Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas to Christmas 12 images 12 adventures.........

Last years Christmas day walk in the Mulanje Massif in Southern Malawi before heading for Christmas dinner in the village below with Pizza and Beer !! December
Mountain biking in Laikipia above the Ngare Ndare forest, Kenya, January 
A walk in the snow in the English Lake District with Dad, UK, February 
Another trip up the mountain with Mr Peck. Descending from Point Lenana on Mount Kenya, Kenya, March
Hunting for boulders in Laikipia with Joe Mills, Kenya, April 
Busy roads on the way back from Dol Dol after mountain biking with Peter Wambugu in Kenya, May 
Rock climbing on Olokwe, Northern, Kenya, June

Starting the decent into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July
Exploring Laikipia for rock climbing sites with Dougie Brunton, August
An old tree in the Loldaiga while on safari with Sonja, Alpana, Sophie and various peoples children around my birthday September
Burton the ultimate hound relaxing, October 
Trekking in the Hajar mountains in the United Arab Emirates, November
Deep water soloing on the Musandam coast, Oman, December 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jebel Shams and Snake Canyon

Camping spot on Jebel Shams
A busy few days with some time to have a look around and hit the road for some new venues and general fun on the road. The general impression that people have of the middle East isn't the most positive at the moment. The other impression is one of ludicrously big airports in the desert but there is certainly more to it than that. It has a mix of great climbing, coast, deep canyons and plenty of cultural history. The other element is the friendliness of the people you meet along the way. For example walking from the house to the shops which is about ten minutes you will have at least three offers of a lift from the locals. 
We set off from Dibba to the border with the UAE entering only a few minutes from our base it was then a couple of hours which took us to a border back into mainland Oman. Bit of a faff getting exit visas then entry visas, really just a bit of a stamping session. By this time it was midnight so we headed out to the main coastal highway to Muscat and Omans capital. Driving for a while we found a spot on the beech to pull up and get the sleeping bags out and caught some sleep before picking up the trail at dawn the following morning. Heading further down to the town of Nizwar on the edge of the Hijar mountains. There was five of us in our car with the plan to meet an Omani friend of ours and the main man for sorting permits and admin in Dibba. Ali who also came with four of his cousins. We arrived at Nizwar which had won the award for the ‘city of Islamic Culture 2015’. A very smart town with the centre having some sights to see, the Fort and the Grand Mosque being the main ones. 

Nizwar with the Hajar mountains behind 
We had a good look around and a coffee until we met Ali who had driven down that day from Dibba. A quick shop and sort out in Nizwar and we where out on the road heading for a camp on Jebel Shams the highest named peak in the country. We headed off as it turned dark. A good feeling winding up steep switchbacks with only a plume of dust flying up under speeding Land Cruiser wheels. a few wrong turns but at about 8pm long after dark we arrived at camp to a bitter cold night. Fires where started, bbq’s fired up, tents erected and before no long the camp was up and goat kebabs where sizzling away. The camp was at about 2020 metres and felt bittery cold in the wind. 

Looking back to Jebel Shams and the Hajar mountains 
Everyone was up at dawn as the sun rose over the mountain revealing that a few feet behind the car was a huge drop showing the second largest canyon in the world second only to the Grand Canyon. A strange moonscape with little villages and frightening looking roads which we would later be picking our way through. A road which dropped about two thousand metres in the space of about two kilometres. Ali should have some good images of that which I shall get a hold of as I was driving the car behind. 

Peering into the Grand Canyon 

Very deep canyon 
We had a good look around the mountain. The main top area is out of bounds as there is a base there. From there we headed down of the mountain towards the main event of Snake Canyon. This lies in Wadi bin Auf. The road to it was pretty adventurous with steep off road mountain trails. The canyon itself was pretty dry as it was meant to have a few jumps in it which led to a few scramble steps. But none the less its spectacular and very deep inside a Wadi with huge walls towering above and at times swimming through shoulder width passages. Not the place to be if it rains, in fact there was an strangely worded warning sign near the entry by the road which said ‘warning drowning has become a popular activity’ a few people have been caught out and drowned in this canyon, there would be no way out and its about two kilometres long. 

Snake Canyons impressive deep walls 

One of the swims through narrow canyon flaw 

Once out we had a traditional sit down on the mat and share the food round which polished the trip off perfectly. Then just a few hours back to base via borders to get some sleep before work in the morning. That work though was a deep water soloing session along the Musandam coast so not to bad really……. 

Exiting the canyon 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kenya, UK, Oman

Dawn in the UAE's Arabian Desert 
A bit of a blank on the blog of late due to a hectic few weeks with a busy surge in Kenya finishing with a stint in hospital, a trip to the UK for some wind and rain before finishing up now sat writing this sat on a rooftop looking over the straits of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf in Oman looking out over a huge electrical storm on the Iranian side. 
Flying over Kenya 

BBQ with Mr Peck in Kenya 
Pie night with Mum and Dad in Langwthby Cumbria 
I had a fairly ferocious bout of Tick Fever while in Kenya which led to a few very unpleasant days in hospital. Although the Dr at the cottage hospital in Nanyuki seemed to know straight away what it was and it was dealt with swiftly. Following that I had a few days rest in Nanyuki to clear it up before flying back to the UK. The weather seemed to be pretty much as I had left it the last time with some heavy rain and winds passing through.  A short trip but nice to catch up with Mum and Dad although the weather didn't permit to much in the way of outdoor things but it was nice to relax a bit. 
First top in the Musamdam mountains Oman 

Zing Bay Omman
From there it was out to Dubai and some work in Oman over the next while just across the border from the UAE. I was picked up at Dubai airport and was immediately struck by the heat which was somewhat hotter than Kenya and certainly Cumbria. We drove down through the UAE. The UAE is made up of seven emirates with its capital being Abu. Once over the border we reached Dibba situated on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula on the straits of Hormuz with Iran opposite. Sat under the impressive backdrop of the Musandam mountains these sharp steep mountains shoot up from the Persian Gulf in the Indian ocean are pretty spectacular but very arid with only a few acacias hanging on in the heat. I settled into the house which sits on the beech and then had a good look around the sites with a view to developing the climbing sites and also the trekking which is offered here and also working with various groups passing through over the winter. The summer here would not make for a pleasant time with the temperatures sometimes tipping the hottest place in the world. I have visited a couple of the tops and also the climbing areas in the nearby Wadi which is has some very impressive ground. There are no rolling hills here all seem to involve a very sharp up with some interesting ridge lines to follow. The coast also offers some great paddling and deep water soloing stretching out along the Omani coastline. There is a huge potential for more here, there is an active climbing scene here with various guides published for both here and mainland Oman. Its not what people think of when they think of Dubai and Abu Dhabi but there is plenty more here than the skyscrapers of the main cities. The trekking is also very impressive with even the most simple of walks offering some pretty unique views and situations. 

Good bouldering in Wadi Hilti, Omman
We also had a corporate event in the desert in the UAE which was good experiencing the desert style of camping. The Sahara desert seemed to be just a lot of dry rocky ground but the desert here on the edge of the Empty Quarter is dune after dune, some reaching big heights. The Arabian Desert being much more of what I thought of a desert, not the place to loose your bearings though. 
The locals seem a very friendly bunch, situated next to the marina we have access and only last night had some fresh of the boat nice Tuna and Barracuda steaks which we very good. They do also come back with sharks which makes me wonder a bit swimming in the sea but hopefully they are further out although I have noticed a the hotel they have a shark net up on their part of the beachfront. I have been in a shark netted bay before on Hong Kong’s Lamma island when someone came over the tannoy in Chinese and people left am not sure why but I chose to take no notice but quickly did when something very large started thrashing at the edge of the net. 

A nice place with plenty on offer and hopefully a good season ahead before returning to Kenya in the spring which is spring in the UK and more heading into winter in Kenya and the summer in Oman, I think. 

Views over the Musandam Mountains 

Heading into the Wadi's 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Olokwe Photo Blog

John at the top, I have been here four or five times now with John on reccies and group trips, an exceptionally nice Samburu Masai who I look forward to heading up there again with him. Its nice that its not a show piece these guys are just as they are and not putting a show on. If you look at the road, where it bends it looks like a river flows to the right Johns home and village is near the edge of the image. 

Can you spot the group all 28 are in this image, big country. 
Under the Acacias at base camp a very hot place but these hardy and very thorny trees seem to survive well in the climate. 
Base camp a proper bush camp with no facilities, make your own loo and forget about the shower till you get home. Burtons first experience of the North. 
And he found it a bit to hot on the first day often sleeping, but spent the whole night sat up peering out the door listening to the heavy barking from the Baboons looking very nervous as to the possibility of there being a giant dog somewhere near by. Baboons sound very big at night when they are shouting. He had to sleep inside due to the leopards which would have got him in the night. 
Myself and John Lesseppe at the top, John is the head guide at the Namunyak conservancy and works with all our groups, he has a wide knowledge of the area and the environment we are operating in. 
Dagama who works with us at RVA carefully prepares the goat for the BBQ all the blood has been drunk and it made for a great meal that night. Its where your food comes from, but with the Masai nothing goes to waste a very humain way of eating. 
The sun sets on another night on the tops 
A great group as usual who enjoyed one of the most unique and special places I have been fortunate enough to work in.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ethiopia Reccie : The Blue Nile

The old bridge over the Blue Nile 

The Blue Nile Gorge the river is in flood due to the rains so a little brown 
There was no way you could get it into a photo the scale and beauty of the Blue Nile Gorge it was something which was a bit to big for a camera to handle. The Great Rift really coming into its own. I visited a the ruins of Tekle Haymonot II and his wife Aster in Gondar. As we passed one ruin the guide said you know Brrrr ‘sorry what was that’ you know ‘brrrrce’ ‘sorry I am not getting it. It turns out a Scot was there living in 1770 with the Emperor called James Bruce from Kinnaird Stirlingshire. He was on a very early quest to discover the source of the Nile. He believed he had found it on picking up the Blue Nile believing that to be the source. Although his logic and accounts from the time where good. It couldn't have been as its in Khartoum where the two converge continuing as the White Nile to Alexandria and the Med but the White Nile starts in Uganda so he was a little out. Despite being a fair bit out on the source he did make a fairly remarkable journey to reach the Blue Nile Gorge. Arriving in Alexandria he set off crossing the desert to arrive in (Jidda) (Arabia) now known as Jedda dressed as a Turkish sailor recrossing the Red sea with the Turks and then onto Gondar two years after he started. An impressive journey. It was also told to me that he got Aster pregnant which would be fairly typical of a wandering Brit although evidence doesn't suggest this. Sadly too prior to his Nile escapades he was very keen on the study of ancient sites through an attachment to the British consul in Algiers he visited Palmyra which yesterday I believe was blown up by Isil. His journey to Palmyra was in itself an impressive feat shipwrecked near Benghazi Libya he managed to swim ashore eventually managing to reach Crete he then traveled throughout the middle east making it to Palmyra. Which it would appear is not there in its entirety now, perhaps something which has gone back and forth for a millennia warring tribes go back and forth destroying and warring. 
A kind of Gretna Services in the North but different but the not bad Sky Bus pictured. 
We stopped on the way at a very rain washed town which I think was called Desil for lunch. The coach driver though seemed to pass up on the Injira and swiftly took at least five beers and large ones at that which was a bit worrying. Once we left there the bus started dropping into the Nile gorge it took nearly an hour of hairpins and narrow sections to reach the bottom. The journey took an extra thirty minutes on account that as we started down the hill a kid through a stone through the window. Rather ironically when I took a seat on the bus I failed to read the seat number which was in Amheryic the man who’s seat I was in got a little tetchy kicking me out and onto another seat. He ended up with a rock and window in his lap which I have to admit to throwing him a rye smile when it happened and we had to alight. The police where less interested in the window once they saw me and instead wanted to examine my paperwork and know what I was doing. I could see that they where angling for something but the paperwork was all in order and the surrounding crowd of onlookers to big to start haggling. 

The scene on the far side of the gorge, it gives some idea of scale, the huge gorge pictured above is in the top right of this image the Ethiopian highlands is a huge landscape. This was after a very long time of winding up hairpins passing trucks similar to the Rho Tang pass in Northern India although nothing will compare to that drive in terms of fearing death at any moment. 
We dropped down into the gorge which opens out as a spectacular river course. A high bridge crossing which looked fairly modern. I had a walk around the edges and down the gorge a bit. Baboons where everywhere and due to the rains everything was bright green and well grown which felt pretty tropical although with the rains the Blue Nile was more of a Brown Nile.

The Taitu Hotel in Addis Ababa, total luxury ! 
Back on board it was a few more hours of rain and hail before reaching Addis 18 hours after departing. A quick haggle on arrival and it was off to  the Taitu hotel in the Piazza area which is effectively the centre. The Taitu Hotel is the oldest hotel in Ethiopia and to be honest that would be the first thing you think when you arrive. The Piazza area is a very hectic area and not that easy to relax in. As soon as I arrived at the reception there was a Belgian who was trying to make arrangements after having his bag slashed and everything robbed which never puts me at ease. From there to the room dump bags and head to the restaurant for something eat. The second I sat down a rather stunning lady came and sat down opposite explaining to me  ‘nice englishee boy shouldn't sleep lone’ ah the backpacker area and its joys and temptations. In fact it said specifically on my rooms wall ‘strictly no paid sexing’ the very fact it says that indicates its not poshest of hotels. A bit of a Koh San Road in Bangkok the Piazza area holds all the wrong things to see in a country but quite exciting when your young. I quickly swerved off to join an Israeli who looked like he was just up for dinner and no sexing. A nice guy from Tel Aviv who promptly said ‘my backpacking days are over fancy moving over to Bole area tomorrow to a nice quiet guest house’  ‘yup I'm in’. He was there for similar reasons, a work related trip but couldn't help go and look at where the LP sends backpackers, perhaps it gives you a taste of the good old days when that hassle hustle and bustle was exactly what you wanted. He had been about a bit spending time in India and South East Asia but the last few years in and out of Ethiopia which I have to admit to not believing in but he seemed to pick up on that quickly and never laboured that point. I stayed where we headed on the way out ‘Mr Martins Cozy Place’ a German run guest house which I would highly recommend in the Bole area of Addis. I was tired when I arrived and had a bust foot I also knew exactly what the Piazza area would be like and know exactly what dollar rooms are like but you do have to do the Taitu once for historical reasons if not pleasure.
A round up of some other spots I saw and Ethiopia as a place to visit coming. 

Flying back and a nice ariel view of Lake Turkana as it came came back over Kenya. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ethiopia Reccie : Gondar

Fasil Gebbli, The Royal Enclosure, Gondar 
Like Cairo you arrive in a place where the history goes so far back you struggle to comprehend the dates and start to realise that things where happening here on earth a long long time ago. Although sometimes with a similar pattern, progression and evolution in building and technology but also in the need to go to war with the others each of these realms always had the need to go to war. Something perhaps which has remained today, we have the Iphone and the Ghurkin in London so technology and building has been progressing since then but wars still continue between religions or simply a difference in people which if you took the religion out would still remain. Many people will blame religion but take that away and the same would still happen its just a case of being the dominant realm, group or country its what humans do. 
Gondar was made the capital of the Ethiopian Empire in 1635 by the Emperor Failides. The guide book is correct in its opening quote ‘its not what Gondar is but what Gondar was’. The temples and churches around the city are like something out of an Indiana Jones film with overgrown walls, turrets and palace’s. The main one is the Royal enclosure which homed many of the great emperors of the time. 
Tour Guide in the Royal Enclosure
I met with a great guide which I would normally pass up due to the additional cost but on nearly all those occasions I have left the site having no clue as to what I was looking at so this time I went with the lady pictured whose name was unpronounceable. She walked round the various buildings running through the timeline of history and the ins and outs of the various dynasties all the way through to the Italian occupation. The Italians had tried to play catch up with the other European powers and colonial powers having taken up positions in now Eritrea and Somaliland which where fairly invaluable areas colonially speaking but subsequently tried for Ethiopia which didn't go so well. Centring their occupation in Gondar until the British Allied forces moved in ending that occupation during the second world war. Although the Italians had tried numerous times before to colonise Ethiopia they managed it only briefly. 
This led to a rather awkward moment on our tour. At one of the buildings which was being explained to me was destroyed by the Italians. The lady emphatically started telling this was the moment the Allied forces came in, ‘who could have stopped them the Italians could not possibly have beat the British’ I realised a troubled tourist guide next to mine was telling the same story to a rather sombre looking group who where all ignoring him and looking at my guide and her side of events. They where a group of about 15 Italians on holiday. The icing on the cake was her finishing line with all looking she grabbed my arm saying ‘so we thank the British for ending that’ she flicked a dirty look to the Italians and we proceeded through them. Me fiddling with my phone trying not to look anyone in the eye until we reached the next building. There are Italian influences when you head downtown in Gondar perhaps the same with all countries affected by colonialism, you can have a break from the Injira and have a pizza and all restaurants serve pasta and spaghetti.
Fasil Gebil

The Camelot of Africa 
Fasils Baths 
There is history here whether British or Italian. The British came here on what was dubbed the ‘Abyssinian Expedition’  under the command of General Robert Nappier of the Bombay Army. They came for hostages who where of British Nationality. A sort of early Libyan embassy. But it would appear to have been a show of force when you read the account. They sent in total 13’000 British and Indian Soldiers 24’000 camp people and 40’000 animals even training elephants to be shipped from India to carry the heavy guns. Essentially Nappier made it overland across Ethiopia burned the capital to the ground at Magdala forced the emperor Tewrdos II to suicide and decimated his army and got the hostages back. Tewrdos II made the fatal mistake the Maddi in Sudan made against Kitchener. They both ordered the attack first against machine guns any chance of success against that is dead in the water. Once the job was done permission was granted for burning and looting, many treasures where taken, you can see some of those in the British Museum in London if you like. The crown of Tewrodos II was taken but returned by British King George the V ironically in a ceremony to Haile Selassie in the UK 1925. A union that would in time see Haile Selassie back in power in Ethiopia but not until the ousting of the Italians by the Allied forces in the second world war which then made way for him to return as leader. The British and the Ethiopians playing good tacticians for their own gain at the time.  
Its a spectacular place as a city perched on steep hillsides which was part of its defence as its hard to get to. The bus journey up from Addis passes Bahir Dar and Lake Tana and from there sweeps up through steep mountain roads and over mountain passes. 

We continued the tour heading to some more out the way castles and churches before heading into town for a pizza ! 

Gondarian women avoiding the rain 

The surrounding hills 

Digging around for more ruins