NAIROBI TO JOZI
SOUTHERN AFRICAN ROUTES WORTH TAKING
An epic journey through six countries, past Great Rift Valley lakes
Afriend who recently lost his dog told me that he doesn’t know how rangers, conservationists and eco warriors can face the tragedies of poaching on a daily basis. To me, it’s simple: we don’t have a choice. We can’t rely on future generations to save our wildlife. It has to be us. It was this thought that led me to assemble 13 women for an expedition into Southern Africa at the end of 2016 to do whatever we could to help end the illegal killing of our elephants. Our Elephant Ignite Expedition covered close to 16 000 kilometres, travelling from Durban to Nairobi through Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania in three vehicles. Named Courage, Hope and Love, our 4x4s took us from the vastness of the Serengeti to the intimacy of Malawi and everywhere in between. We met some of the continent’s top conservationists and did everything we could (see highlights on opposite page) to help protect our continent’s greatest treasures. One hundred days later we were in Nairobi and it was time to go home. The rest of the group flew back, some friends of mine flew in, and after the reshuffle the final homeward-bound team tally stood at six people. We were keen to get to Joburg but at the same time didn’t want to miss the opportunity to explore parts of this beautiful continent that would be a shame to miss. Life’s about the journey, right? So I plotted a route that would get us home in about two weeks. Soon we were heading out of Nairobi, ready to tackle the road to Uganda. Gridlock traffic, it turned out, was the first hurdle. Through exhaust fumes, hooters and hurried taxis we ploughed until the road northwest opened up and took us past beautiful rolling hills and the freshwater lakes created by Africa’s Great Rift. We passed Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru and continued on to Eldoret where we were welcomed with big hellos and smiles. That night we fell asleep to the sound of the Naiberi River rushing by. The next day we made a break for the Malaba border post and kept our bonnets pointed west, in the direction of Africa’s most iconic river: the Nile. More specifically, the Victoria Nile, which flows north from Lake Victoria, widely considered the source of this fabled waterway. Explorers River Camp was our base for two nights. We spent the first afternoon on a boat cruise, binoculars trained on the heavens and ears peeled for the ‘sound of Africa’. This is, after all, fish eagle country. The next day,
armed with an adventurous spirit and a sense of humour in the face of danger, we hit the rapids on a rafting adventure. From Explorers, we negotiated the thriving metropolis of Kampala and crossed the equator not long after at Kayabwe. Magnificent green and lush vegetation coloured our journey through Kibale Forest (home to chimpanzees) and down to Queen Elizabeth National Park, home to the unique tree-climbing lions of Ishasha. We didn’t see them, but we saw plenty of other wildlife on an afternoon boat ride: the 32-kilometre Kazinga Channel connects Lake George to Lake Edward and, aside from those beautiful fish eagles, we spotted pied kingfishers, hippos, Cape buffalo, Nile monitor lizards and witnessed yet another one of Mama Africa’s magnificent sunsets. From there we drove beneath the green mountains of the Virunga range and through the tropical forests of Kigezi Game Reserve, and then headed south for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the home of gorilla trekking in Uganda. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of our trip back. Our guide, David Agenya, led us through thick vegetation and along slippery paths until we eventually encountered the Rusheguru mountain gorilla family. Every step of that 16-kilometre trek was worth it once we looked into their soft brown eyes.
All too soon we were back on the road to the Gatuna border post into Rwanda. Our vehicles were searched extensively and all plastic packets – even the small ones – confiscated (they take their plastic ban seriously). There was also a quick lesson in driving on the right (or is it the ‘wrong’?) side of the road as we drove to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It’s a heartbreaking experience and truly brings home the devastation of what happened here in 1994. Sombre, we headed out of the city to the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center. It’s part of a social enterprise that promotes economic empowerment and was created in collaboration with Women for Women International, which helps female survivors of war rebuild their lives. We stayed there that night and got to hear about some of the inspiring women making real changes to the lives of others. After chapatis and coffee the following morning, we headed for Rusumu Falls and the Tanzanian border. A slow crossing followed by a potholed road to Nyakanazi and a dirt road to Kibondo meant our original plan to make it to Kigoma in a day was scuppered, and we checked in at the very ‘interesting’ Cheyo Hotel in Kibondo. Thanks to the resident rooster, we got an early start. Having reached Kigoma in good time, we could spend the afternoon swimming in Lake Tanganyika, at Jakobsen Beach and Guesthouse, followed by sundowners as the fishing boats came in. Next day, it was a long, rough and bumpy drive south over rocky terrain, through forests, across savanna and lush flood plains. Finally we ended up at Lake Shore Lodge in Kipili after nine hours of driving. There was just enough time for drinks and sunset over the lake before we tucked into a scrumptious dinner on the beach. That night we sat on the sand and let the waves lap gently at our feet. Candles flickered in the darkness, a bonfire roared behind us and a sky filled with a million stars hung like a black canvas above. The relaxing evening gave way to a less-than-relaxing day. We’d planned to cross into Zambia at Mpulungu and make it to Lusaka in one day. Another slow crossing and a broken shock and stabiliser link dashed those hopes in Kasama, and we had to stay overnight before continuing the long journey south to Zambia’s bustling capital. Then, in (relatively) no time, we found ourselves on the banks of the Zambezi. We stopped for lunch in Livingstone and, bellies full, took the famous crossing into Botswana on the Kazangula Ferry, a comedy of errors that somehow always seems to work out. We spent that night at Senyati Safari Camp and took the straight route south to Francistown the next day. Along the way we stopped at Elephant Sands and watched those gentle beasts slurp from a waterhole a stone’s throw away. Seeing these animals there, for the last time before entering South Africa, brought the whole project home. I’d been on the road for 117 days and covered almost 20 000 kilometres. It was both exhausting and invigorating, but always an adventure. It reinforced my belief that everybody should explore other countries in Africa at least once. It will change your life and with it, the lives of Africa’s greatest treasures.
This is a big one: it covers 5 640 kilometres in total On the road to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. There are short detours en route to Lake Mburo, the Rwenzori Mountains and Kibale Forest National Park, renowned for chimpanzee tracking if you have extra time.
THIS PAGE The Nairobi skyline – above the cacophony of chaos in the streets.
ABOVE Day’s end at Explorers River Camp on the Nile River near Jinja, Uganda.
Visa ($100) covers An East African Tourist Visas for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. cost $50 each Tanzania and Zambia
ABOVE A pitstop for Carla and friends Thomas, Shannon, Graeme and Peter in the magnificent Kigezi Game Reserve in Uganda; a gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest gets a closer look at Shannon – it took four hours of hiking with David Agenya (pictured with a Danish tourist) to see the Rusheguru family group.
BELOW A giraffe ambles in for a drink at Senyati Camp’s waterhole, in Botswana.
LEFT Lake Shore Lodge’s sunset cruise boat, Lake Wanderer, passes Mvuna – one of several islands in Lake Tanganyika.