Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wild North

The summit cliffs on Olokwe 
Big big views from the summit area
Back to basics and cooking on an open fire, summit camp 
Abseiling with the plains below 
I have been in the North for the last while working with a group from a Nairobi International School on the first Olokwe trip. I went up for a reccie sometime last year and knew then it would offer a great trip and it certainly didn't let us down. 
Olokwe  or as the locals know it Sapatchi sits about an hour North of Isiolo in Northern Kenya near the Wamba junction. Its a huge lump of rock which shoots out from the plains with its main wall being 500mts in height. The first thing you notice on arrival though is the intense summer heat bearing down on you. The group arrived at the small camp at the base of the mountain where we would spend the first night before heading to the top to spend the rest of the trip. The trip was a DofE style trip with the group taking charge of everything from the cooking to preparing the camp and did a very good job. 
We headed out early the next morning loading the donkeys and packing bags before heading up the very steep hill to get to the top. It was a long pull in the heat with big bags but the group got up to the plateaux in good time. Once on top you can catch a bit more of a breeze to help cool down. The summit area is a large plateaux with forest and open plains all dropping down to granite slabs and the huge drop beyond. The views up there are second to none looking back towards mount Kenya in one direction and the Mathews range and endless plains in the other. We spotted various signs on wildlife such as Elephant and Leopard. Its a large conservancy which has most things in it but due to its size things are well spread out but just incase anything crept up on us we have an armed guard with us, especially in the deeper forest sections. 
We set up camp in a forested area near to the main top where we would be based for the remaining days. Although we set up the tents people opted to sleep on the open slabs outside the wooded area under the stars which make for a very atmospheric sunrise. 
From the camp the group did some climbing and abseiling right on the top which although it was a group crag the backdrop of a big wall makes it a very good setting. We also did some wildlife motoring especially looking at the vultures which next along the cliffs and also some GPS work. 

Dawn coming up over the group who where still in bed, not a bad wake up call. 
Slab climbing at the top on nice granite 
 The group also got a taste of traditional Samburu culture watching over a ceremony which involved the slaughter of a bull and subsequent blood drinking which some took part in but blood is not everyones cup of tea. 

Masai traditions drinking the blood of a bull, lumpy due to its clotting but quite sweet I thought. 
With all the activities done we spent the last night having a BBQ’d goat which had been with us for the trip and unfortunately the group made the mistake of making it the camp pet so there where a few upset people as we ate ‘Daisy’ that evening. 
We packed up and headed down to the heat below said farewells and headed home. A great trip with a great venue and group so hopefully we shall be up there more and more as time goes on. 

Cheers enjoying a 'full bodied Samburu red' ! Blood............

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bike reccie shots from Ethi

Peter winding through after we cleared a track through the blocks
Nixon coming through one of the many small ravines and old watercourses 
Some good technical features on the granite slabs 

Coming through the nice woodland areas above the Ngare Ndare reserve 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Biking near Dol Dol

Peter biking down one of the granite slabs 
I had a day out before the work commenced with Peter and his brother on the bikes in an area I had not yet got to. I had always wondered what lies on the road beyond the army base which heads to the town of Dol Dol out on the Laikipian plateaux. We headed round there until the tarmac stopped and the red dirt roads began although it was more biking trails that I wanted rather than the now incredibly dusty B roads. 
Not far before Ol Jogi I spotted a large round granite dome in the distance with easy angled slabs all over it, looked perfect for some biking with nice looking single track paths winding through the bush to it. We headed off, immediately I had a puncture problem fixed and off we went, immediately Peter had a puncture this pattern repeated itself for most of the day. The acacia tree has a thorn on it like no other a ‘shock and awe’ thorn which will pierce your tyre, flip flop and trainer and I have had one through a wellie. The only thing safe seems to be a Land Cruiser tyre. Although there is one alternative of which I have a pair the Masai make their sandals from old car tyres which keep out the thorns good tip if you are a die hard flip flopper like me upgrade to Pirelli! 
Once we made the granite dome it had some great areas you could bike all over the dome which we met a local Masai man who took great curiosity in why my folks went up and down and proceeded to attempt to push all the air out before I stopped him. We carried on behind sweeping through nice single track through villages and over some great technical sections of granite ribs sticking out they where the only place free of the shock and awe thorn. Huge views of the bush spreading out makes it feel like a slice of the Africa people imagine at home. 
It was quiet in terms of people which was nice sometimes being the exhibit becomes a little wearing after time and its nice to have a spin without people jumping in the way to see what the Mzungu might offer. It was just me and a Kenyan colleague having some biking time which was nice. There where a few kids who came out but they where chirpy and just interested to see people in their neighbourhood and not to sure what it was we looking for or where trying to achieve. This is one of the big differences I have found, biking is perhaps the exception more than climbing, mountaineering, canyoning, or just going for a walk and camping out. These things are not really seen in the same way as home. I think perhaps to the everyday Kenyan trying to survive people cant really appreciate leisure pursuits as they are not part of the general survival of day to day living. Not being able to afford or swing a way of getting next years ski mountaineering set up is likely to cause me a panic attack at home, but sometimes sitting in the bush looking at raggedy kids with nothing to eat makes me think what that £1000 set up really is (excluding boots, skins, transceiver, probe shovel and the trip itself). A device to slide down hill on snow, not knocking it though its great and I would ski in the morning if it snowed although getting this years set up would be tricky here.

I have put together a few clips with Peter saying a few words on the biking and being an instructor with us. 

Instructor Peter from Dan Goodwin on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Malawi, Mulanji and back to Kenya

Mount Mulanji 'The island in the Sky'
The last part of the Malawi reccie was down in the southern end near the Mozambique border. We headed down through Blantyre and onto Cholo where we had a night in at a motel. At a $1 a night was not that glamorous as the bed bug lines across the body demonstrated in the morning. In the morning we visited a tea plantation. It was the first to be farmed in Malawi having started in 1920 and did have a very colonial feel to it, the large stately home among the tea fields called 'Huntingdon House', where you could get a tea menu, I am English and like tea but I have never been presented a tea menu before.

Tea fields in Cholo south of Blantyre 
 From there we headed further south to Mulanji ‘the island in the sky’. Its a large range which shoots up from the plains to just over 3000 metres. I have trekked with a group here a few years ago and remember how stunning it was. Huge granite walls everywhere some up to 1200 metres. There has been several routes put up in the area but there would be scope for new routes everywhere. The village of Mulanji is pretty small and when we where there there where no other tourists about. The heat was pretty intense here, very hot and extremely humid making it pretty hard to move around without pouring with sweat. Locating swimming pools where the first priority. We found some good pools near the Likabula forest station which manages the area. Quite fast flowing given it was the rainy season but a great setting. There was some deafening thunder while we where in them as the rains kept coming.  

Kids on the trek in the Lister Gap, Mozambique lies below them
We had a good look around the Lister gap at the Northern end of the range and where we came down the last time I was here. The Lister Gap was where the slavers would bring the slave caravans through on their way to the coast in Mozambique. The British set up a Fort near the start of the gap to try and stops the Arabs and Portuguese as they worked to abolish slavery. Its quite a remote corner and for the locals its still a novelty to have tourists come through. Its a very poor area where people have very little other than simple subsistance farming. 
There is also boulders of very high quality everywhere it would be a bouldering paradise if a little easier to get to. The locals seemed perplexed by our interest in them 

Bouldering around in the Lister Gap 
From there we made the long drive back to Lilongwe passing through the Dedza plateaux which is pretty spectacular with Malawi one side of the road and Mozambique on the other. We arrived at Mabuya camp in the capital just as the heavens opened with torrential rain, rivers running everywhere. 
That was the end of the trip from the work angle its was very good and we shall be able to put together some great programmes for the groups next year. Malawi is a very relaxed country and very easy to operate in but best of all has some amazing venues to use. All the main outdoor activities can be done and done in style to. Also a great trip to relax and refresh ready for the work to begin again further North back in Kenya. 

A bumpy flight and long drive in heavy traffic but now back at Forest Camp waiting for a group to arrive for a couple of days before New Year. A lot cooler here which is a relief although it looks like the rains have passed so the heat will start build as we head into the summer here. 

Leaving Malawi after a great trip, Malawi never fails to deliver ! 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cape Maclear, Malawi

The Southern shores of Lake Malawi at Cape Maclear 
I had a chance meeting with a Dutch couple but DRC (Congo) based Chris and Josie who arrived in Lilongwe who where looking to head round the same part of Malawi as me and where also feeling a bit over the epic bus journeys which Africa can bring to the table. We decided to hire a car instead and quickly teamed up with a South African Travis who had just arrived and who opted in and so the team was set. We where delivered a dazzling white low slung Toyota which seemed perfect for African roads in the wet season and off we went. 

Buildings on the way through to Monkey Bay 
As its turned out so far it has suited the African roads. Malawi has an excellent road network connecting the main areas up. Smooth tarmac wound its way south through to Dedza and over some very mountainous terrain with huge granite towers rising up before plunging down various hairpins to the Lake. Cape Maclear which sits towards the southern end of the lake. Named after Thomas Maclear a missionary friend of Livingstone’s although actually called Chembe, for some reason the explorers seemed to rename places despite them having a name in the first place. A stunning venue and a real highlight for anyone coming to Malawi. Crystal clear waters away from the main village area and lined with woodland and an endless amount of rock surrounding it. 
I had some meetings with various people about project work that our groups could be involved with and also checked out the kayak expeditions and what we could use in our programmes. There are some great trips to the islands that lie further off shore. I had a good look at the kit and the emergency procedures they had in place. They are well set up there and we shall certainly be able to have some trips on the lake in kayaks. I have had one before with a group out to Domwe Island a few years ago. 
I remembered from the last time that rock climbing would be possible here as there is a huge amount of granite crags around the bay. For this exploration I headed out with the Anglo, South African Dutch team to Otter point. This sits in the Lake Malawi National Park. It would be fair to say we where all blown away by the beauty of this spot, $10 dollars gets you in. Nice jumps into the water, snorkling with tropical fish around the granite reefs and islands is pretty special. Giant Fish Eagles swooping overhead, yellow baboons and monitor lizards surround you. 

Otter Point, Cape Maclear 

Looking for crags not crocs on the southern shores of the lake 
I headed along the shore a little to find the perfect group crag with views out to Mozambique and up the giant lake. It really is the perfect spot without the need for any transport you can either kayak round or take a nice walk through the village and out to the point. Once the day is done you can relax back on the beech with a fish barbecue freshly caught from the lake that day. 
There is Bilharzia in the waters which is serious if left but you can pop to the Dr’s here and get the pills which go according to your weight as to how many you take and then wait three months and take them and it clears them out the system. They are a type of worm which you have to wait until they lay the eggs before you take the pills to nuke them. 
A very pleasant few days getting things done and ticked off. We have headed south again this time to Chorlo and the tea plantations. We headed out dropping one person Art of at Mangochi to catch a bus North. A young Dutch youth who we met at Chembe and is keeping the young backpacker ethos up and running heading North from the Cape SA making his way up to Kenya and round Lake Vic. We saw him off in the bus only to see him return on the bus as there where not enough passengers to justify leaving yet and probably spent a large part of the day driving round trying to get more passengers.
One good example of how relaxed and keen the Malawians are was on entering Zomba I caught in the corner of my eye a policeman flagging me down but being in traffic it was all last minute and I kept on driving. In the rear view mirror I clocked a traffic camera and realised I was probably speeding a bit at the time. I fretted about this as we did the food shop and on leaving town we where flagged down. The policeman knew exactly who we where the one on the other side of town will have called ahead my deep distrust of Kenyan police has made me very nervous of them. He checked documents and explained that if being waved at you should stop, but returned the documents and had a laugh and joke and wished us a good journey asking for no ‘donations’. In Kenya this would not have happened and to me is another example of how they are really making an effort across the board to capture and keep tourism in Malawi. The police here are stopping the trucks and Matola’s but leave others alone, very refreshing unless your a truck driver of course. 

Kids in Chembe village, Cape Maclear 
We arrived to the Tioni Motel in Chola which as the book described don’t judge it on its appearance is quite right. Its a bit rough around the edges but a great place. $2 for a single room and the owner Geoff a Malawian provided us with all we needed for cooking our dinner in the garden and had the car washed. A hospitality which we noted there was no trying to squeeze every last penny out of you just happy to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The guard/receptionist who is here should anything go wrong in the night has evidently had a little to much Chibuku and as I head to bed has passed out on the floor in reception thankfully holding my room key which I was able to take from his hand on passing by to the room. 
We are in the tea plantation area on our way to Mulanje where I can check out the prices and various trekking trips we could have on offer here. I have trekked across this range before and its a spectacular spot so looking forward to being there again. 

Lilongwe, Malawi

Mbuya camp in the centre of Lilongwe, Malawi 
I arrived in Lilongwe Malawi, it was nice to be back in the area although it was a shock to the system from the relative cold and wet in Kenya to the sweltering heat in Malawi. On arrival I think it was about 35 degrees with some pretty high humidity to so a major change to the recent cold and wet of the Kenyan highlands. 
As far as African capitals go Lilongwe is smaller than most but seems to have grown since I was last here a few years ago. Malawi has two major towns the commercial centre in Blantyre and the administrative capital Lilongwe. I headed into Lilongwe and aimed for the Mbuya camp which sits in a nice leafy part of the city. A great camp and lodge on a nice green plot with rooms, dorms and a nice campsite with a swimming pool to cool off in. One thing which struck me was the amount of tourists that where about. The lodges seemed full up and the streets had plenty of ‘mzungus’ walking about compared to Kenya highlighting the fact that people are wary about Kenya at the moment.
Malawi has a much more relaxed feel to it than other African nations, the pace seems a little slower. The streets are clean although a much higher level of poverty is visible on the streets. Beggars are much more common and seem to mainly have either crippling physical or mental issues and no way of surviving other than to sit on the roundabouts or junctions hoping for something to come their way. I normally don’t hand out money at all when in the developing world but when you see someone that you know stands no chance at all in the future I feel a little different about it. A man with only one leg in Malawi will go nowhere no matter how people feel a  disability shouldn't effect what your outcome is and there is no infrastructure in place to deal with the problem. 
Lilongwe has a few good eating out options including a very good curry house. The prices are much higher than I remember when I first came here. This is usually as a result of a growing expat community which tends to push the prices up in the area. Nanyuki in Kenya is a good example of this. People move in with NGO’s etc and the company based in the west seems to be happy to pay the western equivalent in rent etc which in turn puts the area out of sink. 

The Lingadzi river just outside the city 
I had a look around the capital checking out what our groups could see and do. One option is the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary which acts as rescue home for animals rescued and confiscated from other countries. They had most things there, Lions, Crocodiles, Snakes and also a Cerval a type of cat which looks a little like a leopard but smaller and pointier ears. 
Also a fair bit of time was spent sourcing bus prices and those who can provide some of the tents and outdoor gear we might need to use during the trips. 
Next up its off to the lake for the fun stuff and locate a good group crag, kayaking and some bike trails. From memory Cape Maclear which sits on the southern shores of the lake has huge potential for these things. 

The rains have also arrived they must have tracked me down from Kenya, the area needs it though and the farmers and locals seem very happy to see it arrive.