Review of 2009

4 01 2010
I have been neglecting this blog for a while and concentrating on my photo blog, which I really enjoy doing.
So to kick off this year, I thought that I would do a kind of review of the year for 2009.  I don’t think I am doing a Spex awar this year, mainly because I can’t be bothered.  I am getting Lazy I think.
January started off with New Year in the most random pub in the world and a trip to a brewery for May-Z’s birthday, and then not a great deal happened, until February when I started going to Gigs again, Iglu and Hartley was the first of the year.
In March, not a lot happened again, but I saw a couple more bands.  April was great though, I met the wonderful H and we had a lot of fun.  I also formed the Victorian Gentlemans Amaretto Drinking Club (Fingers Up) in a pub in Worcester and went to Thorpe Park for the first time that year.
May was pretty good, my birthday was superb, we had a lot of fun, and then I went on Safari, this took me until mid June and was one of the most amazing things that I have ever done.  June came and went with more gigs and a trip to the Isle of Wight.  July flew past with Mark Cavendish winning 6 stages of the Tour De France and the Ashes starting.
August saw the completion of the Ashes, with England victorious, me failing to walk the Southdowns Way because of injury.  September included Bestival, which was superb, (Elbow were sublime) and Love Albert Road Day which was good too.
October was my month of blogging and to be honest it is some of the worst things ever written, I did start taking a lot of photos though.  In November I saw the Flaming Lips, which was about the only thing I did that month.
December flew past, with ATP and christmas, and I cooked for H on New Years Eve.
All in all, not a bad year.

Pride of Lions

14 10 2009

Pride of Lions

Originally uploaded by andyspex

Another dull day I am afraid, so I am posting the photo that had the most views on my Flickr account.

Exciting isn’t it.


22 06 2009

Now to the last leg of the journey, and heading to Zanzibar, the Indian Ocean Island, home of Spices and the birth place of Freddie Mercury. 

Docking at Stone TownAn early dash to the ferry had us awake at 5, and the 25 mile crossing was a lot calmer than I thought it would be.  This was going to be the relaxing part of the trip and also the part where I would say goodbye to everybody.  We landed in sunny Stone town and had our passports stamped, before getting into 3 cramped mini-busses to take us to the Coco De Mer hotel. 

Once settled in our room we had a spice tour booked which started in the old Portugese fort which gave Stone Town its name, as it was the first Stone Stone Town FortBuilding.  It was also a key part in one of the worst parts of African History, as it was a prison for Slaves.  They were shipped here before being taken to a slave market in the town.  This was our next stop, and was not an overly pleasant one, looking at the cramped conditions they were held in.

After this we headed to the Sultan of Omans former palace, and lunch before going to the Spice Plantation.  Here we got the chance to try all of the spices that Zanzibar is famous for, followed by coconut from the tree and an amazing fruit salad of freshly picked Pineapple, Passion Fruit and Mango among others.

In the evening we headed to the bar of the Africa house hotel.  On the 3rd floor this has amazing views over the ocean, and we were hoping for a decent sunset, but this didn’t happen.  After a few cocktails we headed to the night food market, which has to be experienced. The choice of food on offer was spectacular, the sea food was superb.  You picked what you wanted and had it cooked for you there.  I ate shark, calamari, lobster and drank garapa (sugar cane juice) before finishing it off with a chocolate pancake.

SunsetThe next day was the first of our 2 beach days and we headed north to  Kendwa and one of the whitest, cleanest, emptiest beaches I have seen.  The water was blue and warm and ideal for swimming.  With one of the most incredible sunsets that I have ever seen. 

In the evening there was a big party in the bar. 

Our 2nd day at the beach was a dissapointment, there was a proper monsoon style downpour, meaning that we couldn’t really get outside, but in the afternoon, the sun came out and a group of us headed up the beach in search of Ice cream.

The next day we headed back into Stone town.  Once there, sadly, the  tour left, and after a lot of swapping of email addresses they were gone.  I had another day to kill, so I spent some time wandering the shops, trying not to spend anymore on trinkets.  This didn’t work.  In the evening I went back to the food market, before hitting the sack.  The next morning I spent a long time sitting with a glass of Mango juice reading a book and watching about 100 traders carrying sacks off a boat that had landed on the beach.

Later I had to get the ferry back.  I wasn’t too worried as the journey over was nice and flat.  How wrong could I possibly be.  I was fairly ill.  After I got to Dar I got a taxi to my hotel and promptly fell asleep.  I was woken up by a wedding party outside of my room playing drums quite fantastically, and a fitting way to end my journey as I was leaving at 5am the next day.

To Dar

19 06 2009

We paid our bar bills at the campsite, had breakfast and then set out on our 2 day drive to the beach at Dar Es Salaam.  The first days driving was fairly uneventful and we made it to our camp at Tembo.  After we set up the tents, myself and Hazel went for a walk with a guide, who took us up far higher and Tembofurther than we thought we would.  Walking through the Villages we were greeteb by kids shouting ‘Jambo’ (hello) and and a few of the braver ones shouting ‘Mizungu’ (White man).  We climbed to a logging camp run by a dutch company, that have helped the area no end.  They have provided jobs in the logging camp and factory, a medical centre and houses for the local people and a school for the kids.  Now our guide was at university, studying tourism and Geography, whith my background we got on well.  In the camp they have a cable car for transporting the cut timberLogging Cable Car and workers, the disparity between the european money and the african shanty towns is there to be seen. 

Back at the camp dinner had been cooked and was a fantastic curry made by Dave and a few others.  Dave, conveniently is a chef at 15, one of Jamie Olivers restaurants, and it was good.  We also had chocolate cake and custard for desert.

The next day was the same again, breakfast followed by a long drive to Dar Es Salaam.  Stopping for lunch, we headed into Dar in the afternoon.  This  is the busiest city that we would go to and definately not one that I would like to drive a truck around.  Rich did blindingly well getting the beast around the tight streets, only once having a problem witha turn, almost hitting an car, and once going down a one way street the wrong way, but we got there, and while Marijke was getting our ferry tickets for the next day we hit the slowest internet cafe in the world.

Getting to the Dar beach was a lot easier, we just drove onto a ferry across the water, the sand was amazing and the water warm.  We walked down the beach and then spoke to some Swiss guys who have become my heroes.  They had bought a van in Switzerland and had driven it through Europe, parts of the middle east and down Eastern Africa.  Apart from a breakdown in Ethiopia and one in Nairobi, it had been plain sailing all the way for them.  They were heading towards Botswana and then to South Africa where they are selling their van.  Maybe someday I will do that sort of thing, but I doubt it.

Anyway, next up passports and yellow fever vaccination certificates at the raedy, were off to Zanzibar.

Ngorongoro Crater

18 06 2009

The night on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater was cold, colder than we had been for the last week anyway, we were warmed by the campfire and the bloody great elephant that was in the campsite.  I mean about 5m from the fire.  Pete had earlier almost walked into the thing in the dark.  It just plodded on though.  Myself and Steve were trying to find out if the elephant had a name from a security guard.  On hearing that it didn’t we christened him Bernard.  Bernard the Elephant now lives in the Ngorongoro crater.

We had a good dinner and some Ugali which is a cornmeal based dough that is rolled into a ball in your hands, then make a dent with your thumb and fill it with the vegetables and meat mixture.  It tasted great.

CraterWe woke up early to prepare for the trip into the crater, and leaving before dawn we were hoping to make the most of the early day and see lots of animals.  Driving around the rim we got a spectacular sunrise before descending into the crater itself.  The road down is narrow and steep but has some of the most incredible views. 

Halfway down we started seeing animals, tiny dots on the valley floor.  FlamingoHundreds of tiny dots.  Hundreds of dots that slowly grew into Wildebeest, Elephants, Zebra, Buffalo, Rhino, Ostrich, Hippo, as well as thousands of Pink Flamingo’s in the salt lake.

The crater has the highest concentration of Lions in the world, with 2 prides within the crater rim, we saw both of these, the first with 2 cubs and the leader of the pride sat on a river bank, and the second a few hours after they Lion Cubhad made a kill and were all lethargic and feeding on a Wildebeest.

We took a drive down to a lake where we could stretch our legs and I sat photographing some tawny eagles skimming the lake and harassing people for food.

After the pit-sop we left the crater seeing more rhino and hippo and headed back to Arusha for another night in the snake park.  Once we got there however our first stop was a trip to the Maasai cultural centre which gave us an insight into the nomadic ways of the people, and then we went on a walk to the local village, where we were mobbed by kids who wanted us to play with them (cue plenty of swinging them around) and were treated to Kidsome Maasai singing and dancing.

Heading back via the local hospital to see some snake bite victims, we hit the bar for the evening and went for a midnight walk around the snake park, which was a spooky experience.


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.


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.


21 05 2009

I am writing this really just to see what comes out. For the last few days I have been suffering a head cold with the full works, buzzing ears, blocked nose, and when its not blocked, running all over the place, sore throat etcetera etcetera. This is probably the fault of the Malaria tablets (that I have now been told are the wrong ones) and have to start taking Malerone now, luckily not Meflaquin, which is Lariam based, and that has all of the horror stories about it including the psychotic breakdown side effect. I am barely able to keep it together as it is without all of that rubbish.

Still, less than 48 hours until my flight. To say that I am nervous is an understatement, but this I think is coming from the fact that I know taht I am so under prepared for this. Plus all of the hidden costs are coming out now, which had I been more prepared would have not been so hidden. Still, how many chances am I going to get to go on a Safari.

The down side to this is that I am leaving H for nearly 3 weeks, and with our burgening relationship going really well, this is most unfortunate timing. Especially as when I come back she is almost straight off again, firstly to the Isle of Wight Festival (the housemate is going too) and then to Barcelona with some of her friends. For some reason I am a bit lot jealous of them.  Recently I have been finding out what it is like to want to spend all of your time with one person who makes you so happy.  Its been a while so I am having to get used to it.  I just hope that neither of us have second thoughts while we are away.  I don’t see why we should, its all going far too well at the moment.

I have had time to get the last of my things now, and am feeling slightly happier about going.  I am relaxed in the knowledge that I have to be there on my own and will have to be exceptionally vigilant at all times.  After the pickpocketing incident in Barcelona (years back now with Mark) I have become a lot more street smart, and spotted what nearly happened to Neil in Madrid a mile off.  I should be ok, but I am still a bit nervous.  Having barely any sleep for the last few nights hasnt helped.   Hopefully I will find it easy to get some sleep on the plane to while away a few hours.  The films that are on really aren’t my sort of thing so I will be taking a few books and from seat 27A (window seat, just behind the wing and the toilets) I will make my way.

I checked in online this morning and picked my chair for the flight and now I have to sit back and wait. 

Now I am going to leave this and finish up my last bit of work.