right beside it, you see massive shanty towns. It would be a little odd to live in these condos as your view would be a constant reminder of the poverty that still exists here.

It doesn't seem as bad in Nairobi as everyone has made it sound. You just have to be smart and not bring anything of value out with you. No bag, definitely no camera, not even a watch if you can help it.

While we were there, we also went to an infamous restaurant in the area called Carnivore. Aptly titled as it specialized in game meats. We got the meat platter which consisted of Ostrich, Crocodile, Camel and we got some beef as well. Everyone had raved about Ostrich meat which turned out to be quite decent. Crocodile was like a fish steak which didn't appeal to me so much and Camel was just terrible. It was dry and a little too gamey for me. That was more than enough meat to last me for a while but good to try.

Gorilla Trekking

We'll be heading into Uganda tomorrow as it's our base for gorilla trekking. Originally, we were supposed to go into the Congo to trek but we recently heard that they might be moving us over to Rwanda since the fighting in Congo has come down to the areas where the company usually treks.

We had heard that there are LOTS of trekkers in Rwanda and it might be hard to get a permit for everyone which would be really unfortunate since this is one of the highlights of the trip. Our trip leader told us today that they're still talking to Congo and will soon let us know where they're trekking. I don't know about everyone else but this seems a little worrisome to me if there is still fighting in the vicinity and there is still consideration of going in there. I do know the company will not put anyone in danger but I don't really understand how the fighting has moved on so quickly. We've also heard a lot about fighting going on north of here in Somalia. So far, nothing of that sort is really affecting Kenya except for the fact that it's a highly corrupt country. Corruption we can deal with. :)

The next time we blog, we'll probably already have seen the gorillas so we'll let you all know how it went!

Africa hot???

We're now in Kenya and it's been a pretty good trip so far. We're getting used to the go go go situation and we just picked up a new group a couple days ago and they're pretty good to hang out with.

It turns out the Masai Mara Reserve was closed due to flooding so they have reversed our itinerary around. We went to the Lake Nakuru national park today for more game driving and managed to see more rhinos, giraffes, zebras, etc. etc. Unfortunately, no simbas or elephants. :( Yesterday, we rode bikes into the Hell's gate national park as well and saw a family of baby giraffes nearby.

A few zebras came running up to us though but stopped as soon as they realized we were humans and ran like crazy! :D I was a little concerned about the buffalos that were in the park as we've heard of friends of friends who had been chased by them! All was well though and it was good to get a work out again.

So, back to the title of my blog. In all my previous life, I had always thought Africa was HOT HOT HOT (with the except of Kili). When booking this trip, we had read that it could get quite cold at the rim of the crater since we were quite high up. In the 3 weeks that we've been in Africa, only half of it has been hot! Ever since we've been at the Serengeti, the nights have been chilly! It gets down to about 13C which doesn't sound that cold but when you're sleeping in a tent with a super light sleeping bag, it's COLD! Thank goodness we've had the privilege of warm showers in the last little while. We'll be heading to Uganda tomorrow and apparently it's cold and wet there! Fantastic. I can't complain about the days though as they do get quite hot here. It almost feels like we're in a desert with the great amounts of fluctuation. We'll be crossing the equator for the first time tomorrow which is quite exciting!!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Game Driving

We've been with our safari group for about a week now. It's been okay so far but I don't think we'll do another packaged tour like this again. The group is pretty good but it's been hard for us to adjust to such a strict schedule with the group. There has also been lots of tourist shopping stops which just adds to the frustration. (Newton, do it on your own, it seems easy enough to get around in Eastern Africa on your own.)

So far, we've hit the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater and unfortunately, it has been somewhat of a disappointment for both of us. We've heard so much hype about the sheer number and the proximity of animals you would see on these game drives that we expected so much more. The Serengeti was quite empty. We did manage to see the Big 5 including some which are apparently quite hard to see (Rhino, Cheetah, and Leopard) but the last was so far away you could barely see it with binoculars. Again, maybe our expectations were too high but it looks like we're not the only ones who came away disappointed overall. The scenery was quite beautiful though.

We're heading into Nairobi today and hopefully will be going to the Masai Mara reserve in the next couple days. Unfortunately for us, we've heard it's been closed because of heavy rainfall and a bridge washed away. Sigh. It's not supposed to be raining this much this time of year but the weather has apparently been quite strange here recently. We'll keep our fingers crossed!

We won't be posting any photos for a while as internet access for us is sparse. We'll try to blog when we can though!