Monday, June 13, 2011

Return to Thailand: Ko Tao

On arrival in Bangkok I headed straight down to Chumpon on the overnight bus - mission: Rescue diver course. I arrived tired after a sleepless ride at around 4am and managed to get on a link bus to the pier at six in the morning. By around eight I was on a small ferry and heading to Ko Tao with the sun blazing and the sea calm and blue - time for a nap on deck! No sooner had I drifted off than I had my first nice surprise! I was woken up by Christina from Barcelona who I last saw in Cambodia as she boarded a bus to Vietnam. Needless to say we were both surprised and spent the rest of the trip to the island chatting about what we had been up to.

The arrival at Ko Tao afforded some stunning views as it was a beautiful sunny day. It was the first and only Thai island I visited but I was not disappointed. We berthed at a rickety wooden pier and the small army of backpackers headed off to find accomodation. My first mission was to find a good place to do my PADI Rescue Diver course before the extreme lack of sleep I was suffering from prevented all my mental faculties from working. It took me a few hours but eventually I settled on Sairee Cottage, a nice small establishment with friendly staff all round. I prefer the smaller schools as it does tend to mean smaller class groups resulting in more one to one attention from the instructors. Ko Tao is a diver factory with people doing every course from Open Water all the way to Dive Instructor as I soon realised on arrival at my first dive site 'Japanese Gardens', for a quick refresher course. The place was swamped with five boats from different companies and maybe as many as fifty divers milling around in different areas doing either fun dives or several of the different courses.

The diving in Ko Tao is absolutely stunning and very unlike what I previously experienced in Malawi. Visibility tends to be good with most of my dives having a good 20-25 metres vis. The range of sea-life around the many coral reefs is astounding ranging from the miniscule (various cool shrimps and pipefish), going on to the many colourful and varied species (bannerfish, angelfish, parrotfish, schools of squid, Moray eels, Stingrays, Pufferfish and Clownfish) and finally on the the most astounding species (Whalesharks and Turtles). I had the good fortune to see all of the above except for the elusive Whale shark as well as a great many more species that are simply too numerous to list here. The turtle who I saw twice was especially beautiful to watch as she effortlessly glided through the water and happily munched on coral ignoring the many divers watching.

Once my refresher course was done I had a day of First Aid training - not much more than a recap after my time as a lifeguard and the course I did at work last year. Then it was on to the Rescue Diver course which is incredibly good fun while also developing a keen awareness of the potential pitfalls and issues divers can come across. The last couple of days were especially good fun although quite testing on my nerves. Dan Hawkes (my instructor) and the Dive masters/trainees did their level best to keep me on my toes with emergencies being enacted one after another with little time to think. Any future dives I go on will be carried out with a much better awareness of mistakes my fellow divers could be making and hopefully the chance to avert any unfortunate mishaps - most problems encountered by recreational divers are caused by mistakes and oversights from the divers themselves.

With the course over I settled into life on Koh Tao as my previous plan to go climbing in Krabi was ruined by reports of the monsoon arriving. Anyway, life on Ko Tao is not too expensive and there are plenty of things to do. The food is excellent with everything ranging from cheap local Thai food, Indian and Korean restaurants as well as a wide selection of western food. I decided to work on my fitness while I had the time and enrolled with a Muay Thai training school for a couple of weeks. Fantastic fun and as with normal boxing a thorough test of fitness. The interval training we were doing there was intense but a great experience and I made a fair few friends while learning there. I had the good fortune to be around on a fight night

when a few of the tourists got the opportunity to pit their skills against some local fighters. Highlights of the night were two of the western boxers, Colette and Max. Colette, an Irish girl who although she lost, showed a fighting spirit that was awesome to see and had most of the crowd cheering for her throughout. Max, an Italian boxer was fantastic as although his opponent was slightly fitter and had legs like tree trunks, he came back late in the fight with a series of high kicks and spinning elbows to score enough points for a thrilling draw.

I was advised that at the south of the island there was a beach called Shark Bay where it was possible to spot small black-tip reef sharks while snorkelling. I headed over one afternoon and spent about an hour and a half mucking around in about 2-3 metres depth hunting for the buggers. I got the shock of my life when I saw my first one and realised that these 'small' sharks are at least the same length as I am tall. I don't mind saying that my heart rate shot up when I saw it although I think it was feeling the same as it immediately did a u-turn and shot off in the opposite direction! Emboldened by their apparent fear I stayed in the water and managed to find another and followed it for about thirty seconds before it got fed up of me and with a tiny flick of the tail disappeared at high speed into the shallows.

I came back the next day with a hired camera resolving to capture images of these beauties but had a lot of trouble getting anything decent. Visibility was low and I had great difficulty focussing the shot while finning as fast as I could to keep up with them although I did see twelve of them this time. I paid the price though as after three and a half hours in the water my prune like skin was all ripped up from friction with the fins causing me a lot of hassle in kickboxing over the rest of the week.

Before I knew it my time was up and I was heading back to Bangkok to rendezvous with my girlfriend who had managed to get a week away from work so we could relax together for a little while. Nothing more needs to be said there other than we had a great time and yesterday she had to head back so here I am now. . one day left of my crazy year out from the world of work! Tomorrow I will probably take it very easy apart from another Muay Thai training session in a nice school I found near Khao San road, and on Monday morning I fly out to Stansted via Dusseldorf. After what will most likely be a sleepless night in Stansted, I will be on my way to Malaga and then finally back to Gibraltar on the 28th. It has been a real rollercoaster ride with highs and lows but I have had the opportunity to visit places and learn things that never in my wildest dreams had I imagined experiencing. It will be good to get back to Gibraltar and work again though (never thought I would say that about work o.O) and I look forward to seeing everyone back home again. Thanks for following me on this crazy trip and see you all soon!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cambodia - Dirt bikes and landmines

The day after Stephanie gave me the dirtbike idea I cycled over to Hidden Cambodia, the only place I could find on the web that had anything to do with renting scramblers. Unfortunately my worst fears were realised when I found that the hiring of bikes by tourists has apparently been made illegal around Siem Reap. Not a total shock as I have seen what western tourists are like on bikes in this area, especially considering they only need to provide cash and presenting a licence is rarely mentioned. Luckily I was guided to speak to Lis Seng of Cambodia Dirtbikes who recently parted ways with Hidden Cambodia and is starting up his own similar business. After a short chat he agreed to loan me a bike for four days (They were needed back for a booked outing) at a reasonable $25 per day. Off I put-putted with my new toy and a huge grin to get used to the traffic - It is insane here, people drive on both sides of the road and bigger vehicles assume right of way no matter the circumstances).

That evening I eventually found Stephanie to advise her that the original idea of a week or more on the back roads of Cambodia were off the cards but if she was interested a three day tour of some significant sights could be done. We agreed to meet at seven the next morning to sort out the bikes and head to Koh Ker. It took about two hours to get everything sorted out including buying some bungees at the market and Stephanie getting a little practise before we left, but soon we were on the open road heading east. At DamDaek we turned off the main road and found our first dirt track, an orangey gravel road in rather good condition apart from the odd surprise rut or bump. We were making good time and stopped about halfway where there is a temple complex called Beng Melea and had some food at the stalls there.

By 3pm we were on our way again to Koh Ker but knew it would be too late to see anything so on arrival it was time to find a guesthouse. Nobody spoke English here which was great fun as neither of us speak Khmer (apart from saying hello, yes, no and thankyou) but eventually we found there was a place in the village run by a very jolly Khmer lady who kept laughing at/with us! She pointed us to a food place - food sounds a bit like nyum if I heard right, very appropriate! - and with full bellies it was time to sleep by 9pm.

We were up by six and after a breakfast of rice, motored over to the Koh Ker ruins. The place was littered with signs every kilometre advising us that we were passing through cleared minefields! After an hour exploring the temples in the area we set off for Tbeang Meanchey, our halfway point on the route to Kampong Thom. We had been enjoying the road, which was now tarmac again, for about two hours when we heard the first rumbles of thunder. The storms here tend to come in really fast and we knew it might be time to consider a lunch break. We pushed on to get as far as we could but within about twenty minutes the sky had darkened and the heavens opens. It was a particularly heavy shower with fat drops of water that sting the lips and hands. We pushed on for half an hour and luckily the rain subsided so we were almost dry by the next stop for a stretch. We were getting puzzled as we should have hit Tbeang Meanchey by then but locals kept pointing down
the road indicating that we should continue so onwards we went. The road was heading south by now and in the early afternoon turned back into a dusty orange dirt track. We had given up hope of ever finding the town we wanted but signs indicating the distance to Kampong Thom showed we were heading the right way and I for one was thoroughly enjoying the road. It was then that the second rains hit and these ones were bad - the road turned quite muddy with deep orange puddles whose depth was impossible to gauge unless you happened to go through them. We stopped for petrol and a chance to wring out our soggy socks and ended up staying at a food stall for about an hour while waiting for the weather to break. Eventually it did and we were finally on the road again. Our final hurdle was some roadworks which had turned into proper mud but once over that we were soon back on tarmac and managed to get to Kampong Thom as the sun went down. We found a hotel for a reasonable price and although the rooms felt like ovens, managed to snatch some sleep.

Up at six am again the next day, and relieved to survive possibly my most uncomfortable night's sleep ever we decided to check out Santeuk Mountain. It was a beautiful place, a monastery at the top of the only hill in the area, littered with sculptures and rock carvings. Very peaceful and a photographer's dream. Once we were done there came the run back to Siem Reap, for once nice and uneventful with a decent surface all the way home. Once we had dropped off the bikes, Lis Seng told me the German guy who was coming wanted to go to a nearby waterfall at Phnom Kulen in a couple of days in case I wanted to go as it would be cheap. This run involved some more involved offroading but having had a taste of such fun my affirmative answer was only seconds in coming.

After a day of absolutely nothing - many coffees, cigarettes and general mooching around town - we were back at the workshop, this time with a couple more local guys on bikes, Cristoph from Germany and Lis Seng on one of the CR250s. Within minutes of heading out of town we were on tiny rutted tracks charging past villages as the kids fairly flew out of the doorways to catch a glimpse of the group of lunatics screaming past! It was all very exciting but hard work to keep up with the more experienced bikers in the group especially when we hit the sandy part. At this stage I lost my nerve and had to drop to more comfortable speeds until the road firmed up again. I have no problem with the back tyre squirming around all over the place but when it is my front tyre - well, all I can say is, No thanks! I was advised by Cristoph that the front wheel jumps around less if you go faster so I guess I need some practise for that kind of surface :)

Phnom Kulen was beautiful, a peaceful waterfall up a steep hill which was almost deserted. We swam in the pool under the falls and as we were drying off, some monks turned up for a swim too. One of the younger ones was very chatty and wanted to practise his English so we talked a while after which I headed off to get some food before the run back. Overall, the day was exhilarating and I think it may be time for me to give up race bikes in exchange for their slower but more versatile little brothers. The route back was an absolute blast and we finished off with a few cans of beer at the workshop after which I went to pack my stuff for the night bus to Phnom Pen and my flight back to Bangkok.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Holiday in Cambodia - Angkor Wat

I arrived at the Thai/Cambodian border in a small town called Aranya-Prathet after a seven hour ride in a van from Pattaya. Having been dropped off at the border I was immediately waved at by some uniformed guys who said they could get my visa sorted out for me. It was dark already and I had no intention of crossing until the morning but having the visa ready seemed a good idea so I parted with 1000 Baht and within ten minutes had my Visa. One of the guys offered to take me back to where I could find a bed and after dinner I sat down with the laptop to do some research on my next destination. It was then that I read of the visa scams at the border and realised I had paid about ten dollars too much - not the best situation at this late stage of my trip, however I felt I could not begrudge these guys too much for such an amount considering the poverty and corruption in their country (they were all Cambodian I had found out). One of them picked me up at six AM to get to the border early and I didn't have the heart to make any mention of my discovery. By about eight I was on my bus heading to Siem Reap - close to the site of Angkor Wat and I met a couple of girls and a guy from the UK also heading there. They had booked ahead so I followed them and found a great place called the Backpacker's Hostel. A bed in the dorm was a lovely $2 so once settled in I decided to have a look about town. Siem Reap is not a large city and tourist life centres around 'Pub Street' where it would appear western investors have splashed the cash and there are some very nice bars and even a couple of clubs. I was tired so I skipped the local food for the night and was pleasantly surprised to find that all the pizzas are cooked in wood fired ovens and up to the standard of some of the better ones I have ever had the joy to eat!

On the way home I found a place renting old bicycles for $1.5 a day. After agreeing a price of $6 for five days I pootled back to the hostel in preparation for a run to Angkor Wat, about seven kilometres away, the following day. I got up with the sun to see the sun rise over the temple but was disappointed to see that the day was overcast. Nevertheless, off I went on my little boneshaker and arrived just over half an hour later. It was only then that I realised that I had set myself up for more or less a thirty five kilometre cycle with no gears in some rather hot weather! By about ten in the morning the sun was in full force but the breeze from cycling seemed quite pleasant and there were ample opportunities for breaks as I stopped at each temple on the smaller circuit for my photo opportunities. I returned to Siem Reap in the evening tired but happy having climbed countless steps and taken a ridiculous number of pictures. The next morning my legs were aching somewhat so I headed to a nearby pool I had been advised of by Cristina, a girl I met from Barcelona (who was greatly amused by the llanito I slipped into while talking with her). In the evening I visited one of the many orphanages in the city and after playing with the kids for a bit returned to sleep and be ready for the larger 50km circuit I had lined up for the next day.

The second Temple run rather predictably had me aching for another day so I indulged myself with another pool day of laziness followed by my now customary visit to the food stalls near Pub Street for a cheap yet delicious dinner of Loklak (beef in oyster sauce with rice and a fried egg on top). I was sitting in a cafe in town contemplating what else I could do with the eight days I had left when along came one of those excellent moments that have sneaked up on me several times in this trip. A young blonde woman was walking by being hassled by several Tuk-Tuk drivers trying to guide her to the hotel of their choice (These drivers crack me up - Their usual opening line to me was 'You want TukTuk?', at which point I would alert them to the fact I have a bicycle. They normally follow that by asking if I want 'boomboom' and when that fails the next offers follow swiftly, advising that they can get 'Marijuana?. . Opium? . . Cocaine?' It would all be quite amusing if it wasn't for the fact that this is repeated about every twenty metres in the evening!) Anyway, I digress - she asked if she could sit down to escape their attentions and I was able to advise her of the place I was staying at as well as some other options nearby. It was during this conversation that Stephanie mentioned she had been hoping to do some dirtbiking around Cambodia and suddenly my next course of action was clear! Time for some motorised fun again (Man I miss the Fireblade).

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Walkabout returns! I have just left Thailand for Cambodia and had a pretty awesome time although I have barely scratched the surface of this beautiful country. I landed in Bangkok after a thoroughly exhausting series of flights and bus rides, first the road trip from Capetown to Jo'burg via Durban followed by a flight to Mumbai and then another to BKK, Thailand.
Having done no research on Thailand and leaving my guidebook back in Gib I was pleasantly surprised to see that I arrived on the second day of Songkran, the traditional Thai new year festival. This is the setting for some absolute madness all over Thailand as one of the main rituals on these three days is effectively a country-wide waterfight! Not a bad thing as this is one of the hottest months here and a regular drenching is often a relief although all electronic gear needs to be kept well wrapped in plastic as even the word soaked feels like an understatement compared to what happens here. As well as walking around the streets armed with all manner of water pistols (or ice cold buckets of water) there are plenty of pickup trucks roaming the city making sure no person can miss out and stay dry. I met some lovely people in my first days in Bangkok and we spent a few days checking out the drinking in various parts of the city.

During my first week I also spent some time mooching around the ridiculously huge shopping malls - they are like nothing I have ever seen before, seven or more floors of shopping madness where you can find almost anything you could want (real or fake).
I used my time in Bangkok as a long rest after all the moving around I have had to do recently so I am sad to say I avoided seeing most of the sights that I feel I should have gone to. Rather I spent much of my time hanging around the Backpacker bar and having some very late nights out at Bangkok's night clubs some of which are very impressive. Two of note were Spicy and Insomnia both of which close around six in the morning leaving some very tired and inebriated people to find their way home in the heat of the morning sun.
One of my greatest joys was discovering that the Thais are also football obsessed and combining that with bars that are open 24 hours around Khao San resulted in some great nights watching the recent Liverpool resurgence under Kenny Daglish (19th to 5th place and suddenly we even have a chance of European football again!). Liverpool also seem to be the most supported team in Thailand for reasons I cannot really fathom - apart of course from the obvious fact they are awesome.

On one of my nights out I met an Israeli girl called Shia who has a lot of contacts in Pattaya and suggested that if I headed down there she would be able to get me a discount on the diving course I want to do. So there it was, after two weeks of doing not much at all it was time to move to Pattaya - possibly the maddest place I have ever been to in my life. Up until 1961 this was a small peaceful fishing village, however that year a group of about 100 American GI's went there for some R&R during the Vietnam war. This trend continued for some time resulting in a den of iniquity that now attracts some four million visitors a year. There are many retired Europeans living here and it seems the Russians have moved in big time with every second sign in Russian.

The night life is absolutely insane with many gogo bars and nightclubs and it is hard to find anywhere to have a quiet pint! I would have left after a couple of days I think except for one thing, while wandering around the first night I popped in to a bar with a pool table and challenged a very cute girl who was playing there to a game. We started talking and it turns out she is a manager of one of the places there. After a fun evening we agreed to meet up the next evening and then the one after and. . . Anyway there went my touring of Thailand! Before I knew it my first month in Thailand was up and it was time to head out so I can fly back in at the end of May to get another month visa. I picked Cambodia as my next destination and by the 12th was in a shared van on my way to Aranya Prathet on the Thai-Cambodia border. I will have to make up for my laziness with some serious travelling when I get back next month!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Run South

I return! It has been quite a while since I last updated this site - I simply could not be bothered sitting around for hours on end waiting for pictures to upload and then having them fail anyway in the last few seconds! However, now that I am in Bangkok there are WiFi signals in nearly every bar and not only that but they are nearly all free and very fast.

My route south from Rwanda back to South Africa was pretty much taken at a snail's pace. I would take bus after bus for two to three days at a time, snatching sleep while on the move and then follow such stints with several weeks of laziness. My first main stop once I got back from Tanzania was in Malawi. I headed straight to Nkhata Bay where I spent a few weeks trying to get a little fitter after my body decided to eat itself while I had Malaria! (I am down to 68kg from a stunning corpulent 85kg that I weighed in at as I left Gib.) The guys at Aqua Africa - where I did my PADI courses - were great with me and I popped over every couple of days to take out their kayak for a little paddle. Life was pretty uneventful other than one very sad incident that brought home some of the reality of the troubles people face in parts of Africa. I had a local friend called Simon who worked at Big Blue Backpackers, one of these people who is inspiring when you see how hard they work. One of the nights about a week after I arrived he was working late behind the bar and had agreed to cover security overnight for some extra cash. He was complaining of a bad headache at about 9pm but did not want to tell the boss as he did not want to lose the extra shift. When I popped in the following morning, the guys told me that during the night it had got much worse and at around 3am he went off to the hospital. By about an hour later Simon had passed away from cerebral malaria. There is not really much more I can say other than that he was one of the nicest people I had met on my travels, always with a smile on his face and checking that everyone was doing all-right.
After a few weeks I moved on via Lilongwe into Zambia on my way down back to Zimbabwe. I decided to take a few days break in Lusaka where I met up with a lovely lady called Alice Zulu who I had randomly spoken to on Facebook a few months earlier.
She gave me the guided tour of the area local to where I was staying which is always a massive help especially in the cities. After a few days it was time to move again with the next stop being Livingstone - just across the border from Vic Falls in Zimbabwe.

Once back in Zim I managed to organise a day out in the bush with the Lion Encounter people so I could see everyone again and especially the three new cubs that arrived just after I left last year. These young ones are much more docile than any of the other lions I have met, to the point that when you put your hand near the face they will sometimes lick it. I would have loved to go a few more times and get to know them better but at the moment my spending is right on the mark and I need to be sure to save cash for Thailand and of course any unexpected problems that may crop up.
My plan after Zimbabwe was to cross Botswana into Namibia although I would only have had a few days there before I had to head on south. I woke up at 5am to try and avoid the problems I encountered with lack of buses on my last attempt. Getting a taxi to the border however took some time as we needed to wait for enough people to fill it and by the time I had crossed the border it was already gone 0830 meaning that I had

missed the buses yet again. There was no turning back however so I sat on the side of the road to try hitch a lift and after a couple of hours finally a truck driver called Obi stopped and agreed to take me to Nata (my plan was to then move on to Maun on my way to the western border with Namibia). We trundled off down the road being wary of elephants that like to cross the roads in Botswana, but the run down was much slower than I had anticipated. Rather than arriving in Nata during the early afternoon as I had envisioned, we got there around nine in the evening. By this time I was more than a little tired and looking forward to the convenience of being in South Africa so after some discussion with Obi we agreed I should stick with him until the SA border some 400km north of Johannesburg.

We drove into the night with a nap stop at about 3am and hit the border by ten in the morning where I bid Obi farewell and set off to find out how to move on south. I got sucked into a conversation with one of the border guards where we managed to discuss religion AND politics, two subjects that I love to chat about but really are not always the best topics in most of Africa for someone as outspoken as I am! However I must have navigated that potential minefield decently as when I started to worry that I had left it too late to get to Joburg in a timely manner, the border guards told me not to worry and that they would get me a lift south. Within about fifteen minutes I was in a lovely BMW with a businessman Afrikaaner called Willem who not only took me to Joburg, but also dropped me off at the front door of the Hostel I wanted to stay at. Air conditioning and about 200kph all the way signalled my return to the easy life!

I had two weeks to kill before the flight to Thailand so I decided to visit Karina in Capetown again where I am not ashamed to admit we spent more than a few days sampling every takeout place in the area and playing Burnout on the console! A week of fattening myself back up and I took the bus over to Johannesburg via the coast for my flight on the 13th of April. So long Africa and thanks for the precious memories, too much has happened for me to write much more than a small taster but I hope that one day I can return and see some of the many things that I had no time for. Onwards to the land of smiles and lots of noodles - woohoo!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Uganda - Gorillas and waterfalls!

Once in Uganda I settled down just outside Kampala in a hostel called Red Chilli Hideaway. It was time to start work on getting my gorilla tracking permit. I headed to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and began checking things out - luckily I was being careful as the first date they tried to give me a permit for, the only accomodation in the area was a massive $60 per night! The UWA people insisted I should be able to pay this (being a muzungu of course. . . no problem!) so eventually I gave up for a bit and decided to nip over to Jinja while I thought about the best way to approach this expensive part of my trip.

Jinja is about 70 kilometres northeast of Kampala and famous as the source of the Nile where Lake Victoria's waters start the long journey to the Mediterranean. While there I found a very quiet relaxing place near the Bujagali falls where white water rafting was being offered for a very decent price. Having not done much of note for a while I decided to give it a go resulting in an awesome day, some new friends, muscle ache and sunburn!

A few days later it was back to Kampala for my second attempt at co-ordinating my gorilla tracking permit with accomodation availability. Kampala is a beautiful city with some pretty insane traffic. The best way to get around is on the Bodabodas (bike taxis) which can be pretty scary. Helmet laws do not exist as far as I can tell, and while I love bikes, I do much prefer to be the one in control when squeezing through rush hour traffic! Every tree in the city seems to have Marabou storks nesting on them - they look pretty weird and not unlike modern day pterodactyls watching over the city. As I was there over the weekend I took the time to check out Kampala's famous night life and was not disappointed. There are many massive clubs dotted around the city, with a great many of them located in an area known as Kabalagala. There were a few crazy nights with some other people staying at Red Chilli - on the Saturday we left Kabalagala at about 7am and the party was still going strong!

A few days later I had managed to get my permit to track gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest near a small town called Ruhija. There was a new campsite that had opened up with very reasonable prices of ten dollars a night for a small room. I caught the first bus I could down to Kabale near the Rwanda/Congo border and found a Bodaboda driver willing to drive the two hours it would take to get to Ruhija. Within twenty minutes we were on a dirt track and heading away from any signs of civilisation. The variation in plant life in this area is pretty incredible and I started to understand why it is called the 'impenetrable' forest. Everywhere you look there are miles and miles of trees covering a very mountainous area. Between the trees are smaller plants of every variety and covering all that a mass of vines and creepers. Even with a small army of people and machetes it would take hours to get anywhere in this kind of landscape if it wasn't for the one track that we were haring along. I was almost at my wits end from hanging on to the bike when we finally saw the sign indicating we were at Ruhija and I went to settle in for the night.

The morning brought the realisation that I was now in new territory. It was raining lightly and the valleys were filled with mist as I enjoyed some tea and toast before setting off to the UWA post a kilometre down the road. On arrival there were six other tourists there (a Swedish and Danish couple, two Australians and two Americans) and once the briefing was over we set off down the road. The guides were in radio contacts with the trackers who had set off an hour earlier and we soon turned off the road and onto a small path into the forest proper. Within minutes we were trekking up and down hills as the trackers gave us directions and we got slowly closer to the gorillas. They would stop to eat fruit at one location, then double back on themselves while we were negotiating our way round the thick undergrowth and avoiding the really steep areas. After about four hours we found them relaxing in the bottom of a valley. Our first sighting was a silverback sitting with one of the younger males in a tiny area they had cleared.

They pretty much ignored us and it is very clear they are used to people popping by to have a look. One of the most interesting things to me was hearing the other gorillas grunt to alert each other to their position. It was clear that there was a few of them around but due to the foliage one can only see a few metres in any direction if that so they remained just sounds to us. A few metres further on we found another silverback and the oldest male of the group who was heavily scarred on his head apparently from fights for dominance. The one hour we had was over before we knew it and we headed back.

At this point I got a lucky break as I was discussing the tiring bike ride from Kabale to Ruhija when Jurgen and Anita (the Danish gentleman and Swedish wife) kindly offered to drive me back to Kabale in their hired 4 wheel drive. We left at 9.30 am the next morning and before I knew it I was back in Kabale ready to find transport to Rwanda.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Malaria and cargo boats

The story of how I got to Uganda and discovered the real Malaria! I left Dar Es Salaam around the 24th wanting to cover some distance. The bus trip was a good eleven hours and it was about half way through that I started to feel the chills. Having not slept much the night before I have to admit to thinking I was simply overtired. The first real warning signs started an hour later when I started to feel what can only be described as serious muscle-ache in my neck which quickly spread to my lower back. Now anyone who has driven on the roads (those that have tarmac) in Tanzania will probably be able to tell you they really like their speed bumps, and these are not gentle ones, oh no! Every bump was acutely felt in my back and neck and together with my feeling cold resulted in the sulk of all sulks on the last few hours of that run. Eventually we arrived at Arusha where I forked out the extra for a normal taxi cab and was taken to a very nice place called Maasai camp.

Bottom line, malaria sucks. Never skimp on your anti malarial tablets and definitely go to the doctor the moment you suspect it may be an issue. Needless to say I failed on both of these, false sense of security from hanging around with the locals who never take prophylaxis and I have the bad habit of trying to ride out feeling ill instead of seeking medical help. Unfortunately malaria hits pretty bad, you sleep through the good parts leaving you wide awake for the fever. That and the inability to eat or even drink much really messes you up. On the 30th I came to my senses and went to the clinic where I was given a small bucket of tablets and told to take them after meals (hurr hurr funny doctor). The nice surprise was that I started getting my energy back on the 1st January, a good omen for the coming year?!

The next few days I toured around Arusha with the help of a bike taxi driver who had no problem with being my passenger instead. I was still grumpy over being ill so decided to get my bus ticket to Mwanza on the south shore of Lake Victoria and leave all the bad mojo behind! By the 4th January I was on the road again and had a nice surprise as two friends from Malawi (Jakob and Ola) boarded the same bus. The ride over was fairly horrific to be honest. There was no tarmac on the majority of the road and the driver had taken to screaming around corners and over bumps as if he was a rally driver. We had all managed to get in the back two rows of the bus so every time we hit a bump we all literally flew into the air. Eventually the driver had to slow down slightly as angry passengers started complaining loudly yet even that did not prevent a tyre blowing out half way through the journey (third one this trip!).

We arrived in Mwanza battered, bruised and very glad to be off the death trap. We found a nice cheap guest house in the centre of town and spent a few days doing as little as possible apart from finding nice restaurants where we could and being guided around by a very kind young local guy who took a shine to us. Having strangely enough tired of using buses I visited the port to see if I could hop on a cargo boat to cross the lake to Uganda. There was a boat leaving on the Friday called the Sukhmani and I managed to get the price down to $40 from the $80 they originally wanted. It was a slow trip taking a total of 38 hours but I had a bunk and was fed with the rest of the crew who were very accommodating and interested to talk with me about anything and everything. As we got near Uganda I was offered a sample of the cargo (lots of beer).

I received no exit stamp from Tanzania as the immigration guys bunked off early and was quite worried when we arrived on the Sunday the 9th as it appeared there was nobody in customs at Port Bell to sort out my visa with. After a few discussions with the local police and me pointing out I really wanted to avoid sleeping on the boat again if there was any way, they called out an immigration official who arrived after an hour and processed my visa quickly. I apologised for the call out - I had been hoping to just be allowed through leaving my passport and then return to sort the visa on Monday - and finally was free to enter Uganda.

One hectic Bodaboda (bike taxi under new name) ride later and I was at Red Chilli Hideaway, a very nice backpacker hostel outside Kampala. This is it! I shall travel north no more - now the plan is to go see the source of the Nile at Jinja and see if I can get a gorilla tracking permit. Ciao for now peeps, this has been Bryan reporting from the equator - hurrah!