Getaway (South Africa) - - Contents -

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.

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