World Cup Fever

11 06 2010

I wasn’t in the least bit excited about the World Cup until I heard World in Motion by New Order, the best England Song ever. Fact!

It is the best because it has a rap by John Barnes. It was also the England song for the first world cup that I remember, Italia ’90. Roger Millar Dancing, David Platts miracle volley (still not sure how he got that in) and Toto Scillachi scoring an absolute belter were the highlights. Obviously, Gazza crying wasn’t too good.

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Serengeti

16 06 2009

We took down our tents with hefty hangovers and large bar bills from the night before and packed them onto the new Safari Ferrari’s to go to the Serengeti National park for a couple of nights.  The roads were the best that we had seen for a few days and for some reason our drivers would only do 50kph, which was proving incredibly frustrating, especially as the weather wasn’t too great to start off with, and the fact that we kept having to stop for various different things, charcoal and the bank being one of them.

We then had to stop at the gate of the Ngorongoro reserve to pick up passes for there, and by the time we got to the gate of the Serengeti, driving across Agamma Lizardthe flattest most empty landscape I have ever seen the mood inside the Safari Ferrari was incredibly dark.  Our spirits lifted when we were allowed to walk to the viewing platform to have a look at the Seregeti stretching before us, and even more when we saw the brightly coloured Agamma Lizards basking on the rocks. 

Soon though we were back on the road, and the wildlife was fairly limited, we found one lion laying on a rock and a baboon about 300m away.  At least now we the mood had lightened, and soon we were seeing more animals, small clumps of Wildebeest a few Zebra here and there and the odd Ostrich.

Suddenly cresting a small hill we were struck with one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen, the Wildebeest migration.  The Plains were dotted as Wildebeest migrationfar as the eye can see with hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest all heading in the same direction, following the rain to their next feeding spot.  This sight was worth the cost of the trip alone, it was a totally spectacular sight and I apologise, but the photos in no way do it justice, you will have to take my word for it.   After that everything else seemed a bit tame for the afternoon, but we did get a better look at a Leopard and some Lions in trees, Lion in a Treeand some pretty spectacular sunset shots before hitting our bush camp for the evening.  Here we set up our tents and were told to look out for lions if we went to the toilet in the middle of the night.  After a smoky campfire we hit the tents and waited for daybreak.

The next day we had breakfast and then hit the trails again, where we saw Hippo’s, Hyenas, Lions starting the morning hunt, monkeys and the Wildebeest migration again.  This time though there were about 20 000 Zebras there too.  We also went to the visitor centre and saw a lot of Rock Hyrax’s, which are apparently a close relative of the elephant, although they look like a large mouse. 

Serengeti sunsetShortly after this we left the Serengeti and headed towards Olduvai Gorge, which is commonly known at the cradle of mankind, and is one of the most important archeological sites in the world.  It was here in this small part of the Rift Valley that the oldest fossil tools were found along with Homo habilis fossils and in nearby Laetoli that the oldest known human form footprints were found, those of Australopithecus afarensis (Fact!).  These are the first to have the big toe in line for walking rather than holding onto branches.  After a quick look around the museum we started to head towards our camp for the night on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. 

Ngorongoro CraterThe scenery leading up to this was stunning, but turning the corner to see the crater for the first time really has the wow factor.  The crater is the worlds largest, non-flooded, caldera (collapsed volcano to you and me) and is truly, truly spectacular.  The crater is over 600m deep and covers an area of 200 square km (Fact!).

The sun shining off the lake and the cloud coming over the rim made the view remarkable (do you get the feeling that I liked this), and that was without even going down into the crater itself to see the wildlife.

After taking photos. we headed for an eventful night on the crater rim…





The Road to Arusha

11 06 2009

After a night in Nairobi and the first night in the Acacia tents we set off on the long (7 hour) and extremely bumpy road to Arusha in Tanzania, whose clock tower represents, the mid-way point between Cairo and Capetown (Fact!).

We set out on the Zambezi for the first time, with Rich the guide/driver being an expert in African driving (hitting speed bumps at full pelt, avoiding cars while doing 100KPH) launching us down the highway towards the Tanzanian border.  I was sat backwards on the table seats facing Steve.  The nausea was worth it (from the bumps, not Steve’s face) seeing the look on Steve’s face whenever we went over big bumps and we all left our seats.

We hit the border after a couple of hours and had our passports checked and stamped, and changed our left over Kenyan Shillings for Tanzanian ones, and were then officially into the second part of our tour. 

We drove on for about 3 hours before we stopped at Arusha, where we were mobbed.  I was asked by the same guy if I wanted to buy the same out of date newspaper about 6 times.  We spent about an hour here being hasseled with the girls especially hating it, before we went to the Arusha Cultural centre to look at some artwork and to see some Tanzanite, one of the rarest and most valuable gemstones on Earth.  The reason for its high value is firstly the incredible blue colour, and secondly, becaue it is only found in one place in the world, the Merelani hills of Tanzania.  There is an estimated 10 years supply left, and consequently the price is high.  I had thought about buying some, like some of the others did, but then again I didn’t have $300 for a small gem.

After this detour we hit the road to our camp for the night the Meralani Snake Park and campsite.  There is a very informative collection of snakes that they collect anti-venom from.  The park was set up for this reason and treats people from all over Africa.

There is also a really good bar with a crocodile skin on the ceiling.  Cue a long night drinking.





Maasai Mara

10 06 2009

After the massive meal of the night before, I awoke early to grab some breakfast and then meet up with the truck in the car park.  On first inspection everyone seemed ok, but its a bit like the first day at a new job where its that nervous excitement. 

The Great Rift ValleyAs we were heading to the Maasai Mara, we weren’t in the huge truck the Zambezi, we were in 3 little Bedford rascal type vans (aka Safari Ferrari) with pop up roofs so that you can stand with your head out the top of them.  The first stop along the way was at the edge of the Great Rift Valley.  It is huge, and wide, and it is a shame that it was a hazy day as you couldn’t see the other side properly.  Driving down the side of the cliff, there were reminders of how dangerous these roads are, with lorries fallen off the side. 

Driving down the rift valley for about 80km is an experience.  The road is long and dusty and you can’t see the edges of the valley meaning that it is also fairly dull.

We arrived at our campsite to some exceptionally nice tents with toilets and Zebrashowers in and a great lunch (food is much better than I thought it would be) before setting off on the first evening of game drives.  Going through the gates is a little bit like entering Jurassic park, its exciting and you don’t know what you are going to see.  It turned out that Evans our driver did (he was always on the radio trying to find the best things for us) and was off like Michael Schumacher with a rocket up his tailpipe.  That evening we saw Secretary BirdElephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Thompsons Gazelle, Hartebeast, Water Buffalo, Warthog, Secretary Birds (I was quite excited about this as Secretary Birds kick Snakes to death (FACT!) and I have been obsessed by this since I was about 8.

About half an hour before our drive came to an end we came across a pride Motherly loveof lions, about 4 metres away. After watching the cubs play with the Lionesses and the large male pride leader for about 20 minutes we headed back to the camp for a well earned beer (Tusker) or 2.

The next morning we left for the park again, thinking that today couldn’t get any better…how wrong we could be.  After seeing more elephants, we pulled to a stop beside 5 other trucks scanning the horizon.  Once we had found the spot, we saw a cheetah stalking a Thompsons Gazelle.  Slowly at first, it made its way towards the little animal, then boom, the speed is incredible, swing an arc to the left, it bought down its prey, and then the strangest thing happened…all of the trucks fired their engines and were off at about the Cheetah and preysame speed as the cheetah, circling it while it was panting for breath.  The Cheetah didn’t seem to mind though, it just dragged the prey into the shade (of our vehicle) and sat catching its breath.  At that point, we saw 2 cubs coming across the grassland.  These joined the mother and sat down to feed.

Food FightFor the next 20 minutes we stood open mouthed as the 3 stunning cats carefully dissected the gazelle, leaving the stomach intact for the vultures.  It was a real privilege to see natures 2 fastest land animals go at it.  There really is only 1 winner though.  Soon the vultures started circling and Jackals came in to pick the bones once the cats had their fill and it was Crocodileon to our next animals.  After seeing a rather manky lion we went for lunch by a hippo filled river and taking a guide with an AK47 we headed off for a walk to get a bit closer to them and crocodiles.  More driving in the afternoon, saw the now familiar Elephants and Zebras before heading back to the camp for more camp fire japery and an early night.  We had an early start so that we could get into the park for dawn, and watch the sunrise over the plains. 

This proved to be really worth the lack of sleep, seeing the sunrise and the hot air balloon was the tip of the iceberg.

Balloon and RhinoThe real treat was seeing the Black Rhino.  These are incredibly rare on the Mara, with various numbers being thrown about, but never more than an estimated 25.  This really is a spectacular animal and seeing it that close in the wild is a great thing.  Soon it was time to head back to the camp for breakfast and then head back to Nairobi along the Great Rift Valley.





Nairobi

8 06 2009

OK, so I am back from the Safari, it was amazing, and now I have to try and blog it.  Its going to take a while, so I think that I am going to do it in several stages in which case people might actually read it.  As you may have guessed from the title, this is all about the time that I spent in Nairobi.

After the 9 hour flight from Heathrow T5 (A lot better than I was expecting actually) I got to Nairobi late evening, and after a more than a few drinks at the hotel bar, myself and Pete had to try and find something to eat.  We wanted to go off of the premises, but were only allowed out if we were accompanied by a guard with a truncheon, getting back at 2am, I went to bed.  I had a long day planned the next day, and wanted to get away early to make the most of it.

Daniel my driver for the day picked me up at 9am to take me to the Langata Its a GiraffeGiraffe Sanctuary.  This was started by Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa and involves a game walk and a viewing platform where you can feed the Giraffes.

I got taken on a tour of the game walk and spotted some weaver birds and a dung beetle, but not a lot else, until I turned a corner to find a Giraffe standing in the path.  After taking a long time to look at this giant animal and have my photo taken next to it, I headed over to the viewing platform where I was given a bucket of feed and told to wait.  Within seconds, 2 Giraffes had appeared, and feeding Feeding Giraffesthem by hand was great fun.  Their tongues are blue and sticky, and they make your hands incredibly wet.  A Giraffe can life to up to 28 years (Fact!) and a common cause of death is blindness, meaning they cant find food and then get eaten by predators (lions generally), even though a Giraffe can kill a Lion with a kick (Fact!).  Another interesting and completely useless fact is that they are the only animals that can lick their anus while standing up (Fact!).

After the mauling from the Giraffes, I headed to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.  You can only visit for one hour a day and a maximum of 150 people are allowed in.  Waiting for the baby elephants to turn up was interesting, as you got to see Baboons, Warthogs and some Gazelles in the background.

Elephant ParadeSoon the baby elephants had arrived and the rest of it was forgotten.  These were really young and had lost their mothers.  Each had their own handler who at that age stays with them for 24 hours a day.  The tiny Pachyderms were incredibly cute in their sun blankets, but the best thing was the 4 month old Rhino, who allowed people to stroke him, and felt like a soft leather couch.

Elephant OrphanGetting back to the hotel in mid afternoon, I sat with a couple of guys on other tours and chatted to them before the pre departure meeting in the evening.  Meeting everyone on this is a daunting prospect and a bit like a job interview, but on first impressions everyone seemed pretty nice.  I had agreed to meet up with some of the guys for dinner in the evening and we ended up goping to Carnivores, a world famous restaurant voted among the 50 best in the world by Restaurant Magazine.  The place is amazing, its pretty much an all you can eat buffet, except, all of the meat is cooked on barbecues on Maasi spears, which then get brought to your tables and carved for you. Baby Rhino

On the menu that night was Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Lamb, Goat, Crocodile and Ostrich.  The basic idea of the restaurant is that you have a flag on your table, and as soon as you raise it the waiters start to bring you food.  To get them to stop you lower the flag in surrender.  I was the last one eating and was left wanting more of the most amazing lamb I have ever had. 

Thus ended my time in Nairobi, next up was the trip to the Masi Mara.