Madagascar - July 2019

Johannesburg - Besagnatry

Day 1 & 2:  A 40-minute speedboat ride from Nosy Be to Ambanja was followed by a 7-hour 4X4 trip where we shared the very bad road with pedestrians, cyclists, tuk tuks, cows, motorbikes and tractors.  In Mevadoany we met our 6 porters, guide and cook as well as Hennie and Penny (the chickens that were going to summit with us~!). 

Hennie, our chicken that hiked with us
Our official 179 km hike to the highest peak in Madagascar started with a river-crossing.  Not long afterward, Hennie and Penny came flying past on the back of a motorbike.  Ten minutes later Brina - one of our porters followed suit.  He reeked of alcohol and obviously thought he had a faster way of getting to the first village, since he was already in the party mood.  We came across several snakes, birds and chameleons on our way and it was pure magic hiking through the forest. We spend our first night sharing a room with a local family in Besagnatry.

Besagnatry - Maroamalona

Day 3 & 4:  Cecile woke up shouting after she dreamt that I had poked her with my hiking sticks, so it took a while for the camp to settle down.  At 6:30 we started our 4-hour (quite hectic!) hike, followed by lunch that lasted 3 hours.  Afterward we hiked for another hour.  I was covered with insect bites and I dreadfully discovered  that my insect repellent has expired 16 years ago! 
Bundu bashing
So there we were at 18:00...  in the dark...  in a forest next to a river with the insects, birds and bats making magical sounds.  Things could not get better in Africa!

Maroamalona - Ampanihy

Day 5:  Cecile unveiled her hiking sticks and except for poking Jock (our very introverted local guide) on the butt several times she managed fine.  Jock did not speak a word of English and whenever we did something that could endanger ourselves, he would grunt.  Once he was rambling away in Malagasia unaware that Cecile was behind him. When she started speaking Afrikaans to him, he turned around with a huge grin on his face.

Once in Ampanihy, the village we were going to spend the evening, we raced down to the river for a quick wash before the village children could follow.  I forgot to grab my soap so had to use the cold water Omo I had with me.  On our return we were met by at least 15 kids and some grown-ups - all staring at us.
A little girl in Ampanihy
Cecile performed a cross between a Zulu dance and ballet and they cracked themselves up.  For the next two hours we were followed everywhere.  By 16:30 I crawled into my tent to escape the staring eyes of the villagers and dogs. When the food arrived I grabbed my plate underneath the tent flap. Cecile was a lot braver - she kept on reading and just gave a grin every now and then.
When we discussed possible ablutions facilities the cow camp was mentioned.  Cecile choked on her rice and I had to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre - and almost dislocated her shoulder in the process...

Ampanihy – Ampitsojovana

Day 6 & 7: It was a pretty steep hike through the forest/bushes where Jock had to chop open a path for us. The porters were in an exceptional mood calling out 'haka!'.  Someone would then reply with a loud 'yaya!.  We joined in - much to their amusement.  They did get a bit boisterous but Cecile moved them to the front to help open the path and they were quieter - but only for a while...  Once at the camping spot they performed the "Zulu-cross-ballet" dance for us. The wind started to howl and we all got into bed early - freezing!

Summit day

Day 8: It was absolutely freezing but our hike started at 7:30 - with a steep uphill.  For the next 3 hours I was huffing and puffing.  Once on top the porters took Hennie and Penny and whilst they were performing their ritual, Cecile and myself enjoyed the spectacular view. Then we were called and much to our relief, Hennie and Penny looked a bit dazed, but was very much alive!  

On top of Madagascar's highest peak!

After taking some pictures of the team at the, more pictures and more laughter, we tackled the extremely steep slopes.  7 Hours and 20 km later, I could wash off the sweet.  I managed to wash my clothes in our lunch box. It was another day for me where I was not just surviving...  I was living!

Ampitsojovana - Ampanihy

Day 9: The amazing stars made up for the freezing cold after we summited Maramokotra.  Then, too soon, it was time to head back.  Some serious steep, slippery and at some stages exposed downhills followed. Luckily there were no serious falls and no one lost any teeth. After 6 hours of mainly bundu bashing I should have felt grateful for being exfoliated by the bushes but instead I felt vulnerable and bruised.  My nose was blocked due to a cold so I was huffing and puffing more than usual!  Whilst going up another steep mountain I was attacked by a vicious swarm of midgets.  They were relentless and I was forced to put my buffy over my face after I've swallowed the 4th one. Needless to say I was sweating profusely trying to breathe.  In Ampaniya we were welcomed like family and could escape into our tents for a quick cup wash before entertaining the children.

Cats, dogs, chickens, children ... all at peace

Ampaniha – Ambatobe

Day 10:  A hectic 7-hour hike over hills and valleys followed, but I considered myself lucky since I only swallowed one insect!

One of several chameleons we saw in Madagascar

Ambatobe – Besagnatry Hely

Day 11:  Our tents were still wet with dew when we started our 3-hour hike at 8:00.  Lunch lasted for about 3 hours, which gave me enough time to wash my dirty smelly clothes.

Besagnatry Hely - Mevadoany

Day 12:  It was quite a long days' hike and all the worrying about no ablution bushes close to the village turned out to be unnecessary.  I have limited my water intake which left me seriously dehydrated.  Once back in Mevadoany I had a warm bath in a cup of water before entertaining the children.  The porters joined in the fun and by 20:00 we were all ready to crawl into our tents sharing the space with a family. We did not get a lot of sleep though. The neighbours (a mere 1m away) played loud music, a puppy howled for hours,  one of two chickens fell from the roof, the granny was snoring, the baby was crying...  and it was extremely stuffy in the room!  But all was well in Africa!

Mevadoany - Antsirasira

Day 13:  Everyone (except for me) was on a mission to get back to ‘civilization”.  Trying to take a break longer than 10 minutes was out of the question. We had a nice surprise when Nanciane (our touring company agent) welcomed us with an omelette before we crossed the last river.  A bumpy and dusty stretch followed.  When we arrived in Antisarira we were pleased that we stayed in a very cosy place.

Hugging one of the beautiful trees in the forest
Nosy Be

Day 14 - 16:  The following three days were spent walking on the beach, accompanied by packs of friendly dogs and swimming with tortoises!  

Swimming with giant tortoises 
Madagascar is the 50th African country that I have visited, and upon returning to sunny South Africa, I can confirm that Madagascar definitely ranks in the the top 5!

Life is tough in Africa

The end of a perfect trip

Somalia - June 2019

As soon as the plane landed in Addis, I had to rush to the boarding gate to catch the connecting flight to Somalia. 

Fortunately I am extremely good at multitasking!  Tekkies, watch, money-belt, jacket and backpack off.... tekkies, watch, jacket and backpack on again... running to  the furthest boarding gate.  Trying to catch my breath, I  came to the horrible realisation that I never put my money-belt back on!  "Don't leave without me!" I shouted to the lady behind the check-out counter.  I sprinted back, cursing myself for being so unfit.  Someone shouted "Is this yours?". Very thankful and relieved I took the belt from my lifesaver.  Thank God!  The security guy wanted to know what the content of the moneybag was, but I was still too shocked to even reply!  Now I had to run back again, praying that they waited...  The rest of the group was waiting in the bus and cheering me on!  It may be that I am getting too old for this now, and my guardian angels probably need a break too!

Day 1: I won't call the Somali's overly patient,  There was a lot of hooting going on in traffic but maybe "Ramadan" should be blamed?  The dogs and cats were fat and looked very happy. 

After a restless night, we visited the live-stock market where I had the opportunity to take one photograph of a lady.

The camel market 
Fasaal (my ONE and only military escort), Jamaal (my friendly and loyal guide) and myself fastened our seat belts, and we started our trip to Berbere.  As usual, I had no clue as to how long it would take, but when I looked at all the 'mosquito'-proof tents along the way I was grateful for the insect repellent that I remembered to pack.  When Jamaal stopped to put new wiper blades on the vehicle, I realised that I actually remembered my rain jacket, and I was overjoyed!  I got the feeling that this trip was going to get very interesting.... 

After our visit to the rock painting in Las Geel where a nice shower surprised us, we got to the first bridge just to discover that the 'shower' was extensive and the first bridge was flooded. After two hours the first 4X4 crossed the river. The 400 drivers and passengers next to the river all cheered and the vehicles honked. And then chaos reigned when 50 buses, 4X4's and trucks fought to cross the river from both sides. Phew! 

We had to wait two hours before we could cross the river
I was just getting comfortable when we arrived at the next bridge - same story! My soldier told me ' relax - we will be able to cross in an hour!' Unfortunately it was impossible to relax. My bladder was full, there were no bushes in site, I was surrounded by at least 200 people and because they were all fasting I think I was the only one with a problem. 

One of the colourful houses in Somaliland
After 2 hours Jamaal miraculously got us out of the queue and we headed back to a small village so they could eat. Needless to say the first thing I did was empty my bladder. After another 2 hours we headed back to the bridge where about 200 people were shouting and half of the trucks were still waiting. 2 cars have been washed away and everyone came to the rescue! Luckily no one was hurt. After 30 minutes the first truck came passed and from then it was honking and cheering as every vehicle crossed safely. I think I have had enough cheering for now. My nerves! I stayed in a lovely room – the only challenge was that they must have fumigated the room two hours before I arrived and the only victim besides myself was one lonely cockroach. 

I thought this was lovely
Day 2: I guess when its Ramadan you should not expect breakfast at 7. But I was grateful for the watermelon and hoped for a day without any cheering.

The drive to Sheik was spectacular and I was in my element amongst the mountains. Visiting old buildings, museums etc. is not my thing so I did not appreciate the ruins of Ferdusa, much to my guide’s surprise.

I was, however very happy to meet some locals and promised to stop for a henna painting when we go back.

The Washigton beauty salon
And once in Buaro I was grateful for a day without cheering.

I suffer from Misophonia and underwent intensive therapy when the urge to strangle people chewing loudly got overwhelming. So when a packet of bubblegum was produced, I took it as a sign to see if the therapy was successful. Luckily the amount of potholes and the blowing wind assisted. 

I really enjoyed the ride. There were mountains all around us, amazing birds and even some wildlife. We also crossed a huge 'lake'. Jamaal said he's never seen so much water in Somaliland at that spot but we made it through. I was just telling myself that I must get over my 'fear' of 4X4 'ing when we started to skid. And stuck we got for sure. In clay! An old man came to our rescue and whilst the 3 men were digging, I carried stones to the scene.

But it was hopeless and Jamaal said he called for backup. I was expecting another 4X4 but two rather strange guys came walking towards us carrying shovels. The next minute the one strange newcomer got down and started to dig whilst chanting. He was working like someone possessed. We have been stuck for almost 3 hours and I considered chanting myself. We were still 350 km from our destination and I knew my boss would kill me if I missed my flight - again!

After another hour of digging we finally managed to get the vehicle out and everyone cheered. Me the loudest. Feeling very chuffed we dropped them off close to their homes before travelling further. All was well in Africa. And maybe I should go and she a therapist about my fear of 4X4 ing.  

After 4 hours of digging, we were finally ready to go
Day 3:  Jamaal arrived with bad news. The General refused to allow us to go to Mt Simbris. A local was shot the day before. According to Jamaal, one clan was against any resources being mined. Their chief did not trust the government, the army or any foreigner and a white face was the last thing they wanted to see. It would take at least two weeks for things to settle down. 

Two little owls sitting on a pile of rocks
The next best was Daallo. My heart felt heavy but I made a conscious decision to make the best of the situation. The second I looked up I spotted two tiny owls and I enjoyed the rest of the 4X4 trip to the top where I was honoured to have two red wing starlings sharing my picture with the South African flag on top.  I also started to notice all the wild life and the beautiful trees. 

A red wing starling was sitting in the tree behind me

It was not my idea.  If Fazel slipped .........
It was another long 2 day stretch back to Hargeisa but luckily we had the mountains surrounding us and no more floods. 

I was extremely impressed with the friendly people, the fact that almost 99% of the payments were done by phone and of course, the colorfulness of the houses, vehicles and the people.

Even the petrol stations were painted in bright colours
One of the colourful vehicles on the roads
I always collect stones on my visits to the mountains in Africa but people at work started asking for souvenirs so I collected more than 30 small stones.  Together with the two beaten up tea kettles I picked up along the way, this caused havoc at the airport after my bag went through 3 scanning machines.  When confronted, I had to reluctantly leave behind the beautiful stones I picked up.

A kettle I picked up on the rubbish dump!  Nice holder for plants

Niger - April 2019

In 2010 I planned to visit Mt Bangaz in Niger, but it turned out to be $3000.  At that stage I reluctantly had to cancel my plans.  9 Years later it turned out to be $9950!  I knew getting to the mountain basically meant a tremendous amount of planning, military escort and a lot of moneyYou only live once!  I grabbed the opportunity with both hands (and an extended bond :-)).  I planned on going during winter but was forced to go 3 months later because of a shoulder operation.
Two little girls in the village

Niamey:  After spending a relaxing evening in Niamey, I was taken to the airport to catch a flight to Agadez.  The check in was done manually and I thought that it was rather cute! It took 5 minutes to check in each passenger and every piece of luggage received a very neatly handwritten tag.

I was having my first Nescafe and Nido when the pilots walked past. An hour later, whilst enjoying my second cup of coffee, I noticed that there were only 15 passengers waiting patiently to board the plane with me. 

60 divide by 5 equals 12. Yep, it made sense. There was only 15 minutes left before departure and half of the passengers were still in the check in queue - all was well in Africa.

Nido with nescafe!
Flight to Agadez:  Finally each and every passenger was manually checked in, and two small buses was waiting at the exit.  A physically disabled guy in a wheelchair was waiting patiently to be assisted at the one bus. Another passenger signaled that I should follow him and we boarded the small VIP bus. In the distance I saw our luggage disappearing and after the first bus followed, I got worried. 'Agadez?', I asked the guy who dragged me along and was very relieved when he nodded, confirming that I was in the correct place.  It was not long before we joined the rest, and I was allocated the only empty seat - next to another female traveler.

A "barf bag" was brought to a lady sitting 4 rows from me and I decided it was about time to start meditating again. An hour later I considered asking for one as well when we hit turbulence and the cabin member came flying down the aisle with his coffee trolley. But I relaxed after noticing that every second passenger was praying.

Agadez:  In sweltering heat I was taken to a charming hotel where I had a quick shower before setting off for the market with Abbaya (the tourism guy) and Malik (the interpreter).  Of course, the mosque was first on the list and even though I have been to lots of them before (and I am not into history), I enjoyed the company. When it came to ordering my  lunch confusion reigned. I hated this part. I think in total there are only 50 different kinds of food that I eat.  We settled on tomato salad, bread and hard boiled eggs - delivered to my room. The tomato salad went untouched since it was drenched in oil. Tick! and note to myself - no more salad, in future only ask for a tomato! 

After a siesta it was time for another walk through the town where we visited several families and drank tea. So far the locals have been friendly with great senses of humor.  Abbaya are still amazed by my eating habits but he said that I am an easy customer who loves the children. I guess it's a huge compliment. I seldom feel like a tourist whilst travelling through Africa.

After a good night's sleep (and polishing half of my snacks) breakfast arrived. Malik arrived on time and then we were off to Abbaya’s house where we waited for the military guys until 11:00. I was pleasantly surprised when only 4 arrived.  At the price I paid I was expecting at least 20 of them but at least everyone was wearing a different colorful turban.  Abbaya seemed to found me amusing and every now and again he gives a chuckle, shakes his head and says “Karen!”.  Once I was introduced to the cook and Malik had to translate that I don't eat onions, garlic, meat, fish, oil etc. Abbey gave another chuckle and said it is now between me and Bubukar, the cook.
The team
We stopped in the middle of nowhere for lunch and I was given a nice colorful salad and bread. Bubukar definitely had an inclination of my strange eating habits. Along the way we stopped at the police station. Expecting a hostile reception, I was pleasantly surprised to be escorted to the General who welcomed me with open arms. Once we got to our camping spot, my cook immediately started preparing the next meal whilst I showed Malik how to pitch the tent. The wind was howling but I used sand to tighten the outside flap. After a fantastic meal, I crept into bed, quite content.

Day 1. Woke up at 6 and had omelette for breakfast. Visited market where I got an orange turban and got complimented by the soldiers who reckoned it suited me better than the navy one. Then we were off to where they were digging for gold and what a sight. Young boys were working in the dust and doing everything manually. 
My nice colourful lunch
The boys work in dust the whole day

After watching them, we moved to a section where things were done half manually before moving to the big boys. I was busy taking a video when I spotted a gendarme 2m from me. I immediately put my camera away expecting to be shouted at.  I soon realised that it was Ali, my bodyguard. Everyone was friendly and as a South African, I was considered to be an expert on gold. Finally, we left and stopped at Tobar where we had lunch and the locals had a siesta.

At 15:00, they finally started to pack and load up luggage on the donkeys.  My heart just could not take it.  When we crossed a dry riverbed one donkeys’ load sagged whilst another one slipped on the rocks.  I just broke into tears.  It was the end of the journey as I planned. I offered to go up the mountain on my own but after a two hours’ deliberation it was decided that we would leave most of the fancy cooking gadgets and food behind, get a fourth donkey and leave the next morning at 5:00 instead. 

The donkeys
I could not have been happier and really did not mind at all that I would now have to forfeit a visit or two to more villages on top. So here we were - except for the 2 hour walking around the mine and 2-hours driving, I have been sitting on my bum reading. Being afraid of dehydration whilst going up the mountain, I have polished 3 liters of water. 

Day 2:  
Breakfast was served at 6:00 sharp and the donkeys were all packed and loaded.
Clearing the path for the donkeys

  By 6:30 I was told to start walking, because they didn't want me to sabotage the expedition again!  We were progressing slowly and I noticed that the one army guy was clearing the path for the donkeys. I immediately started to help.  I had stepped into a piece of glass just before I left South Africa and could feel it as soon as I started hiking.   After 30 minutes my foot was on fire but if you count slowly to 100, it takes your mind off the pain. Once on top we waited for about an hour before the donkeys and the rest of the expedition arrived.

After lunch we got a visit from an old man. His hand was rotting and I gave him some Bactroban. I also gave his son some Panados for a headache. Pretty soon I found myself surrounded by villagers who wanted to say hello, sell me something or ask for medicine. I only had tablets for allergy, stomach cramps and nausea left. It would have to do. The lady with the eye infection got Allergex. The guy with the toothache got stuff for cramps. Then my gendarme came to my rescue and the crowd was dispersed. When I asked Malik what the boys put on their face he told me it was plain dirt. 

A visit from the locals in the village
You can never be sure of anything in Africa.  Because of the fact that I delayed the expedition, it was decided that we would travel further with motorbikes whilst the donkeys rested.  Two hours later I was told that it would be best to go with a 4x4.  I was told that the mountain was still too far but nobody was able to tell me how far was far.

The first stretch up the mountain
Day 3: It took us 3 bumpy hours to get to the bottom of the mountain and after an hours scramble to the top, I hauled out the South African flag.  Everyone was ecstatic and ten hours after leaving the camp, we were back – dead tired but all smiles.  There were absolutely no way I would have been able to hike all the way from our initial camping spot to the top of the mountain and back – and neither would the donkeys - so all was well in Africa.

On top of Niger's highest mountain

In Agadez I was welcomed back by the Sultan who gave me too many gifts.  Even the flies were polite – they would leave you alone and only land on your food.  This was truly one amazing trip and I found the Tourag people extremely friendly with a great sense of humour! 

With the sultan 
Our map to the top of the mountain


I  doubt if there were bullets in this gun

Children fetching water at the spring

Comoros - December 2018

The top of the crater
There is very little information available on the Internet about the Comoros.  I knew that there was a mountain that I wanted to climb, and whales to watch.  Unfortunately, it was not the time for whale watching and the boat trips were very unreliable.  I tried to phone the embassy of Comoros to find out about a visa, but seemingly they have disappeared off the face of the earth...

I phoned two travel agencies and was told that "no one goes to Comoros".  I phoned a visa agency and the lady had to do quite a bit of searching since they’ve never tried to get anyone a visa to enter Comoros.  Finally I was told that I could get one at the airport.  Voila!

I started to question if this is such a "touristy" place and googled again.  Politically it was  unstable and in 35 years there were 25 wars.  The fact that there was a volcano to climb convinced me to proceed!

25th December:  I was packed and ready 7 hours before my flight.  I then bit into an ice lolly - causing my front tooth's crown to come loose!  Thank goodness this was not going to be a romantic getaway!  At the airport I got a nasty surprise.  Because it is Christmas, all the exchange agencies are closed, resulting in a very knotted stomach!  

Maurice and Maddy
26th December: After a 14-hour flight, I arrived in Moroni.  To my horror I discover that there was no ATM at the airport.  I was "Euro"-less, toothless and the heat was unbearable.  I was definitely the ONLY tourist at the airport.  Fortunately a NGO worker offered to borrow me the 30 Euros, but her hotel was too far from mine..  The next moment a miracle happened!  The hotel management has sent a driver and I was able to borrow the money from him.

We stop at an ATM on our way to the hotel and my driver tried to cheat me.  I learned what the exchange rates were, so I considered myself to be very streetwise.  The driver told me that his friend would take me to Moheli  for the day.  Since my plans were to stay in Comoros for 6 days, it seemed like a grand idea and I took down his number.

But at the hotel I am told that he overcharged me for the taxi, and that it was impossible to travel to Moheli and back in one day!  I felt rather disappointed and fell into - thank goodness for an aircon!  At 23h00 there was a knock on the door - the manager brought me a huge plate of cooked chips, raw pasta, vegetables and eggs to take on the hike the following day. 

27th December:  My driver arrived 10 minutes early.  There was no other choice but to take the heave plate of food with.  I was only given 1,5 litres of water but decided to take another one just in case.  At the drop-off point, there was no sign of my guide.  The driver  had no airtime to contact him!  Miraculously, he appeared 30 minutes later.  I handed him the heavy plate of food and explained that it was with compliments from the hotel manager.  I was pretty unfit and it was past humid!  After an hour my guide offered to carry my 3 litres of water, and I regretted not taking more.  I declined his offer to carry my backpack – I needed the exercise!

Life saving water
We reached the camp after a 3-hour hike and after hiding our gear, we were off to the highest peak.  If it was not for the fact that we did not have enough water with us, I would have insisted on hiking to the top the next day.  According to him, we were lucky to get a clear sky day without rain.  I was pleasantly surprised when we finally reached the top.  I hauled out the South-African flag and tried my best to smile without showing the gap in my teeth!  I felt like "Jane" when I swung through some trees in order to reach the crater below!

After 6 hours, we finally got back to the camp and I pitched my tent - whilst Maddy and a friend enjoyed the huge plate of food. I was extremely worried about the water situation and I asked Maddy's friend if he had spare water.  I thought that if I got lucky and he had water I would just need to boil it first.  Much to my surprise he presented me with a fresh 1.5 litre bottle - By now I was extremely worried about the water situation and asked his friend if he did not have any spare water – expecting to boil it!  Much to my surprise he pulled out a 1.5 l bottled water and I quickly gulped down at least half of it!

The campsite

28th December:  I was all packed by 5:00 and after enjoying a cup of coffee, we started our hike.  The mountain was very littered and I decided to return again to clean up.  I badly needed to rest so we only picked up litter from the camp going down.  When we reached the village, there was no driver waiting and Maddy's phone battery was dead.  We walked to Maddy's house where his wife kindly forced me to eat some very dry cake, which I washed down with the water I had left.  She got hold of the hotel manager and they sent a driver to pick me up.  After a rejuvenating shower, I collected boiled water from the restaurant so that I could prepare myself a nice cup of coffee - fortunately I always have my coffee mix with me, everywhere I go!

Maddy having lunch

29th December:  I did absolutely nothing all day, except for a bit of reading and playing cellphone games. 

30th of December:  Because we were not going to spend the evening on top of the mountain, Maurice (a guy that I met the day before) and I set off for the mountains by 2:50.  This time I gave all my luggage to Maddy to carry.  I picked up litter whilst Maddy and Maurice went down the crater.  During our hike we picked up 5 large bags of litter.  Strangely, it took the same amount of time going up the mountain as descending. 

On top of the highest peak

We followed "Jeep" tracks filled with scree the entire way.  After 12 hours, I was back in my air conditioned room.  This was definitely not the most exciting hike ever and my feet hurt like crazy! 

It broke my heart to leave this kitten behind but at least his mom was there