Sunday, 13 May 2012

On the road: day 6 & 7

The sun hadn't risen on our Banda before Zanner's alarm roused us from a pleasant slumber reminding anyone still cocooned that she had promised herself a game drive to see leopards. I think the men in the family were still far to sleepy to protest and somehow we found ourselves on autopilot getting in to the car and taking off to meet the rising sun.

It was not long before we saw the usual suspects walking towards the river to get their refreshments whilst hopefully avoiding been eaten. However, these same animals looked at us in abject horror, no doubt noting that this was not a reasonable time for a Hudson-Tyreman to be out of bed. Josh protested by hiding under a blanket whilst Zac feigned interest with a cursory nod in the direction of 'yet another impala!'

We eventually arrived at our destination, a large mountainous outcrop resplendent in its post wet season vegetation. This was, we were told, is the place to see leopards, how many there are in this area they did not know. Now this was quite some outcrop, in fact that doesn't really describe the sheer scale of this thing in the slightest, it takes an hour to drive around and stands 500mtrs at least. In the UK we call these mountains, but every thing has a comparative scale here and given the vastness of the park I suppose where the map says 'hill' it has to use the sheer enormity of the park as a scale. As for leopards, well we saw lots of interesting rocks, a lot of trees and bushes, even some rock hyrax, but alas no leopard. But then again there could have been 100 pairs of eyes watching us and we wouldn't have seen them, camouflage and an ability to be still is a major facet of this beast. Conversely two shouty boys in a large white 4x4 may have telegraphed our presence allowing any potential sighting an opportunity to melt in to the fauna strewn outcrop.

After a quick turnaround back at the river lodge we headed out of the park back to Iringa for a spot of lunch and to stock up on car parts (inner tube, wiper blades, fluids). There remained a short hop to the next stop over at Kisolonze Farm Lodge, all round 250km for the day. Iringa and the trip to the farm was uneventful as we managed to avoid most of the bone shaker road as we learnt of another route out that took us along what is called the never ending road, named because it is one hell of a long straight road (42km) much of which is visible at certain points along the way.

By the time we arrived at the farm everyone was pleased to leave the car and Zanner decided she would go for a walk with the boys...Zac ended up staying back very soon after the start as he and Josh decided to beat up on one another with sticks. He and I ended up at the bar where we took our soda's and met some of the other visitors. Zanner had gone with Josh to see some of the farm animals, namely the sheep who were reared there. It was not long before a confused mother and son arrived where we were situated where upon she informed us, and the manager, that she couldn't find the sheep so asked one of the farm workers...not knowing the Kiswahili word for sheep did the very British thing of sounding out the sound they make. Baah baah! He therefore did the logical thing and sent her off to the bar. Well we found it very amusing.

Hiding in here is a leopard. Can you spot neither could we
Looks like a candle tree...Ah now I get the name!
Early mornings just suck all your energy
A room with a view...there is a theme here
Even this water buffalo skull has more hair than daddy
There is a horn joke here somewhere!
Why does Josh look permanently to be up to something?
Trying to throw mummy from the bridge
Amateur old man with up and coming David Bailey
All this shutter speed and light balance can be tiring. 

The accommodation here is an add on to the very productive farm and serves up camping site facilities alongside wonderful lodges all sat within a stunning woodland setting. Over dinner we met a Dutch couple who had built an overland truck having sold their business and have travelled extensively throughout Africa for 7 months, with another 3 to go. But our world shrank when we met the white East African owners daughter who was born in Tanzania, schooled in Kenya and read literature at Leeds University, living just round the corner from our house during the period we lived there; A small and crazy world.

Day 7

Morning started much like any on a working farm, Zac and I went to help with dipping the 350 head of cattle! This was followed by the best breakfast in Tanzania so far, I know this might be becoming a bit of a bug bare but guide books need to get a grip. Kisolonze has been in the hands of the G???? family for four generations and the original farm house is chocolate box perfect, with gardens to match. We were given a tour of the area which included an amazing vegetable plot and sheep pen. All in all a highly recommended place to stay and one which we committed to return to following our furthest southern stop over at Mufindi Highland Lodge.

Following breakfast we were given a different type of tour, the Dutch couple offered to show us round their overlander truck...we now have new aspirations for travel as this really was a sight to behold. Not much can match human ingenuity when it comes to transport and what this chap had done in creating and customising his Mann Truck was remarkable. With a quad bike in the rear section, a fantastically fully kitted kitchen and bathroom that would grace any high quality apartment, they really were traveling first class on the road. This thing was a behemoth with wheels as big as Josh and a cabin from the starship enterprise we could only imagine what it must cost to fill the 700ltr fuel tank. As I said they were trekking around Africa for a year, but have plans to visit both Scandinavia and Alaska, in this truck I think round the world would be possible so long as you could afford the fuel.

Daydreaming we packed up and headed to our next destination 100km down the road but 1850mtrs high to Mufindi Highland Lodge. Nestled in the tea plantations once owned by Brook Bond this lodge is part of a group of Lodges owned by the Fox family, amongst which is Rhuha River Lodge. High and cold, the lodge benefits from amazing woodland views with rivers and plantations all around. The couple who own this and many others like it around Tanzania are a dear old English team who have worked tirelessly to provided infrastructure to the area. Not only do they employ many of the locals they have built schools, hospitals and an orphanage. They have created a trout farm, a sustainable tree planting project as well as now building an airstrip through which their sons air support project can operate.

Zanner and the boys went off for a horse ride not long after we arrived and had lunch. I went off armed with a fishing rod and oar to paddle around one of the large lakes which supposedly was full of black bass. I am not a fisherman, have no pretensions to be one, but I thought why not give it a go. The answer is simple, it is a bloody stupid waste of time, especially here where the fish actively taunt you by swimming around the boat whilst ignoring the lure you have been assured they will love. Suffice to say it was not long before I was running through the woods instead as this was by far much more fun.

The boys came back whilst Zanz went off for a longer ride, so we took the opportunity to have tea and eat all the chocolate cake. We have already turned our minds to the fact we shall be returning home in five days and it has started to dawn on us that this is more of a beginning than an end and that maybe there will be more of these kind of adventures to come. I think I shall apologize now to any and all who we put through the blog reading in the future.

The evening passed with a fireside chat with our hosts as we are the only guest. It is quite enthralling to hear about the changes that have occurred in East Africa, but unfortunately very few have been for the better. Our observation that there is quite a bit of low level corruption is amplified ten fold, we are told, at all levels of government. It is sad to hear but at the same time the Fox's say that although they maintain a life in the UK they believe Africa is their true home and for all that seems to be wrong so much is right. Geoffrey Fox regaled us in stories of the lack of building control, health and safety and all the other bureaucratic issues that are involved in building a home that have allowed them to build some amazing structures here that simply work and have done so for many many years. At the same time his wife, Victoria, tells of the time she needed to have a bridge built and how she and the then Minister in charge of such things helped bribe a local official so she could acquire one from under the nose of the President who was also looking to have a bridge for his home village.

We finished the night with our two tired but happy boys listening to music besides a roaring fire in our lodge whilst our Masai guard sat out on the veranda under the Southern Cross set in a wonderful moonlit night.

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