Thursday 22 August – starting the holiday in style!
Thanks to our Amex credit card and June’s previous work travel we get to use the BA Lounge at Heathrow and travel business class on the upper deck of the plane to Nairobi. Champagne and gin cocktails – don’t mind if we do!
We arrived a couple of days before the organised trip started so carrying on the theme, we were booked into the Sarova Stanley Hotel for two nights. This is one of the oldest hotels in Nairobi with a lot of history and still very colonial in style.
Friday 23 August – Nairobi
A day to ourselves so we walked a little to Uhuru Park and Central Park in the morning and headed back to the hotel to make the most of the facilities – coffee in the lounge with the butler (I kid you not!) telling us all about the hotel, and then a splash in the pool.
Good choice of food and places to eat in the hotel too. Fridays include a Swahili breakfast (alongside the usual hotel buffet) which is in the restaurant containing the “Post Tree”. People used to exchange letters here by attaching letters to the tree. Dinner was in the Thai restaurant with friends living in Nairobi who had recommended it.
Saturday 24 August – Nairobi
With the morning to pass we visited the Gallery Museum which is very small but crammed with artefacts and history. Good coffee too!
In the afternoon we transferred hotels to join the tour at the Kenya Comfort Hotel and what a difference! Possibly one of the worst hotels we have ever stayed in although the bedroom itself was clean, which is what really counts, and the staff friendly.
An evening meeting with the Tucan Tour leader, Arthur, and an introduction to our fellow travellers – one of the things about group travel is never knowing who you will be with for two or three weeks but this time round we were very lucky. Due to it being census weekend very little was open so we were forced to eat in the hotel who didn’t really seem to know how to cope with more than two customers!
Sunday 25 August – Nairobi to Kigali
An afternoon flight meant we had another morning in Nairobi so we visited the National Museum of Kenya. We should really have visited here on a day when we had more time as we had to fly round the exhibits and there was so much to see!
After a late, but uneventful flight, we arrived at our hotel in Kigali in the early evening and checked into the Steptown Hotel, another small basic hotel but such a contrast to the Kenya Comfort! Being a little outside the city centre we ate the hotel which provided a limited menu but the food was delicious.
Monday 26 August – Kigali to Lake Bunyoni, Uganda
Rwanda hasn’t tried to hide it’s recent history, instead learning from it and moving on. As we drove out to the Nyamata Church Genocide Memorial, you can’t but notice how clean the city and surrounding countryside is. The country has banned plastic bags and one day a month everybody goes litter picking and that includes the PM!
The church was the site of a particular massacre with bullet holes and shrapnel damage still visible on the outer walls. Inside the church the pews are covered in the dirty, torn clothes of the victims and the grounds contain three mass graves for the 10,000+ bodies. The coffins in the graves are filled with bones as there were just so many victims.
We also visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, the country’s main memorial and a really interesting place to spend time at. What man can do to his fellow man is horrific and the European colonisation of many countries has a lot to answer for. Now though, tribes are not detailed on ID cards and everyone is Rwandan, not Tutsi or Hutu.
We left Kigali for a long drive to Lake Bunyoni involving a border crossing into Uganda – road crossing are always a fun experience! Here we had to get off the bus to officially exit Rwanda (not helped with the power going out with half of us still to complete this!), walk 50 metres or so across no-man’s land and check in at the next booth to be allowed into Uganda.
It was then another couple of hours to the campsite including a supermarket stop so we arrived late. We were in tents at this site and we were allocated a lakeside pitch but with it being dark we didn’t really appreciate it!
Tuesday 27 August – Lake Bunyoni and gorilla trekking
The first of our really early starts (4am alarm) to get to the trekking place in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – the roads don’t really allow for much speed so all the journeys take two or three times longer than back at home. It was still dark when we left so we still hadn’t seen the campsite properly but as we drove we caught a spectacular sunrise in the rolling hills.
Gorilla trekking is big business in Rwanda and Uganda with numbers limited and one of the reasons for our booking this tour was that Tucan arranged the permits for us. After the briefing we headed off with our guide full of excitement at what we might see. The spotters were already out ahead of us and after only about 45 minutes of walking we were told to stop and wait. After a break of half an hour or so we got the location of a nearby group and it was full speed into the undergrowth following the guides as they slashed at the vegetation with their machetes.
We came across a small family group and spent an hour just watching them – they didn’t seem to bothered by us.
Having found the gorillas so quickly (our other group came back a few hours after us!) we headed back to the campsite and were finally able to take in its beauty. A few beers on the terrace bar also went down well!
Wednesday 28 August – Lake Bunyoni
A slightly more relaxed morning with a walk around the surrounding area to meet some local families and see part of the lake from viewpoint above the campsite.
After lunch it was into a boat to travel across the lake to visit the Batwa Pygmy village and school. As we came to the lakeside we were met by a group of children all eager to help us up the hillside by giving us sticks and holding our hands (all for a small donation as we were to find out at the end of the visit – learning to make a living starts at a very young age!). The school was set up by an ex-tour leader and the company has continued to support him by bringing tour groups to visit who donate supplies and money to the school. Sadly the visit was somewhat impeded by the rain coming sideways at us as the children were preparing to sing and dance but it didn’t curb their enthusiasm.
Thursday 29 August – Lake Bunyoni to Kampala
To be honest we were feeling a little sad at leaving this campsite. It wasn’t perfect by any means (some of the facilities just needed the attention of a good handyman so nothing major) but definitely our sort of place, surrounded by beautiful scenery and so tranquil.
This morning we met “Sail” our Tucan truck which would be our transport for most of the next week or so including today’s 14 hour journey to Kampala, and our driver Timan. We crossed the Equator for the first time today and discover Ugandan Rolexes which are actually an omelette wrapped in a chapati and are delicious!
Kampala is chaotic – more motorbikes than people apparently and most of them are a form of taxi.
Tonight’s hotel is the Red Chilli Hideaway, on the edge of the city and close to Lake Victoria (first mosquito warning from Arthur!). After intermittent hot water at Bunyoni, we upgraded our room for a princely sum of USD20 to one with en-suite facilities just so June could actually wash her hair properly!
Friday 30 August – Kampala to Jinja
Breakfast this morning was at the truck cooked by Arthur and Timan – the first of a few meals taken this way. Good food and communal washing up to get us on our way to Jinja at the source of the Nile. Second truck meal was a BBQ and definitely not one for the vegetarians (although they did cater perfectly for Shelly) with a huge piece of steak for all of us.
Another campsite with large military style tents and we were lucky to be allocated one on the river view terraces. Good facilities too – large (well stocked) bar area and lots of hot showers. The campsite also offered activities including white-water rafting and kayaking. We opted for the white-water rafting the following day.
Tonight we did the Nile Sunset Cruise which provided plenty of food and drink but no real sunset sadly. A good evening though.
Saturday 31 August – Jinja and drowning in the Nile, well almost!
We had originally signed up for level 3 white-water rafting but when we got to the Nile River Explorers base we (that means June) were talked into upgrading to level five. The route was the same but on the lower level you walked around the more “aggressive” rapids. After collecting helmets, life jackets and paddles we were bussed a short distance and entered the river – June via the steps down and Bob via the 40m slide!
Before heading on to the river proper we were given a short briefing and practised getting back on to the raft should we capsize….
What can we say about the day? Thunder, lightening and six rapids graded one to five plus paddle boarding at one of the rapids if you wanted it (we didn’t preferring to sit in the river as it was warmer than in the raft!). Exhilarating barely begins to describe it and so pleased that we actually did the level 5 trip. And yes we did capsize……
Saturday night and one of the locals just outside the campsite was throwing a party (we weren’t invited) and the music stopped just as we left the site at 4.45am!
Sunday 1 September – Jinja to Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Another 14 hour driving day as we travelled back to Kenya but at least a chance to catch up on last night’s missed sleep in the comfort of the truck. A slightly more orderly border crossing this time, although our first with a brief test for Ebola (!) and a roadside truck lunch including freshly made guacamole.
Tonight’s hotel was the Fisherman’s Inn on the edge of the lake. Another late arrival meant that we didn’t see much but a good hotel with decent food.
Monday 2 September – Lake Naivasha
Our first real wildlife encounter today as we did a nature walk in the morning and saw, up close, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, impala, gazelles and buffaloes plus many species of birds.
A boat trip, after a lunch at a floating restaurant, on Lake Naivasha led us to hippos, flamingos and sea eagles who were diving for fish.
We were due to do a gorge walk in Hell’s Gate National Park but after a deadly flash flood the previous day, that part of the park was closed. The park had been the inspiration for the Disney film The Lion King and we got to see the gorge from a viewpoint.
The area around Lake Naivasha also supplies much of the world with roses with greenhouses lining the roadside for miles.
Tuesday 3 September – Lake Naivsha to the Masai Mara
Transferred this morning from the truck to small minivans to explore the Masai Mara as the roads to the park are almost non-existent! Just after we checked in to the Miti Mingi Eco Camp (back in tents again but this time with en-suite shower and toilet) and as we were about to head out on our first game drive the heaven’s opened for 20 minutes or so of torrential rain which sadly meant that we didn’t see too many animals.
Wednesday 4 September – Masai Mara bucket list day
Up, up and away my beautiful, my beautiful balloon…. Another very early start to watch the dawn rise over the Masai Mara followed by a champagne breakfast. Expensive but worth every penny!
Spent most of the day on game drives and saw four of the “big five”, just missing any rhinos but to make up for that we did get to experience the “migration” – the crossing of the Mara river by wildebeest and zebras closely watched by crocodiles on the hunt for their next meal. The photos say so much more than any words I can type.
After returning to the hotel we visited a local
camp to see their way of life. It was very touristy and a full on sales pitch to buy their wares – we were strong enough to walk away empty handed but others had felt pressurised into buying things they didn’t want.
Yesterday’s lunch at a roadside cafe started to catch up with people and a number of the group started to fall ill with stomach upsets including Bob.
Thursday 5 September – Masai Mara to Nairobi
Spent the morning on the road and the afternoon in the hotel room after arriving back at the Kenya Comfort Hotel in Nairobi. We had requested a room change this time so at least it was a little quieter but the maintenance of the room still left a lot to be desired.
This evening was our last meal as this group as some were leaving today and tomorrow we were being joined by new people doing the second part of the trip. Bob was still unwell so stayed in the hotel. As mentioned before this had been a good group to travel with and those leaving would be missed. We also had in the group the CEO of Tucan Travel and his partner, who held another senior position in the company and it was great to be able to feed back to them directly. We’re sure there’ll be a few changes to this trip now!
Friday 6 September – Nairobi
Leaving Bob still in bed, June carried on with the itinerary. First visit was to a giraffe centre where you can hand feed the animals and from there on to the David Sheldrake Elephant Orphanage. The orphan elephants are hand reared then moved to another site before gradually being returned to the wild. It takes years but has lead to the increase in the wild elephant population in Kenya.
Saturday 7 September – Nairobi to Arusha, Tanzania
With Bob thankfully starting to feel better we checked out of the Kenya Comfort Hotel, joined up with Sail again and hit the road to Arusha. Another border crossing and the most orderly of the three road crossings we did.
We arrived at the Lush Garden Hotel to find three wedding receptions and a party taking place. It seems the hotel took pity on us and put us in rooms as far away from the noise as possible, which really wasn’t that bad. We had the biggest hotel room ever but with only a couple of bits of mismatched furniture and what felt like a single sized quilt on a king size bed, it was all a little bizarre! The food wasn’t much to write about either! Oh and June’s phone had a bit of a meltdown today resulting in it being wiped and losing everything on it….
Sunday 8 September – Arusha to the Serengeti
We were picked up this morning in 4WD vehicles to head to the Serengeti via the edge of the Ngorongoro crater. Lunch was on the top of the crater trying to avoid our food being pinched by a resident kite!
After completing the formalities to enter the Serengeti, the vehicle roofs were popped and it was straight into a game drive. A very different setting to the Masai Mara but still amazing and still no rhino!
When we arrived at tonight’s hotel, the Seronera Wildlife Lodge, we genuinely thought we were at the wrong place. After tented camps and basic hotels, the level of accommodation suddenly rocketed! This lodge is built around a rocky outcrop and the rooms had a window wall on to the Serengeti. Sadly no animals spotted overnight but an amazing place to stay. Surprisingly we were the only group there so basically had the run of the hotel!
Monday 9 September – Serengeti
A morning game drive but still no rhino. Seems they were going to evade us on this visit.
Lunch was back at the lodge before we returned back along the edge of the crater to tonight’s hotel just outside the park, Farm of Dreams Lodge. We were greeted by the staff singing and our rooms were individual thatched huts.
Tuesday 10 September – Ngorongoro Crater to Arusha
Back along the same road to the crater but this time we drove down into it. Technically, it is a caldera (and the largest unbroken caldera in the world at that at 260 square kilometres!) and formed two to three million years ago, but whatever you call it, it is a breathtaking place to visit and teaming with wildlife.
Almost a full day of game driving but the rhino continued to elude us – just means we have to try again some day.
It was truly a stunning day. Mixing geology and wildlife on such a huge scale it was always one of the big attractions to this tour. Finding ourselves at the bottom it really does show how small humans are in the grand scheme of things. No Europeans were known to set foot in the crater until 1892.
Back to the Lush Garden Hotel for the night and this time no parties and rooms within the main part of the hotel. On the recommendation of a friend we opted to go out to try a local restaurant and dragged a few others along with us. The nerves kicked in as the taxi headed down ever darker back streets but no need to have worried as “The Lively Lady” lived up to Felicity’s recommendation! The food in Tanzania has a strong Indian influence and this was a great choice. She had also said that if we were there then we should look out for Ali and Bob found him. Unfortunately with the taxis waiting we couldn’t stay so just the one shot downed before heading back to the hotel.
(Thanks for the recommendation Flic x )
Wednesday 11 September – Arusha to Zanzibar
The final stages of the trip were spent in Zanzibar which always sounds so exotic and we boarded a Tropicair flight with our hand written boarding passes for the flight. Having been given a bit of local knowledge we all sat on the left hand side of the plane to get a view of Kilimanjaro peaking out from above the clouds – probably the closest we’ll ever get.
It was a quick transfer to the Safari Lodge Hotel in Stone Town. June had been lucky enough to visit Stone Town previously when on a work trip to Tanzania and had always wanted to come back thinking Bob would like it as much as she did. Luckily she was right!
That evening, after watching the sunset on the Indian Ocean from a bar, quelle surprise (!), we ate at the night market where they BBQ the most amazing choice of seafood.
Thursday 12 September – Stone Town to Nungwi Beach
In the morning we had the opportunity to do a walking tour of Stone Town, one of the most fascinating places to visit. It’s now a UNESCO listed town and is a crumbling mishmash of Arabic (Omani) , Indian and European styles. The meat and fish markets are not for the faint-hearted and nor possibly the former slave trading areas but like Rwanda, they acknowledge the history and highlight the forms of modern slavery to try to raise awareness.
Stone Town Of course, no visit to Stone Town is complete without a visit to the home where one of their most famous citizens was born, a certain Mr Farrokh Bulsara, aka Freddie Mercury!
Although we could have spent longer in Stone Town, it was on the trip and we were heading to the north of the island for the beach via a spice plantation which was more interesting than it sounds, and lunch in a local house.
People usually associate Indian Ocean islands with white sandy beaches and Zanzibar is no exception. Our hotel, the Nungwi Beach Inn was right on the beach and provided comfortable, clean accommodation.
We had a group dinner at a nearby restaurant, dining under a canopy on the beach. Seafood of course!
Friday 13 September – Nungwi Beach
A morning boat trip out to Mnemba Island to seemingly walk on water along a barely submerged sand bar which stretches for miles and snorkel in the clear turquoise waters. The dolphins hadn’t really come out to play during the trip to Mnemba but we did at least see them. The snorkelling was good and on the way back the one of the crew dived to pick up various starfish to show us.
Another sunset cruise in the early evening but this time we got the full spectacular to a soundtrack of the drummers on the boat. The boat crew were attentive with the gin, wine and beer – maybe too attentive…..hic! Dinner again at the next door restaurant but no objections from us for our final dinner of the trip.
Saturday 14 September – Zanzibar to Nairobi to London
A bit of a subdued morning as most of the group were leaving that day, although not all were heading home. We spent the morning hanging round the hotel awaiting our transfer to the airport for the flight to Nairobi. More luck thank anything else, we were on the right side of the aircraft so see Kilimanjaro again but no luck in finding the BA desk to try to blag (or even pay for) an upgrade on the overnight flight home. Back of the plane for us it was going to be.
We had the most amazing three and a bit weeks. It really wasn’t a holiday and as Arthur often said, the holiday doesn’t begin until we get to Zanzibar! But we did and saw so much it was worth every early morning and long day spent on the road.
Tucan Travel are not known for using luxury hotels but on the whole, everywhere we stayed was perfectly fine. Whilst the basic holiday cost is cheap, once you add in the local payment, flights and optional excursions the costs can add up but we have factored all that in when we booked the trip. We are one of the few that do study and digest the trip notes before we go! We would use the company again if they offered the trip we wanted.
We never went hungry but food on the whole was very samey with every meal having both rice and potatoes. Meat was generally beef or goat and the seafood once we got to Zanzibar was worth waiting for. Alcohol was available everywhere except the food market in Zanzibar but as the population there is 95% Muslim that is to be expected. Prices vary but certainly cheaper than home. Most of the wine we drunk was South African so no objection there.
Now to start on 2020 travels……