Tuesday, 12 October 2010

To the coast

So that night we got the sleeper from Nairobi to Mombassa. My friend had warned me that the last few times she took it it had taken a lot longer than the 14 hours that it should. Getting in to the train station was quite stressful as they tried to keep out some people and let others in - through a small gate. This sleeper had a buffet car where we unwisely opted for the second sitting which was a lot later than its adverised time. At some point during the meal the train stopped. Going to sleep it was still stationary. I was woken at about 1am by a german guy being really loud 2 cabins along. I asked him politely to be quieter which he ignored. Cate had a go a bit firmer which I could hear him ignoring. I kind of lost it at this point & got quite angry, as I was so tired still being a bit ill and needing to sleep. I even... pointed at him as I was talking, which he really didn't like and swore at me quite a lot, but he did quiten down ofter this.

We awoke to a still stationary train and were able to get off and look around. We were in the middle of nowhere - who'd have guessed it - except there were still a fair number of kids who were enjoying the train being there. It's quite easy to look down on the africans for this kind of thing, but as they have only been able to afford one track from Nairobi to the coast, with occasional passing places, it only takes one to break down and the line is blocked. In this case it wasn't our train that had broken down (as I had assumed), but a small cargo train. It had taken all night for another train to get there to take it away. Getting off the train seemed to get things moving as someone was shouting for us to get back on! So we rushed back on and had our breakfast in the buffet. At one point the german guy came and apologised which I thought was quite decent of him and I accepted it and we kind of became friends and greeted each other like long-lost brothers, Cate said, when we saw each other later on in Mombassa.

So we had an unexpected day journey, most of which being thwough a massive game reserve. Some of the guys we met saw elephants in the distance. We arrived in Mombassa about 1 day and 1 hour after we'd left which was our longest train journey yet. We found a really sweet hotel with a roof courtyard & an amazing curry house. The only sad bit was when our waiter asked us if we knew how he could get child sponsorship for his child. He was an older guy and didn't look at all tricksy and also wasn't asking us for money. It was a nice restaurant & we had assumed that a waiter there would earn enough to look after his kids.

Mombassa's old town was really beatiful and we found the scene of boys playing football in front of Fort Jesus (not two words that I like to see together!) that Cate had seen in her Cities book. We met a sweet old man selling crafts who'd lost most of his voice. We explored the old city a bit and ending up eating chapattis and beans in a little room / restaurant for something like 40p which reminded us how most people there live.

The next day we had quite a long journey ahead as we took a taxi to the small (& free!) ferry accross from the peninsula and then waited about an hour for a minibus matatu to fill up to take us to the border town of Lunga Lunga to head into Tanzania. They were competing with the north africans for noise levels, with a home made wooden box subwoofer. Time for the earplugs again.

Quite a few squeezed in hours later and we were almost at the border. This is going to be a little embarassing, but we are committed to honesty on the blog, so here goes... we remembered that again we didn't have enough money for the visa!! We asked someone if there was an ATM at the border. Oh no. There was one an hour ago in the last big town if we'd have remembered before that. So once we'd got there I had to get in a matatu heading back north for an hour or so and go and get money and get another one back, which turned out to drop me only halfway back so I had to wait for yet another one. And did I mention these are fairly cosy?!

On the plus side we did then get across the border fairly easily, not without the help of two motorbikes which seemed the only way between the two customs spots - a few miles apart, one in Lunga Lunga, the other in Hora Hora, Tanzania. At some point I found some money hidden away which we had actually had all along (whether it was enough for visas and onward travel we don't quite know...) We had hoped to head to a bigger town in Tanznaia, but we had promised ourselves not to travel after dark and so hoped that this tiny place would look after us well for our first night in Tanzania.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Night safari and butternut squash in Nairobi

We reached Nairobi from Addis Ababa in two hours. This journey should have taken us 8 days, and it was very odd to find ourselves speeding from Nairobi airport towards the city centre at 2am. We collapsed in our hotel, which even the receptionist admitted 'wasn't that nice, but it's okay'. The warmth of the dudes who worked here definitely filled what lacked in our room. We awoke to the rich tapestry of African worship pouring into the street, a beautiful signpost of God at work in Kenya! Post pancakes and coffee for breakfast in a local cafe (mmm), we called Nick's Kenya friend to see if we might be able to stay at her place. It turned out she had moved out of her parents' place, and her parents were in England. It also turned out that we could stay in their empty house and borrow their unused pick-up! This amazing generosity enabled us to have a day of fun and a day of rest before travelling again.

Day of fun first - this was in Nairobi National Park, twenty minutes from their home. I imagined this to be a slightly bigger zoo but it blew all my expectations! For all I knew, I could have been tearing through the Masai Mara, endless plains with jagged trees, streams, mountains, blue sky punched with exquisite white clouds - all above Nick and I in our truck (!), with only the occasional jeep to bump into. The animals were also tougher to spot than I imagined, which we both loved, as it made it a chase. A chase until we turned a corner and halted extremely suddenly. A giant giraffe was standing in the road, languidly chewing on a leaf. My heart leapt! I was not expecting to be afraid of a giraffe! But he was so enormous, I am sure with one lurch of his neck he could wipe me out. As we adjusted, we saw we were surrounded by about seven of them, all tall, grand, graceful.

At 'Hippo Point' we found a sign and a path that seemed to insinuate debarking from your car and ambling through the forest. Considering every other sign had commanded visitors to remain in their vehicles, this was puzzling. But debark we did. Admittedly at every rustle in the bushes we jumped, expecting a lion to pounce. Out would flutter a teeny weeny bird. This was for me the most beautiful part. The brown river ran through great, lush trees, and a concoction of bird songs filling the air. Nick followed a baboon swinging through a tree, which led us to a vast tree, housing about twenty baboons - a kingly one sitting at the front facing us, a baby perching at the top, a few inquisitive ones creeping towards us. We both faced one another in silence. Out of the corner of our eye we saw several giraffes pad down to the river to drink. It was humbling to walk among nature - I felt so small, so grateful, sharing the land with all these creatures. In Africa the sun seems to drop out of the sky in minutes, and we saw the blue sky deepen and darken, so we hastily scrambled back to the car. We had driven almost as far as you could from the main gate, but we saw on our map 'Cheetah Gate' was nearby, so we headed towards it. 'STOP!', I cried. 'A few expletives!', I cried. 'Be ready to drive'!, I cried. 'Get the windows up now', I whispered.

On Nick's side, only two metres from the car, lay a male lion. I have never seen a lion like this before. His face was captivating, powerful, with almost mournful eyes, an enormous mane. He sat at peace, staring into our eyes, and glancing away whenever he wished. Surely the most pursued animal in the park - and we had found him, right next to us! Slowly, surely, we watched the female prowl down the road towards us. She passed behind us and approached her male. She yawned widely, sleepily, terrifyingly. The male yawned back. She leapt onto him, and they rolled playfully in abandonment, only a few feet away. It seemed such an intimate and beautiful moment, and we were so grateful. Dark was closing in on us however, so we zoomed towards the gate, a herd of zebras bashing their way in front of us en route.

We finally reached the gate only to see it's rickety metal frame pulled together by chains and a solid padlock. 'Something about Cheetah Gate being pernamently closed...' mused Nick. 'Yes. I remember hearing something...' Children from the village peeped through the gate and a man lent us his mobile to call our friend so she didn't worry. It was already 7.15pm. The park shut at 7pm. Our friend advised us to leave at 6.30pm. We realised there was no option but to turn back, back into the pitch black depths of the park, to roam freely among rhinos and lions, and try to find the road that would lead us out of the wild. Plently of obstacles to face - an owl flying into our windscreen, potholes, a rhino charging off the road, that zebra herd again - we finally reached the gate (well done Nick!). We expected a severe rebuke from the park guard - a fierce looking lady with a gun - but she seemed only to care that we had shut the gate behind us properly (understandable - I would NOT choose to be the one between a killer lion and the population of Nairobi).

And then our day of rest. Both of us needed it. Nick had his second influx of man flu, which totally knocked him. Being in this house enabled him to sleep in a lovely big white bed and have a deep bath. It was a beautiful place filled with pretty things, which I loved, and a garden with flowers. I sat on the sofa with my feet up and closed by eyes for about fifteen minutes - the comfort was something I hadn't felt for ages! I popped into the nearby town, bought some yummy food for lunch and sat drinking coffee and writing in my journal. Back at the house I made a butternut squash and halloumi salad - something we'd often eat in London, but never now - and ambled around enjoying the lovely things. It felt very different to our lives these days! And I think that is a good thing - this journey feels so like the right thing for us.

Nick emerged from white puffy duvet land late in the afternoon and we began packing our bags. A night train - our last sleeper for the entire trip - to Mombasa awaited us.

Addis and the journey south

We had been told that our matatu minibus would turn up between 3.30 and 4am. We got a knock on our door at about 3.15am for which we were not ready! We reached for the light switch to do our final packing - things we need during the night like our mosquito net. No electricity. I ran out in my pajamas to borrow the night guards torch. Groggily we packed and went out to the minibus. It had started at 2am to pick up the first passenger so we were lucky!

The first bus journey - to Gondar - had involved getting out and walking for a stretch - so we weren't too surprised at the various interruptions on this long trip. We snoozed through the early hours, then stopped for breakfast and continued to get lovely coffee even in the small towns. Then we had a couple of stops were we had to wait for half an hour and pretend we weren't going the whole way from Bahir to Addis because of the new bus regulations apparently. One of these involved leaving the bus stop the back way and getting stuck in mud and me and the other guys all pushing the bus out! This was all quite good fun and we made a friend who spoke English. We also stopped for a 'carwash' - done by the driver and conductor in a small waterfall amongst beautiful mountains. By the way, had we mentioned Ethiopia is COLD! We are wearing all our clothes in the evenings when it is, brace yourselves, below 20C! We had got used to 40C until a couple of days ago so this is freezing to us!

Our friend 'helped' us find a hotel room, i.e. took over and wanted something different from us, which turned out to be quite stressful after something like 12 hours since we left in the small hours. We eventually got away after me saying stupid things, like "We've taken up too much of your time" - HIM "oh, no, not at all... (has this line ever worked?)" We found a quiet, sweet little hotel ran by women. This was nice for Cate after the long period of male dominance of the past few weeks where we had almost no interaction with anyone but men.

Addis was quite tough as the visible poverty and begging was much more than we had experienced in the north. We always try to stop for people, but here we got overwhelmed at times and just going to the internet cafe was a tiring voyage. We also felt the tension of wanting to live simply and needing to transition from the lifestyles we are used to, especially as this trip tires us out. So as in Cairo we went to the Hilton for a coffee and an escape. In both of these a coffee is less than we would pay in London, but here it feels like something out of place and yet is somewhere we can escape when our capacity seems run dry.

We spent our day off catching up with the internet or admin for the Mozambique school that is coming soon. We went to a cafe called Kaldi's that amusingly has copied the Starbucks design and font and uniform exactly and it even smells like Starbucks! We also had another get-lost-in-a-taxi experience where the taxi driver pretended he knew the restaurant we wanted. It turned out to have shut down a year ago so he really was bluffing. We eventually found our second choice and had a lovely meal, though we got thrown out at 10pm when they closed!

We had done a fair bit of research into whether we thought northern Kenya was an acceptable risk or not. But we decided to do some more before heading on from Addis the next day as this was the last chance to change our minds. Cate had had a wake in the night fearful moment a few months ago about it, but as this was after we had read some of the horror stories, we weren't sure whether it was understandable fear or a warning from God. The first time round most people that we'd read online had been saying the area was much better in the last few years. This time it seemed that the majority of what we read seemed to suggest it was a fairly dangerous stretch. There were stories of bullets through windscreens, armed robberies, much inter-tribe fighting etc. There was also the issue of it being by far the most difficult part of the trip in terms of road quality, transport and accomodation & we were finding it pretty hard as it was.

All in all, we felt like it was worth flying over this stretch from Addis to Nairobi. I had been pretty adamant against flying at all for most of the trip. We are really concerned about cutting back our carbon footprint for the sake of those in poorer countries who are the most effected by climate change. The UK average footprint is about 10 tonnes, and 2 tonnes is what we're supposed to cut down to. I had worked out that a flight from London to Mozambique was about 2 tonnes - i.e. a whole year's budget of carbon - meaning our year's footprint would be well over that. Going overland, though more costly in pounds, was only about 1/2 tonne.

A short flight though, would only push it up a little - to 0.6 or 0.7 tonnes - so I knew this was do-able, but we've always felt that when most people seem to be ignoring the warnings that scientists are giving, it is much clearer to give things up completely, which was why I was unkeen. But I changed my mind on reading about the Kenya-Ethiopa border.

So the next day we found ourselves in Addis Ababa airport. We love playing looky-likey's - we're always spotting people that look (a bit) like people we know - and Cate said, "I've got an excellent Bridget" so I crept forward for a good look, and lo and behold...It was Bridget! She and a bunch of our friends were on their way home from a trip to Zimbabwe. It was lovely to catch up and be prayed for and see familiar faces.

To prove I am no longer a seasoned air traveller, I was carrying my swiss army knife in my carry on bag. Apparently this isn't allowed. I pleaded with the lady, saying I'd had it since I was a boy and she said they could carry my bag on from there to the hold & I'd get it on the luggage conveyor. I'm not sure I would try this at Heathrow, but I was very happy.