It’s time to turn that Land Rover key again and head off on another great humanitarian adventure – this time it’s to follow the entire African Rift Valley from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to the base of Gorongoza Mountain in Mozambique.
It will be an exciting yearlong geographic journey with the humanitarian links of malaria prevention through the distribution of life saving mosquito nets, Rite to Sight spectacles for the poor sighted and LifeStraws for water purification.
At St Alban’s College in Pretoria, hundreds of boys sign the Landy – they have adopted the expedition and one the pupils, Madiba’s grandson, writes a goodwill note to be carried to the Nelson Mandela College in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa – it makes us proud and they get to know Mama Africa better.
Thousands have gathered to wish us well at the Johannesburg International Motor Show and already the expedition Scroll of Peace and Goodwill’s pages are filling up – it’s the expedition send-off and Zulu dancers from LesediCultural Village leap into the air as they escort the humanitarian convoy through the crowd.
Then we get the good news that Ignazio Messina will sponsor the shipping of the Land Rovers from Durban around the dangerous Horn of Africa to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and then across to Djibouti (start point of the expedition) – the ship leaves in just 10 days. It’s all coming together - we’ll keep you posted…
It’s a race against time getting the three Landies ready for shipping. Today we prepare the big Land Rover 130 Defender – it’s called the United Against Malaria mother ship. In it we load the first consignment of life saving mosquito nets supplied by PermaNet. There’s also boxes of LifeStraws, spectacles for the poor sighted, food supplies, Nando’s sauce for tough village fowls, tents, medical kit, bedrolls and a jerry can of Captain Morgan.
Apart from the big 130 Defender, we load up the two new Land Rover Discovery 4’s - we’re going to use state of the art technology to fight the ancient disease of malaria – it is even said that the Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen died of malaria as did Alexander the Great and it continues to kill over a million people a year in Africa – we hope to make a difference.
Lots of excitement! Just five days to go to the shipping date. The Ignazio Messina shipping line invite us to attend the company’s 90th birthday celebration at the Oyster Box Hotel in Durban. Well-wishers endorse the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill and Stefano Messina, grandson of the founder, scribbles: ‘My grandfather Ignazio was a man full of passion… for the sea and forAfrica… your expedition will be hard, but the Rift Valley will welcome you.’
The expedition logo shows the countries of the Great Rift, the colourful dots that outline Mama Afrika symbolise the All Afrika nature of previous expeditions and the circle of beads around the UAM logo represent the Relate Trust beaded bracelets crafted by mamas in Kayelitsha, the sale of which help fund life saving mosquito nets.
Security at Durban harbour is tight, so in hard hats, covered shoes, reflective vests, breathalysed and with flashing lights, our 3 expedition Landies, loaded with life saving mosquito nets, LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles, are escorted onto the ‘Jolly Marrone’ for shipping around the dangerous Horn of Africa – pray God no pirates. Thanks for the support – we’ll keep you posted…
Just 21 days to go and the team for the first leg of Africa’s Great Rift from Djibouti to below Addis Ababa is confirmed. Kingsley will lead, Mashozi is the bursar, Ross is responsible for logistics and filming, and Nando’s expedition members Eugene and Willy will handle supply logistics and the big Land Rover 130 called the ‘UAM Mothership’ Colourful expedition volunteers Mike Nixon and André Bredenkamp, who have both climbed the world’s seven summits, are onboard again. The expedition will be joined by an Ethiopian guide and local armed militia – Anna Holgate will hold the home front as expedition liaison person. The excitement grows – life is an adventure!
Great Expedition news! Rotary, Southern Sun and Nashua are assisting with the printing of United Against Malaria educational colouring-in booklets for rural schools along the way. Siyabonga, asante sana and thanks!
With just a few days to go to flying into Djibouti to start the expedition, the obvious concern is will the three expedition Landies and all the kit survive the Somali pirates as they get shipped around the Horn of Africa. The fight against escalating piracy is hotting up and British Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed that all British merchant vessels sailing around the coast of Somalia are to be allowed to carry armed guards. He said he wanted to make sure that more of the perpetrators of robbery on the high seas face justice – Hold thumbs!
With the expedition team preparing to leave for the Afar Triangle in Djibouti, it’s all eyes and ears on any news relating to the route. The latest is that Africa's most active Rift Valley volcano, Nyamuragira, has roared into life again in a spectacular fire and lava show which dramatically reddened the sky on Sunday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Nyamuragira (derived from the Kinyarwanda verb 'Kuragira inka', meaning to herd cows), 22 kilometres from the city of Goma in eastern DRC about 25 km north of Lake Kivu, continues to send smoke and ash into the sky above Virunga National Park, which is home to 200 mountain gorillas. According to theVirunga National Park, eruptions like this one can go on for days, weeks, or even months – so much to look forward too – we’ll keep you posted.
It’s quite fitting that final preparations for the expedition departure to the Horn of Africa coincides with the SADC Malaria Week. According to the World Health Organisation, about 63 percent of people in the Southern African region are living in areas that are affected by malaria, with pregnant women and children under the age of five being at greater risk. The Great African Rift Valley Expedition supports the millennium development goal of reducing malaria deaths among children under the age of five by two thirds by the year 2015. You can show your support by purchasing a United Against Malaria beaded bracelet from any Cape Union Mart outlet.
Great news! We get this shipping note from Messina lines:
Please note MV Jolly Marrone Voy 156 has arrived safely in Jeddah.
Containers are awaiting transhipment to a new vessel, the MV Hansa Victory Voy 214 ets Jeddah 15/11/11 with etaDjibouti 18/11/11.
In landlubber terms this means the three expedition Landies, all our kit together with bales of life saving mosquito nets, Rite to Sight spectacles and LifeStraws have survived the rounding of the Horn of Africa to arrive in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. All that now remains is their transshipment across the Gulf of Aden to Djibouti, the start point of the expedition – we’ll keep you posted.
Good fortune favours the brave! The Landies and kit are crossing the Gulf of Aden – Tonight the expedition team fly to Djibouti – one of the most exciting humanitarian adventures ever undertaken is about to begin. Thanks for the support – the good work will continue.
The team finds themselves on the banks of Djibouti’s Lake Assal, deepest point on the continent at -155 meter below sea level, for the start of their odyssey to follow the Great African Rift Valley. With an 80 m thick salt crust in about one third of the lake and about 380 grams of salt per litre of water, Lake Assal is the saltiest body of water on the planet. Ethiopia’s Danakil, here we come.
And so as the world’s ‘glitterati’ descend on Durban’s ‘COP’ 17 Summit on how to slow climate change and reach their agreed goal “to limit the average global temperature rise to 2°C…”, we find ourselves in Ethiopia’s Danakil, hottest place on earth!; close to drought stricken famine rid Somalia on the Horn of Africa. Let’s hope for peace and a green revolution!
Ethiopian greetings from remote Afar villages where the Awash River ends its journey. Malaria is bad here and we continue with our United Against Malaria, Rite To Sight and LifeStraw campaigns. Tough going, we travel with armed militia. – we’ll keep you posted.
Whilst going through a bit of research about our first expedition chapter, we uncover this interesting bit of information… The Danakil, also known as the Afars, used to be in the habit of castrating and murdering intruders into their territory. A young man could only marry when he had overcome an adversary and cut off his testicles as a trophy. The early British explorer Wilfred Thesiger found himself in a few sticky situations in which he managed to preserve both his composure and his testicles and win over the Afars. Hopefully we’ll be able to do the same – we’ll keep you posted.
Greetings from Erta Ale the most active volcano in Africa. With armed guards and a camel to carry the water we walked through the night to avoid the fierce heat of the Danakil Depression to stand on the rim of an erupting lava lake. None of the expedition team has witnessed anything like this in their lives before.
To propitiate the spirits of our Rift Valley odyssey, we toss a silver coin into the bubbling caldera. Several earthquakes have been recorded in the vicinity of Erta Ale suggesting that a major eruption maybe imminent. It's tough going back to base camp, hard underfoot over blistering volcanic landscape.
Here people survive by drinking what ever water they can find be it stagnant pools or puddles left over from the last rain. Later we distribute LifeStraws to Afar communities. Each LifeStraw filters a thousand liters of clean drinking water. It is fulfilling to improve lives through adventure. We’ll keep you posted.
Our Rift Valley humanitarian journey continues. Behind us now is Djibouti and Lake Assal (lowest point in Africa) Deset island (lowest island in the world) and Erta Ale (Africa's most active volcano) Now we must cross the dangerous Danakil desert. We check water, fuel and supplies. Our guide Ali Abdella has organised two men each with a Kalashnikov (AK 47). The Danakil's climatic inhospitality is mirrored by the reputation of its nomadic Afar inhabitants, who as recently as the Italian occupation in 1937 had the somewhat discouraging custom of welcoming strangers by lopping of their testicles. Hope we keep ours!
Flash floods in the distant highlands have made part of the Danakil track impassable and we are having to navigate by the seat of our pants – very difficult when Ross who is navigating has got dysentery and is being fed antibiotics and Rehidrate. With tyres down to 1 bar we grind through choking powder soft dust and then pump them hard again to bounce over ancient solidified lava flows. It is incredibly tough on man and machine. Get lost out here and that will be the last you hear from us. We’ll keep you posted…
The Zen of Travel is with us. We find the salt caravan route to Hamed Ela. Our next objective is to cross the actual Danakil Depression – officially the hottest place on earth, but it's not that easy. This close to Eritrea security is tight and already half a dozen AK47- toting freeloaders are wanting to make a quick buck by securing our safety. We’ll keep you posted.
Somehow it works out! For a fee of 600 Birr the military give us an escort of three well-armed camouflage clad soldiers. This is a world first for Land Rover Discovery 4’s. They’ve made it to the lowest place on the continent and now to the hottest place on earth. We’ve proved that they are unbelievably capable vehicles and once again we put them to the test as we race across the Danakil Depression. Miss the track, break through the salt crust, and it’s tickets.
Expedition member and epic adventurer Mike Nixon has left ahead of us on his mountain bike, a speck in the distant heat haze, as he peddles against a headwind on the hottest place on earth. To our knowledge it’s a world first, no other mountain biker has been crazy enough to crisscross the Danakil all the way from Djibouti. His early morning departures from camp and the visuals from a small camera attached to his cycling helmet add an exciting element to the adventure. We’re trying to get to another Rift Valley icon in this lunar landscape studded with active volcanoes. This time to the multi coloured sulpher springs of Dallol. The soldiers point across to Eritrea and warn us that we mustn’t delay.
Leaving one of the soldiers with the Landies we cross a blistering hot solidified lava flow on foot to reach Dallol – it’s as if we’re on another planet as we step gingerly through a surreal bubbling, multi-hued field of sulpherous hot springs studded with steaming conical vents, caramel coloured mushroom shapes and rippled rock formations. These craters are the lowest known subaerial volcanic vents in the world. The area hisses and steams, the heat is unbearable – we undoubtedly stand at the hottest place on earth.
From the Dallol hot springs in the Danakil Depression, Ali the Afar expedition interpreter collects some hot, bright orange coloured water for the symbolic calabash that we are carrying down Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Later that afternoon, closer to Eritrea, warm oily green water from a salt encrusted pool of bubbling geezers is added to the Zulu calabash mix. Over twelve months, historic sip-fills of water will be added from every Rift Valley lake and waterway. The Ethiopian soldiers are getting edgy – too close to Eritrea and they want us off the salt flats before dark. ‘Make sense, especially as this place is also said to be haunted at night by a devil spirit called Abu Lalu.’ We’re at -116 metres. Ross is still struggling with dysentery. Hell in this heat.
On our way off the Danakil Depression, we pass hundreds of cameleers with their camels, making their way to the salt flats to cut tablets of trade salt. Eugene in the big Land Rover 130 radios in to tell us that he’s found a place to camp on the banks of a river fed from the mountains of the Rift Valley escarpment high above us. It’s our first bath in weeks. We wash the desert dust from our bodies and around a hardwood fire, under a canopy of Rift Valley stars, we drink a ‘Captain’s toast’ to the fact that we’d survived the Danakil Depression. Zulu expedition member Willie Gwebu knocks up a camel stew spiced with some hot Nando’s sauce. Ross keeps down a bowl of oats with goat milk – he’s getting better – Bloody luxury.
In first and second gear, low ratio, following the salt caravan route, we climb the Landies out of the Danakil to reach the Tigrean capital of Mekele where we drop off expedition volunteer Andre Bredenkamp who needs to fly back to Cape Town. Andre, together with expedition member Mike Nixon, has climbed the seven highest peaks of the world. He’s a great adventurer and we’ll miss his eccentricity, come-what-may-attitude and good humour around the campfire. He promised to join up for another of these crazy Rift Valley chapters. Our mission is to now experience the Northern Rift Valley escarpment of the Afar Triangle – We’ll keep you posted.
On this Land Rover supported geographic and humanitarian expedition we’ve climbed from the lowest point on the continent to now travel along the 2000 metre high edge of the Rift Valley escarpment. Wrapped in jackets and beanies, it’s another world. For the Disco 4’s, it’s manual shift, dropping gears through the bends. In the big 130, it’s a juggle of clutch, gears and brakes. In Ethiopia they drive on the left and so our front passenger becomes a conductor shouting ‘All clear!’ or ‘No! Get in!’ as we dodge old Fiat trucks, livestock and pedestrians through a succession of hundreds of dizzying hairpin bends and mountain passes that make up the most awesome stretch of road in Ethiopia.
We zigzag through the hills around Maychw which on 31st March 1936 were the scene of the final decisive battle in Mussolini’s bid to conquer Ethiopia which led to the 1936-1941 Italian occupation, the only period in its 3000-year history when outsiders ruled Ethiopia. It’s wonderful to feel cold.
On every expedition we carry a Scroll of Peace and Goodwill. These have been messaged by chiefs, ambassadors, government officials, governors, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and even on one occasion by a near naked Himba girl who endorsed the scroll with a simple red-ochered handprint. Today’s message is from an Afar tribe M.P. who scribbles… ‘Welcome to the land of Lucy…’ – he’s referring to the 1974 discovery of an almost complete 3.5 million years old hominid skeleton named ‘Lucy’ – the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was playing in the archeologists’ camp shortly after the find close to where our convoy of three expedition Land Rovers now travel in a cloud of dust along the floor of the Rift Valley’s Afar triangle. It’s close to sunset but Ali our guide warns us that it’s too dangerous to camp wild in this area. ‘There’s bad blood between the Issa and the Afar – it’s about livestock, available water and grazing rights.’ We push on into the night – we’ll keep you posted.
Greetings again from the Horn of Africa – the fascinating area that contains the countries of Eritrea,Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia. Still zigzagging down the Great African Rift Valley we reach Awash Station on the old 1929 French-built railway line that joinsAddis Ababa to Djibouti. The train no longer operates but we find rooms in the old Greek owned railway hotel called ‘Buffet Awash’. It was from here in 1932 that the great British explorer Wilfred Thesiger departed in a caravan of 22 camels, 32 men, some Somali cameleers, 15 khaki clad soldiers and an Afar hostage to ensure their safety. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1932 no expedition had survived a journey through these still dangerous lands of the Afar tribe who collected the testicles of their enemies as trophies. Our next objective is a 300km dash through the lands of the Nilotic Oromo people (also known as the Galla) to the ancient walled city of Hararhigh up on the opposite Rift Valley escarpment overlooking Djibouti, Somaliland and the Danakilplains. We’ll keep you posted.
For many years I’ve dreamt about one day reaching the ancient fortified trade terminus of Harar. Considered to be the fourth holy city of Islam afterMecca, Medina and Jerusalem. On foot we pass through the Showa Gate, enclosed by the crumbling medieval walls, over 300 cobbled alleyways connect the rabbit warren of hobgoblin stalls, shops, white washed homes, mosques, shrines and markets that are home to some 20 thousand Harari inhabitants. What’s so cool about this place is just how friendly and relaxed everybody is. In the heat of the afternoon the men gather in the shade to chew the green narcotic ‘leaves of paradise’ called chat or qat. Here on the Horn of Africa is a way of life. Old men whose teeth have rotted away, resort to using a small mortar and pestle to pound a green ‘chat’ paste which they rub onto their gums. I’d prefer to gargle with Captain Morgan,’ says Mike Nixon with a grin.
The first European to enter the then ‘forbidden city’ was the British explorer Richard Burton, who trekked from Berberer on the Somali coast in 1855. He survived to write that Harar was a great ‘halfway house’ for slave caravans, making their way from the interior to the Red Sea. His notes on the local honey-wine read… This is the Abyssinian “Tej… some write it “Zatsh.” At Harar it is made of honey dissolved in hot water, strained and fermented for seven days with the bark of the Kudidah tree. Every traveller has praised the honey-wine…, and some have not scrupled to prefer it to champagne. It exhilarates, excites and acts as an aphrodisiac; the consequence is, that at Harar all men, pagans, sages, priests and rulers drink it… We try it, it makes us talk loudly with numerous visits to the loo – we’ll keep you posted.
Still in the old walled city of Harar, Mashozi bargains for colourful cloth and a curved Afar dagger in a decorated leather scabbard whilst I buy camel meat from the Muslim market, where the butcher throws bits of intestine into the air to be caught by swooping yellow-billed kites.
Later we gather in the town square to drink strong black Ethiopian coffee from small china cups. (Harar coffee is said to be the best in the world.) That’s when ‘Ali the Afar’ tells us about the other Harar residents who at night gather at the edge of Jugal (the other name for the walled city) waiting for the humans to go to sleep so that they can prowl the streets. We’ll keep you posted.
‘Even the walls of the city have low doorways that allow the hyenas to pass,’ says Ali. ‘Hyenas are part of life here, they keep out the bad spirits (Djinns) and at night they eat the scraps and the garbage left out for them. They don’t trouble the people. There’s even man who feeds them meat with his own mouth.’ And so as night falls over the walled city of Harar we find ourselves back in the Land Rovers on our way to meet ‘Abbas the Hyena Man who’ve taken over from his father Yusuf who was the hyena man for 40 years! We don’t know what to expect.
With only the expedition Land Rover’s headlights to illuminate the crazy scene, we watch in amazement as Abbas the Hyena Man calls into the night. There’s that familiar whooping sound and hyena eyes shine in the dark, soon they are all around us. It’s breeding season so we must be careful, says Abbas, as the alpha male comes forward to snatch a piece of rotten camel meat from the end of a short stick held between Abbas’s teeth. He shouts out the carnivores’ names and I scribble in the expedition journal as he calls: Chalto! Chala! Ibsa! Ipsito! Jambo! Bruse! … and many more. Then the expedition members Mike Nixonand Willie Gwebu give it a go, the hyenas coming forward to greedily snatch the meat from their mouths – It’s bloody scary!. ‘Come, it’s your turn Pops, I need a piece to camera,’ says Ross. I s*** myself! Sitting on a rock, the massively strong spotted hyenas all around me. Abbas parades the meat in front of my face – I hear the snap of their powerful jaws and smell the rotten meat. According to legend these wild hyenas are fed in good times so that in times of drought they won’t attack livestock or people (that’s if you’re not possessed by an evil Djinn). ‘Careful,’ says Mashozi, ‘you never know what they can find in your beard.’ So much still to see and do – we’ll keep you posted.
We survive the hyenas of Harar and back on the floor of the Great African Rift Valley at Awash, Mike takes off early by mountain bike and we do some Rite to Sight, Life Straws and United Against Malaria work with the local community. So continuing to use the adventure to improve lives. We meet up with Mike in the heat of the day. He’s sitting under an acacia tree playing bottle top drafts with Awash National Parkrangers. They won’t let him ride any further. It appears there’s a danger of lions. Today is his last ride on this Rift Valley chapter. He’s been great company and will, I’m sure, be back. An armed ranger escorts us to the waterfalls on the Awash River below which there cruises a massive crocodile. We add some water to the calabash and then further down the Rift we add a sipfull of Lake Beseka water. It’s a beautiful area. Above the black lava encrusted lake there looms the active volcano of Fanteller and on the surrounding yellow grass plains we see Beisa oryx, long necked gerenuk and our first ever Soemmerings gazelle. These are the lands of the fierce Kereyu tribe and the men are noted for their hairstyles of short on top and huge afro on the sides. ‘Be careful taking photographs,’ warns Ali.
We’re feeling the pace, all of us a bit travel worn. But everybody’s strong in the knowledge that we’ve got just a short distance of this section of the Rift Valley still to complete before getting to Addis Ababa and flying home for Christmas. There’s talk about family and friends, stuffed turkey, thick gravy and roast potatoes. We all agree that when we get home we’ll start with a Nando’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with hot and spicy Ethiopian food. We’ve learnt that thanks to the Italian occupation, spaghetti and meat is the best menu option, but none of us can get used to the local staple diet called injera, it’s a large pancake substance made from fermented tef – sour with a foam rubber texture. It’s served with a variety of sauces called wat, the hottest being the evil pepper filled red coloured kai wat which together with the Tej honey-wine, brings on ring-sting and smoke from the ears. Fortunately the fresh crusty bread dabo is good, as is Ethiopian coffee. Just 14 hours to go – a race against time to get to Addis Ababa.
As always it’s South African to the rescue. Greig Jansen who heads up Coca-Cola in Ethiopia gives us a safe place to leave the three expedition Landies and kit. There’s hot showers all round and a dinner party with his colourful team before racing to the airport for the Kenya Airways flight to take us home for Christmas.
Thanks to the Zen of Travel, a great expedition team and wonderful support from friends and sponsor partners, we’ve survived chapter one as we zigzagged across the sometimes dangerous Afar Triangle section of the Great African Rift Valley from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia. Continuing to use the adventure to improve lives, chapter two of the expedition will start in mid-January 2012 and will take us South fromAddis Ababa along the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes all the way to Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, inNorthern Kenya. As they say in the Ethiopian Amharic language, ‘Ameseghinalehu’ which means thanks. We could not have succeeded without your support.
Note: Malaria kills nearly a million people a year in Africa. Most of these are women and children. You can make a difference by purchasing a UAm bracelet from any Cape Union Mart store. Add a few to your Christmas parcel and join the winning team to fight malaria.
Have a great festive season – Life’s a great adventure, isn’t it?
We welcome in 2012 by preparing to set off on the 2nd Chapter of our world first geographic and humanitarian Great African Rift Valley Expedition to complete the Rift from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to Gorongosa inMozambique.
Behind us now is Chapter 1 with the colourful expedition send-off from the Johannesburg International Motor Show, the shipping of the expedition Land Rovers and kit around the dangerous Horn of Africa; The successful United Against Malaria event at the Nelson Mandela College in Djibouti at which we handed over a message from Andile Mandela (Madiba’s grandson); Making it to the Gulf of Tadjora on the Red Sea for the geographic start point of the expedition, following Seven Summiter Mike Nixon as he mountain biked across the salt flats of Lake Assal, lowest land point in Africa deep in the heart of Afar Triangle where the dagger-carrying, gun toting Afar warriors once had the unpleasant habit of lopping off the testicles of intruders like ourselves. Behind us now are the mountainous Land Rover testing camel tracks and the journey to the crocodile filled lake that forms the mouth of the Awash River and the Afar smuggling route between Ethiopia and Djibouti. We’ve reached ‘Deset’, the lowest island on earth and on foot through the night with a camel to carry the drinking water and men armed with AK47’s for protection we made it to the rim of the lava spewing active volcano of Erta Ale.
In the Landies we bounced and boulder hopped over solidified lava flows and moonscapes and with tyres down to one bar, crossed the Danakil Desert, got hopelessly lost, but eventually made it to the multi-hued sulphurous wonderland of Dallol near the Eritrean border, in where we followed Mike Nixon on his mountain bike as he battled a headwind across the glaring white geyser spewing salt lake of the Danakil Depression, known as the hottest place on earth. From below sea level we followed the ancient camel track passing hundreds of camels loaded with tablets of trade salt bound for the 2000 metre high Rift Valley escarpment markets.
Dressed in beanies and jackets we zigzagged the overloaded expedition Land Rovers through the hills of Maychew, and then we dashed through the lands of the Nilotic Oromo people to the ancient walled city of Harar where we watched in amazement as Abbas the Hyena Man feeds these carnivores pieces of rotten camel meat from the end of a short stick held between his teeth. He asked us to participate – Bloody scary!.
Thanks to the Zen of Travel, a great expedition team and wonderful support from friends and sponsor partners, we’ve survived chapter one as we crisscrossed across the sometimes dangerous Afar Triangle section of the Great African Rift Valley from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia.
Throughout the journey we continued to distribute life saving PermaNets to pregnant mothers and mums with children under 5, LifeStraws for safe drinking water and Rite to Sight spectacles to the poor sighted.
Chapter 1 – Mission accomplished. Ahead of us lies Chapter 2 – it’s longer and equally unpredictable and challenging: a journey to connect the fascinating Rift Valley lakes and nomadic tribes of Southern Ethiopia all the way South to the inland Jade Sea of Turkana, considered the world’s largest desert lake. Still 9 chapters to go – we’ll keep you posted.
Whilst setting up our Chapter 2 Rift Valley logistics with our Ethiopian contacts it’s important to note what calendar we are working to. You see, Ethiopiacelebrated its New Year on the 11th September, they still work to the old Julian calendar so are 7 years behind us and have 13 months to the year. But hey! Ethiopia time can be equally confusing. Like the Swahili of neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, Ethiopians measure time in 12 hour cycles starting at 06:00 and 18:00. In other words, their seven o’clock is our one o’clock, and visa versa.
Anyway, we all know that whilst the Swiss might have developed the clock, it’s good old Mama Afrika that owns the time and that the secret to the success of the journey is to travel at the rhythm and pace of Africa and to celebrate every sunset with a battered enamel mug of the ‘Captain’s Best!’ – We’ll keep you posted.
On the eve of us departing Addis Ababa for the second chapter of the Great African Rift Valley Expedition we receive this shocking news.
Ethiopia: 5 Adventure travelers (like ourselves) have been gunned down in Northern Ethiopia’s remote Afar region of the Great African Rift Valley. 2 Foreigners and 2 Ethiopians were kidnapped in the same attack and may have been abducted across the border.
Ethiopia blames it’s bitter enemy Eritrea for the attack… saying it had trained and armed the gunmen… Eritrea rejected the accusation. Ethiopiahas threatened ‘whatever action is necessary’ against its neighbour over the killings…
And to think that this all happened close to the Eritrean border at a remote village near the active volcano Erta Ale where we had camped (protected by armed militia) just a few weeks ago. May the Zen of Travel continue to ride with us – We’ll keep you posted.
(See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16620783 for more info)
Preparing for the next chapter of the Ethiopian leg of the Great African Rift Valley Expedition and the expedition members are getting this print out to help them communicate with the locals in Amharic, the national language ofEthiopia. It belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family which includes Arabic, Hebrew and Assyrian. Although other languages are spoken in Ethiopia, Amharic is the most widely used and understood.
An informal ‘hello’ is tadiyass. ‘How are you?’ is dehna neh for a man and dehna nesh for a woman; to answer ‘I am fine’ you say dehna. ‘See you’ is chow, ‘yes’ is awo and O.K. is e’shi.
When it comes to food, breakfast is kurs, lunch is me’sa and dinner is e’rat. It you want bread, ask for dabbo, water is wuhu, tea is shai, and if you’re interested in famous Ethiopian coffee, ask for buna.
If you only remember one word, use e’shi, say it with a smile – it’ll get you through and break the ice – Chow – we’ll keep you posted!
Greetings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we are united with our three expedition Landies and kit – everything safe and sound thanks to ex-Kearsney boy, South African Greig Jansen and his team who run the Coca-Cola Sabco operation in East Africa. Like most fellow South Africans we meet in Africa, they are superbly helpful and even assist us with the humanitarian work attached to the expedition.
Addis is a fascinating place where high rise buildings, shiny new vehicles and businessmen in suites with mobile phones clamped to their ears share the city space with a parade of cripples, pick-pocketers, con-artists, amputee war veterans, street children and naked beggars. The place grows on you, despite the occasional opportunistic con-artist and the occasional rude teenager who gratuitously yells ‘f-off’ at faranji’s (travellers). The vast majority of the Ethiopians we meet are superbly friendly and despite the recent attack on travellers in the Danakil area of the Rift Valley, one feels safer here than downtown Kinshasa or Joburg. Ethiopia is a must on any traveller’s calendar.
Still in Addis Ababa, before the expedition heads off again for the Rift Valley, we meet up with Nando’s founder Robbie Brozin and a support team of adventurers who have just got back from the ancient Timket ceremony in Lalibela. Their scribe Paul Appleton adds these interesting scribbles to the expedition log…
Wede Ethiopia enquwan dehna metachiu! (that’s welcome to Ethiopia in Amharic).
As we landed in Gondar, the early morning mist was slowly losing its grasp on the land – there was a chill in the air and huge excitement in our group – and we weren’t quite sure what to expect.
Ethiopia is a deeply spiritual land. A country where people of many faiths live peacefully, side-by-side, and home of important holy sites in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. We could feel this spiritual energy at almost every point in our journey – especially as our time in the country coincided with the main annual Ethiopian Orthodox Christian celebration, Timket (Epiphany).
Ethiopia seems to stop entirely for Timket. Red, yellow and green splashes of colour were plastered on almost every surface - flags, posters and bunting on every lamp-post and wall. Not even clothing escapes the blast of colour – t-shirts, hats, scarves, berets - even kids proudly parading sashes adorned with ‘I Love Ethiopia’ across their chests.
On the way to Gondar town (at one time, the capital city of Ethiopia), we stopped briefly to watch a few dozen pilgrims making their way to the river to celebrate Timket. We were astonished at the numbers of people gathering on the dried out riverbed – but this was just a starter for when we reached town, where we joined tens of thousands of people at Gondar Castle.
We pushed and shoved our way across stiles built from rickety gum poles of all lengths and sizes to climb the castle walls. Friendly hands stretched out and helped us navigate the perilous climb. The energy inside the complex was palpable. Families were dressed to the nines in their freshly-washed best clothes. Some men wore traditional outfits with daggers slung discreetly across their waists. Dozens of young men were splashing around in the castle moat – cheering and filling empty water bottles with holy water, which they then splashed onto the crowds of excited onlookers.
Later in the day, we experienced another side to the spiritual Ethiopia when we spent the evening celebrating Friday prayers with the Gondar Jewish community. Gondar is home to many of the country’s Jewish people. We bundled into the main Jewish makeshift temple and joined a service held by Rabbi Waldman. Many of the local Jewish people are leaving for Israel (something documented magnificently in video, photographs and a book by Ilan) and the community left behind is growing smaller every year. We were incredibly privileged to be part of what, in only a few years’ time, may be a tradition that won’t be practiced any more in this part of the world. Poor Laurence developed an allergy to the flooring in the Shul. The evening ended with a delicious traditional Shabbas dinner with the Rabbi and members of the local Jewish community. Who would have thought that we could have a Kosher meal with Kiddush wine in the middle of Ethiopia (not gefilte fish though which was a huge relief to some in the group!)!
The next day, we flew off to Lalibela – in Northern Ethiopia. Lalibela was the capital of ancient Ethiopia in the twelfth century – and is home to a collection of rock-hewn churches so magnificent that they have been named ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’. Our journey through the complex started with the Bet Medhanialem church – a structure 701m2 squared carved right into the red volcanic rock hillside. The complex was the brainchild of the Ethiopian King Lalibela (also a Saint and Priest), and were (unbelievably) carved out of the rock more than eight hundred years ago! So much of the building is metaphorical – designs that represented the holy trinity or the twelve disciples; shapes and carvings to represent the Christian cross; and even a tunnel representing the journey to hell – easy to walk into – quite another challenge to walk out of! Who will forget the six hundred year old skeleton tucked away in the wall.
The walls of the 12 churches of Lalibela are adorned with pictures of saints – some painted as far back as the 1600’s. Many are faded and crumbling – but the reverence and spirituality of each one continue to shine through despite their obvious age.
Our overnight stay in Lalibela was at Tukula Hotel, with rondavels built to emulate the indigenous type of dwelling in the area. The rooms are the most luxurious that we stayed in so far (3*).
Everyone noticed that the bedside lamps (very ornate and lovely) did not work. When settling the bill this morning, one of our team mentioned to the manager that the bedside lamps didn’t work - the reply was “Yes, I know…we have only been open for six years.” ;)
Our final day in Lalibela was (as usual) an early start. We (fourteen of us) crammed into a mini-van (12 seater!) with the baggage strapped to the roof. When we arrived at the airport perimeter fence every person had to show ID to the policeman at the gate, then to the policeman at the airport entrance…shoes off, belts off, watches off, hand baggage etc (including check-in bags), go through a scanner. The next step is to obtain boarding passes (arranged by our guide, Biruk), who then hands out boarding passes. Today the boarding passes are completely blank….no date, no flight number, no name, no seat #, and no boarding time. We then go through another scanner to the boarding gate!! Eish………what a process!!
The main road through Lalibela is a cobbled road, built using stones from the area, and of the same red volcanic rock as the churches. Each ‘stone’ is approximately 25-30cms in diameter, which makes the road horribly bumpy and rough…and the road is only 6 years old (as is the airport). We have now discovered the reason for the road having been built in this manner. The Ethiopians were scared that if they brought heavy steam rollers and compactors into the area close to the churches, that the vibrations would cause the churches to crack.
Ethiopia and Lalibela in particular, is so isolated from the rest of the world and commercial tourism is only getting started. Our only hope is that the magic of this very special and spiritual place isn’t damaged as more people discover this incredibly special and spiritual place.
We were honoured and blessed to have spent this time in Ethiopia. It truly is a magical country – brimming with ancient traditions, deep spirituality and friendly people. We have all left enriched. We’ll be back.
A note from Ross Holgate’s adventure diary:
Chapter 2 of the expedition and it’s great to be on the move again, the three expedition Landies – two Discovery 4’s and the big Landy Defender 130 mothership. Driving on the right hand side of the road, dodging trucks, pedestrians and livestock – the Landies loaded up with life saving mosquito nets for distribution to mums with children under the age of five, Rite to Sight spectacles for the poor sighted and LifeStraws for safe drinking water. We drop down the escarpment into Africa’s Great Rift Valley – that great tear in the earth’s crust that extends from the Danakil Plains of Ethiopia on the Red Sea to below Gorongosa in Mozambique. We’ve got two new expedition volunteers: cheerful KZN boy Brad Hansen who runs his own safari company in Tanzania has flown in to assist with the humanitarian work, and American photo-journalist Mark Lakin who’s going to document Chapter 2 of our Rift Valley odyssey.
Our first destination is Lake Ziway. It has five islands which include Debre Sina, Galila, Bird Island and Tullu Gudo, home to a monastery said to have housed theArk of the Covenant around the ninth century. Ziway, known for its birds and hippos, is one of the eight Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes that stretch like a necklace of jewels from below Addis Ababa to the border withKenya. As is the tradition on this expedition, we will continue to add iconic sipfills of Rift Valley water to the symbolic calabash.
As always there’s that wonderful feeling, the excitement of the unknown. This Southern part ofEthiopia leading down into the Omo Valley and Lake Turkana can be wild and unpredictable – We’ll keep you posted…
No sex, no drinking, no smoking or chewing chat (Narcotic Leaf) reads the sign on the island of Mt Zion on Lake Ziway. At the sight of us Rift Valley explorers, the Coptic monastery priests hide in the bush. They fear temptation of anything western, explains Ali our guide. An old lady offers us traditional bread and in return we give her a life saving net. A boat reconnects us with the Landies and we head for Shashemene, best known for its Rastafarian community, appropriately called Jamaica. Ethiopia..... full of surprises. We’ll keep u posted.
Greetings from Shashamene. Interpreter Adi explains that when Emperor Haile Selassie once visited Jamaica the heavens opened and he was seen to have broken the worst drought they have ever had. Rastafarians revere him as a saint and that's why the Rasta area here is called Jamaica. "Let's get out of here" calls Ross over the radio, "Too many hustlers, one little s*** is even trying to pull the Rift Valley stickers off my vehicle"
We continue to zigzag our journey south. Ethiopia has its challenges.
As we travel the Great Rift Valley we continue to distribute life saving mosquito nets, LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles, we also add sipfulls of water to the symbolic calabash.
The south Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes of Ziwia, Langano, Abiata, Shala, Chitu and Awasa are now behind us and we are making great progress. We set up camp on shores of Lake Chamo, hippo, crocs, striped Hyena in camp at night and the constant cry of Fish Eagle, it's the Rift Valley at its best. Thanks for the support.
In thick bush near the Mago River we surprise a group of Bana tribesman armed to the teeth with AK47's I don't know who gets the biggest fright them or us. Adi our interpreter ascertains that they are on the warpath searching for two of their fellow tribesmen who have been captured by the warlike Mursi tribe who we are on our way to visit. Around the camp fire Adi fuels our fear with stories of the barbaric Mursi. He is concerned for our safety. We bath in the river, sleep little, harassed by baboons in the trees. We’ll keep you posted.
The air is charged with tension you can cut the atmosphere with a knife. The well armed Bana war party that we had seen earlier, are sitting in a circle in the centre of the Mursi village. They are demanding the return of their comrades who have been abducted by the Mursi. With us is an armed ranger I can sense he is jumpy. I get pulled into the circle, a carved stool is placed in the sand and I'm offered chewy bits of njama from the coals. The young bloods finger their AK47's, the elders mumble amongst themselves. I notice that the expedition team start positioning the Land Rovers for a quick getaway. We’ll keep you posted.
We're alive. The Bana captives are released by the Mursi. We present the elders with a goat for slaughter – it’s a “Peace Accord in the bush”
We open up the Landies and every village mother receives a mozzie net. The Mursi women make a slit beneath her lower lip, over time the gap is progressively stretched forming a lip loop large enough for a small circular clay plate. As the lip stretches so larger plates are inserted until eventually the loop is large enough to hold a plate 15cm in diameter and the women can ideally pull her distended lip loop over her head. The larger the lip plate the greater her bride price – a real whopper can fetch up to 50 head of cattle. Africa's Rift Valley is full of surprises.
Greetings from the rich cultural mosaic that forms the ‘badlands’ of Ethiopia’s South Omo region. It’s a wild, untamed, rugged area of Africa’s Rift Valley made up of some 30 distinct ethno-linguistic groupings, several of which number fewer than 1000 people. Inter tribal fighting and cattle wars are common place. ‘You can buy an AK47 for two head of cattle, the guns are smuggled across from South Sudan’, says Adi.
With an armed Hamer tribal policemen as a guide, we’re attempting to follow an overgrown bush track to Lake Chew Bahir (Ocean of Salt), first discovered by the explorer Count Teleki in 1888. As always there’s that delightful feeling of the unknown and the challenge of battling to reach another iconic geographical place on the floor of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Out here were 100% dependant on the reliability of our Landies. No Discovery 4’s have ever attempted this remote parts before. Together with the big 130 Defender they don’t miss a beat. We’ll keep you posted.
The sun dips over the Hamer mountains as the 3 Rift Valley Expedition Landies race across the crust of Chew Bahir, the Ocean of Salt named Lake Stefanie by the early explorer Count Teleki. Up till now Lake Stefanie has been just a name on a map that we’d dreamt about reaching for years. We camp out under the stars on the vast salt crust and celebrate by siphoning some of the ‘Captain’s Best’ from where it lives in the jerry can on the roofrack of the big Land Rover 130 Defender. William Gwebu the expedition cook knocks up a meal of goat stew and maize meal spiced with the last of the Nando’s sauce. Tomorrow we head for the village of Turmi where Adi says he knows of a diesel smuggler who might supply us at a price. We will do Rite to Sight, LifeStraws and United Against Malaria work at small Hamer villages along the way – made possible by your support.
Blood spurts from a deep gash, one of the many that crisscross her naked back. She grunts in wide-eyed pain and then dances forward, tossing her head, spraying him with butter fat and ochre from her thick plaited hair that hangs in a fringe above her face, taunting him to whip her again. Down cracks the whipping stick – more blood.
Metal bracelets, armbands and anklets jingle as she dances forward again, her leather skirt decorated with beads and cowrie shells swings from side to side, revealing her strong shapely thighs. I wince as he raises the long thin whipping stick…crack! even harder this time, and another deep slash is added to the others. Adi tells me, that as proof of her Hamer tribal culture, she will proudly wear her horrific scars for life.
The expedition has reached a Hamer village in the South Omo area of the Great African Rift and it’s difficult to understand what’s happening around us. More girls run excitedly into the circle and the ritualistic beatings from the boys they like, continue. Some girls even use a small curved metal horn to rudely blow into the young man’s ear so aggravating him enough to encourage further beatings. Alcohol and the sniffing of strong tobacco helps the girls endure the pain. Later ash will be rubbed into the deep wounds.
It’s all part of a three day Hamer tribe initiation ceremony that culminates with a naked young man having to leap up and ‘streak’ along the backs of a number of bulls and then repeat the performance several times so as to prove his manhood. If he succeeds he can take a wife, if he fails he will have to wait a year until the build up to the big rains and the next bull jumping event. We leave the ceremony with mixed feelings and that night Adi gets hopelessly lost trying to lead us down to the Omo River – will keep you posted.
It’s a relief, nobody hurt or killed, no Land Rover breakdowns – just too many AK’s and cattle wars and the sad situation where a group of adventurers like ourselves had been killed and others kidnapped up in Ethiopia’s Danakil on the Horn of Africa where we had recently been – now closed to all travellers. Adventure it seems is all about windows of opportunity.
Behind us now is Djibouti, the Red Sea’s Gulf of Tadjora, the blinding salt flats of Lake Assal, lowest land point in Africa, ‘Deset’, the lowest island on earth, the lava spewing active volcano of Erta Ale, the Danakil Desert, and Dallol in the Danakil Depression, considered the hottest place on earth. Also behind us is the ancient walled city of Harar and the beautiful Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes that brought us South, like jewels in a necklace, to Lakes Chew Bahir, the Ocean of Salt, and Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake. To add to the symbolic Rift Valley calabash we are carrying from the Horn of Africa to Gorongosa in Mozambique, we have now added sipfills of water from the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes of Baringa, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elmentata and Naivasha – and with your support we’ve continued to use this great adventure to improve lives.
Our much abused Landies are now South of the equator, in Nairobi where they are being serviced and where we will re-supply and plan for Chapter 3 of the Land Rover supported Rift Valley humanitarian and geographic journey – We’ll keep you posted.
Sometimes the planning and research is as exciting as being on expedition itself. The next Land Rover supported Rift Valley leg will take us from the volcanic rim of Longonot, then through Hells Gate to follow the shorelines of Lakes Mgadi and Natron, then a climb up the active volcano of Ol Doinya Lengai, the Masaai ‘Mountain of God’ that towers above the East African Rift Valley in Northern Tanzania. Following the Rift it’s on to the elephants and tree climbing lions of Lake Manyara, down into the World Heritage Site of Ngorongoro, a Garden of Eden of wildlife within the largest intact caldera in the world. This Chapter will end at Lake Eyasi, home to the Wahadzabe tribe of hunter-gatherers.
On this leg we are joined by big Eric Vorster from Land Rover Menlyn. Eric has travelled with us before and understands the challenges of expedition life. Sergio Fernandes from Sabco is assisting with the Kenyan leg and Seven Summiter Mike Nixon is mountain biking this fascinating chapter. Lumbaye Lenguru is the Masaai interpreter and Brad Hanson will be assisting us in Tanzania. Throughout, the team will be continuing with the humanitarian work attached to the expedition. We’ve had great support from Land Rover in Nairobi and the expedition Landies are serviced and ready to go. Lots to look forward to – Will keep you posted.
The little fellow is up for it again. Ross’s son, 11 year old Tristan Holgate has been chosen to join up for Chapter 3 of the expedition. It is important that we keep it in the family, says granddad Kingsley, the ‘Greybeard of Adventure’ known to Tristan as Pops.
The young adventurer has already sailed Africa’s East Coast in a traditional Swahili dhow and regularly served as ‘expedition mascot’ on the recent Holgate odyssey to track the outline of Africa.
Tristan’s first Rift Valley challenge will be to climb to the crater rim of Longonot – we’ll get him to scribble a ‘blog’.
Loaded up with more life saving mosquito nets and LifeStraws from Vestergaard-Frandsen we bid kwaheri to the Fernandes family, our delightful hosts in Nairobi. Everywhere in Africa the support form our fellow countrymen is heart warming. It makes us proud to be South African. One Landy behind the other we drop down over the Ngong Hills back into the Great African Rift. The track takes us through choking red dust and Masaai manyattas. Our challenge is to climb to the crater rim on Mount Longonot. Will keep you posted.
"Baby steps will get you to the lim of the clater" says Gabriel our cheerful guide who transposes his 'l's and 'r's.
The slog of climbing to the crater rim of Mount Longonot is well worth it. Stretching between the walls of the east and west escarpments is an endless view over this part of Kenya's Great Rift Valley. Below us giraffe and zebra make their way across the plains that run down to Lake Naivasha. We gaze south towards Lakes Magadi, Natron and Manyara. The Rift Valley seems endless, so many challenges ahead.
It’s tough going but to be true to the journey, some of the team now led by local Masaai age, set warriors, must scramble down the two thousand meter high rugged Nguruman escarpment that forms the Western wall of the Rift, leaving the Landy crew to boulder hop down a cattle-smuggling route to the flamingo-lined edge of Lake Natron. We all meet at a remote village for more Right to Site, LifeStraws and Mozzie net distribution. Rich in wildlife and traditional Masaai culture, this part of the Rift is Kenya's most challenging. Will keep u posted.
It’s very dry. Through the stifling heat haze we make out the shapes of Maasai giraffe, wildebeest, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, kicking up dust as they slowly make their way across the Rift Valley floor to drink from the brown waters of the Ewaso Ngiro.
Using the point of a Maasai spear, Ross draws a map in the sand. We’ll take a dirt track out of the Rift, stamp into Tanzania at Namanga, then West across Maasailand to set up a base camp to prepare for the challenging accent of Ol Doinya L’engai, Maasai ‘Mountain of God’, the only active carbonate volcano in the world – Life’s a great adventure isn’t it? We’ll keep you posted.
Great news! Climbing through the night and the wind and the cold, expedition team members Ross Holgate, Mike Nixon, William Gwebu, Eric Vorster and guide Burra Ammy all made it to the crater rim of Ol Doinya L’engai. All agreed it was bloody tough going but the sunrise views over the Great African Rift and Kilimanjaro to the east made the accent worthwhile. On various expeditions, United Against Malaria team members have succeeded in reaching the summits of Mt Mulanje, highest point in Central Africa, the Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon, Kilimanjaro, tallest freestanding mountain in the world and on this expedition the active volcanoes of Erta Ale, Mt Longonot in the Kenyan Rift and now Ol Doinya L’engai.
As always it was great to have the experience of expedition member Mike Nixon who has climbed the highest peak in every one of the world’s seven continents. His comment was ‘tough going and potentially dangerous at times, especially as the Maasai have nicked the old mountain club steel pegs and ropes, obviously their need for cattle ropes and spear heads were greater than those crazy enough to tackle their ‘Mountain of God.’ ‘Toughest thing I’ve ever done,’ said Eric Vorster, the dealer principle from Land Rover Menlyn. Next we follow the Western Rift Valley escarpment to Lake Manyara where joined by the &Beyond Foundation we will continue with our United Against Malaria, LifeStraws and Rite to Sight humanitarian work. Will keep you posted.
The Land Rover supported expedition reaches the Rift Valley village of Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito Creek). The Mgubwe, Iraqw, Gorowa, Irangi, Tatoga, Chagga and Maasai have used Mto wa Mbu as a trading post for centuries and it’s probably the only place in the Rift where you can hear the four major African language groups of Bantu, Khoisan, Cushitic and Nilotic spoken in the same area. Here we say cheers to Mike Nixon and Eric Vorster. Mike who has mountain biked the Rift Valley with us is off to race in the Cape Epic. Eric from Land Rover Menlyn has sponsored the big Land Rover 130 Defender, known as the United Against Malaria mother ship. We’ll miss their good humour around the campfire at night, sharing the stories of the day with a ‘Captain’ or two, but they’ll be back to support more Rift Valley chapters.
Taking their place are United Against Malaria warriors Lumbaye Lenguru and Brad Hansen, both are experienced adventurers who as always bring added energy and excitement to this world first geographic and humanitarian journey to complete Africa’s Great Rift from the Red Sea to Mozambique – we’ll keep you posted.
This National Park situated in a shallow depression at the base of the Western wall of the East African Rift Valley, is an example of what more of the Rift would look like without the interference of man and their livestock. It’s a game-filled forested ‘Garden of Eden’ that runs down to a lake shore filled with birdlife. Elephant are plentiful and it’s a great place to view Manyara’s tree climbing lions. ‘More baboons here than any other park,’ explains Brad who runs his own safari company out of Arusha and knows this part of the Rift like the back of his hand. With a big ‘dagga boy’ buffalo giving him the evil eye, Lumbaye Lenguru adds a ‘sipfull’ of water to the Rift Valley calabash, this time taken from the lake’s hot springs at Maji Moto. &Beyond, our United Against Malaria partners host us to a night of luxury at ‘Tree Lodge’ – crisp clean sheets, hot showers, ice in the drinks, fluffy towels and the bark of leopard at light. I toss and turn, must be missing the bed roll! Will keep you posted.
‘Nogorongoro’ is an attractive Maasai word said to have come from the sounds made by traditional wooden cow bells. One dusty expedition Landy behind the other, we’ve once again climbed out from the heat of the Rift Valley floor, this time to stand on the 200 metre high rim of the largest and most perfect volcanic caldera in the world, formed during the fracturing process that created the Great African Rift Valley 15 to 20 million years ago, the Ngorongoro crater is now world famous as a wildlife sanctuary and is often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World.
It’s close to the start of the rainy season and we have the floor of the crater virtually to ourselves. Our Nikon expedition cameras capture it all. Lion, elephant, black rhino, spotted hyena, bushbuck, eland, wildebeest, zebra, cheetah, gazelle and buffalo, not to mention the vultures, tawny eagles, secretary birds and the world’s heaviest flying bird, the kori bustard.
It’s a veritable Garden of Eden made even more special by being hosted that night by the delightful managers Innes and Danel Pruissen at &Beyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, surely one of the most unique safari lodges in Africa (www.andbeyond.com). For us it’s a welcome break from our normal smelly bed rolls, small tents and Rift Valley expedition stew. The &Beyond Foundation partners our expedition’s humanitarian work and with them we visit the local hospital where every mum in the maternity ward receives a life saving mosquito net. Through the Foundation we also distribute malaria prevention educational material, LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles for the poor sighted – doing what we came to do, it makes our expedition all the more worthwhile. Will keep you posted.
‘Count the legs and divide by four. This is the birthplace of the great wildebeest migration’, says expedition member Brad Hansen (nicknamed Bula Matari) over the radio of the lead Land Rover, as surrounded by tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra, we cross the short grass plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. A cheetah kill and a lion pride add to the excitement of our journey. But our next objective lies South of here. To remain true to the expedition we must reach Lake Eyasi before nightfall, and then wake before sunrise to meet with the Hadzabe, Tanzania’s only remaining tribe of true hunter-gatherers who still hunt in the Rift Valley with bows and poisoned arrows and speak a Khoisan-type click language.
We found a guide during the night and reached a small Hadzabe encampment at sunrise. Just a few make-shift huts of bent sticks and leaves next to a big baobab below a rocky outcrop in which they also used small caves as dwelling places. Just like the San people, the Hadzabe are friendly and full of fun, clicking away in their strange language (Hadzame, along with Africa’s other dying Khoisan languages, might represent one last fading echo of the first human voices to have carried across the African savannah). 11-Year old Tristan Holgate (the expedition mascot on this leg) is in his element as they teach him how to use the fire sticks. A wrinkled old man mumbles from beside the fire. Our guide tells us that when the old man dies they will shoot a Dik-Dik and place it next to his body, so attracting the hyena to come at night and eat the corpse. Arrows and bows are prepared and the dogs run ahead as we leave on foot to go on a typical Hadzabe hunter-gathering mission. I ask what their favourite food is. ‘Baboon’, comes the answer, ‘the meat has magical powers, and when we get married we kill two baboon and have a feast.’ Will keep you posted.
The heat beats down, the bush is dry. The Hadzabe women dig into the ground with sharpened sticks. There’s excited barking from the dogs. In a second one of the hunters shoots an arrow through a ground squirrel which, using a piece of bark, is tied like a trophy onto a young boy’s waist. A bird is added and then several rats. The women dig for roots and a man climbs into a tree for honey. The hunter-gathering is done with quick, purposeful movements – every person in the team knows just what to do. Old, dry roots are gathered for firewood, tubers are sucked for moisture. Back at their camp we are invited to join the feast – it’s my first taste of roasted rat. I send Tristan off to the Landy to bring a knife and our last piece of wet and fatty biltong. I cut a piece for each of the Hadzabe. The fat will make us vomit, says one, we’re not used to beef. The others laugh and put their biltong pieces on the fire to roast. The Hadzabe endorse the Rift Valley expedition scroll with drawings of trees, rocks and animals which depict their personal names. For us it’s a rare privilege. Life’s a great adventure, isn’t it?
Chapter 3 of our Great African Rift Valley Expedition comes to an end with the adding of a sipfull of Lake Eyasi water to the traditional calabash that now contains water from every iconic Rift Valley lake stretching from the Red Sea on the Horn of Africa all the way to Eyasi on the Southern end of the East African section of the Great Rift Valley. Behind us now is Djibouti, Ethiopia’s dangerous Afar Triangle, the Rift Valley lakes of Southern Ethiopia, Turkana – the world’s largest desert lake in Northern Kenya, and all the other East African Rift Valley lakes, to now include Eyasi and its small, fragile population of hunter-gathering Hadzabe. It’s proving a magnificent geographic and humanitarian adventure. The next Rift Valley challenge is the Western or Albertine Rift which starts in Northwestern Uganda. And so, as the rain clouds gather over the Eastern Rift, we celebrate our last sunset of this chapter with Nicolas and Fabia, the delightful owners of Chem Chem safari lodge on the Eastern shore of Lake Manyara, who are also assisting with the humanitarian work attached to the expedition.
We race the expedition Landies back to Nairobi, truckers have blocked the border on the Kenyan side so we walk through, stamp our papers and get a guy on a piki-piki (motorbike) to detour us through the backstreets of the Namanga border post back onto the Nairobi road. In Nairobi Thomas Hansen and the Vestergaard team who supply us with top quality PermaNet mosquito nets and LifeStraws, put on a celebratory curry. We park the expedition Landies with Sergio Fernandes. Once again it’s South African to the rescue as Sergio puts us onto the flight home and a break for the East African rainy season. Ahead of World Malaria Day, 25th April 2012, we also need to use this as an opportunity to build up the support for the United Against Malaria campaign. You can join the winning team to fight malaria by buying a United Against Malaria bracelet from your nearest Cape Union Mart store. Please make a difference. Will keep you posted.
We are still following this massive sear on the earth’s face, visible from over 10,000kms out in space and first explored by the Scottish geologist John Walter Gregory who in 1893 named it the Great Rift Valley. For us it remains a fascinating yearlong chapter by chapter geographic and humanitarian journey – linked to the fight against the killer disease of malaria. So that’s why we’re back in South Africa for a while to support World Malaria Day on April 25, 2012. Please show your support by purchasing a United Against Malaria bracelet from your nearest Cape Union Mart store.
The expedition break South to commemorate World Malaria Day was a great success – Now it’s back to East Africa and as always there’s that familiar feeling of nervous anticipation in the pit of one’s stomach as once again we take up the world-first geographic and humanitarian challenge to complete the Land Rover supported Great African Rift Valley from the dangerous Horn of Africa to Mozambique, once again using adventure to improve lives through the Rite to Sight campaign, United Against Malaria and LifeStraws – Will keep you posted.
It’s exciting when a plan comes together, the team have all arrived safely at expedition base camp. New expedition volunteers are Barry and Cedric Leitch, colourful characters who will assist with humanitarian work. Our Swahili interpreter and United Against Malaria educator is Lumbaye Lenguru, a veteran of many Holgate adventures. As they say in East Africa "Safari Ndefu", meaning – it's a great journey.
The big rains have arrived late and we are in the thick of it - 15 people drowned in the Rift Valley whilst others made homeless by mud slides. Rained out last night but the sunrise views over the Rift with Mount Kenya in the distance made it worthwhile. We have commenced humanitarian work – doing what we came to do... Will keep you posted.
We reach the Lake Victoria source of the Nile, where Jon and Trish Dahl from Nile River Explorers continue to support the expeditions humanitarian work. That night the rain drums down on the fly sheets of our tents. Tomorrow we must push to reach the Murchison Falls for the start of our journey down the Western Rift.
Chief game warden of Bogoria , William Kimosop leads us in the foot steps of Gregory the Scottish geologist who in 1893 named this jagged rupture the Great African Rift Valley. We make it to the top of the Cherangani Hills to Iten where athletes and counselors endorse the expedition scroll - this high altitude village of champions has churned out a number of Olympic gold medalists. And they thank us for the humanitarian work we have done in the valley below. Uganda and the Western Rift - here we come
Leon Steyn from Wild Frontiers leads us by boat into the turbulent waters below the Murchison Falls - where the wide languid Nile is transformed into an explosive froth of thunderous white water as it funnels through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley Escarpment - is easily the most impressive sight of its type in east Africa. And we add more water to the expedition calabash...
The ticks in the note book total 257 - our hippo count between Murchison Falls and our base camp. A massive croc, the biggest we have ever seen on any expedition, slides off the bank close enough to splash us. Elephant and buffalo abound. Later in the village of Mubako every mum receives a life saving mosquito net and those that need, Rite to Sight spectacles. South down Albert, formerly Lake Mabutu Sekoseko and on the other side the blue mountains of the DRC - small bites sizes, one day at a time, we inch our way down Uganda's Western Rift..
We reach the Semliki River. It's wild and beautiful but malaria is rife. We have sent word ahead and each mother and child at the Rwebisengo Clinic receives malaria prevention education and a PermaNet. Malaria kills more people here then anything else. A small ferry boat pulled on a rope takes us across to the Democratic Republic of Congo as armed soldiers look on with amazement as we add a sip full of Semliki water to the expedition calabash.
This close to the DRC border there are security concerns so we camp amongst some thatched huts that serve as military barracks. The friendly Ugandan soldiers tell us that over there across the river there is no government and that rebels can make it difficult. The next morning the mythical Rwenzoris throw off their blanket of clouds to reveal the famed ‘Mountains of the Moon’ - snowy sources of the Nile. What an adventure...
Just south of the equator near the foot hills of the Ruwenzori's a Cessna caravan bounces down the dangerously wet grass air strip. Out steps Lesley Sutton who is the media and PR person for Land Rover, she is a veteran of many expeditions and with her are a team of colourful journalists will leave with stories of our Great Rift adventure. That night to the grunting of hippo, the heavens open and the equatorial rain drums down on the fly sheets of our small expedition tents, pitched above the Kazinga Channel that links the Rift Valley Lakes George and Edward in Uganda's game-rich Queen Elizabeth Park. Drenched to the bone we keep our spirits up with raised enamel mugs of renoster koffie - cheers.
Flooding plays havoc, roads washed away and bridges gone but the ability of the expedition Landies allows us to zigzag along the Rift Valley escarpment to the world heritage site of the impenetrable forest of Bwindi. The Zen of Travel is with us and the team has incredible mountain gorilla sightings. It's a unique privilege to gaze into the soft brown eyes of a silver back. Then it's back down into the Rift where a team of volunteers are coming in for more humanitarian work - will keep you posted.
It’s all about working together and uniting against malaria and with us on the floor of the Albertine Rift are malaria warriors Hervé Verhoosel from Roll Back Malaria in New York, David Kyne, also from New York who heads up United Against Malaria, Claudia Vondresak from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (the organization that assisted with the production of the malaria prevention educational booklets), Hannah Bowen from Malaria No More, Aggrey Kagonyera from MTN in Kampala and Sherwin Charles who coordinated the volunteer visit. It was real expedition stuff – camping in the rain, the sounds of lion and hyena at night, equatorial rain beating down on their small tents and then slip-sliding the expedition Landies through the mud to assist with the distribution of mosquito nets in the high-risk malaria areas of Hamukungu, Kasenyi and Katunguru.
David Kyne even got to referee a UAM football game for kids. Their little homemade football of compressed banana leaves tied with string was replaced with a proper soccer ball – there were red and blue soccer bibs for the players, a proper whistle, a UAM trophy for the winning team and a prize for the little man-of-the-match. The colourful group of volunteers certainly made a difference and took home the story of a world-first Rift Valley Expedition using adventure to improve and save lives – They loved the Landies and couldn’t believe the comfort and ability of the Disco’s – Thanks for the support.
It is with a certain amount of sadness that we crossed the Kazinga Channel on the old iron Bailey bridge and headed down the road that would take us to Rwanda and the end of this chapter. Behind us now is one of the most beautiful wildlife areas of our Land Rover supported Rift Valley journey.
More than fifty years ago, Douglas Willocks described in' The Enormous Zoo’, the diverse features that led to the park's creation in 1952. There still exists no better introduction or a more enticing invitation to visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
'Scenically the area had everything. Thirty miles to the north, the blue Rwenzori exploded from the plain, a composite, jagged mass of mountains, sixty miles long and forty wide and looking in certain lights as if you could reach out and touch them. Across Lake Edward to the west, the Mitumbe hills stood sentinel on the Congo, blue too in the long sight but in the closer green, wooded, precipitous, unfriendly and epitomising darkest Africa. The eastern boundary of this possible park was marked by the calm green escarpment of the western Rift Valley. And between all the hills, mountains and lakes was endless savanna, its constantly repeated motif the branched cactus arms of the candelabra euphorbia tree. The country threw in for good measure a great forest, the musically named Maramagambo in which chimpanzees shrieked, and black and white colobus sat like dandies in white tie and tails among the branches. If the area did not possess an active volcano it had the next best thing, a pattern of intense and recent volcanic activity in which 72 explosion craters, some quite tiny, others a mile or more across, interlocked and overlapped like rings in a pond...
'Of animals there was plainly no shortage. Hippos in huge numbers wheezed and wallowed...buffalo included many ochre animals, a product of interbreeding with the forest buffalo of the Congo...lions that climbed fig trees and lay in them all day keeping a sleepy eye on the antelope herds... elephants (although) not so big or heavily armed with ivory as the Murchison variety... topi grazed in large herds under the eyes of the treed lions. The aquatic birds rivalled those of the Nile.'
The Land Rover supported Rift Valley expedition team have all arrived safely in Kigali where they have been joined by a group of United Against Malaria volunteers. Headed up by Robbie Brozin, founder of Nando’s. The clean, safe, bustling capital city is a tribute to the post genocide efforts of Paul Kigama’s government and the people of Rwanda.
Rwandan school children are encouraged to visit the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Kigali. ‘We must make sure that we never forget what terrible things happened – this way we can ensure that they will never happen again,’ says young Rwandan school boy Fabrice Ngabonziza.
We all find the visit to Gosozi to be a deeply emotional experience brought alive by genocide video clips showing the killings. The stories from the survivors are heartbreaking and I scribble these words from the memorial into my notebook:
‘Many families were totally wiped out, with no one to remember or document their deaths. The streets were littered with corpses. Dogs were eating the rotten flesh of their owners. The country smelt of the stench of death. The génocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than anyone would have dared to believe. Rwanda was Dead!
It was no wonder that General Romeo Dallaire who led the UN observer mission in the infamously failed bid to stop genocide in 1994, later wept in rage, unable to forget that his repeated pleas to the Security Council in New York for more troops to stop the massacres were ignored. Will keep you posted.
The skulls of the dead are displayed and bunches of blood-stained clothes still hang from the rafters of the small church at Ntarama, where Tutsis hiding in the church had been brutally massacred in the genocide, and in the Sunday school building next door, one can still see the blood stains where the children’s heads had been beaten against the wall.
But our Land Rover supported Rift Valley expedition is not just here to observe the past and soon we’re having a frenetic United Against Malaria soccer challenge between the little Ntarama and Nelson Mandela soccer clubs. With us we’ve brought soccer balls, whistles and trophies and today there’s a man-of-the-match prize. A bit of joy after so much sadness. Tomorrow we make our way down to Kivu, an iconic Lake in the Great Rift Valley. Will keep you posted.
As our Land Rover supported geographic and humanitarian expedition travels along the Rwandan shoreline of the beautiful Lake of Kivu, we are constantly reminded of the horrors of the genocide. At Bisesero in the hill above the lake, a mass grave honours a unique group of Tutsis who successfully resisted their killers for almost 100 days. With bows and arrows stones, hiding under the rotten bodies of those who had already fallen, in order to surprise and ambush the militiamen, eating leaves and grass and drinking the morning dew to survive, they thought of wave after wave of Interahamwe and RGF troops until the French soldiers finally arrived. Nearly twelve thousand were still alive when they were persuaded by a French patrol that the genocide was over and they could safely come out of hiding. The French soldiers subsequently withdrew to get more personnel and vehicles to evacuate them as well as bring humanitarian relief supplies, without leaving any security behind. The Interahamwe killers monitoring all this, then moves in for the coup de grâce, slaughtering these survivor heroes on their thousands. Only a few scrambled back up the hills and survived to tell this tale of mass slaughter. Heavy thoughts for our small group of expeditioners attempting to complete the Great African Rift valley from Djibouti to Mozambique – will keep you posted.
Great energy as Robbie Brozin’s team of Rift Valley volunteers fully embrace the humanitarian spirit of adventure. We have a United Against Malaria soccer challenge where ex-springbok Morné du Plessis presents the man of the match with a bicycle. There’s a trophy for the winning team and every child receives malaria prevention education. The energy continues at a maternity clinic in the hills above Lake Kivu every mum receives a life saving mosquito net.
The Rift Valley Lake of Kivu is beautiful but the wind swells come up. The lightning flashes over the DRC and in a small boat we rock and roll as water leaks from between the planks. A bottle of Captain Morgan eases the passage but it’s dark by the time we reach the Northern tip of the lake.
Part of the Albertine section of Africa’s Great African Rift Valley are the forested volcanoes that are home to Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. The expedition had been successful in the impenetrable forests of Bwindi in Uganda. Now the challenge is to have gorilla sightings here in Rwanda. In the words of the great naturalist Sir David Attenborogh “There is more meaning and understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know.’
It’s wonderful when a plan comes together – all the humanitarian work, the beauty of Rwanda and then the team members get to gaze into the soft brown eyes of a family of mountain gorillas in the same area where Dian Fossey was murdered by poachers. But her legacy lives on and now with peace in Rwanda, gorilla protection is tops.
Mark Turner, director of Game Stores Africa and partner of the Great African Rift Valley Expedition had this to say about his gorilla experience… ‘One of my most majestic and powerful encounters with nature…’.
Imagine the scene, a postage stamp of a football field outside Cyangugu in the Rusizi province near the Rift Valley Lake of Kivu in Rwanda. Crooked poles for goal posts. Each little player gets a United Against Malaria football shirt, the one team blue, the other bright red.
Their homemade ball of banana leaves and twine is replaced with a ‘real’ football. Expedition volunteer Mitchell Nixon is the ref. The little teams give themselves grand names: Real Madrid against Barcelona. There’s even a United Against Malaria ‘man of the match’ who at the end of the game shouts a few words over the expedition Land Rover sound system. It’s a day that the community will remember. Mothers use brightly coloured shade umbrellas to shield their babies from the equatorial sun as they line up for their long-lasting insecticide treated PermaNets. There’s also the distribution of Rite to Sight spectacles with an extra supply having been sent into Rwanda by Louis Louw from Specs4U. There’s also LifeStraws for safe drinking water. We are doing what we came to do, Using this Great African Rift Valley Adventure to Improve Lives – thanks for the support – Will keep you posted.
Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda and his team have done a wonderful job of pulling this little 26,798 km2 country together after the genocide.
In Kigali, the capital, you won’t even find a ‘stompie’ on the pavement. It’s spotlessly clean – no litter, and virtually on every corner you’ll find sweepers and cleaners and women with tins of paint and brushes painting the curb stones black and white. You can walk without fear at night. Motorbike taxi drivers all wear helmets; drivers buckle up and nobody jumps a red light. Corruption is almost unheard of, pot-holes get fixed, and, once a month, everybody joins the national clean-up day to remove rubbish, cut grass and fix fences.
This is a country that is easily the best-run, least-corrupt and most progressive on the African continent and in the words of a Rwandan friend, it’s all about leadership, peace and prosperity. We know that this country needs discipline and a good work ethic and Paul Kagame has been the right man for the job. Our Rift Valley journey continues South – Burundi here we come, will keep you posted.
Burundi at 27,830 km2 is after Rwanda the second to smallest country of our Rift Valley journey. Travelling out of Rwanda we follow the Rusizi River which runs down the floor of the Rift Valley from Lake Kivu to Lake Tanganyika. Across the river to the West is the DRC, a bit unsafe at the moment because of increased rebel activity resulting in thousands of refugees crossing into Uganda and Rwanda.
The Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu peoples have occupied Burundi since the country's formation five centuries ago. Burundi was ruled as a kingdom by the Tutsi for over two hundred years. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany and Belgium occupied the region, and Burundi and Rwanda became a European colony known as Ruanda-Urundi. Burundi like Rwanda suffered from political unrest and genocide killings between the Tutsi and Hutu. The country is still very French and still has an on-the-edge close to Congo feel. Nowhere in Africa have we seen so many bicycles piled so high with trade goods and produce – one Landy behind the other, our expedition makes it to the Delta where the brown waters of the Rusizi merge with the clear blue of Tanganyika, Mama Afrika’s largest fresh water lake where there’s rumoured to be a killer crocodile called Gustav who’s said to have killed more than 200 people. We hire a boat and rangers, but no Gustav. Will keep you posted.
It’s a yardstick for the expedition to reach Bujumbura in Burundi at the top-end of Lake Tanganyika. The Great African Rift Valley is wonderfully challenging with all its volcanoes (some still active), lakes and rivers, sip fulls of which get added to the expedition calabash, abundant wildlife, ancient tribes, snowcapped mountain ranges, equatorial downpours, mind-numbing heat, deserts, forests, the hyenas of Harar, village markets, rebels, cattle wars and the genocide of the Tutsi, roads that turn to goat tracks, the hottest and lowest places on the African continent and now, the challenge of Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s longest and deepest lake, all linked to the ongoing theme of using this world first expedition to improve and save lives. The expedition is 277 days old and there are still an estimated 88 days in which to bring the yearlong expedition home – we couldn’t do it without your support.
Today we get the good news that Seven Summiters (that means they’ve climbed the seven highest points on each of the continents of the world) Mike Nixon and André Bredenkamp, will be volunteering for the next leg of the Great African Rift Valley Expedition. Mike’s challenge will be to mountain bike the length of Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s longest and deepest lake, from Bujumbura in the North to Mpulungu in the South. André will be supporting him in one of the Land Rover Disco 4’s. The plan is that certain stages will be turned into United Against Malaria bicycle races, with local cyclists on their ‘made in India’, single gear, big wheelers competing for prizes with mosquito nets for the mums, Rite to Sight spectacles for the poor sighted, mostly elderly and LifeStraws for clean drinking water. Seems like the expedition will be hosting its own Great Rift Valley Olympics – will keep you posted.
‘It’s been a dream of mine for many years,’ says Kingsley, ‘but we’ve never got in right and now there’s a chance for some of us to board the MV Liemba, formerly the Graf von Götzen, a passenger cargo ferry that can you believe it, still operates along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika between the port of Kigoma and Mpulungu. The 1575 ton steamer is nearly 100 years old, built in 1913 in Germany, she was sent in pieces to Kigoma, then bolted together and used by the German Empire to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the First World War. She was scuttled on 26 July 1916 off the mouth of the Malagarasi River during the German retreat from Kigoma. But in 1924 a British Royal Navy salvage team raised her and she was recommissioned as the Liembe.
Now we get the good news that the old girl is sailing tomorrow, so in one of the battle-worn Discoveries it’s a race against time to get to Kigoma. Mike Nixon will mountain bike the length of the lake and Ross Holgate, the expedition leader, will bring the rest of the Land Rover party South. Don’t know what to expect – will keep you posted.
In 2010 the United Against Malaria expedition members were unlucky, the ‘African Queen’, the almost a century old MV Liembe, was transporting refugees from the DRC – hold thumbs that the team makes it this time!
Kingsley made it and is on the MV Liemba heading South down Africa’s longest and deepest lake. Mike has mountain biked the Burundi shoreline and the next challenge is for the Land Rover and mountain bike team to all meet up at the memorial where on 10 November 1871, the explorer was ‘found’ at Ujiji by Henry Morton Stanley, who greeted him with the most famous line in the annals of exploration: ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’
Good news! Mike’s made it by mountain bike from Bujumburu to Ujiji outside Kigoma to the place where H.M Stanley found Dr Livingstone. It’s a celebration and an opportunity to do more expedition humanitarian work in this historic area. No news from Kingsley, I presume.
Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100 kms south of Ujiji, white coves overshadowed by a chain of jungle-draped peaks, tower 2km above the shore of Lake Tanganyika – it’s the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains and the expedition team’s next goal – still no news from Kingsley – Will keep you posted.
'Absolute impossible by vehicle', and then we found Tori, the missionary, who scribbles on our map and with Mike leading along a goat track on his mountain bike, we boulder-hopped and rock-crawled the Landies from village to village. Countless river crossings, a pontoon over the Malagarasi River – all in an effort to follow the Eastern shoreline of Lake Tanganyika, destination Mahale Mountains. So remote and seldom visited, that sometimes the villagers would run for their lives at the site of us. But then curiosity got the better of them and soon UAM and Rite to Sight work got into gear. No news from Kingsley who is still on the Liemba Ferry bound for Mpulungu at the very South of the lake. Will keep you posted.
The geographic challenges of following the Great Rift Valley are endless. We leave Landies at a fishing village on the eastern shoreline of Lake Tanganyika. We are on a mission to photograph some of the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa. In the distance is the 2462m high Nkungwe Mountain. Ross and Congolese expedition member "Hope Rhomulus" negotiate with the chief for a boat. We throw bedrolls tents and supplies into the wooden craft, handmade from forest planks with lots of holes but too late to turn back! The waves pick up and water from Africa's deepest and longest Lake gushes in, then the motor conks out. It's getting dark and it’s a bloody nightmare! We drift onto a deserted beach. The tough-as-nails skipper lifts the broken motor onto his shoulders and bounds down the beach into the darkness – Will keep you posted!
A sweaty smile appears and the new motor glints in the moonlight. We're on our way! The wind has died and we ply the shoreline looking up for the silhouette of the Mahale Mountains Park. We arrive at the park office to be informed by the warden that if we want to have any chance of seeing the chimps, we must take another boat further down the shoreline. Negotiations are concluded and we set off again into the night. At a deserted beach we land the boat and start the campfire. A park ranger appears at first light to lead our group through the pristine Mahale forest. After a few hours we hear the tell-tale crashing and chatter of the Pan troglodytes (chimps). A group of more than 50 males, mothers and babies entertain us for over an hour at touching distance. They get restless and it's time to leave. A boat with a working engine awaits! Still no news from Kingsley on the MV Liemba. To remain true to the Rift Valley Expedition he must reach the Zambian port of Mpulungu at the southernmost point of Lake Tanganyika – Will keep you posted.
Back to the Landies and the even better news is the Mountain Bike is safe! The guidebook said it was impossible to get to the isolated rainforest Mahale National Park by road – the park is remote and thrives on its inaccessibility. If we thought getting in was tough, climbing out of the escarpment through the remote Bamboo forests was to be mind boggling! With the Land Rover Discos in first gear, low range, rock crawl mode, they inched their way up the escarpment. The Defender was on 2 wheels, but managed to recover her dignity. Anyone who considers the Disco to be a Mums taxi, must put it through the mill in such terrain. On top the escapement a smidgen of reception and a cryptic message from Kingsley. "Liemba Ferry holed up in Kasanga, built in Germany nearly 100 years ago but it seems she runs on Africa time". What now??
We reach the rendezvous point - South African's Chris and Louise the colorful owners of the remote Lakeshore lodge at Kapili welcome the expedition to their special piece of Rift Valley paradise on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. They are a delightfully adventurous couple, ‘Yes,’ they say, ‘the old Liemba Ferry did stop out in the bay this afternoon on its way back to Kigoma from Mpulungu in the South." But still no sign of Kingsley.
This is not good, we'd seen him off, on board the ancient Liemba five days ago and the arrangement was that even if there was a breakdown in comms, we would all meet here at Chris and Louise's place. What now!!! Chris suggests contacting the port authority in Mpulungu or taking one of the Landies back down the road to ask the villagers if they have seen him come ashore from the Liemba in a local rowing boat. And then with a roar of laughter the Greybeard appeared from where he had been hiding behind a mango tree. No doubt he's got a story to tell, will keep you posted!
Comms have been difficult but with the expedition now reunited we now get the following dispatches describing Kingsley's Rift Valley voyage on the ancient Liemba following the shoreline of Lake Tanganyika from Kigoma to Mpulungu the Zambian port at the South-end of the lake then back to Kipili in Tanzania. It is a story best told in the Greybeard’s words......
The wind picks up, there has been some bad African ferry accidents – a terrible one off Zanzibar just recently. I look at all the moms, tiny babies on their backs, the fish traders knocking back the beers in the pub the grannies curled up asleep with their parcels of trade goods around them. I shudder to think if the old Liemba, built nearly 100 years ago, went down. Here the 32900 sq km lake is more then a km deep. That night a rain squall hits us and the deck class passengers race to cover their goods with bits of plastic and old tarpaulins. Despite the conditions, wooden plank boats sails out from the villages each time the Liemba blows her horn. It is wonderfully chaotic, small babies handed down to desperate mothers in the boats, bales of dried fish been loaded, small boats rocking and rolling in the swell knocking together against the hull of the Liemba - ropes thrown in the dark, a load falls on a women but fortunately one of the back-packers on board is a doctor. Every beat of the Liemba's old engines brings me closer to Mpulungu. Will keep you posted.
The ship is 100 years old next year and I think back to what she has been through. In the old days of the Imperial German Empire, the canteen probably served schnapps and Eisbein and then once the British had refloated her after the first World War, she would have ferried district commissioners up and down Lake Tanganyika with pink gins being the order of the day. But now the canteen is probably the happiest she has ever been – loud Congolese music and gyrating hips blare from a small TV set with cracked speakers – it’s delightfully chaotic. The bar runs out of cold beers and the galley serves up mountains of fish, goat and chicken, plantains, maize meal and rice. Later I meet Captain Titus up on the bridge. He tells me that the Liemba is their "proud" and is the heart of this Rift Valley lake. He then gives me the unwelcome news that we won't make Mpulungu today, we will tie up for the night below the old German fort at Kasungu. Rumour has that the captain has a girlfriend in the village. I explain politely that whilst the Germans might have built the Liemba in 1913 and that whilst the Swiss might have developed the clock, it is, on Lake Tanganyika, Captain Titus that owns the time! It is a great adventure.
At sunrise we cross into Zambia where the Kalambo Falls drops in an un-interrupted flow twice the height of the Victoria Falls. It is said that a mother with her children threw themselves off the top of the falls rather then being taken by slavers. Captain Titus allows me to distribute malaria prevention pamphlets on board. At the port of Mpulungu on the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika, the African Rift valley's longest and deepest lake, 100's of dry fish buyers come running down to meet the Liemba. For the expedition it is mission accomplished. Now my challenge is to sail back up the lake where we will all meet at Chris and Louise Wild's Lakeshore lodge at Kipili. This voyage on the ancient Liemba has allowed us to complete the world’s longest fresh water lake.
Those are the words written at the entrance to Chris and Louise's piece of paradise on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika. They are a wonderfully adventurous couple and buy in totally to our Land Rover supported humanitarian and geographic challenge. We all take off to Mahenga village for a UAM football challenge. Every pregnant mum and child under 5 receives a net and educational material the kids love the soccer Barcelona vs Chelsea and a man of the match cash prize. Lakeshore lodge will now be our UAM partners and keep our humanitarian efforts sustainable. In Chris's boat we roar across this vast inland sea to gather symbolic calabash water from the DRC side of the lake, tomorrow we will make our way up the escarpment and down to Lake Rukwa our next Rift Valley challenge. Will keep you posted!
With Lake Tanganyika behind us we survive the torturous track to the remote shallow lake of Rukwa – a place that few travelers ever visit. Shaped like an elongated hourglass the central waste of marsh often dries out to form two lakes. The village elders tell us it once dried up completely leaving crocs, hippos and fish to bake in the scorching sun. Fisherman drink from the mud grey alkaline waters of the lake and tell us they often get sick – it is the ideal place for the expedition’s LifeStraw campaign. A LifeStraw is the size of a small bicycle pump and gives a 1000 litres of pure drinking water. The villagers can't believe it as Mike demonstrates the use of a LifeStraw by sucking water out of a filthy puddle and then gargling swallowing and then spitting some now clean water into a bowl. (http://www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw) Malaria is bad here and we also do Land Rover supported UAM work with mums and babies and Rite to Sight spectacles for the poor sighted. Mike follows the Lake by mountain bike and we all meet up to camp in a dry river bed. We are all starving, it's Andre and Mike's turn to cook!
Herewith a campfire expedition recipe:
And there you have it, Rift Valley Bolognaise Ala' Banana and for dessert, Renoster Koffie. It all tasted a lot better than the last campfire attempt which was called 'Imodium & Goat' With Lake Rukwa behind us our next Rift Valley challenge is the Tanzanian side of Lake Nyasa.
It's a great vibe for the expedition as by Land Rover and bicycle we drop down through the lands of the Nyakyusa people to reach the base of the dramatic Livingstone mountains, where we gather more calabash water, this time from beautiful Lake Nyasa (that is what Lake Malawi is called on the Tanzanian side). Despite feeling travel-worn we are overjoyed to reach our last big Rift Valley lake. But! There is a bit of tension here with the rumor of oil finds. Tanzania, it seems, is wanting to shift its old colonial shoreline boundary out into the middle of the lake. 'That's war talk,' say the Malawians, as in low ratio first gear we climb up the steep rocky switchback of a mountain pass to the historic Malawian Rift Valley escarpment mission station of Livingstonia, established by trailblazing Scots missionaries in 1894. It's tough going and dangerous in the dark.
This Land Rover supported world first expedition’s objective to follow the Great African Rift Valley from Djibouti on the dangerous Horn of Africa to Mozambique in the South, is not only to follow the floor of the rift, but also to research and explore the escarpments on either side.
That's what now brings us to Livingstonia mission on the edge of the Khondowe plateau overlooking the vast 23 000 square km inland sea of Lake Malawi. Establish in 1894, this was the third attempt by Scots missionaries to found a mission station away from the hazards of malaria, which at the earlier mission stations at Cape Maclear and Bandawe , had killed them off like flies. 118 years after the establishment of the mission however, malaria is still a major killer on the lakeshore and many come up to Livingstonia hospital for treatment. Later we meet Lyn, one of the doctors from the mission hospital and we do some malaria work along the lakeshore.
It's always great fun when two expeditions meet, especially in this case, as old friend Les Sutton and a team of South African Land Rover adventurers in Discovery 4's, meet us on the lakeshore.
It's drinks all round, shared stories of adventures, news from home and some tyres which they had kindly brought up for us from SA.
They're on a 'Race against the clock' heading North to Arusha, Tanzania. But still they find time to endorse our Great African Rift Valley scroll with goodwill messages. Life is a great adventure, isn't it.
We could never achieve what we do without the support of Land Rover and others who assist us along the way. Here in Malawi, Wilderness Safaris are one of our sustainable UAM partners and South Africans Nick and Zana and their great team at Chintheche Inn assist us with Rite to Sight, a United against Malaria football match and malaria net distribution and education to a local school for the deaf as well as an orphanage that Wilderness have adopted. The people here are some of the most friendly in Africa and it is not surprising that Malawi is described as the 'The warm heart of Africa'.
Tomorrow early we cross the lake to Chizimulu and Likoma islands. We had hoped to take the Ilala, an old ship that serves as a lake ferry, but unfortunately the old girl is out of commission and so we organize a local plank-built dhow. If the wind picks up the lake can be extremely dangerous. We pack some kit and borrow some life jackets from Nick. We are told the journey will take around 5 hours - Will keep you posted.
Never ever!’, shouted Mike into the dark as with his mountain bike over his shoulder, he jumped off the boat into the shallows and onto the baobab-ringed beach. ‘Never ever!’, he repeated continuing with his comical Sir Winston Churchill impersonation. ‘Never ever, in the history of this vast inland sea, have so many seasick passengers, been pushed by so few horsepower, across such dangerous waters!’
Mike off-course was referring to our dangerous 14 hour crossing of Lake Malawi, from the mainland to the islands of Chizumulu and now Likoma. It had been a nightmare of bailing and puking as Enoch Unandi, the captain of our hopelessly overloaded wooden dhow had struggled, with only a small 15Hp Yamaha outboard, to keep our nose into the wind and massive waves that threatened to capsize us. One of the first recorded drownings on this great African Rift Valley lake was that of Bishop Chauncey Maples, who, when on his way to the island in 1895, in the darkness his boat capsized in a squall and two weeks later his body was washed up on the Lakeshore, recognizable by his cassock shroud. The worst disaster however, was when the lake steamer Viphya went down in a storm costing 145 lives.
Reaching Likoma Island is an important yardstick for the expedition. Wet, sunburnt and somewhat exhausted, we are sponsored a night at intriguing ‘Kaya Mawa’, a small, romantic, intricately built lodge, that nestles amongst the baobabs and rocky outcrops, alongside a beautiful half-moon beach. Kaya Mawa (www.kayamawa.com) are our United Against Malaria partners on the island where they will assist with malaria prevention education and the distribution of nets to mums and babies. Will keep you posted.
Likoma is Lake Malawi’s longest island. Dotted with baobabs, sandy beaches and fishing villages drying small silver ‘usipa’ fish – it’s enchantingly friendly. It’s no wonder that this remote island was chosen by early missionaries as a site to build a replica of Winchester Cathedral in England.
Ross clicks away with his Nikon cameras as I scribble this dispatch in the expedition note book. It’s unbelievable – built by hand using mud bricks and carved altars from soapstone, this Anglican cathedral is called St Peter’s complete with stained glass windows, was built between 1903 and 1905 on the spot where suspected witches were once burnt alive. We meet up with ‘Mike the Bike’ – he’s now added Likoma Island to his incredible challenge of mountain biking the Great Rift. Immigration is under a baobab tree. Down comes the Malawi exit stamp. It’s a short hop by boat to Kobue on the shoreline. Down comes the entry to Mozambique stamp. Our geographic objective is clear – it’s to collect a calabash sip full of Great African Rift Valley water from one of the most beautiful beaches on the entire lake South down the shoreline – it’s called Nkwichi. By the way, here on the Mozambican side don’t ever refer to it as Lake Malawi. Here it is and always will be Lago do Niassa – Will keep you posted.
We’re getting unbelievable support from the people on the ground. Remote Nkwichi Lodge on the beautiful Mozambique shoreline of Lake Niassa had heard about our Rift Valley Expedition and offered their piece of paradise as a base camp for the next few days. Nkwichi is part of the Manda Wilderness Community Trust, started by the Simkin family after the civil war.
They do great community work in the area and join us as United Against Malaria partners. Everybody – management, staff, community members, the Simkins and two brave young British adventurers who are sailing the lakeshore in a small sailing dhow, all get involved in the malaria prevention work.
We explore the exquisite shoreline by boat and Mike mountain bikes the steep bush paths that join the lakeshore villages.
At sunset Day 2 we all gather on the sugar white squeaking sands of Nkwichi beach for the ‘calabash’ ceremony to add a sipfull of Rift Valley water from the Mozambique side of this beautiful but capricious Rift Valley Lake. That night I toss and turn, listening to the sighing of the wind through the trees and the crash of the waves on the beach. It’s going to be an interesting boat crossing in the morning back to Likoma Island and then on a dhow to the Malawi mainland. Will keep you posted.
Travelling from Likoma Island the skipper got lost in the dark. This time the dhow was so overloaded with bales of dried fish that the captain had no forward view and had to rely on us to shout directions from the bow.
Fortunately Ross got a brief signal which allowed him to get hold of Nick and Zana Scheltema from Wilderness Safaris at Chintheche who guided us in with a flashing spotlight. We stumbled up the beach with our kit pleased as punch to be on terra-firma and to be reunited with the expedition Landies. Another colourful stretch of Africa’s Great Rift Valley is now behind us – a great adventure as we now head South down the lakeshore.
Mark Turner, Africa director for Game Stores, who are also supporting the United Against Malaria initiative attached to the expedition has flown into Lilongwe to assist. We meet with the press and the Malawi Ministry of Health officials at the Game Store in Lilongwe. They all endorse the Rift Valley Expedition scroll. It’s a wonderful positive vibe with Game Stores sponsoring a man-of-the-match mountain bike and footballs for the next United Against Malaria challenge which will take place at Chembe Village near Cape Maclear on the shores of Lake Malawi. Fiona Nixon has also flown in to join Mike, whose next challenge is to cycle from the lakeshore near Salima to Cape Maclear. From the Rift Valley Expedition team, we say thanks again to all involved in this world first humanitarian and geographic challenge – we could not do it without you.
At the port of Monkey Bay Ross and I find the old lake steamer, the Chauncy Maples, named after the Bishop who drowned in the lake in 1895. She was built in Scotland in 1899 and then disassembled into 3,481 parcels, transported to Mozambique, barged up the Zambezi into the Shire River and then carried on porters’ heads for the final stretch with the boiler being dragged by 450 people. Reassembled in 1901, she worked as a mission ship (clinic, school and church). In 1965 she was converted from steam to diesel and converted into the lake steamer that most adventurers got to know until 1992 when she was retired from service. But the good news is that Africa’s oldest ship is being renovated as a mobile clinic to bring basic healthcare to Malawi’s lakeside people. If all goes well, she will be relaunched in 2013. What a great Rift Valley project and one that we will certainly support in the future. (www.chauncymaples.org)
Too much smoke from bush fires – visibility isn’t great towards the end of the dry season. Then there’s the crackle of a radio call and a light aircraft comes swooping in over the lake. They tumble out of the plane – it’s Robby Enthoven and his family from London. They’ve broken their safari to have time with the expedition. So it’s into the Landies and then a sunset boat crossing to sit ‘toes in the sand’ around a campfire on Domwe Island. It’s full moon, there’s nyama on the coals, Renoster Koffie and the cry of a bush baby. Through their interests in the worldwide Nando’s operation, Robby has for some years been backing our malaria prevention campaign. ‘Now I want my family to experience what you do,’ he says. Next day they certainly do, as with a team of malaria warriors from Game Stores in Lilongwe, they enthusiastically judge a ‘malaria prevention’ schools art competition, distribute bednets to mums with babies, help with Rite to Sight work and take part in a United Against Malaria football challenge on the beach.
At sunset at the Kayak Africa camp on Mumbo Island, with malaria warriors Mark Turner from Game Stores, the Enthoven family, Richard Anderson, Jurie Schoeman from Kayak Africa and the expedition team, we add a sipfull of Lake Malawi water to the Rift Valley calabash. Life’s a great adventure, isn’t it?
We reach Mangoche, the old Fort Johnson, a former stronghold for British troops. Near the town’s clock tower a naval gun off the HMS Gwendolin still stands. The boat’s captain Commander EL Rhodes earned a place in history when he captured the German gunboat the Herman von Wissman. This British victory was the very first naval battle of World War I, fought on this virtually unknown lake in Central Africa in 1914.
But the story does have a humorous side to it. Prior to this Captain Rhodes had an excellent drinking relationship with the captain of the German vessel, which he found laid up out of the water on the German East African side of the lake. On sighting the enemy the crew of HMS Gwendolin opened fire and eventually scored a hit. The enraged German captain rowed out on a dinghy to demand an explanation for his friend’s behaviour, only to find that Germany was at war with Britain. They really should have let them know!
Reaching Mangoche means that we have now completed Lake Malawi, our last of the big Great African Rift Valley lakes. The vast inland sea which Livingstone named Lake Nyasa, Lake of Stars, remains one of the most fascinating of all the Great Rift Valley lakes, especially if one includes the Tanzanian and Mozambican shorelines. Will keep you posted.
It’s 358 days since this world first geographic and humanitarian Land Rover supported odyssey departed from the Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS) on the 9th October 2011. It’s been a long haul but we remain upbeat and ready to face the many Rift Valley Challenges that still lie ahead. The United Against Malaria educational pamphlets, a new supply of PermaNets, LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles have all arrived in time. It’s the final chapter – Will keep you posted.
There is no doubt that the true unsung heroes of this Great African Rift Valley journey are the three overworked uncomplaining Landies. They’ve been through hell. The two tough Discovery 4’s and the constantly overloaded long wheel base Defender 130. They carry everything the expedition needs: bales of mozzie nets, boxes of United Against Malaria educational material and LifeStraws, Rite to Sight spectacles, expedition equipment and supplies, camera gear, extra fuel, water and tyres, Yamaha outboard, first aid kit, personal bags, footballs, bibs, whistles and UAM man of the match certificates, reference books, maps, the ‘Secret Captain Morgan tank’, two Engel fridges, toolbox, camp chairs, the braai grid that lives over the spare wheel, the ever important kettle, pots and pans, a sense of humour (bucketfulls) and still place enough for a local guide and translator, not to mention the Rift Valley volunteers who, like the Landies, don’t miss a beat when it comes to getting the job done. Will keep you posted.
There’s so much on the ground support. Game Stores in Malawi are back again to assist with United Against Malaria event at a small rural school they have adopted. Once again there’s a United Against Malaria football challenge and a bicycle for the little fellow who takes ‘man-of-the-match’. The pregnant mums and mothers with children under 5 each receive a PermaNet and malaria prevention education. We load up the Landies and head into the night. Will keep you posted.
Wilderness Safaris are again also our on the ground humanitarian partners for this chapter and help to facilitate the break-away leg down to the Luangwa Valley, an arm of the Great African Rift Valley that branches off from the Western Rift. South Luangwa is recognised as one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. The concentration of game around the Luangwa River is the most intense in Africa. Our research of this beautiful area of Mama Afrika will be mostly on foot. Will keep you posted.
Veteran Wilderness Safaris game scout Joseph Mfuni lights the dry elephant dung in a tin can punched with holes that hangs from the back of an old open toped green Land Rover. The smoke he says helps stop the Tetsie flies. The Luangwa River is a Rift Valley paradise which we explore by Landie and on foot. Crocodile, Elephant and Hippo, Puku, Impala and the endemic Thornycrofts Giraffe come down to drink. The heat is building for the rains and the sun sets through the haze behind the Muchinga Escarpment. Our camp is on the edge of Kaloma Lagoon, this section of the Great Rift has more Hippo than anywhere in Africa. It's also an endemic malaria area and here Wilderness Safaris assists with our UAM work. Will keep you posted.
With the Luangwa valley behind us we are back doing the Malawi section on the Shire river below Lake Malombe where we are using Wilderness Safaris’s Mvuu camp as an expedition base. Big Deon Schurmann, a veteran of many geographic and humanitarian expeditions, is back on board. We head downstream with Mvuu ranger and boatman McLoud Kaliati. Nowhere on this expedition have seen so many crocs! The birdlife is unbelievable. A young bull elephant swims across the Shire River just in front of us. The sun sets behind the tall borrasus palms and all the while the pods of grunting hippo, the cry of fish eagle, African skimmers diving and swooping in front of the boat, the hadeda ibis calling it a day and Ross clicking away on his Nikon catching the last of another Rift Valley day. Tomorrow we wake at sunrise to head for Lake Chilwa, the last of more than 30 Rift Valley lakes! The heat burns down, the build-up before the rains. Some call it the suicide season! During the night elephants are everywhere in camp. Will keep you posted.
There's a crisis on Lake Chilwa, the drought has dried up the lake and hundreds of fishermen have had to turn to the trapping and hunting of waterbirds. But Dr John Wilson, leading authority on the lake, has organized 28 community bird sanctuaries. We meet the Chief, trappers and hunters. They endorse the expedition scroll; we urge them to not kill everything and to protect the sanctuaries so that their children will also get to observe the vast flocks of waterbirds that make Chilwa a special Rift Valley lake. We continue with the humanitarian work attached to the Land Rover supported expedition. Will keep you posted.
We take the Rift Valley track to Mutarara and camp near the confluence of the Shire and Zambezi Rivers with Mount Morumballa to the east. Loud drumming, chanting and devilish shrieks keep us awake all night as the village diviner removes the evil spirits from a child. In the morning "Shova Shova" Mike backtracks to cross the Zambezi on the Donna Anna Bridge, the longest railway bridge in the Southern Hemisphere. Meanwhile a hand-pulled ferry transports the Landies across the Shire River. The plan is to all meet up at Caia on the South bank of the Zambezi. We can taste victory, the team can hardly believe it’s just a few days to go to finally empty the expedition Calabash into Lake Urema in Parque Naçional da Gorongosa. Will keep you posted.
It’s something that we take for granted but can you imagine what it is like not to be able to nip into your nearest pharmacy to pick up a pair of readers! For tens of thousands of mostly rural poor sighted, generally elderly Africans, it’s simply not an option and they go through each day fumbling around not being able to thread a needle, do handcraft, weave a mat or basket, or if they are literate, having to have the letter blur, whilst holding the book at full arms length. The expedition’s Rite to Sight campaign started more than a decade ago by Mashozi (Gill Holgate) is supported by Rotary and all the expedition sponsors with direct financial assistance from Nikon and a regular supply of extra reading glasses from supported Louis Louw of Specs4U. The instant gratitude from the Rite to Sight recipients and the immediate difference it makes in their lives is truly heart-warming; as can be seen by the hundreds of goodwill messages that are written in the pages of the Great African Rift Valley Scroll.
The Rite to Sight work, together with the United Against Malaria / PermaNet distribution, malaria prevention educational booklets and LifeStraws campaigns add a rewarding element to this world first Land Rover supported odyssey that, with just a few days to go, is still hell bent on completing Africa’s Great Rift Valley – will keep you posted.
Travel-worn but excited to be close to the finishing point. ‘Shovashova Mike’ made it down the South bank of the Zambezi, where the Landy party met him after cautiously (crocs!) collecting another sipfull of water for the symbolic Rift Valley calabash, this time from the old ferry point on the North Bank. Ross’s voice crackles over the radio: ‘Turning left,’ he says, ‘you’ll see the Catapu sign. James White has invited us in for lunch.’ Then he adds: ‘Pops, please don’t turn it into a late night campfire session – we’ve got to get to Gorongosa.’
Most adventurers will know James White or would have stayed at his forest bush camp at Catapu on the Southern side of the Zambezi just off the Caia Gorongosa road in Mozambique’s Sofala Province. James is one of nature’s gentlemen, a ‘true man of the bush’ with some fascinating stories to tell. Now he’s turned half of his massive concession into a nature reserve.
‘Selected hardwoods from the other half are used to make furniture, every piece is sold here in Mozambique’, says James, ‘none is exported and for every log I use I plant more indigenous trees. When I first came here it was landmines everywhere, wild, few people and the game plentiful,’ James continues. ‘I tried to set up camp under a Baobab, but unbeknown to me it was also home to a vicious swarm of bees. Tried to smoke them out, but they won the day, leaving me with over 100 bee stings in the head. I wanted to pack up but the men suggested the services of a local diviner who for a small fee, spoke to the bees and asked forgiveness from the ancestors.’ ‘Now’, adds James, ‘we live in paradise side by side with the bees and the baobab, the old diviner makes regular visits and I’ve never been stung since.’
James confirms that the end of the Great African Rift Valley is where the Zambezi floods into the swamplands that feed into Gorongosa’s Lake Urema. We hit the road, it’s mid-afternoon and a countdown to the end. We’re all a bit exhausted. It’s the slow sweat of the Zambezi valley’s suicidal October heat – Will keep you posted!
One Landy behind the other in the dust we follow the rutted dirt track that runs between Mount Gorongosa and the park. We were last here three years ago. Now logging, charcoal production and slash and burn agriculture are taking their toll. There’s simply too much population pressure along this section of the unfenced Gorongosa park boundary and to make it worse, everything is burnt black by end of winter bush fires. It’s getting dark, we can’t find a quiet place to camp. Eventually settle on an old disused quarry site. The mozzies are thick. You can tell it’s getting to the end of a long journey. We’ve forgotten to buy bread or maize meal. No rice or pasta in the ‘grub box.’ So Mike and Big Deon cook up a sauce to go over the last nyama – it’s inedible! We all get the giggles. 24 Hours to go. We must empty the calabash into Lake Urema by sunset tomorrow. We pour a few ‘Captains’ and roll into our tents. I lie on top of my bedroll. I can feel the heat coming up from the ground, there’s the familiar smell of mozzie spray and the sounds of the night. ‘Shovashova Mike’ leaves by bicycle at dawn – we’ll meet him at the main entrance gate to Gorongosa. After a yearlong Rift Valley journey, this is it!
Greg Carr, the wealthy American conservationist who has put up millions of dollars into saving Gorongosa National Park, together with Vasco Galante, Gorongosa’s director of communications and his assistant Domingos João Muala, meet us at the entrance. ‘I believe that together with the Mozambican government we are making a difference here by bringing Gorongosa back to being one of Africa’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries,’ says Greg with a handshake and welcoming smile, ‘we feel proud, you could not be ending your expedition in a more beautiful place.’
Soon we’re crossing the Urema plains, led by an open Land Rover camera vehicle driven by National Geographic filmmakers James Byrne and Bob Poole, whose recent award-winning documentary ‘The Lost Eden,’ has helped put Gorongosa back on the map. They want to include our Rift Valley story in the next one. (See http://gorongosa.net/ for more info on this fascinating park and to watch a video clip of the documentary ‘The Lost Eden’.)
We pass a herd of elephant. ‘They’re still skittish,’ says Vasco, ‘memories of poachers and over a million animals slaughtered during the war will take a long time to heal.’ We park the Landies. ‘Shovashova Mike’ pushes his bicycle forward, we follow on foot with the much travelled calabash. Crocodiles slide into Lake Urema, waterbuck in their hundreds move across the setting sun, a big male kudu looks up proudly, warthog scatter, tails erect. Whilst still at camp the environmental scientist had asked us to please boil the calabash water before emptying it. ‘Have to be careful,’ he said, ‘don’t want our Lake Urema infected with some Danakil gremlins from the Horn of Africa or strange bugs from somewhere!’ So with the cameras clicking, we empty the symbolic decorated Zulu calabash of water taken from more than 30 Great African Rift Valley lakes and rivers. It glugs slowly into Gorongosa’s Lake Urema. The adrenalin drains from our bodies, after thousands of Land Rover kilometres, millions of tyre revolutions, buckets of sweat, thousands of footsteps, boat and bicycle journeys, countless campfires and great humanitarian work, our world first Land Rover journey to follow Africa’s Great Rift Valley from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to Gorongosa in Mozambique is now complete – Mission Accomplished!
With Gorongosa and the emptying of the symbolic Rift Valley calabash behind us, the Land Rover journey down the Mozambique coast was filled with great humanitarian initiatives. First was the Mango Tree Kids Orphanage United Against Malaria event. What a wonderful day! Every child and foster mother received a lifesaving long-lasting insecticide treated PermaNet and a malaria prevention educational booklet. Our Portuguese interpreter for the day was Beira resident and old friend Johann Senekal. Several cultural groups performed and the kids did a great ‘Prevent Malaria’ skit, followed by a United Against Malaria man-of-the-match football challenge, once again supported by Tongaat Hulett and Unitrans who operate the nearby Mafabisse sugar estate and mill. Also on board for the Mozambican section of the journey is Grindrod, the Durban based shipping and logistics company who have supported a number of malaria prevention expeditions. Alison Briggs, Group PR and Marketing Manager, has flown into Beira to help. She is a dedicated malaria warrior.
This was our third visit to the Mango Tree Kids, with each passing expedition we help to keep their community malaria free. Situated close to the low lying Pungwe River, it’s a high risk malaria area. We will be back!
Our ears were back, we could literally smell home. Our long-standing United Against Malaria partners just north of Maputo are Paul and Lizzie Hallowes, the delightful owners of the Blue Anchor Inn. They’d erected a ‘Welcome Rift Valley Expedition’ sign and soon Mozambique’s most festive pub this side of the Limpopo is full of expedition yarns and raised glasses of ‘Dark and foamy Captains’ followed by plates of flat chicken, prawn curry and Lizzie’s famous lemon meringue pie with an extra scoop of ice cream – Bloody luxury! Expedition life was never like this. Up early next morning for a Bobole village malaria event and football challenge and then it was on to a media event at Maputo Port, where the Great African Rift Valley Expedition Land Rovers formed part of the stage, mums with babies received symbolic end-of-expedition mosquito nets and the Port Authorities, the National Director of Public Health and a Roll Back Malaria representative endorsed the Rift Valley Expedition Scroll.
That night with storm clouds gathering and ‘Shovashova’ Mike Nixon pushing his mountain bike in front of the floodlit expedition Land Rovers we arrived to applause from over 300 Nando’s conference guests and straight onto stage to give a wrap-up of the expedition which included a gift of a live chicken in a basket and a bottle of village peri-peri, to Nando’s charismatic founder Robbie Brozin. Robbie and his team, like all the other expedition partners, have taken on the challenge to continue the fight against malaria and announced an undertaking to help make Mozambique malaria free by 2015. Maputo comes with a sponsored night at the Polana Hotel – soft sheets, fluffy towels, ice in the drinks, a full English breakfast. No bedroll on stony ground here, no soot-blackened camp kettle and smoke in your eyes. The expedition Land Rover convoy stops off at the Game Store in Maputo where every employee receives a PermaNet and a malaria prevention booklet. Mark Turner, Africa director, and his team believe that charity starts at home. So every Game employee living in malaria risk areas in Africa will receive a mosquito net and education and then, as we have on this journey, teams from Game assist in the roll out of rural United Against Malaria events. So much good energy from all the expedition sponsor partners – it makes us feel proud!
At Golela the South African border entry stamp comes down with a bang and the Grindrod branded battle scarred Land Rovers head for home! We’ve made it, congratulations to all involved – till the next one!
Updated: 7 November 2012