Saturday, 14 December 2013

Gorillas in the mist

Whilst the culmination of our Africa trip may of only lasted an hour, it was still by far one of the greatest experiences we have ever encountered. Four a.m. our alarm went off, getting up in the dark and in a daze, we wearily threw ourselves into a van and headed off to the jungle. After a bumpy two hour drive, one hour lecture on encounter etiquette and another hour drive we were ready to set off for our gorilla trek. Due to the endangered status and wild nature of these majestic animals we were only permitted to approach the animals in a small group (8 people), on foot, trek one family and watch with them for one hour only. Fortunately for us our permits were authorized to follow the largest group in the park consisting of up to 23 gorillas, so our spirits were high.

As we set off our guide and two armed (with AK47's) assistants informed us that these are wild creatures and that whilst finding them is 99.999% certain, the trekking time may vary from 10 minute to a 10 hour round trip. Having done no exercise since South America, this worried us a little - particularly since we were in the middle of the Ugandan jungle and this was to be proper trekking, no paths, no steps just a guy with a machete to cut our way through. Approximately 20 minutes into our trek, with sweat already dripping from our brows, we heard the crackle of the radio, we all anxiously awaited the news from our lead trackers, who had left hours earlier to go find our family. Once their conversation was over our guide turned back to us and with the most unreadable expression calmly informed us that the trackers had found the group and we only had another 1.5 hours to go. This was a huge relief to all of us and after a quick breather we set off again.

From then on the hike seemed to go reasonably quick, with everyone excited to see what we came for. In fact we were doing so well that after only 45 minutes we reached our lead trackers and the location of gorilla family. So after another quick briefing, we stripped off our day packs and armed with just cameras we made the last short stroll in total silence yet intense excitement. As we approached in single file you could hear the rustling of the leaves as two of the gorillas snacked away high above us. Thinking this was it, everyone instantly fired off rapid amounts of photos in hope of capturing at least one shot of the black mass high off in the distance. But after a minute or so our guide ushered us along to what we were told was a better vantage point. So we carefully continued on, following the freshly cut track, to a spot where not only did we have full eye to eye view of a gorilla but infact the whole family as they chilled out over breakfast. We were told later that we were very lucky as not only did we get to see over 16 gorillas but catching them while they are resting is also fortunate.

Needless to say upon reaching this point everyone had their fingers on the trigger and other than the constant clicking of numerous shutters firing away, the only other sound that could be heard was the groaning trumpets from the gorillas as they passed their post breakfast wind. We each took turns at different vantage points to get that perfect shot and as the gorillas got more use to our presence our guides cut away and inched us forward, so we could get better views of the 2 silverbacks and 2 babies. Explaining the feeling you get when watching these creatures that are 96% genetically associated with humans is impossible, sorry you will just have to go yourself. But just like the rest of our travels I got plenty of amazing picks for you all to enjoy.

Another great experience we had whilst in Uganda was our village and orphanage tour. Expecting much like the tour we did in Malawi, we prepared ourselves for the onslaught of excited kid wanting to play. The first stop on they tour took us to a house where a local couple in their 70's had been living their whole lives. Upon meeting the old woman, she kindly introduced herself in the local language as Frida, before promptly inspecting the males for appropriate length of beards and female for adequate cup size. This was both uncomfortably awkward yet incredibly funny. So after getting much closer to Frida than we expected, she then showed us how she grinds sorghum for making porridge and weaves banana leaves for sugar bowls. Both her and her husband were marvelously friendly but sadly we had to leave and move on down to the orphanage - 'Little Angles Orphanage' set up by a very driven 25 year old local, who's mission is to 'provide inclusion to local children with special needs'. Arriving at the school we all split up and entered a different class room where we were treated to song by the class and even got to participate in the daily lesson. After about an hour of school work, it was then play time, so we all headed out into the play ground and enjoyed some free time with the kids, playing soccer, throwing balls, singing, dancing and for some getting their hair braided. We had such a great time there none of us wanted to leave.

Sadly Uganda was our last country on our epic tour around the world. However I don't think we could have picked a better place to finish up our trip, as this Pearl of Africa gave us the most friendly, unforgettable and awe expiring conclusion.


- Ryan -


Baby elephants and giraffe kissing

Our first stay in Kenya was a short stay in Nairobi, to drop off half of our group who were not trekking gorillas. After saying our sad goodbyes we organised a day tour with the remainder of the group to see the baby elephant orphanage - the David Sheldrick elephant centre and the giraffe centre. The elephant centre started with the first group of young elephants, who ran out with enthusiasm, as they were introduced to us with a quick explanation on how they came to be orphaned. They then continued to bring the groups out depending on their age and the amount they were fed, after this we were allowed to get a close up picture and a quick pat if you were feeling game. Next up we went to the giraffe centre which aims to protect and promote the endangered Rothschild giraffe. The centre starts with an up close and personal feeding of the giraffe before entering the learning centre to discover more about these beautiful animals and how the centre is trying to increase their numbers. Much to my disgust (or jealousy?) Ryan decided he wanted to give the giraffe a kiss, so as instructed he put the food between his lips and waited for the giraffe to take it with his incredible long tongue - gross!

On our way to Uganda from Nairobi we stayed the night near Lake Nakuru for some rhino spotting, as it has one of the largest populations in Africa. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to spot and large group of white rhinos and one extremely skittish black rhino (very rarely spotted). The game drive through the national park was excellent as recent rain had driven all the animals to higher group, we we lucky to spot buffalo, flamingos, water buck, hyenas, giraffe and elephants. We also managed to see countless baboons with seemingly endless energy - eating, fighting, climbing, stealing food, fighting and fornicating.

As our driver was Kenyan, we had a short stop at his home on the way back into Nairobi after Uganda. He first introduced to his friendly mother (while dropping off groceries) before getting a quick tour of his house. The local children seemed very delighted by this and were all curiously watching and waving as we walked through the little lane that they all lived on. While just a short stop it was great to see how people lived in the surrounding areas of Nairobi.

While we only had a short stay in Kenya we loved seeing the animal and meeting the friendly people in this beautiful country.

- Louise -


Monday, 9 December 2013


In terms of unforgettable experiences you can't pass up Tanzania and as we were spending a majority of our tour here, we got to experience a majority of what this amazing country has to offer. After crossing the boarder and a few long days of driving we arrived at the major port town of Dar es Salaam, our gateway to Zanzibar. As it so happened the day we arrived into Dar was also our 1st year anniversary, so being the true romantic that I am I shouted my beautiful wife a cocktail in celebration.
After nearly 2 weeks on the road everyone was really looking forward to Zanzibar, as it not only meant 3 days of relaxing but also 3 nights in a real bed. Our first day in Stone Town was jam packed full of history and cultural experiences. Our morning was spent wandering through the Arabic style alleyways trying not to get lost, before being shown around a spice farm and the original slave market where people were sold up until 1876. Next we travelled up to the northern beaches of the island for some sun, sand and fun. The crystal clear water made for some great snorkeling and the sun beds on the beach were great for catching some rays. However, I thought the best part of the stay was the boat cruise, after been told that the boat had never been drunk out of alcohol before the challenge was instantly initiated. So as the 15 of us, the husbands leaving their wives behind, boarded the very piratey looking vessel, we all took to the task of setting a new record and after 2 hours of cruising the Zanzibar coast we returned triumphantly, yet a little sea legged.
Having climbed a few mountains already this trip we thought we would skip this one and save it for a return visit. But since we were in the area I'd thought it best to get a pre climb photo of Africa's largest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.
Possibly one of the highlights of the Africa trip so far, the Serengeti was just one of those awe inspiring places that had my camera working overtime. Our first day was spent game driving through the vast plains, spotting animals left and right - Lions, hippos, zebras, cheetahs, buffalo and many more. When we thought it couldn't get any better we arrived at our camp site which literally was in the heart of the Serengeti completely open for everything to roam around our tents as we slept. The next day had us busy again with more animal spotting, but we did manage to find time to sneak in a cheeky beer along the way, because hey you have to have a Serengeti in the Serengeti. That night was again spent out in the wilderness, this time upon the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, and whilst we did manage some sleep, the elephant strolling through the camp site did try its best to trample through our tents. For our last day we toured through the crater floor, famous for been described as 'one of the world's most unchanged wildlife sanctuaries.' Within minutes of hitting the crater floor we were treated to lions stalking their pray and a little further down the track a family of elephants wandering through the bushes. The whole three days turned out to be an incredibly unforgettable experience, problem being we now want to go back for migration...
- Ryan -

Sunday, 8 December 2013


Our next stop, Kande beach pronounced Candy beach, conjured images of powered sugar sand, fairy floss trees and waves of melted chocolate. While this was not quite the case, this beach on lake Malawi was certainly not disappointing, with beautiful white sand and refreshing calm water.
During our stay at Kande beach our guide, Darlington, organised a much anticipated party night, consisting of a pig on a spit. As a group we chipped in and complemented this sensational meal with an old uni favourite of an alcoholic 'punch.' While our years of jungle juice are long behind us, we were determined to not feel our age and caved into the peer pressure, despite a mix of strange alcohol called cane. I can comfortable say neither of us where keen to try the cane again (ever), we had an excellent night even though we didn't quite manage to stay up as late as the 'young ones' on our tour.
And the famous Kande beach slogan speaks for itself - The bits you remember, you'll never forget!
The major highlight while staying in Malawi was a village tour we were taken on by a local man called Roger, and a massive group of local men 'practicing their english.' We started out visiting Roger's house, with a hearty wave from his mother, doing the landry in the yard. While giving us a tour of the house he explain the local customs, how men find a wife, how malaria is affecting the community and the issues surrounding HIV. Roger then took us to visit the local clinic, where we met the community midwife and a beautiful baby born the night before. Next up we went to the local school where we were explained the local education system with a request of a small donation. While sitting through this explanation we notice large crowds of children gathering outside and much to our delight they practically tackled us as we came out side. Each guy in our group ended up with one or two children hanging per arm, and maybe one or two around the neck or clinging to their back. Fortunately, as the girls were not quite as strong it was a child holding each hand. After lots of photos, as the children loved seeing their picture on the screen, we began to head back to the campsite with our entourage of children and local men. The local men where actually great at this point, explaining to us that the children would proudly tell their parents that they got to hold our hands and also making sure each child went home rather then getting lost by going back to the campsite with us. Once the children had dispersed and we were back at our campsite our new local 'friends' brought out the things they were selling, which was a great opportunity to see the local wood work and 'art' before making a purchase or two.
After our stay on Kande beach we had one more night at another beach in the north of Malawi before crossing (slowly) the boarder into Tanzania.
- Louise -