Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 23, Kenya, Africa

As we leave Uganda and head for Kenya, we decided to learn some Swahili on the way.......

J*A*M*B*O...Greetings from Kenya

Greetings are more important in Swahili than in English. Most social interactions are prefaced by a greeting and it is considered rude not to greet someone you are going to speak to.

We learnt the most important phrases:
Hello= Jambo
Bwana is a term of respect for men, meaning "sir" or "mister"

Jambo Bwana means greetings Sir

Goodbye = Kwaheri
How much does this cost? = Hii ni bei gani?
I would like to buy some clothes = Ninataka kununua nguo
Thank you = asante

I have now provided Nopi, Sita, Marti and Jarca with the lyrics to a popular song.........so we will probably be singing this song throughout our travels in Kenya ;-)

Jambo, Jambo Bwana - Jambo, Jambo Bwana, Hakuna Matata.

Jambo, Jambo Bwana - have a good time, enjoy the samba.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - you are welcome, Hakuna Matata.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - have a good time, enjoy the samba.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - take it easy, Hakuna Matata.

Can you hear the drum beat? Hakuna Matata.
Can you hear the singing? Hakuna Matata.
Can you see the dancing? Hakuna Matata.
If you want romancing. Hakuna Matata.

Jambo, Jambo Bwana - Jambo, Jambo Bwana, Hakuna Matata.

Jambo, Jambo Bwana - have a good time, enjoy the samba.
The scent of the sweet chacaranda, it's Nirwana, Hakuna Matata.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - have a good time, enjoy the samba.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - take it easy, Hakuna Matata.

Can you hear the drum beat? Hakuna Matata.
Can you hear the singing? Hakuna Matata.
See them dancing. Hakuna Matata. And Romancing. Hakuna Matata.

Jambo, Jambo Bwana - Jambo, Jambo Bwana, Hakuna Matata.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - have a good time, enjoy the samba.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - take it easy, Hakuna Matata.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana - have a good time, enjoy the samba...

Day 23, Uganda, Africa

Ramzi had to leave us due to some familial obligations but he hopes to join us on another leg of our journey. Thanks Ramzi:-)))

OK, girls, now that we have all had our prophylactic anti malarials and our yellow fever shots, I have a surprise for you today....we are going to visit.............

the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, located in south-western Uganda. It comprises 331 square kilometres of jungle forests and contains both montane and lowland forest and is accessible only on foot and yes, you are right Nopi, it is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.

The forest is one of the richest ecosystems in Africa, and the diversity of species is a feature of the park. The park provides habitat for some 120 species of mammals, 346 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies, 163 species of trees, 100 species of ferns, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and many endangered species.

The park is a sanctuary for coleus monkeys, chimpanzees and many birds (such as hornbills and traces) etc, but.......girls.....get ready for your own "Gorillas in the Mist" experience.... we are going to see the Bwindi gorillas.... (well, my personal favourite gorilla movie is "Mighty Joe Young")...

Did you know that the Bwindi gorilla, a population of the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), is found in the rain forests of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and comprises about half the world's endangered population of about 600 Mountain Gorillas??

Sadly, disease, habitat loss, war, civil unrest and poaching are the greatest threat to the gorillas. As far as I know there are no mountain gorillas in captivity and those bred in captivity previously did not survive..

Okay, get ready....I have the permits (which I bought in advance), and the expert gorilla trekking guide is waiting to take us to the park which is in a remote location. Gosh, these roads are in a bad condition, but we are all now eagerly looking forward to the adventure that lies ahead. The income generated from these treks is used to protect the animals and their unique way of life...

We have reached the park and the trackers are ready to take us into the jungle....hopefully we will see a family of this magnificent, critically endangered ape species.....lets go....they can live quite deep in the jungle so we don't know how far we will have to trek before we see them......

The guides, Jack and Mike are extremely friendly and informative......and we had tons of questions....but we had to speak very softly so as not to disturb the animals..
. .

So what do they eat??
Mike says that the Mountain Gorilla is primarily an herbivore; the majority of its diet is composed of the leaves, shoots and stems,bark, roots, flowers, and fruit, as well as small invertebrates.

Adult males can eat up to 34 kg (75 lb) of vegetation a day, while a female can eat as much as 18 kg (40 lb)!!

Whoa, that's a lot of food.....but then again, it has a massive body!

The Mountain Gorilla is diurnal, most active between 6:00 a.m.and 6:00 p.m. Many of these hours are spent eating, hmmm; well I am sure that it takes a long time to eat between 18 and 34 kg of food!!!

It forages in early morning, rests during the late morning and around midday, and in the afternoon it forages again before resting at night.

And where do they sleep?
Jack told us that Bwindi gorillas build their nests in trees, nearly always in Echizogwa, a small under story tree, but due to loggers and poachers, the gorillas are slowly dying out.

Each gorilla builds a nest from surrounding vegetation to sleep in, constructing a new one every evening!! Only infants sleep in the same nest as their mothers. They leave their sleeping sites when the sun rises at around 6 am, except when it is cold and overcast; then they often stay longer in their nests.

Hmm, imagine having a new home every evening!

We continue our trek...deeper into the jungle....still in search of these majestic animals.......whilst the guides continue to answer all our questions....I really hope that we will see them today....

For reasons unknown, Mountain Gorillas that have been studied appear to be naturally afraid of certain reptiles, chameleons and caterpillars....Can you imagine a gorilla being afraid of a caterpillar??

They are also hydrophobic!!....

Did you know that the gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual....we have fingerprints, they have nose prints!

Sshhhhhh, we see something ahead.......it looks like a family......

Very quietly we find an observation point.............Wow........what a magical experience to be seeing these majestic animals, the rarest of apes, in their natural habitat.

The midday rest period is an important time for establishing and reinforcing relationships within the group. Mutual grooming reinforces social bonds, and helps keep hair free from dirt and parasites. The young gorillas are playing as it helps them learn how to communicate and behave within the group. Activities include wrestling, chasing and somersaults. This is such fun...and an unforgettable experience indeed.

So how do we distinguish between male and female??

Males usually weigh twice as much as the females, and this subspecies is on average the largest of all gorillas.

Adult males have more pronounced bony crests on the top and back of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape. These crests anchor the powerful masseter muscles, which attach to the lower jaw, or mandible.
Adult females also have these crests, but they are less pronounced.

hehe, this one looks like she is posing for us....

That one looks bigger!!

Yes, it is a silverback, an adult male gorilla, typically more than 12 years of age and named for the distinctive patch of silver hair on his back....(not very photogenic!)

The dominant silverback generally determines the movements of the group, leading it to appropriate feeding sites throughout the year.

He also mediates conflicts within the group and protects it from external threats.

He is the center of attention during rest sessions, and young animals frequently stay close to him and include him in their games.

If a mother dies or leaves the group, the silverback is usually the one who looks after his abandoned offspring, even allowing them to sleep in his nest.

Experienced silverbacks are capable of removing poachers' snares from the hands or feet of their group members.

When the dominant silverback dies or is killed by disease, accident, or poachers, the family group may be severely disrupted. Unless he leaves behind a male descendant capable of taking over his position, the group will either split up or be taken over in its entirety by an unrelated male.

When a new silverback takes control of a family group, he may kill all of the infants of the dead silverback. This practice of infanticide is an effective reproductive strategy, in that the newly acquired females are then able to conceive the new male's offspring. Luckily infanticide has not been observed in stable groups.

Severe aggression between two Mountain Gorilla groups can result in a fight to the death!
We sat there for about an hour and simply enjoyed observing them....in silence.....

Sighhhhhhh....its time to leave these magnificent beasts and make our way back through the jungle....back to civilisation......but these are memories that will remain with us forever….

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 22, Uganda, Africa

We are now on our way to Uganda....yes Sita, where the Last King of Scotland was filmed....

Nopi and Jarca are a little intrigued by this country and its stalls in the rural areas.

Aah, we have arrived in Kampala, the largest city and capital of Uganda and like many cities is said to be built on seven hills, but I can't see all 7 hills ;-(

Anyway, Sita is really excited because we are now off to see a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been days since we have seen one, and we are going into withdrawal!!

Kasubi Tombs in Kampala, Uganda, is the burial grounds for four previous Kabakas (Kings of Buganda Kingdom). The royal enclosure at Kasubi hill was first built in 1881. Also known as the Ssekabaka's Tombs, these are the royal tombs where the following Kabakas are buried:
Mutesa I (1835-1884)
Mwanga II (1867-1903)

Daudi Chwa II (1896-1939)
Sir Edward Mutesa II (1924-1969).

The Kasubi Tombs site is a masterpiece of human creativity both in its conception and its execution and bears witness to the living cultural traditions of the Baganda. The spatial organization of the Kasubi Tombs site represents the best extant example of a Baganda palace/architectural ensemble. Built in the finest traditions of Ganda architecture and palace design, it reflects technical achievements developed over many centuries. The built and natural elements of the Kasubi Tombs site are charged with historical, traditional, and spiritual values. It is a major spiritual centre for the Baganda and is the most active religious place in the kingdom.

Next stop...........guess????

Sunday, June 28, 2009

singing in Africa

Day 21, leaving Djibouti, finally!

Well, we are still in the city of Djibouti, and finally Ramzi has decided we are going to Lake Abbe or Lake Abhe Bad, a salt lake lying on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border.

We are really looking forward to seeing this lake that is one of a chain of six connected lakes which also includes (from north to south) lakes Gargori, Laitali, Gummare, Bario and Afambo and is the ultimate destination of the waters of the Awash River.

Lake Abbe is at the central point of the Afar Depression, where three pieces of the Earth's crust meet. Wow!
On the northwest shore rises Dama Ali, a volcanic mountain...look, look, Nopi...there are the 50 m high limestone chimneys, from which steam vents!! This is really awesome....

Nopi is in the mood to sing ....here we go again.........

Day 21;from North to East Africa

What is our next stop Ramzi??? ......Sudan??
Situated in northern Africa, bordering the Red Sea and it has a coastline of 853 km along the Red Sea. With an area of 2,505,810 square kilometres (967,499 sq mi), it is the largest
country on the continent.

Rich mineral resources are available in Sudan including: petroleum, natural gas, gold, silver, chromite, asbestos, manganese, gypsum, mica, zinc, iron, lead, uranium, copper, kaolin, cobalt, granite, nickel and tin. Desertification is a serious problem in Sudan.

But, Ramzi continues in his attempts to frighten us ......the perils of travelling in Africa...ooooh...we are so scared Ramzi, we are shaking in our boots!!!

Islamic militants have threatened violence against Sudan's government and could target Western interests following the death of a suspected militant recently.

Four Sudanese men were recently condemned to hang for killing a US aid official , and his driver in Khartoum, and a fifth man was jailed . In earlier hearings, prosecution lawyers and witnesses had described them as "religious extremists" .

Sita and Nopi have the kindest and biggest hearts and have always wanted to join one of these organisations:-
lobal Aid Network ;Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International ;World Vision;Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF (Doctors Without Borders);Mercy Corps ; AmeriCares ;CARE ;Malteser International;International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
to become humanitarian aid workers.

The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity but when Ramzi told us that the most lethal year in the history of humanit
arianism was 2008, in which 122 aid workers were murdered and 260 assaulted, they were appalled! !
The unsafest countries were Somalia and Afghanistan.

Does this mean that we will not be visiting Somalia either Ramzi??

"NO!!", bellows Ramzi. The country is under a state of emergency, following the intensifying violence across the country!!

Ramzi also told us that the suicide bomber who blew himself up and killed 19 other people in western Somalia last week was a 17-year-old Somali.

Okay, so we won't be visiting Somalia either:-((

How about Eritrea ,a country bordered by Sudan in the west, Eth
iopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast??

The east and northeast of the country have an extensive coastline on the Red Sea, directly across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Its size is just under 118,000 km² with an estimated population of 5 million. The capital is the beautiful Asmara.
Ramzi says "US officials have accused Eritrea of sending weapons to the
rebels, who have taken over much of Mogadishu and southern Somalia" so it may not be safe there either..

Hmmm, Ramzi is obviously very well informed about the activities
in the area, and so he is the perfect travelling companion....our knight in shining armour!!!

Thank you Ramziiiiii.
Big hugs from all the girls in the group.....ooooh, Ramzi is verrry happy. ..for now, he is the only male amongst 5 females;-)

Nopi wants to go to Sierra Leone. Ramzi replies in the negative, again:-(

Yes Nopi, I know that you enjoyed the movie "Blood Diamond".
You want to know what conflict-free diamonds are? OK, a conflict-free diamond is a diamond whose profits are not used to fund wars and which is produced and mined under ethical conditions. Only diamonds that are certified and can be traced from the mine to the consumer are conflict-free diamonds.

In relation to diamond trading, blood diamond (also called a converted diamond, conflict diamond, hot diamond or a war diamond) refers to a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army's war efforts, or a warlord's activity, usually in Africa.

Gambia Ramzi??

The African Union Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on Tuesday urged Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to uphold the right to free expression after a recent media crackdown.
Does this mean that we will not be able to use our cameras???

is such a spoilsport. He won't allow us to travel anywhere. Whenever we mention an African country to him, he has a news report to quote......:-(

My travelling companions have begun to change th
eir perspective on Africa after they have listened to Ramzi's frequent news updates and witnessed the stark reality first hand.......

Africa is not just about beautiful landscapes and wildlife.......it is also about sadness, poverty, pain,warlords, crime, corruption, sexual violence!!

Ramzi also told us about how rape is used as a weapon of war in Congo.
Civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are caught between men in uniform who rape with impunity and Rwandan Hutu rebels who commit brutal reprisal killings, the top UN aid official there said on Friday, 26 June 2009.

Doctors Without Borders has reported that 75 percent of all the rape cases it dealt with worldwide were in the eastern Congo!!!
A census by UNICEF and related medical centres reported treatment of 18,505 persons for sexual violence in the first 10 months of 2008, 30 percent of whom were children!!

These are scary stats!!

After much thought we have reached a consensus that due to civil wars, terrorists, religious fanatics; ethnic cleansing, swine flu, Ebola virus, suicide bombings, and pirates amongst other things, it will be in our best interests to simply listen to
Ramzi's advice.....

Ramzi realises that we are devastated by the news of MJ's passing and so he has promised us an African safari in the coming week provided that, for now, we go where he tells us to....
boooooring, but safe......
We have something really exciting to look forward to this week.......the natural beauty of Africa.....hurray!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 20, Djibouti, Africa

Good morning

We have woken up this morning, still grief stricken & in shock......Nopi tried to get as much information as she could yesterday ....... http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/06/26/michael.jackson.internet/index.html ....... but the Internet had slowed down, dramatically... http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2009/michael.jackson/world.reaction .............

Ramzi returned my call late last night, and he was furious with me!!! I was severely reprimanded by an otherwise sweet friend! Why??
Well, Ramzi had offered to escort us through the Sahel belt because it is not safe for five foreigners, especially females, to be travelling by ourselves and we didn't take him up on his offer..... :-((

Yesterday we whizzed through Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Kenya and ended up in Ethiopia without paying attention to any of the sights.....we were so distraught and all we wanted to do was to share our sorrow with other fans in the vicinity.

Ramzi had warned me that in the north of Mali, Touaregs are still at war

and that they would not hesitate to kidnap a foreigner like myself and use me as a hostage, or could use me in exchange for weapons!!!! Obviously I didn't take him seriously at the time.

He also warned me about Islamic terrorists in the region, who would not hesitate to kidnap one of us. After all we were a multinational group- Greek, Indian, South African and Czech- that would involve four different governments!!! We could be used to negotiate the release of prisoners etc, and could be beheaded if the governments did not comply!

Then he also told me about the weapons and cigarette smugglers ( Marlboro connection!!!) who are heavily armed and very dangerous.

Now, instead of us going to Algeria to meet him, he has joined us here for the rest of the trip in this part of the world.

We are going to take the aerial route to Djibouti, which lies in Northeast Africa on the Gulf of Aden at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

The country is mainly a stony desert, with scattered plateaus and highlands.

The city of Djibouti is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Djibouti. It lies on a peninsula that divides the Gulf of Aden from the Gulf of Tadjoura.

Someone once described it as an "African city designed like a European settlement and a kind of French Hong Kong in the Red Sea".

Two-thirds of the inhabitants live in the capital city, the remainder being mostly nomadic herders. Features of Djibouti City include beaches along its eastern shore and the large Central Market, the national stadium Stade du Ville, the Presidential Palace and Hamouli Mosque.

We all figured that a little retail therapy may help to comfort us ...to deal with the grief.........

Ramzi showed a recent news report in the region:

Pirates torched a Seychelles vessel off the coast of Somalia after releasing its seven crew members for a ransom, two members of the pirate group said on Wednesday

Berbera, Somalia - "In our culture we were nomads and we believed it was our right to take sheep, to take cattle. That is how we see the ships. They are our sheep and we will take them!!"

Ramzi has indicated that travelling through failed states can be dangerous http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failed_States_Index

Some of the countries which we had already travelled through yesterday are in the top 20!!!Somalia, Zimbabawe, Sudan, Chad, DRC, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, & Ethiopia

A failed state has several attributes.Common indicators include a state whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; sharp economic decline.

The shopping in Djibouti has provided us with some relief from the sorrow we have felt over the past 36 hours.......Nopi reminisced .....she had posters of MJ on her wall when she was growing, like we all did!! We felt a deep sadness for this troubled man but everyone agreed that we should celebrate his talent and decided to continue with our journey through Africa. Of course, I was especially enraged by the polypharmacy which obviously led to his demise, but then I saw it as a release from his earthly body.....may his soul rest in peace....

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 19

The "Thriller" is gone, but the thrill will always remain.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

Day 19, mourning in Africa

Michael Jackson first visited the continent at the age of 14 as the lead singer of the Jackson Five.

Emerging from the plane in Senegal, he responded to a welcome of drummers and dancers by screaming:
''This is where I come from."

The crowds who were beginning to line Ivory Coast's Abidjan streets after hearing about the news of his death were testament to his huge popularity across the continent.

Ghanaian journalist Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who says she was a huge Jackson Five fan as a girl, covered the star's visit to Ghana. When his car window wound down for a brief minute for him to greet fans, she asked him about his trip to Africa, and he replied limply:
"Beautiful, I love it."

"It's not true, no it's not true," a woman in Accra wailed as her companion accused us of lying about the news of Jackson's death.

In Nigeria, a presenter on Radio Continental broke down live on air and could not continue her programme.

One of Michael Jackson's brothers, Marlon, is planning to develop a controversial luxury resort, a mixture of a slave history theme park and a museum dedicated to the Jackson Five in Nigeria.

"He's a legend, he's not supposed to die,"
a woman in the Kenyan capital told us.

Michael Jackson's most tangible contribution to Africa came at the peak of his career in the mid-1980s, when he co-wrote the charity song We are the World with Lionel Ritchie.

Sung by a group of leading artists, the single topped charts around the world raising awareness and more than $50m for famine relief in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa

We are from different cities, different countries, different continents, different races, different religions, however we all have one thing in common today.........

We all mourn the loss of this icon, the consummate entertainer, the greatest musical legend of our generation......... he may have been a flawed human being, but his music was perfect.... may his soul rest in peace.

An astrologer tells us that at the time of Michael's death transiting Mars was nearly exactly conjunct Michael's natal Mars, and Jupiter (along with Chiron and Neptune) was in a nearly exact trine to Jupiter in his natal chart.

Jupiter is the Great Liberator; the planet of abundance and good fortune.

When death occurs under a transit of Jupiter, it is a signal that the soul will be freed from the prison of the body. While we mourn the tragedy of his death, the planets tell the story: his death was a liberation from a life that was painful beyond measure

He seems to have been addicted to painkillers......he is in pain no more and his music will live on forever in our memories...........

We cannot decide what is our favourite MICHAEL JACKSON SONG......we loved them all......

Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
Rock With You
Working Day And Night
Get On the Floor
Off The Wall
She's Out Of My Life
I Can't Help It
It's The Falling In Love
Burn This Disco Out


Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
Baby Be Mine
The Girl Is Mine
Beat It
Billie Jean
Human Nature
P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
The Lady In My Life
Thriller- Special Edition Extra Tracks
Someone In The Dark (From E.T Storybook)

The Way You Make Me Feel
Speed Demon
Liberian Girl
Just Good Friends
Another Part Of Me
Man In The Mirror
I Just Can't Stop Loving You
Dirty Diana
Smooth Criminal
Leave Me Alone

Bad - Special Edition Extra Tracks
Street Walker
Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu (I Just Can't Stop Loving You - In Spanish)
Fly Away
Why You Wanna Trip On Me
In The Closet
She Drives Me Wild
Remember The Time
Can't Let Her Get Away
Heal The World
Black Or White
Who Is It
Give In To Me
Will You Be There
Keep The Faith
Gone Too Soon

HIStory - Past, Present And Future - Book 1
They Don't Care About Us
Stranger In Moscow
This Time Around
Earth Song
Come Together
You Are Not Alone
Tabloid Junkie
2 Bad
Little Susie

Blood On The Dance Floor - HIStory In The Mix
Blood On The Dance Floor
Superfly Sister
Is It Scary?

Break Of Dawn
Heaven Can Wait
You Rock My World
2000 Watts
You Are My Life
Don't Walk Away
The Lost Children
Whatever Happens

Ultimate Collection Only the Previously Unreleased songs.

Ease On Down The Road (From The Wiz)
You Can't Win (From The Wiz)
Sunset Driver (Demo)
Scared Of The Moon (Demo)
We Are The World (Solo Demo Version)
We Are Here To Change The World (From Captain Eo)
Monkey Business
Someone Put Your Hand Out
On The Line
Fall Again
In The Back
Beautiful Girl
The Way You Love Me
We've Had Enough

One More Chance -A single and also a track on the "Number Ones" Album

Mind Is The Magic (On Siegfried and Roy "Dreams & Illusions")
Say Say Say ( Duet with Paul McCartney)
SHOUT (B side of the single Cry)
Get It (Duet With Stevie Wonder )
The Man (With Paul McCartney)

Performed Live:
Elizabeth, I Love You (sung live for a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor)
You Where There (sung live for a tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.)
What More Can I Give

As Michael said

We are the world,
We are the children,
We are the one to make a brighter day,
So let`s start givin`,
There`s a chance we`re takin`,
We`re takin all our lives,
It`s true we`re make it a brighter day just you and me.

so let's heal the world, and pray that peace will come to Africa and other places of war and conflict in the world.

Day 19; Mourning in Africa, R.I.P. Michael Jackson

We have woken up to some rather sad news this morning.

News of pop star Michael Jackson's death has been greeted with a mixture of disbelief and sadness across Africa.

I cannot believe it, neither can Nopi or Sita. We all grew up listening to this legend's music.

We have decided that today we will visit other countries in the region who share our love for Michael's musical genius.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 18, Sahel belt; Africa

Oooh, the singing continues ....(we have a potential girl band in the making here)....

we say goodbye to Madagascar,

the latest news in Madagascar is :

'This is a political coup'
June 24 2009 at 03:11PM

Antananarivo - Madagascar's police said on Wednesday they had arrested a group of men suspected of attempted bomb attacks which the government said had connections to the opposition movement of ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana.

....and ....SAHEL........here we come.......

The Sahel runs 2,400 miles (3862 km) from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east, in a belt that varies from several hundred to a thousand kilometers (620 miles) in width, covering an area of 3,053,200 square kilometers (1,178,800 square miles). It is a transitional ecoregion of semi-arid grasslands, savanna s, steppes, and thorn shrublands lying between the wooded Sudanian savanna to the south and the Sahara to the north.

The countries of the Sahel today include Senegal, Maurit
ania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea

Why are you girls so excited to be visiting Africa???

Nopi : "The wild beauty, the awesome landscapes!!"

Sita : "The call of the wilderness. Nature at its wild best is the one reason for visiting Africa."

Marti: "especially the animals... it must be great to see them in their natural surroundings :)"

We have accepted an invitation from Sita's friend so now we are going to fly straight to the ancient Ksour of Oualata in Mauritania in West Africa.

This UNESCO World Heritage religious centre was founded in the 11th and 12th centuries to serve the caravans crossing the Sahara and became a focal point of Islamic culture.

Did you know that at 397,929 square miles (1,030,700 km²) Mauritania is the world's 29th-largest country?

I am observing the locals. Where are all these people going to ?? Thousands of Mauritanians are packing their suitcases and getting ready to leave the big cities of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou for the rural provinces of Adrar and Assaba. From oases – with their 25 million palm trees – to mountains embracing the golden sand dunes, hills and valleys, the scenery draws Mauritanians to the region for the annual celebration of Guetna, or "date season".......yummy, I like dates!!

We stopped to buy some bottled water and the local shopkeeper has warned us that a group of youths shot dead an American man on Tuesday in the centre of the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. The man, whom investigators said ran a private language and computer school, was shot several times in th e head from close range after he resisted an apparent kidnap attempt!!

Hmm, I cannot seem to reach our friend Ramzi in Algeria. He is probably out trying to find some more chicks!!! I will try to call him again later. Let's quickly move on.

We are truly fortunate to have received another invitation. This time it is from Nopi's friend, Traore, in Mali, a landlocked nation in West Africa, located s
outhwest of Algeria
He has met us in the home of the prestigious Koranic Sankore University and other madrasas, Timbuktu, a UNESCO world heritage site.

This was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall Timbuktu's golden age.

Although continuously restored, it is such a pity that these monuments are under threat from desertification.

Now he is taking us to his home to Land of the Dogons.

Wow, what a heartwarming welcome....

The Dogon, a people of Mali, are mainly farmers (mainly millet) and blacksmiths and their population is estimated at 700000. They are known for their world view and their sculptures

I am so glad that Ramzi advised us on how to dress when we were packing.
It is really cold here at night in the desert....brrrrr. We are keeping our first aid kit close by just in case we are attacked by scorpions,snakes, spiders etc. Ramzi warned us not to leave home without snake anti venom; sunblock with the highest SPF for the day and our Garmin navigational system. We don't want to get lost here.

I am slightly concerned for our safety so I am trying to contact Ramzi again..... no answer. Where are you Ramzi?????

I have just read in the local newspaper that insurgents have killed five Algerian paramilitary police and kidnapped two others in an ambush.
Kidnappings in this part of Africa seem to be quite frequent:-( http://www.einnews.com/africa/newsfeed-africa-kidnapping

We are going to remain in the Land of the Dogons tonight......hopefully I will be able to contact Ramzi in the morning before we continue our journey through the Sahel.
This leg of the journey seems like it will be filled with perils, challenges, adventures, so it's good night from Mali in West Africa .........

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 18, en route to West Africa

Being a South African, I wanted to prepare my friends for our travels through Africa, so before we reached the heart of Africa we watched the following movies on the plane.

1. Out of Africa (1985)
The scenery is spectacular, the acting is great (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) and it's very romantic. This movie has proved to be one of Kenya's most effective marketing tools...and my friends cannot wait to visit Kenya.....

2.Blood Diamond (2006)© Warner Brothers

This movie is set in Sierra Leone during the chaotic 1990's when the country was in the midst of a civil war. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a South African mercenary who teams up with Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) a local fisherman looking for his son who has been abducted by rebels. The two are looking for a diamond that will change their lives for ever. They are followed by an American reporter (Jennifer Connelly) trying to tell the story about conflict diamonds and the part they have played in fuelling one of the most brutal civil wars the world has ever seen. My friends are not too happy with this movie ...it doesn't match up with their romanticised view of Africa.....

3.The Last King of Scotland (2006)© Fox Searchlight
The Last King of Scotland is a movie about a young doctor working in Uganda who finds himself unwittingly picked as the personal physician to one of the world's most brutal dictators, Idi Amin. Forest Whitaker plays Idi Amin and he won a best acting oscar for his incredible performance.
The movie was filmed on location in Uganda so since we are planning to travel there I felt it was worth watching just to get a feel of the countryside. Thank goodness Uganda is now at peace and Idi Amin and his equally brutal successor, Milton Obote, are distant memories.

4.Hotel Rwanda (2004)© United Artists
Don Cheadle is excellent in this movie which is based on the true story of the remarkable Paul Rusesabinga, a hotel manager, who saved hundreds of lives in the midst of genocide. I believe that anyone traveling to Rwanda should read up on the genocide and try and get a better understanding of what exactly happened.
If you want to know more, an excellent book to read is "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch.
If you're not a reader, then the BBC has an informative page on Rwanda: How the genocide happened

5.Black Hawk Down ( 2001) based on the best-selling book detailing a near-disastrous mission in Somalia on October 3, 1993. On this date nearly 100 U.S. Army Rangers, commanded by Capt. Mike Steele, were dropped by helicopter deep into the capital city of Mogadishu to capture two top lieutenants of a Som ali warlord. This lead to a large and drawn-out firefight between the Rangers and hundreds of Somali gunmen, leading to the destruction of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. This film focuses on the heroic efforts of various Rangers to get to the downed black hawks, centering on Sgt. Eversmann, leading the Ranger unit Chalk Four to the first black hawk crash site, Warrant Officer Durant who was captured after being the only survivor of the second black hawk crash, as well as many others who were involved

6. Beyond Borders ( 2003) is an epic tale of the turbulent romance between two star-crossed lovers set against the backdrop of the world's most dangerous hot spots, Ethiopia. Angelina Jolie stars as Sarah Jordan, an American living in London in 1984. She is married to Henry Bauford (Linus Roache) son of a wealthy British industrialist, when she encounters Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) a renegade doctor, whose impassioned plea for help to support his relief efforts in war-torn Africa moves her deeply. As a result, Sarah embarks upon a journey o f discovery that leads to danger, heartbreak and romance in the far corners of the world.
I think this movie did a magnificent job of showing the stark, gritty, in-your-face reality of life for many people in our world. It wasn't glorified, it wasn't scandalized, there were no quick fixes. Just people struggling to help the handful they can. This is what it's really like.

Hmmm, Marti, Nopi, Sita and Jarca have strange looks on their faces ...I haven't been able to figure it out....is it curiosity? fear? excitement? anticipation of a great adventure that lies ahead?
Well, we will soon find out as our journey through Africa unfolds.............

Day 17, Madagascar

Since I was unable to arrange an audience with King Julian....this one is for you Nopi. ENJOY!!

Day 17, Madagascar

Thank you for joining us on Day 17 .....as we head for Madagascar.....

We have arrived in Antananarivo......

but the city does not seem to be of interest to my travelling companions.
They just want to meet "King Julian"

Nopi is soooo excited....singing and dancing........she is going to see King Julian, the "king of the lemurs."

What are lemurs??

Well , they are primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. Did you know that most lemurs are listed as an endangered or threatened species? Many species have become extinct in the last century, mainly due to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting.

Conservation of lemurs in Madagascar is a high priority, but the country's poor economic situation and the lemurs' limited range make it an uphill battle. In 2008, a total of 99 living lemur species were formally recognized, with more species likely to be discovered or differentiated in the future.

Please hold on a second, allow me to check the latest news before we plan an entire trip through this country......


hmmm, I am sorry, I have going to curtail this trip and move on to our next African destination......

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 16, Mauritius

Nopi is going to explore Le Morne Cultural Landscape,

a rugged mountain that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius, it was used as a shelter by runaway slaves, maroons, through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. Protected by the mountain's isolated, wooded and almost inaccessible cliffs, the escaped slaves formed small settlements in the cav
es and on the summit of Le Morne. The oral traditions associated with the maroons, have ma de Le Morne a symbol of the slaves' fight for freedom, their suffering, and their sacrifice, all of which have relevance to the countries from which the slaves came - the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and South-east Asia. Indeed, Mauritius, an important stopover in the eastern slave trade, also came to be known as the "Maroon republic" because of the large number of escaped slaves who lived on Le Morne Mountain.

Le Morne Cultural Landscape is an exceptional testimony to maroonage or resistance to slavery in terms of the mountain being used as a fortress to shelter escaped slaves, with physical and oral evidence to support that use.Le Morne represents maroonage and its impact, which existed in ma ny places around the world, but which was demonstrated so effectively on Le Morne mountain. It is a symbol of slaves' fight for fre edom, their suffering, and their sacrifice, all of which have relevance beyond its geographical location, to the countries from which the slaves came - in particular the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and South-east Asia- and represented by the Creole people of Mauritius and their shared memories and oral traditions. Deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I am going to see the coloured earths of Chamarel at sunrise as it the best time to see the Coloured Earths.

Geologists are still intrigued by the rolling dunes of multi-coloured lunar-like landscape. The colours, red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow never erode in spite of torrential downpours and adverse climatic conditions. This phenomenon has never been explained but it is believed the earths are composed of mineral rich volcanic ash. I mustnt forget to buy those souvenir test-tubes containing the multi-coloured earth from the tourist boutiques.

Jarca is going to see Trou aux Cerfs,

a crater, 300m (984ft) in diameter. It was formed as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago and is now choked with silt, water and a dense forest of vegetation. Mauritius is striking because it once was a volcano. Extinct for some 100,000 years, you have peaks and rock strutting right down into the sea. And, as if icing on the wondrous landscape, a coral reef surrounds the islands

Sita is going to the Casela Bird Park

which is home to 142 species of birds including the lovely long necked Pink Pigeons which until recently were threatened with extinction. The lovely dusky pink birds were donated by the Black River Avia
ry and can be seen alongside hundreds of other exotics from Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas.

Where is Marti? Oh, she is gone to find the the Blue Penny
Museum. It is a stamp museum at Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis. The museum collection includes the 1847 Blue Penny and Red Penny stamps.

We have all discovered that Mauritians switch languages according to the
occasion. Over the course of a day a typical Mauritian might use English to write a school essay, Creole Morisien to chat with friends and French to read a novel!!

We are now going to catch up with Marti in Port Louis

where we are going to do some shopping before going to dinner. The cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Indian, Creole, Chinese and European influences; and is common for a combination of cuisines to form part of the same meal.
Ok, Marti, you may taste some rum (which is made from sugar cane) ...it will put you in the mood to dance the sega ;-)

Sega music is an evolved combination of traditional Music of Mauritian, Seychellois and Réunionnais music with European dance music like polka and

December to April is generally hot and humid but June to November are the cooler, drier months, so its the perfect time for a honeymoon. A cyclone could also arrive during the warm season, so you dont want to be blown away.

We are sure that Amit and Priyanka will enjoy their honeymoon here.......
Mark Twain, who visited the island in 1896, so impressed by its beauty, said, "God first made Mauritius and from it, He created Paradise."

Henceforth we will be monitoring global news reports quite closely as the next leg of our journey sees us travelling through some dangerous terrain.......

until tomorrow....Good night..... bonne nuit from Mauritius......