Preview: East Africa
Making our way to Kenya we pass through hot savannah grasslands where acacia trees provide the only shade. Various game, usually zebra and giraffe can be seen as we head over the border and into the capital, Nairobi.
From Nairobi, I’ll have the opportunity to visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Nearby is the Langata Giraffe Centre, where (if I’m lucky), I’ll get the change chance to get up close to feed them.
Our trip continues from Nairobi and heads north into one of Africa’s greatest natural features, the East African Rift Valley. Stretching from the Dead Sea in Jordan down to Mozambique in Southern Africa, this is considered some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. The valley floor seems to sweep on forever and is dotted with volcanic peaks, shimmering lakes and countless springs.
The journey takes us into the heart of the Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha. We camp near the lakeshore where Hippos sometimes feed at night! I’ll have the option of hiring mountain bikes and cycling or walk through Hells Gate National Park — the only game reserve in Kenya in which you are permitted to do so. Or for a less active but equally enjoyable game viewing experience — visit the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary. Both offer excellent scenery & opportunities to spot hyrax, abundant bird & plant life along with several types of gazelle, impala and eland.
A further half day drive through hills covered in tea plantations and rural scenery drive brings us to Lake Nakuru National Park — home to a wide variety of wildlife including Black Rhino, Hippo, Lion, Leopard, Hyena and Giraffe. However, Nakuru is a soda lake and most famous for its pink inhabitants, a flock of almost a million Pink Flamingos which feed noisily along the shoreline.
A mountainous drive with spectacular scenery through the Nandi Hills brings us to our next stop at Eldoret. From here we’ll cross into Uganda, and continue west to the capital, Kampala.
Kampala has had a turbulent past, but these days it is a friendly and safe city. I’ll have a free day to spend in local cafes and nightspots, or if I prefer, visiting a local Chimpanzee Sanctuary and rehabilitation centre on one of the islands on Lake Victoria.
Traveling through Uganda, we’ll pass through a number of small towns and villages like Mpigi and Kyazanga, where I can sample the local wares (and pretend like I’m living on Little House on the Prarie, by the looks of it).
The Virunga range of volcanic mountains and the rainforests on these mountain slopes are home to several families of Highland Mountain Gorillas, where I’ll have the opportunity to trek to see the Gorillas in Rwanda. Apparently only 700 or so gorillas are left! This mountainous area on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC is their only natural habitat and they are periodically threatened by poachers and political instability in the area. One permit allows you to spend about 50 to 60 minutes with one of the gorilla families. Trekking to find them in groups of 8 people can take anywhere from half an hour to 5 hours. The organisations and well-trained guides that continually monitor and protect the families are conscientious and responsible. There will also be an opportunity to visit the genocide memorial in Kigali.
We then return towards Kampala and camp near Jinja — Uganda’s adventure playground. Here, on the edge of Lake Victoria, the Nile begins its 6700km journey to the sea. We spend the next few days downstream from the source of the Nile. This is a spectacular area, and a superb place to go whitewater rafting or kayaking. I can also organise quad biking , horse riding or a visit to a local education project.
Re-entering Kenya, we travel around the foothills of Mount Kenya before heading into the remote regions of northern Kenya , with some of the worst roads on the entire trip. Nomadic tribes people like the Rendille in Marsabit & the Samburu (cousins of the Maasai) still wear very distinctive and often elaborate dress.
Crossing into Ethiopia, many of the roads we’ll be traveling on are very poor dirt or gravel roads and often in mountainous areas, so travel is slow. Ethiopia has a lot more visual & indigenous history than any other sub — Saharan country.
We continue our journey north heading into the Omo Valley. This little visited region is home to some of the most colourful ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The friendly Hamar people are noted for their ornate, interesting hairstyles and the Mursi people are famous for the clay lip plates and earlobe decorations. An optional 2 day tour will take you into the Omo National Park.
We spend a couple of days in the capital Addis Ababa where we have the chance to indulge in some authentic Ethiopian coffee or explore ‘El Mercato’ — one of East Africa’s largest open air markets. We also spend the next few days organizing our Sudanese and Egyptian visas — before heading onto Bahir Dar via the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge & Falls. Based on the southern edge of Lake Tana , I’ll have the opportunity to organise boat trips to some of the small islands which have Monasteries dating back up to 900 years, and which are still looked after by monks who live from subsistence farming.
In the towns of Bahir Dar and Gondar (the capital of Ethiopia from 1632 until 1868), we spend about 4 days at each , where I’ll be able to organise visits to some of Ethiopia’s most famous sites, including the holy city of Axum and the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela. These date from the 12th Century and have been kept alive by generations of dedicated priests who guard their precious religious and artistic artifacts. The border with (South) Sudan is not far from Gondar, which is my penultimate stop on my grand African adventure.