Game drive in the Serengeti: lions, elephants, giraffes, unicorns and vampires.

For the first time in my life, I embarked on an organized overland tour. Last year, I travelled over 6,000 km through Southern Africa in a rental car and found the concept quite nice. Unfortunately, Eastern Africa is neither as developed nor as organized as the South. Crossing international borders with a rental car or one-way rentals is not really possible and public transportation is rather painful.


So I set off with my 21 new friends on a 19 day tour, which will take us from Nairobi, Kenya to Livingstone, Zambia. The big white truck is the primary vehicle and the four Land Rovers took us in the Serengeti National Park, the first real activity on the tour (Kenya was just a departure point, we did nothing there).


Roads in Tanzania are absolute garbage. This is not due to neglect, but rather to the huge amount of roadwork being done. The main highway is being worked on in dozens and dozens of segments simultaneously, and narrow paths have to be used to go around. For all intents and purposes, this means that at the moment, the main highway is unpaved. To kill the boredom, I shot pictures though the window, and I thought this one turned out to be OK.


From this small hill at the very entrance of the National Park, you can see the vast expanse of the Serengeti plain. At the right time of the year, you can see hundreds of thousands of migrating buffalos, zebras and other four-legged cat lunches making their way towards Kenya, or back down, in pursuit of the rains.


As I wrote in my post about Murchison Falls National Park, a game drive is a game drive, so hopefully you enjoy some of the pictures.


Continue reading

A short visit to a very troubled country

Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a recent past filled with corruption, autocratic rule, civil war and a life expectancy in the 40s. Even now, it is far from safe and there is not that much to see. So why would one go there? Well, I went because it was there, I was right next door, and I thought “when am I going to have the chance again”?


As a general rule, I find that the touristic appeal of a country is inversely proportional to the number of UN planes flying there. For each tourist I ran into, I saw at least 100 UN personnel.


While Bujumbura is a beachfront city, the reality of that beach doesn’t add much to the country’s appeal. But to be honest, about twenty minutes outside of town, there is another beach which apparently gets packed on week-ends. I went and it was certainly much cleaner and surrounded with bars and little tables. I’m sure it would be fine on another day. Strangely, the main bar/restaurant kept a couple of monkeys in cages.


This is zoo keeping, 19th Century style. A tiny cage from which any passerby can poke the poor creature to get a reaction. He seemed thirsty, so we gave him a bottle of water. I wasn’t sure a chimp would know what to do with a bottle of water…


But he sure did! I wish we had had a bottle of beer to give him; that would have been precious. Continue reading

Volcanoes National Park and the Congolese border.

After spending some time in Kigali, comparatively so much more enjoyable than the region’s other capitals, such as Kampala, Nairobi and Bujumbura, I headed north to the city of Ruhengeri, now known as Musanze. This double set of names was a little confusing and common throughout the country. According to someone I asked, the government has broken down large municipal administrative divisions, resulting in the central neighbourhood of cities becoming new, independent cities, under new names. The explanation was a little vague so I took it with a grain of salt.


Musanze is the gateway to the Volcanoes National Park, which attracts a large portion of Rwanda’s emerging tourism market. The area around the natural reserve, like most of the country, is very hilly, yet cultivated in every possible place. Hills much steeper than this one are planted and harvested all the way to the summit. Since the mid-1980’s, the entire surface of the country, with the exception of the national parks, has been cultivated. This very high population density is suggested by some as having contributed to Rwanda’s violent past.


In order to prevent wild animals from entering cultivated lands, a surprising 76 km stone wall was built. Rather than having a large crew build the whole thing, each adjacent community around the park was responsible for the construction of a segment. This also served as a “make-work” project for this impoverished area of potato growers.

Despite the area’s poverty, my travels in Africa always end up costing me more than I had expected. This excursion was a perfect example. I paid about $2 or 3 for a two hour bus ride from Kigali, but to get to the National Park, I paid $80 to rent a 4×4 and driver. The reality is that most touristic attractions are focused on natural reserves and since people are not allowed to live there, there is obviously little public transportation – or roads – leading to them. Tourism is also not developed enough to have organized day trips where you get paired up with other interested travellers to save on transportation costs.


As far as the cost of climbing the Bisoke Volcano, I was quite happy about the $75 fee. The muddy trail was partly covered with these earth bag stairs and the ranger/guide was very knowledgeable. The best was that we ran into a group of mountain gorillas who happened to be feeding near the trail. A permit to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda costs $750 and I am absolutely not interested enough in primates to pay that kind of money. But, seeing them for free was OK! Unfortunately, we could not linger or take pictures. The high fees are an obvious easy source of revenue for the Rwandan Government, but the limitation of the offer is also intended as a sound conservation measure. Each gorilla group is only exposed to one group of tourists or two a day, of limited size, and for only an hour a day. Strict rules are also enforced about eating, drinking or making noise in front of them. Not being able to take pictures during our quick encounter was probably to avoid upsetting people paying ten times the amount for the same experience.


The park fee also included the company of four soldiers, apparently there to protect us against unwanted encounters with angry buffalos. It’s not always the scariest looking animals that are the most dangerous. Continue reading

Kigali, a rapidly changing city and its tragic history

My first impression of Rwanda came over the skies of Uganda, as I flew on the National Carrier, Rwandair.


A brand new Canadian-built aircraft, great flight attendants and a free glass of wine offered on a 35 minute flight. I landed with some wine left!


In all honesty, I had done very little research prior to my trip to Rwanda. As I already mentioned a while ago, my planned travels to complicated regions later this Fall, such as Tibet and North Korea, occupied much of my July break in Ottawa, and I came to East Africa unprepared. I must say, this kind of shopping centre is not what I expected to find in Kigali.


If I had been magically transported here and told I was in a much richer country, such as South Africa, I would have easily believed it. South Africa would have been especially believable since English is fast replacing French as the “Official second language” in Rwanda. French stopped being thought in schools three years ago and all new signage is in English. Throughout the country, I rarely found French useful. They also changed the street names to numbers in Kigali, but this is not yet reflected on Google Maps. So don’t go looking for the corner of Avenue de la Gendarmerie and Rue de la République, like I did. The only signposts you will see will read 4th Avenue and 12th Street. Continue reading

Video: Rafting the White Nile

I will start by managing expectations. This video will not make the Best of Extreme Sports DVD anytime soon. It would only be exciting to an Ethiopian nomad from the Danakil Desert who has never seen a river, a raft, or a laptop. I mainly made it for the folks I rafted with. It’s under five minutes, but if you get bored, jump to 2:40, it gets a little more exciting.

The rapids were nice, but there are only 8 or 9 sets of them. By comparison, the Lower Zambezi has almost thirty you can go through on a normal rafting day.

Credit: Safari Par Excellence

Credit: Safari Par Excellence

A shot from my rafting experience last December in Livingstone, Zambia. We just hit walls of water at some points. You have to be comfortable in the water, because when you fall in the Zambezi’s level 5 rapids, the river decides when you breath next, not you. You may only have to wait 10 seconds, but that is more than enough to panic some people, as I witnessed a few times.

I’ll be back in Zambia in three weeks and I already can’t wait to raft the Zambezi again!


Game Drive in Murchison Falls National Park

Early morning departure for the game drive in Murchison Falls National Park. Not much to say about it, a game drive is a game drive, so hope you enjoy the pictures.


I was upset with the tour company that we left as late as 07:00, which is much too late for an early morning game drive, but they had no choice as this is the National Park opening hour.


Within a few kilometres, the scenery would change completely.


Even without the animals, the park is quite beautiful.


Luckily for them, camouflage is not the main defence mechanism of the giraffe. Continue reading

My first video: Flying over Ottawa in a 1939 open cockpit biplane!

Obviously, I realize that a travel blog usually doesn’t involve one posting about his hometown, but let this be an exception. I was in Canada for a few weeks this summer and I wanted to try my new GoPro camera before I took it on the road. Since me hanging around my favourite Ottawa pub might not have been that exciting, Michelle and I rented a 1939 biplane (with pilot!) and went for a ride over Ottawa’s downtown.


Us and the machine.

And here’s the video. About 5 minutes, with a bit of a description of what you are seeing. If you get bored, make sure not to miss the last 40 seconds. It’s quite funny.

Since I don’t really know what I am doing, comments and criticism are most welcomed (although they are disabled on Youtube, please comment on Facebook or on the blog).