"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." (Mark Twain : The Innocents Abroad, 1869)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

To the Aberdare Hills

We had a leisurely breakfast on the balcony - Eggs (boiled/scrambled or fried), sausage & bacon with warm bread rolls followed by an amble around the fish farm. This laid back start was, with hindsight, perhaps a mistake but more of this laster.

Our route took us back South for a while before we turned Westwards towards the Aberdare NP - described as Scotland with Lions. There was some debate as to the correct turn off, so I reverted to the SatNav - only to find that I couldn't find it. We turned out my day sac (twice) and rummaged through the Landy but with no positive result. I membered looking at it during the morning close to where we had parked the Landy, so we went back to the Cottage and searched all the possible places I could have left/mislaid/lost it. All to no avail - bummer ! It wasn't so much the loss of the piece of tech but that it made navigation so much easier. So back to dead wood navigation with the road atlas.

The leisurely start together with the return for missing tech, no meant that we would probably not have the time to follow the planned route to the North of the NP. This would have taken us through the Northern part of the NP - the Salient where the famous Treetops & Ark lodges are based - which is usually off limits to independent travelers. Instead, we traveled further South on good roads with the plan to enter the NP further down with the reduced need to travel the slower NP gravel / rough internal roads. The road map showed the road but not all the other ones that actually exist. We eventually found a road sign to our intended entry gate but asking for confirmation from a policeman at a nearby road check provided contradictory advice - the first of many such instances. After some distance, we asked again and were directed down a small rough road that led up, through steep sided valleys, into hills dotted with tea plantations and forestry. After stopping to scavenge some firewood from the forest floor, we let ourselves in through a big electric fence which must have been the official boundary.

It was some time before we came across the barrier with the Ranger to check our Safari Card and let us, officially, into the NP. Problems. Pious, the Ranger, couldn't get in contact with HQ either with his radio or his cell phone. Eventually, he suggested we went just inside the NP to a picnic site to have a snack & drink. Eventually, we were let - officially - into the NP but without the required paperwork which would be 'sent' to our exit gate.

The NP was like no other I've visited in Africa. Thick green vegetation - both trees & bushes - came down to the road side. It wasn't jungle but almost like what would expect to see in Europe. There was plenty of signs of big animals being present - dung and broken vegetation - but the greenery was so thick that a herd of Elephants could have been with a few yards and we wouldn't have seen them. However, much to everybody's delight (especially that of Bob), we came across a small lone bull grazing happily in a small opening at the road side. It took no notice as we edged closer for a better look / photos. Reluctantly, we left him to his solitary feeding and, eventually, the vegetation changed to more open moorland where we saw a selection of buck. Their identification was a problem as they looked different to the ones we were were used to in Southern Africa.

We reached our banda - Fisherman's Lodge - in plenty of time to unload and settle in. We had been told that there was a central kitchen (shared between the two bandas) and that you had to bring your own wood & light. In practice we had our own kitchen, the Ranger who looked after the bandas provided kerosene lamps for all rooms and had, if we had needed it, a supply of wood. Before leaving us to our cooking, he asked what time we were going to get up the next morning - so that he could light the 'donkey'. A 'donkey' is a feature of many African campsites & bandas - it provides hot water by the simple method of lighting a fire under a horizontal oil drum full of water !

Whilst our dinner was being prepared, buck wandered past and we kept an eye open for the Ele & Buff that we had been told also frequented the local bush. The day ended very pleasantly sat around a roaring log fire drinking alcohol laced coffee followed by a very snug and warm bed.

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