Getting to Chad

This trip, to my last four remaining African countries (in Central Africa) is jinxed before I even set off. I’m leaving without two of the four required visas, but more of that later. My first stop is Chad and I have that visa. I’m flying Air France, via Paris, to the capital N’Djamena.

The plane is an hour late taking off and packed to the gunwales, with French rugby supporters, who have just seen England handed their biggest home drubbing ever. They’re wielding flags and other memorabilia. I fall over a flagpole and take an ingloriously ignominious header, down the aisle of the plane. It’s definitely not a try and my hand requires ice. Then I have to run for my connection and go the wrong way on the navette, in the biggest airport in the world. I just make the connection. No time to buy provisions, but the lovely French stewardess plies me with champagne so the world immediately looks better.

Immigration at N’Djamena is quick and easy. No-one so much as hints for money, although this is yet another African country, where the vast majority of people live well below the poverty line.

N’Djamena, the Capital of Chad

N’Djamena, the capital, is the largest city in Chad, by some way. Perhaps surprisingly, in this arid country, it rose to prominence as a port city. It’s situated at the confluence of the Logone River with the Chari River. It’s also almost on the border with Cameroun, as well as being very close to Nigeria.

The city has little of note to report. There are a scattering of very modern buildings - split arches, a dome tipped TV station skyscraper, the Chad National Museum, the Al-Mouna Cultural Centre, Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, several mosques (roughly 55% of the population follow Islam and 40% are Christian), a market, some roundabouts with sculptures and the president’s palace. No photos allowed.

A Very Brief History of Chad

  • Human presence in the area now known as Chad dates back to the seventh millennium BC
  • Chad's settlements were focussed on the trans-Saharan trade routes and various states and empires rose and fell, in the area.
  • France had conquered the territory, by 1920, and incorporated it as part of French Equatorial Africa.
  • In 1960, Chad gained independence, under the leadership of François Tombalbaye, but north (Muslim) -south civil war broke out soon after. When this was settled Chad went to war with Libya. France had to intervene.
  • Ongoing conflict and coups d'etats have followed and the country remains unstable.
  • This is a very controlling regime, with an extremely poor human rights record. Chad ranks the second lowest in the Human Development Index. Online maps are restricted in Google and Chad has only one television station (Tele-Tchad), which is owned by the state. Radio is the main source of media coverage in the country.

Time for some R and R in the Radisson – the epitome of luxury here. Though sadly, it doesn’t run to tonic and the water gives out totally in the middle of my shower and hair wash. It stands in its own enormous compound, well-guarded, on the River Chari. The river feeds the huge expanse of Lake Chad and features small islands, little fishing boats and hippos. (I’ve only read about the latter.) There’s a huge pool by the river. It’s a great place to rest up, ready for the upcoming exertions and to check occasionally, for the elusive semiaquatic mammals. It’s apparent they’re not going to materialize for me and I have to be content with life on top of the water, fish (plenty of silvery splashes as they leap around) and canoes.

Our Chad Tour Group

It’s a very long drive (two days) to Zakouma National Park, where I’m going on safari. And we’re told that recent rains have reduced the roads to ruts and doubled the journey time. We’re going to wild camp on the way. Most of our proposed journey lies through orange, essential travel only territory, according to the FCO. A chunk from N'Djamena, to the main road east, is coloured red. Violence related to civil war, kidnappings, car jackings and theft are cited. I've had a Facebook message from someone saying they were kidnapped here in 2008. And two guys in the bar here are inquiring about security and wondering if it's safe. I'm having one of those 'Am I mad?' moments.

We are a group of four: Sarah who lives in Wales, Karen from Fort Lauderdale (who has a formidable camera lens and proper safari gear all packed into hand luggage) and Gunnar from Malaysia. Our two Land Cruisers also contain Mike, our guide from Zimbabwe, two drivers, a cook, and Tahir, our transfer leader and interpreter. Chad's official languages are Arabic and French, but it is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. The Babel Tower of the World.

We’ve been instructed to be ready to leave at 5.30 a.m., so I’ve complied, though early morning starts are far from my favourite thing. Naturally, the crew don’t turn up till 6.30 a.m. when the sun is well over the horizon.

Facts and Factoids

  • Chad is divided into three belts: The Sahara Desert zone in the north, an arid Sahelian belt in the centre and a more fertile Sudanian Savanna zone in the south.
  • The latter bridges the gap between the dry north and the central African rainforests, and that’s where we’re headed.
  • I should also mention Lake Chad, to the north of N’Djamena (I flew over it to get here). This is the second-largest wetland in Africa, and gave the country its name.
  • Chad, somewhat ironically, is sometimes known as The Dead Heart of Africa, because of its central position and because it's so dry.
  • There is some oil in Chad (replacing the traditional cotton growing industry), but ongoing civil war and coup d’états and refugees pouring over the Sudanese border from various crises there (most notably Darfur), have increased the economic pressures. I’ve also read that the country holds vast reserves of oil, uranium, and gold. I’m not sure what’s happening about that. Tahir knows very little about it. As is so often the case, corruption goes hand in hand with poverty. There is very little mining development it seems. Though there is definitely a Chinese presence here, with the usual road building programme. That’s usually associated with mineral extraction.

Across Chad

As predicted, the road surface deteriorates rapidly, once we are out of the capital, though we still have to pay tolls at the regular péage points. Potholes proliferate. We career on and off the raised carriageway, bouncing along the sand and salt licks beneath. The route is mainly rural, with flat, yellow desert scrub, acquiring a greenish tinge, as we progress east. The towns are lined with open shops and thronging market stalls. Horseback riders and high flat facades give them a wild west feel.

The Sahelian villages have round huts, with frilly flamenco dress roofs. Some of the dwellings are festooned with small round gourds, trailing from vine plants - Christmas houses. Roofs are used to dry crops and stack hay, away from animals. Cereals are stored in large painted clay pots. The main transport is motorbike or ass. Those with a little more money have horses and most of the goods go by donkey cart. Meandering donkeys or camels hog the road, unwitting sleeping policemen. (Which incidentally they call dos d’anes - donkey backs in Chad.)

As I’ve already said, this is a very poor country. Much of the land isn’t suitable for agriculture and most of the people scrape a living by herding camels, cattle, goats and sheep. These drift by, a never ending stream. Understandably attitudes vary from shy, but friendly (a wave of the hand) to suspicious and a little hostile. No cameras here, thank you.

Inselbergs of Chad

At N’Goura, a group of pointy topped kopjes, heaps of smooth round boulders, enlivens the horizon. It’s roasting hot. Over 40 degrees. One of the land cruisers is low on fuel and we stop to buy some a jerry can’s worth. Filling stations are in short supply and so is fuel, it seems. Tahir explains that Chad’s ex colonial masters, the French , have hijacked supplies since the Ukraine war began. The drivers fill up using a funnel and a muslin cloth. Cook Jerome ventures off to buy meat for dinner. I’m wondering how he’s going to keep it fresh, in this sweltering heat.

South-east now to Mongo, switch-backing. The town is named for the many delicious mangoes grown in the area and sold by the wayside. Some of the frilly roofs are joined by red (natural clay) brick houses and walled compounds. More stunning inselbergs, a swirl of ochre, framed by a perfect azure sky. Now, both vehicles need petrol. We find a garage with diesel (long queue of motor bikes waiting for petrol) and, relieved, set off up the road. Then, Tahir realises that they haven’t collected their change and we have to turn round and fetch it.

Camping - Enough to Drive You Wild

The poor drivers who have been at the wheel for over nine hours now, set up our tents for us. Dinner pops out of the back of one of the cruisers - two hobbled chickens. No need to worry about our lack of a fridge - though bath temperature drinking water isn’t hugely pleasant. The fowl are dispatched with rakes, boiled (the feathers come out more easily) and fried.

We have thin foam mattresses and Mike has lent me an air bed. Even so, the ground is appallingly hard. My shovel bounces off it. No toilets and no holes in the ground and no ability to dig one. My stomach is already playing up. At least two of my companions snore. It’s not the best of nights. Camels, goats and cattle are meandering, chewing their breakfast bushes around our tents, when we wake up. It doesn’t make early morning ablutions any easier.

Chad’s Savanna Region

But thankfully, the forecast very bad roads do not materialise. Now, we’re entering the savanna region. It’s still flat and golden. But there’s some agriculture and lakes, heaps of catfish being smoked on the banks, unappealing rows of charred whiskers. We bounce a little on the sandy route, weaving in and out of palms, acacia and occasional villages. And ever more camels, goats, cattle.

The sign at the entrance to Zakouma isn’t wildly auspicious, 'You Are Now in the Park', it says, in French. But the wildlife has a much better handle on a welcome. A large troupe of baboons appears immediately, alongside a pair of warthogs. Elephant, giraffe, buffalo, various bucks and antelopes follow, in quick succession. There’s a mammal performing, at each stage of our journey to the camp. Which is just as well, as our transport team haven’t a clue where it is. They thunder past the animals, who go flying off in all directions. ‘Isn’t there a park speed limit?’ I inquire of Tahir. ‘No,’ he replies, obliviously. Jerome has already cheered earlier, when we almost ran over a puppy.

Camp Tinga

The room is fairly described as basic, in an oddly turreted bungalow. My room has dangling wires, where the ceiling fan used to be. Fortunately, there’s a portable alternative. No hot water and I shower with some trepidation , but the tepid water is actually tolerable, in the heat.

The lodge has a bar, with good food and a bar. What more could you ask for? There’s a very expensive Wi-Fi hotspot, a crocodile river and a viewing platform with a hide. Elephant come down to bathe and drink. Lion even pop up on a regular basis. All is fine on the western front.

Zakouma National Park

Zakouma is famous for its river systems, rich floodplains, and seasonal wildlife migrations. In the wet season, the centre of the park is marshy wetland, with large lakes and overflowing rivers. It’s virtually impassable. Safari season is the dry season, when the animals flock to the huge pans and waterholes left by the receding waters.

Zakouma National Park was established in 1963, renowned for its huge herds of elephant - over 4,000 of them. But the elephants had learned to congregate so closely because of the persistent threat from ivory poachers. By 2010 the park had lost 90% of its elephants. So, African Parks, a non-profit making conservation group were invited to take over. Gun battles and assaults on park headquarters were eventually eliminated.

Exploring Zakouma

The days are long. Driver Hassan Zachariah takes us on morning drives (start at 6 a.m.),afternoon drives (back as the sun sets) and night drives (back at 10.30). The latter involve torches being swept along all the roadsides, searching for reflections in the eyes of startled animals. There are an abundance of sinister yellow crocodile eyes in the pools. Hassan doesn’t speak any English, so I’m official interpreter. My reward is a gin and tonic. (They’re one up on the Radisson). I need it after the long days. My companions are seemingly inexhaustible.

Rigueik

The only other lodging in Zakouma is Campe Nomade, which caters solely to the affluent. They fly up in small planes and are ferried around in safari vehicles with leather covered seats. The glamping style tents are erected in a new spot each year and the likes of us are not allowed in the vicinity when anyone is in residence. We’re permitted to explore the Rigueik Pan, where the camp is based, when all their clients are out elsewhere. It’s on a different scale - a huge expanse of sage green, cinnamon brown and charcoal soil - herds of buck and giraffe grazing contentedly. It's a perfect spot for a sundowner.

The Dry Season in Chad

It’s the dry season in Chad and we have been told, quite firmly, that it will not rain - by locals and tour operators. This is the Dead Heart of Africa. So, I haven’t brought any wet weather gear. And the equipment provided conforms to the same beliefs. Zakouma isn’t open in the wet season, when it becomes a huge swamp with much of the land submerged. (We’re careering over cracked mud for much of the time).

There’s no weather proofing on the safari vehicles and a plethora of small holes in the roofs. Nevertheless, storms range on the periphery of the park for most of our stay. It rains for 10 minutes, on our way to Rigueik, enough to soak us and then dry out. There’s an absolute deluge, another evening, in search of elusive pangolins and aardvarks. Everything I’m wearing is drenched and so is everything I have with me. This time, we’ve skidded to a halt.

Zakouma Elephants

The famous Zakouma elephants (they have very small tusks - perhaps an evolutionary response, or is that too quick for Darwin?) now number almost 600. And, because they’re no longer so anxious about predators, the herd tends to split. We’re told it’s mainly in two parts at the moment, with numerous solitary or small group males. We see those every time we venture out. We’re told that the largest herd is down in the palm forest (which isn’t really a rain forest) and we’ve planned to go there. But the unheard of rain in the dry season has put paid to that. Tinga GPS says that the rest of the herd is just 20 minutes’ drive away. So we’re out looking for them instead.

The elephants, however, are still not that happy about human proximity. They’ve retreated to thick swathes of forest. We circle for some time, with no sighting, before deciding to give up and go in search of other wildlife. Or so we think. It’s not till I notice the same fallen tree yet again, that we realise that Hassan has not given up, despite instructions. A hair-raising ride across thorny scrub and many flailing branches, to the edge of the herd. It’s impossible to see them properly, in the foliage. There’s a great deal of trumpeting. Mike says they’re distressed, so I don’t like to venture closer. So near and yet so far.

Zakouma Mammals

Zakouma is, in theory, home to the Big Five. But black rhino have only just been introduced and are an unlikely sighting. Lion, yes, ( female lions, some with cubs, male lions are more evasive, like the female elephants.) elephant, definitely yes, leopard, one, blinking, at night and buffalo. We do get to see a huge herd of buffalo - some 600 together. This is another success story. The park’s buffalo population was reduced to about 220 animals in 1986, but now numbers over 15,000.

Zakouma is also home to 50% of the global Kordofan giraffe population. We encounter these regularly, lolloping across the pans, chewing the acacia and, very slowly and cautiously, lowering their heads to drink. They’re a gorgeous rich brown pattern.

Other than those, here is my Zakouma mammal tick list:

Defassa waterbuck, bush buck, Bohor reedbuck, Thompsons gazelles (red fronted - Hassan calls them something gazelles)), Egyptian mongoose, banded mongoose, warthogs, vervet and patas monkeys, olive baboons (a scattering of Buddha statues squatting erect on the plain or participating in sprint races thundering along), oribi, roan antelope, topi (called tiang here), cheetah (fleeting backsides), buffalo, crocodiles, common genet, civet, serval, Lelwel’s hartebeest, Buffon’s kob, diminutive common duiker, striped ground squirrel, lesser galago and spotted hyena (wandering with two babies).

Zakouma Reptiles

This is a shorter list:
Monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles, agama lizards, tortoises and three pythons (this is a first).

Zakouma Birds

There’s also a plethora of birds. These slow our journey immensely, as Gunnar and Mike are intent on identifying very single one. I’m probably not going to list them all:

Quelea flying at Zakouma

Gloriously bright show off bee eaters, green, little green, and bright northern carmine (flocks lifting off from the banks of the pans in hundreds as they decide where to drill their nests), marabou storks, saddle bill storks, yellow bill storks, woolly necked storks, African open billed storks, crowned cranes (multitudes of them), vultures of several types (hooded, leopard, white backed, white headed Rueppells and griffon - four different types in a row on one carcase), ostriches, long crested eagles, fish eagles, owls ,eagle, scops and otherwise, Abyssinian rollers( looping wonderfully behind us and posing on the slimmest of branches), ground hornbills, northern hornbills, red billed hornbill, tiny red billed queleas, (massing on branches until they sag and then taking off in a cloud of thousands, filling the sky and making waves like the murmuration of the starlings in England - Watch My Video on You-Tube), pelicans, assorted herons, grebes, hamerkops, sacred ibis, bateleur, harrier hawk, goshawk, lizard buzzard, black bellied bustard, African jacana, thick knees, green pigeons, turacos, coucals, malachite kingfisher, hoopoe, nightjars, lapwings, beautiful sunbirds, drongos and oxpeckers.

Zakouma Animal Encounters

The highlights of our wildlife observations:

A lion attacking a buffalo and coming off worst, hyenas gorging on a stinking giraffe carcase, a ground hornbill spearing and eating a small snake, which he flaunts under the beak of his mate, lions with a waterbuck kill, teeny lion cubs - four being suckled by their mother (Gunnar deems this a good moment to tell us that he was breastfed by his mother until the age of six), another pair of lionesses with two youngish cubs and giraffes sparring, thumping each other with the sides of their necks.

The most unusual encounter is a civet trying to nip at a python. He’s fascinated. Does he really think the python is food potential and not realise that the menu is likely to end up reversed? Luckily for him, he decides that our flashlight is getting in the way of his adventures and he saunters off.

No Aardvarks

It’s an impressive encounter list, but sadly, nothing to add from my small, shy or impossible lists. I’ve been told that aardvarks (anteaters) are a possibility, but all we see are their claw marked holes. No (even more elusive) pangolins either, despite relentless searching.

Carry on Camping!

Camping on the return journey is even more eventful than on the way out. The ground is still rock solid and the tent pegs can’t be hammered in, to hold down the flysheets. And it’s clearly going to rain (in the dry season). The other three have their guy ropes attached to one of the land cruisers, which is driven into the middle of the camp site. My tent has been placed a little way off, to try and avoid the snoring. So, the water containers are utilised to hold the sheet down. Which is fine, until the crew need water and come to fetch it late at night, whilst simultaneously having conversations on their phones.

Tahir warns of snakes in the area, which doesn’t thrill me. But it’s actually a scorpion that’s running rings outside my tent, its stinger waving aloft. There’s also a huge ants’ nest (big ones) just in front of me. Come on aardvarks. This is your opportunity. And just to add to the confusion, the wind roars under aforesaid flysheet and it rains. But, fortunately, not in buckets.

Karen emerges in the morning, as always, with a full face of make-up, false eyelashes and immaculate clothing. How is she doing it?

Safely back to N’Djamena, with only one flat tyre, and without running out of fuel. Though it was a close run thing. We’ve done well.

N’Djamena Airport

The country's only international airport is small and with very few facilities. There’s one counter serving drinks and snacks in the departure lounge. And there are outdoor escalators, but they don’t work. Equatorial Guinea next.

Is eSwatini a Poor Country?

eSwatini is an absolute monarchy, although the king does rule in conjunction with his mother (known as the Queen-mother) and parliament. It’s a highly polarised society, with some extremely poor housing and enclosed affluent areas and shopping malls.

Facts and Factoids

  • eSwatini is Africa’s last remaining monarchy.
  • This is an extremely male dominated society, where the sexes are brought up very much to follow their respective roles. Polygamy is allowed. The current king has 14 wives (or 17 depending on who you believe). His father had 60 (or 75). Each has their own palace, as do some of the many princes. New roads have been constructed, especially between the palaces, government buildings and the airport. The king is obliged to take leave of his mother, so as to be in touch with his ancestors, last thing before he leaves the country and she must also be his first port of call when he returns. In addition, he needs to be able to zip between his wives, of course.
  • The country’s Houses of Parliament are in the city of Lobamba, where the royal families have lived for over 200 years. Lobamba and Mbabane are both capitals of eSwatini. Mbabane, in the hills, was established by the British, as they wanted a cooler climate for the government officials to work
  • eSwatini is one of the smallest countries in Africa; despite this, its climate and topography are diverse, ranging from a cool and mountainous highveld to a hot and dry lowveld.
  • The official languages are English and siSwati, a language loosely related to isixhosa, the official language of South Africa.
  • The currency is interchangeable with the South African rand, with which it is linked, and the data download speed on roaming (3G) is pretty awful

A Very Brief History of eSwatini

  • The Swazis established their kingdom in the mid-eighteenth century under the leadership of Ngwane III.
  • Its current boundaries were drawn up in 1881, after the Second Boer War
  • Swaziland became a British protectorate in 1903, after the British won the final Boer War,
  • Swaziland achieved full independence once more, in 1968.

Why Did the Country Change its Name?


Swaziland officially changed its country name from The Kingdom of Swaziland to The Kingdom of eSwatini in April 2018. The change was announced at the 50/50 celebrations (50 years since independence and the King’s 50th birthday). The new name derives from Mswati II, the 19th-century king under whose rule Swazi territory was expanded and unified. It means “place of the Swazi people” and is intended to remove the country further from the British (who named it Swaziland) and distinguish the country more clearly from Switzerland.

Is eSwatini Safe to Visit?

Advice given is that crime levels are low, but street crimes and burglaries do occur, sometimes involving violence. There have been numerous incidences of car hijackings on major routes from South Africa and Mozambique. Vehicles have been taken at gunpoint. Avoid walking in the downtown areas of Mbabane and Manzini after dark and do not travel around in remote rural areas unless in a group. There is often an increase in criminal activity during the festive season.

I didn't encounter any problems.

What To Do in eSwatini?

  • Great game viewing and parks, although at times it is a bit like being in a giant zoo
  • Gorgeous mountain scenery
  • And cultural villages and assorted royal buildings
  • I flew in from Zambia. I'm going onto Reunion.

Where's Swaziland Gone?

I’m not actually heading to the place where I booked today, as the king woke up on his fiftieth birthday in April and decided to rename Swaziland to eSwatini. This came as a complete surprise to most of the population, who aren’t very happy about the associated bill. So, eSwatini here I come, from Zambia via Jo’burg.

Hlane Park, eSwatini

I’m met by my driver, Thulani, who isn’t sure where I’m staying in eSwatini. It’s not the most auspicious of beginnings. I know I’m booked into three national park camps and  I’m hoping they’re not too basic. We arrive at Hlane Park, driving through a great deal of gated fencing and it’s already dark. I’ve been allocated a little hut in a compound; it’s a big site with camping and cottages and there’s no electricity. It’s lit with paraffin lamps, which is romantic as long as you don’t want to find anything.

Thulani is supposed to be showing me to my room, but he can't find it and instead he's dancing around in the gloom declaiming, ’The numbers are confusing me’. I eventually work out which one I’m in and fumble my way in. The contents of my bag go flying as I try and unpack using only the sense of touch. It’s not easy.  I’m told to report for a sunrise safari at 5.15 a.m. I double check that. Aaaaargh. Then I reconnoitre my route to the morning meeting place, navigating by  following an arc of lamps from a parking lot.

Lost in the Bush

Except that when I venture out at 5 a.m the lights have all been extinguished. I know which way to set off, but I’ve soon gone astray. All I can see is shadowy bush and a group of impala leaping away in front of me. I retrace my steps and realise I’m utterly lost. Time to panic. I eventually stumble across a cottage and knock up the poor inhabitants. They are very understanding South Africans who get dressed and escort me, a little fretful, to the correct place.

The Lions of Hlane

The safari park is really just a giant zoo, huge barbed wire enclosed areas of forest and veldt. But the trip passes off well and the resident pride of lions, once discovered, thoughtfully group themselves right in front of our land-cruiser, yawning, growling, licking each other, sharpening their claws on tree trunks and leaping at the odd vulture who ventures towards their recent kill, hidden in the bushes. No spotlights necessary. This is proper elephant country, flat bush interspersed with dead tree trunks and odd thickets where the antelope, giraffe and zebra lurk.

Rhino Tracking - Completing the Big Five

The white rhino (making up the Big Five on this trip - I've come from Zambia) are kept in a separate enclosure, so that they can be better guarded. I’m not sure about this logic. Surely keeping them with lions is a bigger deterrent? Though this way we can be charged separately for seeing them.

Rhino tracking involves driving to a spot where you can see the huge mammals, getting out of the truck and following the guide (very cautiously) upwind of them. They have poor eye sight, but good hearing and an acute sense of smell. Five females are dozing under a tree, lumbering suspiciously to their feet as we approach, then quickly slipping back into lethargy when they deem us harmless. Senzo, the guide has a wooden swizzle stick ready to distract them if they become alarmed. He says their sight is so bad they need clear diversions and  the best thing to do is bang a tree if they seem agitated. I’m glad he doesn’t have to.

Mkhaya, Eswatini

Then a transfer to another eSwatini park, Mkhaya and more cottages lit with paraffin lamps. I have to concede that this one is actually very romantic, though still very impractical. The cottage has half open stone walls, so I’m actually sleeping in the bush. There are monkeys screaming in the forest and I’ve been warned to hide all my valuables, as they stage raids on the dwellings. The rhino and big game is kept out by an electric fence, but there are antelope wandering just outside my room. The pretty little nyala look as if someone has painted their flanks with runny icing sugar. And I shall be checking my bed for snakes and other undesirables before I get in.

Completing the Ugly Five

I’ve been spoilt for game in Zambia I feel. Here I’ve seen wildebeest (making up the Ugly Five on this trip), warthog, zebra, kudu and giraffe, but the Swazi varieties are skittish, bolting off as our vehicle approaches. The hippo, however, are curious and swim towards us, heads swivelling as we pass, but they still maintain a careful distance. I’ve also seen plenty more white rhino. This park is one of the few places in the world where they also have the hugely endangered black rhino, (we're told) but these are rarely seen, as they feed from the trees and hide in the thickets.

It’s an open air dinner, with candles round a log fire. Definitely romantic. Fortunately, I can read from the Kindle app on my phone when it’s dark. This is helpful when it comes to the ensuing ‘cultural performance’. I’m stoic for half an hour, but sidle away, when the audience participation commences.

Mkhaya Walking Safari

We don’t drive out till 6.15 a.m. this morning, so a real luxury of a lie in. There’s little to see except more rhinos, though I’m enjoying the landscape. The flat-topped acacias and pineapple crested aloes are uniquely gorgeous, the red African sun peeping through them.

A walking safari is scheduled after breakfast; I brace myself for the usual lengthy explanations about vegetation, as we manoeuvre along the paths with trepidation. Most of the plants here have wicked thorns, in order to survive in the vicinity of so much wildlife. And, as anticipated, the guide explains about the amazing medicinal properties of each plant. But there’s also plenty of dung of different varieties, and it’s fresh. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that the giraffe and zebra are much more amenable when we’re on foot and we spend a delightful hour hob-nobbing with more than a dozen of the ungulates.

The zebra are hangers-on, says our guide, as they can’t see very well, so they wait for the giraffes to signal if they spy trouble. There’s also another group of white rhino, with two cute babies. The young males entertain the infants with a game of horn bashing, before they collapse for a nap. The white rhino seem more habituated to humans than the other animals here. I wonder if it would be safer for them if they were not.

Mlilwane Camp, eSwatini

Another transfer, another dusk arrival. This time I’m at Mlilwane Camp, the original Swazi game reserve. My home for the next two nights is a traditional spherical ‘beehive hut’, in a village circle, with - hurrah - electricity. Except it has no windows at all, which is a little odd, so I still can’t see much. I’ve just sent the curtain on a pole, that divides my bathroom from the main room, flying. The pole supports are well beyond my reach. I knew the cool box Thulani gave me would come in handy for something. You also have to stoop right down to enter, as it has an exceptionally low arched doorway, which has to be modelled on a hobbit-hole.

The setting here is stunning-rich red soil, misty mountains and antelope (very tame indeed here) grazing on jade green pasture in the foreground. The lofty pillar aloes are bearing sunny yellow flowers, beloved of sunny yellow birds. Today, I’m off on a tour to learn something about the country.

Touring eSwatini

Guide, Sifosi, outlines the programme, which includes an overview of the kings and queen of eSwatini's palaces (we’re not allowed close up) and parliament at Lobamba, other government buildings at Mbabane, a cultural village, a cultural show and a waterfall. It ends in a glass factory, so I can do some shopping. ‘It’s all entirely flexible’, he finishes.

‘I’m not keen on shopping’, I begin, but he decrees that we’re going anyway, so I don’t bother to suggest excluding the cultural show too, or dare to inquire what his definition of flexible is.

The cultural show is almost exactly the same as the last one, except that I can see it better,  because it’s daytime. And the cultural village is almost exactly the same as the one I’m actually staying in, except that the doors are even lower, to keep animals and other enemies out. It's said to be 'a replica mid-19th Century Swazi village, constructed using authentic materials and techniques. set against the scenic backdrop of Nyonyane mountain', The commentary is amusing, if highly chauvinistic. Women on the left, men on the right. And the scenery is very nice.

Further along the Lushushwane River is Mantenga Falls, as promised, Swaziland’s largest waterfall by volume. The river tumbles through a series of glassy pools.

Food in eSwatini

The food in eSwatini varies in quality, but is always plentiful. Most of the game parks serve buffet style- tasty impala stew, bean and pumpkin casserole, chops etc. There’s usually coleslaw or salad, most commonly with beets. Sadly for my figure, my favourite treat is the sweetish mealie (corn) bread.

Warthogs Take Over the Fire

It’s raining today and very chilly here in the high veldt. It’s a damp trudge through the squelching mud to the fry up buffet breakfast and the open dining area is dark and draughty. This is why I usually try and avoid anything that smacks of camping.  I take my bowl of fruit and yogurt out to the camp fire, which has been protected by a sheet of corrugated metal, but it has been commandeered by two  warthogs, who appear to be roasting themselves. I have planned a pleasant walk amongst all the friendly antelopes; this is now a non-starter. I’m not being picked up for my flight back to Jo’burg and onto Reunion until 11 a.m., so I’m marooned in my hut. I retire to bed and blankets.

Getting into Zambia

It’s been a very long day. I’m flying from Brazzaville in Congo to Lusaka. As the crow flies, Zambia is to the south east, but that’s not how it works. I have to travel north east to Nairobi and change planes and then fly southwest to Lusaka, covering over twice the distance a crow would. What’s more I have to stop en route at Kinshasa. At ten minutes this is surely one of the shortest international flights ever and the subject of sheer terror, in case they make me get off the plane and won’t let me back on again. We also stop at Harare on the second leg and Harare isn’t exactly on a straight line from Nairobi to Lusaka either.

When the captain announces over the intercom, ’We’ve got a bit of a situation on our hands’, it doesn’t do much for your nerves. Fortunately, it isn’t too bad. A light aircraft landing at Lusaka has burst a tyre and blocked the runway. It looks as if we might have to divert, but after a few circuits of the city, while they tow it away and repair the tarmac, we land safely and I’m in the land of malls and fast food.

It’s now 1.15 a.m. so it’s technically tomorrow anyway. My visa on entry goes smoothly. I have U.S. dollars. The driver who picks me up insists on waiting for a passenger who subsequently turns out to be fictitious. I wait in the bus, with a Zimbabwean who used to be a BBC engineer. He’s playing modern hymns full blast on his phone, ‘so that I can hear it too’. It seems churlish to point out that I’m not really in the mood. And it’s 3.30 in the morning before I get to bed.

Facts and Factoids

  • The official language of Zambia is English, however, there are over 72 languages spoken in the country.
  • The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has its headquarters in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia
  • The national symbol of Zambia is the African Fish Eagle, which is found on the national flag and looks much like the American Bald Eagle.
  • Although its on a tropical latitude, the general height of its plateau gives Zambia a moderate climate, earning it the nickname, the 'air conditioned state'.
  • Zambia shares arguably the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls, and the largest man made lake/reservoir in the world, with Zimbabwe.

A Brief History of Zambia

  • The Broken Hill skull was the first human fossil ever discovered in Africa, in Kabwe in 1921. It shows that humans lived in Zambia at least 200,000 years ago.
  • David Livingstone was the first Briton to record having set foot on Zambian soil, in 1851. In 1855 he became the first European to see Mosi-oa-Tunya, the waterfall on the Zambezi River, which he named after Queen Victoria - although the Zambian town near the Falls is, in turn, named after him.
  • In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, obtained mineral rights concessions from local chiefs and  Northern and Southern Rhodesia, (now Zambia and Zimbabwe), were proclaimed a British sphere of influence. Northern Rhodesia was later combined with Southern Rhodesia to form the Central African Federation. The discovery of copper resulted in change of emphasis to mining and Zambia now produces over 13 % of the world’s copper.
  • Zambia gained independence in 1964 and prime minister Kenneth Kaunda became president. He retained power from 1964 until 1991, (as a one party state for much of that time.) 'One Zambia, One Nation, he said. After that,Zambia became a multi-party state.

Is Zambia a Poor Country?

Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 60 percent of people living below the poverty line - 83 percent of people in rural areas. The economy fluctuates, depending on the world price of copper. Nevertheless, in 2010, the World Bank named Zambia one of the world’s fastest economically reformed countries. After a downturn, the price of copper has started to rise again and tourism has been developed, especially at Victoria Falls, on the border with Zimbabwe and the game parks.

Is Zambia Safe to Visit?

Reading tells me that Zambians are exceptionally friendly, and this is definitely true. Everyone has a greeting or offers help (though there’s also some begging). There are rules about who speaks first and, French style, you mustn’t initiate a conversation before exchanging a greeting. Apparently it’s also fine to call on Zambians unannounced. Though I assume that only applies to friends and relations. It’s generally considered a safe country to visit but there are the usual warnings about taking care after dark and especially out of town.

Where to Visit in Zambia?

The two main draws are:

Lusaka, the Capital of Zambia

The population of Zambia is concentrated mainly around the capital Lusaka, in the south. The city is another urban sprawl and reading isn’t throwing up any must-sees. There’s a definite western influence apparent. My hotel is surrounded by shopping malls –it looks as if they’re still building most of them – and this seems to be where life in the city is centred. I’ve been for a wander round. It’s all very sixties, even though it’s new and the large Spar supermarket products are displayed along American lines – robust and well organised rather than elegant. It certainly isn’t cheap for such a poor country.

The Orange River

I've travelled from Zimbabwe to South Africa in a truck on one of the great classic overland routes: Victoria Falls to Cape Town, through Botswana and Namibia in a truck. There are 12 passengers. We have crossed the border from Namibia at the Orange River, singing Jonny Clegg’s’ Great Heart’ as we go. The river was named in honour of the Dutch ruling family, the House of Orange, by the Dutch explorer Robert Jacob Gordon. And here, we have a canoeing expedition. The others get kitted up and splash frenetically. I plead a bad back and am excused active duty. I am paddled along serenely, like the Queen of Sheba. The sunsets here are as blood red as the Namibian dunes.

Olifants River Valley

So, here I am finally back in South Africa, after a brief trip to Johannesburg and Pretoria, the first time I visited Zimbabwe. My next night is spent at Olifants River Valley, after a long day on the road, in the mountains of Western Cape. The Olifant (elephant) is a tributary of the (great, grey, green greasy) Limpopo River. It's gentle and green and very relaxing. This is where all those oranges and lemons come from. And of course, one area is named Citrusdal. There're also honey, rooibos tea and wineries.

Cape Town, South Africa

Wonderful Cape Town, tourist mecca, one of the three capital cities of South Africa. This is the seat of the Parliament of South Africa, the legislative capital of the country, the oldest city in the country, and the second largest (after Johannesburg). It's known as the Mother City.

Glorious weather, fantastic restaurants and bars, (ostrich,  thick tenderloin steaks, sea food and so on) very cheap, laid back, amazing beaches, mountains, vineyards; it’s one of the great cosmopolitan cities. The must see is the iconic giant mesa that is Table Mountain, although you can’t really miss it, as it provides the backdrop, protecting the Mother City. It's one of the oldest mountains in the world. Strangely, photos don’t do it justice.

Before the truckies depart, we take the cable cars to the mountain’s flat top, for 360 degree views of the city, the numerous gorgeous beaches, the busy harbour and Robben Island, the infamous prison that once held Nelson Mandela. There's a Lion's Head formation, to one side and then, to the other, the range of ravines, peaks and gorges that is dubbed the Twelve Apostles. (There are, arguably,18 peaks). These create the stunning backdrop to the city. There is an option to abseil down, but I think not. Instead, we take the spectacular road through the mountains from Chapman's Peak to Hout Bay.

Cape Peninsula

As if the magic city itself isn’t enough, the Cape Peninsula offers a host of attractions. Past the brightly painted facades bathing boxes of Fish Hoek, south to the Cape of Good Hope, which sadly, is not the southernmost tip of Africa after all. Antelope are grazing peacefully on the slopes here. Rock hyrax scamper away. The black and white  Boulders Beach, on closer inspection is white sand, jam-packed with penguins waddling and turning somersaults in the water.

Rugged terrain takes us on to Cape Point. but that's not the African extremity either. That honour belongs to Cape Agulhas, approximately 93 miles east-southeast.

The truckies leave, but I’m not yet alone. I have a great little hotel on the beach at Bantry Bay and a hire car. I eat kingfish and chips by the waterfront (lots of upmarket hotels, boats, of course and other tourist attractions), along with the seals and a Pretorian called Johannes. And I still have other companions lined up. A South African friend has put me in touch with Ann Gail and Chris.

Ann Gail has a delightfully  old fashioned town house and three cats, Sebastian, Sobranie and Tai-Lu, each with their own feeding bowl and scratching post. She takes me to Christmas lunch at the iconic pink Mount Nelson Hotel, nestling at the bottom of Table Mountain. Then, Newlands (the cricket grounds), concerts, theatre, the IMAX (suitably, the Lion King) and a New Year’s Eve concert in the Kirstenbosch Gardens. I wind a few South Africans up talking about rugby, but duck if they mention cricket.

Hermanus, Western Cape

Chris, originally South African and visiting his family for Christmas provides holiday romance. We spend two weeks around the city sampling its Afro-chic delights and its numerous beautiful beaches, Bikini , Camps Bay, Fourth, Clifton, Llandudno, Melkbosstrand, Mnandi and Muizenberg, before driving out for a few days at at Hermanus. This is the African whale-watching location and whale themes abound through to museums and huge skeletons. It’s not whale season, but I am lucky enough to catch a mother and calf motor past. The sea is stunningly azure, and inviting, but it's deceptive, the Atlantic currents are numbingly cold,

Romance number one fairly predictably bites the dust, as it transpires that Chris has been entertaining ‘an old friend from England’ in-between seeing me, and forgetting to tell me about her. ‘But it was a prior engagement , of course I felt obliged to sleep with her’.

Around Cape Town

To the east, it’s an easy journey to the picturesque Winelands destinations, such as Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek. Stellenbosch and Paarl are the two oldest large settlements in South Africa after Cape Town. Picture perfect Cape Dutch architecture: green shuttered colonial mansions, whitewashed houses, tiny turrets and cottage gardens. Huge agapanthus flowers contrasting wonderfully. Plenty of boutiques and cafes too.

Ann Gail works in Paarl and provides a tour of the very modern and efficient, steel drummed wine estate. And Franschoek, which was settled by French Huguenot refugees who of course brought their French experience in viticulture. Franschoek is Dutch for 'French Corner'.

Some of the estates provide gorgeous up market accommodation and restaurants. They abound at Franschoek, where I spend one expensive, but very pampered night.

Am I Mad to Travel Alone in South Africa?

I’m aware I’m beginning to sound like a travel advert - it’s all so gorgeous (except for the romance), but the townships sprawling each side of the main highway are a sobering counterpoint. I’ve been warned to watch out for objects being thrown from the bridges. In fact I’ve been told by numerous people that I’m mad to even contemplate travelling round South Africa on my own.

South Africa is the third-largest economy in Africa and the most industrialized, technologically advanced economy in Africa overall. Since the end of apartheid, government accountability and quality of life have substantially improved. The country is rich in minerals. But poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on an inadequate wage. Crime rates and especially, violent crime are high. There have been countless media stories in the UK about tourists here being attacked and robbed, or worse.

I've been driving around in a hire car, with no problems so far, except the very steep hills and a very small engine. And now I'm departing gorgeous Cape Town for Lesotho.

Kwa-Zulu-Natal

My journey back to South Africa from Lesotho is far too eventful. The starter batteries on the much-too-little-prop-plane are refusing to comply. The pilot eventually announces that he will start the left one manually. This all sounds much too alarming to me, but we make it to Jo’ burg, though very late. There is a stroke inducing transfer to my next plane and I get bundled into business class (not all bad) and arrive in Durban to find that whilst I’ve made it on time my luggage hasn’t.

So, another late start in a hired VW. Maybe I am mad, driving in South Africa, on my own. It’s raining (again), and I’m fumbling with the map, along the Durban Highway and into the mountain wilderness of Zululand. Twelve kilometres down a dirt road hill composed almost entirely of one foot deep mud. Over a rumble strip and the radio jolts. It’s dead. And the right windscreen wiper is stuck in the middle of screen. Why the right one? Dusk fades into dark, and the cell phone signal disappears too. There is nothing moving in the African bush. Am I glad or not? Finally, slithering downhill to discover my isolated lodge. Survive! Luggage arrives. All’s well.

A thirty five year old American bond broker, pleasant face, six two (not bad then), girlfriend (um), Brian shares wine and jokes. Would I like to tour the battle fields with him tomorrow? It’ll save me driving.

Zululand

Close by is Isandlwana, where the British were heavily defeated by the Zulus in 1879. The site is marked by white cairns and a church. Six miles away from there is Rorke's Drift. Here, Lieutenants John Chard (of the Royal Engineers) and Gonville Bromhead, (24th Regiment of Foot) successfully defended their station of just over 150 troops against an 24 hour attack by 3-4,000 Zulu warriors. The Zulus had broken off from their main force at the day-long Battle of Isandlwana. A host of decorations, including eleven Victoria Crosses, were awarded to the defenders.

Rorke's Drift is really interesting, with its distinctive rocky outcrop and monuments. It’s even more entertaining trying to imagine Stanley and Michael re-enacting their scenes from the epic film Zulu, which re-tells the tale. How accurately the detail is I'm not sure, though the main story is certainly true. The Zulus don't get much dialogue, even though the film bears their name.

There's a memorial at Ulundi. This is where the British inflicted the final defeat on the Zulu nation. Close by, at Ondini, is a reconstruction of the Zulu Royal kraal., built in traditional manner. The last one was burnt to the ground by the British

The Age of Romance is Not Dead

Over picnic lunch and in the car, my chauffeur reveals his philosophies and dating etiquette. He is not in love with his girlfriend. Well he's not sure. They now live apart. She comes from Essex but is called Antonia, not Tracey. Dating in England is so much more complex than the States. In the UK girls put out quickly, you shag someone and then decide if you like them. In the States you have sex on the fifth date. If you're lucky the third. You might compromise on the fourth, but definitely the fifth. After that you're going steady. However, girls who have sex on a first date are sluts.

Back at the Lodge we drink champagne and giggle in the garden. Dinner is even louder.

“You're welcome to crash in my room tonight” Brian offers magnanimously. I decline (graciously of course).

“I don't do one night stands.”

He escorts me to my room. A slightly undignified fumble while I reinforce my answer. He leaves muttering:

“Well a guy has to try doesn't he? “

“A case of too much information.”

As I’m drifting off my cell phone beeps.

DBL BED IN MY ROOM. THINK ABOUT IT.

The Age of Romance is not dead.

Brian departs, and I spend a lazy day by the pool, (temporarily the only guest) and walking, escorted by three dogs and a pig. in between our slow ambles  they manage to stampede a herd of  cattle, and chase a troupe of monkeys.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

And then  there’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park too. This is the oldest nature reserve in South Africa. It's supposedly home to Africa's Big Five, but all of those, except the buffalo, are elusive. Nevertheless, it's spring, so the park is full of lovely babies - impala, warthogs, kudu and wobbly giraffes blinking in the grass.

Uhmlanga

Through velvety hills to Uhmlanga, north of Durban. I'd hoped for some beach time,  but I haven't chosen my spot very well. The beach is disappointingly dirty and the roads are full of hitchhikers wandering all over the inside lanes. My bed and breakfast establishment is decidedly seedy. The fridge smells and I can't work out how to turn the TV off. So I turn the sound right down and put a towel over it.

Garden Route, South Africa

My epic South African journey ends with another iconic African destination. The Garden Route proper is a glorious 190-mile stretch of coastline running from the small town of Mossel Bay (Mussel Bay) to the mouth of the Storms River. It’s called the Garden Route because of the lush coastal forests which line the wide sandy beaches. I'm doing what most folk do and travelling the longer distance from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, though most people do it the other way round.

My car and  I meander along. More stunning scenery from the thatched cottages of St Francis Bay, to Jeffries Bay with its Disneyesque bridge, to the tourist mecca that is Plettenberg Bay, the oyster bars and beaches of Knysna, to the Tsitsikamma National Park and the adjacent, aptly named town of Wilderness, with its own park.

At Tsitsikamma I wander the beautiful Otter Trail. along the edge of the wild seashore, past the Storm River and a terrifying suspension bridge. There are waterfalls and a diminutive cave turned into a shrine. – Tsitsikamma (pronounced ‘Titzee-car-mah’) is rumoured to still have rare forest elephants walking among the huge old trees.

I’m writing this overlooking the most amazing huge sandy beach, at Sedgefield. Here, there's the Kingfisher Trail to tackle. I had calamari and crayfish by candlelight on the beach last night.

I'm going to catch the 20 million year old Cango Caves, with their stalactite formations, on my way back to Cape Town. Admire the ostrich farms. Then, it's time to go home.

(And read more about South Africa here.)

Overland Through Kenya

I am on a tour of the African bush, on an overland truck. This trip starts in Kenya and is led by a husband and wife team, Kaz and Jim. They do all the main jobs between them, driver, chef, quartermaster. This is their last trip and they’ve got very good at delegating. They also seem to have given up caring. We are their nine noisy children who are they pack into the back of their truck under sufferance.

I'm covered in red dust, as is everything I own. My diet has consisted of fruit and boiled eggs, with the odd lump of cheese thrown in when I've been really good. Occasionally, if the budget will allow, we are fed warthog chops or zebra steaks to keep us going. I have a  green ridge tent I share with Alison - it's not very easy to pitch. The ground is hard and I have to help with the washing up and sweeping. The reward for all my tribulations - lots of lovely wildlife.

A Very Brief History of Kenya

  • It’s generally accepted that the earliest origins of man can be traced back five million years ago, to what is now the northern half of Kenya. Today, there are some 70 tribes in the country, speaking 30 different languages or dialects. First, hunter-gatherers, then Cushitic speakers, followed by Nilotic-speaking settlers, from present-day South Sudan (around 500 BC). They were followed by Bantu peoples.
  • European contact began in 1500 AD (the Portuguese), and Kenya was encompassed first as a British Protectorate, then a full colony. There were numerous disputes with the colonists, most notably the Mau Mau Revolution, which began in 1952, leading to the declaration of independence in 1963.

Lake Naivasha and Hell's Gate

Lake Naivasha,  for a walking safari on Crescent Island, fraternising with giraffes and sitting in Robert Redford’s chair, where they did the filming for Out of Africa. The name Naivasha derives from British attempts to pronounce the local Maasai name, which means 'that which heaves,' a common Masai word, for bodies of water large enough to have waves, when it is windy. So, literally Lake Naivasha mans Lake Lake. The lake is home to over 400 different species of bird and plenty of hippos. There were a variety of fish too, until the accidental introduction of common carp in 2001. Now they make up 90% of the species found there.

It's idyllic camping by the lake shore, except that American Mel who's had her very short hair done in cornrows, snores.

To the south of the lake is Hell's Gate National Park, named after a narrow break in the cliffs, and presumably, the local volcanic activity. Olkaria and Hobley's are two extinct volcanoes located in the park, alongside obsidian columns from the cool molten lava. There's also the Hells Gate Gorge, formed from cinnamon red cliffs, which contain two volcanic plugs: Fischer's Tower and Central Tower. It's diminutive (and the wild life is shy). but it's still home to five geothermal power stations. It's also said to be the model for the scenery in The Lion King.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Lake Nakuru is an algae-filled soda lake in the Great Rift Valley, which attracts thousands of amazing flamingos, turning the lake candy floss pink. Lookout points such as Baboon Cliff and Lion Hills offer views of the birds, the lake and mammals, including warthogs white rhino, lion, impala, baboons and hirax, amongst others.

This leg isn't without adventure. There's a leopard on the road to start with (padding along, but impossible to photograph) and then lashings of rain.  The truck gets bogged down in mud and they put me on lion watch, while the others dig it out. Foraging monkeys invade our camp and have just been driven out when a buffalo arrives. These are skittish and must not be antagonised. I'm not enjoying my middle of the night trips to the toilet block.

Facts and Factoids

  • The country is named after Mt. Kenya, which is the highest point in the country and is 17,057 feet high.
  • Kenya today has a population of roughly 50 million and is the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and South Africa. Agriculture is the largest sector: tea and coffee are traditional cash crops, while fresh flowers are a fast-growing export - all those supermarket roses. Tourism is Kenya's second largest source of income.
  • Nevertheless, over half of the country's population live in poverty.
  • And Kenyan men are allowed more than one wife - if they want to.
  • There is some spectacular scenery. Kenya lies on the Equator and is split down the middle, by the East African Rift Valley. It's part of the Great Rift Valley series of massive trenches that run from the Lebanon to Mozambique). All of the African Great Lakes were formed as the result of the rift, It's tropical and hot by the coast, but inland, temperatures are mitigated by the (surprising) amount of high ground.
  • There are also 60 national parks and game reserves.

Rumirutu

Rumirutu, a smallish county town. (There weren't any larger ones to choose from). To my consternation, we're doing a camel safari for two days from here. I missed that bit in the itinerary.  The treat of spending a night in the total open air, in the bush, under the stars. Besieged by mosquitoes. After riding a camel for four hours, elephants crossing in front of us - there are young bulls in musk around. (Don't ask about the blisters). No toilet, well I'm used to my little trowel now. Everyone just goes by the side of the bus and sod it. Somehow, I slept through the hyenas visiting and the lions roaring. Apparently, everyone else got up in the middle of the night, made a huge fire and hid behind the camels. In the confusion, I've managed to lose my sleeping bag sack, a lens from my sunglasses, my padlock key and my precious  toilet roll.

Lake Baringo, Kenya

Lake Baringo is, barring Lake Turkana, the most northerly of the Kenyan Rift Valley Lakes. A boat trip, feeding swooping fish eagles, more flamingos, monitor lizards, crocodiles, snuffling hippos and a 65 year old giant tortoise. It's remote, hot and dusty but it's home to over 470 species of birds, occasionally including migrating flamingos. There's a Goliath heronry, on a rocky islet, happily known as Gibraltar.

Local fishermen manoeuvre their lightweight, almost raft like 'kadich' boats and I'm attacked in the eye by a thorn bush, find my padlock key and then lose it again.

Eldoret and Kericho

Eldoret, the capital of Uasin Gishu County, colloquially known as 'Sisibo'. Up winding mountain roads, with stunning views across the Rift Valley. We wave to school children. Some wave back. Some give us the finger.

A quick nip over the border to Jinja, on Lake Victoria, in Uganda. Back into Kenya and through the gorgeous high rolling tea country around Kericho. It's complete with Brooke Bond signs.

The Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara, known locally, simply as The Mara, is the one of the most famous game reserves in Africa, known for its populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and African bush elephant. It is named after the Masai people, the ancestral inhabitants of the area, who migrated to the area from the Nile Basin. 'Mara' means "spotted" in the local Masai language, and relates to the short bushy trees which dot the landscape.

The Masai Mara is a brilliant finale to Kenya. Not least, because it involves glamping (tents with bathrooms and hot water) with Masai warriors on sentry duty and silver service dining under the stars. 'Do you have your knife?' the guard inquires as he walks us back to the tent at night.

The Mara is also famous, for The Great Migration, dubbed one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Each year around the same time, the circular great wildebeest migration begins in the Ngorongoro in the southern Serengeti in Tanzania and loops in a clockwise direction through the Serengeti National Park and north towards the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya (They are contiguous.)

This migration involves 260,000 zebra, about 1.7 million wildebeest and g hundreds of thousands of other plains game, including around 470,000 gazelles, who follow. The herds arrive in Kenya in late July to August and here we are watching them. Wikipedia says that about a quarter of a million wildebeest die on the 500 mile journey. This is safari, just like you see on TV. There are flat topped acacias on plains teeming with topi, eland, Grant's and Thompson gazelles, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and warthog. Hyena, cheetah, lion, elephant, hippo and rhino, all put in an appearance.

I worried before I came out, that the zoom on my camera might not be good enough on safari. But I've taken photos of rhino, lion and elephant that filled my frame without using the zoom at all. Elephant was the most disconcerting. For one horrible moment I thought it was going to lift me clean out of the Landrover. I panicked so much I forgot to take any photos. I'm told others have them. Just the whites of the eyes. The elephant that is. I’m very fond of the graceful giraffes and the flamingos, carpets of them, are gorgeously flamboyant. The impala are pretty, though we're a little bored with them now, leaping in front of the truck all the time.

Our last night in Kenya is spent at a once fine country hotel, now sadly in need of renovation. We've erected our tents on the front lawn. Alison, American Mike and John, the youngest of us, are all sick.

Over the border to Tanzania...

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