Turning east from the lakeside town of Mwanza, Tanzania, we headed for the border with Kenya. This was a relatively easy border (with some decent security for once), and we managed to get a 90 day, multi-entry East Africa Visa, which covers us for Kenya, Uganda and also Rwanda. We were lucky as these were the last two visa stickers that they had at this border, they cost $100 each but in the long run it will save us both time and money when we cross the next couple of land borders. These visas are not mentioned anywhere in the immigration building, but we had been told about them by another traveller. So after Immigration, we turned to the Customs counter to get our Carnet de Passage stamped into Kenya, and of course pay the road tax that each country deems fit to impose on Colonel K. After a quick look at our truck by a customs officer (from about 50 metres away), followed by a sharp intake of breath, we were told that we had to pay $30 road tax, but………. it had to be paid in Kenyan Shillings, despite the visa being paid in US dollars, plus we couldn’t pay by cash, or credit card, it had to be paid by mobile phone! This is a crazy situation, and we ended up getting a local guy with a Kenyan sim card in his phone to make a payment via Safaricom and charging us a small fee (of course), for carrying out the transaction. Eventually we were armed with our wad of papers, and we proceeded to the exit gate and out into Kenya, what could possibly go wrong?
We passed the border guards, armed appropriately with assault rifles, and out into the mayhem that is a typical African border town, there were cars, motorbikes, and buses everywhere, and coming at us from all directions. My attention wasn’t applied 100% to our offside (Jac’s side as Colonel K is LHD, and in true British colonial style they drive on the left here), and there was a Toyota Probox Estate (yup thats a real car here), diagonally across the road, and our fold up metal steps hit just before the drivers door and opened up the side of his car like a tin of sardines all the way to the rear and then ripped the rear light cluster out……. Bugger!
This was within less that 10 metres of the armed border guards, and we drove about 20 metres to park up and sort the accident out with the other party, and to keep the border road clear. As I jumped out of the cab, I was instantly surrounded by about 50-80 young men all looking to get involved. I pushed through the mob and found the driver of the Toyota (it was quite old and a bit tatty, but quite good for African standards). I told him that I was not willing to negotiate compensation with him (it was my fault after all) until the angry mob dispersed, by this time I was convinced that they were looking to lynch the “mazunga”, this had little effect, but some quick thinking by Jac saved the day. I turned back towards the truck to see a big crowd surrounding Jac in the cab, next thing I know she had climbed out and was standing on the wing, and started filming the mob on her phone. Wow that had the desired effect, and the majority just dispersed into their normal lives. With no Kenyan Shillings to our name yet, I decided to open negotiations in US Dollars, we agreed on a final sum of $20.00, Jac recorded the agreement and hand shake on her iPhone, and I drove off before he realised how much $20 actually was! Not a great introduction to Kenya, but things can only get better eh.
That night we camped in the rear of a Mission just before the town of Migori. The “staff” at Migori Mission really made us welcome, and the young kids here even carried buckets of water to fill up Robert and Clary’s truck water tank (this is the Dutch/Australian couple that we met at Mwanza, that we had caught up with here). They provided a room for us with a ‘hot’ shower and toilet in it, and in the morning,a Sunday, we were treated to some wonderful singing from the church hall. We were warned the evening before that there would be a lot of children around on the Sunday, and they weren’t kidding, there were hundreds here, but as always, they were very polite and friendly, and of course very curious about the two big trucks parked in the grounds of their church. We even had a guy bring us a local sim card for our phone and registered it on his phone and then showed us how to purchase data and airtime on it, this was more like the Kenya we were expecting.
After a brief detour into town ,again completely craz), and a trip to a few ATM’s, we managed to get some local currency, and so headed off to the Masai Mara Nature Reserve, via the lesser used route into the west of the reserve. After about 50km and about 100km still to go, we realised why this is a lesser used route, it was an horrendous track! Very rutted, very bumpy and very slow going. We were stopped by one guy in a Landrover Defender, telling us that the track got really bad further on as it had rained up ahead, and that we wouldn’t get through in the truck. But we knew that our Dutch friends were in front of us , but weren’t 100% sure if they were on the same track, so we decided to plod on. It was a bit slippery in places, and the ruts were quite deep but eventually we got to our campsite at Mara West. This was a fantastic campsite run by an American couple, and the showers and toilets were like nothing we had experienced for a few weeks. The owner also has three ex-British Military Leyland Daf T244’s (same as Colonel K), which he uses for bringing in supplies to the camp and also in his construction business (we also me another camp owner while in Nairobi that also runs a T244, they get everywhere, apparently 150no T244’s were shipped directly from Afghanistan to Mombasa).
It was here we also met Jason and Lisa, an English couple that are travelling around Southern and Eastern Africa in their Defender, it was great chatting to them and hearing about their travels. But we were here in the Masai Mara for one reason and one reason only……. to see the great migration across the Mara River of millions of Wildebesst and Zebra (as seen on TV ha). So we decided to camp for two nights inside the Mara Triangle, so we could get to the river crossing points early in the day, and stay until sunset if necessary. This was obviously more expensive than staying outside in Mara West Camp, but was about a third of the cost of the parks in Tanzania.
So we desended the steep rocky track down to the gate, with Robert and Clary behind us in their Mercedes truck, and after paying our fees, we set off into the Mara Triangle.
We hadn’t gone far before we saw what we had come here for, vast herds of Wildebesst and Zebra, but these had already crossed the Mara River, so we just hoped that we hadn’t arrived too late.
After about 30mins of driving we arrived at a small area known for some reason as Hippo Pool, this is the only area of the park where you are allowed outside of your vehicle (more on this later), where there is a guard, and toilets (nasty, very nasty long drop toilets), but still couldn’t see why it was called Hippo Pool !
More people are killed by these “gentle giants” than any other mammal in Africa, they need to be respected especially at night.
Then we got to the main crossing point of the river, we removed the Gun Hatch cover in the cab (also known as the game viewing hatch), and Jac popped out and took in the other side of the river.
And yes on the other side there were indeed large herds slowly building up ready to cross. They have to cross the river for new grass after the rains and they have travelled up from the Serengeti in Tanzania, and indeed will enter the river when thirst gets the better of them. But and it is a big but, there are huge dangers involved in that crossing, the river is flowing very fast, and its very rocky underneath,ideal for being swept away or breaking a leg,or lunch for the huge number of very large crocodiles waiting for them!
Time and again the herd would push up to the water edge and look like they would cross, then something would spook them and they would scatter back across the plain, this was very much a waiting game. At one point a Ranger (in a little Suzuki Vitara) stopped, and had a good look at Jac sitting on top of the cab roof with her legs dangling and instructed her to put her feet lower in the cab! It was ok to stand with her top half outside the truck but not too sit with all of her body outside the truck! Health and Safety eh.
After a quick drive around the park, we decided to return to the river again at about 5pm, and most of the other vehicles had gone, we parked up and waited again. Then suddenly a small number of Zebra and Wildebeest (about 200) broke away from the main herd and came up to the bank to our left, we had the perfect place to watch this, and sure enough they took the plunge and literally leapt into the river.
Jac was again standing through the gun hatch taking photo’s while I watched with binoculars at the unfolding drama, some of these animals really really struggle with the current especially the young Zebra and the noise as mothers are calling their young from both banks is incredible.
With animals literally jumping on top of each other, and climbing over each other it was a chaotic scene, and as I was looking at the far bank, I thought I was watching a wildebeest leaping onto another, but then almost instantly the herd scattered, and I realised what I had seen was a Lioness leaping from the bank onto a young wildebeest, and killing it by seizing it by the throat. It was obvious that no more animals were going to cross here again that day. An amazing end to a great first day in the Mara (but not for the young Wildebeest).
So we turned away from the river to find our campsite for the next two nights, all we had was the GPS coordinates for the location, and sure enough when we got to the top of the hill and our trusty Garmin was telling us to turn off the track, there was no sign, and only a track where a vehicle had driven across the grass. Eventually we decided to throw caution to the wind and try this “track”, unbelievably this did arrive at a small clearing at the top of the escarpment, no water, no toilets, nothing but an incredible view for us and our Cloggie friends.
Ok, so this is where “Health and Safety Africa LTD” goes a little array, earlier today Jac was told off for not having her feet planted on our front storage box of the cab, but now here we are surrounded by bush and long grass, with no fences, and the roar of lions all night, it was bloody fantastic! Early next morning at about 5.45am, this was the view from our ‘camp’.
After a quick look at the crossing point, we decided that it didn’t look likely that a mass crossing was going to occur any time soon, so we went off for a drive again, and soon realised that this is a special place, so much variety of wildlife, and different terrain.
A quick stop off at Hippo Pool for a pee, and a chat with Daniel, the guard, (he was so pleased that I’d remembered his name from the previous day), and he confirmed that because of the very hot sun, the herd will HAVE to cross the river by about 2.00pm. So after making a quick coffee here and chatting to quite a few tourists that were again surprised to see a British truck here in East Africa, we returned to the river to park up in a suitable spot to hopefully view a full on unimpeded crossing. By now there were tens of thousands of zebra and wildebeest waiting on the far side, but still no one was willing to be the first into the crocodile infested Mara River.
Eventually, as suddenly as someone throwing a switch, the pressure from the herd behind became too much and for the next 30 minutes or so, the river became full of animals throwing themselves into the churning river, driven by thirst and hunger to pastures anew.
This was a spectacle that we will never forget, and were very lucky to time our trip to coincide with this happening. All these animals will cross again in a month or so to return to Serengti in Tanzania, a true natural wonder. After seeing this there was no point in staying at the river so we set out for another game drive in Colonel K, and came across this zebra that unbelievably had escaped the claws and jaws of a lion attack, it was in a bad way, on its feet but I’m sure it would survive the night.
We then settled down to a final night in our “bush camp”, again to the amazing sounds of the night in the Masai Mara, but not before enjoying another “Happy Hour” with our Dutch/Aussie friends.
To get our monies worth from our park fees, as usual Jac and I were up and out in the truck by 6.00am, and had agreed to meet Robert and Clary at the gate at 10.00am (we had to exit the park by 10.10am or be charged another day). We had a long slow drive in the general direction of the Gate, taking lots of small tracks as diversions for game viewing, it was on one of these tracks that we came across a Hyena Den. There were so many Spotted Hyena here, probably a pack of about 15-18. The highlight for us was the very young cubs that were suckling from their mother, and a few pregnant females. We watched these animals for about 30 minutes until the inevitable happened……. and we were spotted by a couple of safari vehicles full of Chinese tourists all chatting away like Alan Carr on speed!, We moved on…..
Within about 3km of the gate we found a lovely spot by the river, so decided to park up here for a bit and wait for Robert and Clary to catch up.
It wasn’t long before their fantastic Mercedes appeared over the horizon, and spotted us.
At the gate we checked out and were given 120 minutes “free passage” to transit the East side of the Masai Mara National reserve, then exiting at Sekenai Gate, we thought we had plenty of time, but were held up for about 10 minutes before we could cross the Mara river by a safari vehicle jumping the queue and causing road rage between the other guides waiting patiently to enter the Mara Triangle, thus we arrived with only about 5 minutes to spare. Just outside Sekenai gate, we stopped for the night at Mara Explorers Camp, which we were surprised to find out was run by an English woman and her Kenyan husband, they seemed to be very busy here with lots of ready set up tents and rooms for guests, of course we were the only campers.
Next stop was Jungle Junction in Nairobi, but to get there was the long, long climb up from the Rift Valley at Narok. This is a busy route full of vastly overloaded and frequently broken down trucks, its a crazy road with many vehicles doing little more than walking pace, and some of the overtaking manoeuvres really do begger belief.
We stayed at Jungle Junction (in the nicer part of Nairobi, called Karen), for a few days, and again run into Jason and Lisa, they were busy sorting out shipping of their Landrover from Mombasa to Greece, and of course having some work done (it is a Landrover after all).
We had many “Happy Hours” with both our Dutch and English friends, and it was great to catch up with them again. We took the opportunity to get two new tyres fitted to Colonel K, and give him a oil and filter change. While in Nairobi, we were both treated to a trip to the hair stylist (worryingly called Extreme Hairstylist), in a new shopping centre that had just opened nearby. We also experienced lunch out, and a proper coffee shop, something that we hadn’t had for a long time. We also visited the new Carrefour Supermarket, and were shocked by the prices here, these are on the most part much higher than at home in the UK, but it was well stocked. It was also good to see that security was very tight getting into the shopping centre, with all vehicles being searched before entering the carpark, and then your bags scanned before you can enter the actual shops.
After a few days in Nairobi we headed out on the Mombasa Road towards Amboseli National Park, Robert and Clary also came with us, but decided not to go into the park, so we camped just outside the gate in a camp run by the nearby Masai Village, it was a nice campsite with not so great ablutions, but very friendly staff.
We were intrigued with the Masai footwear that they make completely from old motorcycle tyres.
And it was great to have a nice big fire to cook on at night, something that we have missed for the last couple of months.
At Amboseli you pay for a 24 hour period and are allowed to split this into two different visits, so we decided to enter the park at about 2.00pm on the first day, then had to be out by sunset (6.30pm), then re-enter the park the next morning at sunrise (6.00am) then have to leave by 2.00pm that afternoon. Amboseli is a beautiful park, with lots of wet areas (swampy conditions), and open dry savannah, strangely we didn’t see any of the large cats that its famous for (no one during that time seemed too either that we spoke to). But we did see lots of other wildlife including hundreds of elephants, sometimes in quite large herds, and with all the adults having absolutely huge tusks, they really are beautiful animals. It seemed strange that the Masai are still grazing their cattle alongside the other wildlife actually in the NP.
This Big Boy was right up to his Axles in swamp, but he just pushed on through munching all the time.
And then we found our second Hyena Den in less than a week!
When we got back to the campsite, Robert and Clary had left and were travelling to the coast near Mombasa, we still hadn’t made up our minds whether to go there or head back to Nairobi. Looking at the map made the decision for us, it was along way (about 1,000km round trip) on the most dangerous road in the country and we don’t really enjoy beaches that much, so despite lots of messages from the” Cloggies” telling us how nice it was, we left the next morning for Jungle Junction yet again. From here we will head north to the lakes before heading towards the Uganda border.
Thanks for reading
WOW… Great river crossing pics.
I’m glad you had the safety of a Merc. escort… ;-)))))
Hi Paul, we were waiting for the Merc to break down ha, hope you are well, and make sure your ready for us around xmas time eh
As usual, a great read, cheers guys. Enjoy, Andy & Mandy