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Cape to Cardiff

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An Explorer Reflects in Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

Lao Tzu once said that ‘a good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving’. And yet two hundred and eighty-seven days since setting forth from Cape Town I found myself, rather reluctantly I hasten to add, arriving in Cairo. And whilst I must admit I had a general intent on doing so at some stage, I was not quite prepared for how that arrival would affect me.

Upon arriving at the pyramids, with my fellow gentleman explorers, there was an initial sense of euphoria at having completed what is, by anyone’s reckoning, quite a considerable milestone. However, as I bid my trio of travelling companions a safe onward journey (they were heading straight for Libya) and climbed into a taxi the euphoria slowly began to fade as the reality of my achievement hit me.

All but a handful of those seemingly endless days in what I construe as ‘real Africa’ had, I was to rapidly discover, changed me as a person. Looking out of the window as we negotiated the craziness that is Cairo’s traffic - driving here is for only the brave, suicidal and stupid - I could not have been more shocked. It was as if, in comparison to the last nine months, I had arrived in a major European city and I didn't like it one bit.

I found myself longing for the quiet of the Ethiopian countryside, the calmness of Lake Malawi and the friendliness of Khartoum. Instead, as I left my taxi in a traffic-jam to continue on foot, all I got was a cacophony of noise and bright lights that hit me harder than a Mike Tyson punch. I stopped and looked around to see high-rise buildings towering above me, cars in gridlock all around, shops selling brand clothes that would not have looked out of place on Oxford Street and vast crowds of locals going about their lives.

There was only one thought in my mind; this is not Africa. In fact this couldn't be any further from the Africa I have come to know and love if it tried. After nine months of roughing it you might think I would have welcomed the modern, and very materialistic, city life - not so. I craved to be back in a remote village where the dirt roads are littered with people selling goods ranging from roasted maize and an assortment of vegetables to various animal parts (for cooking), dried fish and various altogether useless cheap gadgets imported from China.

Even the noise, and I am not a fan of noise per-se, of real Africa grew upon me, and now I longed for it - the shouting of hawkers, bleating animals roaming free on the streets, the odd car horn mixed in with the laughter of children playing in the late afternoon sun. All this was gone and would not be coming back anytime soon, and this thought filled me with a sadness I could not shift. I flooded my mind with many happy thoughts from the journey, but that only served to remind me of what had been and gone.

And so, on the eve of completing a travelling milestone I found myself sat with a bottle of red wine (maybe the only silver lining to the cloud) pining to be anywhere but Cairo. The magnitude of what I had achieved was not lost on me, but without the quite of the African night to reflect on it I was lost in a world I don't belong to. For mine is the Africa where life is a simple one, where at night the stars and moon are the only light as village elders hand down stories around the fire. Mine is the real Africa, the Africa that has molded me into who I am, the Africa that will live forever and a day in my heart.

The journey will go on, as it must, but it will take time for me to adjust to what is to come. But it will not be a permanent adjustment as one thing I am certain of is that my life is for living in Africa, and live it I will.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 26, 2009 from Cairo, Egypt
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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Surviving in Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan

When one thinks of Sudan it is almost inevitable they will conjure negative images of a country that they believe should be avoided at all costs. And, given the negative nature of what little media coverage we receive concerning the country you can’t blame people for these thoughts, or can you? Because I believe you should never judge a country until you have experienced it for yourself.

Yes it holds the unwanted record for the longest civil war in history, twenty-five years, and yes there are still problems in certain areas of the country, but as with anywhere in the world there is two sides to the story. And let me tell you, having seen the other side, Sudan is a country far from the image the media portray, which goes to show you shouldn’t form opinions without knowing the full story.

So allow me, if you will, to tell the other side to the tale, the one you wont find in the newspapers or on television. I will be honest, upon arriving at the border all I knew of Sudan was what I had heard in the news, which wasn’t exactly positive. Still I had an open mind and was ready for all eventualities, that is except no bank accepting Visa, which could have potentially spelt disaster.

Any potential disaster was thankfully avoided, owing largely to the incredible hospitality shown by the people I met - after a week in Sudan I can safely say the Sudanese are the single most welcoming and hospitable race I have encountered on my travels. I have been blessed in many countries with the manner in which I have been welcomed, from invites to people’s homes to no end of people happy to share what little they have with me, but nothing can compare to what I experienced in Sudan.

From the moment I crossed the border I was taken aback by the warmth with which I was welcomed - a large part of this can be attributed to the locals wanting those who are brave enough to venture here to leave with a different view to that which most begin their foray with, the rest is simply down to the good nature of the Sudanese people.

I had banked, excuse the pun, on being able to withdraw money in Khartoum and thus arrived in the capital only with the money I had exchanged on the black market at the border - which didn’t amount to much. A quick calculation of essential costs - transport to Egypt and alien registration fees - later and it suddenly hit me that I would scarcely have enough money for accommodation, let alone food.

What to do. I could either eat and sleep rough, or get a basic room (by basic I mean a sand-floored concrete room with a bed) and go hungry. In a mild state of worry, that was in danger of escalating into all out panic, I thought it best to go and get a cup of chai and a sheesha before making a decision on how best to spend my money. Little was I to know that this decision would, to a certain extent, ease my financial worries and introduce me to the retired General Mohammed - a man of was the very epitome of the Sudanese and their incredible hospitality.

Over chai and sheesha he told me how he had flown for the RAF in the 1960‘s, having trained in Shropshire, before returning to Sudan to pursue his business interests. On telling him my story he insisted that I stay free of charge at his hotel, and further to that he owned the chai and sheesha shop we were sat in and I was not to pay for anything there during my time in Khartoum. It sounds odd but at first I questioned the genuineness of the General‘s offers, as in the past I have met a host of people who have been full of empty words.

However, the Sudanese mean what they say, at least those I encountered did. And as for my predicament the General simply said I was in trouble and therefore it was his duty to help where he could. That left me with enough money to eat, although even that wasn’t entirely necessary as Yousef, the larger than life owner of a local eatery, often gave me my daily bowl of faul (a rather palatable blend of beans) and bread on the house. Again this gesture was not one of pity towards a poor traveller but a token of his goodwill.

Given the people I had met I left Khartoum with a certain degree of reluctance to sally forth to the desert town of Wadi Halfa - the location of the ferry that would take me to Egypt. It was here that I had the good fortune of falling in with three fellow gentleman explorers - I use the term gentleman explorers as, like myself, Giles, Oli and Davey would have been better suited to travelling in a style akin to Phillies Fogg. It was with the company of this fine trio that the voyage to Egypt, and ultimately Cairo began. To read more of their quest visit: http://africa-attraction.blogspot.com/

In conclusion I can say this; Sudan is a far cry from the troublesome country that many believe it to be, so much so that I would encourage anyone with the time or opportunity to visit and experience for themselves what I had the pleasure to encounter on my time here. Don't let the media dictate your opinions, rather go and form them yourselves.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 24, 2009 from Khartoum, Sudan
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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The Final Chapter in Ethiopia

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Described as ‘the jewel in Ethiopia’s crown’ the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela don’t fail to deliver, in fact they left me pretty much speechless. Not being religious I was not sure what to expect, particularly given many of those who visit here each year do so as part of pilgrimage - the Orthodox religions equivalent to a voyage to Mecca if you will.

Add to the equation that I had just returned from the Danakil Depression and it was going to take something special to finish my time in this wonderful country on a high. Special, mesmerising, astounding, beyond belief, spectacular, awe-inspiring, incredible. Take your pick from these superlatives, all can be applied to Lalibela and its showcase of churches, without doing them any kind of justice. You could say it’s one of those places you have to see to believe.

What amazed me the most, given the grandeur and sheer beauty of the buildings, was that they were carved out of one piece of rock. Had they been built using hand-carved blocks they would have been mightily impressive, that they were carved as one from the ground was almost unfathomable. Exploring the site, its multiple tunnels linking churches, hidden rooms and unexpected priests quietly praying gives one the sense of being on the set of an Indian Jones film.

Despite not being religious, from the moment I entered the first church I couldn’t help but feel a sense of calm and peace overcome me. It may sound strange to some but I felt a connection with my late Gran that I have not felt anywhere else before. In every church there was at least one priest quietly praying, often with several deeply religious locals. One church was also said to contain part of the Ark of the Covenant - but I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on the validity of that claim.

The star attraction is, without doubt, the single church that stands alone away from the rest - St George's church - carved in the shape of a cross. Having left this church until the end there was the danger we, Richard and myself, would be a little ‘churched-out’ and not appreciate its full beauty. Given its impressiveness there was never any danger of that, and even if there had been the mummified bodies at rest in one of the open tombs would have been worth the visit itself. Maybe it was my macabre side, we all have one deep down, but seeing these ancient remains of humans only added to the experience.

With Lalibela done it signalled the end of an amazing five weeks in Ethiopia, a country that should not be missed for anything, and the start of the onward journey to Sudan. By some small grace of God I managed to obtain both my Egyptian and Sudanese visas inside three days - given they can take up to three weeks I was pretty impressed - and it was with many happy memories that I arrived at the border to Sudan.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 23, 2009 from Lalibela, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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The Fight for Survival

Dalol, Ethiopia

For so many life in Africa is a test of survival, a test they must take and pass on a daily basis to ensure their continued existence in an often harsh world. A world where the odds are stacked against them, where it seems easier to give up the fight and concede an inevitable defeat. That would be the easy option, but the African spirit dictates the battle must go on, the fight for survival will continue until it is no longer possible and then, only then, will the fight cease.

This battle to survive goes on throughout the African continent, and has done for hundreds of years. There is not a single country where somebody is not striving to live another day, to feel the morning sun on their weathered face once more, to know they have once again overcome the hardships of life. Of course there are differing levels of hardships, but every battle is equally important and in a way unites communities, regions and countries. A shared sense of triumph against life.

From my own experiences in Africa there is no race of people faced with harder conditions for survival than the Afar people, the very people who inhabit the almost uninhabitable Danakil Depression. With an average yearly temperature exceeding 38 degrees, no running water, no electricity, no, well no anything come to think of it, one wonders why they continue to live like this. For one this is their test of survival, this is the battle they must win. And then there’s the salt, the very commodity that enables them to eek out an existence.

As far as jobs go the extraction, transportation and selling of the salt found in the Danakil Depression has to rate as one of the hardest - especially when you take into account the paltry financial return it gives the Afari people. As the sun pokes its head over the horizon in the Danakil, tingeing the land a glorious golden orange, the silhouettes of men and camels can be seen marching towards the salt pans. Work here starts early, for with temperatures reaching 50 degrees in the mid-day sun there is no other choice; the hard work has to be done before the heat cripples the day.

With crude tools whole armies of men go about hacking blocks of salt from the earth’s surface, each roughly the size of a paving slab, and weighing as much too. For as far as the eye can see the land is flat, there is no rock face to hack the salt from, it must all come from the floor. This is back-breaking work of the highest order, and yet it doesn’t end there, this is just the start of the work. Once out of the ground the blocks of salt must be fashioned into a uniform shape and size ready for transportation.

By now the heat is taking its toll - I am only watching the process and yet my energy is rapidly being sapped by the heat, so I can only imagine how those doing the work must feel. Finally, as the sun reaches its peak in the sky, the salt is ready to be loaded onto the camels and taken to the nearest market - which is only a five day walk away. And so, with the heat at its worst, whole caravans of camels are marched off into the desert, with nothing but sand and mountains in front of them.

Each camel is carrying around twenty blocks of salt, and will march through unbearable heat for a minimum of five days. At the end of the march the hardy camel handlers will sell the salt and then march back to the Danakil Depression to start the process again. To do this, day after day, year after year would make you think the salt is worth a small fortune. Wrong. Each block of salt is worth just short of a dollar. Or, if you like, sixty pence of a British pound. All that effort for next to nothing in return, yet it is enough to enable these unique people to win another battle, to see the light of another day.

This is life, and as long as they have salt the Afar people will continue to defy the odds stacked against them and continue to survive in conditions where most would perish.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 22, 2009 from Dalol, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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Welcome to the Danakil Depression

Dalol, Ethiopia

Imagine, if you can, a place where planet earth as we know it morphs into a landscape that would not be out of place on Mars of Saturn. Where the temperatures soar over 40degrees on a daily basis, where only the boldest of travellers dare go. A place where one of the world's most hostile races of people exists, as that is all one can do here, just exist, in the middle of it all.

To give you an idea of Afari people's hostility until roughly forty years ago they would greet every male visitor to their region by cutting their testicles off. Before we go any further allow me to reassure you that the same fate did not befall Richard and myself. You may be questioning why anybody would actually want to visit the Afar region in the first place, especially given this, one of their proverbs:

'It is better to die than to live without killing' (Afar proverb)

Well, the answer is simple (at least for me anyway). Over the past eight months I have seen Africa in all its beauty, and feel very privileged to have done so. It's not that I have become bored of the Dark Continents many delights, rather I wanted to go somewhere completely different, a place that is well off the beaten track and an ultimate test of ones self in terms of travelling.

Given my criteria there were not many places to choose from, in fact only one place in the entire continent would satisfy all my needs, the Danakil Depression. Lying 116m BELOW sea-level it is undoubtedly the single most amazing place I have ever been, and in all honesty am ever likely to go, such is its complete uniqueness. It took an entire day of driving through the mountains and a dried up river to reach our destination, Hamed-Ela, the tiny little village that is home to the Afar people.

When I say village I mean a collection of wooden shacks, a more basic form of accommodation I have not seen in Africa, this was poverty like I had never seen before. Yet somehow these people existed, day-by-day they survived conditions that had me begging for mercy two days in. The heat doesn't just force you into the shade, it saps the life out of you, leaving you to live in a near zombie state from the moment you wake until you fall into a fitful sleep at night.

But we all accepted these conditions as happily as we could, knowing on the second day we would see a different side to Africa. The drive across the vast salt pan at 8am took us towards Eritrea, and already the temperature had edged over 35degrees, until eventually a hill of volcanic rocks grew in the distance. it was here we had to brave the sun, already scorching everything in sight, and set off on foot.

Never has a simple walk been so hard, I am not exaggerating this but the heat was almost unbearable, the air as dry as the desert as it dries your eyes and mouth almost instantly. The only conditions I can liken it to are those you experience in a hot sauna, so you can imagine how much worse it is walking for ninety minutes in such conditions. Once over the cusp of the hill my mind, eyes and ears were hit with a scene they could not comprehend at first.

Suddenly the earth was rumbling beneath us, sulphur gases were filling my nose with a disgusting stench, and my eyes were dazzled by a multitude of brilliant yellows, greens, reds and white. The volcanic rock had given way to endless stretches where the earth's crust had been pulled so thin it no longer existed. In its place were sulphur pools, brilliant white mini volcanoes spouting hot acid into the air, and giant circles of crystallised rock scattered as far as the eye could see.

It was as if we had stepped through a portal that lead out onto the face of a different planet, nowhere in the world have I ever witnessed anything like this before. The heat now came at you from two directions, overhead in the form of the angry sun, and below from the earth's surface that was boiling away, and but for my mind being totally over-awed by what it was witnessing I would not have been able to cope in such intense heat. The colours were dazzling, quite unlike any I had seen in nature before, and so brilliantly pure.

As the sun's heat rose yet further Mekele, our guide, warned us we had to return to the vehicle before it became too hot - quite what he meant by 'too hot' when I am saturated through with sweat I am not sure, but clearly he knew we might not survive much longer in the current heat. As you walk away from the sulphur pools the air you breath starts to burn your throat less, and finally gradually the heat from the ground eases.

Sat back in the car I was lost for words, I had just been to a place so weird and wonderful that my mind could not process everything at once. A feeling of excitement that only such an experience can bring about filled my body as I realised not only had I been to Africa's highest point, Mount Kilimanjaro, but now I had been to its lowest point. All that is left to do is reach Cairo and I will have also been from one end of the continent to the other.

I wanted a test, I wanted a unique experience, and I wanted to see something that would blow my mind. I got it all, the Danakil Depression was everything I had hoped for and more, as well as being the hardest three days of travel I have ever endured. The guidebook was not wrong when it said this is only for the most adventurous of travellers, but I came through it and will never forget the day I stood on a different planet at the bottom of Africa.

Finally, there is a reason why the Afar people live where they do, but to find out why anyone would live in the Danakil Depression you will have to wait for the next blog.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 3, 2009 from Dalol, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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One Man and his Horse

Dodola, Ethiopia

With Ethiopia offering a seemingly endless list of star attractions and activities I was keen to make the most of my time here, and get the most out of a country I had only heard positive things about. So, with that in mind, I wasted little time in heading to the Bale Mountains where a four day horse trek lay in store.

I wasn't sure what to expect, given that my last foray into the mountains had been up Mount Kilimanjaro, and was blown away by the natural beauty and way of life found in the mountains. Further to that it was something of a luxury to have the horse do all the leg work whilst I sat back and submerged myself in the surroundings - which would not have been out of place in Europe. Although my legs got to relax my bum was not so fortunate - lets just say the saddle was not exactly going to win any prizes for comfort over the four day trek.

The rolling hills we traversed on the first day reminded me of childhood hikes in the Peak District, and you frequently had to remind yourself this was Africa such was the Britishness of the scenerary. In the distance faint singing could be heard, and as we neared our camp for the first night the melodic singing grew louder and provided a perfect backdrop to a glorious picture.

As we ventured further into the mountains I began to imagine this is what it must have been like to be in a fairytale. The rolling green hills meshing their various fields of wheat, barely and grass together in a patchwork quilt as cactus hedged paths picked their way towards the foot of the more serious mountains. And all this as the sun, a rich toffee colour, bathed the hills in the most magnificent light to the accompaniment of young girls singing to their animals.

Over the past eight months I have experienced a wide range of emotions and feelings, each individually evoked by a different and unique part of Africa, yet never before had I felt such a oneness with the environment I was in. As my noble steed soldered on - looking at the size of the locals I am sure my horse had never had to carry someone of my size before - I allowed myself to soak in the atmosphere.

Each night accommodation was in the shape of local huts, run by local mountain people themselves, and proved to be highly rewarding. On the last night I found myself learning to make local bread, known as Kita, with Ritar and her children, and in doing so became the first ever 'forangi' (local term for white person) to cook in her house - an honour I was quite proud of.

As pleasurable as it was having the horse do all the work by the fourth day I was reduced to walking, such was the soreness of bouncing in the saddle constantly. The added bonus of this was it gave my horse enough time to recover for one last hurrah before we finished. As the fields opened up before us it was time for the horses to stretch their legs and show us what they could really do - I have never ridden a horse flat-out before and must say it was an exhilarating experience.

Thankful for a magical four days in the mountains, and to be out of the saddle for good, I was ready to head north to Addis Ababa and prepare to delve further into the fabric of this country and find out what really makes it tick.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 2, 2009 from Dodola, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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Hyenas, Religion and a Castle

Gonder, Ethiopia

There is, as far as I am aware, no other place in the world other than Ethiopia where you can feed a hyena from your mouth, sail to twelfth century monasteries and then take a trip back to medieval times. This country really is amazing, and the best, so I am told, is yet to come.

The hyena, the animal everyone loves to hate, the scruffy scavenger that has an air of evil to it that would se it welcome at the gates of hell day or night. Why then would anybody want to have one within six inches of your face eating the raw meat that hangs on a stick in your mouth? I would like to be able to answer that question for you, but I can't.

All I can say is I think we all have a desire to get as close to nature as possible, and the added thrill of being so close to an animal that has the most powerful bite of the cat family in Africa is too much to turn down. And that is, in a nutshell, how one night in Harar I found myself face-to-face with a foul-breathed wild hyena. I think it's safe to say that, without getting attacked, I will never come closer to a wild animal for as long as I live.

Something I am coming to learn is that Ethiopia is a country of contrasts, and my next two destinations, Lake Tana and Gonder, were further evidence of this. At first glance Lake Tana is just another beautiful Rift Valley lake, but take a closer look and you will find a different world, a world of ancient monasteries dating as far back as the 14th-century.

Each monastery has its own unique history, with one said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant for over 800 years - but I will let you make your own conclusions on that front. More than anything it is the paintings that make the monasteries what they are, each telling different passages of the bible through pictures - this was done so that even the illiterate could devote themselves to religion.

Whilst most were pretty self-explanatory a few of the paintings were open to interpretation, for example a man fellating a donkey could be taken in entirely the wrong way if the priest didn't explain it was symbolic of taking the milk of an ass. In all of the paintings though the believers would always be depicted with a full face and both eyes showing, yet non-believers only had one eye and half of their face showing.

Feeling as if one more monastery would send me over the edge, five was more than enough, it was off to Gonder and a day of pure fantasy. It may be the little boy in me, or just the strange desire to have been a medieval king, but exploring the castles in Gonder was fascinating. The entire time I was picturing what it would have been like to have lived in such a grand place, lord of the land in a time where you were everything or nothing.

When it was Emperor Fasiladas' home (1632-67) it was a castle of contrasts, of unimaginable brutality, and yet at the same time equally unimaginable wealth. And now in present day standing in the banquet hall, a room that I was told would have seated over two hundred people for a grand feast, I closed my eyes and envisioned a party of medieval gentry swilling ale from big tankards as they ripped chunks of meat from various bones.

Sadly there was no such feast for me, so it was off for a coffee ceremony whilst I planned the next stage of my trip - the Danakil Depression, a place I had been told was unlike anywhere else on our planet.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 2, 2009 from Gonder, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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The Bandit Run

Moyale, Kenya

When you know the town you are heading to has had its problems with bandits the last thing you want to hear upon arrival is that they have struck in the past few hours. Worse still that angry residents have taken to the streets in protests leading to full scale riots culminating in the local marketplace being set on fire.

Unfortunately for me that is exactly what greeted me upon arrival in Isiolo, leaving me questioning the next stage of my journey north. My anxiety and obvious concern was not helped when the news came on to reveal the full extent of the massacre - six dead including two police officers. Worse still was the headline adorning the front page of the paper the following morning - 'Residents Flee as Bandits Kill Six in Isiolo'.

I was left with two options; return to Nairobi and take a flight to Addis Ababa (clearly the most sensible option), or take a private truck, along with fifteen other people, and hope for the best. Now I have never been the most sensible person, but I must admit this situation did see my degree of sensibility increase, although not enough to break the rules of my trip.

And thus, along with my Spanish travel companion Roberto, we took the decision to head north to Ethiopia by land and risk a bandit attack in our quest to reach the border - a mere 600km away. I should probably add that the safest time to travel is instantly after an incident like this, as security is dramatically increased, but be that as it may there was still a chance we could fall victim of an attack.

Knowing disaster could strike doesn't allow for the most peaceful night's sleep, in fact it rendered sleep almost impossible due to worry, and so the following morning I was more than grateful of several strong coffees before we prepared for the off. The presence of solders on the streets eased my concerns somewhat, but also served as a reminder that this was not exactly the area you would want to remain in for long.

As we rolled onto the dusty track that would eventually take us to Ethiopia my heart was racing, my only thoughts seemed to centre around being ambushed by bandits and left for dead in the middle of the desert. An hour in and Latif brought the vehicle to a halt, and, with a wry grin on his face, informed us that no matter what for the next hour there would be no stopping. We were now in bandit territory.

My nerves, already on edge, were eating away at my insides, and once again I was convinced that this would only end in disaster. Every time we slowed down even slightly I was paranoid bandits had stepped into the road and were forcing us to stop, where as it was usually to just avoid a nasty pothole. The minutes seemed to be going by at an alarmingly slow rate, and then it happened.

Looking down the dry river bed as we crossed it, four bandits, all armed with AK47s, were casually strolling along. In my head I played out what would happen next; the bandits had seen us, taken aim and killed our driver, taking the rest of us hostage, or worse yet just killing us all before fleeing with the truck and our bags. As this thought passed I suddenly realised we were past the river and still racing along the bumpy road, nobody was dead, least of all myself, and the danger had passed.

Once through the bandit zone we pulled over, and immediately Latif jumped out and approached me with a big grin on his face, asking if I had seen the bandits. I let him know I had, but didn't let on to how worried I had been that we were all doomed. From there the remainder of the journey was as pleasurable as 500km of dirt track in the sweltering African heat can be.

Finally in Moyale, the less than charming town that straddles the Kenya-Ethiopia border, my body was greatly relieved to be out of the truck and the constant rattle of driving. More than that my mind could rest easy, other than the prospect of sharing my room with an army of cockroaches and another 600km on the road in the morning. Still I had survived the notorious bandit run and was ready to take on Ethiopia.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 1, 2009 from Moyale, Kenya
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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A Whistle Stop Tour in Kenya

Naivasha, Kenya

With time ticking by in Kenya it was nearly time to make the long arduous trek to the Ethiopian border, but first I set off on a whistle stop tour of some of the countries lesser known attractions - including Lake Naivasha, Hell's Gate National Park, Lake Elementeita and Nanyuki to witness the Corrolis effect first-hand.

The first stop saw me set up camp on the shores of Lake Naivasha, where hippos roam free and flamingos shade the water a beautiful pink. It was from here that I made my mission into Hell's Gate National Park, which is famous for being the only park in Kenya where one can walk and cycle among the animals - thankfully lions and cheetahs have not been spotted here for some time.

That said I was more than a little worried when, having cycled into the park twenty minutes earlier, two young buffalos decided to stare me down before turning and ambling off. After that little episode the rest of the day was truly magical. Being on bike and foot gives the feeling of actually being among the animals, rather than just observing them, and riding among a family of giraffe will live long in my memory.

So 56km of cycling, 10km of hiking, 14 giraffes, two buffalo, countless zebra, impala, warthog and baboons, one sandstone gorge and a Masi village later I had done Hell's Gate National Park. I had just enough energy to cycle back to camp before collapsing in a heap with a well deserved beer by my campfire, thoroughly exhausted but more than content with my efforts.

From there it was on to Lake Elementeita, one of the Rift Valley's lesser visited lakes, to see more flamingos than one would care to shake a stick at. Waking up to a lake tinged with pink is not the worst start to a day one could have, made even better for the free breakfast I received courtesy of Josephat the chef. That was the fuel I needed for a busy day, which saw me rack up over 350km on mini-buses, including the highest town in Kenya, Nyharuru - home to Thompson's Falls and the Kikuyu tribe.

There was barely time to take it all in before jumping on the last mini-bus to Nanyuki where the River Camel Camp awaited me - and what a magnificent place it was. Run by an Chris, an old Welshman from Usk (all of ten miles from Mum and Dad's house), who has lived in Africa for 47 years it was one of the best places I have stayed thus far - not least because I got to eat camel, which was delicious, and drink camel's milk, which was not so delicious.

It was here that I was able to add camel to the list of animals I have ridden, which also includes cows, donkeys, elephants and horses, and it's safe to say it was the most uncomfortable animal I have ever ridden - let's just say it's better to be female when it comes to riding a camel. Keeping with the flavour of the week, packing in as much as possible, it was off to the equator.

It is widely known that water drains in a different direction in the Northern and Southern hemispheres - anti-clockwise and clockwise- but until you see it in action it is difficult to believe. The theory behind it is known as the Corrolis effect - and you only have to move ten metres either side of the equator to see the change in direction as the water drains. Strangest of all is that on the equator itself the water doesn't flow in any direction, rather it drains in a straight line. Strange but true.

With my Ethiopian visa waiting for me back in Nairobi it was time to bring my week to an end and turn my attention to the long, bandit-ridden, road ahead. I can't say that the prospect of 600km of dirt track, with the very real danger of bandits, is the most appealing but if I am to stick to my goal of no airplanes that is the challenge I must overcome.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on November 6, 2009 from Naivasha, Kenya
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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A Step Back in Time

Lamu, Kenya

In today's materialistic and technologically driven world it is difficult to imagine a society where life is not concerned with such frivolous matters, and is a throw back to a time all but lost. But nowhere in the world have I found such an uncomplicated, yet culturally rich place as Lamu - the small world heritage island just off the coast of Kenya that is, for those after the unpretentious life, a little corner of paradise.

Walking down the quaint streets, there are only two of them, one can't hear the rumble of engines or honking of horns but rather the clip-clop of hooves - that's because here there are no vehicles, just donkeys and the odd bicycle. It takes a little getting used to at first, especially having come from the chaotic Mombasa where the streets are a jam of assorted vehicles, but once adjusted it is impossible not to love Lamu and it's way of life.

It has spades of character, and around every corner lies a new discovery - be it a one of the countless yet equally intriguing Swahili buildings, a gathering of locals engrossed in a political debate, or just a couple of donkeys meandering along - it's impossible not to be drawn in to the uniqueness way of life in Lamu. Maybe it's my desire to live in a more simplistic world, or just the magic of Lamu itself, but either way it makes it into my top three destinations in Africa thus far.

When I set off on this trip it was to experience as many different cultures as possible, no matter what they entailed. So, having ridden cows, horses and elephants in my time, I thought it only right I should take a donkey for a jaunt around the streets, which was an interesting experience to say the least. Aside from being the most uncomfortable animal I have ever ridden it provided the locals with plenty of entertainment. Apparently, according to several locals, long hair, a beard and the riding of a donkey gives one a liking to a certain Biblical character.

Sadly I was unable to turn water into wine, or feed the masses with just a few loafs and some fish and was thus cast aside as a scruffy traveller in need of a hair-cut. For those who are in agreement let me just say if you saw the hair dressers here you would also be keen to avoid having a trim, unless you are a fan of the not so appealing army cut that is.

Rather than wax lyrical about this amazing place I will leave it to the more adventerous among you to go and disocver its delights for yourself.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on November 5, 2009 from Lamu, Kenya
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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