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São João dos Angolares – Rolas Island

Rolas Island: The Middle of the World


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we go for breakfast this morning, we are given a message from our agents that the rain has caused havoc with the roads, so they are going to be half an hour late picking us up this morning (Nino, the driver, and Agostinho, the guide, went back to São Tomé Town yesterday after lunch).

When we walk into the restaurant, we see two girls sleeping on futons in the bar. I can only assume that the hotel was full last night and they arrived late without a reservation.

Breakfast

This morning's breakfast consists of bread, home-made jam, cheese, chocolate cake, biscuits, star fruit, bananas, papaya and guava.

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As it turns out, Nino and Agostinho are only about 20 minutes late, by which time we are in reception with our bags, ready to go.

The road south from here is very bad in places, with large potholes and huge chunks of the road eroded away by the rain.

After a while we turn off the main road onto an unmarked, much smaller track, as we head for the jetty.

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The ferry to Rolas Island

We arrive at the jetty where the ferry is going to take us to Rolas Island in plenty of time for the boat. In fact, the boat is not even here yet. A small band of performers are waiting to greet tourists, and two young French girls also waiting.

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A small, open boat arrives, and all four of us are quite sure it is the one taking us across to the island. The girls are filled with trepidation. “I have known worse, much worse”, I reassure them, “at least it is not raining”. “You travel a lot?” one of the girls asks. “This is our 140th country” we explain. She is totally dumbstruck and keeps repeating incredulously “140 countries...?”, over and over again.

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When a large bus belonging to the Pestana Group (who own the hotel on the island) arrives, the musicians and singers burst into performance. This is a little too touristy for my liking.

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Soon afterwards, our boat arrives, and it is bigger and with roof cover.

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It seems the smaller, open boat is for staff transport.

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As soon as we have all piled on board, we are off. Some people, including the two French girls we spoke to earlier, are just going to the island for the day. Most people, however, are staying for a week, we are here for two nights.

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Rolas Island

The ferry ride is quite short, and soon we can see the jetty on Rolas Island. By the time we arrive, however, we are absolutely soaked: one of the problems of sitting at the back of the boat, being drenched in sea spray.

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As I said before, the whole operation is quite commercialised and touristic, and on arrival at the island we are giving a welcome drink while we wait to check in.

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We watch the 'staff boat' arrive with all the luggage on board, and hope they don't drop our bags over the edge as they unload.

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Our bags made it safely to dry land

Rolas island is a small islet, an ocean paradise with swaying palm tress and beautiful sandy beaches. Apart from this one hotel, there is not much else on the island.

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The rooms are all spread around the large grounds, with blocks of four rooms in each wooden cottage, offering plenty of privacy.

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We have a small covered balcony with a couple of lounging chairs.

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Complete with our very own lizard.

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The rooms are nice and big, all dark wood, with an efficient A/C unit, large wardrobe, a couple of chairs and some cosy mood lighting.

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The hotel pool is said to be the largest in West Africa, and it is certainly impressive.

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Several bridges connect the patios, grassy areas and the islands in the free form pool, with the two 'islands' representing the islands of São Tomé and Principe. The pool comes complete with a pool bar, with a swim up area featuring underwater bar stools.

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The restaurant and bar on the hill behind the pool

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The bar

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The bar

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The bar

Lunch

This being a resort hotel, lunch is buffet style, with the usual selection.

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Equator

There isn't much here outside the hotel. A path leads through the jungle-like interior to the biggest draw of the island – the Equator marker.

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This small island is the nearest landmass to the point where the Equator meats the Meridian – here we are 0° south and 6° west.

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Agostinho points out a blowhole and gets soaked in the process.

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There is some spectacular coastline too.

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Pool time

The beach is deserted, and as it doesn't look overly inviting with its rocky approach and underfoot in the ocean, we opt for an afternoon in and around the pool.

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Crabs on the beach

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Wine for Dinner

As the afternoon draws to a close and the rain starts to come down, we grab a bottle of wine and head for the terrace of our cabin, where we stay for the duration of the evening with another bottle of wine replacing the first one. We miss dinner completely, preferring to chill with a drink and snacks, watching the rain from our balcony.

And so ends another day in São Tomé, as perfectly arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. Thanks again guys, you rock!

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:04 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged rain coastline wine crabs chilling swimming_pool equator blowhole meridian roca são_joão_dos_angolares rolas_island west_africa's_largest_swimming_ swim_up_bar middle_of_the_world postana Comments (1)

Maralal - Naivasha - Nairobi - Brussels - London - Bristol

A long journey and a long day

overcast 23 °C
View The Journey to the Jade Sea - Northern Kenya 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day eight of our Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destinations.

What a difference a cool room makes! I slept like a log last night! Yet again I have the alarm set early, this time so that I can catch the animals coming to the waterhole at dawn.

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I don't have long to wait. Even before the sun is up they slowly and silently appear out of the bush, kicking up the dust as they go. Initially one by one, including little ones; then a large dazzle (yes, that is what a group of zebras are called) arrives, sauntering out of the woods as if they don't have a care in the world.

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The early morning mist, the parading zebra, the dust swirling around their hooves: it's a magical scene. I feel very honoured to be part of this – what a fabulous way to spend my last morning in Kenya.

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The zebra take their time filling their bellies with the cool water, keeping a constant eye out for predators.

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Occasionally something spooks them.

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Then the sun comes out and bathes the scene in a golden glow, transforming it from being magical to a truly extraordinary enchanted world! This change in light, however, signals the time for the zebra to once again return to the bush.

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The sun also brings out a couple of vervet monkeys, a skittish jackal, a few impala and some guinea fowl.

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Leaving Maralal Lodge, we are lucky enough to encounter more animals on our way through the sanctuary – eland, impala and some more zebra.

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At Maralal Town we hit tarmac again for the first time in six days! Luxury!

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The excitement is short-lived, however, a mere 200 metres or so before we are back on the usual gravel track.

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After a while once again return to relative 'civilisation', as we pass several private ranches, run by white settlers who cater to the luxury market. Behind barbed wire fences we spot gazelles, giraffes, buffalo and zebra. This is the canned safari experience for rich westerners.

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The baboons, though, are no snobs and come and go as they please.

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Having forgotten to take our malaria tablets this morning, we swallow them with some water mid-morning in the car; an action I soon come to regret when my stomach starts bubbling. Ugh!

For some reason, today's journey does not seem so exciting as all the previous ones. It must be my mindset – I am expecting it to be boring and merely a way of getting back to the airport for our flight home. Our itinerary has nothing in it for today. Snap out of it girl!

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The shadows created by wandering sheep on the road amuses me for a while. I know, I know: little things for little minds and all that. Just humour me will ya?

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Suddenly something catches my eye. A motorcyclist has stopped in the road, gesticulating frantically towards the crops in the nearby field. Then I see the reason for his agitation: a large herd of 20+ wild elephants grazing happily by the side of the road.

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He looks so cute and innocent doesn't he? You wouldn't believe the sort of destruction he and his family can, and do, cause.

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Often elephants and people overlap in their use of habitats and thus come into conflicts, with negative consequences for both parties. Elephants, in their search for pastures and water, engage in extensive seasonal migrations often including moving through farmland causing large-scale damage. In this area where most people rely on subsistence farming, an elephant wiping out fences and crops is likely to have have devastating effects on the families and their livelihood.

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The elephants are agitated and the motorcyclist is nervous. A Samburu herder is looking on from a safe distance on top of a nearby hill.

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We daren't stop. Driving on slowly, we deliberately rev the engine loudly and sound the horn, in the hope that the elephants will move on.

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Eventually the animals - at least thoseh nearest the road - retreat to a safer distance and we can cautiously pass, with the vulnerable motorcyclist using our vehicle as a shield between himself and the massive beasts.

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After three hours' driving this morning we reach Rumuruti and a proper sealed road. For good this time, all the way to Nairobi. Welcome back to civilisation.

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One of the first things we see is a prison, with the inmates milling around outside doing hard labour – or at least some gardening. We pass by way too quickly for me to even snap one of my 'famous' covert pictures from inside the car, but the scene is like something out of a cartoon, with the prisoners all wearing striped 'pyjamas' and matching hats - a bit like this:

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From Rumuruti the road climbs the escarpment to a height of 2000m. This is where the police come to do their high altitude training and we see many police trucks and uniformed officers.

Continuing on to Nyahururu, we find it to be a 'proper' town, with shops, petrol station, banks and a traffic jam! Welcome back to civilisation.

All along the side of the road as we leave the town are stalls selling vegetables, and John fills a huge sack with a variety of greens ready to send to his family who live near Lake Victoria.

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For lunch we stop at a service station near Naivasha, and not before time: my bubbling stomach has turned into a volcano and I rush off the find the 'facilities'. Much to my delight, there are western sit-down toilets in cubicles with locking doors, a seat on the toilet bowl, a sink with running water and even soap and toilet paper! Pure luxury! Welcome back to civilisation.

John recommends the Indian fast food restaurant in the complex, which suits us fine.

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Chicken and chips, chicken jalfrezi, vegetable biriyani, vegetable thali

Much to David's delight - no, make that absolute ecstasy - they even sell South African cider! Welcome back to civilisation!

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We see a number of white people here, the first we've seen since leaving Samburu six days ago. Most of them are white settlers, not tourists, as this is a favourite hang-out for ex-pats. Welcome back to civilisation.

John, knowing that we are interested in bird watching, asks if we would like to take a boat trip on Lake Naivasha and visit Crescent Island. It sure beats spending that time hanging about in the airport, so we gladly accept.

Lake Naivasha

At the docks we wrangle with the boat operators to let Abdi come with us out on the lake. They insist only authorised guides are allowed to accompany tourists in the boats.
“He is not a guide, he is a tourist” I stand firm.
“But he has a Kenyan ID” they argue.
“He is a Kenyan tourist from North Horr” I protest, truthfully: Abdi's 'guiding' duties finished in Loiyangalani, but he decided to come with us to Nairobi anyway, and visit a friend there.

Eventually they relent. It is Abdi's first visit to Lake Naivasha and he is very nervous about the boat as he can't swim. As a strong swimmer myself, I promise to save him if he falls in. With that, we all go out to look for birds.

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And birds we see! This is a true bird watcher's paradise - Naivasha is known as a world class birding destination with over 400 species of birds recorded.

Following years of drought and sinking water levels, in 2011 WWF got involved to help the fragile ecosystem around the lake recover and all the people it supports in terms of agriculture and fishing amongst other things. It seems they have been very successful, as the water level is now the highest it's been for a number of years, with evidence of many semi-submerged trees along the shore.

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Before we even leave the shoreline, I spot a number of birds.

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Great White Egret

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Grey Heron

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Hadada Ibis and Glossy Ibis

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African Black Kite - beautifully camouflaged

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The Giant Kingfisher is of great excitement to us both!

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The very ugly Marabou Stork

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Pink Backed Pelican

As we make our way out onto the lake, we scatter huge flocks of Red Knobbed Coots – I have never seen so many coots in one place before.

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There is even an albino coot in amongst all his black mates.

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The submerged trees are home to a huge number of cormorants too.

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They are mostly the Great Cormorant, but we also see a few Long Tailed Cormorants.

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The high water level means large areas of flooded ground, rich with fish and shallow enough for wading. The fish community in the lake has been highly variable over the years, influenced by changes in climate, fishing effort and the introduction of invasive species. These days the carp, introduced to the lake in 2001, is by far the most common species caught. Fishing provides jobs and income as well as being an important source of protein for local communities.

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I love these guys wearing tops made from cement bags!

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Anyway, back to a few more bird pictures:

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Cattle Egret

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Little Egret

Lake Naivasha is also home to a sizeable population of hippos, with some 1,000 of them estimated to live in the lake.

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Although hippos may look cute and friendly, they are one animal you definitely do not want to cross: hippos are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal.

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Although not bloodthirsty like big cat predators, hippos are easily frightened and can be extremely aggressive, especially males defending their territories as well as females protecting their babies.

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Hippos can run at speeds of over 20 miles an hour and are built like tanks – you certainly wouldn't want to get in the way of one of these! Most deaths by hippo are caused by being trampled to death, although they also sometimes overturn boats, drowning their victims.

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Hippos consume over 100 pounds of vegetation per day.

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They seem to coexist with the fishermen when in water, and once they are on land, most of the lake is fenced in, so hippo deaths in and around Lake Naivasha are rare apparently.

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I think it's amazing how people just go about their daily life as if these were just sheep grazing, not Africa's greatest killers!

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We cruise out to Crescent Island, which is a private game park and is said to have the country's highest concentration of animals per acre, with wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, gazelle, impala and waterbuck.

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By now my stomach is like a cauldron, and I dare not risk leaving the boat at the island, so I let David and Abdi go off with the local guide, also called David, while I do some more bird watching.

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African Spoonbill

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Squacco Heron

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Great White Pelican

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Little Grebe

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Red Billed Teal

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Spur Winged Lapwing

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Pied Kingfisher

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African Jacana

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Black Winged Stilt

We pick up the boys from the island and Abdi comes back quite excited about his short walking safari. David is a little more nonchalant: “There was nothing much there that we haven't seen elsewhere” he reflects.

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Anyway, this is what I missed:

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Before we return to the jetty, we spend some time watching fish eagles doing what fish eagles do best: fishing.

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This sees the end of our sightseeing program in Kenya – for this time. Now all that remains is the final stages of our long journey home.

First we have to climb up the Mau Escarpment to make our way to Nairobi. Due to resurfacing roadworks, it's a long, slow slog, but the views over the Great Rift valley are not bad, despite the mist.

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At the best viewpoints the ubiquitous souvenir stalls have sprung up, selling sheepskin hats of all things.

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On the outskirts of Nairobi we pass the infamous Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa, with an estimated population of over one million people.

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This is the depressing info on Kibera according to Wikipedia:
Most of Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 per day. Unemployment rates are high. Persons living with HIV in the slum are many, as are AIDS cases. Cases of assault and rape are common. There are few schools, and most people cannot afford an education for their children. Clean water is scarce and therefore diseases caused by related poor hygiene are prevalent. A great majority of people living in the slum lack access to medical care.

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Check out more facts about Kibera here.

By now I am getting quite desperate for a toilet again, and am not happy to see another traffic jam! I am, however, very impressed with the local agent that Undiscovered Destinations have used on this trip. The Africa Journeys' manager, Wycliffe, who picked us up at the airport (which seems like weeks ago but it has only in fact been eight days) joins us for the last few miles before the airport to ensure we are happy with the trip and answer any queries or complaints. I am delighted to assure him that we cannot fault any aspect of the trip whatsoever! The journey, the sights, the people, the safari, the food, the accommodation... it has all exceeded our expectations. We'll be back!

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The flight is full, including a huge crowd of Somalian refugees on their way to a new home in the US, sponsored by IOM. Many are understandably frightened, and they are very subdued as we all gather in the gate lounge.

Still suffering with an upset tummy, I am feeling decidedly ill by this time, so much so that I am contemplating requesting a wheelchair to board the plane. Somehow I manage to make it to my aircraft seat before I throw up. David rings the bell for assistance from the crew, and gets a very curt reply when he asks for a glass of water: “You can get it yourself from the back”. Noticing that I have my eyes closed and am leaning back in the chair, she continues acerbically: “but I see you are somewhat stuck, so I will get it for you. This time” When she returns with the water, I am in the midst of emptying the contents of my stomach into the sick bag. Her attitude completely changes: “Oh dear.... are you OK? If you need anything else just press the button a couple of times, that way we'll know it's urgent”. I am just about to answer: "How about you learn the meaning of customer service instead" but (probably fortunately) I started heaving again at that very moment.

Having endured three screaming kids on the way out, we are rather concerned to see at least a dozen young children among the refugees, but not a sound is heard from them all through the eight hour night flight. I wish the same could be said for the American group. They really hit the pinnacle of stereotypicalness (a new word to add to 'Grete's Dictionary') when one girl exclaims as we are exiting the plane in Brussels: “Do they speak Spanish here?”

By the time we open our front door, it has been 34 hours since we left Maralal Lodge. It's been a loooong day!

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Purely for medicinal reasons: to settle my upset tummy (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke.

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Cheers and welcome home

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:32 Archived in Kenya Tagged landscapes lakes animals boats travel elephants holiday kenya hippo roadtrip equator lake_naivasha naivasha bird_watching undiscovered_destinations great_rift_valley Comments (0)

Nairobi - Equator - Isiolo - Samburu

Crossing the Equator - it's all a matter of latitude

35 °C
View The Journey to the Jade Sea - Northern Kenya 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day one of our private Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destinations.

After last night's safety paranoia, the surroundings look peaceful and tranquil this morning as we explore the hotel grounds and load up the car for the great adventure that lies ahead of us.

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An early start to some great birding:

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African Harrier-Hawk

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Streaky Serin

I would have loved to have had some more time to take advantage of the hotel's facilities, but as always there are places to go, things to see.

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It feels good to be on African soil once more, a continent I fell in love with many visits ago and which still touches my heart and soul like no other - that's why, 30 years and 25 visits later, I keep coming back for more.

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Africa, often referred to as the “Dark Continent”, is inherently misunderstood by most westerners and consistently misrepresented by the mainstream global media. Mysterious, complex and enigmatic, there is so much more to Africa than meets the eye.

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#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

Today we set out to explore some of Africa's many secrets and hidden wonders, on a voyage along roads less travelled.

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Let's go!

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Heading out of town on the main TransAfrican highway going north, we encounter a number of police check points, each with a vicious 'home-made' stinger across the road. At some they make us stop so that they can check John's papers; at others they just wave us through.

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Wide load on the highway:

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Our first stop is the obligatory curio-shop. The toilets are nice and clean, and the artwork they sell is of high quality. We rarely buy souvenirs, but I do have a weakness for traditional masks, of which I have a wall full at home. I am tempted by an unusual carved set of two 'masks' (maybe not traditional, but beautiful all the same), and manage to negotiate an acceptable price. That'll be my shopping for the week!

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My living room wall at home, full of masks from all over the world!

Crossing the Equator

The Equator is an 'imaginary line' around the middle of the earth, dividing it into two: the northern and southern hemisphere.

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The above picture is dedicated to a friend's daughter who, after having been taught about the Equator at school, excitedly ran home to tell her mum about the 'imaginary lion' running around the centre of the earth.

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The Equator dissects Kenya some 90 miles north of Nairobi.

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Crossing from one hemisphere to another is theoretically painless and unremarkable, indiscernible even. However, always looking to exploit a money-making opportunity, souvenirs stalls have been set up next to the signs which attract camera-wielding tourists and notorious selfie-takers: YOU ARE NOW CROSSING THE EQUATOR

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Coriolis effect
You may have heard about the water going down the plug hole clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere, and drains straight down on the equator?

David, our guide, uses a bowl with a strategically placed hole in its bottom, a jug of water and a couple of matchsticks to demonstrate the effect. It does indeed seem that the water changes direction just 20 metres either side of the equator.

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So what causes this? It is something called the Coriolis effect, which is a result of the rotation of the Earth and the inertia of the mass experiencing the effect. This force causes moving objects (including ocean currents, wind patterns and hurricanes) on the surface of the Earth to be deflected to the right in the northern Hemisphere and to the left in the south.

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So far so good.

However, it grieves me to say that according to scientists, the effect the Coriolis force has on a bowl of water is much too small to actually see, especially so close to the equator; and may be better explained by the conservation of angular momentum: any rotation around the drain hole that is initially present will accelerate as water moves inward.

In other words, the person carrying out the demonstration gently encourages the water to travel in the suitable direction by carefully angling the stream of liquid or the placement of the object.

I feel quite disappointed and truly deflated; rather like a child who has just discovered that Santa is not real.

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Please say it is not so!

I study the movements of the guide. I look at the direction of the spiralling water coming out of the bowl as well as the way the matchsticks move. I even try to shake the bowl to make the matchsticks move in a different direction. They don't. Call me gullible, but I still want to believe the effect is true, and if not: this guy is good, damn good!

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After the demonstration and the presentation of a certificate, we are obliged to visit one of the many shops. For fairness, visitors are taken to a numbered shop in turn – one vehicle to number 28, next car to number 29 and so on. Having already done all my shopping for the trip earlier this morning, we do our duty by browsing the allocated store, but despite calls to have a "closer look", we return to the car empty-handed.

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The Birminghum Cool Shop!

A few miles later we stop at a road side stall to buy some vegetables for the evening at North Horr in four nights' time. The accommodation there doesn't offer meals, so we have to bring our own food. Ingredients are more readily available, and offer greater variety, here than they do further north, so now is the time to stock up on fresh stuff.

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John chooses a courgette for our dinner

In this heat, these green tomatoes should ripen to a beautiful red by the time we need them.

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As we head further north, the scenery becomes more and more rural, the countryside filled with pastorialists toiling the soil in age-old fashion.

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Isiolo

The town of Isiolo apparently has a newly acquired status as a 'resort city' (billed as 'the new Dubai'), as part of Kenya's 'Vision 2030' plan. The design is for Isiolo to become a tourist centre to include casinos, hotels, upmarket retail outlets, a modern airport and transport facilities. This brings up a burning question: “why?” The answer lies in the pipeline that brings crude oil from the fields in South Sudan to the ports on the Kenyan coast. With the area's reputation for lawlessness, I guess the government felt it prudent to consolidate the surroundings politically and offer some hope for the future to its inhabitants in order to protect their 'black gold'. John points out the site of the new international airport as we pass.

Wikitravel isn't too optimistic about the town: “Isiolo is the 'last stop' before travelling off the paved road to the towns of Marsabit and Moyale in northern Kenya. Be very aware that Isiolo is not the safest place on earth, and if you are on your own, hire somebody to protect you from the thugs.”

Reading the local news I can see their point...

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Oh, and there is apparently a cholera epidemic here – thankfully we made sure that our inoculations were up-to-date before we left home.

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Isiolo is the north-east’s most important town and a frontier town in every respect, separating the sedate south from the wild, wild north; inhabited by a rendezvous of AK47s and their uniformed owners. Having been rigorously warned by Wycliffe last night not to take pictures of people in the north without asking first, I resist the urge to photograph the gun-toting locals. Probably a wise move.

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I am beginning to be grateful we are merely passing through, although to be fair, we do not notice even the slightest amount of tension or hint of danger. What is noticeable is that the town is inhabited by a larger percentage of Muslims than further south, which is evident by the presence of several mosques and the attire of the people.

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Isiolo is the last big town on our journey, so we stock up with diesel, as do several other safari vehicles on their way to Samburu. In order to ensure the tank is filled to the brim, the vans are either shaken as the fuel goes in; or put up on a one sided ramp to make the most of every available centimetre in the tank.

Fuel (as well as a number of other items) can be paid for by phone using a branch-less banking service known as M-Pesa. Each till has its own number and you dial in from your mobile to make payment. In an area where banks are few and far between, this is a great idea!

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The land is flat, dry and fairly barren here, and the cattle we saw further south is replaced by camels, while straw huts take over from tinned-roofed mud shacks.

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At the side of the road I spot a number of Rendille nomads carrying their entire lives – including the materials to rebuild their huts – on donkeys as they migrate from one place to another. The scene is colourful, exotic and picturesque, and I am itching to take photos, but John's earlier warning resonates in my mind: “People here are not photo friendly, be careful! Don't even snap from a moving car as they might come after us and there are a lot of armed bandits here.” OK then.

Archer's Post

Disappointed we don't get the same level of welcome as President Kenyatta did when he came to Archer's Post earlier this year. Don't they know who we are?

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The Howards have arrived!

Safari time!

We are now entering the wilderness and heading for the verdant bush; ready to come face to face with Africa’s storybook animals. The route to the Jade Sea just happens to be taking us close to one of Kenya's finest wildlife reserves (as you do), so it would be rude not to 'pop in' for some game viewing.

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The expression 'Safari' is derived from a Swahili word, meaning simply 'long journey', although over the years it has taken on a broader meaning, with the dictionary describing it thus:

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Sentrim Samburu Safari Camp

From the gate we head directly to our home for the next two nights: Sentrim Samburu Safari Camp. Located on the shores of Ewaso Ng'iro River, the camp originally consisted of individual safari tents dotted along the riverbank. In 2010 unseasonal and heavy rains created a devastating flash flood which raged downstream, destroying bridges and washing away buildings and tents, scattering furniture and equipment. Sentrim was one of six camps wrecked by the wall of water, which completely demolished the camp, leaving everything covered in a thick layer of mud. Since rebuilt on higher ground and further away from the water, the lodge is now constructed from more permanent material and features individual cottages on concrete platforms with views of the grounds and the river beyond.

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Our room

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View from our balcony

We check in and go for a late lunch, followed by a little siesta.

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Welcome drink

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Glazed pork with rice

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And of course a Tusker

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Siesta on the balcony

Samburu National Reserve

Located just north of the equator in the rain-shadow of Mt. Kenya, the rugged and semi-desert Samburu is a lot drier and hotter than the rest of the Kenyan parks; featuring a mix of wood and grassland interspersed with riverine forest and swamp.

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Samburu National Reserve is relatively small in size compared to the other Kenyan parks, such as Tsavo (which is massive) or even Masai Mara; and minuscule in relation to the Serengeti in Tanzania which has been the destination of choice for our last few safaris: 64km² against 14,763km².

Putting it further into perspective: the area administered by Bristol City Council (our home town) is 110km².

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Samburu Special Five
Most safari-goers – especially first-timers - have their heart set on seeing the 'Big Five', but here in this park the most famous collection of animals to spot is the 'Samburu Special Five'. These are rare species of animals not found in most other East African parks: the long necked gerenuk, Grevy's zebra, reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich and Beisa oryx.

Having been lucky enough to see the zebra, giraffe, ostrich and oryx back in 1986 when we came to Mount Kenya and Meru National Parks (both of which are in this region), I explained to John that the gerenuk is of particular interest to me on this trip.

When the very first animal we spot on this afternoon's safari is a gerenuk, John dryly comments: “You can go home now then”. I do like a driver with a sense of humour!

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Gerenuk
Looking like something of a cross between an antelope and a giraffe, the long-necked gerenuk is also known as the Waller's gazelle. The name gerenuk comes from the Somali word Garanuug, which is translated as 'giraffe-necked'.

The gerenuk is endemic to the semi-arid areas of North east Africa, from Kenya through to Somalia. The secret to its survival in the harsh conditions of the desert-like terrain, is its ability to go without drinking water, instead obtaining enough moisture from the food it eats.

Entering through the lodge gates directly into the park this afternoon, before us lies the endless plains, stretching out as far as the eye can see: a flat and uniform landscape, speckled with acacia trees. Initially the open savannah is seemingly bereft of any wildlife; then with mounting excitement I pick out a few vulturine guineafowl. Slowly more and more birds and animals come into view and over the next few hours we absorb a string of heart-stirring animal encounters. This is the quintessential Africa of wildlife documentaries, but no matter how many TV programmes you may have watched, nothing prepares you for the real thing.

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Vulturine Guineafowl

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Olive Baboons

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Eastern Yellow Billed Hornbill

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Northern Red Billed Hornbill

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Tawny Eagle

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Blue Naped Mousebird

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Elephant

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African Pygmy Falcon

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Impala

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Dik Dik

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Superb Starling

Reticulated Giraffe

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The reticulated giraffe, also known as the Somali giraffe, is one of nine subspecies of giraffe, and is native to Somalia, southern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya and is one of the Samburu Special Five.

So how does it differ from the more common Masai giraffe?

  • The reticulated is taller than the Masai, especially the males.
  • The reticulated giraffe has lighter brown spots in a polygon shape with straight, smooth sides, while the Masai giraffe has rather unpredictable, very deep brown spots

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  • The reticulated is only found in northern Kenya and Somalia, whereas the Masai is resident in southern Kenya and Tanzania.
  • Sheer numbers – while there is estimated to be just 5,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild, some 40,000 Masai giraffes roam the African plains.

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Donaldson Smith's Sparrow Weaver

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Common Waterbuck

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Impala

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Gerenuk

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Elephant

John is constantly in contact with other drivers via his CB radio, and gets to hear about a sighting which he wants to check out. In the distance we see a herd of safari vehicles and realise it must be something good.

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We arrive in time to see a lioness out for an evening stroll.

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There are five lions in total, scattered around in the undergrowth.

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Born Free
For those of you who can remember the book and movie 'Born Free', Samburu is one of the two areas in which conservationists Joy and George Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness and later re-introduced her to the wild. The film itself was in fact shot here in the Samburu National Reserve.

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These lionesses could then be descendants of Elsa herself!

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Sign at the entrance gate to the park

Moving on, we come across a kill tucked away under a tree – an oryx partially devoured by a lone lioness.

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On the horizon a black backed jackal eyes the meat hungrily, looking for any opportunity to move in for a meal.

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The moment the lioness starts to walk away, the jackal makes a beeline for the oryx carcass.

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Realising that tomorrow's cold leftovers may be lost to a much smaller rival, the lioness decides to come back to protect her food source.

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The jackal scampers at the mere sight of her, but hangs around in the background for a while hoping for a tasty titbit.

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When the lioness settles down close by her kill to protect it, the jackal slinks off into the bush. For now.

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Kamunyak
Seeing the lioness with the oryx kill brought to mind an unusual story that took place in this park some years ago: the tale of Kamunyak, a lioness with a reputation for adopting orphaned and abandoned young antelopes. Kamunyak (meaning 'Blessed One'), is known to have cared for at least 6 oryx calves, establishing an inconceivable relationship with her unlikely protégés, defying nature and baffling scientists.

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This amazing and bizarre story was told by Saba Douglas-Hamilton in a BBC / Animal Planet documentary called Heart of a Lioness in 2005. I would recommend you watch the incredible film (42 minutes) which is available on YouTube. But I warn you – it does not have a happy ending.

Another congregation of safari vehicles promises a leopard on the hillside in the distance. Apparently. Everyone says there is one there, but no-one seems to have actually seen it. We leave them to it.

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No sooner have we driven away from the leopard traffic jam, John hears word of a cheetah sighting and rushes off. On the way we spot a herd of elephants but decide not to linger in order to prioritise the cats.

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The cat sighting is a false alarm. A wild goose chase. It is now getting quite late, and way past the time we are supposed to have left the park. We head for the lodge but encounter a bit of a road block. Just like the men with guns in Isiolo – you don't argue with these guys!

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A stand-off ensues with a couple of mock charges by the young bull.

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Eventually they disperse and we can be on our way.

Nearby we spot a dead donkey under a bush, most likely killed by a leopard. The leopard doesn't appear to have eaten much, and will probably be back later for more.

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Unfortunately we have to leave – regulations state there must be no driving in the park between 18:30 and 06:00. The time is already 18:50 and we have some way to go to get to our camp. John speeds off on the rocky track with me holding on for dear life. David, however, is fast asleep in the seat, with his head bobbing up and down with the bumps.

Back at the camp we have a refreshing cold shower (when the temperature is 35 °C, a cold shower really is refreshing, trust me!), followed by dinner of Vegetable Spring Rolls with a Dipping Sauce and Chicken Maryland.

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Purely for medicinal reasons: to stop me getting dehydrated in the heat (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke before bed.

Cheers and welcome to Samburu.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:14 Archived in Kenya Tagged landscapes animals birds travel holiday africa safari hot kenya lions equator samburu game_drive undiscovered_destinations safari_vehicle isiolo northern_kenya Comments (1)

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