Day 72 Tuesday 16th December SUDAN - ETHIOPIA (174.1 miles, Total 9966.8 miles)
(S) Happy 29th Birthday Dave, it's apparently 7th April 2001 today! 
What a restless night! The gentle breeze turned our tent into a flapping nightmare - we are going to have to work out how to stop the flysheet whipping against the velcro, as the sound gets amplified being right above our heads and the constant cracking and ripping noise kept us both awake for much of the night.  What will it be like in a really stiff wind?!?  At least it meant that we were already awake for sunrise, which was a gorgeous rosy orange dawn glow on the horizon.  Like yesterday, we'd packed up in advance, so simply noshed some muesli and put away the tent, quietly driving back onto the road.  Felt like we were on a birdwatching drive, spotting carmine bee-eaters and lilac-breasted rollers perched on the telephone wires, as well as a pair of hoopoes, lots of yellow-billed kites, some vultures circling on the thermals, hornbills and little grey falcons. 
We were in the border town just after 8am, and a fixer energetically attached himself to us, directing us to the first office where we waited before having our passport details filed away in a huge ledger.  In fairness, the offices are pretty spread out and difficult to find, so we were grateful that he kept running to show us where to go.  From there we drove a few hundred metres to the Customs office where the chaps in uniform were sleepily reading the paper.  The whole attitude, and the buildings in particular, are just SO African!  No glass windows, just wattle and daub walls, with a dirt floor, a bed in the corner, battered old metal tables and nine hundred year old filing cabinets.  They have desk calendars from transport companies lined up for the last 10 years or so, and doves roosting in the thatched roof.
We had our carnet examined, then went next door to have it stamped, only to be directed to yet another office where we filled in exit forms and had our passports stamped by immigration.  Our fixer helped us change some dollars on the black market, though they were reluctant to take our small denominations, preferring a $50 note.  Makes a change!  Everywhere else we've been, the smaller notes are harder to come by, and change is jealously guarded and spent/given only under duress. 
We drove across the no-man's land bridge and were suddenly in Ethiopia!  At the immigration office there (even more run down with little boys running in and out and four adults having some hilarious discussion at our expense we're sure!) we had our passports painstakingly copied out again.  Most of the calendars on this side of the border have beer adverts, to Mike's delight! From there we were shown to the customs man who took our forms and carnet and neatly stamped them all, sharing with us the fact that the date in the Ethiopian Julian calendar is in fact 7th April 2001 - they have just celebrated the millennium.  No hint of Y2K fever here though, officialdom here is all about paper and pens, and not a computer in sight!
We tipped our fixer, who was adamant he wanted Birr not pounds, so changed our last pounds with his help at a shocking rate!  Lucky it was $2 only worth or so...
The difference between the two countries is pretty immediate and very obvious - women wander around freely, wearing western clothes like vest tops, with their hair uncovered for instance.  The Amharic script instantly replaces all Arabic and English, and the roads turned to gravel, dusty piste. There are also lots of wooden, rondavel type thatched huts rather than rectangular mud wall enclosed daub houses we saw throughout northern Sudan, and the vegetation switches into savannah grasslands and acacia groves, with pretty round hills.  And the cattle - big horned, doey-eyed, beautiful cows everywhere.  There are still lots of donkeys and goats of course, but the sheer volume of cattle was a shock, as we so seldom saw any in Sudan.  This is the Africa we recognise! 
The roadworks forced us onto dusty tracks, with patches of good tar, through funny little villages of wooden poled grass roofed rondavels with dusty children waving and at times shouting "You, you you!".  One or two made begging motions for food, but on the whole the children and people walking on the roads herding cattle were really friendly.  The adults in town were less so perhaps, but no one was threatening or aggressive - sounds like we might have to watch ourselves further south where the tourism and aid industry have become more intrusive.  The lowveld type scenery was just lovely, and we spotted more fabulous birds (vultures in flight that could have been lammergiers, glossy starlings, rollers, hornbills, a huge stork flying circles above a field, and even guinea fowl) as well as a few troops of colobus (? Must get our mammal guide in Addis!) monkeys chattering away in the trees or resting on the roadside.
Climbing up steep passes, through heavily vegetated valleys and then up into even twistier, higher mountain passes, we couldn't help comparing the landscape to SA.  We pulled over to stop for watermelon lunch at the top of a pass, and two trucks stopped to find out if we had any problems.  Very friendly and simply wished us well and carried on when we smiled our thanks and no we're fine's.  As the afternoon wore on, we climbed to over 2000m, before beginning to descend slightly towards Gonder.  Seems we hit the livestock evening rush hour, or the end of market day, as the road was filled with cattle and donkeys being herded home.  Gonder seems like a pleasant place - the old town on the top of the hill in particular has a very laid back, rasta feel to it.  We were following the GPS pretty closely, when a young guy literally attached himself to us, claiming that he had shown the SA/Aussie chaps to the pension we were aiming for.  We tried to get him to accept that we already knew where we were going and didn't need a guide, but he'd climbed onto the back and was still shouting directions to us as we pulled up outside.  He even went so far as to go in and come straight back out saying they had no space!  Undeterred, we asked and were told that we could simply park inside the gate, and camp in our tent, or wait and see if a booking didn't turn up.  Deal!
We registered and while hovering by the office met up with Babs and Albert, a German couple who work in Nigeria who have been travelling for nearly a year, travelling in West Africa before heading north via Europe, then south via Jordan, Syria etc into Egypt.  They were on the ferry to Sudan a week ahead of our group.  They organised a beer for us, and so set the tone for the evening ahead.  Clutching the gloriously cold bottles in our hands we chatted to them for ages, ordering pizzas from the cook and fresh beers at frequent intervals.  They had some really fascinating stories about their experiences in Nigeria, and their travels too.  Talked about cars, routes, fellow travellers we'd bumped into, they showed us some great photos of the Gelada baboons they'd seen in the mountains, and shared some current affairs news too.  A lovely Canadian girl joined us - she's been volunteering, teaching English for three months - and told us about the bombings in India and the riots in Greece. We are still so out of touch with world events, it's quite awful and quite liberating in equal measure.
Exhausted, we eventually said our goodnights and had a hot shower - what bliss, though the hot water ran out half way through Mike's turn - oops!  The occupants of Number 7 never did turn up, so we got a decent double bed, in a basic but nice room.  It's quite chilly at this altitude, so happy to be under blankets.  And no mosquitoes!  What a pleasure!

Day 73 Wednesday 17th December ETHIOPIA (0 miles, Total 9966.8 miles)
(M) The bed was a bit of a hammock and I didn't sleep well so was trying to have a bit of a lie in when there was a knock on our window.  Babs and Albert were making an early start so I had to get up and move the car to let them out.  She's running a bit rough (Mapenzi that is) and I don't know if it's poor quality diesel or maybe the timing needs adjusting?  We'll try and get some diesel additive to help clean the injectors and I'll probably do another oil change and air filter change soon.  Perhaps a bath would help too - she's filthy after the dirt roads we've been on.
Wanted to do some sightseeing and internet today but weren't yet ready to brave the outside world.  Inside the 'pension' we were protected from the hustle and bustle and touting that we'd have to endure when we set foot outside, so set about getting some household chores done while we worked up the courage.  First more laundry; we handwashed our clothes in the basin in our room and hung them up outside, alongside the hotel bedding that the maids were washing in tubs in the courtyard.  Had some breakfast of muesli and did a bit of work on the computer.  Albert had left us a map of the town so we also planned where we were going to go, first to the 'Love Restaurant' (which apparently does a good injera - local cuisine), then to the Selassi church and into town for internet.  We'd head back to the camp and try to see the castles at about 16:00 when the light was good.  All ready, we cut up some watermelon to eat on the way and eventually headed out at about 11:30.
The restaurant was quite close but looked a bit upmarket and with nobody inside so we decided on the Queen Burger instead, but first to the church.  The walk there is a bit up and down but only about 2 kilometres and quite pleasant.  The road is lined with interesting stalls and rural shops and there were throngs of kids leaving school - a constant barrage of 'hellos'.  So far everybody has seemed really friendly and the young children particularly are very keen to introduce themselves.  We had one girl run up and say, 'my name is Anastasia and I am grade 1' and then run away shyly.  Another couple, hardly taller than knee height coming up for high fives.  There's been some begging but not much.
Halfway up the long hill to the church a man on his way down told us that it was closing for lunch and would open again at about 15:00, so we changed our plans and headed into town to find the Queen Burger.  Everybody wants to be your guide.  They also all seem to change money (all a standard rate which is apparently better than the bank).  We were trying to find the restaurant sign when two guys attached themselves to us and decided to show us where it was.  They said it used to be the Queen Burger but was now a different name, and took us up a dingy staircase to a run down upstairs corridor with a few tables and chairs.  On the way I was asked if I knew Charlie. ?? 'No'. Charlie Booromen and Owen Gregor??  There's one for the books, Ewan McGregor is usually the famous one; Charlie Boorman would love this.  Anyway, no I don't know them but apparently one of the guys has their card and also appeared on 'Long Way Down'.  I'll have to watch it again.
I wasn't convinced that this was the right place but it would do.  There were three twenty something girls sitting at one table so we sat at the one next to them.  There was a lot of giggling - one liked Sarah's watch and bracelet and there started a flattering match between them.   They'd ordered injera (we'd also wanted something local but had been mis-understood and now had two burgers on the way) and invited us to try some with them.  Apparently it's customary to use the pancake type injera to scoop up some of the filling and then feed it to guests?  Felt a bit odd but they seemed to be enjoying it and I have to say it was very tasty.  We'd read that injera was a bit of an acquired taste but I really liked it.  Then our burgers arrived. - they were ok.
When we finished we still had the two guys with us but were just going across the road to the internet café so said our farewells to Richard and Wonderful and declined their offer to change money. Went to the café they recommended.  Unfortunately we couldn't use the memory stick at that one, so had to cross the road to try the other.  We could use the memory stick but it seemed their internet connection was down.  The website would have to wait but we thought we could still read emails etc. and went back to the first one.  The dial up connection was painfully slow but we did manage to check the cricket score (SA vs Aus in the first test) and get into our hotmail accounts.  Sarah could read her emails but for some reason I couldn't; I could see they were there but couldn't open them so will have to try again in Addis, very annoying.
After an hour we gave up and made our way back to the church.  Inside the stone walls it was amazingly peaceful with a lovely green, rustic garden full of trees.  The church itself is an interesting building with a thatch roof.  The part open to visitors is smaller inside than you might imagine, but covered in paintings from floor to ceiling.  The frescoes cover everything from nativity scenes to the crucifixion of Christ and are really worth the visit.  I tried to take some photos but flash photography is not allowed and it was a bit dim.  Still, I'm fairly happy with one or two.
Sarah's stomach has been a bit off for the past day or two and she was feeling a bit feeble in the heat and altitude so we decided to head back to the hotel.  Stopped outside the castle first but decided not to go in.  A bit of a lie down and some cold water was more the order of the day.
Sat in our room being antisocial, planning our route etc.  When it started to get dark outside we ventured out again - Sarah to clean the fridge and get some salad out for dinner, me to change some money and go in search of samoosas.  The guy at reception could give me the same rate as all the other black market offers (slightly above the bank rate) and save me the hassle of going out. He also said he'd send the guard to get us samoosas - bonus. 
Sarah in the meantime had met Claudio and Lauretta, from another Land Rover defender which had turned up.  Very nice Italian couple who've been down the west route in Africa and are now working their way back north (www.2africa4love.com). We chatted for a long time, getting tips and comparing our packing and living arrangements.  They're carrying a lot more in the way of spares and extra fuel but in East Africa these are not as hard to come by as in the West.  Liked their vehicle though, especially the decals.  Had to laugh when we swapped contact cards and they had a double take at ours;  they're onto a second set but their original ones are exactly the same design - also by vistaprint.  Really is nothing unique about us it seems.
We were still chatting when a truck pulled up outside the gate; Angaleo!  We were very surprised to see them, having left them in Khartoum unable to find a spare part for the truck.  Apparently they managed to weld the broken part and put it back in, and it's now working.  They'd then pushed through from Khartoum to the border in one day so have caught up with us.  Interestingly they'd been stopped and made to travel in an armed convoy from midway between Gedaref and the border because, 'the enemy is coming!'  Given that we were very peacefully camped in the middle of this battle zone the same morning I think it was somewhat hyped up.  When we passed through the same area we did notice soldiers at small outposts dotted along the road, but they were all pretty relaxed, walking around barefoot, sleeping and just generally chilling out.  The most we got was a friendly wave - though we were flagged down at one point and asked to give one of the soldiers a lift the 5km to the border.  Also a bit weird; the family had arrived in Gonder where a young guy had attached himself to them and offered to take them to the place where Michael and Sarah were staying.  Given that we'd never even met this guy it was a brutal wake up to how conspicuous we are as travellers.
It was good to catch up with them again and we chatted for a while before retiring to our room for our samoosas and salad, and then a quick shower before bed.

Day 74 Thursday 18th December ETHIOPIA (144 miles, Total 10,110.8 miles)
(S) Slept much better last night and woke feeling pretty refreshed.  Packed up the car, marvelling at the spotless Defender that awaited us, all freshly washed and shiny.  Even the awning looked polished, but unfortunately it doesn't look like they used the hose after all - we had hoped to have the dust and mud sprayed off the underside and chassis but will have to wait till we get to Addis for that.  Sat with the Angaleo family while they had breakfast, and then Claudio and Lauretta joined us to talk about routes and swap stories.  By mid-morning we had to head off, so said our farewells and drove out of town towards the fuel station.  I hopped out to buy some samoosas and vetkoeks from a roadside stall, as well as some oranges and bananas from neighbouring stores.  The ladies were all delighted that I could say thank you in Amharic (Thanks Tessa!) and I had to quickly scuttle away before they realised it was the only word I can remember so far!  We filled the tank and left Gonder, heading for Bahir Dar on Lake Tana. 
Have been really torn about our trip here - we were never originally planning to come to Ethiopia, preferring instead to go south via Uganda if the border was open, and now that we're here, so close to Christmas, our schedule is a bit out of kilter.   Our budget is also under strain after having to fix the gearbox, so we don't feel like we can afford to splash out on some of the nice-to-do excursions that other travellers have raved about.  We talked long and hard about visiting the Simien mountains, and the rock churches of Lalibela, but reminded ourselves that we must sacrifice some of the special places worth visiting sometimes!  Also, the roads are apparently appalling, and simply break cars and shred tyres.  Having spent a fortune not more than 5 days ago to fix Mapenzi, we were reluctant to put too much pressure on her just yet!  Instead, we'll head south, past the Blue Nile Falls at Tis Abey near the lake.  Decision made we were now really looking forward to the day ahead.
The drive was beautifully scenic.  The landscape is really familiar at times, looking like the Natal Midlands back home, or the green and yellow veld of the lower Drakensberg even, and at other times it's different, but really picturesque and pastoral.  And there is livestock everywhere!  Donkeys hauling carts piled four times as high with straw or mielie leaves, people carrying water or wood, herding mules, cattle, sheep and the odd goat.  The traffic is pretty sparse - very few private cars, just tankers, trucks, minibus taxis and other 4wheel-drives.  Saw a UN vehicle, with it's massive aerial sticking out of the bonnet, and an overlander Toyota flashed us as they passed by.  Claudio and Lauretta overtook us just before a horrible accident - looked like a herd of donkeys had been taken out by a minibus.  The human passengers were all ok from what we could tell, but the three donkeys were dead - awful... We paused once or twice for photos of the peculiar inselberg mountains en route, some rusted old abandoned tanks, with their gun turrets still attached, and to use the binoculars to try and identify a huge array of birds.  Spotted raptors of all kinds: a crested eagle, hundreds of yellow-billed kites, small grey falcons, huge Cape vultures, some kind of bearded vulture (lammergiers?!) and buzzard type birds of prey flying the thermals.  Also saw lots of gloriously turquoise coloured lilac breasted rollers, hornbills, storks and bee-eaters.  After weeks in the deserts up north with very little bird life, we're getting totally spoilt! 
The villages are really picturesque too - and people are on the whole very friendly.  The children are tireless, springing up to wave and shout a version of "hello", or "farangi" (foreigner) or "you, you, you", some of them then asking for pens, birr, pointing to their chests for t-shirts, or feet for shoes, or mouths for food or water and so on.  The adults are more circumspect, but most are labouring hard and carrying huge burdens of wood or grain or whatever so it's hardly surprising.  We just smile and wave regardless, hoping to dispel any unpleasantness with the sheer wattage of our grins!  And it's working so far!  There have been one or two swear words shouted at us and a few ugly stares, but none of the rock throwing or aggressive throat-slitting motions Eric warned us about.  Think that's further south maybe...
By early afternoon we arrived in Bahir Dar, driving over the Blue Nile as it flows out of Lake Tana. The guidebook informs us that the last time we'd have seen the river would have been at Wad Medani in Sudan.  Quite a milestone!
The town is rather attractive in a bustling sort of way.  We dutifully followed our GPS onto the bumpy gravel road out to the falls, past some lovely fields and fabulous big trees.  At the hydroelectric power station gates we stopped to buy tickets.  In the office there's a big sign in Amharic and English telling visitors not to give sweets or gifts to anyone in the village or near the falls, as it simply encourages begging and the children stop going to school.  I'd just finished reading it when another woman sitting in the office asked me for a pen!  I should have pointed to the sign, but was too astonished and simply shook my head as I left.  Back at the car, Mike was being hustled into booking a guide for 50birr.  He'd already paid the 5birr for parking, and was clutching the receipt. We didn't really want a guide but by the sound of things it was compulsory?  The man kept saying that it was too dangerous and that the children would lead us up false paths - it was for our safety of course.  But after asking about four times, it transpired that taking a guide was optional, so we shook our heads emphatically, hoping that his scaremongering was just that.  We drove across the canal, and parked near some stalls, next to Claudio and Lauretta's Landy, and fending off would-be scouts as gently as we could, we made our way down the hill to the gorgeous old Portuguese bridge over the gorge.  Up the other side, we were bombarded by girls trying to sell scarves, but trying to be a little compassionate, chatted to them and managed to convince them that we didn't want any.  The first view of the falls is lovely, but it's the final lookout that is rather spectacular.  The falls aren't terribly big compared to say Victoria or Niagara of course, but they certainly are pretty. We rested in the sun, admiring the yellow-billed kites flying by alongside the cliffs, almost within reach, and the monkeys playing on the very edge of the falls, nimbly rock-hopping across the rapids. 
On the way back we again spent ages trying to explain to the kids why we couldn't give them pens or t-shirts, with the familiar "but you're a tourist, you have lots of money" ringing in our ears.  Hmmm.
We tipped the car guard with the last of our change, and drove back into town, stopping to say hi to the Angaleo family who were just arriving.  Back in Bahir Dar, we found the Ghion hotel, which has a garden you can apparently camp in, and met up with Claudio and Lauretta again.  Made it just in time for sunset over the lake, beautiful.  Chatted to them for a while over coffee and popcorn, hearing all about Claudio's adventures on the Camel expeditions in the early 90's.  He was the navigator for the Italian team both on Lake Baikal and in Central America.  We were mesmerised by his stories!  They then set off for dinner in the hotel restaurant, and we made our own meal with the last fresh vegetables and pasta.  Once we'd finished washing the dishes we packed up ready to leave early in the morning, and set off to reception to enquire about paying and finding a shower.  They sent us to a room where the water was at least flowing if very chilly!  At least it got rid of the dust :)
Back at the tent we turned our bedding around to ensure our heads were uphill slightly, and tired from a long day of driving, smiling and waving, we fell asleep.

Day 75 Friday 19th December ETHIOPIA (366.3 miles, Total 10,477.1 miles)
(M) Still undecided about a boat trip to the monasteries on Lake Tana.  It seemed a pity not to see them while we were here but after discussing the short or long option we concluded that there will be many things we don't get to see due to time constraints and this wasn't one we'd be particularly cut up about.  Decided to try and push through to Addis Ababa instead.  Friday's are Larium day (malaria medication) so we had a good breakfast of French toast and fresh fruit juice on the verandah of the Ghion Hotel.  It wasn't cheap but very good!  The juice I think was literally just a squashed papaya for me and squashed guavas for Sarah.  In a glass.  We said our farewells to Claudio and Lauretta who will be heading into Sudan from here, and promised to stay in email contact.  Still very envious that he was a real Camel man.
At 9:00 we went and paid the 50Birr for camping and drove out of Bahir Dar, accepting the advice to save the car and stick to the tarred road.  The road was pretty good and would have been quicker but for the people and animals along it's length, as it wound through picturesque farmlands and rural villages.  Ethiopia is a crowded country, but unlike the UK still has a feel of space to it - probably because most people are rural and don't have the same sort of infrastructure around them.  It's amazing to watch life as it must have been hundreds of years ago, with no technology in sight; fields are still ploughed using oxen; the grain is thrashed using forked sticks and tossed in the air to remove the husk; water is carried in earthenware pots; men wander around with crude axes fashioned from a stout stick and a piece of iron...  Even the fields of hay are cut by hand, and the bales piled much like we see in Europe (though not round).  And they're not small fields either; some are huge areas akin to those in South Africa.  The whole landscape in this area is a patchwork of neat farms with dotted homesteads.  We've noticed that despite the large population there are few cars.  75% of Ethiopians are rural people with subsistence livings. 
We fell in love with the earthen water pots and started looking in the villages to see if there were any for sale.  Many of the women seemed to be carrying them and at one village there were queues at a water tap, but none that we could see for sale.  Eventually, at a larger town we came across a group of women at a tap with the pots all lined up on the ground, so got out to ask.  You run the gauntlet whenever you stop the car here, being surrounded by hordes of children - all wanting something.  They were all polite and I think the women were quite shy when we went up to ask them.  None spoke English though and were battling to understand what we wanted until one kid came up and started translating.  He reckoned we could get one from the market for only 10Birr (about US$1) - bargain, so we selected him as our "volunteer".  Others were clambering round us trying to give us prices and all get in on the action so we told the guy to hop on the back and we drove away, the few hundred metres to the market.  We were advised by our guide to stop before we got into the main throng, otherwise they'd damage our car!  Not too keen for that to happen I stayed with the car and held court with the crowds gathering round, while Sarah wandered off with our new helper and a heap of followers.  I was trying to explain to one young guy why we wanted a pot rather than just using a plastic container and was relieved a few minutes later to see our helper carrying a pot back to the car with Sarah still entertaining the kids behind.  It had only cost 5Birr! But now for the escape.  We wanted to give something to the guy who'd helped us but everyone now wanted something; pens, money, anything...  We told him to explain that we couldn't give something to everyone but handed out some of our contact cards anyway. Costs nothing for us and went down a treat, though a bit of a melee as hands started grabbing them in a frenzy.  Told our friend to hop on the back and we drove slowly out again, dropping him off back at the taps and giving him a tip.  Quite pleased with our new purchase.
The journey south is really a fantastic drive - rich in birdlife and very, very scenic.  Most people we passed were genuinely friendly and we've still yet to experience the animosity that we've heard reported.  We were making rather slow progress though, so didn't stop much.  Around lunchtime we did pull over to try and find some bread, which I managed to buy from a small restaurant.  I don't know that normal bread is really all that common - or perhaps people make their own so not much is sold in the small villages?
Not far past Debre Markos the undulating road gives way to a dramatic gorge as it descends to cross the Blue Nile.  The patchwork of fields flanking the steep descent and then the wild bush as you ease your way down must make for one of the most breathtaking drives either of us has ever experienced.  It's absolutely beautiful and one of the highlights of the trip so far yet there's no mention of this drive in either of our guide books.
By now the afternoon was wearing on, and our calculations of reaching Addis by 18:00 were looking increasingly unlikely.  As the sun started to sink we realised that we'd have to drive into the dark - a prospect neither of us relishes on these roads.  Fortunately by the time visibility was really reduced we had only 60km still to go.   It was hard going with oncoming traffic, animals and people but we made it through to the capital at about 19:30.  Then the hunt for the Holland Centre started.  We had the coordinates and we had a crude map, but after being flagged down twice by policemen and having to explain our non working right headlight (remember it only comes on with high beam?) our tempers were wearing thin.  When we'd driven round and round the dodgiest gravel tracks in the heart of Addis' shanty backstreets and were flagged down a third time (by the same second policeman) we were about ready to give up.  He was a nice guy though and using our map he managed to guide us all the way there - walking alongside the car.  When you've found the place the map makes sense!  It was now almost 21:00.
Holland House wasn't what we expected.  We'd been given the details of the place by no fewer than four different people, all of whom raved about it, but from what we could tell it was really just a case of being allowed to park securely next to the bar.  There was live music starting at 21:00 so a restful night was going to be hard to come by.  A bit grumpy we decided to have dinner in the restaurant before the music really kicked off.  Our beers and steaks were pretty good though and the experience was a bit like being back at Rhodes, at the Monkey Puzzle, or perhaps Cliffy's in Pmb?  The bar / restaurant is run by a Dutch guy, Wim, and attracts the expat population of Addis Ababa.  It was pretty much all Europeans, largely 'rent a crowd' for the performing Ishi Bacca Ciao Band?  In fairness it is a very relaxed place with a typically South African pub feel to it (braai fire even) and if we hadn't had such a long drive we may have been more willing to get into the spirit of the place.  As it was we hadn't found the shower and really just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. 
We watched the band for a while and then put up the tent.  Will have to make a point of actually meeting Wim tomorrow if he's around, and give it another chance when we're in better moods.

Day 76 Saturday 20th December ETHIOPIA (10.5 miles, Total 10,487.6 miles)
(S) Had a very long lie in this morning.  Really nice just lying in the tent, looking out to see what was happening in the neighbourhood.  Not a lot was going on in the pub though, as the staff were all sleeping in too after the big party last night.  When we finally climbed down from the tent, the only welcome we got was from a rather exuberant black dog, who we later learned was called Whiskey.  He was very friendly, but a little too keen on jumping up with his muddy paws, or leaning against your legs and wiping his slobbery mouth on your trousers.  Lucky our clothes were pretty filthy anyway!  We spent the entire morning doing chores around the Landy - changing our linen and sweeping out the tent, dusting back and front and clearing things away.  We showered, but the water was darn cold so it wasn't very inviting.
We've finished most of our groceries, so resorted to some popcorn as a mid-morning snack.  By lunchtime Mike was ravenous.  We put away the tent so that we could drive into town and find a supermarket, a bookstore and an ATM.  We also really need to refill our gas canister - since trying in Jerba in Tunisia, we've had zero success finding propane.  Luckily, we have been able to ration it very carefully, but the bottle felt scarily light when we lifted it to clean behind.
Following the GPS we made good progress, even spotting the helpful policeman from last night, stopping briefly to shake hands and thank him again.  unfortunately, the gas refill people didn't do propane, so we are still stuck.  We also couldn't find the supermarket we were aiming for (turns out that we were just a bit premature when reading the GPS!) but did see another, with a jolly plastic Santa Claus outside, so found parking up a side street and walked back towards it.  Foolish way to shop really, and too expensive by our standards, plus we have no genuine need for Western brands, but we haven't seen any decent market stalls or roadside shops here that sell basics like eggs or milk.  We splashed out on some luxuries for Christmas (a bottle of local sparkling wine) and some feel-good things like peanut butter and some juice powder.  From there we walked up and down Bole Road, looking into bookstores to try and find Xmas gifts for each other, but the only wildlife and bird books we could find were in Amharic, with badly pixelated images.  They do have a huge selection of titles in English about subjects like agriculture, computers, marketing, and also recent novels.  But no luck for us.  We did manage to find an ATM, a bakery, and a samoosa/vetkoek stall, so at least we had cash, lunch for today and lunch for tomorrow! Not a total loss at least.
We drove to the other side of the city to try one last time for gas, but again were met with blank stares when we showed them our canister.  Either we ditch the one we have and buy a new regulator and a new bottle, or we risk it, and scrimp the gas for another week or so until we can try again in Kenya.  By now we were fed up, so headed back to Wim's for a beer and to spend some time on the internet. 
Beverage in hand, we set about finding the plug for Wim's laptop, as the cable didn't seem to work in ours.  But the dial-up was agonisingly slow, and although Mike could finally read his hotmail, he couldn't send any replies.  At least he managed to check the cricket score before the connection was lost for good!
Now we were really annoyed that our admin day hadn't been that valuable.  Back at the car, we rehearsed a Merry Christmas song and then videoed ourselves, so that we could send it as a message to our families for Xmas.  At this stage we're unlikely to be able to phone them, so hopefully our melodious voices to the tune of Mike's guitar would be a memorable substitute!  Take 7 or 8 was as good as it was gonna get, so we called it a wrap, put on our fleeces (it's cold here!) and walked back into town to find a "broadband" internet connection and some dinner.  I did think, as we passed by the station, teeming with people, and down the main drag, also crowded with late commuters, that this is probably the part of town that you shouldn't really walk down at night.  As we strolled though, I felt no less secure or vulnerable than I might do walking in London at night - and even the beggars who had approached us in the car at every traffic light during the day, didn't seem to hassle us as we made our way back to Bole Road.  We did promise each other that we wouldn't stay out too late though!
The "fast broadband" connection at the internet café we went too was anything but - and we spent an incredibly frustrating hour trying to get into our email accounts.  Uploading a movie clip was totally out of the question, so now we were really anxious about how to get in touch with our families at Christmas time.  We will have to wait and see...
Tired and hungry (well Mike was, I've still not really got my appetite back), we gave up and walked back.  All the café's seemed limited to offering cakes and coffees, and we didn't see any reasonable looking restaurants en route, so decided to order from Wim's instead.  We did find a fruit stall, so bought some shiny red apples and a small pineapple (ananas here).  At the pub, Mike ordered injera with a meaty sauce, which was spicy and delicious.  We were even treated to an impromptu dance performance - the waitress showing some serious fitness as she jived energetically in time to a traditional song, convincing one of the patrons to join her half way through. 
We paid up and said our goodnights, before brushing our teeth self-consciously in the pub bathrooms.  Not totally sure about this place - having not met Wim, we can't tell if it's simply his charisma that impresses people enough to become ardent ambassadors of the Holland Centre as an overlander stopping place.  Rahel and the staff are lovely, very welcoming and helpful, and the beer is great, but it's certainly not a comfortable place to camp.  Suppose it didn't help that I got stuck in the toilet cubicle because the door handles were broken!  Mike valiantly rescued me using his leatherman pliers, but I did think for one awful moment that he might have to use the axe to get me out!
Anyway, we were both exhausted and cold, and emotionally drained after a long, disappointing day.  It's been hard travelling the last few days, and we are so torn about what route to take and what to do for Christmas, our situation has overshadowed things a little.  We just don't have the money or time to make the most of Ethiopia, but also don't want to spend the next few days simply driving madly south.  So, we decided to sleep on it!

Day 77 Sunday 21st December ETHIOPIA (153.2 miles, Total 10,640.8 miles)
(M) Time to move south.  Six months is really not enough time for a trip like this - we're constantly on the move and there are loads of things we miss out on.  For anyone planning a similar trip I would advise a minimum of a year (two to three years if you want to go north again).  If you do only have six months plan your route carefully and stick to it as far as possible.  Our budget is nowhere near sufficient either; we'll have to rethink our contingency if we're going to be able to see or do anything from here on - don't be fooled, Africa is NOT cheap! 
So, here we go again.  Staying in one place for more than a night induces a kind of inertia and we pottered around for a bit filtering water and getting ready for the next leg.  At 10:00 we were ready to go so said our farewells to the staff and waited for Rahel to come out to thank her as well - apparently we're missing out on a traditional coffee ceremony which they do on Sundays, pity.  We signed the visitors book and set off; first stop supermarket.  The one in the guide book was closed but we found another just down the road.  Not much in the way of fresh stuff but we decided to splash out and get some steaks and other goodies for a decent Christmas meal anyway.  We don't know yet where we'll be and it could be lonely so we should at least feed ourselves.  Also found a braai grid (one of the folding varieties), which we've been looking for.  On the way out of Addis we stopped at a roadside veggie stall.  I went a bit beserk with the choice and came out with a huge bag of fresh produce - great stuff.  Sarah in the meantime was having a look through some pirate dvd's (naughty us) which may have to suffice as Christmas presents.  We bought two - quality is probably a bit suspect but it's only to watch on the laptop anyway.
Finally clear of the city we started the trip to Awasa, which we thought would make a good overnight stop.  The road travels southeast as far as Mojo, where it turns south.  To this point it was annoyingly busy with both other drivers and pedestrians with their myriad livestock.  There were also guys selling honey comb in terrine like woven baskets.  Unlike north of Addis, the towns are not much to look at - less rural and more run down.  The people still seemed friendly though.  We can't ignore other travellers' experiences but as far as we're concerned the Ethiopians do seem to have an undeserved reputation for being unfriendly and even aggressive.  Annoying and persistent sometimes, but so far very friendly.
We weren't tempted to stop much, usually only having time for a quick photo before being surrounded by people asking for things (these are not starving people, there just seems to be an expectation of handouts), but did slow down for a fish eagle and some other fantastic birds that we don't know.  These lakes are known for their birdlife and it's easy to see why.  Passed by Lake Ziway and were about an hour from Awasa when we saw the gates to the national park at Lake Abijatta and Lake Shalla.  Our guidebook does warn that there's not much wildlife for the safari goer but we thought the lake could be quite good and perhaps it would be a nicer place to camp than the hotel grounds at Awasa.  Mistake!  The guy at the gate spoke no English but directed us past a run down building to the office.  It was opened for us and we paid the asking price of about US$15 (including camping).  Then we were shown where we could camp - literally just an area where they would allow us to be; not even a tap, but we have enough stuff so that wasn't a problem.  Eagerly we set off on the drive down to the lakes.  There were a couple of hornbills which provided a few minutes entertainment and then we followed a dirt track to a closed gate, beyond which there were cattle grazing (not very wild park like?).  We turned around and tried another track, only to be followed by pesky children asking for things - can you not even escape in the parks?  After a fruitless half hour we went back to the office where we told that we did have to go through the gate and were allowed to open it.  On the other side the mobbing started almost immediately, with small groups of children dotted along the track.  As we passed by they would start running alongside the vehicle.  Under normal conditions this is annoying; when you're trying to spot birds and game and enjoy the quiet solitude of Africa's wild spaces it drives you to dementia.  It's not hard to understand why Ethiopians win the long distance events in the Olympics though!  As soon as one tired you'd pass the next group and so it went.  We continued until a viewing area, where we couldn't get out to see the view without being inundated with offers of help and guidance.  One older chap decided to show us the road and we followed him down the hill a short distance before tipping him and telling him that we'd be ok on our own.  He stayed ahead of us anyway.  The road descended quite steeply until the gravel gave way to big ruts and eroded sides, so that I had to use low range to crawl down.  A bit exciting at one point when the tilt angle almost felt too much and we though she may go over.  We gave up at a particularly bad section, not wanting to have to negotiate our way back in the dark, and returned up the hill (we've discovered that the light on the dash doesn't come on when we engage difflock - should have checked after having the gearbox out! I'll have to get under the car and check the connections).  We had to go past the children again to make it back inside the gate before sundown but our moods were lifted when a family of warthogs scampered across the road.  There was also a small herd of generuk nearby.  By this time we'd decided that we'd try to get a refund on the camp fee anyway, and push through to Awasa, though that too didn't pan out the way we would have liked.  It was too late to speak to the office lady so a refund would have to wait until the next day, which defeated the purpose somewhat.  So, we decided to stay.
Back in the area where we were supposed to camp there was a hut and we thought it best if we knocked and spoke to them first.  The guy who came out was very friendly and helpful.  Then another chap joined him, one of the scouts in the park.  Together they guided us under a thorn tree into some long grass and then set about clearing the grass for us with a scythe.  It was effective but not really necessary; we didn't want to destroy the park just to be able to camp.  Pretty decent of them though. 
Left alone at last our little spot turned out to be a nice place.  We could still hear the road, but in the quiet moments the sound of birds and insects finished off the day in style.  At one stage we could have sworn we heard lion, though I very much doubt there are any in the area.  There was also a bush full of stick insects - odd.
Had a good spagbol for dinner then packed away ready for an early start.

Day 78 Monday 22nd December ETHIOPIA - KENYA (370.6 miles, Total 11,011.4 miles)
(S) Up before dawn, we were packed and ready to go by 6.25am; at the gate by 6.30.  What a beautiful sunrise, if a little chilly.  The birds were already up and singing as we thanked the guard and set off - our goal was to try and get to the border by 4pm.  Leaving the lakes and acacia scrubland behind as the sun rose higher, we climbed and climbed again, up into the hills.  The whole country seems to be an undulating landscape at high altitude - when you're not struggling to overtake the odd truck on the uphill, you're slowing round the bends down the hills, avoiding livestock and people who walk or even sit in the road.  The scenery changed to banana groves and thick, lush forest, with mud and thatch villages and endless people and animals.  What we have noticed, especially in contrast to countries like Libya, is that there is absolutely no litter or rubbish here.  There's the odd piece of plastic and Addis like all cities was a bit dirty, but on the whole, there is zero garbage - amazing considering the population density.
Roadside stalls changed from selling cowskin water vessels to bananas and pineapples, and the road deteriorated into an agonising sea of potholes.  They were impossible to navigate around, so our speed average plummeted and we resorted to holding onto the door handles as we rocked and churned along.  Poor Mapenzi!
Then the landscape changed again.  We lost altitude as we drove down into rough desert like bush, with ochre red earth and huge termite mounds.  Alongside the cows and goats we saw large herds of camels.  We were constantly on the lookout for wildlife, spotting birds of prey like Ruppell's and hooded vultures, hornbills, loeries, kites, falcons, storks etc.  We also saw some sort of ground squirrel - but it moved at such speed we couldn't be sure what it was!  Stopping for lunch off the road in a dense piece of bush near a hornbill nest, we had a relatively peaceful snack of left over spag-bol before pushing on.
The termite hills got taller, the bush sparser and the road dodgier the further we went.  We pushed through the smaller towns, stopping once for diesel at an expensive and run down petrol station where everyone seemed very curious about us.  Again, the adults are reserved but friendly, and the children give the most excitable, exuberant waves - the odd few then turning to begging.  We were looking out for a giant termite mound that we had coordinates for from our Cape to Cairo book, but were disappointed when we got there and couldn't find it - with the GPS or otherwise.  Maybe it's fallen down in the last few years.
We were now really pushing for the border - worried that they might close early, or take so long on the Ethiopian side that we'd be stuck in no-man's-land or worse.  Driving hard, on shocking roads, we made fair progress and soon were in sight of Moyale.  Unfortunately, as we gently skirted round a broken down bus, a man with a baby, who I took great care to avoid getting too close to, swore at us sneeringly through my open window.  I was a bit shocked and simply drove off, confounded when the very next group of people waved and smiled and shouted hello.  From one extreme to another - so much genuine friendliness and then bitter hatred towards foreigners.  Luckily we had substantially more of the first experience than the latter!
In Moyale we filled one of the plastic jerrys, paying with the last of our birr, before seeking out the customs building.  Got organised so that we could avoid any touts, but no one approached us anyway.  At least the building signs were in both Amharic and English!  Parking in the empty lot we wandered into a deserted customs and had to ask in the neighbouring office if they were still open.  A suave chap in a bright yellow T-shirt then sauntered by, and told us to go to immigration first.  So we crossed the road, bumping into a fellow who was keen to help us exchange some dollars as we had no birr left, but his shilling rate was a bit suspect.  We found the exit office and were ordered to squeeze onto a crowded bench while a chap in a vest, with his collared shirt only half on one arm, languished at a rickety desk.  They did have the smartest new Dell computers with flat screen monitors, but he still had to write down our details in longhand, into a huge ledger.  With much chatting to the other fellows on the bench, and perusing our passports, he finally finished and handed them over, wishing us well.  From there we returned to customs and our yellow-shirted friend, who scrutinised our carnet and wrote down our passport details yet again.  For some reason, he was a little baffled that we had the same surname - even after explaining that we were married he still seemed to think it a bit peculiar.  Can't imagine that he's never had to process a couple with the same married name before?!  He came out with us to check the chassis number, then wished us well and directed us across the bridge to the Kenyan side.  Mike ran to change some money, and we then dashed across, anxious to get the next set of formalities over with before 5pm.
The Kenyan police at the boom gate let us through and pointed to the immigration office up the hill.  Still driving on the right, I parked next to an ancient, dead Land Rover, and we wandered into a very smart office.  We filled in some entry forms, and then sat on velvet covered chairs while the immigrations man analysed our SA passports.  He was so friendly, asking all about our trip, modestly bragging about wonderful Kenyan tea and coffee, commenting on the weather in the UK etc; he was a really charming man.  Turns out he leaves at 5pm to have Ethiopian coffee and injera on the other side of the bridge - so we made it in the nick of time...  The customs guy was just as efficient and happy to meet us it seemed, sharing with us that the SA/Aussie guys had indeed come through 2 days before, and wondering why we'd never been to Kenya before if we were from Africa and essentially neighbours!  He did have the grace to laugh when we asked him if he'd been to SA then, and he had to reply no!  All done and dusted, we drove on the left, into the town and past the law courts and prison towards the Kenyan Wildlife Society's campsite.  It was a nice enough spot, if a bit hard to find level ground, with a resident hornbill that seems to fancy his reflection in the office windows. We paid the fee of 400 shillings each with our new cash, and the friendly lady ranger offered to give us our change once we'd settled in. 
So we set about checking every nut and bolt on the vehicle as part of our thorough preparation for the infamous Moyale-Marsabit route tomorrow.  Mike went round Mapenzi tightening the wheels, roofrack, tent, body, doors, reflectors and lights, even resorting to taking the spare wheel off the carrier on the back door and putting it back on again to ensure it was all shockproof.  A few screws and lamp lenses needed attention, but on the whole things looked ok.  Apart from the tyres that is - they have been chewed up slightly and the odd chunk of tread has even been sliced away by the recent rough roads.  But they are still roadworthy and have a few miles in them yet.
I set about acting as assistant, WD-40ing the hinges and carrying sockets around for Mike, in between trying to get rid of some of the dust, filtering water and getting dinner sorted out.  I also rigged up a small Christmas tree from a pine branch I'd sawed off earlier in the day, with a cardboard-tinfoil star and bag ties as decorations.   The lady ranger returned with our money, totally unrecognisable in her civilian clothes. 
We decided to shower before it got too dark and chilly, but unfortunately the shower didn't seem to be connected to the same water tank, so I resorted to washing discreetly under the outside tap.  All was going fine until two torches suddenly appeared - Mike had spotted a duiker or dik-dik inside the fence, and a ranger had come to tell me the shower wasn't working.  What bad timing!  Anyway, now clean and fresh I went about finishing our veggie semolina meal and filtering more water while Mike had his wash.  We also spotted a white tailed mongoose - but he was very shy.  The duikers did reappear later, and we watched them for a long while - their eyes bright in the torch beam.  The place was relatively teeming with wildlife - huge army ants, glossy birds, and even a frog that lives in the toilet and unfortunately got flushed twice, poor thing.
Exhausted and a little anxious about tomorrow, we finally collapsed into bed.


Day 79 Tuesday 23rd December KENYA (167.1 miles, Total 11,178.5 miles)
(M) The road from Moyale to Marsabit is notoriously bad.  Northern Kenya is a lawless place and hold-ups from bandits are not uncommon, especially in the first 100km.  The gravel road is also supposed to be among the worst in Africa, impassable after rains and corrugated and stony the rest of the time.  It is said that something always breaks.  I spent a good amount of time last night checking fixings, tightening screws and bolts, checking fluid levels and tyre pressures so hoped all would be ok, but we still didn't sleep well.
Leaving the camp at 8:00 we were confronted by a cheerful looking band of prisoners, complete with striped uniforms, being lead to their day's work.  We greeted them as we passed and hoped they would be the only bandits we met.  In town we stocked up with bread and bought a sim card before making our way to the Marsabit road.  We were stopped by a soldier at the checkpoint in town and told to park on the side of the road.  We'd expected this.  There's a convoy that departs daily at 9:30 / 10:00ish, or you can pay for an armed escort to travel with you in your car, though recent reports suggest it's safe to travel alone and we'd been told a number of times not to bother.  In some respects this might seem foolish but there are very real reasons not to accept either of these options unless there's a real threat.  Travelling in convoy means dust the whole way, presents a bigger slower target and also arrives late in Marsabit.  Taking an escort is expensive and adds extra weight to the vehicle on some pretty terrible roads.  So we decided to risk it.  As expected we were encouraged to wait but when I asked the guy when they last had trouble he just smiled and said we could go once I'd signed the register.
It's a very scenic road leaving Moyale and we stopped a couple of times to watch small dik diks, birds and a couple of kudu.  On the whole we pushed on though, wanting to get through to the supposedly safer south.   The road was bad but not impossible; patches of corrugations interspersed with dried ruts and eroded channels.  There was very little in the way of human activity at all; just an occasional group carrying firewood or leading their donkeys.  It was actually quite a nice drive.
After almost 3 hours we arrived at a second police checkpoint where I again had to get out and sign the register.  We thought we were through.  Then we were told that the next 20km were the worst and we should take two guards (who were even prepared to sit on the roof).  Not keen to invite a gunfight we again declined and spent a nervy 40 minutes negotiating the dirt road through the mountains.  Again we saw few people and all seemed friendly, though I have to be honest we were both glad to arrive at Torbi, where a very friendly and smartly uniformed guard welcomed us to Kenya and wished us a Merry Christmas.  Torbi itself is a nothing town, dusty and spread out, and we saw no reason to stop.  I still don't know if a guard is necessary - I suppose bandits can strike at any time - but we listened to other opinions and had no hassle at all.  Maybe we were lucky.
Beyond Torbi the scenery changes to a flat, dry and thinly decorated grassland.  If anything the road gets even worse, punishing the tyres with sharp stones and hard corrugations.  We were averaging under 30kph and after about half an hour were waved down by a Land Rover coming the other way.  Out hopped 12 people, the driver in his t-shirt and camouflaged trousers, carrying a side arm, and another passenger with a rifle, apparently from the prison services, but all very friendly.  They'd already had two punctures and one of his spares had developed a slow leak (not surprising given the weight the vehicle was carrying and the baldness of the tyres).  Unfortunately for them we're on tubeless tyres and don't have a tube repair kit but did get our compressor out to give them enough pressure to make it to Torbi - hopefully.
The terrain becomes less scenic as the desert takes over but we did spot a kori bustard and some rhea type birds (which we'll have to look up) to make the juddering worthwhile.  Just out of Bubisa, about an hour from Marsabit, we stopped alongside another stranded Land Rover.  The stricken occupants turned out to be a Brazilian Catholic priest and two Italian nuns, giving a lift to some of their faithful.  It seemed the wire to their injector solenoid had snapped but connecting it was unsuccessful, as was trying to jump-start their now dead battery.  They'd been waiting two hours but had someone coming out to help them anyway so we left them and continued on our way.  I was disappointed that my efforts didn't work, but at least I looked like a grubby mechanic and had some grease on me to prove it.  As for our own vehicle, she's doing admirably - the tyres are looking a bit tattier, we've lost a loose screw from one of the reflectors and there's a small leak around the handbrake drum but otherwise none the worse for wear, so we're quite pleased.
We spotted baboons and a martial eagle in the bush, but were concerned to see so many cattle and goats grazing inside what our GPS claims are the park boundaries.  Marsabit is an interesting place with it's own microclimate out in the desert.  The volcanic craters are surrounded by greenery and in the national park it even supports cloud/rainforests.   We arrived in the dusty town at out 16:00 and made for the park entrance.  Our Cape to Cairo guidebook suggests that, at only US$15 entrance and US$2 each for camping, it's worth staying at the rustic camp overlooking Paradise Lake, where the elephants come to drink.  We were gutted to discover that the price is now US$20 each for entrance and US$15 each to camp!  There are NO facilities either, just a space in the bush.  We'd planned to spend three nights and celebrate Christmas in the park, but at US$78 per day (US$8 for the car) it just wasn't worth it so we made our way back down the hill and out towards Henry's camp, about which we'd heard good reports.  At first this was also a disappointment; a scrubby, fenced in area with a few rundown looking buildings, but it started to grow on us as we were shown around.  Prices were not inflated (only 300KS each), we were left alone, there was a roofed building with table and chairs, somewhere to have a fire and best of all, a spotlessly clean toilet and shower with hot (yes, hot!) water.  And a fresh bakery on the premises!  Plus they sell cold drinks and Tusker beers...  Definitely recommended.  There are mutant sized insects and spiders as well.  We even saw a fat, grey centipede while we were searching for twigs for the Kelly kettle.
We settled in and set about making mince/pasta dinner and planning our stay in Kenya.  We're onto our third and last Michelin map now, though only halfway through our six months.  After a bit of a grump we decided to assess our finances and maybe treat ourselves to Christmas day and night in the park.  That would give us a day in Henry's to do some laundry, sort out our sim card for Christmas calls to family and maybe have a bit of a relax. 
I braved the humungous wasps to switch on the hot water and we were treated an hour or so later to the best shower in almost 3 months.  It was quite windy so we decided to sleep in the car instead of putting up the tent.  With the seats forward the bed is long enough even for me now, and pretty comfy.  End of a long day.

Day 80 Wednesday 24th December KENYA (approx 13 miles, Total 11,191.5 miles)
(S) Wow, we can't quite get our heads around the fact that it's Christmas Eve. How bizarre...  We woke fairly leisurely and set about doing the mundane chores that consume our rest days.  Catching up on diary, cleaning the back out, washing clothes, hanging clothes, more diary and generally messing about with the Kelly kettle to get hot water for doing the dishes.
By mid-morning we realised we needed to get cracking, but timed our departure a bit foolishly - a huge bull and his herd of bullocks and cows had just mooched past, and were eyeing up the gate to the campsite with envy.  We managed to shoo them away to get through, but they even started running towards the next gate.  The bull looked pretty genial, but they have a dangerous reputation for a reason and I felt a bit nervous leaping out and opening the gate into his enormous face, clucking away soothingly and asking him politely to back away...  He did slowly, and I positioned myself directly behind the gate in case he did charge or simply butted his way past - so that I could jump onto it as it swung away.  Anyway, Mike managed to drive through as I quickly closed the gate behind him, but it felt like a narrow escape!
In town we paused in the Zain mobile shop to try and figure out the dialling codes we needed for our calls tonight before wandering up the road to find a bank or cash machine.  After asking around a bit we discovered KCB, and queued politely until someone pointed out that there was an ATM outside behind a tinted door.  We drew money twice on my card, as Mike's has been stopped again for some reason (that wretched Barclays), and en route to the internet café we stopped for hot chips - yum.  It was a great little store - a tasselled curtain fly screen in the doorway, cheesy kitten and Coke posters on the wall, jivey African music that they were all singing along too, and the enticing aroma of hot oil and fries.  Mike had an egg with his chips, and tea with milky water from a flask. 
At the internet café we could only check our messages, as there wasn't enough bandwidth to upload our Christmas movie - real pity, but maybe we can try and do it Nairobi.  I sneaked out to buy Mikey a small treat for his Xmas gift, before returning to settle the bill.  From there we drove up to the KWS office to ask again about our options for at least spending Christmas day in the park.  The ranger today was much friendlier, saying that we could reserve the campsite exclusively for an extra 100US$ (no thanks!) and that we'd have until 12noon Boxing Day to depart. He also showed us a guidebook that listed the park's inhabitants, including bizarrely all the plains/savannah game and even cheetah - from what we could make out though, this park is all dense forest that even lion or giraffe would struggle to survive in, let alone cheetah!  Perhaps there is a grassland zone further north-west that we simply didn't find...
Info gathered, we drove back into town and parked in the shade so I could wrap Mike's gifts while he went to buy mine, and to pick up some Tusker beers.  While standing at the back door folding Christmas hats, I was asked for a lift, but had to disappoint them of course, as we weren't leaving today.  Shame, sounds like there are zero busses and there are scores of people trying to get elsewhere for the Christmas festivities.
Mike with beers and secret parcel in hand returned, and we went back to the campsite to pay for another night and pick up a fresh loaf from the bakery for lunch.  Had tuna mayo sarmies while we studied our maps to work out our route south, playing the one Xmas song I have on iTunes - Silent Night by the Soweto String Quartet - on repeat.  We then packed up, showered (hot water again, how glorious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Really, this is the best set up camp we've been in since Italy probably.  The simplest long-drop loo with a toilet seat on top so no smell or flies or wet floor and toilet roll provided, a decent shower head with a shower curtain and hooks that work in a dry area, nice bright lumo light to see by, an outside concrete laundry tub basin, then a proper double sink near the boma for dishes, a fireplace and wood already chopped and laid on.  Perfect, and for such a reasonable rate compared to elsewhere in Kenya too...)
Just as it was getting dark we set off to find the Anglican church the Catholic nuns we'd stopped to help had promised us existed in town somewhere.  In town Mike asked directions from the night staff in the Jey Jey centre, who sent us up a bumpy track on the hill.  We could hear rapturous music as we approached, but spotted a sign outside the building proclaiming it was the Pentecostal church. I went in to ask if they knew where we could find the Anglican church instead, and disturbed two young women rehearsing their dance for the later service.  They were so delighted to see me, rushing over to greet me and hug me and shake my hand over and over, I felt really mean admitting that we weren't staying and that we were simply looking for directions to another church!  I couldn't understand them at all, and doubt they understood me, as they just kept repeating "merry Christmas sister!".  So we hugged again, and bade each other an emotional farewell, as I wished them the best Xmas ever and praised their lovely dancing. 
Back outside, a chap approached us, asking if he could help.  Luckily, John not only knew where it was and lived in the compound, but needed a lift to the Anglican church, so he could take us directly there.  We waited while he dropped off his parcel (he was an usher for the Pentecostal midnight service later) and hopped in next to me as I perched on the central cubby box for the lurching journey back into town and further up the hill but to the left.  At the church's corrugated iron roofed building he organised a parking space for us and said goodbye, asking us formally if we would "release" him from his duty.  We did, thanking him profusely and wishing him a very blessed Christmas. 
The service wouldn't start for another hour and a half or so, and we'd intended driving back into town to have dinner and find somewhere with cell-phone reception.  But we had perfect signal and a good parking spot outside the parish offices, so sat in the cab and eagerly made our calls to our families.  The line wasn't great, and we had to ration the minutes a little, but it was so wonderful to speak to them, we both felt really homesick and just a little left out!  Such self-pity, it's terrible to admit!  Mike had to make do with peanut butter sandwiches for dinner too as we didn't really have time or privacy to cook anything.  By 9.30pm the singing had started, and the number children running around outside diminished, so we assumed the service had started.  Finding two empty seats next to a group of young men on a pew near the back, we clapped and swung our hips, mimicking the energeticly singing congregation.  We did feel slightly out of place, especially as the children obviously found us fascinating, staring with mouths open a lot of the time!  The bishop was a 50-something white man with a beard, flanked on either side by black ministers who did the majority of the talking.  The service was unlike any we'd been to before and seemed to consist of a series of skits or performances from different groups of people - a choir, a singer with a keyboard, a group acting out the seven sins or something along those lines(!), two hip young gangsta types doing a dance that got cut a bit short when the music stopped abruptly, the bishop and his wife on guitar singing calypso carols, and the children doing a nativity scene.  Part of their routine involved swing-stepping up the aisles with candles alight - though the boys got hopelessly left behind and the girls bunched up so badly behind the teacher that they nearly burned each other's shirt collars.  It was unintentionally comical, but they were so endearing, it was only when someone bumped the huge, brightly lit Christmas tree and it started falling over in slow motion, that a few sniggers and giggles escaped from the boys seated behind us.  The children finished their song and fled at top speed down the aisles as someone battled to right the tree.
By now we were exhausted and knowing we had a really early start tomorrow we decided to sneak away.  It was supposedly a three-hour service and we'd been there for half of it without recognising any of the prayers or songs, so hoped we'd not cause offence by quietly slipping out the back.  No one seemed to notice and considering there had been people coming and going all night, guess it's almost the done thing here!
On the way back we got totally lost in the pitch dark, resorting to using the GPS.  It was kinda fun though, driving slowly through the sleeping, blackened streets, singing carols and humming when we forgot the words.  The wind was still howling back at the campsite, so we set up the bed inside again.  Pretty darn comfy and cosy - can't believe it's officially Christmas in just an hours time!

Day 81 Thursday 25th December KENYA (approx 30 miles, Total 11,221.5 miles)
Christmas Day.  If the duty ranger yesterday was to be believed we could enter the park in the morning and our tickets would be valid until 12:00 pm the next day.  Our plan was to get there at about 7:00, do a bit of a drive to the campsite, set up camp, light a fire, cook up a storm while we watched the elephants drinking at the lake, do another drive in the evening and then retire after a good day.  We got to the gate a little late and went in to buy our tickets.  A different person was there to help and explained that the ticket was from 24 hours only.  It being Christmas though, she said it was fine if we left at 9:00 the next morning, as we'd planned.  A shot rang out while we were paying and she calmly explained that they were chasing monkeys away and weren't using live rounds. Hmmm, ten minutes later when we drove through the barrier two sheepish looking armed men dropped what looked like a dead goat.  I think it may have been an antelope of sorts though, freshly skinned.  If it was then the Kenyan Wildlife Services have a real poaching problem - their rangers shooting the wildlife for Christmas lunch?  On the plus side, it meant they had a spotted hyena following them, which was a nice sighting for us.
The road through the park cuts through beautiful, densely forested landscapes.  Not much good for game spotting but very pretty.  We did spend some time watching a troop of baboons but otherwise the slow two hour drive to the campsite was quite quiet.  We had to engage low range a couple of times; even though it hadn't been raining the park is really only accessible by 4x4.
The camp itself is really rustic.  There's not even a tap, just an open area with some evidence that people have made fires, fantastic for a night in the bush, but quite what the US$15 per person is for I'm not entirely sure.  When we arrived there were a few buffalo at the water's edge, a couple of hundred metres away.  Enough to make us aware of our surroundings.
We put the table out, and our Christmas tree and Sarah made great omelettes for breakfast.  As we sat an young bull elephant made an appearance across the lake.  Magic place.  Then we cracked open the first Tusker beer for the day - we had to get through a few in order to claim the hefty bottle deposits the next morning :)
We're obviously not much good at relaxing because we decided to go for another drive - perhaps see our ellie a bit closer up.  Drove a rough forested track which skirted the crater we were in but saw little, so decided to try another circuit, passing a Land Cruiser from the Marsabit Catholic church on the way.  By the time we'd taken a construction track and returned it was about time to get the fire on, so we headed back to our camp.  The elephant was closer when we returned, so we stopped and watch him for a while.  Something big in the reeds spooked him but we couldn't see what it was - a reedbuck perhaps?
Back at our camp we were no longer alone, the nuns and friends having arrived at the secluded spot for a Christmas picnic.  We exchanged greetings but didn't interfere, preferring to set up our chairs to watch nature while we cooked.
Another, bigger bull elephant joined our friend across the way and we were just setting up the video to try and capture some of the interaction when two of the nuns came over to us singing 'We wish you a merry Christmas' and carrying some braaied goat for us.  It was very tasty and nice of them to come over but did make us conscious that we had little to share with their whole group in return.  I don't think it was expected anyway because half an hour later, just when our meal was nearly ready, they packed up and left.  It was already almost 16:00 and a herd of buffalo had now joined our elephants at the water.
Fending off the flies we dished up a pretty good lunch (the meat was a bit tough) and cracked open the bottle of bubbly, which had been chilling in the fridge.  It was a real disappointment.  Our Ethiopian 'champagne' had a plastic ribbed stopper and was sweeter than most dessert wines.  Not even Sarah liked it - but we drank it anyway, watching the action across the water and having fun teasing the vultures that were gathering at the remains of the other's picnic a few metres away.  Can't say I've literally had lunch with the vultures before; they're not shy to come and see what they can get hold of either.
With lunch done and freshly showered (using our 12v shower) we headed off once again to see what we could find in the bush.  The track to the south gate is absolutely appalling.  We had to crawl along in low first gear for much of it, inching over rocks and into eroded gullies and eventually giving up after 40 minutes or so, not wanting to return in the dark.  We drove further north again, until it was almost dark, but again didn't see anything through the dense foliage.  By the time we got back to camp it was a very different place - very dark and full of the noises of the bush.  Neither of us was tempted to sit outside for long, though I could only make out one pair of eyes nearby (not a very big beast).
Spent a bit of time packing up and erecting the tent and Sarah made some popcorn.  Feeling tired we crawled into the tent and started watching our Xmas dvd, Quantum of Solace, on our laptop.  The quality is really bad but to be expected on pirate copies I suppose.  Couldn't last the whole movie though, so gave up and went to sleep.

Day 82 Friday 26th December KENYA (195.1 miles, Total 11,413 miles)
(S) Boxing Day.  Well, I should first mention that midnight loo runs are a totally different challenge when you're in the middle of a very dark, rather spooky grove of trees, in the middle of a National Park with lion, hyena and leopard on their mammal list.  And there are vultures roosting all around you, and deafening frog and insect calls, and all the while you know that there was a pair of eyes nearby a few hours ago...
Anyway, we both woke up to the early alarm feeling a little worse for wear - still tired, and thirsty and headachy (hungover from our too-sweet Ethiopian bubbly probably! Let alone the beers...).
We dressed and brushed teeth, packing away the tent, waving to the vultures above our heads and the buffalo on the opposite side of the lake.  We headed back up the crater rim, pausing at the lookout but again couldn't see anything moving other than the odd eagle or crow.  On the road we saw even less - only one kite type bird flying from tree to tree along the road cutting.  The bush is just impenetrable here, and apart from the exposed grass around the lake there are few clearings to try and spot game in.  The mist was also pretty heavy, and the toppermost reaches of the podocarpus trees were hidden in rolling fog.
At the lodge, we stopped so that I could try and find a toilet, and Mike could have a sneaky peek at the chalets - we were curious to see what extra luxuries you get for paying over 100US$ a night to stay there.  None it seems!  The place was deserted, or so we thought, and as the men's bathroom was out of order, the women's flooded, and the bar devoid of bottles or glasses, the whole place had a bleak, unloved feeling about it.  Mike said the rooms were little better - what a shame as there is so much potential!  The lake below the lodge must be just as frequented as the lake near our "special" campsite surely?
Anyway, some people did emerge from the mist - a man and his young son, and another fellow who asked us if we were heading off on a game drive.  When we replied that we were aiming for the gate as our 24hrs were nearly up, he begged us for a lift.  We could hardly turn him down, and within seconds of nodding, he had climbed up onto the roof and was happily perched on the spare tyre.  Despite my fears that he would be brushed off by trailing branches, he assured me that he's very used to sitting on top of the cattle lorries to Nairobi, and the bumpy park roads were little match for that sort of journey! He was well-practiced at holding on and ducking under boom-like branches!
So, with our new passenger on board, we drove down to the gate, obviously spotting nothing fauna-wise.  We handed in our ticket stubs to the guard on duty and continued into town to the bottle store to try and get our change/refund, dropping him off outside the internet café.  Turns out that the liquor store was closed for the day and after unsuccessfully trying to convince someone to help us we resorted to giving the bottles and slip to a guide-character who wanted to show us to another crater, though we didn't have time unfortunately.  I did manage to buy bread and biscuits from the general store which was open.
Annoyed that we had to forfeit our money, our departure from Marsabit was a bit heated, but we managed to resolve our argument and begin to enjoy the drive as much as we could, despite the shocking condition of the road.  There were loads of tribespeople herding animals or carrying firewood, dressed at first in bright pink wrap cloths, with beads and feathers in their hair and elaborate make up.  Just gorgeous.  The garb changed the further south we drove, with tall, lean young men shooing cattle off the road by rattling their spears at them or throwing small stones.  Soon the wraps were blue and red, which we later learned were traditional Turkana colours.  What a shame that they are very sensitive about being photographed, as they are such regal, proud, photogenic people! 
The road really is horrendous - not only because it's so dusty and jagged, but because it's simply unrelenting. We started joking with each other that there are only three situations where it's almost bearable - the 6 to 8m or so of tar on the bridges over dry riverbeds, or the short sections of laterite red clay track where tyres have smoothed them relatively flat, or when you're stopped!  We did pause a few times for photos of the villages or vulturine guinea fowl and their electric blue chest feathers.  We also spotted loads of ground squirrels streaking across the road into the undergrowth but they were too quick to be photographed.
There was virtually no traffic, just the odd truck or 4x4, so at least we could pick our way through the rockier sections by crazily lane switching and weaving a bit.  About 40km from where we'd planned to stop to camp, we saw a red emergency triangle laid out.  So far in Africa, the done thing appears to be the placement of treacherous big stones or rocks in a heap in the road, or bundles of wood piled up to alert oncoming drivers. Intrigued, we stopped next to a yellow Mitsubishi pickup with the bonnet raised.  Turned out to be a local guy who had been stranded since the day before when the head gasket blew.  There's not much we could do so we offered to tow him the 40km or so to Archer's Post.  We set about unpacking our tow rope and shackles while he told us that he'd had to sleep in the open loadbay with elephants wandering past in the night, and though he had water, he had no food with him.  He said no one else had stopped all day, and that we were his Christmas miracle!  Have to say, we were a little anxious about towing him safely through all the potholes, but in the end Mapenzi with Mike at the helm did a sterling job. We gave him the rest of our loaf of bread and set off slowly, watching him closely in the rearview mirrors.  We did have a moment of crisis when his rope securing the tow strap to the chassis snapped, so we had to feed the strap through instead.  It got totally chewed - yet another piece of expensive kit ruined (like our drive belt loaned to our Libyan desert guide), but what can you do?!
A highlight of the drive was spotting a caracal trotting across the road ahead of us - we slowed down where it had run into the bush, but couldn't see it again unfortunately. The acacias here are lovely, and we still saw loads of birds, but there is such a lot of livestock that the land is really over-grazed. 
At Archer's Post, past all the pretty hills and mountain peaks we dropped him off at the side of the road, while his mate and an entourage of nosy parkers arrived, all desperate to shake our hands and thank us for helping out.  Piecing together more of the story, it seems his friend got a lift with a truck into town this morning and had spent much of the day "communicating" in an attempt to organise rescue, but meanwhile had popped into the bar to refresh himself!  Anyway, our new friend whose name we just couldn't pronounce was profoundly grateful, and adamant that he was fine if we left him there.  Poor guy's eyelashes and nostril hairs where white from the dust...
Two young guys hustled Mike into giving them a lift to the campsite while I was chatting to some kids who had gathered (again revealing my ignorance of UK football probably!), climbing onto the roof before we could even stop them.  Insisting that we had our GPS and knew where to go, they seemed equally insistent about coming with us. Resigned to it being our give-a-Kenyan-a-lift day we found our way to Samburu Women's Camp, which was apparently very pretty on the banks of the river.  In reality, though it is right on the river, it was a total rip-off.  There was a big raucous Boxing Day party going on, no level ground, no water for the showers and at 700Ksh per person far too expensive.  Not really knowing better, and not really thinking straight, we paid, but in hindsight we were fools to pay! We should have pushed on to the campsite outside Isiolo, 30km south or so.  The two young guys also then wanted a tip?!  For what we wondered? If anything, they should tip us for giving them a lift!  Got a bit awkward until I simply said no, that it must have been a misunderstanding as we had the GPS and no intention of needing guidance, and when they came out with the "but it's Christmas" guilt-trip, I replied with the (true) answer that we'd just spent our last change on the camping fees.  Might sound hard-hearted, but after the backsheesh culture of Egypt and the endless begging in Ethiopia, we are more and more adamant about standing up to this sort of nonsense. If they'd genuinely done us a service that we'd asked for, then of course!  But not this hustling rubbish.
Affronted that they'd taken advantage of us stopping after doing someone a favour, we kept to ourselves the rest of the afternoon, drinking our last beers while we read and did some diary, watching the plovers on the sandbanks and slowly realising that there would be zero game at the river if the music kept going like it was.  As it got dark we had dinner, then bucket washed in the shower cubicles, before having to move the car to find somewhere more level.  One of the managerial staff (seems that everyone is in charge here) approached us once or twice to chat, but he was so sloshed that we couldn't really understand him!  We were both knackered and a little homesick, thinking of our families and friends celebrating Boxing Day while we hid in our tent listening to R&B on full volume! But we are also excited about getting to Nairobi tomorrow where we can hopefully catch up on some admin and do some extensive grocery shopping too...  Small luxuries!

Day 83 Saturday 27th December KENYA (217.7 miles, Total 11,630.7 miles)
(M) Thankfully the music didn't keep us awake too long and we managed a short lie in as well.  We were keen to get the last 30 km of rough road out of the way though, so didn't hang around once we were up. There was a bit of a worrying growling rattle coming from the back of the car and with a bit of fiddling we figured out the exhaust was a little loose.  Decided to have a proper look at it in Nairobi.
About 5km out of town we saw an ominous sign - the back end of a broken down Mitsubishi.  Our friend from yesterday was now being towed by a truck but it seems the rope holding the tow bar kept snapping off where it was rubbing on the chassis (no surprise there), so they were after a piece of chain instead.  We were spared having to sacrifice our chain when they hammered a piece off the bottom of the truck rather.  On the upside, stopping paid dividends for us too.  Sarah mentioned the rattle from our exhaust and the chap decided to check it out for us.  Turns out one of the rubber bracket mountings had sheared off so he wired it up to get us as far as Isiolo.
Getting to the tar outside Isiolo was a real relief, potholed as it was.  The drive from Moyale was scenic but really unrelenting and hard on the vehicle.  Quite glad we didn't have to tow someone the final 30km as well!  Isiolo is a bit of a frontier town, with everything you could need available from run-down, signboarded shops.  We needed to try and find the rubber mount and some bread and I was befriended by a local who kept trying to direct me to the right places.  We didn't follow his advice but he found us again at the Shell garage anyway, and managed to come up with someone who claimed to have the part, where I had failed.  What he came back with wasn't an exact match and sounded a bit pricey for what it was but he said it was for LR Tdis, and he'd replace it free of charge so we went ahead.  Job done we left Isiolo and continued south.
Our hopes of seeing Mt Kenya were dashed as we approached and realised the whole mountain was covered in cloud.  The route was also becoming less and less rural and more like South Africa the closer we got to Nairobi. Outside Nanyuki we crossed the equator and pulled over for the obligatory photo next to the signboard.  Should have guessed that we'd be suckered into looking at some of the curios on sale.  We had no intention of buying, but the stuff is really beautiful and we walked away with two small wooded bowls, a pair of earings and a batik.
A little further on we passed the entrance to the Trout Tree restaurant, which we'd read about in another overlanding blog.  Our budget for the day was already blown so we decided to go a step further and treat ourselves to a proper restaurant feed as well.  The restaurant is great, built on stilts around a giant old fig tree.  The gardens below include a trout hatchery, with trout being their menu specialty.  We had a smoked trout starter and then fillet steak for me and steak kebabs for Sarah.  Both delicious, though I would have to say that the fillet is not as I know it.  Trout is definitely their specialty.
The traffic got steadily heavier and slower as we approached Nairobi.  A bit stressful as we were acutely aware that driving with one light in the dusk or dark would be a no-no.  Our moods were not lifted when we stopped and used our last jerry can of fuel, only to discover that most of the petrol stations in Nairobi were out of diesel.  Then my card was rejected at an ATM we tried.  By the time we'd put 10 litres in at an expensive station and arrived at the coordinates that Sarah had typed into the GPS we were both ready to relax.  Realising that they were the wrong coordinates (she'd typed in an incorrect digit!) pushed me over the edge.  We were 13km away, with the light fading.  Needless to say, we were not a happy couple when we finally found Jungle Junction!
Of all the places we've stayed on the trip JJ is the first that has thoroughly exceeded our expectations.  It's a proper house set in a secure and private, well tended garden.  The lawn where you park is level, there are clean, working toilets, a communal kitchen, a lounge, free wifi internet access, an honesty bar, boards with pamphlets etc.  Wow, welcome to Africa south of the Sahara!  And all cheaper than we paid last night.  Arguments over, we were really pleased to be in the camp safe and sound before dark.  Christof, the proprietor showed us around and then left us to settle in.  It's not supposed to be an easy trip but it felt really good to be there.  To celebrate I went to fetch two beers from the fridge and returned to meet Linda and Edwin, a Dutch couple who were chatting to Sarah (www.edwinlinda.tk).  They're also in a Defender and travelling south so we had a lot to talk about.  Nice to meet up with some like-minded overlanders again; they were really friendly.  Our laptop came in handy too.  They were hoping to be able to back up some photos but weren't carrying a computer with them so we lent them ours.  The first few attempts were unsuccessful but later, when he found the software to upload them it all went smoothly.  Edwin's offered to show me how to clear the axle breather pipe tomorrow in return - we've started to leak a bit of diff oil where the prop shaft joins the differential.  Apparently it could just be a blocked breather.
Made chips and salad for supper and got chatting to Chuck, an American guy in his 40s who's biked (motorbike) down through central and South America and is now heading north through Africa.  He's been a bit stuck in Nairobi waiting for his bike to be fixed after an accident.  Not much expected to happen before New Year though.  Some interesting folks here methinks.

Day 84 Sunday 28th December KENYA (0 miles, Total 11,630.7 miles)
(S) Mike was up at the crack of dawn, anxious to see how the SA team was doing in the cricket.  Really well apparently, so his day started really well too!  I got up at a more civilised hour, and we spent a little while chatting to Edwin and Linda and looking on the internet at their website and trying to update ours! The last time we could successfully upload diary or photos was in Khartoum so we had some hard labour ahead of us!
By mid-morning we were still battling away, until Edwin and Linda took pity on us and invited us to join them on a jaunt to the YaYa shopping centre.  We agreed instantly and tagged along as Edwin hailed a citi-hoppa bus headed for that part of town.  Squeezing on board we found some seats scattered about, me next to a young woman with three children on her lap and mine too almost...  The littlest little girl stared at me suspiciously the whole journey despite my attempts to compliment her pretty orange dress with flowers and butterflies, until I said "kwaheri" (Swahili for goodbye) as I disembarked; then I was treated to a mega-watt smile! But I think I was at least more comfortable than the boys in the back who hit their heads first and bums second as the bus spectacularly leapt over a speed hump!  No working shock absorbers on these vehicles I guess...
The mall was something else - like being transported straight back to South Africa.  Could have been any shopping centre in Durban or Joburg, with loads of Christmas decorations, recognisable brands and stores everywhere, it was all a little overwhelming! We aimed first for the bookshop to see if they stocked the wildlife guides we had researched on Amazon to buy for each other as Xmas gifts.  Both the bird book and mammal guide were tantalisingly on display in the window but the shop was firmly closed until tomorrow.  Never mind as we simply joined Edwin and Linda for coffee and pies in the Java café downstairs. We then picked up some emergency groceries like boerewors and beers (and a new dish cloth - how exciting!) from the supermarket before wandering out to the craft market outside the centre.  Wow, there were the most beautiful carvings, bright beadwork, lovely kikuyu cloths and batiks all on display. It was a totally overwhelming experience in some respects - we were smitten with two metal-work sculptures, a giraffe and a warthog (Edwin bravely started negotiations on price and was stumped when the chap seriously said 20,000 Ksh - about $200 for the giraffe), as well as some gorgeous calabash-type ornaments that would make lovely lamps (too big really for us to carry), an ebony mirror frame (again, how could we ever transport it safely!) and a whole host of other beautiful things...  Such temptation!  The sales patter was pretty exhausting though, each vendor desperately wanting to shake hands and coerce us into buying something - there was rather too much tapping of expensive prices into calculators rather than just verbalising a realistic amount!  Edwin and Linda bought some lime green and bright coloured woven baskets, bargaining hard with the saleswoman - it was a fair deal though as both parties were smiling broadly when the exchange was over.
Running to catch the bus back (ironically it stopped right next to a "No Stopping for Matatus or Buses" sign!) we again struggled to find seats at first but managed when folk squeezed over for us a bit.  At camp we spent the whole afternoon cleaning the inside of the car, ashamed when we realised we'd guilt-ed Edwin and Linda into cleaning as well!  That's twice now we've made our fellow travellers feel bad enough to do their own chores after watching us tidy up so thoroughly! 
As Mike and Edwin squirmed around under the car fixing pipes and things, I battled on with the internet, slowly finishing uploading some more photos and diary.  Desperately trying to get up to date, though our ftp website it becoming impossibly slow - will have to try a new tactic maybe!
(M) Managed to clear the breather tube but annoyingly we noticed that the rubber exhaust mount that we bought yesterday has already started to shear - should have trusted our instincts.  We also fiddled around with our light problem.  I had the steering column disassembled to check the switch, which seemed fine.  Then took the headlight apart and noticed some melting of the plastic connectors, so cleaned that up - it still didn't work.  It turned out just to be a faulty bulb (even though it still worked on brights, silly me?) so we are now legal for the first time since Tunisia.
(S) We used the communal kitchen to cook a delicious meal of boerewors with chakalaka style sauce (tomato, garlic and onion) which we ate while we chatted to some of the other residents.  Did dishes and had a shower, then sadly took the laptop into the tent with us to finish some more photo admin (can't wait until we're current and we can shut the computer down again).  But Mike also wanted to be able to check the cricket score very early tomorrow morning anyway!

Day 85 Monday 29th December KENYA (40.4 miles, Total 11,671.1 miles)
(M) A day for chores.  We were up at a reasonable time and went to reception to find out about having some laundry done.  What a luxury, we've been washing clothes by hand for almost three months and there are some things which could do with a machine.  Bacon and eggs for breakfast (first bacon since leaving Europe) which was a bit of a treat.  We did have to say goodbye to Linda and Edwin, which was a bit of a shame.  We got on really well and I think they would have been fun to travel with.  Nevertheless, we had other things we had to get on with and they'll be pushing south now.
Unexpectedly, the morning actually went according to plan.  Jungle Junction has a heap of coordinates for useful places in town, including one for Chemigas, for gas refills.  We'd been looking to fill our bottle since Tunisia, so didn't hold out much hope as we made our way deep into Nairobi's industrial zone.  Imagine our delight that they could fill the 6kg, and for only £8 or £9!  From there we found Impala Spares where we picked up an oil filter and another rubber mounting - the right one this time.  Onwards to find some diesel.  The first place we stopped at still had none in stock but they did do lubricants so we decided to have the oil changed and the gear and axle oils checked.  Ended up also having various bits and bobs regreased.  From there to Nakumatt Junction where we did a big stock up.  The supermarket was very much what we're used to in the UK, with the exception that the lights kept going out! So a successful morning all round.  The afternoon didn't go quite as well.
We needed dollars.  Lots of them, for park fees, and had anticipated that we'd just be able to draw some Shillings at an ATM and then go into the closest bank and change them for US$. What we didn't count on was my card being repeatedly rejected.   I honestly despise Barclays.  Bet they've stopped my card because of 'dubious' withdrawals from a foreign country - even though I've asked them not to.  Fortunately we were able to draw some emergency cash on Sarah's card, but not as much as we needed, so we found a bank to ask if we could get a cash advance on a Visa card.  Which we couldn't.  They directed us to a Barclays around the corner in the same centre.  They too couldn't help, though did tell us that the main branch would be able to do it for us and only closed at 20:30 (most other banks were now closing).  Off to what we thought was the main branch but wasn't.  Tried a different bank; still no good.  Finally a last ditch effort, on the advice of a security guard, and we found the branch we were looking for.  And they could do the change for us - fantastic.
Between times we'd been visiting various bookshops to try and find the guidebooks we were after as well.  Most of the shops stock the books in plastic packaging though, so it's hard to tell if what's inside is really what you're after.  After a few attempts we decided to return to the supermarket in the Nakumatt Junction shopping centre, where we'd seen both of them and were pleased to finally have our Christmas presents.  We were pretty familiar with Nairobi by this stage.  Now all we needed was some animals and birds to identify.
Back at camp we were into the internet again.  It's a bit sad but it seems this is what we do in our spare time.  Managed to get quite a lot done though.  We were way behind on diary and managed to get a lot uploaded onto the website.  Sarah cooked up a butternut soup while I slaved, and we sat up, at the dining table, until almost midnight when the internet finally gave up. 
(S) I thought the internet disappearing might have been due to a virus or something - so rashly decided to delete all our cookies and reset Internet Explorer.  Turns out that it's Christof's router that went down or something so we've lost all our internet history for nothing.  Oh well.  At least we were forced to retire the laptop and sleep!

Day 86 Tuesday 30th December KENYA (18 miles, Total 11,689.1 miles)
(S) Seems we have an unwanted passenger on board.  I made far too much toast for our soup last night and we left two slices on a plate in the back overnight.  This morning there are lots of chew marks, crumbs everywhere and I've found mice droppings behind the driver seat.  Hmmm.  A little furry beastie could be hiding anywhere in here!  As long as it doesn't take a liking to the electrical wiring we might be alright as all the other food is packed away in the wolfpack boxes or the fridge. Maybe it'll be scared away when we start driving later!
Another day for admin and chores - how boring, but necessary I guess.  Mike had porridge for breakfast, as we made the most of having access to a proper kitchen for another morning.  We chatted to Chuck and the French and German couples a bit, before setting off to get fuel and sort out our insurance.  Finally, a garage with diesel - there must have been a shortage or something, maybe the deliveries were stopped over the Xmas break, who knows.  Anyway, with Mapenzi full again and our wallet emptier, we set about sorting out our Comesa insurance for the Eastern and Southern African countries we're heading to next.  Had a bit of a detour trying to find the right AA office, but eventually, up a couple of flights of stairs we met up with Bernice who kindly sold us rather expensive Kenyan road tax, and our yellow Comesa card.  We got the first disc straight away, but would have to return later to collect the latter.
As we were leaving we were collared again by an elderly fruit seller, with his bags of gorgeous looking red plums and mangos.  Couldn't resist, so got a bag of each, which made his day.  Munching on juicy plums, we returned to the YaYa centre (becoming regulars!) where we managed to convince the parking security guards to let us park underground again in a nice, high-ceilinged section.  Bit tough having to find decent bays that don't have strict height restrictions, so we were lucky.  We spent a while at the internet café, finally putting the finishing touches to the website, and at last we are up to date!  Mike also got to bask in the glorious news that the SA cricket team had beaten Australia in the second match and therefore had sewn up the series - now to win the third match and make it a clean sweep...
We had to dash back to the Hurlingham area to collect our Comesa card before 4.30, and bumped into the German couple who were also fetching theirs at the same time.  Gave them approx co-ordinates for the Barclays that stayed open late, as they too were struggling to convert Shillings to dollars.
Back at JJ's we had to park under a different tree as they'd watered the lawn, so set about putting up the tent before making bangers and mash for dinner, with jelly for desert.  Mike finally got hold of his brother Dave to wish them a belated Merry Christmas, and I called my Mom briefly to wish her a happy birthday. On a high from speaking to our families, and very excited about visiting Tsavo tomorrow, we went to bed with plans rushing through our heads - we're sad of course to be leaving the comfort zone of JJ's, but it's time to push on.

Day 87 Wednesday 31st December KENYA (216.5 miles, Total 11905.6 miles)
(M) New Year's Eve.
As I write this we're four days behind on the diary and sitting across the Talek River from the Masai Mara reserve.  Sarah's gone to ask Jonathan, our Masai askari/guard, if it's ok to light a fire for a braai.  The sun is going down and the baboons have been messing about across from us, coming to spend the night in the tree next to our tent.  Life is not bad.
After the shock of the Kenya Wildlife Services price rises (in tomorrow's diary) we were equally surprised to discover that Masai Mara (not a government park) has yet to raise their fees, so today this is one of Kenya's cheapest parks!  I digress...
After four nights at Jungle Junction it really was time to move on.  It took us a while to say goodbyes to everyone but we were on the road a little after 09:30 anyway, only half an hour later than planned.  Chris (owner of JJ) had advised us that if we were time limited we should stick to Tsavo West, which is apparently more scenic.  We both still wanted to see the vast wilderness of the east park though, so decided that we'd spend tonight in a campsite near the Voi gate of Tsavo East, enter the park in the morning, overnight at one of the park campsites, exit on the 2nd morning, enter Tsavo West, spend a night in that park and head back to Nairobi on the 3rd.  A tidy plan.
The drive down was uneventful.  Sections of the road were bad where they're doing roadworks, but we'd already been told about that.  Also saw some zebra on the main road that runs between the east and west parks but otherwise not much to write about.  We arrived in Voi town at about 15:00 and passed straight through, looking for the Red Elephant Lodge, which is just outside the park and allows camping.  Arriving there we could see some elephants a few hundred metres away (coloured red from the soil they bath in) on the other side of a not so sturdy fence.  Looked like there were no other guests staying there and we got a very warm welcome from the guy at reception and the other staff.  I think Kenya tourism is still suffering after the political violence earlier this year and all these lodges are struggling for clientele.  We were shown to a spot where we could camp and given the keys to one of the rooms so that we could use the toilet and shower.  Sarah was also over the moon that they had a small swimming pool.  All very civilised.  It was pretty hot and didn't take us long to change and climb in but we didn't swim for long - afraid we may miss the elephants coming to the waterhole on the other side of the fence.  Spent the rest of the afternoon watching some waterbuck and a host of birds ((S) a fiercely territorial kingfisher, quelia in their hundreds, hornbills, superb starlings and hornbills), as well as the elephants in the distance.  Towards dusk a couple of Masai guys, complete with spears and stretched ears joined us.  We weren't sure if they were angling for a tip or just doing their job as guards when we were followed back to the bar at dusk by one of them.  Always worried we may be doing something culturally wrong!
We were asked not to wander around unless we got one of the Askaris to escort us - apparently there was a leopard in the vicinity which had been trying to hunt their dogs.  So, back at the car we sat down for a couple of drinks.  I had a Guinness from Sarah for Christmas, which she started sharing but didn't like, so resorted to a G&T instead.  Haven't just sat very much on this trip and it was a nice interlude, listening to some distant music from a new years party in another lodge.  We were having a quiet one though, only interrupted by the night guard, also called Michael, who came to introduce himself, and a very persistent cat that wanted some of our mango chicken salad dinner.  A long discussion about whether or not it was an African wildcat followed.  If it was, it wasn't a wild one.
Bed early; we didn't stay up to see in the new year.

Day 88 Thursday 1st January KENYA (95.2 miles, Total 12,000.8 miles)
(S) After a night of frenzied mosquito squashing by headtorch light (how are they getting in?), we were up fairly early, packing and driving into Voi town to find an ATM and grocery shop before 8.30am.  Found the Barclays bank and managed to draw successfully on Mike's card - either the tense phonecall or the internet banking update seems to have worked!  The only other bodies about were some rather skittish lizards, and a chap who was a bit forlornly peering through the firmly closed glass doors.  From there we found a "supermarket", which at least had biscuits, bread and bottled water (we replace our bottles every now and again when we remember to!), and far too many staff mopping the floors.  Just meant that there were muddy footprints everywhere from customers and other moppers.
We also visited the petrol station just past the junction so that we could check the tyre pressures and have the filthy windscreen cleaned.  It was beautiful for the first few hundred metres and then of course, oncoming traffic dust just glued itself to the damp spots. Oh well!
At the Tsavo East NP gate we parked and went over to purchase our tickets.  We were gutted to read that not only had the new 2009 entrance fees gone up from US$40 to US$50 per person, but staggeringly, to camp inside the fence it would now cost US$25 per person per night, instead of US$10.  For us to spend our allotted 24hrs in the park, it would cost half as much again as it would have yesterday.  We were so disappointed and wished we'd done things the other way around!  Oh well, we'd come this far and had been so excited to see the park that we swallowed our bitter disappointment and put dollars on the KWS smartcard, also adding our 300KS for the car fee. 
We were ruing the that Lake Nakuru park was now even more expensive now, at US$60pp (up from US40) and suddenly all our plans to visit the parks in Kenya rather than Tanzania (where they are US$100+ per day!) seemed to have gone awry, when we spotted a large herd of elephants with two or three infants, the matriarch and aunts shepherding the little ones towards the road.  We had to put things in perspective and enjoy the experience, marvelling at just how ochre-red they are, and enjoying the clumsiness of the babies as they got gently shoved along by the larger trunks.
All in all, we had a really good day.  We got incredibly close to a rock monitor who was basking on some rocks at a signboard.  I had to skid to a stop, narrowly avoiding running over a beautiful thin grey snake, who managed to bury himself in a hole while I rapidly reversed, praying that I hadn't squashed him.  We waited until he poked his head out, but he wasn't feeling too brave, so we left him in peace.  Unfortunately, we spotted a few of his less lucky cousins, who met a rather more nasty end on the park roads.
We also had some lovely sightings of giraffe, got very close to zebras with foals and some pretty antelope - Grant's gazelle, impalas, gerenuks (with their impossibly slender necks), and some buffalo too.  We surprised a troop of noisy baboons who were messing around at a small river, and when they heard Mapenzi's growl, they fled into the trees shrieking at us in rage. Only one large male appeared unperturbed, chilling on a fallen tree trunk and nonchalantly scratching at his private parts in an all too human way!  At Hugard's falls, we stopped to find crocodiles, managing to spot two and a head, and had the added bonus of seeing a fish eagle flying through the ravine before landing on a skeleton tree.  Picture postcard stuff!
On the long drive round to finish off our uneven loop, we drove for some kilometres seeing endless dik-diks, francolins and at brilliant Martial eagle or too.  But no big mammals.  Mike did spot some black-backed jackals that dashed across the road, and we spooked some kudu cows, but on the whole, everything was resting in the shade of the deep bush, except the dik-diks - who were all resting in the shadows next to the road, silly things.
Closer to the gate at dusk, we saw loads of plains game, elephants and had even had a bachelor buffalo run along side us for a while, before he crashed onto the road, and jumped up the bank in a very energetic leap for such a hefty beastie!  We had hoped to spot a leopard near a rocky outcrop with some very alluring acacia trees, or some lion roaming the savannah as darkness approached, but no such luck.  We did get a treat when a whole family of banded mongoose skittered across the road near the gate.
We made double sure that we'd be able to still come in tomorrow early, to use up the last few hours of our 24hr ticket, and said farewells to the gate staff.  Driving back towards Voi, we tried to find another campsite, but the track we took turned into a goat path, and retracing our steps, we decided that the resort we were aiming for was in the throes of a New Year's Day party for the locals, which was too boisterous for our exhausted minds and bodies to contemplate joining.
So we returned to Red Elephant Lodge, again finding it desolately empty but for a few enthusiastic staff members, the masaai askari guides, and our friend Michael with the bow and arrows.  We bought some ice-cold sodas, and parked in the same place as the night before - setting up camp, filtering some water and preparing dinner, while we spotted bats roosting in the bamboo around us, huge moths and beetles attracted to the car light, and now two cats - one a handsome grey, domestic tomcat, as well as the smaller female who has the markings and long legs of an African wildcat.  Who is tame.
One of the game viewing minibus combis with the pop-up roof panel arrived with a flourish, and the occupants set about putting up tents on rather unlevel ground.  We did wave hellos, but I guess we were all tired from a long day, and socialising just seemed like far too much effort!
We showered (had warmish water which was nice), ate tasty dinner, did dishes, brushed teeth and packed away, all in good time so that we could start really early tomorrow.  We heard distant hyena again, and at one stage the dogs in the nearby compound barked hysterically for a few minutes, but we didn't have any other brushes with wildlife that night, and slept better, with fewer mosquitoes.

Day 89 Friday 2nd January KENYA (227.6 miles, Total 12,228.4 miles)
(M) We were up at 5:30 to make sure we made the most of our 24 hour park entrance fee, and were at the gate a few minutes after 6:00.  We had until 9:13 to exit Tsavo East so planned to head for the Manyani gate, which we estimated to take us about that long.  Took a slight detour on a small track and were rewarded with three buffalo bulls close to the road.  I love the early morning, so just being out was great.  The drive was fairly quiet though.  Lots of birds again and we did see a number of the animals we'd seen the day before, but didn't add to our species list.  At Mudanda rocks we stopped to get out the car and walk along the ancient outcrop.  The 1.5km spine of rock dates back millions of years and was apparently used by local tribes to dry meat.  Today it's a good spot for looking out over the reserve and is used by the anti poaching patrols.  Saw some waterbuck, baboons and guinea fowl from the top - being out of the car in a reserve with big game is always exciting too.
We were back at the gate a few minutes early and checked out, arriving a few kilometres up the road at the entrance to Tsavo West, which is treated as a separate entity. We'd already put extra money on the smartcard to pay for the day but weren't sure of campsites outside the park.  Alice in the ticket office was really friendly and helpful, even offering to call a lodge close by to ask if we could camp there.  Unfortunately they wouldn't allow it.  She would have let us park in their staff compound but her job may have been put at risk as they're no longer allowed to do that even. It seemed our only options were to pay the hefty park camp fee, return to the Red Elephant Lodge 50km away or cancel our plans and head back to Nairobi.  We decided on the latter.  It was a real shame; Alice seemed very disappointed on our behalf but there's just no way we could justify the cost anymore.  What's most sad is that the price rise seems to be partly in response to the shortfall resulting from cancelled bookings after the violence last year.  Personally I think the prices are too high and they'll lose the few who are still coming.  On a positive note though, the prices for locals and residents are still very reasonable (less than a tenth of the tourist prices) so perhaps the park upkeep will be maintained at some level.    
On the way past the northern gate we decided to give camping another try.  Again, they weren't aware of any sites outside the park but suggested we try the Tsavo Inn, which we did.  They too were not allowed to offer camping but the manager did kindly drop the price for a room: everyone seems desperate for some custom.  He offered it to us first at the non-tourist price and then dropped that even further.  It was still much more than we'd planned to pay for camping (though much posher).  Also, by this stage the timing was a bit late for entering the park so we decided to push through to Nairobi.  It was a long drive back after the disappointment of not being in the bush for the day and we stopped only once, to fill up with diesel - where we were told there were shortages in Nairobi.  By the time we entered the outskirts we'd adjusted our plans and felt a bit better.  Stopped in at the Junction shopping centre again and stocked up on supplies before making our way to Jungle Junction for our fifth night!
There were some new faces but mostly the same people who we'd left a couple of days before; it felt good to be there again.  Chatted to people for a while before setting up camp.  There's a French man who'd arrived - also travelling south.  He plans to spend a year going down the east side and then his wife will join him to go back up the west.  She's still working - all wives take note!
(S) Hmm, all husbands take note - he came over to ask me for advice on crossing the border, which route to take and wanting to know what the price of the parks were.  If you leave your lady at home, you'll be lost!  You'll have to do all the navigation, research and proper planning on your own you know!
(M) Back onto some internet, then cooked carbonara for dinner while we planned our trip to Maasai Mara tomorrow.  Impossible to find up to date information so we'll just have to assume the prices have also gone up.  Bed quite late and sleep came easily.

Day 90 Saturday 3rd January KENYA (163.1 miles, Total 12,391.5 miles)
(S) We are officially half-way through our 6-month journey!
Up fairly early to have toast for breakfast, pay, say our goodbyes (again!) and set off.  We dutifully followed the GPS directions, which sent us straight through one of Nairobi's township areas - felt like real Africa again!  Endless goats and sheep, children playing, boys kicking a ball around, men cycling with water jerrys, the ubiquitous hair salons with marvellous coiffure portraits painted on the walls, battery fitment workshops, grocers etc.  The road was not particularly marvellous, and it was slow going if direct!  Joining up with the main highway, we were soon heading for the Kikuyu Escarpment, winding our way down into the Rift Valley - it was stunningly impressive in scale.  We stopped at one of the viewing platforms on stilts, and a curio shop salesmen told Mike that all the land belonged to the Masaai, and pointed out some pretty mountains in the distance.  The traffic was crazy as always, matatu taxis overtaking on the blind corners and so on, but we made it safely down into the Kedong valley.  We were dismayed at just how eroded and overgrazed it was, and so dry that the dust was atrocious.  We had to constantly stop too, for the Great Goat and Cattle Migration - who needs to see the wildebeest in action when you have millions of livestock scaling the banks on either side of the road, in a heaving mass of dust and animals like this?!
The tar road is being "improved", so we were relegated (along with all the huge trucks and packed matatus) to the gravel parallel piste, which was a potholed, corrugated nightmare of the sort we thought we'd left behind in Marsabit.  No such luck - there were some stretches of tar, but on the whole it was a very slow journey.  We stopped so I could use a petrol station loo in Narok, and were collared by two chaps selling curious.  Mike relented as a Happy New Year gesture and bought a beaded keyring, and they knew they had found some suckers!  I gave in and bought a beaded bracelet in the Kenyan flag colours.
Also in the town, we filled the tank and a jerry can with expensive diesel, hastily paying and escaping from a drunken chap who got a little too curious about who we were, where we were going, and trying to teach us some Swahili.  His bloodshot eyes gave me the creeps, so we were happy to be outta there!  Back on tar, then back on gravel, we eventually got to Sekenani, the main gate at Masai Mara National Park.  As expected, the staff couldn't really give us an answer to any of our questions - but we did establish that the head honcho there thought we could have a full 24hrs in the park, entering at their gate tomorrow mid-morning, then exiting at another gate that night, to enter again the next morning until our hours were up.  And incredibly, the prices haven't yet gone up to $60US and are still $40 per person per day - hooray! Maybe our luck has finally turned?  The general lack of information was worrying though - they had no maps, the gate buildings were terribly run down, and we were again disappointed to see so many cattle grazing on NP land - there are no fences, so it seems that boundaries are a fluid concept.
But it did work both ways in some respects - while we drove outside the park to the next gate (Talek) where we'd heard of an attractive campsite, we spotted lots of animals in the so-called "dispersal zone" - impala, zebra, baboons, warthog, and a herd of wildebeest. (It transpired that the only wildebeest we saw while we were in the Mara were outside the official park limits! Maybe they were the cowards who couldn't face the giant Mara crocodiles and were too ashamed to see their brethren struggling on to the Serengeti leaving them behind!  No seriously, we wondered if they were maybe the bachelor herds who didn't need to migrate to give birth - note to selves: must look it up on google).
We made our way to Riverside camp, where the Maasai manager, Daniel, gave us a tour of their bandas (chalets), the birdhide where we spotted greyheaded and pied kingfishers), their gift shop etc.  Really pretty place set out on a bend in the Talek River.  The camping area was grassed between some big trees, and we were warned that the baboons like to roost in one of the acacias just next to the gazebos.  We struggled to find somewhere level, and in the end resorted to parking next to the baboon gazebo.  Hmmm!
We put on the Kelly kettle to make some tea, offering Jonathan, the Maasai askari security guard, a cup too.  We watched a brave baboon saunter about the big tree, but he didn't get too close.  He had been wandering around on the grass, but one look at Jonathan's scarlet masaai outfit had sent him shrieking up into the trees - they really are afraid of him.  Daniel had been pushing hard to take us on a walking safari to see hippo pools, or to go on a game drive outside the park limits, but we were exhausted from the long drive, and at 1,000KS (about £10) each, it seemed a bit beyond our budget.  After groceries yesterday, fuel today and park fees tomorrow, we have to be a bit more frugal unfortunately...
Anyway, we managed to persuade him that we were happy to sit and watch the baboons, a shy mongoose family and the kingfishers, from the comfort of our chairs on the riverbank.   Before it got too dark we had a nice warm shower and prepared dinner. Two men came up, carrying binoculars, trying to find the baboons.  Joel and his father-in-law Martin were really nice and we enjoyed chatting to them about their sightings during the day (a cheetah and her three nearly-adult cubs, and some lions - a good cats day, though they were hassled at every gate about their tickets apparently).  Americans, Joel and Alice had lived in Ghana for many years, raising their children there, and were now based in Kenya.  Her parents were out on holiday to visit, and they'd come to the park with high expectations - we thought they sounded a little disappointed?
Jonathan set about making a fire, so we took advantage of the excellent coals, braaing our boerewors, potatoes and onions.  After dinner we packed everything away and set off to brush our teeth in the bathroom and use the loo.  The buildings are on the opposite side of the grass area, and Mike had to persuade me to take the big maglite torch in addition to our headtorches.  I scoffed, until I realised I could see two sets of bright eyes in the bushes right next to the basin.  On second thoughts - they were actually two very bright eyes, set rather wide apart - belonging to a Hippopotamus!  Slightly unnerved we started backing away slowly, towards the safety of Mapenzi's bulk.  Hippos have a fearsome reputation - reportedly killing more people in Africa than crocs, snakes etc put together.  This one was lying down, probably resting before coming out to graze on the campsite grass, but we didn't want to take any chances! Our expensive security guard was nowhere to be seen.  We did walk over again a little later when we felt braver to have another look - in the light of the torch we could easily see his bulbous nose and prominent nostrils, very cool!
Teeth brushed and peeing behind the bushes instead, we then climbed up into bed excited from our close encounter.  When we heard footsteps Mike popped his head out to warn Jonathan that the hippo was so close.  Alarmingly Jonathan said he already knew, and had had to chase it away from the showerblock, throwing his spear at it!  We were horrified, especially when he then said that he'd hit it but the spear had broken, and he'd had to run away.  So much for our brave askari!  We were concerned that he had now wounded and potentially enraged the animal, he hadn't even bothered to come and warn us, and we were feeling really sorry for the hippo too.  We finally went to sleep, hoping that he wasn't badly injured and interested to find out the whole story the next morning.

Day 91 Sunday 4th January KENYA (66.4 miles, Total 12,457.9 miles)
(M) After our conversation with the Americans last night we weren't certain how the 24 hour ticketing worked at Maasai Mara, but were determined to stick to our plan to enter the park at about 09:30, spend the day driving, exit at a different gate to camp and then do another three hour drive the next morning. We bade farewell to the camp crew and drove to Talek gate to get the tickets.  Unlike the Kenya Wildlife Services parks, there was no time of entry marked on the receipt but we were assured that the date would suffice - i.e. the ticket would be valid today and tomorrow.  So far that's four unclear answers, 1) ticket is valid for 24 hours, 2) ticket is valid until 16:00 the next day, 3) ticket is valid on the day of purchase until the following day, 4) ticket is valid on the day of purchase only. We'd have to take our chances.
We weren't quite sure what to expect and I think both of us were anticipating a wildlife spectacle compared to the other parks we've seen.  The area itself is beautiful and we did see wildlife from the start though it was pretty clear we'd have to look quite hard to see some of the more reclusive animals.  There was also a lot less human traffic than we expected and at our first elephant sighting we only shared with another two vehicles.  Interestingly, roads are not well marked and it pays to have a GPS (a good map may be ok too) to find your way around.  You're also able to follow tracks; you're not allowed to drive offroad but the rough tracks make it feel like you're out there. Quite different to most public parks I've visited.
Despite the time of day the viewing wasn't bad as we made our way south to the Tanzanian border gate (where the Maasai Mara becomes the Serengeti).  Saw loads of elephant, buffalo, Thomsons gazelle, tsessebe, hartebeest, warthogs, waterbuck, giraffe, crowned cranes etc.  Then, from the border we decided to follow a less used track west along the Sand River, now and then dipping into Tanzanian territory.  Not far along it Sarah spotted two lionesses.  We stayed with them for a while but they didn't look to be up to much and we were too far from a gate to be able to stay with them late.  Great to see one of the cats though; and on our own with nobody else about.   We also stopped a little later to watch a giraffe drinking from the river.  It really was a peaceful part of the park and we didn't even see another car for about two hours - hardly surprising given that we needed to engage low gears for some of the sections and most vehicles in the park are minibuses!  Lucky us.
At the Mara River we stopped in to watch some hippos but declined the duty guard's offer to go for a short walk to see some crocs.  We had to push on a bit as it was getting late and we still had a long way to go in order to exit the park before the gates closed.  The river is fascinating though, with wildebeest skulls littering the banks - the migration crossing must be an awesome, if somewhat macabre sight.
Just over the river we came to a boom gate.  Turns out the other side falls under the jurisdiction of a different county.  They even seem to have a different fee structure though tickets are valid for the whole area?  Rather than buying our camping tickets there we opted to state in the logbook that we were just passing through and would be exiting from Musiara Gate.  It was a bit of rush to cover the distance in the remaining time but we did make it, even stopping to watch a jackal with half a small antelope disappear and then reappear without it. 
(S) The last bit of drive while we watched the sunset was pretty amazing - snake eagles, elephants, a huge herd of buffalo, hartebeest everywhere, and in the distance, some Masaai cattle!
We reached Ololoolo Gate with about 45 minutes to spare and were advised by a chap there, George, that the road to Musiara was bad and we'd be better off staying at the gate.  He 'authorised' us to do a drive the next morning and suggested a route along the airstrip and down to a swamp which was visible from the gate, so at least we'll be able to use our 24 hours.  Then he pointed out the area where we could camp. There were another two small tents there and a basic ablution block with a cold shower, but that was it.  Managed to sort of level the vehicle in the long grass behind the ablutions, overlooking a large Acacia strewn plain, and settled in for the night.  Disappointingly there was very little in the way of wildlife noises; not even a hyena.  Oh well, we'll see how the morning drive goes.

Day 92 Monday 5th January KENYA (approx 250 miles, Total 12,707.9 miles)
(S) Horrrrrible alarm.  It was pretty darn cold, and still very dark when we woke and packed up a dew-damp tent.  Despite our fleeces we even turned the heater on, as Mapenzi crept quietly (nigh impossible with a cold diesel engine, but she tries) out of the campsite and up the hill to the gate.  The guys in uniform wanted to see our receipt but were happy to let us set off when we told them George's suggested route.  It was a beautiful sunrise, made all the more special with some big bull elephants posing in front of a hot air balloon taking off in the distant rosy light of dawn - sigh, how romantic.  We skirted the airstrip, and made our way to the river, where we saw a few hippo and some enormous crocs, and the tracks kept taking us closer and closer to the riverbanks so we had a really good view.  We startled loads of warthog and a few antelope, as well as a young hippo - he was slowly crossing the road round a blind bend, and gave us the most baleful look when Mike coasted gently to a stop.  It was a very steep bank down to the river and as paranoid as I was that the mother would appear any moment and charge us for getting between them, it turned out the little chap was all on his own.  He was mostly unperturbed, grazing a little and half-heartedly trying to camouflage himself in the bush, but it did seem unusual that he'd be out of the water and alone - maybe he was ill? He certainly looked a bit lethargic and melancholy.
We had some lovely sightings of giraffe, a magnificent dagga-boy buffalo, who posed majestically for Mike's camera, large troops of baboons and the ubiquitous zebra and buck.  And then, Mike saw a tawny head above the grass - lion!  Two safari-style minibuses had also seen them and approached quickly.  Two lionesses were stalking something off to our right, and a third was watching them, watching their prey. They made a rush for some warthogs who squealed and shrieked and fled with their tails vertical and little legs pumping away.  Unsuccessful, the lions soon gave up and posed regally on an anthill to get their breath back.  We decided to wait with them, while the other vehicles departed.  They started stalking again, splitting up in a pincer manoeuvre, circling round another family of warties with hoglets.  We quickly drove down another track to get ahead of them, and one of the park vehicles returned, just as the lions rushed their attack.  It was thrilling to watch!  Mike reckons the chase was the longest he's ever seen (though the bush at Mala Mala where he was a game ranger for a year or so was much thicker apparently), but the warthogs managed to get down their hole just in time.  While all this action was going on, the third and smallest of the three lionesses had started coming over to join them, so Mike reversed slightly to keep her in view.  Suddenly she started running full tilt to our left - chasing a separate group of warthogs! Struggling a bit to keep her in view as she sped past us, we missed the moment of impact, but what a rush!  I felt desperate for the warthog piglet (he was only a tiny chap), but it was incredible to watch, and she had worked hard for her meal.  Through the binos we could see her chest heaving as she smothered the hoglet, the other two lions quickly arriving on the scene.  With some bone-chilling snarls, menacing growls and much baring of teeth, they each grabbed a section of the kill, the three crammed side by side. We watched for a while, the lion that had made the kill managing to eat some of the meat while the other two held grimly on.
We counted six black-backed jackals, three pairs, who arrived on the scene, inconspicuously crouching down daringly close to the lions.  We waited for some vultures too, but they were circling the thermals in the far distance - this kill would be too small to warrant losing their altitude I guess.
Annoyingly we had to leave them after a while, as our time was running out fast.  We skirted the swamp, Mike expertly negotiating some difficult mud wallow crossings, and a frighteningly steep river crossing too.  Back at the gate we chatted to the park officials, where the one chap offered us a map! As we were leaving.  Oh well!  They were petting an eight-month old eland calf called Bahati (Swahili for Lucky) they'd nursed after her mother was killed by a lion.  She was so tame, and so pretty.
We were now outside park boundaries and heading for Narok, but the road was extreme.  I had to negotiate another very steep river crossing, rockclimbing up in low ratio up the hill.  Mapenzi loves that kind of challenge though and managed it easily.
The roads were hellish - huge potholes, corrugated, rough, with loads of livestock and game wandering about.  We saw large, spread out herds of wildebeest, zebra and hartebeest, and trillions of the handsome Masaai cattle.
At last we got to the tar, and made good progress, until we were caught up in the dirty, bumpy, tyre-eating madness that is a Kenyan secondary road.  The scenery north towards Lake Nakuru was stunning though - very pastoral and green, and we just missed a thunderstorm.  Meant that the mud was flying!  The road really was shocking, and by the time we arrived at the NP gate, we were filthy.  Had to negotiate the whole entrance fee/smartcard nonsense again, and discovered that the "Special" campsites inside the park were actually $40US per person, plus a 7,500 Kenyan shillings (approx $75) reservation fee!  The public campsites were $25 here too.  Crazy!  And here they don't let you leave the park and re-enter during your 24 hours either.  We chatted to a family who were also shocked at the lack of information, and annoyed that their son wasn't able to enter on student rates, even though he could prove he was student.  Bizarrely he needed to have booked a week or more in advance and be travelling in a group.  Sounds a bit suspect, as the other KWS parks were willing to accept Linda's student card?
While we were trying to find out about the Wildlife Club of Kenya lodging as an alternative, a vervet monkey climbed through an open window into the car parked next to us.  I tried clapping my hands and shouting at it and it climbed out again and rushed at me with its teeth bared - shocked at how actively aggressive it was, I beat a hasty retreat.  Emboldened, it started harassing all of us.  Horrible thing - it will become a real nuisance if it gets any braver.  We said farewell to the family and set off to Kembu campsite about 30km out of town, where we were amazed at how like the Natal Midlands it was.  There were horses in the fields, dairy cows and big blue-gum forests, and it was so pretty.
Kembu - Kikuyu for chameleon - is lovely.  They have a big jenga set, table tennis, a pool table, a really nice bar and an almost level grass area for us to park on!  We had a beer each and played ping-pong, though not very well, and had a fun evening relaxing and anticipating tomorrow.  The owner Andrew showed me some of the chameleons sleeping in the trees around the campsite - their camouflage fails in bright torchlight and they glow against the dark background of the plants.  Amazing!  We had yummy bacon pasta for dinner with all the dogs for company, had hot-ish showers, and then bed.

Day 93 Tuesday 6th January KENYA (approx 71.8 miles, Total 12,779.7 miles)
(M) Wow, I do like the way Sarah bigged up my expertise yesterday - she can do more of that!
After some difficult discussions we've made the decision to skip most of the other parks in East Africa (though may still visit a couple in Uganda and will see about walking in the Serengeti if it's not too pricey).  At US$50 - 100 each per day plus US$25 each for camping they're unfortunately beyond even our revised budget.  The ones we've seen have been lovely, though lacking a bit in professionalism and infrastructure for what they charge, and I think the ones in southern Africa will provide just as good a safari experience.  A bit disillusioned but we still had the money on our smartcard to use up, so today we headed for Nakuru, about which we'd heard great things.
We were up really early and out of the campsite at 5:45, deciding to try the more direct route that the GPS didn't take us yesterday.  We regretted the decision almost immediately.  The first 10km were horrendously potholed; made all the worse by the fact that we were trying to negotiate them in the dark.  When that road turned onto the A104 it was a continuous roadwork.  30km of unrelenting dust, corrugations, ruts and trucks.  We arrived at the gates slightly late and were delayed a further couple of minutes while they set themselves up. 
Lake Nakuru is quite different to the other reserves we've visited, being dominated by the soda lake and its huge flocks of flamingos and pelicans, with some candelabra and fever tree forests in the surrounding hills.  Although small and surrounded by Nakuru city it also boasts four of the 'big five' and we were hoping to see them.  We'd seen buffalo grazing before we even entered the park - a sign of things to come.  There were heaps of them, almost too many in my opinion.  Under almost every piece of shade there were buffalo resting and we must have seen a few thousand by the end of the day.  But it wasn't all buffalo; near the water's edge there were waterbuck aplenty, a couple of hippos, eagles, pelicans, marabou storks, flamingos etc etc.  A little further along the road Sarah spotted two black rhino (a first for me), which hung about for a couple of photos and then disappeared into the thick bush.  It seemed almost too much; a bit like a zoo, and I'd be interested to know if the game has always existed in these densities.  As we continued around the lake edge we came across a family of eight hyenas and a little further on a number of white rhino and a couple of jackals out in the open.  Also bumped into the family that we'd been chatting to yesterday - they'd apparently had to wait almost half an hour at the gate because the guards weren't ready.  For US$60 per person you might expect a bit more!  Anyway, told them about the black rhino and said our cheerios again.  Back on the main ring road we picked up some leopard tracks but they disappeared into an area with no road access, so no chance of trying to follow up and we turned away from the more used areas of the park to explore the south.  Added to our sightings with some giraffe, buffalo, zebra, eland, buffalo, waterbuck, impala, buffalo... We stopped in at a dried waterfall near one of the public campsites.  A Swiss man and his daughter arrived with their Kenyan guide and we chatted to them for a while before striking back east.  Amazingly, we found a spot along a not much used track where we stopped and saw no other traffic.  It was really peaceful; out of the vehicle for lunch we were within 50m of zebra, giraffe, impala, baboon, warthog and waterbuck... that we could see!  They were a bit spooked at first but seemed to settle to our presence quite quickly.  When lunch was nearly ready we also noticed a herd of buffalo heading in our direction. We were right next to wallow so decided to open a beer and climb on the roof to watch them.  Unfortunately they sensed us when they were still about 50m away and got a bit skittish, so they never did come and frolic alongside us.
We spent the rest of the day driving very slowly along as many roads as we could, hoping for a lion or even leopard, but it was not to be.  It might be a small park but there are still plenty of areas for the beasts to escape into.  We did however spot another hyena late in the day, and a troop of very relaxed baboons near the gate, but otherwise it was really a day for buffalo.  Have to admit, Nakuru is a lovely day out and I would recommend it to others, but not as a real safari experience and certainly not at US$60 pp.
Back at Kembu we declined an invitation to join in the fun at the bar and instead retired early, anticipating another early start and 170km of BAD road tomorrow.

Day 94 Wednesday 7th January KENYA (168.9 miles, Total 12,948.6 miles)
(M) Ode to a mug.  Woe is me, woe is me; a mug has broken.  One of our IKEA mugs developed a hairline fracture in the first couple of days, way back in October, but has lasted all the way here despite some cracking roads and pistes.  Sadly today was one bad track too many and the cup has surrendered and left us for the great teatray in the sky. 
(S) Despite best intentions, we just had to sleep in a bit this morning, and only managed to get up after 8am.  We slowly packed up and had breakfast, chatting to the owner Andrew, who suggested we try a different route to Eldoret, via some spectacular gorges.  It's about 100km longer, but in better condition.  He said that from the approx 7000 feet altitude at Nakuru, the road via Magirat climbs to 8000 feet, drops to 3000, then climbs again to nearly 9000 feet.  It then falls to about 7000 feet again.  Hooked by the challenge, and tempted when he added that there would be no trucks or dust, we paid up, said our farewells and set off.  I just had to buy a Willard Price book "African Adventure" from their bookswap first - I'd read every single instalment as a kid and remembered how adrenaline packed their exploits were.  Boy, I hadn't bargained on just how outdated, exaggerated and colonial the stories were though! Fascinating reading it now, as an adult...
We made good progress, despite having to repeat the shocking access road with the two-lane wide, 2 feet deep potholes, and the scores of "boda-bodas" wobbling about with passengers or jerry cans or sacks of charcoal.  (Andrew enlightened us when we asked him about the bicycles here, with a seat on the back; apparently they were used extensively at the Ugandan border to ferry people back and forth across the unusually wide no-mans-land, as normal taxis need too much paperwork.  They became known as border-border bikes, pronounced "boda-boda" and the name stuck.  Now these bike-taxis are prolific throughout western Kenya - and just as treacherous as the minibus matatu taxis are, just slower!)
It certainly was a scenic drive, but unfortunately the roads out here are also being worked on.  Despite some blissful tarmac stretches, which Mapenzi turboed up easily, we again encountered some dangerous single lane diversions, sections of denuded gravel and dust, and even worse than the potholed old tar - wet bitumen... Again!  Thankfully we could straddle the wettest bits, and so only had minor splashes and specks compared to last time.  Poor old Mapenzi is beyond filthy now, and we don't like the idea of wet mud clinging to the chassis (it encourages rust) so we decided to try and have a jetwash when we got to Eldoret.
The landscape was really lovely, and we did stop at a viewing spot to take a picture or two.  Photos just don't do this sort of scenery any justice though, as the sheer scale is the primary beauty.  There were villages along the whole route, and as usual, lots of school children in their uniforms shouted "Mazungu!" at us before vigorously waving as we drove through.  Of course we had to slow down a million times for livestock to amble across the road and we also had to pause to allow some baboons to saunter off into the bush.  But we were pleased we'd come this way.  We made it to Eldoret by early afternoon.
We found an ATM, and had to pay for parking, so made the most of it and visited the nearest supermarket too. I'd bought a giant bag of tomatoes from a veggie seller who approached the car, and she kindly directed us to the store where we picked up some beers, yoghurts, bread etc.  We had to pay for the Pilsner bottles too - so we'll try and return them for the deposit on our way out.
Now to find a carwash - even though most of the petrol stations advertised that they had jet-wash, none in town were working, and we were directed to a Caltex on the road that heads towards the border.  They said they had a proper jet-wash but it transpired that the vacuum thingy they use was broken, so she got bathed by hand instead.  We were a bit disappointed - Land Rovers just look rugged when they're covered in dust, like they're supposed to be muddy.  What we really wanted was to spray her underside - but again, no luck. 
We chatted to a man waiting for his car, who'd done his masters at Reading University in the UK.  He was happy to be back in Kenya, saying that he thought London was too expensive to live in, and here he had a good job, good money, and a nice life.  Interesting!
Back through town we aimed for Naiberi campsite that we'd been told is pretty dedicated to the big overland tour trucks.  It's run by a guy called Raj, whose family own the textile factories in town, as well as half the other businesses around here by the sound of things.  He's one of those smooth businessmen who is all charm and big stories, with a mullet hairstyle and a hard task-master attitude towards his staff.  But his campsite is amazing - each parking bay has it's own braai, water tap, washing line, seating area etc. all tastefully done out in varnished wood and thatch.  The showers are just incredible - scorching hot, clean, and max pressure, what a novelty!  He's built a long covered walkway with skylights down to a stunning lodge-style bar area.  It's built low-profile on the hill, around existing trees, with a small waterway and a bridge, fireplaces, a pool table, comfy chairs and a restaurant section.  From there you can go back outside through the gardens, past more ponds and picnic umbrella areas down to the swimming pool with a waterfall feature. Gorgeous!  And all at the average sort of standard camping rate here in Kenya, so a bargain too!
We were exhausted from the long day's driving though and declined his friendly offer to join them all in the bar that evening.  Instead, we started clearing things out so that we could get cracking on our admin day tomorrow, making simple dinner of spag-bol while we finally finished watching our Xmas movie.  Sounds desperately anti-social, but sometimes we just crave some mind-numbing escapism and good ol' TV!  James Bond was the perfect recipe for that!

Day 95 Thursday 8th January KENYA (0 miles, Total 12,948.6 miles)
(M) Woke up to find Sarah's sandals scattered about the lawn, with one strap chewed off.  Fixable though.  We were quite excited at the prospect of a day finishing off some chores and then lazing about the pool, so climbed down from the tent and set about doing our laundry and cleaning out the interior.  There was still no water in our personal tap but in the bathrooms the wooden shower floor served as a decent washboard.  Felt good to be in clean clothes again.  We also did some maintenance of locks and equipment, this being the halfway point in our trip (oiling, cleaning etc) but decided to leave replacing the rubber exhaust mount until later. 
After lunch we made our way down to the pool, an amazing, sculpted swimming pool with water running in over a fall on the one edge.  There were loungers turned on their sides on the paving around the pool so we took two and set them up in the shade.  The water was a bit cold so we lay out of the wind and allowed ourselves to warm up a bit while we read.  Spent the afternoon relaxing for a change and then dragged ourselves back to the car to do the rubber mounting.  I must be a bit of a slow learner because I thought it might be easy.  Nothing is ever easy!  Nothing a good tantrum can't solve though.  I spent the next hour writhing around under the car trying to get the old mounting off and the new one on.  The hole in the mounting is not big enough so it's a bit like trying to stretch a rubber mallet.  Ended up disconnecting the exhaust just to give ourselves a bit more twisting room and eventually between Sarah and myself we managed to force the new one on, adding a few holes of our own in the process @#£$.  Oh well, it should hold for a while.  Note to self - do not become mechanic!
In keeping with not wanting to overexert today we decided to peruse the restaurant menu for dinner and again made our way down to the bar a few metres below.  The restaurant/bar area is wonderful, beautifully decorated and with a great log fire going.  We settled in next to the fire (believe it or not it was chilly enough) and ordered a couple of drinks.  The prices were reasonable so we ordered from the slightly inept waitress and then proceeded to wait a long while for our food.  When it did arrive it was tasty but nothing particularly spectacular so not worth going on about.
Raj came over to greet us and say he would be at the bar for the evening.  Having not joined him last night we thought we'd better go up and at least chat for a short while.  Seems Andrew from Kembu was right about him - he's a smooth mover who runs the campsite so that new friends can be delivered to him on a regular basis.  We had our arms twisted into staying for a drink, which he insisted on getting for us, and were introduced to his rather strange mate, Happy, from Switzerland - complete with felt trilby with a feather.  Between them with their crazy stories and their dope smoking it was an entertaining, if odd evening.  One drink turned into another, until Newcastle Wayne and his Kenyan girlfriend, Te, over from Australia were invited to join us.  Wayne was a bit over the top but friendly enough.  We chatted for a while longer and then made our excuses and left them to the rest of their evening, and went to sleep.


Day 96 Friday 9th January KENYA - UGANDA (193.7 miles, Total 13,142.3 miles)
(S) Hungover this morning.  Guess we're out of practice.  Makes some sense as the last time I had a glass of wine, we were in Tunisia!  We've become rather partial to the beers in this part of the world, and have a G&T most evenings, but for some reason, we just haven't had an occasion to open a bottle of vino.  And I had three large glasses last night that had left me with a dry mouth and aching head today.  How boring.
It was Mike's turn to discover that his shoes had been nicked overnight - foolishly we'd left them on top of the plastic box, thinking they were stinky enough to deter any wild beast, but the dogs here must be pretty smell-immune as one chewed off a great section of fabric and rubber from his left strop/sandal.  He'll be able to still wear them, but we both now have dog-slobbered strops which is a bit gross. I suppose we should be grateful that we found them at all as they'd been dragged off behind some bushes too.
Today was border day.  We had breakfast, packed up, paid, said our farewells and set off into town.  I had a bit of a battle getting our beer bottle deposit back, but as the same amount would buy a whole new beer, it was worth it!
We also filled up with diesel and chugged along to the border.  The drive was totally uneventful - we listened to iTunes (still can't get a decent radio signal from our aerial - possibly because it's tucked up under the rooftop tent), checked out the scenery, and snacked on peanuts.
Just outside Malaba the road turned insane.  There were huge, deep ruts in the tarmac from the heavy trucks, and we laughed hysterically at a Range Rover in front of us that seemed to be aiming for every bump - the guy in the middle seat was doing the wild thing as he was being thrown about.
We skirted past all the offending lorrys and trucks queuing to go through the border controls.  We'd been told to just skirt the queue, as their paperwork is totally different, so we cruised the 3km long tailback.  The drivers were washing their cabs, or lounging about waiting. It looked like a deadly, day-long kind of business.  Right away we were approached with offers of assistance, the primary aim being to sell us insurance.  Everyone was trying to convince us we needed a Ugandan sticker, despite our insistence that our Comesa was sufficient.  Like all borders so far, the facilitators were pushy, the officials bored and unhelpful and the whole process a chore.  We struggled to find exit forms, then couldn't find the customs office.  Nothing is sign-posted, nothing obvious, nothing helpful.  Guess it supports the local economy by giving the fixers a job.  Whatever! It's not that difficult, just frustrating.
Even more annoying was that the customs man wanted to fine us for not having paid for Kenyan road tax.   We were confused - what Kenyan road tax?  Turns out we were supposed to buy it in Moyale on arrival, but the customs guy there must have screwed up - now we were being charged $40US.  What?!?!
Very disgruntled, we paid at the cashiers desk and returned with our receipt to pick up our carnet.  We fended off samosa salesmen and drove across the bridge to the Ugandan side of things.  What a difference.  The buildings were fairly smart, the officials all in uniform, and the process set out much more clearly.  The buildings were even named for their purpose!
We filled in our blue entry forms after asking for a restock, paid our $50US each for 1month visas and set off to find Customs.  There were the ubiquitous teenage boys selling bottled water, samoosas, etc. but most aggravating were the guys trying to get us to buy Ugandan 3rd party insurance for $50US.  Mike was quick to point out that that how could they possibly charge us that sort of fee, not even knowing how long we were going to be in the country?  That stumped them for a bit, but they returned with a vengeance when we met a friendly Customs man and started handing over our paperwork.
Even he seemed to totally miss the point that we had Comesa, and it was only after much firm but patient explaining on our part that he read the small print on our yellow card himself and switched allegiance, claiming that these other guys were crooks and that we were indeed covered and didn't have to pay extra.  Um, yes, we knew we were, but how magnanimous of him to agree!
He directed us to the bank upstairs to pay for Ugandan road tax ($20US), and we asked for our change from a 100dollar bill in Ugandan shillings.  The rate seemed fair, so we were happy to go ahead with the transaction.  Clutching the resulting wad of shilling notes we were sent next door to collect our receipt, and counting the money, realised we were a few thousand short.  Now what!  Oh, it was their commission.  Nice of her to warn us huh?!
More disgruntled than ever (and suddenly $160US over-budget today) we returned to the Customs fellow who'd processed our carnet.  After a brief chat he let us go, so we made our way back to the car.  Mike changed our last Kenyan shillings for a good rate with a money-exchanger in his yellow vest and we apologised to the samoosa and water bottle boys that we weren't buying. We were fresh out of cash and goodwill!
We were trapped at the boom for a few minutes as a guy parked in the way couldn't get his car started, to the point that we were about to get out and push him out the way, and then we were suddenly in Uganda.  Cool!
The drive to Jinja was tiring, but pretty, through some heavily forested areas with baboons lurking on the verges.  We found our way past little villages on a seriously pot-holed road to the Nile Explorers campsite, where we checked in and had sandwich lunch while gazing out across the rapids at the top of Bugagali falls.  In front of the magnificent view as a lucky group of white-water rafters returned from an adrenaline-packed day, we talked seriously about our options - our budget has nearly collapsed, we both desperately want to visit the gorillas, and we can't bear the thought of cutting our trip short.  I also have to get in touch with my boss in the next few days to let him know that I will be returning to work in April, but we still don't really know whether we should import Mapenzi into SA, sell her, or ship her back to the UK.  We were both pretty down about things, and felt totally out at the campsite.  If we were also going bungee jumping or quadbiking, or rafting or kayaking, we would have felt so different. Instead we felt poor and out.
Both slightly miserable, we went back to the car, and bumped into the father of the family we'd met at Lake Nakuru.  What a lovely surprise!  The mom and two boys had been rafting and soon appeared, with very alternate versions of the day!  They were staying next door at the Eden camp and convinced us we should try and move. What a gem of an idea.  Feeling slightly guilty about camp-hopping, Mike chatted to the manager who was fine and we were officially tip-exed out of the logbook.
We packed up in less than 10 minutes and drove around the corner to Eden.  It was lovely, tents set out under big trees, a bamboo grove, sunbirds flitting through the branches, a nice firepit, a bar area etc.  And for half the price?!  Suddenly the world was alright again. We had a G&T, did some diary, read a bit, then I made yummy omelettes for dinner. We went to bed resolved to make a proper plan tomorrow, and slept very well.

Day 97 Saturday 10th January UGANDA (56.2 miles, Total 13,198.5 miles)
(M) Another soul searching discussion and we've agreed to change our focus from the activities and parks and try to find interesting routes and relaxing places instead - within reason of course.  We're still undecided about the gorillas but our minds might be made up for us anyway.  Most guides recommend booking six months in advance, as places are limited (24 per day at Bwindi and 6 at Mgahinga).  Similar in Rwanda, and DRC is not an option at present, so it may be difficult to get in even if we do eventually decide we want to.
I'd just got up when the wife from the family we'd met (still don't know their names) came over with some tins of tuna, biscuits, corned beef and a novel. They're leaving today so had no more need for them.  Nice treat for us.  We spent a chunk of the morning doing an exercise to prioritise things we'd like to see and do so that we could eliminate some ideas in favour of others - gorillas are still up at the top!  Wanted to use the internet at the camp but it wasn't working so we decided to pack up and head through to Kampala in the afternoon, after lunch.
Impressed with how quickly we can strike camp these days, so we decided to challenge ourselves to see how fast we can set it up.  To complete the challenge the tent must be pitched, chairs and table set up, stove dropped down and Kelly kettle out and ready for action.
On our way out of the camp we made a detour down to the Bujagali Falls (really a series of large rapids) but there were no kayakers or rafters coming down so we made our way back up the track to the main road.  Stopped en route to buy some fruit and veggies at a market and then wound through the heavy traffic towards Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala.  Sarah spotted some metal trunks stacked on the side of the road and we turned around to have a look.  We have a plastic box taking up space in the back so were talking about getting something that can go on the roof instead.  Had to use our towstrap again to help rescue a bakkie that had parked a bit too far down the steep bank and then went over to have a look at the boxes.  They were a bit rubbish but at only 7,000Ush (about US$3.5) we decided to get one.  Loaded it up on the roof and handed over the money, expecting change.  Turns out the guy had said 70,000.  He must be having a laugh; there was no way we were going to pay that for that sort of quality so we offloaded it again - while he protested and asked what we'd be prepared to pay - uh, 7,000?  We left empty handed.
At Red Chilli we were welcomed in at the gate and discovered that Mapenzi's family had come to spend some time with her.  A load of white Land Rover defenders, complete with similar bullbars, Wipac spotlights and Brownchurch heavy-duty roofracks, same as ours.  Apparently belonging to an NGO that does work in the DRC.  The campsite was fairly plain, catering more for backpackers, but did boast nice hot showers, a flattish space to park and a small swimming pool.  It was muggy, so no prizes for guessing where we were headed.  There was also free internet and supposedly wireless access (though we discovered that this wasn't working).
I set the stopwatch and we started our challenge - 4 minutes 11 seconds!  Not bad hey?  Into the pool for a swim before we tried the internet.  We have so many photos to upload and a heap of diary days so were really looking forward to the idea that we could just set up and leave it running.  And I also wanted to check the result from the last cricket match.  The wireless wasn't working though, so we were restricted to using their computers and therefore no uploading.  It did feel a bit antisocial but we can deal with that; it was good to check emails again.
Back at the car we started boiling some water for pasta and were interrupted by a slightly annoying guy who wanted to show us how to get our fire going in the Kelly kettle.  I'm no Ray Mears but I have sort of mastered this piece of bush art.  Sarah didn't seem to mind but I found it a bit muddlesome.  He wasn't actually a bad fella though.  Turns out he was just after a bit of company, having arrived that day from duties as a member of the UN Pakistani peacekeeping force in DRC where he's been working as an NGO escort.
Eventually got to bed at about 23:00.

Day 98 Sunday 11th January UGANDA (0 miles, Total 13,198.5 miles)
(S) So, today started well...
We got up leisurely, with grand plans for the hours ahead.  Unfortunately, being Sunday, most of Kampala was shut for the day.  So we treated ourselves to cooked breakfast served in the Red Chilli bar area - Mike had the "Hippo" edition with the full bacon, eggs, beans, sausage etc treatment, while I went for the simpler version.  From there we tried again to access the internet - with not very much success.  We were distracted when the Dutch couple we'd said hello to yesterday round the pool came to speak to the management, asking for a tow as their battery was flat.  The push-start didn't work, so we offered them our jump cables.  Long story, but transpired that their battery was out of acid or deionised water and had now cooked itself being jump-started.  We helped push them back down the hill, gave them our spare battery water, and ended up chatting for ages. We learned that they were going gorilla trekking in Rwanda, that the vehicle belonged to a friend in Nairobi and they were travelling for four months down to Joburg, where this girl would come and collect it and drive back to Kenya.  Cool arrangement!  Except that the car was now causing them some hassles.  Land Cruisers huh!  Pieter and Sasha set off to find a new battery from the petrol station down the road and we decided to do some more half-way journey type chores before hitting the pool, and back up our photos.  And so the woe begins.  Mike spent the better part of two hours trying to copy our photos to DVD, but as our cd writer seems to have given up the ghost again, it was to no avail.  I then tried to "move" the folders to the disc drive, instead of copying them, and they simply disappeared.  Noooooooooooooooooooo!
If only I'd backed them up on our hard disc first :( We had until part way through Egypt on the hard-disc, but all of southern Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia was gone.  We have our best ones uploaded onto Flickr, but all the others had vanished.  On the verge of tears, I tried asking a nice American chap who I'd been chatting to earlier that seemed to be a wiz on computers (he's designed his own website from scratch etc) for help, but he was an Apple Mac kinda guy and gave our PC laptop a very wary look.  I tried our new friends who were sunning themselves by the swimming pool, but they too couldn't help.  In a last ditch attempt, we found another chap to try for us, but they were simply gone.  Stupid, stupid, stupid me.  If it had just been mine it wouldn't have hurt so much (most of my photos are taken from a moving car and don't have terribly impressive photographic merit, they are more of a nostalgic prompting, memory holiday snap type of pic) but it was Mike's too - and he is a very studious, aesthetic photographer with some gorgeous shots that didn't make it onto Flickr because of space limitations or whatever...
What more is there to say?  I was devastated.  After two and a half hours of trying to search through temporary files and folders, scouring the help pages and attempting every "undo" I could imagine, I had to admit defeat and crawl up into the tent for a good ol' cry.
When I could face the world again, Mike and I had a nice swim, then showered, did some research on where to go in Uganda using Sasha and Pieter's Lonely Planet guide, and I made a "please forgive me" ratatouille for dinner.  While Mike made some last notes on Lake Bunyoni and Bwindi NP, I did the dishes and then we went to bed. 
Sad day.

Day 99 Monday 12th January UGANDA (47.6 miles, Total 13,246.1 miles)
(M) Up, had a quick breakfast and said our goodbyes to Sasha and Pieter who were heading down to Lake Bunyonyi today.  Having finally made up our minds to go gorilla trekking we'd realised there was a likelihood that there wouldn't be availability anyway.  Apparently you should normally book a few months ahead, so we'd have to rely on someone else pulling out I suppose.  Started up the car and headed into Kampala to find the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices, which was in two different places depending on whether we trusted our map or the GPS.  We chose the map and ended up in the wrong place so had to resort to the GPS directions.  Luckily it wasn't far as the traffic in Kampala can be pretty bad.
In the UWA offices we were told there was availability on the 16th!  How fortunate could we be.  We'd have to change our plans a bit but that was easily done, so we asked her to hold the booking for us while we went to draw money.  Found a Barclays at a nearby shopping centre but were told there that only two branches in Kampala offer over the counter Visa withdrawals (my card has been playing up in ATMs and our daily limit wasn't enough for what we needed so this was our only option).  Spent a fortune at the supermarket next door before heading back out into the traffic and about 15 minutes later we managed to find the main branch.  I ran into the bank while Sarah took Mapenzi around the block, looking for parking.  And so starts a long saga.  After an hour or more in the queue I managed to withdraw about half of what we needed, approximately a million shillings, which was handed to me in a big wad of cash.  There wasn't anywhere to count it and I'd already left Sarah in the city for a good while so went out to find her parked across the road in reserved parking for another bank, having convinced the guard that we might change money there when I came back.  When I counted up the money though, it didn't seem to add up.  Already grumpy we both went back to Barclays to find out what the story was.  For the next half hour we were bounced from pillar to post, only to be told the discrepancy was due to a $US25 bank charge (on top of our own bank's charges!).  Unfortunately Barclays and Stanbic own the monopoly on visa withdrawals, so our choice was to pay or leave empty handed.
Back at UWA headquarters we parted with our money, paying for one ticket in shillings and the other from dollars we were carrying.  Whew, long morning.  By this stage it was already early afternoon but we decided to leave the city anyway and spend the night at Mpanga Forest Reserve just about 30km southwest, en route to Lake Bunyonyi.  Our original plan was to go to Fort Portal and then down via the Ruwenzori mountain Range and QE Park but our gorilla bookings didn't allow time for that.  Stopped briefly to fill with diesel, assuming it would get more expensive out of the city.
Mpanga was not well signposted and we had to backtrack a couple of times and then ask some locals, but we did find it.  It seemed pretty closed, but we found a chap talking on his phone in the reception.  He didn't pay us the least notice and it took another guy a few minutes later to even register that we were there.  He went off to find the woman who could sign us in and still, even whilst sitting at man 1's desk, he was oblivious to our presence.  Anyway, camping was cheap and it seemed we had the forest to ourselves so, after the usual orientation, we got out the binoculars and set off on one of the trails.  Inside the forest it was lovely - hundreds of butterflies, redtailed monkeys and awesome trees and vines etc.  It took us about an hour and a half to amble down as far as the swamp, by which time the sky was looking pretty threatening so we turned around for the return trip.  Quickened our pace a bit as the wind picked up and we realised we were most likely going to be caught out in a proper rainforest storm.  It was quite an eery feeling with the whole forest canopy swaying overhead (between us we were hit three times by falling sticks) but we were back on the wide path by the time the first drops fell.  Sarah opted to just get wet but I stripped down to undies to try and keep my clothes dry.  It was quite liberating and there wasn't anyone else about anyway.  The storm only lasted 15 minutes or so and we were back at the car a short while after so it was quite pleasant actually.
Back at the car we moved it into a suitable position and levelled it on some bricks again.  The showers weren't working but one of the chaps brought us a basin and we had water with us so we managed a basin wash before settling in to watch some redtail and colobus monkeys as well as the hornbills, and start on dinner. 
Did some diary before bed.

Day 100 Tuesday 13th January UGANDA (247.3 miles, Total 13,493.9 miles)
(S) A rather uncomfortable night - far too many mosquitoes, noisy hornbills, a slight slope and an early start.  I also had a horrible reaction to some insect bites, with big swelling welts on the underside of my forearm, my neck, back and thigh.  And who knows how these mozzies get inside the tent! I did one torchlight hunt in the dark hours and caught two, but when we woke properly Mike did a full-on seek and destroy mission and squished about six. 
Anyway, once we were up and packed, had some cereal for breakfast and washed and were ready to go, the day had brightened a little.  We set off, but soon slowed down past some drum makers workshops (they used to make drums for the Bugandi kings and royalty apparently).  We stopped for a short while on the Equator to take photos, where there was a charity-run café/curio shop that we heard sold great Ugandan coffee, but it was extortionately expensive so we chickened out.  We did peek into the other craft stalls though and were very impressed with the variety of masks for sale.  Some look like the Kenyan Turkana style in bright red with beaded rings, others were quite menacing, with toothy, round faces and were from the Congo.  There were a few that were downright sinister, and had voodoo-inspired evil spirit faces - but they were all beautifully made. We were quite taken with two long, thin, full-lipped masks in a dark ebony-like wood, but they had gold paint patterns on the foreheads and were a bit out of our price range, surprise surprise!  We'll keep looking :)
The road was predictably bad, but we did better time-wise than expected. The government must have repaired some of the worst potholes in the last few months, but the surface was still energetically tyre-munching.  The scenery was pretty though, with lots of plantain and banana groves, patches of forest and huge papyrus reed beds in the valleys.  As always, there were more than a few road hazards!  We saw so many men in-between villages cycling slowly up the hills loaded with humungous branches/hands of plantains, usually with one behind his seat and another on each side of his wobbling bike, almost dragging on the ground.  The cattle here have the most incredible horns - thick, long, curving monsters that must weigh a fair bit.  They seem to have more roadsense than the livestock in Ethiopia did, but we still had to slow or stop a few times to let them cross the murram road.
The Dragoman Overland truck we'd seen in Kampala passed us at one stage, but we overtook them up the next hill - wonder if they're also headed for Lake Bunyoni? We also saw a cool looking Man truck, with Unicat stickers!  Wonder if they're kitted out in the trademark Unicat luxury? The Land Cruiser parked next door had a rooftop tent, so we must be back on the Muzungu Trans-Africa Trail!
By early afternoon we arrived in Kabale and after hesitating about whether to stop and check out the metal trunks for sale on the outskirts, we continued on to Lake Bunyoni.  It was a very picturesque, winding road up to the top of the crater rim, but we were a little sad to see so many children working with the adults in the quarries.  They were hammering away at the stones to make smaller chips - for road construction maybe?
The view from the top was lovely.  The lake was a deep blue dotted with green islands, and the terraced fields patchworked all the way down to the water's edge.  We found the overland camp easily and were immediately struck by how exuberantly friendly the staff were - what a contrast to yesterday!  We were personally shown to an area at the far side of the complex where we could park. But by the time we'd returned with the car, the Man truck and Land Cruiser were just setting up.  We'd been shown the same space but first come first serve I guess, so we made do with driving the back wheels up onto bricks to try and level the tent.  Hopeless cause as we were on a madly steep slope, but it'd have to do.
After a G&T and some crisps, Mike did diary and I finished my book, before we went exploring a bit.  A man selling masks in the bar area abandoned the Uganda V Kenya football match that was being screened to come and persuade us to buy something.  We fell in love with a pair of wedding masks from DRC - the queen's face was somehow subtly more feminine than the king's and they were out of an attractive dark wood, but they were again far too expensive for our budgets.  After splashing out on the gorilla trekking we need to be more circumspect when it comes to treating ourselves!
When we realised he'd missed the Ugandan team scoring what turned out to be the winning goal, we managed to convince him we weren't buying and escape.  Sasha and Pieter were in the restaurant so we joined them for a beer while they waited for their meal.  Were having such a nice time chatting that we ended up sitting with them while they ate! Probably very rude, but they insisted they didn't mind and it was great talking to them.  We eventually bade our farewells and back at the car had a quick tuna mayo sandwich as we really didn't feel like cooking anything!
By now it was late so we showered (not bad - mostly warm water!) before brushing teeth and climbing up into the tent.  Bedtime!

Day 101 Wednesday 14th January UGANDA (0 miles, Total 13,493.9 miles)
(M) Finally, a planned lazy day!  Didn't bother getting up until about 9:00 and even then started slowly with a big fry up breakfast.  Our only idea for the day was to hire a dugout canoe and paddle around the lake for a few hours.  This was almost scuppered when one of the staff approached me to offer a deal on a motorised boat for a couple of hours.  Good sense prevailed though and we chose the cheap and relaxed option as originally planned.
At midday we dragged ourselves to reception to find out about the hire and were once again subjected to the impossibly friendly service (really have to give credit to the effort they go to to ensure all is going well).  Armed with two rustic paddles we went down to choose our canoe, and settled on a reasonably straight, carved hunk of tree.  If you're not used to paddling, going in a straight line and staying upright takes a bit of getting used to, but it wasn't long before we were headed off across the lake to visit 'Punishment Island'.  Apparently the local tribe used to drop off unmarried pregnant women and leave them there to starve, or drown trying to swim for shore - charming. The island is little more than a soggy platform of reeds with a lone tree and stained white with cormorant guano.  We changed our plan to stop for some watermelon and headed back out into open water instead.
After a couple of hours it was starting to look like we might encounter some rain so we turned about and started heading back to the overland camp.  There was one canoe some way ahead of us, which we suspected to be Sasha and Pieter.  Weren't able to catch them but we did make it back just in time to get the freshly washed laundry in before the first light showers.  We still had an hour before we had to return the canoe but we were both quite fatigued and the rain didn't seem to be stopping so we decided to do a brief internet session and then get beer instead.  Back at the bar, the heavens really opened - too late to save our chairs or Sarah's towel, which were still outside, so we ordered a plate of chips and settled in for a couple of games of backgammon (Sarah will be proud of me for admitting that she won best of three and best of five).
Joined Sasha and Pieter for a beer and also decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the restaurant, just to top off a good day.  I was still in shorts though, and getting a bit cold, so we ordered and then went back to shower and change clothes.
Dinner was not bad - fillet for Sarah, goat stew for me.  What we got wasn't quite what we expected but very tasty nonetheless.
Straight into bed; tomorrow = Bwindi.

Day 102 Thursday 15th January UGANDA (approx 95 miles, Total 13,588.4 miles)
(S) Despite turning the car around yesterday to try and get it a little more level, we still spent much of the night clinging on to the left-hand side of the mattress.  Oh well!
We were up and organised nice and early, paid up and said our goodbyes to Sasha and Pieter and the staff as well, and went into Kabale to do some chores.  We asked in the Gorilla Information Office if we'd be able to transit the park later without paying entry fees and were delighted to learn that it was indeed possible.  The road is supposedly 4x4 only, but the helpful chap there assured us that their vehicles use it all the time.  Good news. 
We then went in search of internet but unfortunately the "broadband" café's line was down.  While I was checking out other possibilities, Mike was approached by a young girl selling gooseberries.  When I got back to the car I ended up chatting to her while we bought some of her bananas as well - I soon learned that her name was Lillian, she was from Rwanda and lived with her stepmom, and she wanted to be a doctor.  Her English was excellent and her handwriting beautiful - she is eagerly looking for a sponsor so that she can go to the boarding school on the other side of the lake.  She was so pleased that we'd bought her fruit that she walked with me to show us another internet café.  We swapped e-mail addresses, so hopefully we can stay in touch!
The internet was a hopeless mission though as the server kept crashing so after an exhaustingly frustrating hour or so we gave up.  We wanted to fill up with diesel so went to the Barclays ATM but they have stopped both our cards now for good.  Fantastic.  Next step was to find out for sure what my Zain network phone number was as they hadn't successfully phoned me back the previous three calls, so I set off to find a cellphone store.  Halfway through town I finally found a Zain shop and the lady behind the counter started trying to help me.  Adella was very sweet, again looking for sponsorship to go and study in SA, and managed to help me work out that the number I had was indeed correct.  So, short version of a two-hour long story:
I called Barclays and learned that I not only needed to speak to the debit card people, but the fraud team as well.  They kindly called me back, and then promptly cut me off. 
I bought two top-up cards to call them again, that then didn't load properly. Adella even conned some other customer into trying to help work out how to access the top-up vouchers!
I had to run back and fetch Mike and bring him back to the store.
Transpired that the vouchers did work, so I finally got through to the fraud team who, champion-like, called me straight back.  I sorted out my account, then had to hand the phone to Mike (who got asked the identical security questions I'd just been asked?!  What kind of data protection is that?!).  Both cards unblocked, we returned to the ATM (via the bakery where we got some of today's samoosas - the honest storekeeper openly warning Mike that the pies and donuts etc were not very fresh!).  Crisp new notes in hand we filled with fuel and set off north.  Much of the murram road was being re-graded and the dust was choking, but it was very scenic driving up into the hills.  It was twisty and windy but very pastoral.  As we approached the Bwindi Impenetrable NP southern gate we were shocked at the stark border of the park. Who needs a fence?  The rainforest simply stops dead in a straight line down the hill, along a boundary with cultivated fields.  What a visual example of the deforestation in this part of the world.  And what a tangible reminder of the shrinking gorilla habitat.  We signed the visitor book and descended into the thick forest.
At once the humidity was noticeable, but it was glorious!  In the first few minutes we spooked some L'Hoest's monkeys with their black kinked tails, blue privates and cute white whiskers, sending them into the bushes along the roadside.  Mike spotted a forest duiker that ignored us until it heard the camera shutter - amazing that until then it just tuned out Mapenzi's high-altitude diesel growl!  It darted into the undergrowth and instantly disappeared.  We also got to enjoy some black and white colobus cavorting in the canopy trees, also a bit shy but not as timid as the L'Hoest monkeys.  Down in the dips where there was water, there were zillions of butterflies, and up on the top of the hills, vivid green and yellow bee-eaters flew right alongside the car before wheeling into the forest below.  It was stunning.
The road via Ruhija wasn't nearly as bad as we expected, only slow-going because of the gradient and sharp turns.  We passed a few villages with bluegum forests, as well as extensive tea plantations.  Soon we were passing the fields and cattle on the outskirts of Buhoma where they have a gorilla and wild animal clinic, and the main lodges where three of the gorilla treks start from.  The whole town looked to be totally gorilla-related.  There's the Gorilla supermarket, the Gorilla internet café, the Silverback pharmacy, you name it!  And most sell Bwindi themed curios and gorilla carvings and souvenirs too.
The Community Camp turned out to be a dorm and bandas type set-up rather than a campsite, but they helped us find some stones so we could level ourselves in the parking lot.  Again, it would just have to do! And again, we'll be clinging onto the bedding to stop sliding about all night, but hey.
The office was already closed for the day but the manager opened up when we saw us outside reading the noticeboards.  An overwhelmingly friendly, positive chap called Angel, he talked us through the procedures for tomorrow and told us to be back at his office at 7.15am, before proudly showing us photos of his twin boys and wife etc etc.  Talkative fellow!  A bit too talkative perhaps when he went on and on, potentially jinxing us, saying that while he's worked here no-one's ever NOT seen the gorillas.  Don't tempt fate Angel please!
While preparing spaghetti bolognaise for dinner, we chatted to some dentists from Canada who are out here doing voluntary work.  We then ate, showered (magic hot water!  No lights and lots of spiders sharing the bathrooms, but the water was gorgeously hot!) and were in bed by 9.30pm. Keen to have as early a night as possible to be fresh and ready for tomorrow's trek, but much too excited to sleep!
Can't believe we're (fingers crossed) going to be seeing the gorillas in the next couple of hours!  How fortunate are we!!!!!!!!!!!

Day 103 Friday 16th January UGANDA (0 miles, Total 13,588.4 miles)
(M) Wow, big day!  Our information from the guy at reception was that we should report at 07:15 for registration and would then go through for a group induction.  We were up early and dressed in our trekking best - Sarah kitted out in one of my long sleeve shirts.  Dutifully we arrived at the office before it even opened, and stood around for a couple of minutes until the guy was ready for us.  When he was happy that it was indeed us and that we had 'confirmed we were well' we were directed a little further on to register with our group, Mubare.  There are three trekking groups that leave from Buhoma; the Mubare group, at nine, has the fewest gorillas but they're the most habituated so we were hoping for good things.  Weirdly there were no other tourists anywhere to be seen and all registered and seated watching a gorilla video it began to dawn on us that perhaps he'd said 07:45.  No worries, we were here now and other Muzungus started to arrive towards 08:00 anyway.  You could smell the anticipation.
With all of us there, 20 in all, the induction began.  Benson addressed the whole group, advising us what to expect and how to behave when with the animals.  Have to say, he was very good and the whole setup came across as really professional.  They were really appreciative of the tourist's contribution to the ongoing conservation at Bwindi and for a change didn't assume that everyone was rolling in cash, recognising that for most of us this was a once in a lifetime.
With the induction out of the way we were split up into our respective groups and introduced to our ranger guides and armed guards (in case of unhabituated gorillas and forest elephants more than poachers apparently). We were with Benson.  The other Muzungus were Richard and Wei, a young British couple, Sue and Ian, an older British couple, and Johan and Inke, a young Dutch couple.  Teams of trackers had gone on an hour and a half ahead to start looking for the gorillas.   Since our walk started a distance away we were asked if we could provide transport, so we rushed back to camp to pack up the tent etc.   After storing some of our stuff at reception we loaded ourselves, Johan, Inke and Daniel (you can hire porters to help with your bag or to push you up steep slopes if necessary - we didn't) into the car and followed the other vehicle for the fifteen-minute drive to our starting point.
The walk began uphill through banana plantations and past rural homes but the pace was very slow and quite easy really.  It was a bit startling coming to the edge of the protected area where the dense tree cover of the forest meets the bare, cultivated hillsides in a very clear line; a bit of a disturbing reminder of the rapid habitat loss of these poor animals.  Looking down on the forest is really beautiful though and as we started into it we spotted some Colobus monkeys.  A little further in Benson pointed out a bush pig, though to be honest we only saw rustling plants!
We'd been told that the walk could be anything from 20 minutes to 5 hours depending on where the gorillas were, and ours had been the furthest away the day before.  It wasn't as hard going as I'd anticipated though, with the paths already more or less cleared by the trackers before us.  Of course there were steep ups and downs and stingy, poky, trippy things everywhere but I think everyone was quite enjoying the experience anyway.  A couple of hours in and some were starting to falter, fortunately helped along by the porters.  Most of us seemed ok though (apparently in 4.5 hours we only walked about 3km, so perhaps that explains why!).
Eventually, just when hope was being abandoned (not quite, but almost) we had word that the trackers had found them, but they were still moving.  I was a bit anxious, and I think others were too, that if we didn't pick up the pace we wouldn't catch up with them, but it turns out I needn't have worried.  At about 2.30pm we were gathered around and told to leave our bags and walking sticks (which remind the gorillas of poaching spears and distress them) and continue only with cameras.  Expecting still to have another 100m or so to go we were all shocked to see a gorilla infant playing in the trees literally 7-8m away.  Then the silverback and a couple of the females lying around.  It was amazing.  We kept our 7m distance, though some of the gorillas had other ideas (see photo of the young blackback with Geoffrey, one of the trackers).  It was an odd sensation - something we'd built up in our minds for so long and now they were there, literally metres from us and seemingly unaffected by our presence; a bit surreal.  They were smaller than I'd imagined, and Sarah tells me the silverback at London Zoo is bigger? Maybe the Mubare silverback is younger...
And then it was over.  You can stay only an hour with them and it's unbelievable how quickly that time goes - what a wonderful experience though.  The return walk was more direct and quicker, following existing paths through the forest.  Back out of the reserve we wandered towards the parking area, passing children selling small carved gorillas and drawings - clearly used to tourists.  As we approached the cars it became apparent that we were going to be treated to a dance performance by a local orphan group hoping for donations or even sponsorship.  It seems sponsorship is a big thing in Uganda and we've been approached a few times by children and youths as potential financiers for their future.  We haven't yet, but did leave a donation - the dancing was really African and very entertaining - we did have to laugh at the welcome song though; it had a strong focus on Americans and Canadians, of which there were none among us!
Back at the base we were all presented with our certificates for successfully 'tracking' the gorillas.  A nice little memento (and they spelled all three of my names correctly!).  By this stage we were quite keen on another nice hot shower, but 'twas not to be.  We got suckered into buying a beer and then ordering dinner rather than cooking.  We'd anticipated that we could spend the evening chatting to Inke and Johan but we didn't specify what time we wanted dinner and it was ready too soon for us to fit a shower in.  We sat down next to two backpackers that we recognised from Khartoum, Bryan and Philip, who by the sounds of things had a pretty tough time through Sudan (including a non stop 30 hour bus trip and a club wielding mob who thought he'd paid the wrong taxi driver!) and northern Kenya.  Glad we don't have to contend with public transport...
Finally had our hot showers at about 10:00pm and climbed, exhausted, into bed.  Great day!

Day 104 Saturday 17th January UGANDA (approx 74.8 miles, Total 13,663.2 miles)
(S) We woke leisurely and set about packing away the tent and sorting out the untidy state of the back.  The man at reception still didn't have change, so for once we get to be on the receiving end of the small change dilemma after far too many occasions where we've just had to write off the loss.  Felt a bit bad but, as it's only about 10US cents, and he didn't seem that fussed, we left it at that. 
The guard at the boomgate had us sign out, and looked envious when we said we were aiming for Ishasha today. He raved about the savannah and grasslands enough for us to start guessing that his assignment here in the humid forests of Bwindi wasn't to his liking!
We drove north, relying on the GPS, skirting lush green fields, banana and plaintain groves and rural villages.  One highlight was a really lovely church on the top of a hill, with no windows or doors and a simple corrugated roof but the most serene atmosphere.  Also, the children were really friendly again, waving back and shouting "Maz-uuuung-gu!" at us constantly.  It was a relatively easy, short drive, and soon we were skirting the southern reaches of Queen Elizabeth Park, spotting Uganda Kob antelope, buffalo and warthogs.  Unfortunately, they have a very enthusiastic burning policy in the park (we discovered that they are simply try to refresh the grasslands by burning old grass and scrub), so much of the savannah was scorched and barren.  Also, they are trying to regenerate the vegetation by closing the smaller tracks, so all the routes we were aiming for to enter the park are now barricaded with branches and have No Entry signs.
Finally at Ishasha gate, we could pay for entry and make enquiries about the camping opportunities.  We have been so jinxed with our national park entry fees though!  The 2008 system that had everyone advising us to skip Kenya and Tanzania parks and aim for Uganda, was a per person charge of $35 for two days, and $50 for 3-7 days.  You were rewarded for staying longer, and it made sense that they were more affordable, as the parks here have been severely poached out and don't have the same reputation as the other East African safari favourites.  However, in 2009 they now charge $30 per person per day regardless of how long you stay, plus $50 per private vehicle.  No way!  If only we'd known, we'd probably have stayed in Masaai Mara for a week!  Bitter yet again about the exorbitant costs, we paid up and entered the park.  We headed straight to the campsite to book and pay again, and were shown to a relatively nice spot.  We had a quick loo break and spot of lunch.  Then we set off to investigate the south of the park.  Well.  Loads of Ugandan Kob, like thickset, shaggy impala, buffalo, warthogs and some nice birds (bee-eaters, eagles, palm-nut vulture etc) but most of the tracks were blocked and the grass all burnt. 
We gave up after a few hours of fruitless searching for the infamous (and potentially non-surviving Ishasha tree-climbing lions) and went north of the camp.  We found some more interesting wildlife at the closed-down Campsite 1, were we spooked a hippo on the opposite bank, who tip-toed as gracefully as a fully grown hippo can towards a less steep section of the bank and then bellyflopped into the water, disturbing the rest of the pod.  Great!  There were also some great blue turacos flying around from tree to tree.
Continuing north we set off towards the Lake Edward flats, where we were amazed at the sheer number of hippo and elephant spoor on the twisty dirt track.  It was labelled 4x4 only, and could potentially get tricky when wet, but wasn't that hazardous.  At the swamps we unnerved a large herd of buffalo but couldn't find any shoebill storks!  Fussy aren't we!
Retraced our steps, and set off on the North Circuit where we were treated to lots of fracolins in the road, Kob, waterbuck and buffalo.  Racing slightly to get back before dark, we did try the river at Campsite 1 again, but other than some naughty looking baboons, and the hippos from before, not much had changed.
In camp we struggled to level the car rather.  And once I was on the roof helping set up the tent, I had an unrivalled view of the thick bush along the river.  We were about 100m from the Congolese border where all the action seemed to be happening!  Baboons and Colobus monkeys, birds chirping and hyenas already calling in the dusk.  And then we saw an elephant bull browsing 50m away, and then another two young bulls to our left - what a treat!
Had a G&T while an elderly ranger/security chap who only spoke Swahili created a monster fire for us.  Brilliant!  We cooked our chipolata sausages and potatoes on the coals and enjoyed the sounds of the bush.
Had a brief, cold shower and did dishes before climbing up into the tent. Mike decided he had to use the loo and as he opened the tent flap and shone the maglite torch out, he spotted a genet cat a short way away.  Very cool.  The night was alive with sounds - mostly hippos grunting and whooping, but also hyena close by, and the ubiquitous nightly African insect songs.

Day 105 Sunday 18th January UGANDA (178 miles, Total 13,841.2 miles)
(M) As is our obsessive way when it comes to game drives we were up at the crack of dawn; packed up and ready to go before the sun.  First stop was the hippo pools from yesterday, surprising a couple of rabbits, which, blinded by the lights, refused to leave the road.  The drive around the north circuit yielded little more than yesterday, though there were loads of elephants along the track to the Lake Edward flats; justification for the footprints we saw.  They seem a bit shy here - not surprising after suffering years of poaching I suppose. We did get excited at one point when some of the zillions of kob along the plateau seemed to be watching something below, but nothing came of it so we gave up on the tree climbing lions and decided to make our way north.
The public road runs north-south through the park and to see both areas you need to use it.  The internal routes are all pretty accessible from this road, without passing through a gate.  There doesn't seem to be much in the way to stop people visiting without paying.  We had paid however, so were going to make the most of it.  Had a couple of interesting monkey sightings as the savannah turned to forest along the main road, stopping also to chat to a Canadian couple who were travelling south.  They're also headed for SA via Rwanda Tanzania etc but are travelling slower than us, so we're unlikely to meet up again which is a shame.
After a couple of hours we arrived at the main gate and presented evidence that we'd paid.  Unfortunately the guard didn't have info on animal sightings but he was very friendly and welcoming, seems to be the norm here.  We headed straight to Mbeya lodge and campsite for lunch.  Did stop a couple of times for photos, getting a scare at one point when we stopped for a hippo out of the water, and some baboons.  I was eating a cracker while Sarah took some photos out of her window.  Next moment I looked around and there was a massive male baboon with malicious intent written all over his face.  I couldn't get the car in gear to skedaddle out of the way and Sarah's growl didn't seem to put him off, but he didn't do anything anyway. 
Mbeya is a bit like a small village, with staff houses arranged in neat rows, an upmarket lodge and a Shell petrol station.  And lots of tame warthog and waterbuck ambling around. The campsite is all the way through it and overlooking the river, where we found the Dragoman truck from Bunyoni already in situ.  We parked a bit away from them and set up the awning before preparing lunch and watching the sunbirds.  The driver came over to speak to us for a bit, and suggested we explore the explosion crater route - apparently little wildlife but spectacular views.  Not expecting too much from the game drive we thought this sounded like a good plan.
The crater drive was very scenic and definitely worth it, with views across about seven volcanic craters.  We still had a bit of time when we finished the circuit so decided to try the plains for lions again.  I took us along the wrong road though, and we ended up in a village, with no lions and a job to make it back before dark.  With Sarah at the wheel we flew back to the main gate and entered the park again with half an hour to get to the lodge!  Had to ignore gamedrive speeds but didn't know if the gates would be closed after 19:00.  We obviously worry too much because it wasn't a problem in the end.
It was dark before we'd even managed to level the vehicle, and with not much in the way of small timber about we were struggling to get a fire going.  Fortunately the guy from Dragoman came to our rescue with a spadeful of red coals from their fire.  With some bark and a few hunks of tree we soon had our campfire on the go.  I chatted to the guy for quite a while and went with him to be shown around the truck.  Sarah has less interest in mechanics and got on with supper instead. 
After our meal it was into the open-air cold shower before bed, listening to hyenas and hippos sounding a chorus as we drifted off.  Another nice day in Africa.

Day 106 Monday 19th January UGANDA (186.5 miles, Total 14027.7miles)
(S) So this morning our intent was to visit the plains in the east and see if we could make some new finds.  We were out of luck though, and on our way there, other than spooking the roosting baboons near where we'd left them last night, we didn't see much at all.  The Leopard Loop was even more disappointing - I think we saw one waterbuck, and even that was a rear end view as it sidestepped into the bush.  We did have a nice sighting of a palm-nut vulture as we drove towards the Kasenyi area of the park, via the main road.  But the grass here has also been burnt in most places.  I think we're spoilt now in terms of the "usual" game; Kob, waterbuck, buffalo and warthogs, so we were a little bored trying all the tracks available and not seeing anything different.  The crater lake at Kasenyi where they still mine salt was impressive though, and we had a brief but lovely view of the Rwenzori mountains before it clouded over.
Back at the main road we stopped for some cupasoup as a morning refreshment and some minibuses arrived, one excitedly swapping stories of lion sightings with the other before setting off... Our ears perked up and we asked the remaining safari vehicle who was about to speed off where the pride had been seen, and the driver kindly suggested we follow him.  We kept a slight distance but more because he was driving so fast than to avoid cramping their style!  We followed him all the way back along the bumpy track, up a side track, through a nervous buffalo herd, past a great sighting of a warthog wallowing in the mud, over the main road, back to the northern tracks, up a new track - eish.  We'd begun to think it was a wild goose chase, or that they had given up on searching for lions and were just on game drive, though their speed and the fact that the driver spent so long on his phone made us decide to stick with them.  And thank goodness we did!  Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but he followed two new but worn tyre tracks off the official piste, into the grass to a thicket, with us tentatively in tow.  And there was a lioness with a collar, resting in the shade.  Hooray!  And at the next copse of bushes along were three cubs and another female hidden in the long grass.  We were unsure whether the tracks were official or not, but they weren't new and we assumed that the professional tour vehicles would be playing by the rules.  But our concerns were justified when a few minutes later, when his guests had finished taking photos, he wound down his window and told to us not to stay too long as if you're caught off the road the fine is $150!  Needless to say, we didn't hang around...  Sad though that the private safari vehicles do go off the road like that - these were well-worn tyre treads. Not that great a conservation ethic!
Once we were back on the proper track he sped off and left us to it.  We could just see the first lioness's head above the grass with the binoculars, so turned off the engine to watch for a while.  The other female soon sauntered over, but just flopped down and they both promptly went to sleep as lions so often do.  What was interesting though was that we'd also seen an eagle on the ground, and it was soon joined by another, then another, then a Lappet-faced vulture.  Maybe there were remnants of a kill in the grass?  The huge birds looked rather awkward grounded like that, but it was fascinating watching the hierarchy develop as the original, smaller eagle was edged out of the area.
By now our time was nearly up, so we left them to it and made our way back to the main road.  The drive was pretty uneventful as we headed for Kabale.  It did start raining when we stopped in a small town to buy bread and fill up with fuel.  We decided to take a little-known but more direct road that was marked on our map as a gravel surface, but didn't exist on our GPS, rather than going all the way east to Mbabara to then head south again.  It was the start of an interesting adventure!  Using the GPS as little more than a basic compass, we drove the twisting passes, through some rather rough, muddy patches, past little villages, trying not to splash the pedestrians and cyclists that are everywhere in these countries. At one tight bend we came across a truck that was virtually clinging onto the side of the hill, trapped in the mud, and a small car that must have been trying to overtake it but got stuck at a big pothole that would have been hidden from the drivers sight.  All his passengers had been kicked out.  We stopped to see if he wanted help with a tow, but he politely declined and managed to rev his way left and then out.  Excellent driving!  Guess they must have a fair amount of experience driving in these conditions.
At one awkward junction I made the decision to go right instead of left, and Mike struggled with the dilemma of whether to trust my navigation skills or not!  The road seemed to be doubling back on itself and as adamant I was that it would still get us there eventually, we did argue for a while until our decision to turn around seemed to be made for us.  In a wet, muddy, small village when Mike straddled the road slightly to allow for a bike to come past, we felt the back slide out and Mapenzi aquaplane toward the steep ditch on the right side of the road.  Mike expertly coasted her round again, but it was a hairy moment! The mud was so slippery and thick it simply glued in a gloopy mess to the tyres and we slid along, narrowly missing the deep drainage gullies on either side.  By now we had an eager audience too, mostly children, who were cheering us on and shrieking whenever mud sprayed up from the wheels.  The whole village it seemed, arrived to watch the Muzungus navigate the dangerously sticky road.  A motorcyclist, struggling to push his bike from the direction we were heading told us it was no good and would be far too difficult for us to continue.  His passenger with a baby on her back looked totally unimpressed with the whole scenario, having to tiptoe in her high-heeled sandals through the ankle-deep red mud.
So we now had to reverse the worst section to find a flattish area to turn around.  Cue more hilarity from the villagers as I stuck my head out to look behind and direct Mike, dodging the mud flying up from the skidding wheels.  We made it without falling into the ditches, and turned around, going back to the nearest town.  There we were going to try the opposite road until I convinced Mike that it would be better to try a different route.  Again we turned around, and a kind man approached us to say he'd watched us come and go and worried for us as we were obviously properly lost!  I reassured him that I knew which road we were aiming for, but that it was too muddy to continue.  He scoffed, saying that the village where we'd turned around would be the worst of it, and they hadn't had as much rain further south.  Embarrassed for being so tentative and feeling our courage return, we thanked him profusely and returned to the slippery road.  Again we got lots of head shakes and pointing and laughter from the locals who couldn't quite believe we were back for more, but this time Mike negotiated his way through without even using low ratio or diff lock.  What a hero!
We did skid out a few times on really thick sections, but on the whole Mapenzi just cruised along, and the road did seem to get a bit better.  There was a deep stream crossing that looked hellishly slidey, but we climbed out of it easily.  I should have more faith!  On our 4x4 course we felt very brave, but it's different when you know that there's someone around to tow you out of serious trouble!
We were spat out onto the main road slightly north of where we'd been aiming for, but it was ok as we made good speed along the tar.  At Lake Bunyoni we tried the Crater Bay cottages, though again, they aren't really set up for camping on your car.  We had a bitter lemon drink and watched the news of Obama preparing for his presidential inauguration as Mapenzi got a well-deserved bath with fresh lake water carried up the hill in buckets.  The mud was about 2inches thick on the mudflaps at the back, and caked into the jerry can locker grooves, and even door handles.  She was seriously filthy!  The guys did a great job though and even the tent got a wipe down.
We watched the sunset over the lake before preparing a light meal and having cold showers (again :().  I also had to share my towel with a gecko who decided to slither down my leg and over my foot - euuuu!  These rustic places are charming in daylight, but I think I'd have preferred an awkward bucket wash at the car rather than standing on slippery, sodden wooden boards on stilts in the mostly open-air, dark having a cold, dribbly shower!  Oh well!


Day 107 Tuesday 20th January UGANDA - RWANDA (81.2 miles, Total 14,108.9 miles)
(M) Another day, another border.  We wanted to get there early but were a bit slack in leaving the lake.  After saying our farewells and convincing the barman that we didn't have to pay for two extra tonic waters (we'd left our empty bottles with him, but they were ones we'd brought with us) we made our way down towards the town.  Most of the valleys were shrouded in mist as we descended, making the drive even more spectacular than before.
We had to pass through town and decided to blow our last shillings on some samoosas.  Just before the bakery we passed Lillian, the fruit seller from a couple of days ago. We didn't want to be delayed any further so just waved our greetings.  In the bakery I was met with a good selection of stale looking pastries.  True to form, the lady behind the counter denied that anything was fresh and suggested I could try the other bakery in town.  It's not a sales patter I'm familiar with, and it doesn't work... I left with nothing.
The drive to the border was ok, much of it through thick mist.  It was badly potholed in places and there were plenty of trucks to contend with as well, but we made it by 09:30 without major alarm.  Someone directed us to a parking space, next to a mangled red car and we managed to fend off the halfhearted attempts to get us to use a fixer.  Think we pretty much know the deal now.  The Ugandan side seemed a bit chaotic but we didn't have to queue and were through immigration and customs in only a few minutes.  The Rwandan side was even better; very ordered, well signposted and with plenty of space to park - coming into Uganda it was the other way around, with the Ugandan side being better than Kenya's.  It took us only a few more minutes and we were through.  Our best border so far by far; only half an hour and absolutely no costs.
Leaving the border we were greeted in French, which came as a bit of a shock.  We hadn't really thought through how the country might differ and realised we didn't even know which side of the road we were supposed to be on.  Sarah was driving, taking her cue from the cyclists but also diligently straddling the middle line while I skimmed through our books, to discover that we had to switch sides again and drive on the right.  Good thing we checked!  It seemed to come back fairly easily though.
The road to Kigali was twisty but very good, winding past wide, green, heavily cultivated fields. There seems to be a lot of tea being grown and, again people pushing or carrying heavy loads.  Our first impressions were of a peaceful, very lush country with friendly people and well-developed infrastructure, and Kigali was no different.  We arrived a little after midday but with nowhere to go.  For the first time on this trip we were off the route that any of our predecessors had done, and we had no suggestions to follow.  To add to our difficulties, our GPS was having a bit of a time trying to understand that we were now driving on the right.  We did make it to the tourist office, but other than an entertaining video on the gorillas they didn't seem to have the information we were looking for.  So, decided to spend some quality time looking on the internet - again (we'd spotted an internet café just down the road from tourist info).  Back up the hill to fetch the car and drove it into the secure parking outside the Nakumatt supermarket complex.  The shopping centre was very modern and we both felt a bit scruffy, with most people around us dressed up stylishly.  There was also a smart looking bank.  Needing cash we tried their ATM but it only worked for local account holders - with our foreign visa cards we had to go in to make a withdrawal. This involved sitting down with an adviser who wrote a cheque for us, which we could then cash at the teller - all very efficiently handled.  From there we went for a very necessary groceries top-up.  It was a big and very western style supermarket - probably the best since Nairobi.  There was also an open area in the atrium where you could buy food, and where it looked like we'd be able to get a wireless connection.  By the time we found out there was no internet we'd already ordered, so enjoyed our drinks and a plate of chips before heading across the way to the Blues café - which did have internet.  The next couple of hours were spent online, trying to find details of places to stay and various other bits and bobs.  By this stage we'd been parked for five hours and were shocked to hear the charge was 5000 Rwandan Francs (about US$9)!  Time to mosey on outta there.  We managed to track down a couple of the hotels we'd found, but they were had no availability, or were pretty pricey and didn't want to let us camp in their so, with dusk approaching, we were forced to go back to the internet café for yet more info.  Then we discovered that there's a Japanese project called One Love, which aims to help people with disability to become self sufficient again.  They run a workshop making artificial limbs (a great need in Rwanda) and also have a bar and accommodation on site.  Supposedly they offered camping too, so we decided to give them a try.  Unfortunately we could only find a street address, but no map to get us there.  However, with a bit of creativity we thought we had the right area in the city and headed off.  Nearing where we thought it should be, the area started to look a bit industrial, with a number of prostitutes along the way, so it didn't seem appropriate to stop to ask for directions and say, 'I'm looking for One Love'!  But, just as we were beginning to give up hope, there it was.  And there was camping!  At first the guy was a bit sceptical about our tent on the roof, as their camping area is on a patch of lush grass at the back of the complex.  If we were going to have to be with the car he suggested we'd have to sleep in it, because of the dogs!  Some vicious sounding guard dogs could be heard and we didn't fancy the idea of being cooped up in the back, unable to get out until the dogs had been caged again the next day, so put it to him that perhaps we could just drive the car into the camping area.  He thought this was a reasonable suggestion and after levelling it we settled in for the night.
The rest of the evening was pretty standard and I've gone on for way too long already, and I feel like reading now (have started Shantaram, which is a monster of a book).  Next insert by me will be shorter - promise.

Day 108 Wednesday 21st January RWANDA (89.5 miles, Total 14,198.4 miles)
(S) Our task this morning was to get as much done on the internet as we could. What a boring but necessary job.  Unfortunately the reception's wireless wasn't working when we went to return the key and checkout.  The kind lady at the desk suggested we try the OneLove workshop office, so we drove over the bridge and parked nice and close to a beaten up old minibus taxi that the mechanics were working on.  Inside a melancholy group of people sat around, and one woman pointed to an empty desk and showed us some chairs, so we could sort ourselves out.  We realised the people were probably queuing to speak to a cool dude with dreads, presumably to be measured for their artificial limbs.  It was a bleakly sombre atmosphere in there, and we were conscious that we were using someone's desk, so when our laptop battery started to fade, we thanked them profusely and went to hide in the back of the car to keep working.
How tedious!  But we're getting there.  Uploaded photos and worked on the diary, as people came and went and the minibus lost more and more pieces of bodywork.  It rained, and we carried on working.  I desperately had to use the loo and the nice lady in reception showed me through to the staff quarters past some of her colleagues who looked a bit shocked that I was trespassing!  She obviously convinced them I wasn't a spy or worse, but the mutterings of "muzungu..." ensured I went as quickly as I could! It rained again, and we carried on working. The split-charged battery then ran out of charge; so we had to eke out the last 40% or so of the photo upload by coaxing the batteries on for just another few minutes, and then a few minutes more... What a mission!
Anyway, we finally had our Kenya photos up and organised, so waved our goodbyes and set off to get fuel, and then find the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum.  Wow, diesel is getting pricey the further south we drive, but it's nice to have a properly full tank again. 
The museum is housed in a building perched on one of Kigali's 99 hillsides.  There are apparently 280,000 victims of the genocide buried on site in the terraced gardens.  It was really well done in Kinyarwanda, French and English, with an upper level divided into a section on genocides that have happened in recent history elsewhere in the world, and a set of rooms dedicated to the lost children of Rwanda.  Downstairs is a timeline-type set of displays covering the political build up, the atrocities, and the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan "jenocide".  They also offer an audio-guide for the gardens and memorials outside, but unfortunately our timing wasn't great as a school tour group had just arrived, so we were politely encouraged to start upstairs.
What a cruel, intolerant species we can be! And we have the gall and arrogance to believe we are "civilised".  It seems no religion is immune -Armenian Christians, European Jews, Yugoslavian Muslims; all have been victims of a regime trying to violently remove them from the planet at some stage in the last century or so.  The pictures, survivor testimonies on video, and descriptions of the atrocities were chilling.  But it was the huge photographs of Rwanda's child victims next door, with their mini-biographies sharing their favourite food or nickname etc. as well as their last words and cause of death that just broke our hearts.  What a desperate tragedy that children die such incomprehensibly brutal deaths in adults' wars.
After seeing the exhibit downstairs we felt even more hollow and desperate that such devastation was allowed to happen here, and were staggered by the sheer depravity of the violence and betrayals that took place.   I couldn't bring myself to watch some of the footage.  The repercussions were interesting though - a bit like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in SA after apartheid I guess - a lot of the trials were led by the local communities that suffered.  Admirably, the Rwandans seem to have found their own method of forgiveness or acceptance alongside the shame and regret, and found remarkable unity again under their new president.  Incredible that the country feels so prosperous, or to have such potential, after suffering such trauma not so long ago.
We weren't able to visit the gardens as we'd run out of time, so we left a donation and set off north, aiming for Lake Kivu and the Congo border.  The road to Kibuye was good surface, but typically Rwandan - twisty and steep, with hairpin bends the whole way, and soon it started to get dark.  We keep forgetting we've changed timezones and hadn't counted on dusk coming so soon.
We decided to push on regardless, but when we arrived in Kibuye, we discovered that the campsite listed in our book must have closed down a long time ago.  It's now a bar, and while we stood under the fluorescent light watching enormous mosquitoes circling us like fresh bait, a particularly sozzled patron tried to advise us in terrible French where we should go instead.  Could not understand a word, but at least the barman was friendly and rescued us, suggesting we try a hotel further up the road.
At Eden Rock Golf hotel I bravely battled on in my own version of hopeless French and somehow managed to check in.  We were shown by the somewhat sullen receptionist to a surprisingly decent room considering the rate.  More expensive than camping of course, but less than the normal hotel room charges, we were worried we had another Hotel Sfax to look forward to.  It was plain, but clean and spacious enough with a simple en suite bathroom.  Bonus!
We collected some supplies from the car and settled in to do diary on the laptop and make tuna-mayo crackers for dinner with tinned fruit for pudding.  How exciting, not!  Sad aren't we :)
Both a bit drained from the memorial visit, the difficult drive in the dark, and the disappointment of not finding camping, we were kinda ready to go straight to sleep.  Unfortunately the water was very cold, so it was a hasty shower before we unleashed the mosquito net and lowered ourselves into the rather hammock-like bed. 

Day 109 Thursday 22nd January RWANDA (78.2 miles, Total 14,276.6 miles)
(M) Well, I promised a short day so here goes.  After checking out of our room we did a quick circuit via town to try and draw some money.  The bank wasn't able to help us but did direct us to an exchange bureau in the petrol station.  We still had some dollars so decided to change some, just to see us back to Kigali.  Once clear of all the interested locals, and when Sarah had said goodbye to her new friend, the exchanger, who wanted to practise his English (because it's not the language of the colonisers apparently!) we headed out of town to find the 'rollercoaster' road that would take us the 90km to Gisenyi.  It was bit difficult to find as our GPS doesn't have it, so needed a bit of forcing.  The road, when we got there, was true to it's word - twisty, rutted, muddy, up and down and very very scenic, with great views of the lake on our left.
It took us about three hours, negotiating part of it in heavy rain, with mud whipping up and coating Mapenzi's flanks once more.  Back on the tar the spray we kicked up gave her a bit of a clean, so that by the time we arrived in Gisenyi she wasn't too bad.  The town is hardly massive but we still had to find somewhere to sleep, so pootled around town a bit, turning about when we found ourselves at the border with DRC.
Aaarrggghhhhh - panic.  I lost our diary again but Sarah's managed to restore it.  Whew - sigh of relief.  Now, where was I... Ah yes, border with DRC...
Made our way back through town to ask at 'Paradis' restaurant, as suggested by our guidebook.  We didn't make it that far though, coming across a sign for camping and two big pink buses that looked suspiciously like a group of Swedish tourists.  In we went.  The place was called Bikini Tam Tam and had a bar /restaurant and piece of beach with tables and chairs laid out.  Nothing fancy but just fine for our purposes.  The camping they catered for was more for ground tents and we weren't that keen on staying on our own in the parking lot if the buses left.  Fortunately they were staying, so we reversed into a bay and put up the tent.  Then to the restaurant for a bite to eat while we sat and enjoyed sitting.  Ordered an omelette each and two salads (which also had eggs in them - Dad would not approve).  We had to wait a while for them as well, but enjoyed a conversation with one of the Swedish guys who came over to chat to us, and turned out to be Norwegian.  We weren't sure at first if he was all there; he was just so exuberant.  Nice guy; I'd say probably in his fifties or sixties and he's decided to make it his ambition to visit as many countries as possible - currently standing at 132 or something similar.  We do have Sudan over him though!
After satisfying our hungers we returned to the car to sort and name our photos.  Rwanda really has been very good for admin, sad as that might sound.  By this time it was late afternoon anyway and the Swedes (and two Norwegians) were in their own group having dinner, so there weren't many people around to socialise with.  Had some sausages with us and opted to have them for dinner, with chips and salad from the bar (sans eggs this time).
Have decided that the camp is nothing special but does have the required facilities and the staff do go out of their way to help, so not a bad place really.

Day 110 Friday 23rd January RWANDA (approx 54.3 miles, Total 14,330.9 miles)
(S)  Drizzly and damp today.  We packed up and had cereal for breakfast.  Chatted to the manager Pazos, asking his advice about where to find a shop for vegetables and he offered to show us how to get to the local market.  As we put away the tent a German/Swiss guy arrived, wondering which route we'd taken south - turns out he works for the gas company located in town and wants to import some vehicles and trucks from Europe but can't decide whether to go overland or by cargo ship via Mombasa. 
With Pazos in the passenger seat and Mike in the back, I drove us into the centre ville on convoluted dirt roads, finally turning into a parking area where we saw a large covered market taking place.  A swarm of young boys surrounded us, anxiously promising to guard the car, which we didn't really feel was necessary, but hey...
With Pazos backing up my poor French, we managed to select some huge carrots, a few tomatoes, onions, a large house of fresh garlic, green beans etc.  And about fifteen small cucumbers?!  After I'd paid, the seller kept just shoving more and more into our paper bag despite my protestations that we already had plenty!  Think she must have been trying to get rid of them or something, as one or two extra would have been a generous gesture, but another eight was a bit extreme!  Also picked up some miniature bananas, a lovely big pineapple and some bizarre looking fruits - Pazos called them prunes, but they seem more like a cross between a guava flavour with similar pips, the sharp taste and purple colour of a granadilla/passion fruit, with the blood-red juice and the smooth skin of a plum. Don't know if the ones she gave us are ripe enough as they're quite sour unfortunately.  The ladies were all very friendly, and highly amused with my hesitant French and enthusiastic "Murakoze!" (thank you), chuckling among themselves - I frequently caught the word "mzungu" inbetween bemused chortles.  Lucky I'm growing a thicker skin and don't mind being laughed at so much!
Back at the car I handed out some bananas to thank the car-guard children, as I had no change left.  We then dropped Pazos at his house in the residential area of town, impressed with the size of some of the properties, and the pretty gardens too.  Driving round along the lake edge to find Nyamyumba, we had to detour past the gas plant up into the hills. I stopped at one stage to ask directions from some women carrying plastic water containers, but they were too shy to answer and perhaps didn't understand my bad French and sign language.  A young man came to their (and my) rescue and pointed us through the next three villages and then right.  Ok then! Thanking him and the women we set off again.
We stopped by at Madame Chaluka's restaurant, that we'd heard sold fresh tilapia in buckets, where you could have them grilled and served while you enjoyed some drinks on the banks of Lake Kivu.  Sadly, it not being high season, they had no fish on offer, so we instead had a beer and fanta while we watched the fishermen and ferries come and go.  Lovely birds - a fish eagle, pied kingfishers, cormorants diving for large silver fish, and dozens of firefinches, weavers and sunbirds in the gardens, as well as lizards and beetles.
After a few hours we headed off, but were turned around at a checkpoint, presumably because of the gas plant again.  So we turned around and went back the way we'd come, through Gisenyi and out onto the road north to Ruhengeri. It was a pretty drive, if difficult at times with the roadworks and detours.  We did pop into the KIAKA charity giftshop and admired the crafts, picking up a lovely basket and some presents.  They had nice pottery and some gorgeous furniture made out of wicker-like reeds.
In Ruhengeri, despite Mike's warning, I missed the turnoff and had to drive for ages before I could find somewhere to turn around.  In town we stopped to check internet before setting off to the Parc Nationale des Volcans head office to enquire about camping.  The view as we approached was magnificent - the peaks to our left shrouded in sunset clouds, those on the right mysteriously covered by black storm clouds, and Karisimo volcano (we think!) looming ahead of us through the mists.  We had to drive through some busy villages to get there, with lots of waving schoolchildren, and the ubiquitous laden bikes.  I know we've said this a few times, but honestly, all day, every day, we've been a bit taken aback that there is such an overwhelming number of people here who, it seems, are always walking, carrying something?  There are just always people on the roads, walking and carrying. Or cycling and carrying.  Amazing.
At the NP headQ we had a look at their Gorilla signboards and displays - looked very well managed and we were impressed with the professionalism of the place. The man at reception suggested we try the Kinigi lodge so we backtracked slightly to find it, pausing to chat to some schoolchildren.  They were excitedly practicing their English on us apparently, and urged us to take their picture so we could e-mail them.  (Unfortunately when we tried to send them the photos the next day the messages bounced back because their mailbox couldn't accommodate the files which were too large - even after I'd compressed them :( Will have to try again when we next have access to wireless...)
We checked in and paid at the lodge, and were told we could stay in the parking lot so had a job to level the car.  Unfortunately the room they allocated us didn't have a shower, just a rather trickly cold bath!  We had been looking forward to our spag-bol all day, so got stuck into making dinner.  By the time it was ready, we were so tired from all the driving today that we didn't feel like having to be social so drank our beers, ate, and watched a movie.  Boring huh! Hopefully when we've chilled out for a few days at the beach we'll regain our energy and be a bit more lively in the evenings...
Day 111 Saturday 24th January RWANDA (77.1 miles, Total 14,408 miles)
(M) We could hear voices outside from quite early; all the guests and guides preparing for their various treks, most of which start at 07:00.  Since we weren't actually going into the park we didn't feel it necessary to be up quite so early though.
I was checking the oil and water after breakfast when David, a safari guide from Kenya who I'd spoken to briefly last night, came over to chat to us. He's very taken with our car and we spoke for quite a while.  It turns out he's taking some clients to Mala Mala, where I used to work, next month, and also knows a number of the people working there.  He had a lot of information about the parks in Tanzania and was adamant that we should visit the migration in the Serengeti.  Having finally come to terms with the fact that we weren't going to pass through any more parks in East Africa, a new enthusiasm was ignited in me.  Hmmmmm.  He also mentioned, to our regret, that one of the parties staying at the lodge was a National Geographic film crew, including George Shallah (?) who preceded Dian Fossey in researching the mountain gorillas  (and about whom the NG documentary is being made) and also a woman who worked with Dian Fossey on the gorillas.  Would have been fascinating to talk to them but we hadn't even gone into the bar so were totally clueless.  What an opportunity missed! 
We could have chatted for longer but had to leave so packed up and left the Volcanoes park to return to Kigali.  The drive south was badly potholed but only about two hours so we were back at 'One Love', via a circuitous route, shortly after midday.  We knew there was a good internet connection from our stint before, so were keen to get the rest of the photos uploaded and our diary up to date again.  There followed another afternoon cooped up in the back of the vehicle near the entrance gate (there's no signal from the bottom of the complex where the camping is) and by the time we made our way round to park the car there was another Land Rover where we'd been a few days ago.  We recognised it as belonging to the couple we'd spoken to in QE Park, Uganda, but they weren't there.  With a bit of manoeuvring we got our car into a fairly level position where they'd still be able to get out if they needed to.  Then the tent...
We got as far as the ladder when I realised, with much cussing, that we'd left the two metal extensions at Volcanoes park.  Essentially they're just two square tube steel legs, about 30cm long, but without them the ladder doesn't reach the ground.  Fortunately there was a step that we could back up to, which would work for tonight, but we'd either have to make a plan to get the legs back or fabricate something else.  It gets worse though; tomorrow was supposed to be border day and we didn't have enough money to pay for another night if we stayed on in Rwanda.  It seemed we'd either have to try and get to the border anyway, or delay leaving the country and try and persuade the campsite to accept dollars or wait until Monday when we could get to a bank (no ATMs in Kigali).  If we stayed on there was the possibility that the on-site workshop would be able to help us make something, but it being Sunday tomorrow, we weren't sure if they'd be open.
To try and perk us up we went for a shower, a hot shower!  And then John and Lauren returned.  We'd only spoken to them briefly in passing before but ended up chatting for a long time, preventing them from getting to bed and us from making dinner.  Very nice people and we hope we might bump into them again somewhere down the way.  When we finally said our goodnights neither of us felt like cooking, so Sarah made a quick cous cous salad and then it was to bed.
We'd decided to hope for the workshop option - the idea of a 4 hour round trip to collect the legs was unappealing to say the least.
Day 112 Sunday 25th January RWANDA (144.5 miles, Total 14555.25 miles)
(S) Oh dear, the workshop was closed.  Fair enough, but it did mean that we'd have to abandon our hope of crossing the border today, and that we'd need to be very careful about our cashflow dilemma.  Saying farewell to Lauren and John, and then the staff at One Love, we made our twisting, winding, steep, up and down-way back to Ruhengeri.  There were lots of traffic police lurking in the towns, so we made sure we kept to a reasonable speed - not that difficult when you have endless pedestrians and shockingly pot-holed roads I guess!
Again the volcanoes were hidden by clouds, and the children along the route shouted "Mzunguuuuu" at us, a few offering palms as they asked for something.  We made it to the lodge by about 10.30, our minds were racing with all the potential pitfalls of our decision to go back - what if they had been thrown away, or stolen, or taken and used by someone, or if David had offered to send them to us or...  I facetiously said to Mike, "Imagine if the ladder bits are just lying in the parking bay".   And as we drove in, there they were!  We didn't even turn the engine off, just hopped out to change drivers and gather them up before retracing our steps.  What a colossal bore - a waste of time, energy, diesel...  But a lesson too - we'll make sure we don't get distracted when we leave camp again!
Soooo, back along the twisting, winding, steep up and down-way we'd come.  On one relatively smooth section of road, Mike overtook a truck we'd been trapped behind for ages, and around the corner a traffic cop in his yellow vest waved us over.  Our hearts sank as I wound down my window to find out why we had to stop.  A cheerful "Bonjour!" met stony silence as the stern young cop stared at us. "Speed".  His colleague approached from the other side.  "Overspeed."  Hmmm, we have yet to see a speed limit sign here, neither of them were in possession of a camera or laser device or anything, and although we'd just been overtaking someone, Mapenzi just doesn't go very fast.  Luckily, Mike and I were on the same wavelength and simply acted clueless.  "Is there a problem sir?" or the equivalent in tragic French from my side of the car.  "Overspeed" in unison from the sullen cops.  Gee, they were not giving an inch on the polite/friendly stakes!  Mike ingeniously pointed at the speedometer saying, "but we were only going 40, 40 miles per hour?" to a confused and annoyed look from his cop.  Mine just kept repeating "Overspeed" at me.  After more pointing and questioning and acting confused from our side, my cop visibly gave up and waved us on.  We didn't hesitate, wishing them a pleasant day and driving slowly but firmly away!   Close call perhaps, and a bit of an adrenaline-filled experience I have to say!
By the time we'd limped back into Kigali, we were low on diesel, low on cheer and high on hunger.  We were substantially too far from the border to get there in good time (we'd be losing an hour as well as Tanzania is in a different time zone) and anyway, had no fuel and no money to fill up.  So we would have to have another night in Kigali.  We detoured past the shopping centre in the vain hope that the bank might be open (of course not) and to buy some samoosas with our last five hundred francs.  They were tasty but didn't really fill the gap. 
Back at One Love the staff looked rather surprised to see us (for the third time!) but generously agreed to let us pay tomorrow.  We parked in our original place and set about doing chores.  The laundry bag has overflowed because we've not had anywhere with an available basin, let alone somewhere to hang a line, for quite a while.  And yes, that does mean that we've been wearing the same clothes for a few days - yuck, I know.  At least we've been able to wash underwear that we can just hang in the back to dry.  Our swimming costumes from Lake Bunyoni were still wet when they'd gone in and now, the whole bottom layer was mouldy!  Eeeuuuw!  So we spent the entire afternoon washing our stinky clothes in the shower area of our allocated banda.  Even liberal amounts of cold water Omo didn't manage to eradicate the worst mould from Mike's shirts, so looks like we have a bit of a shopping chore to do now too. What a pain.  We hung the dripping clothes out on some hastily set up lines, but it didn't help that it rained on and off for the rest of the day.
Mike spent most of the time working on his CV and cover letter for a fisheries-type job that sounded interesting (M - yup, that time has come round already) while I pottered about wringing out socks, filtering water and gathering ingredients for dinner.  The rest of the evening was just as boring - mince pasta, showers (at least they were hot), a spot of reading and then bed.  The highlight was opening a tin of condensed milk to snack on for dessert.  There go my teeth!

Day 113 Monday 26th January RWANDA - TANZANIA (307.5 miles, Total 14860 miles)
(M) Why do I always get border days to write about?
After delaying our departure yesterday, today was definitely time to head for Tanzania.  Usually we try and get to the border as early as possible but we still needed to go to the bank, so had to wait for it to open.  We packed our damp, mouldy, stinky laundry back into the damp, mouldy, stinky bag and were out of the camp a few minutes after 08:00.  Stopped at the gate so that I could send my CV off and then made our way into town.  We managed to find a parking space and ran into the bank.  Ten minutes later we were back at the car where Sarah was incensed that we had to pay for the parking, which we'd thought was free.  Oh well, it wasn't much.  Off to a petrol station to top up with some much needed diesel and then back to the supermarket to spend our last few shillings.  We didn't have much so only managed some milk, baguette, noodles and a couple of beers.  We hadn't factored in the beer bottle deposit though, so had to return one of the litres of milk as we didn't have enough cash.
Back at the camp we settled up and quickly checked the cricket score (Australia all out for 222 - looking good), not that I'm obsessed or anything.  And then we were on the road again.  It was a good three hours to the border, and we'd be losing an hour in the time change, so no time for hanging about.  The scenery was very similar to the north, though perhaps a bit untidier, and by the time we arrived at the border town at Ruhumu Falls, it was raining again.  We also almost had a low-speed head-on collision with another couple in an overland vehicle coming the other way (they hadn't realised yet that they needed to drive on the right!).
Customs and Immigration weren't immediately obvious and for once nobody came forward to try and sell their services to us.  We parked next to a couple of lorries and then went ask a policeman where we had to go.  His directions were a bit vague but indicated to go further down the hill.  Disconcertingly, the road seemed to be blocked by trucks and we weren't sure how we were going to get through.  Needn't have worried though; we found the small building a little way along and completed the formalities without any difficulties.  By the time we were done the road ahead had cleared and we went back to fetch the car.
Crossing into Tanzania you drive above the Rusumo Falls, a spectacular drop of boiling, brown water.  Didn't know if photos were allowed though as we were still in no man's land, so unfortunately didn't get any pictures. Up the hill and around the bend on the other side were the Tanzanian border offices.  We had to go to immigration first and here hit our first and only snag.  The visa cost was US$50 each and, though we had enough, they only accept post 2003 notes and ours were older!  The closest bank was back in Kigali, which would involve another long drive, delayed day and having to return through the Rwandan border.  We hoped that the Rwandan side might accept our dollars though, and change them for newer notes, so left the office to head back down the hill and across the river.  Fortunately the moneychangers came to our aid.  We still had some euros left and they were happy to buy them from us for dollars.  Not a good rate, but what can you do.  So back into immigration where the visas took about 10 minutes to process, while we chatted to a Rwandan fellow who's now working in the UAE.  Customs was also very quick.  When we walked in there was a very suave looking policeman in leather jacket and shades too small for his head.  A bit too cool - it was really gloomy and rainy outside anyway, even if he'd been out there.  He called another guy over, who stamped the carnet and then directed us through to another office.  We were expecting to pay US$25 for road tax and paperwork but all that happened was that our vehicle details were taken down, before he told us we were done.  We've heard a lot about the corrupt officials in Tanzania, so didn't want to take any chances, even if it meant arguing to spend another lump of money.  The charges are stated in our guidebook and also seem to have been paid by all who went before us, so we were a bit concerned.  Sarah went to get our guidebook to show him but he just looked confused and insisted there were no charges.  Just in case, I took a note of his badge number - we don't want another 'fine' for not paying road tax when we try and leave the country.
After the twisting roads in Rwanda the drive was very easy, on smooth tarmac through miles of beautiful savannah bush.  We had another discussion about the parks and decided, definitely, that we'd skip the Serengeti and Ngoro Ngoro crater, and skirt round to the south, en route to Pangani on the coast.  It still burns but I'll get over it.  For now we were heading for Kahama.  It was a bit late in the day to make it much further and our T4A had some guesthouses listed. 
We were being hyper-cautious to keep within the speed limit but were still pulled over six or seven times in that first afternoon.  At each town we came to there was a police stop, but I think most cars were being stopped.  A few times they asked to see our paperwork, and there was a definite air of trying to find something wrong, but all were polite and friendly and waved us on when they could see nothing to charge us with.  Definitely won't be taking chances here though.
We arrived in Kahama at about 18:30.  A dusty, bustling town, which almost requires 4x4 on the side roads.  We managed to locate the Marine Hotel, but couldn't make out if it was actually a road, or just a footpath, that went to it.  Circling round the back we found another place which looked ok, and with secure parking (there must be about a zillion three hundred and sixty two guesthouses in this town), but they had no space for us.  He did however direct us to Marine Hotel again.  We got there just as it was getting dark, and a little before the heavens opened.
The room we were shown to was not too bad considering the price.  Interesting choice of faded maroon carpet, silk potplant, 2 grubby looking patterned armchairs and a good size bed with a bit of a hammock mattress.  The TV was caged and locked in a metal frame bolted to the wall.  We tried it but couldn't get it to work, so went to ask at reception.  The lady who came to check had an interesting way of using the 2-pin plug in the 3-pin socket.  Apparently if you just use a metal key to push aside the safety catch in the earth hole, then the 2 pins slide in quite easily and all is hunky dory.  It still didn't work though, so she left.  A few minutes later there was a knock on the door and she re-appeared with the manager, who used a similar key technique.  Still without human casualties, but also still to no avail.  When they left again we set about stringing up lines all over the place to hang our laundry.  With the room carefully arranged into a proper mess we went off to order dinner.  I think Kahama is a transport stop and the meal was as you might expect, though not at all bad.  It was brought to us on meal trays and we copied the example of a guy at another table, pulling the chicken apart with our hands and adding it to the rice before spooning over some sauce and enjoying.  Did half expect that we might be up at some stage in the night but it was really tasty.  Half way through eating, the manager turned up again, this time with an electrician in tow.  We didn't want them to see the room in the state it was in, so told them we'd read instead - impressed at the lengths he'd gone to though.
Had a quick 'shower' under the tap in the en suite bathroom and then to bed.
(PS of course I had a go at wiggling the switch a bit later, and the TV worked just fine - though there was nothing worth watching after all that effort!  A Brazilian soap opera dubbed into Swahili with English subtitles, a Philippino soapie dubbed into delayed English, an R&B music video channel and news that we couldn't understand in Swahili. Oh well!)

Day 114 Tuesday 27th January TANZANIA (344.6 miles, Total 15204.6 miles)
(S) It was seriously dark in our room with the electricity off in the building.  Turned a potentially simple trip going to the loo in the middle of the night into an obstacle course adventure.  Disentangling myself from the mosquito net took long enough before having to climb over my prone, sprawling husband, to swing my leg over the first washing line, then the next, navigate to the door and over the shower puddle to the toilet without knocking the loo roll off into the wet.  What a mission.
Anyway, we woke to the alarm and got dressed in the semi-dark.  Wandered through for breakfast and were asked what we wanted.  When we asked what was available, we were told eggs - but that we'd have to wait because of the power outage.  No worries. We sat and had a cup of strong cinnamon flavoured tea while the waitress brought us a chipati-style hot flatbread that was delicious with sugar.  We'd just finished when our eggs arrived, scrambled omelette style.  We paid the difference from our B&B rate and packed up as quickly as we could, shoving the still damp laundry back into the bag.
Waving farewells we dumped everything into the car and took advantage of the gates being open to let the water bakkie out of the parking area. 
Took the direct route back to the main road past a rubbish dump area that was crowded with people and marabou storks.  Counted about 30, all grubbily rooting through the garbage scattered around, or standing staring from the muddy water puddles.  They are such ugly birds with their dirty beaks, beady eyes, and their scruffy, wispy old-man baldy heads.  Amazing to think that their feathers were so sought after for fashion!
Our first police roadblock was an example of the other three or four to come.  The usual questions about where we were coming from and where we were going to, and a very thorough, obvious peer around the car, perhaps looking for something to bust us with?  Finding nothing worthy of comment, they usually just let us on our way.  At the second stop we were greeted with a loud "What does TDi mean?", the traffic cop pointing to the markings on the Landy.  Mike patiently explained five or six times that it meant "turbo-diesel injection", with the cop faithfully repeating the phrase over and over and still looking quizzical. He even turned over the pages on his clipboard to get Mike to write it down for him!  Weird - couldn't decide if he was genuinely interested, or testing us to see if we knew?!  Wonder what would have happened if we hadn't known? Strange!
In the next biggish town, Nzega, we successfully tracked down an ATM, so had cash to fill the tank.  Also meant we could buy some snacks.  I found a little store that sold samoosas and vetkoeks, but felt a bit guilty that I cleaned them out of their small change.  Silly that we'd paid with our smaller notes this morning, as now we're stuck with large currency, and shops just don't seem to have a float of change anywhere on this continent!  I tried to suggest that I could simply buy more goodies as a solution, but couldn't make myself understood, and the lady behind the counter just kept asking her friends to raid their pockets/bras for coins.  At least when I thanked her in Swahili she seemed to forgive me.
The road from here changes from pretty good tarmac to murram dirt, and is marked in Tracks4Africa as "poor condition".  They weren't kidding - the rains had turned the red clay into a mudbath, and the potholes were relentless.  We did have to slow down to avoid people wobbling on bikes struggling through, and to skirt the livestock crossing, but were pressing ahead so kept a fair pace, flying over some of the humped drainage bridges.  It rained on and off, but we didn't hit a major storm until after Singida.  The scenery was lovely, big tumbled outcrops of large round boulders, and nice bush.  We spotted a mongoose family, some lovely carmine bee-eaters and other birds.  We'd stopped for some photos when we realised the big black rain clouds were massing with a vengeance.  And then down it came - enormous drops and a high wind, making driving a tricky prospect as muddy water kept splashing up onto the windscreen from the potholes.  Even with the wipers on full speed the visibility was poor, and the surge of water gushing down the road made it slippery work.  On the other side of the storm, we beat the river of water, watching as it pushed ahead the debris in the gutter on the edge of the road.
We could see some of the smaller lakes, and were really enjoying the bush, but the bumpy road was beginning to tire us out.  Just before Babati we had to stop to navigate our way around an odd collision.  It was a fairly steep hill and we guessed that a truck must have been trying to overtake a bus, but the bus must have veered, and slipped off the edge of the road into a gully and the truck jack-knifed until he was trapped on either side of the stricken bus.  We offered to help, but it looked like the entire village had arrived to have a look, so we left them to it, following the other smaller vehicles on a detour through the bush along what looked like a cattle trail.  Not before an ancient Series Landy coming from the other direction passed us with about 60 chickens on the roof (and two that had fallen off and become trapped behind the bulbar :() and 30 people on board.  The locals looked highly entertained with the whole spectacle, and chatted to us as we crawled past.  In the next big village there was a huge market taking place, and although we were tempted to stop and have a look, it started to rain again, hard.  Everyone began to run, sprinting towards doorways, leaping into matatus, dashing for cover.
Darkness was soon beginning to fall, and we were really pushing hard to get to the Paradise Campsite on the southern edge of Lake Manyara.  We spent most of the late afternoon hesitating over whether to try and bush camp or not, but it was difficult as most of the land was cultivated or grazed and there were homesteads everywhere.  The dirt road from Babati wasn't too bad, though the dust kicked up by the trucks made for poor visibility in the headlights.  And if it wasn't for a broken down lorry on the side of the road causing us to slow down, we might have missed the first of a series of deep drainage trenches that could have caused some major damage. In fact, the lorry was probably broken because he hadn't seen the ditch in time himself!
We annoyingly overshot the turnoff for the campsite (the GPS is sometimes a bit delayed in it's countdown of the metres to go) but once on the track were struck by the change in the bush and the weird swampy smell of the place.  We saw some eyes, but they'd disappeared by the time we could turn to check them out with the spotlights.  We puttered along until we found the camp, and were a little overwhelmed with the welcoming party!  I had seen one lantern come jogging to meet us, but there were actually about seven breathless people clustered around us when we pulled up.  After exchanging some very excited greetings in Swahili, we managed to work out that the only woman was the receptionist who spoke good English, and she magnanimously dropped the camping charge from $20 to 20,000 TSh (about US$16) when we baulked at the cost of staying.  In our defence we were both knackered and had already been told there would be no hot water etc.  And paying $10 each for secure parking and to use some of their water, in the face of bush camping for free, feels like a silly waste of our precious budget!
The two night watchmen were very keen to help us put up the tent, but it was a case of too many cooks, as there is only one ladder for Mike to use and our friendly guard was already on it before Mike had even finished unzipping the cover.  Anyway, once the tent was finally up, and we'd got out the chairs and table, our friendly receptionist had returned to pass on instructions to the two guards, so we had some privacy to cook and get organised. 
Insect heaven though, so a strangely unpleasant experience cooking with a headtorch!  Cold beer, cold shower and teeth brushed it was straight to bed.  What a long day.

Day 115 Wednesday 28th January TANZANIA (157.1 miles, Total 15,361.7 miles)
(M) Up fairly early for another long day's driving.  I was gathering a few twigs for the Kelly kettle when one of the guards arrived with an armful of wood - rather suspect he's aiming for a tip, but he'd have done better to use the wood to heat the water for a nice shower last night.  I didn't need it now.  It may sound ungracious but at the price they're charging they should be serving pina coladas.  We watched some birds as we bolted down a quick breakfast and then said our farewells.  A short while later we were back onto tar; it seems we've developed a few more rattles along the way, one of which seems to be from the canopy panels where they join onto the body - time to do a round with a spanner and tighten some bolts again.
We'd hoped that the road might skirt either Tarangire or Manyara parks where we could perhaps spy some game, but there were villages dotted along the road most of the way to Arusha, gateway to the big parks.  Arusha was quite a pleasant, buzzy place and seemed seems to have most things, not least of which included an army of 4x4s belonging to various safari operators.  I was really gutted not to be going that way but we'd made the decision and were both looking forward to the beach as well.  We did want to stop though.  I was feeling pretty scruffy and we'd decided to try and find a laundry facility and also pick up a shirt or two in town.  Our GPS listed a Mr Price under the shopping section so we thought we'd head to that first.  We didn't see any launderettes on our way through, but did bypass a few promising clothing outlets, eventually arriving at Mr Price to discover it's not the same chain as in SA, but rather a group of mini-supermarkets.  We didn't feel like going back through town for clothes, so picked up a few essentials and, still scruffy, made our way out of town towards Moshi.  This was a rather smaller place but still looked to have most things.  We were able to pick up some call credit for the phone, managing to deal with a rude saleslady, but had less success trying to draw money.  It seems our cards don't work in Barclays ATMs, despite this being the bank we use in the UK.  We were then given a bit of a run-around trying to find a launderette again. The signs were positive but the places we were directed to would only launder for us, for collection the following day.  We didn't plan to stick around that long and were really looking for a washer and dryer that we could use ourselves. So, again no luck and we decided just to check emails while we were there.  We were getting a bit annoyed at the touting anyway - everyone wanted to be our best mate and it was a matter of only a few minutes before people we'd never laid eyes on were saying, 'hey Bafana Bafana', a reference to us being South African.  They did lose a bit of interest when they realised we were neither going on safari nor climbing Kilimanjaro, so there was little they could sell.
Continued along the road to the turnoff for Marangu Hotel and campsite, unfortunately with Kili shrouded in mist.  The staff at Marangu were very welcoming though, and it's in a beautiful setting anyway.  One of the ladies showed us where we could camp, but with our tent being on the roof we felt we had to check if it was ok to drive onto the grassy sections.  Seemed it wouldn't be a problem, so we returned to collect the car and put our waffle boards across a narrow canal, to access the lawn.  It was all going swimmingly - a lovely site, laundry hanging up to dry, a few drops of rain to clear the air and just sitting chilling... when a man made an appearance and started grumbling that we were on the lawn and, 'it's obvious that we're not supposed to drive onto it'.  Silly us...  He was really rude but disappeared before we could even introduce ourselves and explain, and didn't make another visit while we were there.  Probably the owner.  Rather than risk further wrath from the grouchy fella we decided to move back across the channel.  It was dark by now, so Sarah did a bit on the diary while I cooked.
Rain bucketed down for a bit, so we ate in the car.  Then, a great hot shower and an early night.  We'd decided to be up early to try and catch the mountain before it clouded over!

Day 116 Thursday 29th January TANZANIA (263.3 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(S) Up early and really worth it, as the peak of Kilimanjaro was majestically visible between the tall trees, from the campsite track.  Inspired us to drive towards the National Park gates in case we could get a better panorama view. Packed up swiftly, rushing cereal breakfast and hopelessly trying to rearrange the still damp laundry. I went on ahead to pay while Mike took some photos before we set off on our detour.  Stopped a few times to take pictures, but were hassled by touts as we approached the NP gate, constantly being offered guides, porters etc. - they all looked rather put out that we were just here to take photos!
The road south was pretty, and we had a great view of Kili and the neighbouring peaks and the massing clouds in our rearview mirrors as we headed for Same.  The bush slowly changed to dry scrub, and as we skirted the lush green Usambara mountains on our left our excitement started growing - can't believe we'll be at the beach tonight!
Near a railway line, we spotted a colourful fruit stall. I couldn't resist getting a couple of kilos of star fruits, veggies, tomatoes etc. from the friendly man running the stand.  We stopped not far from there to put in some fuel, the attendants delighted that we mastered the convoluted handshakes they offered us.  They were great, and helpfully directed us to the bank in town where we were dismayed to see a huge queue outside the ATM.  Mike quickly learned that they didn't do Visa, and was sent across the road to a posher building with parking, that had no queue at all.  So we were quickly loaded up with cash again, what a relief.  We continued, surprised that there hadn't been many police checkpoints on this route, and marvelling at the change in scenery.  Savannah bush soon gave way to extensive sisal plantations in different stages of growth. 
We stopped in a tiny place to buy hot chips from a stall, though the guy running it was a bit confused that we wanted take-away.  They were a little greasy but very yummy with ketchup.  We passed by Lushoto and turned-off toward the coast, while the bush changed again, now tall coconut palms and high grass.  Most of the palms have half moon shaped notches cut into their trunks, leaving black semi-circle scars.  The villages are all thatched here too, and ever-present mango sellers lined the roads.  When we got to Tanga, we had high hopes, but it's a funny little town, and after driving around the harbour and back into the centre, we realised we were probably going to have some difficulty finding a decent-size supermarket to stock up on.  We did find a small superette that was closed for lunch, so paid for parking and went on an amble to try and find a clothes store while we waited.  Got very hot, and very bothered and a little annoyed that everything was closed, so when we passed by a café, we paused to drink a nice, cold Coke (drinks are only available in glass bottles here, so you're encouraged to drink them on-site unless you're happy to forfeit a deposit).  Partially revived, Mike tried on a shirt or two in a nearby shop, but they were a size too large and rather expensive, so the poor guy will have to wear his stinky mouldy shirts for a few more days.  Getting a bit desperate that we haven't been able to get this laundry crisis sorted out.
Back at the car we realised the supermarket was indeed open again, and it was actually larger that it looked.  With boerewors, gin, tonics, olive oil and other "essentials" sorted out, I set about packing it all into the fridge while Mike went to the open-air market to get potatoes and other veggies.  I gave in to a very persistent cashew nut seller, after we spent about 15mins chatting about football, Obama, Mugabe "ruining" Zimbabwe, his children etc. before we were ready to set off.  With all our new provisions, cash and fuel we were finally ready to settle in for a few days of serious relaxing. 
The gravel road to Peponi wasn't too bad, and we kept getting glimpses of an inviting dark blue ocean between the palms and sisal farms.  Signing it at the gate we were pleased to see two Landies parked near the reception - a shiny new County and a marvellous green Series I in mint condition.  The security guard set off to find Dennis, the owner (also proud owner of the Land Rovers), so that he could show us around and set up our tab.  He was very friendly, if a bit cranky towards his staff!  He and his wife must be in their sixties now, and we think they must just be keen to let the business run itself so that they can try and enjoy their retirement.  Mike was really chuffed that he knows Howick really well, having lived in Pietermaritzburg for a number of years.  Their property is lovely, set amongst palms and mango trees, with rustic bandas scattered about, hammocks on their porches, and the camping sites are right next to the beach.  We chose one that was about 3m up from the sand - glorious! The sea is very blue if a bit marbled with weed, and there were mangroves up the coast and picture-postcard sailing dhows bobbing in the shallows. 
Pleased to see that the German couple in the yellow Cruiser, with the long-haired Jack Russell Anja, that we met in Nairobi are here - fun to catch up with them again.  The tide was already quite far out, so we had a swim in the pool instead, though the water was a little too warm!  Started dusting and clearing out the back, packing away the rest of the groceries and preparing for a hectic day of thorough cleaning tomorrow.  Afterwards we went for a stroll down the beach, to see the dugout boats and pick up shells, as the sun started to set.  Made delicious macaroni cheese for dinner as we enjoyed an ice-cold Kili beer from the bar.  What a glorious place!  The tide had gone right out, so when we'd finished eating we walked out with our headtorches so that we could avoid standing on the hermit crabs.  It was very dark, with no moon, and a bit spooky but we felt very adventurous!
Back at camp and totally exhausted, we had a cold shower before tiredly climbing up into the tent.  So hot now that the breeze has died down, we had to open all the vents and chuck the duvet into the cab.  But being horizontal and knowing that we're in such a setting - what bliss!

Day 117 Friday 30th January TANZANIA (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(M) We're on holiday from diary for a few days, so the next few instalments will be really short.
Last night was too hot to sleep properly.  We woke and had a decent breakfast of full English fry up.  There were some chores to do though, so the morning was spent cleaning the inside of the car and rewashing a load of laundry.  We paid for some of the worst items to be done for us; still by hand unfortunately, as we'd hoped to put them through a hot wash.  We'd almost finished when I discovered a blossoming blue corrosion on our battery terminals.  A bit disturbing as I'm unable to check the water levels in some of the cells.  Took everything out and spent the next hour or two cleaning them with wire brush, scraper etc.  One of the connectors is quite badly eroded and we also found one of the battery casings to be cracked, so may have to replace that in the next big town.
Being out in the sun also took its toll and we were both quite burned before the morning was done.  The afternoon was better. Watched the guards chasing vervets out of the camp, spent some time relaxing and reading, and in the late afternoon went for a walk along the beach to try and photograph some local kids sailing their miniature dhows in the shallow, outgoing tide.   Had a wander around the mangroves and watched a fish eagle and few of the interesting crabs and starfish before returning for a light supper of chips and snacks - too lazy to cook and we'd had reasonable leftovers for lunch anyway.
Bed quite early.

Day 118 Saturday 31st January TANZANIA (0 miles, Total miles)
(S) Today we "chillaxed".  We are both horribly sunburned on our backs from our labours yesterday, so feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves.  Had a lovely, cool morning swim in the high tide, read our books, and had tuna mayo baguette (fresh from the resort next door) for lunch.  In the late afternoon we pre-ordered dinner, then read some more.
Highlight of the day was a huge branch crashing down half a metre from Mapenzi's driver-door.  Close call!  We also tackled two fallen coconuts, but they were very unripe and the milk spilt away before we could tap it.  The flesh was pulpy and soggy, what a shame.
 Two other overlanders have arrived - a South African couple in a Toyota Hilux, and a German couple in a handsome white Land Rover Defender.  We chatted to the Saffas for ages, sharing stories and advice.  They're keen to organise a dhow to Zanzi, so we may join them.  Think we've also convinced them to join us for the snorkelling trip tomorrow!  We then had another swim, showered and changed into our nice newly clean clothes, and headed for the restaurant, stopping to chat to the Germans.  Ended up sharing a table, and having our meal together - really lovely evening.  They are doing things slightly differently - flying out for 3weeks or so and travelling around, then leaving the vehicle with locals to return to work to save some more before planning their next instalment.  Great fun chatting to them.  Food was delicious though the white wine was a bit strange! We each had a glass and all thought it more like an odd kind of sherry rather than wine!
They invited us to their site for a beer when the Peponi staff started dimming the lights at about 9pm ready to close the bar.  We talked some more before it got a bit late and we all decided we needed some beauty sleep.  Said our goodnights and set off to brush teeth and wash feet (going barefoot to dinner felt very beach-holiday-like, but bringing heaps of sand into the rooftent is a mutually agreed no-no!)
Very hot again, and the bushbabies were making a real racket, so fitful sleep!

Day 119 Sunday 1st February TANZANIA (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(M) Had a snorkelling trip booked in for 12:00, so managed a lazy lie in and pancakes with star fruit for breakfast.  At noon 13 of us gathered for the dhow journey across to the reef.  Steve managed to embed a bunch of urchin spines in his toes while wading out to Pepi the boat, which looked a bit nasty.  After an hour's journey, mainly under wind power, we arrived at the reef.  It was shallow and great for snorkelling, with some lovely corals and sealife - might be unfair to compare it to the Red Sea but well worth the price of US$10 per hour, shared between all passengers.  After a short picnic lunch on the sand island near the reef, it was time to return to camp.
Another lazy afternoon and we decided to share a braai with Steve and Caroline.  We had boerewors, they had charcoal - a match made in heaven.  Managed to borrow a braai from the camp and sat chatting for the rest of the evening.  Sarah had a bit of a fright returning from the bathroom later, when a bushbaby crossed paths with her.  Had quite a nice sighting of it bounding across the roof of one of the shelters.  Then bed early again.

Day 120 Monday 2nd February TANZANIA (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(S) Mike's swimming baggies have disappeared.  He left them in the showers by mistake last night and this morning they've gone, so I had my morning swim on my own today.  We'll try the next door resort as they have a pretty clothes and beaded sandals shop.  Slow morning of more reading... I've nearly finished my book exchange Dick Francis, so will have to swap again soon. By late-morning we were ready for lunch so went next door to get a baguette, do a quick internet stint and check out the cozzies for sale.  Unfortunately they were all in Xlarge sizes, and hefty prices anyway, so looks like Mike'll be using his shorts instead.
The rest of the afternoon was spent reading, swimming, preparing our bags for the trip tomorrow and emptying the fridge.  We had a simple dinner of bubble&squeak like beans and potatoes before packing everything away and making plans to leave the cars for a few days.  Bed at a reasonable hour, but too anxious to sleep well - the alarm is set for 5.20am and we always anticipate early alarms, plus a little nervous about the channel crossing.  There was also a really annoying night sound - either a bat's echo-location shriek or an insect whistle, but too repetitive and piercing to ignore!

Day 121 Tuesday 3rd February TANZANIA - ZANZIBAR (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(M) Ish, 05:20 is early!  We both felt groggy after a poor night's sleep and an early morning, but managed to shove down a bowl of cereal and some seasick tablets.  The taxi to Pangani was already waiting for us when we took the cars around to park them at reception.  Five of us were sharing the dhow across and I think were all looking forward to the trip with a degree of trepidation.  The idea of three or four hours cooped up in a rocking wooden tub, out of sight of land and uncertain of the legality of the crossing was cause for some tension.  Actually, I think it is legal but not encouraged by the authorities, as we did still have to write down our passport details.
After a bumpy, half hour drive we arrived in Pangani and were introduced to our skipper, Wahid, and his helper.  The boat was about 10 metres long and two wide, with a tarpaulin for shelter.  I was a bit disappointed that there was no sail, but in retrospect the two outboard motors were a good thing (one just kept as backup I think).  We loaded up our kit and got moving pretty much straight away, trying to beat the winds.  There were quite a lot of boats heading out to sea; all local dhows of varying sizes.  We passed one dhow loaded full of fruit and passengers - one of the reasons this crossing is frowned upon.  Apparently Zanzibar is a free port and trafficking of goods and people is commonplace.
When we made it to open ocean Wahid threw out a line with a lure, hoping to latch into something en route.  I think we were all hoping he would too - there's a lot of good game fishing in these waters.  The sea was clean and not too violent but the boat pitched and rolled and slewed about the place anyway. After an hour Caroline was leaning on the gunwales looking a bit worse for wear and Sarah was keen to know how much longer we still had to go.  I felt ok, though not at my perky best.  Steve and Doreen both looked fine.  A dolphin sighting as we chugged along did help though, but when land finally became visible on the horizon we still had over an hour to go.  Eventually the turquoise waters of Zanzibar's north coast became clear.
Wahid piloted the boat into the shallow waters at Kendwa Rocks resort.  A few swimmers had to get out of our way and a member of staff from the resort waded out to help pull the boat alongside.  We hopped out, grabbed the bags and let the boat make its way back to Tanzania.  The crossing took three and a half hours - we'd call him to organise the return journey in a few days.
The guy from the resort was keen to show us the rooms so we followed him to reception.  It looked expensive though so four of us returned to the bar to regroup and have a nosh, while he took Doreen to find a cheaper place.  The rest of us decided to catch a dalla dalla (spell?) into Stonetown instead, to make a plan from there.  The walk to the main road was about 20 minutes though, and we had a few taxi drivers from the hotel trying to coerce us into using their rides instead.  At 10000 shillings each instead of 2000 on the dalla dalla we opted to stick with our plan, picking up a dalla almost immediately.  It was going the wrong way though, and we had a 15 minute journey to the turnaround point and back.  They're different to other local transports I've come across as well - rather than minibuses, they use small open sided trucks with hard bench seating.  They get just as crowded though, so it was an uncomfortable ride into Stonetown.
As soon as we arrived we were set upon by a couple of guys wanting to show us to a hotel.  We tried four places and settled on 'Bottoms Up', which was cleanish and had a roof terrace in the middle of the old town.  It wasn't great but the guy on reception, Simba, seemed helpful and was prepared to drop his rates a bit.  After a cool shower and a bit of a rest we went downstairs to ask Simba to book us onto a spice tour, and then headed out to walk around the town.  The old town is great - really run down with narrow, confused alleyways between the historic buildings.  Sarah and I made our way to the Gardens market where cooks man their stalls, preparing local cuisine.  It's a bit of a tourist attraction but there were plenty of locals about too - and some weirdos.  The food was reasonably priced and we made a couple of selections, sitting on the grass to eat.  Bumped into Steve and Caroline just as we were getting desert of banana-chocolate Zanzibar pizza.
Back at the hotel we tried, unsuccessfully, to set up our mozzie net over the two single beds, and settled in for a hot and uncomfortable night of being bitten by the bloodsuckers - and all this nonsense about the best Malaria prevention being to avoid being bitten.  It's not possible.

Day 122 Wednesday 4th February ZANZIBAR (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(S) We were scheduled for collection at 8.30am, so were up and raring to go an hour or so beforehand.  The four of us were joined by another couple on the roof terrace, as we waited for breakfast to materialise.  Alex, a New Yorker, and Fiona, from Australia, had just finished volunteering near Mwanza and were also booked on the Spice Tour.  Mr Simba huffed his way up the stairs and delivered tasty omelettes with bread, sweet tea as well as mango and bananas.  We were then rushed downstairs and shepherded past another hotel or two gathering mzungus as we went.  Piling onto a matatu taxi, we detoured past an office where we collected our guide and another couple, before stopping at the market to buy supplies for our Spice lunch.  The fish section was something else - every conceivable variety of sea dwelling life was laid out, and there far too many sailfish available for my liking - blue marlin are endangered in most parts of the world now I think? 
We then rocketed out of town, up the highest point on the island (about 110m above sea level or so) to a small-scale farm, where they harvest spices, fruit, coconuts and grains.  We were surrounded by young men, who proceeded to follow our progress through the plantations, expertly weaving trinkets out of palm branches - jewellery, baskets, hats etc. and giving them to each of us in turn.  The tour was great, and our guide very knowledgeable.  We got to taste and smell and touch all the different spices and ripe fruits, and the hour skimmed by.
The guys have a bit of a racket going though, offering to accept a tip on behalf of the group, promising to divide it out later.  But when we'd each been hassled more than once by someone claiming that the guy who'd accepted the money wouldn't share, we got a little annoyed and had to insist they sort it out amongst themselves.
From there we stopped in at the Sultan's Baths - apparently the hammam that the Omani sultan built to enjoy with his wife when he lived in Unguja/Zanzibar.  It was in quite a state of disrepair, but nice and cool inside.  After a quick explanation, our guide apologised, saying he'd had a phone call and his daughter is ill so he had to rush home.  Concerned for him, we were happy to rush the visit and wished him the best as we dropped him off back at the main road.  Hope all was ok?  Our remaining escort then took us to a village where we were due to have a proper Spice lunch.  It was certainly tasty - pilau rice with five spices, a hot coconut sauce, with chipati flatbread to scoop it all up in.  The ice-cold Cokes were also pretty good!
Bellies full, we turned to the coast and parked near some old slave caves.  I tend to get a bit spooked by those sort of things, so was happy when some of the others also declined, and we all sat in the shade while a small group set off to investigate.  Transpires that the guide's English was unintelligible, and the caves nothing special - very eroded and derelict, and the most interesting element, the tunnels - all blocked off.
We then had an hour or two to have a swim, so strolled along the path down to the most gorgeous beach.  Soft white sand, clear turquoise sea, rugged rocky coastline - paradise.  The water was lovely and cool, so we swam for ages, striking out towards a dhow anchored quite far off shore.  Sadly we had to return at about 3pm, so set off back to the taxi.  Mike realised he'd left his shorts behind (becoming a recurring theme) so had to run back to retrieve them.  The journey back to town was comparably uneventful, and we were rather pleased to be able to have a nice cold shower and change out of our wet clothes back at the hotel.
When we asked about possibly going on a dolphin tour, Mr Simba eagerly offered to organise it on our behalf, for tomorrow, so we suggested that we pick up a message from Steve and Caroline at an East coast resort the day after, to make a plan for our return to Peponi.  We weren't sure if there were others keen to do the tour, and the group "discount" rate was all we could afford, so had to wait with baited breath to see what would transpire.  Towards evening we set off to buy a bottle of water, amusing the Muslim saleslady when we thanked her in Arabic.  We did a quick internet session before wandering through the maze of old streets so that I could get some photos of the ornate wooden doors before dark.  We stopped to buy some samoosas at a small stall, but they were a bit stale unfortunately.  We also selected some chicken kebabs and chapattis, that we decided to enjoy on the roof terrace, with a Serengeti beer from the bar next door.  Really special being up there, a warm breeze, pretty lights, and prospects of swimming with dolphins tomorrow! How exciting!

Day 123 Thursday 5th February ZANZIBAR (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(M) We joined Alex, Fiona, Steve and Caroline at 08:00 for breakfast, but Simba wasn't quite as punctual today.  Eventually, at 08:35 the breakfast arrived but with the message that Alex and Fiona must hurry because their transport was waiting!  Still not even sure if we were booked onto a dolphin tour so we were a bit surprised to get a similar message a few minutes later.  Even more surprised to discover that there were no others joining us, as we'd understood that the price would only stand if there was a bigger group.  In a way we were hoping it hadn't been organised because it seems you can do it cheaper by making your own way to the beach in the south and paying a boat to take you out.  Oh well.  The taxi driver who came to collect us was a bit sullen but seemed to lighten up as we drove out of town and collected our guide.  We learned that there's another city being built on the island, which by the sounds of things may compete for size with Stonetown in 20 years or so.
The beach that the dolphin tours leave from is in the extreme southeast of the island and it took probably an hour and a half to get there.  We were flagged down by police at one stage: we thought for speeding but while the conversation seemed to be getting heated one of the cops came over and handed our guide some money.  Then there was much laughter and we were on our way again.  It was lost on us as we can't understand the language and it didn't seem polite to ask.
At the beach we hired our snorkelling gear and were directed to a boat.  Our guide didn't come with us - still not quite sure why we have one but there you go.  There were a few other boats not far offshore and it only took a couple of minutes to reach them, dropping a local guy with a harpoony thing into the water on the way.  Then we saw the dolphins and our boatman told us to put our masks etc on and get ready to jump.  It wasn't elegant when we threw ourselves overboard; it was functional.  The first dolphins we saw were a mother and calf.  They were only a couple of metres away and didn't seem too disturbed by our presence, though tired of us after a few moments and we watched them disappear vertically into the deep.  Back to the boat and we waited for them to re-emerge.  Then, on with the kit and wildly into the water again, making sure to ingest what sea water we could on the way in.  We repeated this pattern a number of times, seeing the mother and calf a few times and also another one, which joined them at one stage.  There were tourists on the other boats and in the water as well, so there wasn't a lot of peace with the majestic creatures.  It was fun, though not quite the 'dolphins coming for a play' experience we'd imagined.  It also felt like we were chasing them a bit, so left them in peace to get on with their hunting after a while.
We stopped at a small patch of reef on the way back and snorkelled for a short while, also collecting a crayfish that our hunting man had caught in the interim.  He had a small ray and an octopus on the end of his spear but didn't send those back with us.  According to our boatman he would stay out for another 4-5 hours.
Back on land we were served up a tasty lunch and then asked about picking up a dalla dalla to Jambiani village rather than returning to Stonetown.  It cost us a little extra but our driver agreed to take us there instead.  This worked out well because the first place we tried didn't have availability and the next two were a bit pricey.  He knew his way around and managed to get us an offer of a 'guesthouse' for 30 dollars.  It was pretty basic but right on the beach and had all we needed.
After settling in we went for a swim.  We got pretty far out (almost a kilometre perhaps?) but it was shallow enough to walk / wade most of that.  When we finally made our way back to shore we were in need of a feed so had a quick shower and walked into the village to pick up a few things.  It's not a massive place though, so the best we could manage was a few biscuits, some water and a bundle of fruit.  Not really enough for a feast and we'd hoped not to have to go out for dinner.  Unfortunately, I still had a hungry so a bit later we made our way to one of the other restaurants for a drink and a plate of hot chips.  More or less satisfied we wandered back along the beach to our room and lay down for another hot, sticky night.

Day 124 Friday 6th February ZANZIBAR (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(S) Considering how early we'd gone to bed, it was terrible that we were feeling so lazy and even managed to sleep in a bit.  Blame it on the already soporific heat, and the fact that we're finally relaxing and even letting ourselves get bored!
Breakfast was cheerfully delivered at about 8am - spiced tea, a variety of fresh breads and fruit - totally delicious.  The tide was so far out that a swim was out of the question, so we easily packed up and said our farewells before the dalla-dalla was due to zoom past.  Loitered on the roadside as the village started to come to life.  A little girl and her littler brother came to investigate us, and we had fun teasing them and making them laugh.  Also chatted to a few locals, who all seem to be guides or own a taxi or both!  Guess it's a reliable way to make a living here. 
Finally the taxi arrived, and we and our bags were crammed in at the back.  It was a squished, bumpy and uncomfortable ride - more and more people got on, a number with babies, and the young men progressively made their way outside to the bumper, hanging on the back.  Every large pothole threatened to chuck them off, but they seemed not to mind the dust, and clung on expertly enough.
We got a bit nervous when we turned inland, hoping that we hadn't missed Paje beach and were now en route to Stonetown, but were reassured when we saw a sign for the Cristal hotel.  Squeezed out and paid our 500TSh each, then walked along to pick up our message.  Learned that Steve and Caroline had stayed next door, and had left all of 20mins before we got there! Such bad luck with the timing - but we rushed about to see if we could catch them.  No joy, so now we needed to get to Stonetown.  The beach was gorgeous and we were a bit hot and bothered, but needed to get moving so set off back towards the road.  Stopped for an expensive miniature scoop of ice cream.  An air-conditioned bus arrived, so we travelled in rather more comfort, but again, no red colobus monkeys helpfully sitting near the road by the forest, so it was a bit of a boring journey.
One of the tout/beach boys from our first day attached himself to us as we strolled back to Bottom's up, even following as we detoured for some water and milk.  Simba looked thrilled to see us again, though a little crestfallen that he'd given our room to a German couple.  We didn't mind! 
Catching up with Steve and Caro we had lunch and banana milkshake, before setting off for a stroll to check out the curio shops. All a bit overwhelming, with constant sales patter and over-familiarity that becomes awkward and annoying.  There was a lovely antique shop that we found solitude in, finally managing to have a look around without being pushed.  They had a marvellous old telephone, and some beautiful old compasses.  After running the tourist shop gauntlet, we stopped to buy cold drinks, then went back to the roof terrace to enjoy an afternoon snack of juicy mango.  Mike called Wahid, and he was happy to meet us at noon tomorrow for our journey back to Pangani.  It started to rain, but not heavily, so we chilled for a bit, then decided to do a quick internet stint before heading to the gardens market for dinner.  Wandering about checking out the stalls, we soon noticed a man following us, stalker-like.  Not sure if he was just curious, a pickpocket or mad, but his eyes were a bit wild and his clothes were all dishevelled, so we simply tried to lose him in the crowd.  But he was very persistent and not terribly subtle.  After about 5mins of purposefully dodging him and using body language to tell him we knew he was shadowing our every move, I eventually gave in to my discomfort and blatantly asked him to stop following us.  With a spooky sort of half-smile he turned and melted away into the crowd.  Weird.  Trying not to let it spoil the evening, we bantered with the chefs and piled our plates with delicious food, spicy and fresh.  Having not had a proper meal other than our nice fruity breakfasts for a few days, Mike had a healthy appetite and even gave in to ordering a Zanzibar pizza - dough thinly rolled out and covered with mince and veggies with spices, fried with another dough square over the top.  So yummy.  We then shared a plantain/banana chocolate version that was covered in choc syrup.
Walked back through the dark alleys to the guest house, where we gratefully had another cold shower, did battle with the mosquito nets trying to stretch them over the four-poster sides of the bed, and put the ceiling fan on its highest setting.  Back to the mainland tomorrow, and we're both a little anxious about the boat journey!

Day 125 Saturday 7th February ZANZIBAR - TANZANIA (0 miles, Total 15,625 miles)
(M) What a night!  I thought darkness was here to stay - the mozzie's got in under or through the net wherever there was contact.  Not ones to complain though, we managed to haul what remained of our anaemic carcasses out of bed and up the stairs to breakfast.
The day was a bit overcast and Simba brought breakfast late again.  We were a bit anxious to get up north as the plan with Wahid was made on a borrowed phone, during a very short phonecall, on a crackly line.  It sounded to me like he said to meet him on the beach sometime between 11:00 and noon and we weren't sure if he'd be able to moor there if we weren't waiting when he arrived. We checked out and headed straight for the dalla dalla ranks as soon as breakfast was done.
The transport was still an open sided truck with hard bench seats, but a slightly larger variety and it never filled up, so the journey was reasonably pleasant.  We got there at about 11:20, a little before Caroline and Steve who were with us on the truck, but decided to stop for a ginger beer (apparently ginger helps with seasickness) on the walk from the taxi.  Wahid's boat was already there but we had to wait for a bit anyway, while pineapples etc were offloaded. At 12:00 we headed out to sea.  The signs were ominous when Wahid and his boathand put up a tarpaulin along one side of the vessel. The wind had picked up and the sea was much bigger than the other day.  Wahid just laughed as the boat was rolled and pushed sideways by walls of water, sliding down the other side.  Sarah was next to the tarpaulin so couldn't see the waves coming, having to judge the size of them by Steve's and my reactions.  Surprisingly, neither of us felt ill at all though just a bit nervous.  The journey was slower, having to alter course for the wind and waves and near the end of the four and a half hours there was a sudden sound, like a line being snagged by the propeller.  Wahid had hooked into a decent size kingfish, which they brought to the boat quickly, gaffed and clubbed.  When he landed the boat and we were waiting around to make our way to a taxi, he brought us some of the fish steaks, hastily but expertly prepared, for dinner.  We'd been talking about buying a fish to cook on the braai, so it was a really nice surprise. We hadn't really seen much of Pangani on the way in but it seemed a friendly and relaxed place.  There was a market next to the taxi terminal as well, so stocked up on a few bits before the tiring journey back to Peponi.  Arriving there was like getting home; an easy and familiar place.  We didn't get our same campsite again but were only staying the night so didn't really mind.  After a refreshing shower and a quick wash of some of our clothes we went to buy some beers and joined Steve and Caroline at their camp to help prepare potatoes for the potjie and fish for the braai.  What a way to end an exciting day.

Day 126 Sunday 8th February TANZANIA (318.9 miles, Total 15,943.9 miles)
(S) Today we hit the road again.  Just as well that the sky was a little overcast and the tide way out, or it would have been even harder to say goodbye to the coast and head inland!  I had also really wanted to have one last swim but will have to wait for Lake Malawi instead.  It took us a while to pack up and get ourselves organised.  While I washed the braai grid and dinner dishes Mike paid the bill, getting some advice from Dennis on where to stay for the next few nights.  We also had to say our farewells to Steve & Caroline, who kindly gave us some of their nicely ripened mangos as a parting gift. We then set off in a flourish, foolishly leaving our wooden blocks behind - only realised when we set up tonight that we'd just driven off without them.  Triply annoying - they're useful under the wheels to even us out on a slight slope, they're designed to support the platform bed in the loadbay and they were also tagged to be used as our jacking plates.  Fiddlesticks.
There were some serious roadworks just before Tanga, so we had to detour substantially.  Meant we could stop in at the local market to pick up some veggies and a perfect coconut.  The fish on sale was already a bit fragrant, so we had a good look then continued on.  Felt a bit weird retracing our steps, and we got a bit fearful when there seemed to be no diesel available - tempers were nearly flaring before we were directed to a fuel station that had enough to let us fill up.  Moods improved, we could enjoy the scenery as we carried on south.  At one stage, we stopped to rescue a large chameleon that was inching his way across the busy road.  He refused to climb onto a branch so we could assist him, and in a moment of foolishness I picked him up.  He got very angry, hissing, clutching at my fingers and making himself all spiky and tense - horrible!  I couldn't get him to the grass fast enough!
The drive was pleasant enough, though we had one moment of mild panic when Mike was pulled over by one of the ever-present Tanz traffic police in their smart white uniforms.  The cop came swaggering over, and shoved his hair-dryer shaped laser camera thingy into the window. We were convinced he was going to try and extort a fine from us, even though Mike was absolutely certain he'd been going the speed limit.  Instead, with a beaming smile, the cop praised Mike for being such a good driver - he was going 52km an hour in a 50km zone (not bad for a 3tonne vehicle with a speedometer in miles!) and told us to watch out for the sharp bends ahead.  Weird, never been stopped by the police for going the correct speed!
A bit short of lunch ingredients, we stopped on a pass for some popcorn, and then carried on to Morogoro.  The town is in a very pretty setting, but we were now in a rush, and as there were no battery centres, and the markets listed in our GPS were closed, we had to stop in at a fuel station superette-type shop for some groceries.  We pushed on, through lush green hills, dotted with giant leafy baobabs, as the clouds gathered and the sky went black.  Soon we were sloshing through a huge rainstorm, the pedestrians and cyclists looking miserably resigned to getting very, very wet.  Soon we were driving through the Mikumi National Park - they don't charge to use the main road in transit, so we were especially delighted to see large troops of long-legged, confident baboons.  At one stretch, we were treated to a herd of elephant with two babies in the group, lots of giraffe, zebra, impala, and warties.  They all looked totally unperturbed by us, the transport trucks thundering by, or the incessant rain, and it was really cool to see them all congregate together like that. Further on we saw loads of buffalo wallowing in the mud, and lots more elephant.
As it was getting dark, we pulled in to the Tan-Swiss resort, where we arranged to camp in the parking area.  Had tuna tomato pasta and our last G&Ts while we did diary and read a bit.  Had a cold shower and then got ready for bed.  Annoyingly, the night staff not only were having a very loud conversation, but had the TV on high volume - which sounded like it was taking place right next to the tent.  Acknowledge that it's got to be a lonely, boring job - but they kept on and on until very late.  And then began again, very early.  Added to that, the mosquitos were crawling through the gaps to torture me.  I kept having to turn on the headtorch to hunt them down.  I'm not usually an advocate of murder - but that perpetual buzzing just as I felt I was falling into slumber, over and over again, was enough for me to abandon my principles and commit mass murder.  Meant we both had a fitful night's sleep.

Day 127 Monday 9th February TANZANIA (167.8 miles, Total 16,111.7 miles)
(M) Not much distance to cover today.  We left after a leisurely breakfast for the drive to Iringa, planning to visit a battery centre and have our diff and gear oils checked, before passing through to Kisolanza Farm (about 40km further on).  The drive was ok, with fewer police about than usual.  We've not had a bad experience yet, but have been driving incredibly carefully and, after all the other traveller's reports we've read, we are expecting to be charged with some offence before our time in Tanzania comes to an end.
Iringa (or what we thought was Iringa) was not what we'd hoped for.  A few petrol stations dotted along the side of the road.  An 'Oryx' station seemed the most professional and had a carwash and lubrication bay so we decided to stop first and have the levels checked.  Mistake.  I should have been alerted to the ineptitude when the guy directed me over the pit and then went underneath in his Sunday-best denim jacket.  I should also have been alerted when he asked me to pop the bonnet after I asked him to check the gear oil.  I like to give people the benefit of the doubt though, and he did keep calling another fellow over, who did seem to know what a car was.  And they set about checking the oil on the rear diff.  When I saw him a few minutes later trying to loosen the bung on the bottom of the differential casing, I thought to remind him that that would drain the oil and we didn't really want to replace it.  He then pointed out that bung one had fallen into the casing (not again; this happened in Cairo as well).  The next hour was spent with them draining the oil and removing the cover to access the screw.  Hmmmmm.  One of the guys went to fetch a plastic bottle and length of hosing and, ominously, made moves to pour our old oil back into the diff.  We had no idea if the bucket they'd drained it into was dirty, or whether rust and grit had now fallen in from all the banging about under the car, but were less than keen for pieces of gunge to be inflicted on our diff gears, so suggested that they replace it with new oil.  Then followed more comedy, with a dilapidated semi functional oil pump having to be employed.  Once safely back together, they managed to fumble about checking the front diff and gearbox - still not entirely sure I trust their assurances that all is fine, so we'll check again soon.
We realised that we weren't really in Iringa proper.  Most of the town is across the river and so we made our way there to see about the batteries.  One of our batteries is cracked and the other is bulging a bit, which I'm sure isn't good - even if you discount all the corrosion.  We found a shop and parked at a fuel station.  Then, when we went to remove one of the old batteries (which were new when we started the trip!), we noticed that there was leakage again.  Some of the acid spilled and started eating, with a hiss, into the metal frame - lovely.  Time to change them methinks. I hope the new ones are ok quality.  They weren't cheap and couldn't be secured with our existing bracket, so for the time being are being held in with a strap.  We had to wait for about an hour while they were filled and allowed to stand and charge - apparently this is necessary.
After our expensive stop we decided against having the car jet-sprayed and left town for the promised land - Kisolanza.  The farm comes recommended by pretty much everyone, both for the lovely setting of the campsite and also the good food (and you can buy veg, meat, eggs and bread fresh from them too!).  It was nice too.  Very much like home in Howick as we approached.  We were directed to a sandy, shaded site and discovered that our German friends had just left that morning.  Wondered if we'd catch up with them here but 'twas not to be.  Mark, the manager came over to chat to us.  A great guy and really interesting too.  He's from the UK and is a prolific walker, having completed the width of Canada, North Cape to Gibralter, and John O'Groats to Lands End at different times.  Plus two trans-africa trips by truck in the late '80s.  Wow! 
Since it had been such a pricey day anyway, we decided to blow it all and treat ourselves to dinner in the restaurant.  For just US$12 each we were hosted to a 3 course meal in a candlelit, decorated old farm ruin.  It was wonderful, all washed down with Ndovu beer.  Highly recommended as a stop over, or even to spend a few days.
Nice hot shower before bed.

Day 128 Tuesday 10th February TANZANIA (0 miles, Total 16,111.7 miles)
(S) Today was supposed to be a rest day, but in fact it was a bit of a disaster.  We slept in for too long.  Meant we had a soporific start and never really perked up.  We struggled to get the Kelly kettle going, and resorted to cheating and using diesel soaked cardboard. A highlight was when Mark came by at one stage, pointing out a marvellous chameleon who made swift progress up a tree.  Other than that nothing really happened in the morning.  We read our books, pottered around, and by lunchtime were suitable lazy enough to start thinking about checking the bolts and doing some diary catch-up.  And then down came the rain.  Mike had made it around most of the cab before we thought to try and put the chairs and stuff out of the wet, and then it started really bucketing down.  He got drenched, everything else was soaked, and the rain wouldn't let up.  My shoes virtually floated away, while we huddled in the back trying to dry off.  The bungee cord that holds the cupboard door up flicked out of its socket and smashed our precious fluorescent light.  The soup I made for lunch tasted horrible.  We soon got annoyed with each other in the claustrophobic Landy.  In general we felt very hard done by!  Even a lovely hot shower failed to really improve our moods, and we declined the offer of dinner in the restaurant again.  Instead we had a half-heartedly prepared meal, washed dishes, packed up and went to bed early to read.  The mattress and pillows were damp and I got a back-full of water from the flysheet when I climbed up the ladder.  Tomorrow will be a better day or else!

Day 129 Wednesday 11th February TANZANIA (191.4 miles, Total 16,303.1 miles)
(M) Didn't let ourselves lie in too late as we had stuff to get done.  Had a quick bite to eat and then our veggie box and meat were delivered while I was off doing the dishes.  The two sirloin steaks came to over a kilogram! And we have leeks for the first time in ages, and broccoli and cauliflower and fennel and stuff!  I wouldn't normally get excited but these things aren't easily found, so it's nice to have the variety.  Actually I would usually get excited about two steaks that weigh in at over a kilo.  After chatting again to Mark we headed out of camp and made our way to Mbeya.  Both of us were sorry to leave but we're looking forward to Malawi now.
The drive took us a few hours but was easy going, with no police stops or anything.  We've still not had to negotiate ourselves out of a fine so must conclude that either we're driving really well, or we've been very lucky.  OR all the hype is nonsense.  Anyway, when we approached the town the shops lining the road into Mbeya seemed to be mostly hardware stores - a good thing, as we wanted to replace the light that broke yesterday.  Unfortunately it turned out that they didn't stock our size. We tried six or seven places without luck, so will have to make do with torches for the time being.  Mbeya is a reasonably big place though, and we planned to buy another rubber exhaust mount, spend some time on the internet and get a few groceries while we were there, though we didn't have a great feeling about the place.  We headed into the town centre and passed the Land Rover garage on our way in, but first stop was internet. After driving around trying to follow the GPS we decided to park and walk.  Still, the only place we could find was the post office, and even there we had to wait for a computer.  We decided to get the shopping done in the meantime and headed for the small store across the road, pointed out to us by the woman in the PO.  It wasn't what we'd had in mind but did stock some of the basics, in amongst the cockroaches.  Fortunately we didn't need much.
Back at the internet café we spent an hour quickly scanning our messages and sending a few hasty replies.  The connection wasn't slow but it's amazing how long everything takes; we would've spent longer, but without wireless we weren't able to upload photos or copy our diary in anyway, so left to get the rest of our chores done.  We did find a bureaux de change but the banks were closed and we didn't get the money we'd hoped for - so far not the most successful day.  The Land Rover place was closing when we got there too!  Not holding out too much hope we made our way to the Karibuni camping, which we had coordinates for.  As the scenery became more and more industrial the little hope we did have began to fade too, and it was a pleasant surprise to arrive at the mission.  The site is very well looked after and offers rooms as well as camping (the rooms have hot showers) at a very reasonable rate.  It was also secure and quiet - just what we needed.  And they had six ridgeback puppies!  This is the first mission we've stayed at and we decided we'd do our own thing for dinner but show a bit of support for the restaurant with a coffee or something later.
Neither of us was particularly hungry so we just made a monster salad for dinner, while we watched (or tried to watch) Wild Hogs.  The movie kept jumping and sticking and eventually gave up the ghost altogether.  And so did we...


Day 130 Thursday 12th February TANZANIA - MALAWI (167 miles, Total 16,470.1 miles)
(S) Border day today.  We ordered yummy tomato snackwiches for breakfast, having a nice chat to the assistant pastor who'd visited Cape Town a few years ago.  From Karibuni we went into town to try and get our chores done for the morning.  Unfortunately it seems that Mapenzi is in rather a worse state than we thought.  Driving her over the pit in the Land Rover garage to have the exhaust mounting looked at, the mechanic gave us the grave news that the oil leaks we've been monitoring are more serious that we'd assumed.  Reluctantly we agreed to pay a lot of money for replacement seals, and left them to it while we went on our money-mission.  First the forex place, then the ATM, then another ATM and then another... Either Barclays have stopped Mike's card again, or these cash machines lie and don't actually accept Visa.  Anyway, after an hour or more of bank-hopping, withdrawing endless small amounts of cash, we still didn't really have enough and were yet to exchange the shillings for dollars.  Back at the mechanic, we heard the news that there was abnormal wear on one of the diff parts, would cost the same amount again that we'd already been quoted, for a new one! Ouch! Now we definitely had a cashflow problem...  Leaving Mike to supervise the fitting of the new part and see if we now needed new oil as well, I set off to buy dollars.
At mid-day, anxious to get to the border still, we finally had money, in both currencies, and a Landy that had been put back together.  Had a mild panic when we could both smell burning brakes as we drove away.  Making a u-turn, we were directed over the pit again and had reassurances that the handbrake was indeed disengaging and it was just the light that was faulty, so set off again shortly afterwards.
This time there was no acrid smell from the underside of the vehicle so we drove solidly until we got to a small town before the border.  Finished our shillings by buying fuel, and exchanged some dollars with a friendly money-changer who approached us and offered a pretty decent rate.  At the border, we were inundated by money-changers, but tried to gently fob them off.  Kinda ironic that they were all hassling us right next to a large sign stating that money changing is prohibited at the border!
We filled in exit cards and were stamped out in no time, but of course, were pulled up by the Tanz customs guys for not having paid our "road toll".  Despite protesting that the border officials in Rusomo Falls had insisted that there were no charges, they forced us to handover $25 and took ages to print out the receipts.  Oh well!
The Malawi side was noticeably friendlier - and sorted out our paperwork in even quicker fashion.  Soon we were enjoying the change in scenery and the good tar road.  We did get a brief glimpse of the lake and then again were driving past villages and endless people walking, walking, walking.  At a roadblock we were approached by a mild-mannered traffic cop who asked us conspiratorially what we had brought with us.  Confused, we admitted that we had veg and meat in our fridge.  Pursing his lips he tried a different tack, suggesting that we maybe had Indian hemp with us?  I cluelessly asked if he meant henna for painting your hands before he took pity on me and said, "No - ganja? Dope? Dagga?".  Ahhh!  Assuring him that we didn't, he waved us through with a shake of the head.
We then pushed hard to get to Chitimba beach.  There were craft stalls set up just outside their gate, but we managed to get through with only one guy getting a little too excited, shouting "My name is Vin Diesel!" through the open windows.  Their setup is lovely, right on the beach, and the lake was gloriously blue.  We put up our tent and set about chilling for the afternoon, until the heavens opened.  Soon the whole campsite was under water.  It was my turn to get utterly soaked, jeans dripping as I rushed about trying to rescue chairs etc.  We cooked yummy mince spaghetti while we waited for it to stop, steaming up the whole car.  After dinner we hit the bar, enjoying the local beer while we chatted to Mimi, a lovely English girl travelling with a big overland truck, and some of her fellow travellers, before we decided it was time to shower and consider climbing up into the rather damp tent.  She was craving some mint-tea, and Mike being one to never-ever turn down a chance to enjoy a cuppa cha, we boiled some water back at the car before saying our goodnights.

Day 131 Friday 13th February MALAWI (0 miles, Total 16,470.1 miles)
(M) A much anticipated day of chilling - wouldn't want to upset fate on Friday 13th of course - so we allowed ourselves a bit of a lie in before getting up for breakfast.  We both had some laundry to get done and also wanted to dry out the bedding, which feels a bit damp after the past few day's rains.  Chores first!  I surprised a small green snake in a bush near the washing lines, but only got a brief glimpse before it made a hasty getaway. 
We still hadn't even ventured onto the beach, so with the morning's boggels out of the way we went for a stroll down to the water's edge.  The curio seller, Vincent (Vin Diesel) was there - we're starting to get the feeling he's following us - and I had a chat to him.  He wasn't as annoying as I expected; I thought it was going to be hard sell all the way but he was there for a swim and instead told me a bit about the area and Livingstonia etc.  Another chap, Reg, came up to join him and did manage to coerce us into buying a couple of small curios.
It was only mid-morning but already hot standing out in the sun, so we abandoned our walk (all of about 50m) and went to sit in the bar with a soft drink.  Read up a bit on some of the tourist spots in the area and were disappointed to find out that the lodge at Nyika is currently closed and therefore has no activities available.  We'd planned to head that way tomorrow, as Sarah is very keen on horse-riding in the reserve.  There is other riding down at Kande Beach though, so our plans may change.
Sarah cooked up a light pasta lunch and we spent the afternoon sitting around reading and plucking up the energy to run the gauntlet of curio sellers outside the gates.  They all have nice things but how to choose who to buy from, if anyone!  Just before we did go out at 16:00 we realised we might have a problem anyway - not enough Kwachas to buy anything worthwhile - so unless they'd accept dollars it wasn't going to happen.  We did go out though, as promised, and were immediately set upon with sales pitches from all directions.  We really liked their bookends, jewellery boxes, salt & pepper pots and various carvings, so it was clear there were going to be some hard decisions to make.  It doesn't help when all the sellers are vying for your attention at the same time though, so we opted not to buy today and made our escape back behind the relative protection of the camp's reed fence.
Fortunately no more rain today and we had a relaxing evening with a couple of drinks and an experimental potato and fennel 'bake'.  It was pretty good actually.
All these days off and I'm doing well on my big fat book.

Day 132 Saturday 14th February MALAWI (131 miles, Total 16,601.1 miles)
(S) Happy Valentine's day!
The overland truck had already gone, despite that fact that we were up pretty early.  Packed, paid, said our goodbyes and drove the Landy out the gates to park just past the curio stalls.  Spent a good hour bargaining with the guys, probably getting ripped off a bit, but managing to spend just over what we were happy to pay.  So all round it was a fair deal I guess!  Mike finally parted with his tatty old trainers as a part of the trade, and we managed to get change from our dollars in Kwachas.  Heavily laden with our new wooden carvings, we were finally allowed to depart, giving in and letting some of the guys hitch a ride on the back as far as the road. 
The drive up to Livingstonia was very scenic if a little steep -gaining 700m in height in about 16kms apparently.  Some of the overland truck group had hiked it yesterday and said it was very hard work but raved about the view, so we kinda knew what to expect.  It's supposedly a 4x4 only route, but Mapenzi made it look easy, even if we did have to manoeuvre a little bit around some of the tighter switchbacks (her turning circle isn't exactly dainty).  We were a bit nonplussed to see a sedan hire car zooting up behind us though!  We'd heard that the Mushroom Farm had a great vista, so parked next to a very sad old Series Landy and went to investigate.  It was very nice, but not quite what we'd hoped - ordering an extortionately expensive Fanta each, we chatted to the two guys running the place in the owner's absence, as well as two Dutch med students who we recognised from Chitimba.  Took a photo of the view and continued on to Livinstonia.  The village looked lovely, and everyone was very friendly.  We stopped at Dr Robert Law's one hundred year old house and after chatting for a while to a young Aussie guy waiting for his lunch, we had a look around.  Ended up deciding to have a cup of tea and some hot chips, with the Aussie and a Swedish couple (who were in that same rental car - turns out Christopher was aware of the state of the road, but as it's been fairly dry he thought he'd risk it).  Unfortunately the electricity had gone out, so the chips took ages to arrive.  Luckily we gleaned some great tips from the other travellers on where to head to south, and marvelled at the fab view of the surrounding hills and the lake down below.  When they finally arrived, we scoffed the chips and hurriedly paid, nervous about the road still to be navigated through the valleys past Nyika. 
Apart from a few flooded sections, and a few washed away rocky bits, the road was actually pretty good, and we loved the beautiful scenery and old wooden bridges.  The Nyika plateau and mountains were verdant green and the vegetation lush around the rivers.  The children in the area were also very friendly - the last time we had such exuberant double handed waves was probably back in Sudan.
When we made it to Mzuzu in the late afternoon, we were pleased to find multiple ATMs, so filled up with fuel and got some groceries.  By now it was getting dark, but we decided to press on to Nkatha Bay regardless.  It wasn't the best road, and there were just so many people in the road, walking, cycling, standing etc. which made for a rather stressful journey.  At a police roadblock on the outskirts we had to wait for someone to come and open the boom.  Relying heavily on the GPS, we made our way to Mayoka Village, a place that had been highly recommended.    The road was dreadful but we got there unscathed and parked before making our way down the steep steps to the bar.  It's situated right on the shore of the lake, above some boulders, where the waves crash onto the rocks.  Very funky bar and very lively when we got there.  Luca, the manager said we'd be fine to camp in the parking lot, and convinced us to have their Mexican buffet dinner.  There was a serious lack of privacy up at the car, so neither of us felt terribly like cooking a meal, plus it would be nice to have a Valentine's day treat.  So we set up the tent, sorted ourselves out and then went back down the bar for a beer and tortillas, African style.  The food was actually very tasty, and we had rather a lot of entertainment from the bar staff, hanger's on, traveller clientele etc.  They were all pretty smooth cool dudes, Malawians and backpackers alike!  It was all a bit over the top; vigorous, matey handshakes, earnest memorisation of our names, lots of beer swigging and swaggering about the pool table etc. Harmless of course, but it felt a little exaggerated and not overly genuine...  Anyway, we enjoyed our meal and knackered from the drive and early start we set off back up the hill to the tent.  Had a refreshing cool shower before bed.  Soon realised that we weren't alone - not only was there a lot of coming and going in the car park, noisy taxis revving and drunken backpackers haggling over fares etc, but a marching column of tiny black  ants inside the tent.  It started as an odd tickle on Mike's arm, then leg, then on my feet too, and soon we were staring aghast as in the light of a headtorch, they streamed in through the gap in the tent where it touched a flamboyant tree branch.  Great.  I grabbed the insect spray in desperation from the car, and we guiltily nuked the line of ants.  Tried again to fall asleep despite having to now breath in the noxious fumes, only to realise that the big Saturday night party going on down below was only just warming up, the music soon on full volume.  At about 3am, after dozing fitfully, we woke up for real, with a fresh wave of ants, endless throbbing dance music and another batch of raucous late night revellers returning, to deal with.  Needless to say, we did not sleep well!

Day 133 Sunday 15th February MALAWI (41.5 miles, Total 16,642.6 miles)
(M) We were ready to write off Mayoka as a hideous place to stay, but that wouldn't be fair.  We'd had a rough night, with the music and loud voices outside our tent a couple of times.  The truth, however, is that the music at least was coming from across the bay.  The site is on a steep slope and isn't really set up for overland vehicles, and being in the parking area it's hardly surprising that we were disturbed there.  In their defence they were very accommodating in letting us put the vehicle there, and even offered as dorm beds at the same rate as camping, so we have only ourselves to blame. I still feel it's a bit 'matey', but the setting is beautiful, they lend out snorkelling apparel free of charge, have good food, great rooms etc.  A lot of backpackers seem to end up here for slightly extended stays.
After a breakfast of bananas and bread we wandered down to the bar to pick up some snorkelling gear.  Without fins and the buoyancy of salt water it felt like harder work than usual, but we didn't want to burn anyway, so hadn't planned to stay in long.  Some nice fish though.
Sitting at a table afterwards Sarah was working on the diary while I read, when a Canadian chap, Mache, came over to speak to us.  He was after some new music so we agreed that he could copy some of ours.  Ended up chatting to him for quite a time, while he selected some tunes, but eventually decided it was time to move further down the coast, to Kande Beach.
Not having far to drive is quite a bonus.  We arrived at Kande Beach resort, via a long sandy track from the main road, at around mid afternoon.  First impressions were good - an established looking reception area, nice bar and plenty of seating and hammocks around the place.  And to top it, the best beach we've seen so far.  After checking in we went to find a level spot.  The Africa overland group from Chitimba were there, as we'd expected, but there was also a Dragoman overland truck that we thought we recognised.  The driver, Mark, was the guy we'd met in QE Park about a month ago, and came over to chat to us again.  Funny to think that he'd finished a trip and was already heading back south with his next group.  Nice to catch up again.  Not so nice, was trying to find a level spot.   The whole area is all more or less flat, but when you have to sleep on top of the car, finding perfect level becomes important and we ended up having to use our waffle boards under one of the tyres.  Then, after settling in we got down to some more reading.
As the afternoon wore on we thought we should perhaps have a swim; it being such a nice beach and all.  There's an island that doesn't look too far away, which we thought we might try tomorrow.  We didn't make it quite as far as the water for a while though; instead sitting on the beach catching up with Hermione and watching some volleyball going on next to us.  After a bit of time on the coarse sand my elbows and butt were feeling properly scoured so we had to go into the water to rinse and cool off.
Our sirloin steaks are still patiently waiting to be eaten so I went off in search of some wood or charcoal for a braai.  I was directed to the guy at the gate but that's where my luck ran out.  It seems he'll be able to organise something for tomorrow.  Back to the car to tell Sarah the disappointing news that we'd have to improvise supper again.  Oh well, consoled ourselves with a G&T and then read some more.  This is becoming a bit of a habit (the reading that is).
Pretty fatigued after last night so we didn't waste time doing dishes or any such nonsense.  Straight into bed at about 9:30.

Day 134 Monday 16th February MALAWI (0 miles, Total 16,642.6 miles)
(S) Today I got my birthday present in advance, lucky me!  Up at dawn so that I could rush a quick breakfast before Johnny, the Kande Riding centre owner came to collect us.  The English girl from the Dragoman truck, also called Sarah, and I hopped in when he arrived and were whisked away to the stables.  The two girls who were riding out with us helped us select chaps and hats, and we signed a rather complex indemnity form before being allocated our steeds.  I was rather flattered that they gave me a lovely bay ex-racehorse from Zimbabwe, called Happy (short for his racing name, Happy Monk).  He was very gentlemanly I thought, though the girls did warn me in advance that he had a nasty habit of snatching at mielies, grass and anything green at muzzle height before bulldozing into the bush while his head was down.  After a few testing head thrusts at the beginning, he decided that I wasn't a complete fool I guess, and behaved beautifully for the rest of the ride.  It was a gorgeous day, already warm and the first part of the ride was an easy stroll through the forests, with the dogs rushing ahead.  We passed a few villagers who gave us a wide berth, but still smiled and waved back.  We cantered a little way before having to cross the main road to get to the beach, skirting through marshy grazing land, wading through the wetter bits.  We then had a wild canter/gallop before having to slow right down again once we were on the sand and having to pick our way past locals washing clothes, mending nets, pulling in boats etc.  Back at the campsite we took off the horses' saddles and let them cool down a bit in the shade while we changed into our swimming costumes before being legged up and riding bareback down to the water's edge.  Two of the grooms helped Sarah and I coax the horses into the lake, though Happy, with his long racing legs, didn't actually need to swim much!  It was more like wading with his head held as high as he could manage.  Back on the beach we let them roll a few times before leading them back to the hitching posts.  Said our thanks and farewells and the grooms set off with them back towards the stables.
Mike had been busy washing dirty dinner dishes and cleaning out the fridge, (and playing guitar) all morning.  When I got back, we went and had a soda in the hammocks then prepared to spend the afternoon relaxing.  I found a fairly good book swap, so we read, swam, chatted to the people on the new trucks coming in and found a willing charcoal provider.  An Aussie, who drives the Tucan overland truck promised us some in exchange for a beer - good deal!  We spent a while talking to our new neighbour, a Dutch guy Arnie, and his Afrikaans wife, who were in a very smart truck with extra large windows, travelling with his father and uncles rather than his usual tour groups.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, after talking ourselves out of swimming to the island.  Mike played volleyball with some of the other Mzungus, against the Mfipas - a mixed bunch of local Malawian guys.  It was all good fun though the scoring was a little unusual!
 By 5pm there was yet another truck vying for parking space, bringing the total to six.  Mike prepared our Kisolanza mega-steaks for the braai and had just got the coals to perfection before the storm broke.  It rained on and off for the rest of the night, water coursing under Mapenzi, and pouring off the tent.  Oh well!  We had a delicious meal and a beer each before chatting to a lovely Canadian couple Jason and Angie, who were on Hermione's truck.  They're due to leave for Lilongwe at daybreak tomorrow, so it's unlikely we'll get to see them again.  Though you never know! 
Usual chores before bed.  I think my legs and bum are going to be a bit saddle sore tomorrow!

Day 135 Tuesday 17th February MALAWI (189.1 miles, Total 16,831.7 miles)
(M) By the time we got up Hermione and crew had already gone so we had a lazy packup before going to pay (unusually at Kande Beach you have to pay for your camping at reception and bar bill at the bar).  Our bar bill was almost double what I'd calculated and when we queried it we found out that someone else's wine had been added to our tab!  To the barman's credit he just changed the details without fuss and we settled up. Johnny the horseman and Mark and some of the other overland truck drivers were in the bar watching a movie, so we chatted to them for a while before heading out.  We hadn't really decided if we were going to stop at Nkhotakota or push through to Senga Bay but did want to stop in at Dedza Pottery en route.
The pottery is well worth a visit even if you don't buy anything.  It's not far off the main road and has some really unique and unusual things.  Plus you can see the artists at work.  We understand the food in the restaurant is good too, though not particularly cheap.  We were tempted by quite a few pieces but in the end left without buying anything.  We decided not to stay either, as the water was a bit brown and didn't want to eat our peanut butter sambos in view of the restaurant.  Also, it was still only lunchtime, so we thought we'd push on.
Not much to say about the drive to Senga Bay.  We passed through Salima and bought some bread and biscuits at the last major stop.  Note, if you're coming this way I think this is the last fuel stop on the coast road to Cape Maclear. 
We tried a campsite called 'Cool Runnings', which was suggested in our guidebook, but found them to be closed for maintenance, so turned back up the track and made for the more upmarket Steps campsite (1000 Kwacha each - most have been about 600, but still only 7/8 dollars per person). The camp is very attractively situated on a lovely, sandy beach, all set about with hills and boulders.  There's a posh hotel next door and enough curio stalls to satisfy all desires (though thankfully only outside the gate).  If there could be a downside it would be that we were the only guests there and so were feeling a bit watched.  We set up camp quickly, smashing our previous record and managing a stylish 2 minutes 19 seconds (remember, this includes putting up the tent, getting out chairs and table, opening cupboards and setting up the kettle!).  We're going to struggle to beat that one.
After a spot of reading we pulled on our cozzies (shorts in my case, since losing my costume) and went to jump in the water, from the boulders.  When we reached shore again we were told off for swimming near the rocks, which is apparently not allowed. Supposedly hippos sometimes come along this section of beach so they only allow swimming between the flags, where they can keep an eye on activities.  Fair enough, though I have to say that I was fairly disappointed to discover that health and safety has now pervaded these shores.  The irony is that if you're a local just outside the camp boundary you could swim wherever and nobody would give a fig.  Such is the way of our world though - apparently nobody is capable of taking responsibility for themselves anymore.
We were a bit lazy for supper so just put together the leftovers from last night and a fresh salad.  The electricity died while we were preparing it and the campsite was plunged into darkness.  We were ok with our torches, but the barman seemed to be having some trouble finding his gas light by the 'torchlight' of his mobile phone.  I think they have a backup generator though because it kicked in after only a few minutes.  Our plan to watch a movie was scuppered as well.  When we climbed up into the tent with the laptop we discovered that neither it's own nor the auxiliary battery had sufficient charge left in them (I think we were ripped off with the replacement batteries we put in the car - they don't seem to hold a charge for long).  So we read instead.
The noise from the bar was beginning to irritate us after having failed to get a decent night's sleep in a few days now.  It would have been easier to accept if the campsite bar was being frequented by campers, but since we were the only ones there we had to conclude that they were either local or hotel guests.  Either way they could easily have gone elsewhere.  In a way it was a good thing that we were struggling to sleep though; the wind was picking up steadily and when the awning decided to do a flip at 3 in the morning we weren't so groggy that we couldn't drag ourselves down the ladder to roll it away.  And a good thing too, the rains lashed down shortly after. 

Day 136 Wednesday 18th February MALAWI (111.8 miles, Total 16,943.5 miles)
(S) Considering the disrupted night and dramas of the storm, today turned out to be very lovely.  After all that lightning, thunder and the waves on the lake sounding like they were about to consume us, with the wind rocking the tent and the car for much of the night, we were pleased with the clear air, watery sunshine and the lake looking blue and calm this morning.  We had a lazy breakfast, paid our expensive camping fees, read a little bit in the sun, and then packed up.  Back on the main road south, we made good progress, turning off only once to visit the Mua Mission.  While we sipped at an ice-cold coke, we admired the carvings for sale - lots were of a religious theme (the crucifixion especially) and all very intricate if a little kitsch.  I gave in and bought some baobab paper curios, which meant we then had to turn down the offer of a guided tour of the museum on site, as it was a bit expensive. (Our kwachas are a bit limited as my card is still not working and the maximum you can draw from the ATMs at a time is 20,000 Kwa (about $130US) - the last ATM was in Mzuzu and the next only in Lilongwe! So our kwachas have to last us another few days at least...)
We continued the journey, making a slight shortcut down a gravel road that had potential to be impassable after prolonged heavy rain.  People were very friendly, waving hello. Most of the roadside was taken up with small huts and villages.  Back onto the tar, we stopped for photos of a great baobab with signs all over its trunk, and then found the turnoff to Cape Maclear.  As we paused to read the signboards, guys selling crafts swamped the car.  I had about six on my side, trying to get me to commit to buying a carved wooden Land Rover, bracelets, bowls, and keyrings, while Mike had about 12 on his side with rain frogs, jewellery, more keyrings...  We felt bad but had to fend them off with vague promises about maybe buying on the way out, and gapped it.  The road was so pretty, winding through fields and then the nature reserve, the bush green and lush.  More fab baobabs and then a glimpse of the lake.  The road was tarred up the steepest section, but badly potholed. 
We arrived at Cape Maclear and went in search of Fat Monkey's campsite, waylaid by a fellow called Isaac who offered to show us the way despite the fact that we thought we knew where we were going, but had paused to check out another campsite with a familiar looking vehicle parked there.  It was the Unicat truck from Lake Bunyoni!  Small world.  At Fat Monkey's we registered and found parking under a nice tree, before chatting to the South African family in a big MAN truck, just like Angaleo.  Theirs is called Madiba and has zebra stripes and flags of the countries they intend to visit on the side. 
Couldn't believe they had a Pinetown registration (that's where I grew up!) and really enjoyed speaking to Ryan, Jayne and their two kids Brynne and Liall.  We also chatted to a nice English couple, Kevin and Ann, in a SA registered Disco - they apparently bought the vehicle in Cape Town and were doing a loop through South and Eastern Africa. 
First things first though, we needed to have a swim, before being found again by Isaac who smoothly sold us a snorkelling boat trip at 5.30am tomorrow morning and two "Lake Tiger" fish for our dinner.  Unfortunately the black clouds came rolling in, and soon there was lighting and thunder and it started raining again, just as Mike was contemplating getting the fire on the go.  Murphy's Law! Meant that we had to delay our meal and read in the boma with some popcorn, until it was too dark to wait any longer.  Battled a little with the wet wood, but Mike managed to get some decent coals.  The fish was delicious and well worth the effort in the end.
Anticipating our very early start, and with the storm raging about our heads, we decided to go to bed.  A cold shower in the dark (the electricity has gone again) didn't inspire us to hang about, and it was with a sense of relief that we could snuggle up in the tent and hope for clearer skies tomorrow.

Day 137 Thursday 19th February MALAWI (0 miles, Total 16,943.5 miles)
M) An alarm at just after 5 in the morning is a grim sound, but we had to be up at 5:30 for our snorkelling trip to the island.  The boat was already waiting when we locked the car and headed to the shore.  We'd paid a bit extra to have pancakes with bananas, lemon, sugar etc as part of the deal, so were a bit put out that none of the ingredients seemed to have made it onto the boat.  Even more aggrieved when we were told they'd been unable to source bananas but had managed avocados instead!  Anyway, off we went.  We passed along the shore where I was intrigued to see how many people were already up and about, washing in the lake's waters.  The island can't be more than a kilometre out though, so it was a short trip. 
At the island, Isaac amused the kids (we were sharing the trip with Ryan, Jayne and children) by baiting his hands with bread and catching fish which came to feed.  He needed some as bait to throw to the fisheagles later.  It was by now only a little after 6am, but we hopped in the water anyway.  It was surprisingly warm and the snorkelling itself was fantastic.  As you can imagine, very different from the ocean, but the variety in colours of the cichlids especially was great to see.
When we were all ready to go, Isaac stuffed a small stick into the mouths of each of the fish he wanted to keep and we headed around the corner to some fisheagles.  They seem to know what's coming as he whistled and called to them by name.  Then chucked a fish into the water (the sticks were to keep them afloat) for the eagle to fly in and scoop up.  It was supposed to be the ideal opportunity to capture that image of an eagle as it makes impact, but sadly my camera batteries died.  The one shot I did get was too late.
We shouldn't have worried about the pancakes.  When we got back to shore a group of guys were already on the beach making them on a small fire.  It was a little awkward being the only two foreigners, and our breakfast also seemed to be an opportunity for more curio sellers to show us their wares, but the pancakes at least were delicious.  Avo with sugar and lemon is well worth trying.  The guys seemed quite taken with the Kelly kettle too, but we're not parting with it!
After breakfast we found ourselves entertaining Brynne and Liall who seem to have taken a shine to us, Sarah especially.  I'm sure the time off was welcomed by their parents too.  In between chatting to the British couple, Kevin and Ann, we managed to play Frisbee, learn Bao (sort of), do a bit of laundry and let the kids coerce us into taking them back across to the island on their kayaks.  We'd wanted to hire kayaks anyway, so it suited us nicely.  It was a bit of a paddle though - about 25 minutes each way.  The snorkelling was good the second time round too, but we didn't stay long before heading back to the mainland.
Sarah went and had a shower while I tried to demonstrate, unsuccessfully with the damp wood, the Kelly Kettle.  Sarah somehow managed to get it going when she came back, but I'd given up by then.  With the kids engrossed with the kettle we chatted to Kevin and Ann for a while, and then Jane came over to invite us to join them for dinner.  Very kind of her and we gladly accepted.  The rest of the evening was spent relaxing around their table over a beer and very tasty meal.

Day 138 Friday 20th February MALAWI (143.2 miles, Total 17,086.7 miles)
(S) So much for an early getaway!  We were up fairly early as the storms and rain lashed down on and off, and the grey skies decided to stay.  We were breakfasted, packed and paid up in good time, but were enjoying chatting to the others for ages, so it was late-morning before we eventually set off, waving our goodbyes.  The sun started to come out, so we drove through the village at Cape Maclear and out the other side, to get a nice view of the lake and islands.
We felt a bit mean driving past all the curio sellers at the junction, but we have a serious cashflow issue now, and had to resist buying any goodies until we could draw some more kwachas.  We did stop to get a loaf of bread for lunch from a small stall, as we were already hungry, but we hade precious few groceries left and needed to do an urgent restock in Lilongwe when we could get money again.
We were driving along as usual, waving at the kids, avoiding pedestrians, goats and bikes, admiring the lovely bush, when suddenly a strangely familiar white and maroon truck appeared in the distance.  Was it? No, it couldn't be... Yes it was!  Laurent and Sylvie, the French family with the black Labrador, who we met in Luxor and travelled with until Khartoum!  We had an emotional reunion on the side of the road, eagerly swapping stories and sharing news of the others from our convoy party.  Turns out they travelled with the Angaleo truck, and Dietrich and Elke for quite a bit, crossing Moyale to Marsabit together, splitting up again just before Nairobi.  Poor Laurent had to replace all four tyres (at huge cost) after that shocking road, but other than that they were all in good spirits and even the doggie seems to have remembered us!  Super to see them again, and it was a cheerful goodbye as though they were headed in the opposite direction towards Monkey Bay, they'll be going north again to Zambia soon, so we may just well meet them again in a few days time - fingers crossed!
The rest of the drive was uneventful, other than crossing a spectacular pass where we struggled to take photos before being swamped by kids asking for pens or money.  The sky was impressive as huge storm clouds started gathering, and it really was beautiful being able to look back at the lake shimmering in the distance.
Being Friday, the traffic into Lilongwe was predictably chaotic, and thank goodness for the GPS as we aimed for the bank and supermarket.  I was a little flustered from the stressful driving, and couldn't bear it when a group of men descended on us as I struggled to park. I angrily tried to shake them off, until Mike realised they were just trying to sell us vegetables.  I gave in and we ordered a whole lot of salad stuff, fruit and veg from their nice long list.  We warned them that we needed to draw cash first and they seemed happy to wait.  Of course as soon as we'd stopped to talk them more lurkers arrived - one guy selling charcoal, another ice, and a few dodgier dudes selling something else?  I got the distinct impression that the latter were scoping us out as pickpocket victims or something!  They just had that air about them... Brushing them off we tried the Standard Bank ATM, joining the payday queues and neither of our cards worked.  The ATMs at the bank across the road weren't functioning at all as the electricity was down.  Hmmm.  Now we were stuck.  We rushed across to a Forex bureau, but they were already closed for the day.  Hmmm.  Now what?  Back to the Standard Bank in desperation.  No joy.  I found a phone topup card, buying it at great expense in dollars.  Called Barclays and got cut off.  Needless to say, the entire scenario became so tedious I'll have to stick to the short version for sanity's sake.  I phoned them again, Barclays refused to call me back, I burst into tears, the veggie men were hovering anxiously, it was now getting dark, we had no food and no money to pay for camping.  I cried some more on the phone to the stupid bank who managed to cut me off again instead of putting me through to a department that could in fact call me back.  I was in no fit state to deal with the veggie men, so Mike gave them our last few kwachas and came back bearing potatoes, onions, the biggest African cucumbers you can imagine etc.  At least we had food!
We then had to drive in the dark to the Mabuya campsite, which looked terribly uninviting, despite all the nice things we'd heard about it.  They had no electricity, so the whole place was smothered in darkness, they told us there would only be cold showers, and there were a lot of people talking loudly on the veranda right next the parking bay the barman showed us to.  Tired, grumpy, hungry and sick with worry about our cash situation, we barely got excited when a cute little hedgehog snuffled an appearance.  We should have had more faith as it's actually a very lovely spot, with a swimming pool and pretty gardens, but in the dark it was just damp, full of mosquitos and noisy.  I made a hasty dinner of ratatouille with soggy rice and we packed up everything before having a quick shower and climbing into our damp tent.  The sheets felt clammy and we were miserable with self-pity.  At least it had quietened down.  Can't bear that it's my birthday tomorrow - the first thing I'll have the pleasure of doing is fighting with our wretched bank!


Day 139 Saturday 21st February MALAWI - ZAMBIA (102.1 miles, Total 17,188.8 miles)
(M) Sarah's birthday!  We woke up still angry at the banks and unsure if we'd be able to cross into Zambia today because of our cash flow crisis.  While we were packing up I noticed a hole with a web near our vehicle, so I poked it with a piece of grass to see if I could encourage the spider inside to make an appearance. It did, and it was massive - a big, hairy tarantula style beast.  We watched it for a bit and then let it be and finished our packing, had a quick breakfast and went to hand over some dollars to pay for the camping (ironically it was cheaper in dollars anyway).
First stop town.  At the Shoprite parking the veggie guys were already waiting for us.  We discovered that there was no power in the supermarket anyway, so we'd have to go to the Cash & Carry instead. Headed across to the Forex place first though, to find out about a cash advance.  They did offer it, but it was going to cost us US$100 for a US$300 withdrawal; we didn't like that offer so opted to try the ATM's again instead.  It was payday and the queues were long, but we were rewarded for our wait with my card working (Sarah's is still refusing, and needless to say Barclays has still not bothered to call us back).  I drew out my maximum allowance in about three withdrawals and we went to spend some of it on groceries.  The veggie guys were happy as well.  Not sure we got the best deal out of them, but it's good to have some fresh food again.  At one stage one of our loiterers asked me if I 'took any'.  Malawi is really intolerant of drugs and when I declined his offer and suggested it was a risky business he was involved in, he just said, 'not really, we just pay the cops when they catch us'!
We're getting a bit desperate to spend some time on the internet as we haven't updated our website since Rwanda.  Unfortunately the electricity at the campsite was down so we'd had no joy there and were relying on the internet café in town.  Again the electricity was down.  We did sit waiting for about an hour for it to come back on but, other than Sarah being able to speak to her mom, it was time wasted.  There was no point hanging around much longer so we decided we would push through to Chipata in Zambia after all.  We filled up with diesel and tried a few places for reflective tape on our way out of town (Zambian law requires two pieces of red on the back and two white on the front).  Made our way to the border, parking next to a boom gate and finding immigration to complete formalities.  The Malawian side was straightforward though we were told that we'd have to pay an 'overtime rate' because they were having to work on a Saturday.  Strange but we'd also heard about it a few days before.  Anyway, we weren't charged anything.  We'd also heard that Zambia would be expensive and would only grant a two week visa.  Hoping for more we were bit anxious.  Also nervous because my SA passport (which gives free access to the country) only has another two months validity and most places say they require six.  On a British passport it costs US$50!  Then, to compound our tension we saw that meat products are not allowed through - though we had no desire to forfeit the rump steaks and bacon we'd just bought.  And so we entered the immigration and customs office with the blandest expressions we could muster.  Again, we needn't have been concerned; at the health desk all he wanted to check was our yellow fever certificates, at immigration the women barely even checked that the passports belonged to us and at customs we were totally ignored for about ten minutes.  When someone did finally come over he told us to go next door to pay the carbon tax of US$30 (we'd been told about this and also that there was a toll fee and various other costs).  Next door we were ignored again.  The amount we were finally quoted could not be paid in dollars, and the official told us we'd have to change money with the guys outside - so much for black market changing being illegal?  Then we were through - a whole bundle cheaper and more painless than we'd expected.
One of the first things we came to in Chipata was a Shoprite.  How exciting; we couldn't resist going in to see what else we could spend money on.  There were a lot of loiterers in the parking lot again - all wanting to look after our car; we didn't mind paying a bit if was still ok when we came out.  15 minutes later we were back armed with boerewors, yoghurt, chocolate and butter - woohoo.  No cake though - it's been a bit of a disappointing birthday for Sarah.
There's not a whole lot to Chipata and after another failed ATM attempt on Sarah's card we made our way out the other side towards MamaRulas campsite.  The access road was being graded and made for a bit of an exciting drive.  When we got to the campground there was already a Tucan overland truck there, but they seemed to be keeping to themselves so we went to check in.  The dollar charge for camping was quite a lot more than using Kwachas but they agreed that we could pay the next day before 07:00.  That would mean an early start so that I could drive back in and try my card again.  We set up camp and made a cup of tea.
It was raining on and off so we abandoned plans to braai and cooked up an early dinner of tasty wors and mash, before retiring to the dry of the car where we whiled away the evening watching 'The Big Lebowski'.
Nice hot shower and then bed.

Day 140 Sunday 22nd February ZAMBIA (103.8 miles, Total 17,292.6 miles)
(S) It rained for most of the night, but we were cosy in our little rooftop dwelling.  Horrified when the alarm went off at 5.30am of course.  Mike set off to coax some casholas from the ATM and top up on fuel if he had success, leaving me to do the dinner dishes with nice hot water, and finish my book.
When the guard opened the gate I was delighted to get a thumbs up from the driver's seat - success!  Well, on Mike's card only, but even so, he'd managed to get almost his daily £300 limit, which came to over a million Zambian kwachas.  After being penniless the last few days, we are now millionaires! Weird huh.
We treated ourselves to a tasty fryup breakfast and some hot Milo before washing and packing up, then paying and departing Mama Rulas.  We were keen to get on the road to the park, even though we'd heard it would be very rough and potentially impassable.   The first section was pretty, driving through agricultural fields, with six-foot high maize, pale yellow tobacco plants and small thatched huts dotted about.  The road did deteriorate, with lots of potholes and then, at one section, loads of puddles that we tried to skirt round.  In a busy village we were concerned for a minute as it looked like a truck was stuck across the road, bogged down in thick gloopy mud.  Luckily there was a new track round so we successfully got past.  The truck's back right wheel was completely submerged, wet mud coating the chassis, and we felt a bit helpless as there was nothing we could possibly do to assist.  Also, stopping to offer became foolhardy as we were soon surrounded by kids, one teenage boy in particular acting as our mud-scout, wading in the deeper puddles and pointing out to us where to divert past them.  At the edge of the village he proudly presented himself at my window.  We were reluctant to stop for long as kids were just descending on us from all sides, so I reached for the nearest thing - a handful of lollipops and gave them to him and the quicker kids who'd tagged along.  As a skirmish broke out we had to quickly drive away, looking back we were aghast to see about 20-25 children chasing after us.  Crazy!
The rest of the drive was, on the whole, without incident, though it was as rough as we expected and we did get a great view of a huge rock monitor lizard swiftly crossing the road ahead of us just outside town.  We were pleased to get to Mfuwe and spot all the signboards for the National Park and various lodges and the promise of the Wildlife camp's swimming pool, as the bumpy road was starting to tire us out. 
We dutifully obeyed the GPS via the convoluted route to the camp, finally finding reception.  Dora, the woman on duty signed us in and offered us a night drive for $40US each, which we sadly had to decline.  From there we retraced our steps slightly towards the campsite, which is prettily situated right on the banks of the river.  We found a shady spot with a glorious view and set up camp.  We then took all our stuff down to the pool near the bar.  We read and swam, and I took a million photos of a lone hippo who'd ventured out onto the bank next to the path to the reception, giving some fishermen nearby a very evil look as it grazed.  As the afternoon wore on we decided to set up our braai so ambled back to the camp.  I heard what I thought was birds squabbling in the bush next to the car, but it turned out to be a very agitated squirrel shrieking at a leguaan (water monitor lizard) that was making slow progress up the foliage, five feet in the air, his flattened tail acting as a balancing pole.  Very cool.
One of the staff had brought us an enormous pile of firewood, but we learned that it actually belonged to someone else, so we made sure we used our charcoal instead.  Our steaks were delicious, and it was a bit of a treat to have braaied potatoes, onions, lovely fresh salad with dressing, and a cold beer as we watched the sun set over the river.  It really is a gorgeous spot and we're excited about going into the park tomorrow.  Thoroughly enjoyed our evening and to top it off had a great hot shower after we'd done the dishes.  We made sure all the tent flaps were open to let in the breeze and so we could admire the stars before we fell asleep to the sounds of hippos, hyena and even lion in the far distance. 

Day 141 Monday 23rd February ZAMBIA (83.9 miles, Total 17,376.5 miles)
(M) Today started early and ended with a trashed tyre.  We wanted to make the most of our day in South Luangwa park so were out of camp by 5:30 for the drive to the gate.  Passed a few elephants on the way, still outside the park.  The guard at the gate was a bit confused about how much we actually had to pay and we were a bit disappointed when the next shift lady arrived and we found out that entrance was pricier than we'd been told - once again being penalised for being self drive it seems, but still the cheapest of the parks we've visited so far, at US$30 each and US$15 for the car (or the Kwacha equivalent, 390,000).
South Luangwa is apparently renowned for its leopards but it's wet season at the moment, so the bush is quite thick and, while we still held out hope, we were trying to go in without any expectation.
The drive started well - plenty of ellies, puku, impala, saddlebill storks etc.  There were some areas of thick mud and we had to turn back a few times where the tracks came to an end, but only an hour or so in we came across some lions in a tree.  There were four mid-size cubs and a subadult but we couldn't see the rest of the pride, which we assumed to be lying in the bushes somewhere nearby.  Great sighting.  We were joined after about 15 minutes by the only other gamedrive vehicle we saw the whole day.  It was the guide from Wildlife camp, plus one guest.  They hadn't seen any more than us, so we were quite chuffed to have found the lions on our own (we found out later that guides in the park are prohibited from radio contact; to prevent huge numbers of vehicles gathering at any sighting).
We tried some more small loops and were turned back a few times when they became impassable.  On our way back to the main road, and just past a big bull elephant, a piece of wood as thick as my wrist went through the sidewall of one of our tyres!  Our first puncture and it was more or a rupture - methinks the end of one BFG All Terrain :(  Fortunately we're carrying two spares, so probably won't replace it on this journey.
We'd been sticking to a relatively small part of the park so decided to strike out south.  Again the roads more or less petered out.  At one stage we were forced to turn around at an overgrown, washed out track where we were being relentlessly attacked by tsetse flies.  The flies are often credited for helping conservation, as cattle can't be raised in the fly belts, but that thought doesn't help when they're mauling you.  Headed back north again and stopped for lunch in an open piece of ground - had to hurry a bit as an elephant approached while we were making the sambos.  We saw more birds, giraffe, some crocs and hippos before turning back to see if our tree climbing lions were still there.  Saw our only buffalo of the day on the way back.  The lions weren't in the tree when we passed, but when we came back 15 minutes later they'd returned.  Still no sign of any adults though, so following them hunting didn't look like likely.  The other game drive vehicle joined us again - now on their afternoon drive, and with more guests on board and when we left them we found two of the adult females lying under a sausage tree about a kilometre away.  They were looking pretty lazy though, and we had to be getting back to the gate for 18:00.  All in all, not a bad day's game viewing despite the thick bush.
Back at the campsite we gave up on the idea of a swim, made ratatouille for dinner and listened to the night sounds of hyenas and hippo close by.

Day 142 Tuesday 24th February ZAMBIA (82.8 miles, Total 17,459.3 miles)
(S) Leisurely start today.  Pootled around having breakfast, doing dishes, watching the baboons closely in case they got any fancy ideas about exploring the back of the Landy etc.  We then wandered along the river path to the reception, having to skirt round the swampy bits.  Chatted for a while to the ranger we'd seen in the park yesterday, learning that another self drive vehicle had apparently seen wild dog in the morning, but that he and his clients hadn't had any better sightings than us.  We paid our bill and asked advice about routes to Petauke - they told us not to risk the south road as it would be really tough going, suggesting we instead backtrack the 3 hours to Chipata and then set off west for another 3 hours.  Fair enough, but what a detour...  And the guy at MamaRulas had said that we'd be fine in 4WD?  We decided that we'd be intrepid and give it a try, agreeing in advance that if it got too tricky, we'd be sensible and turn back.
It started well, and we made fairly good progress, especially as at the deeper puddles there were well worn tracks skirting round the worst bits.  We startled a few elephant that were mooching along the road and were impressed by the amount of spoor and dung about - there must be a healthy dispersal zone around the park.  Then suddenly we were faced with a washed away bridge.  We reversed and tried another track, but that too looked like an impassable crossing.  We were on the brink of conceding defeat when we suddenly heard an engine straining in the distance and a truck soon appeared on the other side of the river, with the passengers in the back waving and pointing, telling us to try yet another track further to our left.  Shouting our thanks we reversed again and sure enough, with a lot of weaving round bushes and bumping through roof high grass we found a less steep way to cross.  Mapenzi performed like a star and made it up the other side with minimal fuss.
The road was appalling: deep ruts, potholes, bumpy diversions, thick black cotton-soil mud acting like glue, sandy river beds and more and more washed away bridges and damaged river crossings.  We saw a few giraffe, lots of vervet monkeys and small herds of buck and zebra in the bush on the side of the track.  At times we were totally reliant on the GPS to help us select the best route from the many detours and diversions round the bigger puddles.  We also had to create our own way round some of the villages where the road turned into a single footpath past electric anti-game fences and mielie fields.  It was such beautiful bush, lush and green and lots of handsome baobab and sausage trees.  We sometimes got a glimpse of the huge Luangwa river in the distance and the hills to the south-east as we skirted the border of the park.  But our progress was painfully slow. By lunctime we had only managed about 32 miles in over three hours.  It was tiring too, constantly having to readjust our track and use low range and even diff lock to get into and out of some of the deeper river crossings, plus the tsetse flies were relentless.  Leftovers from dinner, a mango and a carrot for improvised lunch and we continued on feeling very adventurous and proud of our vehicle's robustness and rock-crawling abilities.
By early afternoon we passed a small pickup in a village and when at the next big settlement we took a wrong turn and had to backtrack slightly, the pickup had caught us up.  The driver waved at us to stop and he and his passengers shook their heads at us when we answered that we were headed for Petauke.  He was adamant that we wouldn't be able to get there, insisting that the big bridge to the south had washed away and it would actually be dangerous for us to even try, as there would be no other traffic to help us out if we had a problem.  We were well aware of the risks and had plenty of provisions, but now we were wondering if we'd maybe been a bit reckless.  Dispirited, we turned back, glumly waving to the villagers we'd just passed coming from the other direction.  At one stage a cyclist stopped us and insisted that we'd have been fine - he knew someone who'd driven up from Petauke yesterday or something, and said if we'd come this far, we'd passed the worst of it.  Curses!  All this conflicting info - anyway, we were now resigned to our hefty backtrack, thanked him and gloomily set off back towards Wilderness Camp.
And then we got stuck.  Mike was pushing hard to make up time and maybe got a bit too confident that we'd coped with all the mud so far.  Instead of skirting round a wet section, he started into it and the crust gave way - he reacted quickly trying to swerve us out, but it was still too late.  We ploughed straight into the deep black-cottonsoil mud, our momentum inevitably dragging us into the middle.  So began a race against time - it was now late afternoon and heavy storm clouds were looming over us.  We dragged branches from the bush nearby, trying to dig it under the wheels.  One of the rotten logs had an entire termite nest in it - the ants desperately trying to rescue their poor little grubs from being submerged.  I felt awful, but had had no idea until we'd already drowned it under the front left wheel.  We also discovered a ferocious scorpion about two inches long on one of the other logs, who dropped into the water in the rut - we were both barefoot by now, sliding around in the mud - yikes!  But the tyres just could not find traction - if we sorted one, then on next attempt another would spin out, digging us in deeper.  We resorted to using the jack, shoving ever larger branches under the back wheels.  Our initial reluctance to bother with the waffle boards vanished and we scrabbled in the mud with the spade, the jack and much verbal force to get them under the left side wheels.  And then the storm broke - rain lashing down, thunder, lightning, the whole shebang.  By now we were both drenched to the skin, covered in sticky black mud, all four wheels had branches or track mats under them and we were in a panic about the rivers we'd crossed early in the day turning to raging torrents.  There were also copious amounts of hippo and elephant tracks all about us, and a few converging game trails.  Oh boy!
In one last desperate push with no expectation, Mike gunned the engine and miraculously found traction, Mapenzi reversing like a dream.  With a small and jubilant celebration we struggled to rescue the waffle boards, now bogged down with giant clumps of mud, stripped off our drenched clothes and prepared to race back to catch up time and beat the rivers.  It had taken us two hours to get ourselves out, and then we discovered we couldn't get out of our ruts.  Couldn't believe it.  I had to get out again into the rain, trying to build a solid section for Mike to use to break us out onto the side of the road, and after a few miserable attempts we made it.  Now began our epic journey back, in earnest.
We made good progress, but then it got dark, and the rain kept coming down as drizzle, stopping for a bit, then starting again.  Needless to say, we were both exhausted, filthy, anxious and annoyed - munching on rusks and straining to find the detours in the headlights as we zoomed through the dark.  Probably the most frightening aspect was being trumpeted at by invisible elephants - three times!  With no concept of where they were, just that sound, incredibly loud, even over Mapenzi's engine!!! Poor ellies must have thought we were some demonic white beast bearing down on them in the night!  We also flushed a few spring hares, had to avoid lots of frogs and nightjars, and spotted a few eyes on the side of the road, though they were mostly puku and impala.  We also saw our friends from the truck this morning who'd not covered that much distance but seemed chirpy enough.  They didn't seem phased about driving in the dark, and the guys on the back were actually asleep!  Even with all the bumping and low-hanging branches - amazing.
The river crossings weren't nearly as bad we had envisaged - though we did use the dif and low range a couple of times.  We were lucky - the storm seemed to have been more isolated to where we were further south, and the waters weren't that high.  We kept expecting the worst river crossing to be a real challenge, and then suddenly we'd done it?  We were trying to figure out the best option from our cookie crumb GPS trail, but the rain started tipping it down again.  At last we found it, and the bank was very slippery on the other side, but from this other direction it hadn't felt quite so scary as it had in the light this morning!
We startled a giraffe that had been lying down, in the twisty, overgrown track back to the main piste, and were at last able to park near Wilderness Camp for the night.  We set up the bed in the back of the car, had a rushed, nervous bucket wash, listening to the hyenas not too far away.  Thank goodness for our lovely maglite torch!  Bone tired and feeling grubby and damp, we settled down to sleep.  By now it was nearly 11pm.  We'd managed about 83 miles in the 12 or so hours we'd been driving, and were back at square one.  So much for our intrepid adventure!

(M) Interestingly, we had a look at our National Geographic Atlas map a few days later.  It doesn't even credit this road as a 4x4 route, but rather as a local track only.  What's ironic, is that we'd made it through that whole section and were turned back where supposedly, the real road starts!

Day 143 Wednesday 25th February ZAMBIA (161.3 miles, Total 17,620.6 miles)
(M) Not the most comfy night of my 35 years.  Everything felt a bit damp and flybitten but, considering last night's events, not too bad.  Still quite chuffed to be alive.  We were up before the crack of dawn, wanting to maintain our obscurity.  After a quick pack up we were back on the trail at 05:30 and back on tar-sweet-tar after a few minutes.
A short distance later a disconcerting knocking sound started up.  I got out and tried to identify where it was coming from (sounded like one of the back wheels), when a guy on a bike came up to help.  He seemed to think it was coming from a loose propshaft connection at the rear diff, or even a snapped half shaft.  Great!  No problem, he reckoned, we could just take it the workshop around the corner.  Remember it wasn't even 06:00 yet, but we followed him to the workshop and a friendly mechanic came out to greet us, already dressed in his overalls as if we'd been expected.  Promisingly there were some old landrover bits lying about so hopefully, if it was a halfshaft or other part, we could cannibalise one of those.  After a short test drive the mechanics set to work.  They quickly decided that there was nothing wrong with the drive chain so took off the wheel and hub to check the bearings.  There was a lot of mud in the hub, which they cleaned out, but the bearings were solid so they put it all back together and I took her out for a drive again.  The knocking was still there and they'd been at it for well over an hour.  Then one of them saw that the other rear wheel was wobbling a little - it turned out to be just a few loosened wheel nuts.  With those tightened we were on our way.  No hope of making it to Lusaka in one day though.  The drive back to Chipata was a little over three hours again, past sheds of drying tobacco.  Although only 120km, this was speedy compared to our progress yesterday. 
Mapenzi was in bad need of a spray - we really wanted to get rid of some of the caked mud in the suspension and recesses where it starts to cause rust - so we entered Chipata and went in search of a garage with car wash.  Seems they don't offer it here, though at one of them we were directed to a small place behind the bank where a couple of guys had an informal carwash with a portable power spray.  Not quite the industrial wash we'd wanted but we decided to go through with it anyway.  While he set to work we sat and watched, then stood under a tree when it started to rain, then started rinsing off the tracmats, then sat on a log under another tree and chatted to Paul - a local guy - about politics etc.  He was joined by his friend, Timothy.  Some time during the conversation he told us that he's responsible for introducing unleaded petrol to Zambia.  We also found out that Jacob Zuma is due to visit Chipata tomorrow for some festival, but can't say we're tempted to stay.  Finally, three hours later, the car was looking clean.  We agreed that we'd better pay the poor fella a bit more than he'd quoted, said our farewells and exchanged contact details with our new friends, and with their good wishes were on our way again.
The road to Petauka isn't too bad; potholed in places but nothing particularly dramatic.  There were some impressive storm clouds gathering and we did hit a bit of rain, though not the downpour we were expecting.  Finally, 24 hours later than we'd hoped, we arrived at the scattering of shops and huts that mark the turnoff to the small town.  A little further on we pulled off the road into Zulu's Kraal, basic but sufficient for an overnight stop.  There were two cyclists already there so we went over to introduce ourselves to Dave and Pete.  Turns out they're from Yorkshire and are cycling from Addis Ababa to Cape Town (www.teambad.net/africa). We'll be beating them by only a week or so, though not via such a direct route.  We invited them to join us for dinner, to save them the walk into town.  Our own supplies were a bit low though, so we had to finish what we had in a tasty lentil stew that Sarah made.  Then sat around chatting and swapping stories until after 22:00, by which time the shower seemed to be working again (the water in the campsite stopped flowing soon after we arrived, but a couple of local guys had managed to bring cans from a local well to top up the shower tank).
Crawled into bed for a well-earned sleep.  Looking forward to sorting ourselves out in Lusaka tomorrow.

Day 144 Thursday 26th February ZAMBIA (264.3 miles, Total 17,884.9 miles)
(S) It rained a lot in the night, but we slept well until the rooster woke us up at 6.30ish.  Already the local children that had watched us for most of the evening were sitting on their Coke crate, staring.  We tidied up, washed dishes and packed up so that we were ready to say our farewells to Dave and Pete by about 8am.   There was still no water - turns out the electricity was still off or something so the pump wasn't working.  The guys were resigned to finding a well, but we should be alright until we can fill up again in Lusaka I guess. 
We stopped for fuel in Nyimba, having to navigate our way around a stricken truck on the outskirts of town.  The bush again was just gorgeous and thick, lush and green, with thatched hut settlements at intervals.  Lots of goats, black hogs and African running chickens to avoid - on one of Mike's stints driving he watched a truck connect with an unlucky hooku that had just successfully if narrowly ducked past Mapenzi's wheels before trying to fly out the way of the oncoming lorry.  I was cutting up avos for lunch, so missed the cloud of feathers that Mike apparently could see in his rearview mirror.  Horrible. 
We were looking forward to seeing a suspension bridge that our guide book mentions, but it was much further away than we'd thought.  We had to wind our way up and down many hills before we were treated to the sight of the mighty Luangwa river merging with the Lusemfwa en route to join the Zambezi once it hit Mozambique to the south.  It was a nice enough bridge, but it was really the spectacular gorge with thick forest to the water's edge that impressed us.  We stopped for some photos before heading to the police checkpoint at the other end, where we were ambushed by a horde of kids rudely yelling at us through the open windows, "Give me! Give me!" to which we both promptly shouted back" No, you give me!" in annoyance which seemed to do the trick. 
The cops who told us to stop were looking very dishevelled and a bit hungover truth be told.  One asked me what I had brought for him - huh?  I mean, we know full well that it's not considered rude in some cultures to ask for a gift from a stranger, but then they don't consider it rude for the stranger to decline politely either. This frequent Mzungu (white tourist) free-ride gift-giving expectation is really getting on our nerves now though.  After quizzing us a bit, they told us that they have run out of water too, so we gave them a bottle of our filtered drinking water and left them to it.
The rest of the drive to Lusaka was fairly easy, the road a bit rough in places but with no traffic it's easy to swerve past the worst potholes.  A highlight was meeting Mr Asim at the Tsetse fly checkpoint.  A very distinguished elderly gent, he was overwhelmingly polite, waving his butterfly net around as he quizzed us about where we'd come from.  He was pleased to hear that we'd sprayed the whole car when we left South Luangwa, peering into the back and nodding happily when we showed him we weren't knowingly letting any bugs sneak across the checkpoint with us.  He was very keen, even bringing out an old camera film canister with sample flies inside to show us his targets.  Tipping them onto his hand, some blew away in the wind and he seemed very flattered that we both rushed to catch them and return them to their plastic grave.  Surreal experience all round!
Coming into Lusaka was like entering any big South African city - recognisable brands advertised, lots of taxis, people walking, loads of private cars, guys selling stuff at the traffic lights.  We spotted a Mica hardware store in a large shopping centre so detoured to try and find a new bulb for our loadbay light.   Frustratingly they didn't have any, so we decided to hit the Barclays ATM for some more cash and nip into the SuperSpar for milk.   Well - it was like being in grocery store heaven!  The only reason we knew we weren't in some smart CapeTonian or Durban supermarket was because of one or two small giveaways - like a huge basket of Mopane worms for sale in the veggie section!
Behaving like kids at Xmas we filled two baskets in record time - rusks, Tennis biscuits, milo, beers, boerewors, cheese, fresh brown seeded bread (a first on this journey so far!) and treat of treats: a bottle of South African white wine.  What a luxury!
At the next-door centre we tried Game, but they too had the sizes smaller and larger than the bulb we need - typical.  Oh well.  From here we tried to find the backpackers, ChaChaCha's and had to drive around the block a bit to find the entrance.  Again, our lovely GPS pinpointed the location but not the roads leading to it... We checked in, struggling a bit to find good parking, and learning disappointingly that their internet isn't working.  We are SO far behind on diary and photos; this is a real setback.  At least there is an internet café nearby - we'll just have to go and settle in for a few hours there instead.  The receptionist offered us laundry services and we nearly cried with relief - they have a washing machine!  At last, a hot wash for our filthy/muddy/sweaty/mouldy/stinky clothes.  With the threat of having to handwash the black mud out of my jeans gone, we were free to find the ChitChat café.  Laptop in hand we walked there, bought drinks and our voucher and got comfortable on the sofa in the restaurant.  Except the wireless wasn't working.  The manager promised to try and sort it out, so we waited, typed diary, read old magazines and finished our drinks.  Two hours later, our patience had worn out - we were promised that the technicians would be called in the morning.
So it was back to the hostel where we used the communal kitchen to whip up some fish and chips, with peas! What a novelty being able to buy frozen petit pois.  Chatted to Doc, a Zambian driver for Exodus overlanders, who is currently on leave as they've had to cancel their last two trips.  They need a minimum of eight people to run a tour and only had three or something.  Credit crunch looms large for African tourism operators too it seems.
Had a lovely hot shower and feeling knackered, decided against lolling at the bar - maybe tomorrow night when we have clean clothes!

Day 145 Friday 27th February ZAMBIA (0 miles, Total 17,884.9 miles)
(M)  Fridays are Larium days - malaria medication.  And, of course, these should absolutely not be taken on an empty stomach; so it follows that we ought to order the full breakfast.  They do a good deal at Cha Cha Cha and I have to admit it was pretty good when it arrived too.  Needless to say, we didn't have quite the early start we were planning, only leaving for Chit Chat at about 09:30.
The internet still wasn't working and we sat listening to the same songs while the proprietor contacted the service provider.  After an hour or so a representative from the ISP came around to see if he could sort it out.  It didn't work on his computer either, so at least we knew it wasn't something we were doing wrong.  When he couldn't get it to work he offered to give us a lift back to their offices, where the café next door would also have access.  It wasn't far, so we knew we could always walk back.  Intriguingly, we did have access at the new point, but weren't prompted for a username or password, so he just said, 'looks like you have free internet, enjoy!'  Maybe the frustration was worth it.
Sitting at the tables we ordered drinks and spent the next 5 hours or more uploading photos, checking and responding to emails, updating the website (which was more than a month out of date), checking banking, etc etc.  Really quite tiresome, but good to have done.  By the time we'd finished it was late afternoon and our plans to go in search of a fluorescent tube had changed. It had rained as well, and we had visions of all our hanging laundry needing another day to dry now.  And to top it all, it looks like Australia's doing ok in the cricket - bleak.
Things did pick up back at the backpackers though.  The receptionist had kindly brought our laundry in so, for the first time in some days we have clean, dry clothes to change into - woohoo.  We hadn't been able to find out anything reliable about the condition of roads in Kafue or beyond, so decided to spend our evening route planning for the remainder of our trip.  We ended up chatting to a young guy in the kitchen for a while as well.  Sarah was mortified that he was impressed that people 'our age' could take time out to travel. Nothing like being made to feel old.  Doc also came in and warned us against trying the road from Mongu through Sinanga and Sitoti.  He hadn't been that way for some years, but suspected that the ferry was propably not running.  We're both keen to see Ngonye Falls though, so decided we'd try and get further info on accessibility tomorrow.  Not sure if we want to travel all the Kafue if it's going to be wet and we need to return to Lusaka anyway - we'll wait and see.
Made it to bed at about 22:30, but with the music in the bar it took a while to fall asleep.

Day 146 Saturday 28th February ZAMBIA (+- 175 miles, Total 18060.9 miles)
(S) Up early this morning.  Mike made himself porridge, I found a bookswap (got rid of my "Angel, Archangel" WWII drama at last!) and we paid our bill.  Asked the manager if he knew about the road from Mongu south, and whether the ferry was running.  He called a mate in Livinstone, who had been up on a fishing trip recently, who seemed to think the pontoon was indeed operational.  Relieved and excited we set off to do some quick chores before heading to Kafue National Park.  We tried the ChitChat again, but still no luck with their wireless, so drove back to the Holiday Inn centre and sat in the car outside the internet café doing some quick e-mails.  Withdrew a huge visa cash advance at Barclays, becoming millionaires once again, and then tried to find an electronics store in our unfruitful search for a lightbulb.  The traffic cops had cordoned off the main road for a big parade, and we struggled to zigzag our way anywhere near the store, so gave up.  We joined the crawling traffic out of the centre, becoming very road-ragey at the inconsiderateness of city drivers!  At least we have a bulbar and no one comes too close to the front.
We tried in the industrial area, one more time.  I ran into a hardware store while Mike parked.  Lo and behold, they didn't have bulbs our size, but the lady behind the till seemed to think that there might be another place nearby that did.  She sent off one of the staff to look for me, which was a kind gesture.  We chatted while we waited, and then she asked me if I was local.  When I replied that I was travelling with my husband, her whole mood shifted and she wanted to know what I had for her.  "I am suffering sister, my children are suffering..." with a big forlorn look. Turns out she has two children of her own and two dependents, who I understood to be orphaned relatives or something similar.  Fair enough, but I have to say, we'd been having such a nice chat before she found out I was a tourist! I was saddened that yet again, being a Mzungu just means you're fair game and a sure bet for handouts.  I tried my best to explain that we don't usually give anything because we have to draw a line somewhere or we'd have spent our whole six months on a charity binge but I don't think she cared or wanted really to understand.  When the runner came back empty handed I hesitated giving him a tip or anything, and instead thanked them both verbally and left feeling a bit sour.  Turns out Mike had been having his own Mzungu battles outside - the guy who "showed" him an empty parking space demanding money or food, a curio seller pushing him to purchase a wooden pestle and mortar, and fruit ladies almost shoving grapes through his open window.   Zambia has been one of our favourite places so far, but yet again, it's in the cities that we've just found the hassle all too overwhelming.
We filled up the tank and then hit the open road, our stresses melting away as we chewed some miles through farmlands then bush, forest and finally the park.  We signed in at a boomgate and aimed for Mukululu camp, one of the few lodges that were apparently open during the wet season.  We kept our eyes peeled, spotting herds of impala and puku but it was already midday and hot, and the tsetse flies were out in force.  The camp looked nice, but we quickly learned from the receptionist that we'd be compelled to pay park fees (because they are located within the boundary), even if we weren't going to be doing any game drives that day.  Now we were concerned - we were tired and not really up for doing a self-drive..  We just couldn't justify paying $45 (plus camping fees) to sit and read in the shade, which is all we really could have managed to achieve.  Mike had an inspired idea - perhaps they were doing their own safari drive that we could join, but alas they were not.  After backtracking a few times, frantically searching through our books, notes from the internet, our GPS and the maps, we chanced upon Mukambi campsite.  Off we dashed, only to see their sign displaying a "No Camping" notice.  Downhearted we looked for somewhere even further away, settling on Puku Plains lodge in the south.  It was on the same road as Mukambi, and following some weird intuition, we thought we'd just stop in and ask if they'd let us camp in their parking or something. Well, we were met by two lovely ex-South Africans; Linda (who with her husband Jaques manages Mukambi) and Rodney, her colleague who manages Busanga Plains (their sister-lodge) during the dry season, who was there to relieve them when they take a well-earned break next week.  They were right in the midst of a hectic clear-up and preparation mission and were still closed, due to open officially tomorrow.  We caught them at the most inconvenient time and yet they were so friendly and welcoming.  Linda generously offered to let us camp in their luxury tented bushcamp area, as their campsite was washed away by the river a while ago.  Turns out that we must have the old version of T4A where the old site is still advertised.   We were given a cold beer to enjoy while we chatted with them and admired the gorgeous view of the river below the restaurant balconies.  An hour or so later we started to feel guilty for distracting them from their busy day, so excused ourselves and set off towards the bushcamp.  What a pretty spot - and we found a level space without too much effort.  The rest of the afternoon we spent watching the impala, grey loeries, baboons and vervets cavorting around in the bush nearby.  There were also some local people fishing from the big river, on the other side of the stream next to us, but we couldn't make out whether they were very successful or not - looked like most of their catch were tiny fish.
We had some popcorn and read our books, and marvelled at the most magnificent sunset - one of the absolute best of the trip.  The clouds here are so dramatic and the colours were incredibly rich.  Mike got a fire going before it was too dark, and we prepared a tasty dinner of boerewors, potatoes and aubergine/tomato sauce to go with our G&Ts.  We could hear the vervets roosting in the trees on the river bank, and a sweet little bat swooped overhead hopefully catching the flies and mozzies that had come out in force to check out the lamp.  And then we could hear something rather more sinister - mega-decible munching.  We had the big torch with us to check out the buck eyes in the distant bush, but when Mike swung the beam behind the boma where we were sitting, there was Basil.  The Hippopotamus.  And boy, was he close.  Linda had warned us that there was a semi-tame hippo that wandered about the lodge, but we weren't quite prepared for an almost fully-grown hippo bull joining us on our tiny patch of grass for the whole evening.  Because that's what he did.  Besides staring at us balefully when we shone the torch in his eyes, he grazed and ambled right round the boma, sniffed the fire (moments after Mike bravely rescued the grid), strolled bulkily through the grass seven, maybe eight metres away from us, as we nervously munched on our own dinner.  He came so close we felt we had to hide once or twice behind the a flimsy reed fence nearby in case he didn't feel like being docile anymore.  It was thrillingly exciting, but totally nerve-wracking as well! Maybe he was lonely, or perhaps he'd had the place to himself while they were closed, who knows.
The scariest thing however was hearing this unearthly siren, screeching sound just as we were getting ready to brave our way to the showers.  Impractical to describe acurately in words - but I'll try.  Pulsing clicks like a bird would make that turned into a short, sharp repeated shrieking scream, at ever increasing volume.  Each repetition was slower and louder until it sounded like it was coming from right next to us.  Terrifying, mostly because it sounded directionless and was impossibly loud.  We did trace it though, to a tree right next to the river.  And fearfully shining the torch into the branches, we found a tree hyrax.  Basically a big fat guinea pig sized dassie (rock-rabbit) with a shatteringly loud voice.  A rare treat though - we've only ever seen one like it once before (the tame, ancient hyrax at Trout Tree restaurant outside Nairobi).
At least Basil had moved off a little way so we could make a dash for the ablution block.  Lovely hot water later we uneventfully made it into the tent without actually bumping into him.  It wasn't long though before we could hear munching again, this time right next to Mapenzi's driver door. 
It was an adrenaline-filled night.  We could also hear lion across the river, hyena somewhere to the north, and the impala and puku came and grazed right next to us.  At dawn we woke to see a bushbuck (who we later learned is also tame) nibbling the grass just beyond the bonnet.  How's that for a wilderness experience!

Day 147 Sunday 1st March ZAMBIA (0 miles, Total 18,060.9 miles)
(M) Unusually for us, we'd opted not to bother with a morning drive but rather sit and relax and then join the gamedrive going in the afternoon.  We hadn't had a particularly restful sleep, waking up periodically to see if anything exciting was happening outside.  Probably the most promising was when the monkeys in the tree a few metres away started up their alarm calls just before dawn - this normally means they've seen a leopard, or other threat, but if there was anything I couldn't see it.  There was little chance of a lie in after that either.  With the lodge due to reopen today, the staff were busy readying the safari tents around us from quite early on.
After breakfast and a cup of tea we sat around reading, watching the baboons and monkeys around us (including an albino baby baboon) and generally chilling.  At about 11:30 we wandered over to the lodge to book onto the afternoon gamedrive and also find out if there was any further news on the pontoon crossing at Sitoti.  The guy who was supposed to have the info wasn't back yet though, so we'd have to wait.  Instead we sat out on the deck playing with some mind puzzles from the bar and watching as the clouds built up and then proceeded to chuck their contents down on Kafue.  Watching the rain we couldn't help wondering if our plan to join the drive was the wisest decision.  Most of the roads in the park are closed, so rather than charge us an entrance fee, the lodge has taken the decision that they'll mainly use the main tar road which cuts through the middle.  We really have timed this badly for this part of the world, but the rain was going to hit us somewhere along the line.  It is beautiful, but with all the water, most of the park is totally inaccessible.  Interestingly, Kafue is the biggest park in Africa - a little larger than Kruger and about the size of Wales (but we'd just see the tarred main road).  Oh well - looking forward to it anyway; it's a relaxing way to view and we'd tried to come with no expectations.
Back at our tent we had lunch and relaxed some more.  This travelling is tiring business.  As the time for the drive approached though, we packed a bag with rain jackets, cameras etc and made our way back over to the lodge.  There were only another two guests joining us for the drive and we were met by Israel (the spotter) and Akim, the guide.  Optimistically he asked if any of us had any preference for what we wanted to see.  Of course we could have mentioned wilddogs cornering a leopard and chasing it into a tree with a fresh pangolin kill, but we didn't.  We were all pretty easy going, which was probably a relief to him.
We left just before 16:30 and headed slowly out towards the main road.  Stopped a couple of times for impala, puku, zebra etc, but there wasn't a lot about. Some pretty good sightings from the tar road though - we saw some lovely kudu bulls, watched a grey heron catch a snake (and beat it to death before swallowing it whole), counted a number of hartebeest, an elephant making a couple of mock charges at us...  Then, at dusk we stopped for sundowners on a bridge across a very swampy area.  All in all, a pleasant, if not spectacular drive.
When we set off back to the camp in the dark there seemed to be very little reflecting from the spotlight that Israel was wielding, but as we got closer we surprised a side-striped jackal on the road (a first for Sarah), then a genet, a hyena which limped off and finally a very shy lioness with three half-grown cubs.  Not bad for the main road through the park, though admittedly there was very little other traffic.
When we got back to Mukambi we asked about the ferry again and the night watchman was sent off to find out for us.  He came back 20 minutes later with the positive news that the ferry was running - fantastic.  Originally we'd been thinking we'd leave at the crack of dawn but thought we should at least stay around to say goodbye to Linda, Jaques and Rodney, and thank them for their hospitality.  Veronica, on reception, told us they'd be around at 07:00, which meant we wouldn't have to be up quite so early either.
We followed the watchman back to our car, which was in total darkness other than some fireflies flitting about.  Saw Basil again and also a porcupine at the reach of our torchbeams - bit of a bonus to end the evening on a high.
Had the leftovers from last night with some bread for dinner, packed up and got ready for bed.

Day 148 Monday 2nd March ZAMBIA (+- 597.4 miles, Total 18,657.4 miles)
(S) Today should have been an intrepid adventure that we could actually carry through.  I'm sure 50, maybe even 20 years ago, the notion of turning back wouldn't have even been countenanced until half of the posse was dying of malaria or outright war blocked the trail.  Back then you'd have sat it out, pushed on through or dug your way with bare hands to explore the wilds.  Now, the police chase after you on a motorbike to order you back because the road is flooded and the pontoon not running.  So much for brave, bold statements about "roads, who needs roads?  This is AFRICA!".
I should begin at the beginning.  We were up just before 7am, packed and parked at reception soon after.  After swapping tips on preparing overland vehicles, comparing Mapenzi and Linda's Nissan hardbody (with the same tyres, go BFG Ats!) we had to say our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch.  We also vowed to get in touch to let them know how the ferry crossing went, as Linda and Jaques will be heading that way next week. 
We drove leisurely out the park, spotting the usual antelope, and stopping once at a broken down truck.  They were hoping to use our jack, but it's only rated to three tonnes, and their load was about 30!  He seemed to think they might be able to isolate the rear axle (where both left hand tyres had been totally shredded) but the angles were too awkward and we wouldn't have been able to lever it under the bumper.  Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do to help, other than wish them good luck, so continued on.  Signed out at the boom gate and set off towards Mongu.  The drive was long and a little boring - a dead-straight, undulating road that though pretty enough, was rather soporific.  Our guide book calls these some of "the most abused forests in Africa", and he probably isn't far off.  For kilometres at a stretch there were huge bundles of charcoal for sale at about 20m intervals.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, with magnificent clouds and we kept ourselves entertained doing diary (passenger) and singing along to our tunes (driver).
We stopped in Mongu at the Shoprite to pick up milk and bread (and a Tempo bar each!), tipping the cheeky car guard boys the loaf of bread they'd asked for.  On the outskirts of town I hopped out to ask the checkpoint traffic cops if they knew about the ferry and the road, and they assured me both were open, but to check again in Senanga.  Not much use, as we wanted to know before we'd committed to yet another load of kms. 
It was only 2.30pm when we reached Senanga, and we were pleased that it was now only 17km of bad sandy track to the pontoon.  But our hearts fell when we stopped at the checkpoint going into town and the traffic cop shook his head at us.  Déjà vu.  "The road is closed.  Even the 6x6 MAN trucks can't go through, it has been closed for a week now.  And there is no ferry for cars, only a speedboat for passengers."  Oh no!!!!!
In denial, we thanked him and said we would go into town anyway to find fuel.  As soon as we were out of earshot we decided to investigate just in case.  We'd come about 470km today and were desperate to ensure it hadn't been a total waste of time, diesel and energy.  Resolute, we set off along the dirt track, hearing distant whistling at one stage but with our windows wound up (to avoid the mud flying in) it sounded too far away to concern us.  There were so many people on the road, and loads of big horned cattle too, which made for difficult driving, as I didn't want to splash anyone but also didn't want to go into the ditch on the left or the river on the right.  I got very anxious at one stage and insisted Mike drive instead.  And then we were faced with slippery, deep ruts in the wet, grey clay mud - Mike made good progress powering along, but then we heard a huge bang under the car as he collided with an obstacle buried in the mud.  With perfect timing a portly officer arrived on his motorbike, saying he worked at the prison nearby and had seen us go past, whistling to make us stop.  He was worried we'd get too far and then wouldn't be able to turn around, as yes, the road was closed.  Red-faced we were forced to concede defeat.  For the second time in a week we were defeated by the wet season. Not before I had to climb out and move the giant hunk of concrete/masonry that was in the rut of course.  Who only knows how it got in there in the first place, but it took three of us to move the thing.  The officer coerced two poor guys walking past into helping me - he must have thought I was quite mad, this crazy Mzungu lady up to her knees in grey mud heaving and panting to move a hunk of rock that wouldn't budge!  With three of us slipping and shoving and straining we managed to heave it out of the way and went to wash off as much of the mud as we could manage.  With a cheery wave our officer friend set off back to the prison and with melancholy in our hearts we followed close behind.
He had one scary moment when he nearly collided with a cow before careering off through all the puddles as he got a speed wobble, which had us in fits of laughter.  I suppose we were now a bit hysterical - we would have to go all the way back to Kafue, to Lusaka, to square one, but were now low on fuel, and just as low on spirit.
Tail between our legs we passed the Senanga cop again and made it to Mongu where we found a Total garage to put in some diesel.  At the next town we were pleased to see that our friends from the truck with no jack had made it this far.  They were surprised to see us though! 
And then we pushed on into the night.  If we were forced to backtrack at least we would try to make it to the haven of Mukambi.  The sunset was spectacular, and we were treated to a lovely rainbow after a big storm to the south.  But boy when it got dark, was it dark.  We saw two owls in the road, and had to keep dimming our lights because of the stream of pedestrians and cyclists, invisible on the side of the road.  We stopped to cook some chicken on the side of the road as we were both really hungry by now and then kept going.  Luckily, the same lady was on duty at the park boomgate, and she let us through without too much questioning.  Unfortunately trucks kept passing us, any animals on the road thoroughly spooked off.  We did see a civet, a young hyena and lots of bushbaby eyes though.  At the turnoff to the lodge there was a dead jackal in the road which angered us a bit.  We stopped to tell the night watchmen that we'd speak to reception in the morning and set up camp.
Had a quick cold shower and straight into bed, exhausted.  It was now nearly 11pm and we'd driven about 600miles over 14hours.  And we were back where we'd started.

Day 149 Tuesday 3rd March ZAMBIA (+- 175 miles, Total 18,832.4 miles)
(M) I can almost write in the present tense for a change; one benefit of the long road trip yesterday was time in the car to write diary and it's probably the first time since Egypt that we've been up to the minute.
The monkeys woke us early with their chattering again.  Still hoping for that elusive leopard, but we couldn't make anything out - if it's there, I think it's down the bank.  The tent had more or less dried out over night but we left it up while we had breakfast and went to say hi to Rodney, Linda, Jaques et al.  They seemed happy to see us, if a bit disappointed on our behalf.  Rodney had some useful info about the roads south as well, so we may change our plan to push through to Livingstone today and rather stop over in Lusaka.  We did ask about the track that head directly down to Livingstone, but apparently it's not do-able in the wet (after our last couple of attempts we're not even going to tempt fate).
We left Mukambi for the second time at about 8:30, headed back on the tar towards Lusaka.  Stopped for a very pretty, slender snake about a metre long.  No idea what it was, but I have a picture.  Our fuel was low again, but we decided to push on through the red until Sarah finished her diary day, then we'd stop to swap drivers and put one of the jerry cans in.
It was all going swimmingly until Sarah was pulled over for going 89kph in an 80 zone, just a few kilometres shy of Lusaka!  I suppose we should be pleased that Mapenzi can speed.  The cop was a bit too friendly considering he'd pulled us over to fine us for, 'stepping on his tail'.  The official fine was supposed to be 180,000ZKw (30+ US dollars) but it was a spot fine and we told him we didn't have that much with us (which wasn't entirely honest).  In the end he accepted 130,000 though in retrospect we should have insisted on a receipt and we probably could have got away without paying anything.  Didn't put Sarah in a good mood though.
In Lusaka Sarah moped while I navigated my way through to the Arcade centre where we planned to internet.  We sat at the I-zone and had a cup of coffee while we checked emails and tried to upload our latest diary (I'm still not sure if it published successfully).  Also read that Australia won the first test and that terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricketers.  Not a good couple of days all round.  To raise our spirits we decided to treat ourselves to a movie at the posh Ster Kinekor cinema.  We chose 'Burn After Reading', the latest Coen Brothers movie - quite funny, in a twisted way.
After the film we filled up the tank and made for Eureka camping, just outside town on the road to Livingstone.  Can't believe we're almost into one of SA's neighbouring countries - though still unsure of the route we'll take from here.  The campsite was really nice, with individual open thatched rondavels and raised braais for campers.  Our spirits were still low though - probably not helped by the gloomy weather, so we watched Sin City on our laptop and enjoyed a bottle of wine with our spagbol to finish the day.

Day 150 Wednesday 4th March ZAMBIA (303.4 miles, Total 19,135.8 miles)
(S) We had a fairly long drive to look forward to again today, so we were up fairly early (though I did sleep in a bit longer than Mike).  Such a grey day, and the laundry I'd done wasn't anywhere near dry.  We set off in fair spirits once Mike had cheered me up - still a bit blue after getting fined yesterday.  Mike did the majority of the driving in the morning, and it was rather uneventful until about midday when we spotted two familiar looking, laden bikes.  The Yorkshire lads Pete and Dave had paused to take a photo about 100km outside Choma - very cool to see them again.  They were aiming to get to Livingstone tomorrow evening apparently, which meant they had serious mileage still to chew today, and about 190+kms to look forward to tomorrow.  Caught up on their plans and thought it would be fun to join them at Fawlty Towers backpackers, though we'd stick to Rodney's advice and try the Waterfront tonight at least.
The detour we had been warned about just outside Livingstone was pretty dire as expected - the guys were hoping to sneak straight through on their bikes, but we'd have to skirt round the new road and choke on dust and fumes before going back up onto the tar and having to negotiate shocking potholes that were more prevalent that the tar itself.  They were particularly crater-like, and it was a very bumpy, uncomfortable ride.  We did achieve possibly our fastest driver swap on this trip though! Mike had overtaken a huge pink bus at great effort (the driver kept speeding up and swerving into the other lane just as Mike made a move to go past - the first few times it might have been coincidence but it looked rather deliberate after a while!) so we were reluctant to get trapped behind him again.
When we made it into Livingstone, we followed the GPS towards the campsite but I got distracted by large Steers banners and decided we could do with some hot chips as a late afternoon snack.  We pulled into the SuperSpar shopping centre and spotted a lovely white Foleys branded Land Rover vehicle, so couldn't resist parking next to it.  Much newer and a bit shinier than Mapenzi, and it was only in the comparison that we realised just how not-white she really is!
We picked up some dinner ingredients and beer from the decent supermarket and then some delicious chips with Steers salt and made our way back to the cars.  The Foleys driver had emerged, and though we tried to chat to him a bit he wasn't terribly friendly?  Maybe he was off-duty or something...
Approaching the Waterfront we could just make out the mist from the Falls in the distance, and when we checked out their bar, hugging the shore of the Zambezi we got yet another thrilling glimpse of the "smoke that thunders".  Camping was expensive at $10US each, so we only booked in for one night.  There was an overland truck and a few other campers in the prime spots, so we battled to find a decent pitch, choosing one near the park fence in the end.
We chatted to the security guard Onwell, who encouraged us to do the adrenaline activities while we were here, swearing that the bungee was scarier than the gorge swing, though to my mind both sounded totally terrifying!  It began to rain, so we had to excuse ourselves and set up the tent quickly, also the awning, so that we had some shelter.
We shared dinner duty tonight, making tuna macaroni that we enjoyed with a glass of wine while we swatted at the mosquitoes and checked on the water filter.  Turns out that the tap we were using takes water straight from the river - so the colour was slightly off-putting to say the least!
Didn't want to get to bed too late so showered and left the dishes inside the back to wash tomorrow with hot water and made our way into the tent. I managed to dislodge what felt like a substantial bucketful of water down the small of my back and legs when I got to the top of the ladder and bumped the drooping flysheet - luverly! 

Day 151 Thursday 5th March ZAMBIA (+- 35.9 miles, Total 19,171.7 miles)
(M)  Both of us were cornered in turn by Onwell, on the way back from the bathroom.  He's a nice guy but we realised we wouldn't be getting much privacy in this camp.  Chatted to him for a while and then set about making a good breakfast, trying to keep the vervets away from our food.  We had a lot of planning to do so, after breakfast and a spot of laundry, we grabbed the maps and books and made our way across to the bar / deck for a cup of coffee while we perused.  I'd anticipated a nice cup of filter coffee so was a bit disappointed just to have instant.  Not as disappointed as Sarah, who doesn't do tea or coffee.  There was no fruit juice or hot chocolate on offer, so she went without.  The setting was beautiful though, and the planning a success.  We came up with three potential routes, dependent on road conditions and decided we could afford a few rest days here.
We were expecting Pete and Dave to make it to Livingstone today and had agreed that we'd meet them at Fawlty Towers if they did.  We packed up quickly and made our way into town; first to tourist info.  This wasn't as informative as we'd expected but there were some brochures to go through.  Back at Mapenzi some guy was busy washing her for us. We'd expressly told him not to bother and were a bit annoyed - feel desperate for him because he clearly needs the work but we can't go around paying for jobs that we've specifically asked not to be done.  We did give him something to eat but Sarah got a bit short with another guy trying to foist Zimbabwean dollars onto us as a souvenir (you can pick up 2x 1 Trillion dollar notes for US$1).
Back in the car we drove around trying to find internet.  At the second attempt we found a place that seemed to have a decent connection and spent an hour checking emails and downloading prices for the various activities on offer - you could spend a fortune here doing fun things.  Speaking of fun things we made our way back to the 'Super'Spar for some grocery shopping.  It's hard not to feel the end of the trip when everything is so easy and similar to home.  We wanted to have the oil changed again as well, so were looking for a garage to do it for us.  After our experience in Cairo we've entrusted this filthy chore to the professionals who know where to dispose if the old oil.  At te garage we tried it seemed expensive though, so we gave up and went to find Fawlty Towers.  The security guard told us to park outside and go to reception first.  We assumed the reception to be the only other door facing onto the road, but that turned out to be the most stocked gun shop you could imagine; rifles and handguns in all shapes and sizes.  Sarah wasn't comfortable there!  For some reason the security guard had shut the gates that we needed to go through - all very confusing, but he let us in with a huge smile when we knocked again.
Brett, a fellow South African, at Fawlty Towers was very welcoming and offered us an ensuite room for almost the same price as camping because they're busy with renovations and the carpark was a bit untidy.  We liked the place already - great pool, spacious communal lounge with DSTV, free tea and coffee during the day, pancakes in the afternoon, free internet etc.  We chatted to him for a while before taking the car around the back and settling into our room.  Pete and Dave rolled in sometime late afternoon, having cycled 191 km, their longest day yet.  We had a beer with them and then let them get on with setting up their tents while we went and started our sausage and mash in the shared kitchen.  Felt a bit extravangant when the only others in the kitchen were an Irish school group who'd just arrived after a yonks long flight and weren having to make do with cuppa soup and minute noodles for dinner.  Ours was much better.
Went for another beer in the bar before making our way to bed - proper bed.

Day 152 Friday 6th March ZAMBIA (20 miles, Total 19,191.7miles)
(S) Larium day today, so a big, hearty breakfast was called for.  The Yorkshire lads were buzzing with anticipation; they'd booked their adrenalin package, which we were keen to go along and watch later today.  We invited them to join us for scrambled eggs and a loaf of bread - again I was worried I'd undercatered, as they sure have vast appetities! Considering the mileage they've clocked over the last few days, they're more than entitled to feel a hunger coming on I guess! 
I'd had great plans for a morning swim but it was overcast and cool again, so we abandoned that and sorted out our booking for rafting tomorrow instead.  We then hung about, chatting to Brett in the bar, watching Rugby 7's world cup matches on the big screen and planning to join the braai this evening when we got back from our walk at Vic Falls.  By mid-day the boys' transport had arrived, so we followed them to the gorge swing venue, and took possession of their wallets and phone/cameras while they got kitted out in their harnesses.  There was a group there who'd just had their turn and the excitement was terribly infectious - as we walked up a guy leapt off the platform with a yell while the onlookers screamed for him.  They were all really hyped up but still couldn't quite convince me that it was actually more fun than terrifying!  I was adamant I wouldn't be flinging myself into space, but I wasn't sure if Mike was a teeny bit tempted!  If they'd offered it to him free I'm sure he'd have dredged up courage and gone for it!  One of the Dutch medical students we'd met in Malawi was there and was raving about how cool his jump had been - he was also due to go rafting tomorrow so we wondered if we'd end up on the same boat?  Cool to catch up with him again.
When the boys were sorted out so they could jump tandem-style, Mike started filming and I tried to get Pete's phone/camera to work, so we could record their girly screams for posterity.  After some banter, and some brave acknowlegment of their breath-holding audience, they stepped off the platform backwards and plummeted into the gorge.  The girls watching sure did scream, but it was only when the lads were swinging up the opposite side of the river that we could hear maniacal chuckling and laughter echoing from their tiny forms way down below.  So much for sheer terror, they were hooting the whole way!  Soon they started the long ascent back up out of the valley, while we steadfastedly fended off the staff who were trying to coerce us into doing our own jump.
We wandered over to the next activity, called the Flying Fox (basically a zip line set up across the gorge).  The guys opted for "Superman" style and Dave went first, taking a running leap off the concrete runway and soaring out into the gorge with arm extended and cape flying.  He didn't go very far on the first jump but the second time when he tried a zig-zag strategy, he nearly made it to the Zimbabwe side of the valley.  Pete managed to get even further across, especially on his second attempt.  Delighted with the footage of their death-defying stunts, we left them looking at the video while I got sucked into buying a curio at the ramshackle hut nearby.  A total sucker, I fell for a gorgeous metal warthog and had to bargain hard with the vendor.  Mike joined the boys in teasing me unmercifully, but I thought he was a bargain.  We offered to take Dave and Pete with us to the Falls, so we squeezed into the Landy and set off, parked and paid up for the tickets into Mosi-Oa-Tunya. 
There was a dashing bronzy type statue of Dr Livingstone as we walked towards the sound of the falls, and we cris-crossed the paths a few times finding our way around.  The spray was incredible - obscuring most of the falls and we just knew we'd get soaked walking along the edge.  So we tackled the upstream walk while we were still dry, taking photos of the spectacular roaring torrent of water, and watching a TV crew lug their heavy equipment around.  We then bravely set off down the path, ignoring the raincoat hire stands, and slowly getting rained on by the spray, pausing to look at the bridge across to the Zim side, where there were bungee ropes set up.  The power of the water was incredible, and we were soon wet through as we stood at the viewing points and waited for the spray to clear so we could check out the boiling cauldron ahead of us and peer down into the gorge. We got even wetter wading along a wind-swept bridge, as water sluiced past our ankles and spray slanted like a downpour onto our heads.
On our way to one of the lookout spots we were collared by the TV crew - Dave made a speedy getaway but the rest of us were trapped.  Turns out they were filming for Latvian television and just wanted to ask us a few questions.  "Sure" we nodded, drenched through, water dripping into our eyes.  So much for my TV debut - it was more like being in a wet T-shirt competition!  The interviewer did his best, but considering we were overlanders and not regular tourists, he probably got more than he bargained for!  And just what his viewers would make of us shouting in English over the noise of the waterfall while we scrubbed the water out of our eyes and raved about how awesome it all was, who only knows...
At the far end, we had another great view of the Livingstone bridge, so waited to see if there was anyone preparing to do the bungee.  But we had to give up when no one looked brave enough and the cold and wet started to make us all uncomfortable.  We sloshed our way back to the car and climbed in still dripping.
Back at Fawlty Towers we had a quick hot shower and changed, before dashing to Spar to pick up some meat for the braai.  The lads did a huge shop, and we piled everone and everything back into the Landy to head back to the hostel.  The rest of the evening was cool, though Dave wasn't feeling very well and ended up having a rather early night.  Hope it's nothing serious though he did look very pale.  I made a nice big salad, and we put some gigantic steaks on the braai.  We had to be ready for the rafting pickup at 7.30am tomorrow, so when the Tequila made an appearance we sneakily said our goodnights and scuttled off to bed like old fogeys.  Wanted to be full strength for tomorrow, and judging by the fragile expressions the next morning when some of the boys were up early to watch the Sharks rugby game, we didn't leave a moment too soon!

Day 153 Saturday 7th March ZAMBIA (0 miles, Total 19,191.7 miles)
(M) I slept soundly considering the underlying fear that we may not make it through today.  Rafting the Zambezi is up there as one of the 'must do' adrenalin activities and evreryone who's done it seems to tell stories of being trapped under water for 30 seconds or worse, not knowing which way is up.  Death, clearly, was almost guaranteed.  We dragged ourselves out of bed, put together a bag of dry clothes and went to the lounge to wait for our pickup.  Some others were already there, going microlighting, but when they were collected we were alone again.  Our guys arrived a bit late with a minibus-load of fellow rafters; three young Canadians, three surly Russians and our Dutch med-student backpacker friend whose name we still don't know.  A few minutes and much banter later we pulled into the Waterfront where we were served a full English breakfast with all the trimmings.  Off to a good start - maybe a last meal? 
After breakfast we were shepherded into the auditorium where Boyd briefed us on safety procedures, equipment etc.  We each grabbed a paddle, lifejacket and helmet and changed quickly into our costumes before being bundled into the bus for the 40 minute trip.  After a few team photos we began the steep walk into the gorge - much relieved that there's now a cable car back out, though feeling a bit ashamed that the workers have to carry some of the kit up from the start point anyway. We passed one sweating bloke carrying a generator!  Rather him than me.
Our trip began at rapid 14.  Apparently rapids 10 - 13 had been closed just the week before, with dangerous whirlpools resulting from the high water.  There was a bit of confusion at the start.  We'd been divided into a group of five and a group of four, with Sarah and I supposed to join the three Russians.  The rafts were different though, one having fixed oars and a resuscitation board on the back.  Though both were going to be running the same lines two of the Russian guys seemed to think the other would be more fun and hopped aboard.  The result was that Sarah and I shared with the one remaining (and friendliest) Russian guy.  Didn't seem to make a lot of difference though.  After a short practice we learned from Vinnie how to rescue each other from the water and then made our way to the first of the rapids.  It was pretty turbulent but not as frightening as we'd built it up to be (we later found out that with the high waters they'd been downgraded from Grade 5 to Grade 4, though the current was perhaps stronger).  Fun though.  On about the third rapid we almost tipped, with Sarah falling onto me as the raft pitched sideways before settling over the wave.  The other raft wasn't so lucky and we had to retrieve three of their oars and one of their guys, who'd been picked up by a safety kayaker.  The kayakers themselves were amazing to watch - totally at home in the waves and easily moving about between rapids.
After a while we stopped to jump off a high rock.  I'm usually not the most eager when it comes to heights - we were told it was between 7 and 8m - but when Sarah went over the edge before me I had no choice.  My manliness was at stake.  Probably my scariest moment of the day to be honest, but I'm glad I did it.  Our raft guide revealed afterwards that he's only ever jumped from the lower ledge, and he's been doing this for 13 years.  We stopped once more, having made it safely though 'the terminator' and the 'washing machine' (with a butterfly hitchhiking on Sarah's life jacket through the biggest rapids!), for a bit of a slide down a rock, then, in one of the later rapids Sarah managed to somersault herself overboard when we were trying to surf one of the waves.  No other dramas except for a few close whirlpool encounters.  After some of the stories our guide had told us I was keen not to be sucked in.  As it was, sitting at the front, my end was pulled down by one.  Apparently the larger ones can suck down the whole 16ft raft with all on board, though there's no need to panic because it will dissipate after a few seconds and you'll pop back up! Easy.  Supposedly it happened to a group recently and some came up with nosebleeds and damaged eardrums - nice.  In the last rapid we all jumped out and rode the waves just hanging onto the raft's ropes.  The power of the water was awesome and I was relieved to make it out still wearing my shorts.
After the cable car back to the top there were beers, water and softdrinks available for the drive back to the Waterfront, where we were served up a full cooked lunch (we were both very impressed with the catering for the day).  While we ate the photographer sorted out the pictures into groups.  There were some great shots but I think everyone was a bit disspointed at the price.  To be fair it perhaps wasn't an unreasonable amount, given the number of pictures and the fact that they were electronic and therefore copiable, but you couldn't select just one or two of them and, because they were divided into the two rafts, we couldn't share the cost with anyone. In the end we chipped in to buy the photos of the other raft, so that we at least had our jumping and sliding pictures, and some general ones to remember the day.
There were still two hours to kill before our sunset cruise, which we'd booked as part of a package, so we asked to be dropped back at Fawlty Towers.  By the time we were collected again we'd lost all enthusiasm for doing anything more with our day, not even a gentle journey up the river with food and drinks provided.  We joined them anyway and didn't regret it.  From the start the staff were welcoming and friendly, encouraging everyone to eat and drink as much as they could to make it worthwhile.  It's a bit sad though, and something we've noticed the whole way down, that all these tour operators are struggling to attract clientele.  Tourism has really slowed and the small businesses are feeling the pinch - you can't help feeling bad for them, but then I'm unemployed too.
We didn't see a lot of wildlife from the boat, but there were loads of birds, some hippos and we did spot a decent size croc chilling out on the bank.  As the sun went down the boat turned around and made it's way back.  End of a fun day and we were both about ready for bed.  Our lift back to Fawlty Towers was waiting for us so we were back within ten minutes.  We chatted for a bit and then retired to our room, looking forward to a relaxing day tomorrow.

Day 154 Sunday 8th March ZAMBIA (0 miles, Total 19,191.7 miles)
(S) Today was planned as a rest day. We overslept a little, and our Dutch rafting friend was already waiting for us so that we could sort out the photos from yesterday.  We copied them onto our laptop and burned a disc for the Canadian guys so everyone could have a copy.  My hand is very bruised today and we were all a bit stiff in the thighs from our exertions but other than that we're in good shape considering! 
Poor Dave on the other hand still felt rotten, so Pete spent most of the morning and early afternoon servicing both bikes.  Mike and I did some internet, had a swim, pootled about doing laundry and watched the cricket.  All in all it was a very lazy day and we're in danger of getting sucked into the comfort zone of our en suite room here.  I'm sure Mapenzi feels horribly neglected, so we'll make sure that we do the oil change chores tomorrow and pay her some attention.
At last we've managed to upload all our photos and sort out most of the website - we've been so far behind for weeks and weeks that it felt good to get the admin nearly done.  Unfortunately we left it until rather late in the afternoon to make a plan about food, and were bitterly disappointed to hear that Spar would have closed at 3pm, it being a Sunday.  We'd noshed health-food-extraordinaire-2-minute-noodles for lunch, and were now rather peckish.  Dave was feeling much better and having not eaten for a few days now, was eager to make a plan.  As a last resort, he phoned Debonairs pizza and ordered Hawaiians for the lads and me, a mushroom version for Mike, with some nice hot chips from Steers to accompany them.  The price was substantially higher than Dave had been quoted on the phone when they arrived, but we were hungry and they did taste good.  And it was an easy meal with no dishes to worry about! 
The bar was busy, with cool music playing, so we hung about, chatted about the state of the world for a while, and then bed starting calling.  It's so tiring being on holiday from your holiday!

Day 155 Monday 9th March ZAMBIA (+-15 miles, Total 19,206.7 miles)
(M) Sarah didn't want any of the left over pizza, which had ants all over it, so I spent a few minutes removing them and enjoying my healthy snack.  We'd planned to get some things done in readiness for leaving tomorrow, but started slower than we would have liked.  Claire (of Fawlty Towers) did manage to get hold of Jungle Junction on the phone for us, though she was cut off halfway through the conversation so we weren't sure if we were booked in for the next day or not.  We decided to email as well - just in case.
Pete and Dave didn't seem to be in a hurry to get going either, and around mid-morning we finally said our goodbyes and they hit the road again.  I'm sure the 60km to Kazangula sounds a lot further to them! With the two of them gone we were guilted into finally leaving the compound at Fawlty Towers and headed first to Foleys to price the oil change.  It was the same cost as the BP we'd asked at the other day - i.e. more than we'd hoped to pay - but he did agree to change the fuel filter for no extra charge.  Anyway, I'd trust our vehicle to them over some random mechanic, so we booked her in for 8:00am the next day.  After another visit to the supermarket I decided to brave a visit to a barber.  With our trip drawing to an end I thought I'd best try and look presentable when we meet up with family again (the last haircut I had was in Alexandria, almost four months ago).  Brett had told us there was a barber behind one of the pubs but I was still nervous.  Southern African barbers (all the ones we've seen at any rate) seem unfamiliar with scissors, using clippers only!  In retrospect I should have waited until we got to SA, but by the time I wanted to say something it was too late.  The clippers had laid waste to the mess on my head and I was almost bald.  Worse, when I asked him to trim my beard he took that as an excuse to almost completely shave it off - Nooooooooooo.  Sarah woke this morning after a dream (or nightmare) that she had guilted me into getting clean shaven against my wishes, and it looked like it was coming true.  It's taken me an age to grow it this long and now I had only about a week's worth of growth.  Gutted. Not much you can do when half of it's clipped though.  I can't even say there was much skill to the rest of the cut either - anyone with clippers could have done better. Needless to say, it wasn't the pleasant experience I had with the Arabic haircut four months ago.
Back at Fawlty Towers we sat inside uploading photos and watching the cricket while a storm built up outside.  We were both a bit blue, feeling like we'd lost momentum.  Livingstone is a great place to stay, and there's loads to do, but with limited time left we felt we really needed to get moving again.  Quite pleased that the website is up to date again though.  When we realised it was dark outside we cooked up a tasty chicken dinner and then made for bed; our last in the en-suite room.

Day 156 Tuesday 10th March ZAMBIA (46.2 miles, Total 19,252.9 miles)
(S) Poor Mike is looking totally shorn.  He eagerly wanted to see how luxurious he could get his beard to grow during the six months of this trip, and it's gone horribly wrong with only three weeks left.  Even all the ladies commenting with surprise that he's "really rather handsome under all that hair" it hasn't cheered him up enough.  I must admit, as much as I teased him for the Robinson Crusoe look, I had gotten used to it, and this stark skinhead style will take even more adjustment!
We packed up swiftly, and he set off to have Mapenzi's lubricants renewed, so I tried to organise Jungle Junction and check us out.  When Mike got back, I hadn't yet heard whether Brett from JJ's was still due to meet us so Claire kindly called again.  The reply was yes, but only at 10am, or so.  We whiled away the hours watching the distressing cricket, until eventually he turned up, flustered and apologetic. Turns out he was collared by the traffic police (after numerous warnings apparently!) for having totally bald tyres, and had his vehicle impounded while he paid a hefty fine.  He and his girlfriend were due to join his family on a fishing trip in the Caprivi, so we would be looked after by the staff at JJ's over the next 2 days. He persuaded us to buy our own groceries so we could self-cater a bit, and did some additional shopping for us to take there for him. We paid so that we could then have the cost deducted from our bill.  In theory it sounded like a good plan, except that the receipt wasn't itemised so we had a battle on our hands when we got there to try and work out what was what!
With another detour past Spar for beers and veggies we left an overcast, grey Livingstone behind, stopping at a checkpoint where we were forced to pay R50 for "council levy" - not sure that it was relevant for us as we weren't taking the Kazangula ferry, but the chap was persistant. 
The drive was pleasant, going through nature conservancy areas, but we didn't spot any wildlife.  Soon we recognised the twin towers that Brett had marked on his GPS (he downloaded the tracks for us as the usual piste was washed out in places this time of year).  We bumped along a good sandy track and then followed the cookie-crumb trail or Brett's smooth tread pattern round or into the deeper mud and puddle sections.  Nothing Mapenzi couldn't handle, though some of the wallows were quite deep on one side and we got some good tilting action going!
We zoomed past the riverbank used as a parking area and had to do some smart three point turns to backtrack, the village kids enthusiastically shouting "Bye-bye!" at us as both greeting and farewell.  George the security guard showed us the best spot and we soon met Davy who would be paddling us and our luggage in a mokoro over to the island.  Locked up Mapenzi and carting the groceries and our belongings we climbed into the wooden vessel.  A quick punt across the channel and we were making our way up the bank towards the Jungle Junction camp on Bovu Island.  It really would be a magic place in season, but it was a little gloomy under the branches because of the storm looming above us.  Also, as tranquil and peaceful as it was being on our own, it would have been a more holiday-like and cheerful atmosphere with other guests there.  It's very cool - sandy walkways leading to thatched open-sided spaces, a restaurant/library built in and around a huge tree, and a rustic bar on the water's edge, hammocks, an organised open-air kitchen and a constant chatter of birds about.  There were monstrous millipedes (shongololos!) and trillions of butterflies everywhere.  After a complimentary drink at the bar, we made our plans.  Sunset cruise tonight, fishing tomorrow - there's a giant tiger fish out there waiting for Mike to come and do battle!  Davy and Harriet took us through the rules (be wary of crocodiles near the water's edge, the bar runs on an honesty system etc.) and we went to settle in.  Brett had offered us one of the cabins as we were the only guests, so we unpacked and admired the view of the surging Zambezi from our deck.  Deciding that the grocery bill was too complicated, we planned to cook for ourselves tonight, and then have the rest of the meals in the "restaurant", cooked by Harry.  That meant a quick detour back over the channel to the car for Mike's guitar and some ingredients.  We'd just made the return journey to the island when the heavens opened.  No luck with the sunset cruise then!  It was an impressive storm, and we were a little nervous about what state the track back to the main road would be in the day after tomorrow!  Harriet brought us some delicious popcorn, so with a glass of wine, a book and the guitar we entertained ourselves until it got dark. 
Then it was time to cook dinner.  Using the brazier up at the kitchen, we made some tasty bolognaise mince pasta, that we ate down at the bar by candlelight.  Soon we had a visitor - an incredibly tame genet!  Seems they enjoy "Mzungu" food too - this one happily nibbling up the bits of mince we offered it.  I usually abhor the idea of feeding wild animals, but made an exception as Harry insisted that the genets here wouldn't become pests as they were virtually pets anyway and relied on the scraps as there wasn't enough wild food for them on the island.  Conscience cloudy, I nevertheless fell under its spell, even hand feeding it a lump of mince!  It was beautiful, with an incredibly lustrous looking coat and full striped tail. 
We chatted for a while then bed beckoned, so we said our goodnights and by torchlight found our way back to the cabin.  Neither of us could get the hot water to work, so it was a cool shower in the open-air bathrooms.  Mike is terribly exicted about going fishing tomorrow, and I must admit, the idea of relaxing, reading on the mokoro while he does his thing is very appealing.  Only hope the weather plays along!  The moon is almost full, but very hidden behind the clouds so we'll have to wait and see.

Day 157 Wednesday 11th March ZAMBIA (0 miles, Total 19,252.9 miles)
(M) My whole life has been leading up to this day - I'm going to get me a tiger.  The water's apparently too high but I still hoped.
Without the blinds down we were woken in our rustic cabin by daylight streaming in.  We'd agreed to meet Davy at 08:00 so made ourselves ready for a day's fishing and wandered over to the library/restaurant for breakfast.  It wasn't cooked yet but Harriet already had the eggs and bacon on the coals - you need a solid start if you're going tiger hunting!  Davy arrived a little after 08:00 and set about getting a rod together for me and then catching a few small bait fish while we waited.  Sarah had decided not to fish, but just to come along for the ride on the dugout. And the rest of the morning went something like this - Davy standing at the back paddling us to various spots along the water's edge, me standing at the front casting, Sarah sitting between us reading.  I tried with a spinner first, and then a Rapala (yes yes, I know the purists will want to know why I wasn't using flies; the answer's easy - I'm rubbish at casting).  Neither of these was attracting any attention though so Daby suggested I try the bait fishes, which he put on so that I could continue.  These weren't luring them in either, but then, towards midday there was a swirl as I lifted the bait out.  The next half hour was quite fun.  I had a couple of hits from small fish, and one which I had on the line for a second or two.  They weren't big (about 25cm) but they were tigerfish, which I've never even seen before.  Unfortunately I'm not a particularly good fisherman and didn't manage to hook one properly.  We left them after a while and returned to Bovu Island, planning to come out again at about 15:00.
Back at Jungle Junction we made ourselves lunch and sat around reading.  A bit strange being the only guests on the island.  In the afternoon we headed out again.  It was much like the morning but with even less interest from the fish.  We tried a bit further up the river as we watched the storm clouds rolling in but I didn't have so much as a nibble.  We had to get back before 18:00 when Davy knocks off and I had my first chance of the afternoon in the middle of the stream on our way back to the island.  I felt the bite and heard the line running out, but again didn't manage to hook it.  Oh well, it'll have to wait for another trip I guess, I still had fun trying.
We managed to avoid being properly rained on and made it back to JJ for a hot shower before changing and returning to the bar.  There was popcorn again and a bit of time to do a spot more reading.  Harriet brought us dinner at about 19:00 and we chatted to her while we ate.  We were again joined by a genet, a different one to last night. Great end to a great day.
(S) There was a huge storm in the middle of the night - masses of thunder and lightning and torrential rain coming in through the open sides of the cabin.  In my half-awake state I almost thought that the river would rise enough to wash away the stilts on our hut and we'd be washed out into the Zambezi.  Or worse, the bank where Mapenzi was parked would subside and she would be hurled into the raging current!  Thankfully nothing that dramatic happened and the rain eventually slowed until it was just a soothing murmer on the thatch.

Day 158 Thursday 12th March ZAMBIA - CAPRIVI (212.8 miles, Total 19,465.7 miles)
(S) So much for Mike always having to do diary for border days.  We were keen to get on the road at a decent hour, so were up fairly early.  Half-heartedly packed before breakfast beckoned - yummy bacon and eggs again (this could become a very fattening habit!) with hot chocolate.  Then it was time for a nice stroll about the island.  We'd walked to the eastern end yesterday (it's not very long, about 1km only and the path stops just before Crocodile Swamps - wonder why?!), so we thought we'd explore the camping areas and fishermen's huts this time.  They were rather picturesque, so we detoured back to brush our teeth and collect the cameras.  On our second visit Mike managed to lean up against a wasp's nest inside one of the cabins.  It was only after he'd walked out, and come down the log steps and heard them still buzzing about his ears that he realised.  When we peered into the hut we could see them all angrily bristling around their paper-nest.  There was a mud wasp nest in the reading room type hut next door, that Mike photographed with lightning speed before hurtling out the door, with me on standby to slam it shut behind him.  Nothing like living dangerously!
Then it was time to settle the complicated bill, which required the multiple use of the calculator.  Between US$ and Kwachas we sorted out what we still owed with enough for a tip and said our goodbyes.  Then we grabbed our stuff and made our way to the mokoro to be ferried back across the channel.  George the security guard was there waiting and offered to hop in to show us the best route out.  We waved farewell to Davy and set off, with our new navigator pointing out the alternative routes around the bogged mopane scrub.  The rain from last night had turned much of the track into a mud slick, so I had to hold on pretty tight in the back as we swished our way back to the sandy piste.  We dropped George off past the sorghum and mielie fields where he had arranged to pick up some gear to mend his fishing nets.  I was relieved to be climbing back into the front even though Mike insisted that it was my turn to drive!  We got sightly lost when the road deteriorated into a lake-sized puddle, but after some backtracking and arguing we decided to just push through and it was a piece of cake!  Mapenzi really is capable and we made the rest of the journey with ease.
Back on the tar we aimed for the border at Katima Mulilo, making good progress.  The formalities were pretty straight forward and though we set off north instead of south, we then made it to the Namibian side without too much fuss.  The buildings were rather smart and we managed to bluff our way through the entry forms which asked for all sorts of info about where we were planning to stay etc.  "No idea" wasn't the most intelligent answer so we huffed about a bit trying to find the name of a campsite in our guide book.  The official got fed up after a while and ignored us, stamping in a holiday visa rather than the two day stopover/transit visa we'd put on the forms.  That's ok!   We then had to pay for road tax, (luckily they accepted SA rands).  On our way out we were stopped and asked to stamp around on a foot and mouth detox mat before we could drive out of the fenced area and enter the Caprivi Strip.  We expected vast numbers of game to immediately surround us but no such luck.  In the small town that serves the border, we found an ATM, an OK store for groceries (biltong!) and a petrol station.  Then it was off towards Kongola and the search for a camping spot.  The bush was very pretty, if the landscape monotonously flat, and the sky horizon to horizon, impressively enormous.  Again, very little traffic, so we could pootle along at 80km/hr and admire the birds.  It was like the great millipede migration - endless giant shongololos crossing the road.  Made for interesting slalom driving!  We aimed for a campsite near the river, but the access road was washed away and we were reluctant to get stuck as the darkness was approaching.  We then tried for a community camp called Silolo, south on a gravel road, but when we got there it looked abandoned so we pushed on to Nyamshasha Lodge that although sounded too fancy for the likes of us, wasn't too far away.  We got to drive on the airstrip which had a few puddles, and then arrived at the gate.  The guard directed us to reception where we held our breath, the lodge looked gorgeous and far too posh!  We asked their camping rate anyway, and thought we'd misheard.  "60 dollars per person": receptionist.  "6 dollars per person?": Mike.  "No, 60 dollars": receptionist. Ouch!  We hid our shock as best we could and asked if she could recommend somewhere else in the 5-10 dollar bracket!  She even got another chap to come and help us, who recommended somewhere north.  Gutted we returned to the car, despondent at having to continue driving.  It was now nearly sunset and we were knackered.  And then my brain clicked - "they must mean Nambian dollars surely?!" After months of being quoted in US, and spending Rands at the border we'd barely cottoned on to the fact that Namibia's currency is the dollar.  Red-faced we scuttled back to the desk - and lo and behold, they had meant 60 Namibian$ - about $6US.  We laughed with embarrassment and tried to explain, signed in and dashed off to find the camping area they recommended.  Thinking back, surely they should have been as confused as we were - what they possibly thought we meant when we said we were looking for a five dollar (50US cents!) a night campsite I have no idea?!  Are we that scruffy?!  I mean, we've come across some extortionately expensive lodgings on this trip and they sure looked luxurious so it could have been possible... But for them to not even question our requirements was a bit weird?  Oh well!
We settled in with a glass of wine and a beer once we'd set up on a nice level bank, with a view of the swamps below, ineffectively swatting away the hordes of mosquitos.  A spot of diary, dinner and then a warm shower and we were ready for bed.


Day 159 Friday 13th March CAPRIVI - BOTSWANA (220.1 miles, Total 19,685.8 miles)
(M) Allowed ourselves a bit of a lie in and woke to see Sarah with a puffy eye.  She'd been bitten on her top eyelid sometime during the night, and spent most of the rest of the day with her sunglasses on.  Her mood was not helped when I caught another mosquito getting her bottom eyelid.
The tent was pretty wet from condensation and we weren't keen to take it down immediately either so wandered over to the luxury of the main lodge to sit out on the deck for an hour or so.  Sarah ordered a fruit juice and I helped myself to the free coffee.  Also think we identified the snake we saw the other day as a vine snake.  Still had a border to cross though, so packed away and made our way along to the end of the Caprivi Strip, to Monembo.  This probably ranks as our easiest and most efficient border to date.  We didn't have Pula to pay the road taxes but they accept dollars, Namibian dollars or SA Rands as well so it wasn't a problem; our only concern being that we might be too late to make it to the bank in Shakawe, it being Friday afternoon.  After stamping our feet on the 'anti foot and mouth' mat and having our wheels sprayed we were through to Botswana and quickly covered the 17km to town.  The Barclays was still open and we parked outside, when one of the staff came out and asked me to move because the reflection from our windscreen was blinding the tellers (perhaps if we ever wanted to rob a bank...).
With new cash we made our way down to Sepopa Swamp Stop, which, because it's in the Okavango panhandle, was supposedly a cheap place to organise a mokoro trip into the delta.  When we arrived at a shut gate we thought the camp was closed but were relieved to find out that there were people there.  Arriving at the camp it seems quite run down but past the parking area it's actually quite nice, with a bar on the edge of the water, swimming pool, funky stamped metal toilet doors and numerous lifesize metal sculptures of endemic birds.   It seemed that we were the only campers so we chose the most promising of the reed enclosed sites (each had it's own braai area, tap and resident mosquitoes) and a couple of Dutch guys who arrived a little after us had to settle for second best.
With the tent up we headed for the pool.  It was a bit chilly though, and already late in the afternoon, so after a short dip we showered and returned to our site to start the braai fire.  Just in time too.  We'd barely eaten when it started to rain so spent the rest of the evening huddled in the tent watching 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind'.  We'd decided not to stay and do a mokoro ride, which it turned out was going to cost 500 Pula for the mokoro and 965 Pula each way for the boat transfer (shared between all passengers).  That's a tidy US$250 and we were convinced we could do it cheaper from Maun, so planned to up early for the next leg of the journey.

Day 160 Saturday 14th March BOTSWANA (219.4 miles, Total 19,905.2 miles)
(S) Today we'd planned to cover some distance, and needed to get from Sepopa to Maun, where we could stock up and organise our delta excursion.  The drive was scenic if unremarkable, though we'd like to come back one day and maybe visit the Tsodilo hills and bushman rock paintings in the area.  There were loads of rollers perched on the wires, and it's funny to see so many donkeys again after all this time.
In Maun we withdrew some more cash, did a spot of internet, went to the Spar and bought some meat and booze and then started to decide where we wanted to stay.  We were very tempted to go into Mr Price and pick up some new clothes while we were in the centre, but they were shut on weekends, so we'd have to try another day perhaps.  We paused to ask an overland truck driver on the main road, who tried to give us good advice, but we ended up picking the Old Bridge Backpackers, as we knew they offered a range of Okavango visits that we could arrange when we got there.  Tourist info was also closed, so we just pushed on towards the campsite.  It was a bit of a drive to get there, but at least our GPS showed us the way.  The setting is beautiful, right next to a ruined bridge, a hippo pool and the eandering river, with lush reedbeds hiding kingfishers and an elusive fish eagle too.  We parked up in an open bay, and registered at the bar, then had a swim.  I felt a bit bad, as the moment we jumped in, the little girl who had been in there on her own ran away!  Hopefully she was just shy and that we aren't truly frightening to small children...  Must admit, that even after all these months on the road we are both lily-white all over, except our driving arms! 
A quick rinse and we decided to have a beer in the bar and peruse the activities on offer.  It's a very vibey place.  They were showing the rugby for the South Africans, there were some locals propping up the pool table and an overland group of Danish nurses hung about flirting with pretty much everyone.
After we'd finished our drinks we scuttled back to the car to make a proper dinner, and enjoyed our chicken casserole immensely.  Tired out, we voted against having another beer in the bar, as the music had started to get louder and louder, and we were pretty much ready for bed.  Sounds boring, but we simply had a quick hot shower and packed up in case it rained in the night.
Unfortunately, the loud music didn't die down and somehow some mosquitoes had made it into the tent with us.  It sure was one uncomfortable night's non-sleep!  Turns out that the party went on until 5am - the music was forcibly stopped at about 2am, but apparently most of the revellers were very merry and hung about until dawn.  A foolish group of SA blokes working in Francistown and visiting Maun got into a heated debate with the manager about racism, and ended up being asked to leave!?  They'd provisionally booked for a boat trip on Tuesday, and we were keen to try and speak to them about joining their group.  But in the morning they packed up and left.

Day 161 Sunday 15th March BOTSWANA (0 miles, Total 19,905.2 miles)
(M) Didn't do much today.  We're counting the days until we no longer have to handwash our laundry but some of it (most to be honest) was pretty stinky again and the weather wasn't looking too promising either.  But we had to do it anyway.   On the way to the tap we stopped to chat to Mark, a British chap who's retired from the murder squad and is travelling through Africa with his son Cain. Interesting guy with some stories to tell and we were delayed by probably an hour.  They'd just had a pretty hairy experience with a male lion in the Central Kalahari Reserve - charged from about 25m away while they were collecting firewood - but otherwise had a great time there.  Sounds like a place we might like to visit as he was also saying that the roads to Moremi (the reserve in the Okavango that we were hoping to visit) have been closed.
When we'd finally done the washing we went to sit at one of the tables overlooking the water and have our hotdogs for lunch while we re-evaluated our plans for the last couple of weeks.  We've heard from a number of people now that Hwange in Zimbabwe is lacking in wildlife after all the poaching there, and not really worth visiting.  We were planning to return to Vic Falls on the Zim side, then visit Hwange for a couple of days before making our way south via Rhode's grave in the Matopas.  It's a long way round though, and the more people we speak to the more we like the sound of the reserves in Botswana.  And despite the government policy to keep prices high, they're the most affordable we've come across to date.  Anyway, the planning took the form of watching a kingfisher at work on a fish which was clearly too big for it.
As the afternoon moved it on it became necessary to go and get a cup of tea.  As we sat chatting to some other travellers the heavens opened again.  It was an impressive storm and not much good for the partially dry laundry (some of which ended up on the sand under the line as well).  Oh well, we're pretty used to our clothes smelling now.
The campsite was filling up again, and we'd just come back from re-hanging the clothes when another couple arrived in a Landcruiser.  Karel and Hildy (South African and Canadian).  We seemed to hit it off straight away and got chatting to them, a German / Austrian (Florian and Ute) couple in a Magirus truck and Juliana, a retired Italian woman travelling on her own through Africa.  We heard the same things - Central Kalahari is fantastic, Hwange is lacking, so have more or less made up our minds to skip Zim and rather spend a few extra days in Bots.  The seven of us and another two English folk, Matthew and Sarah, joined up to go to a local sports bar for pizzas, which in Karel's words 'are Fantaaaastic'.  They were too.

Day 162 Monday 16th March BOTSWANA (63.8 miles, Total 19,969 miles)
(S) We spent the whole morning chatting to our wonderful new friends.  Made use of the weak but working wireless internet, tidied up the vehicles and swapped notes and stories, watching Ute's video clips of the musician in Benin he bought his handmade guitar from.  Mike got a real kick out of learning how Ute makes his biltong - apparently prepares the meat with his special (i.e. secret!) spices, then washed the bonnet of their huge truck, lays the strips out in the sun and erects the mosquito net over it.  Yum, yum!
We decided follow Karel and Hildy when they went to the Bots wildlife service to ask about Moremi and the access roads.  We might even travel in convoy as then we can tow each other out of the mud if we get stuck!  They are great fun, so would be very cool to travel with them for a day or two if we can?!  Paid up and packed up, and set off into town, where we made a dent in our wallets - new clothes!  Bought a few tops and trousers/shorts from Mr Price, and Mike at last has a stinky-free t-shirt to wear...  I've vowed not to wear my lovely new things just yet - will save them for when we get to Joburg and need to look tidy for friends and relatives. No point spoiling them in the meantime when I still need to get on the roof twice a day to deal with the tent!  We went to use up our last minutes at the internet café, but their system was down.  Ended up being a frustrating half hour.
We then followed Karel and Hildy to go and enquire about the Okavango parks.  They'd heard that the roads were open from another source, but from what Mark had told Mike and I yesterday, they were in shocking condition and it had taken him hours to navigate a path through the deep mud a few days ago.  The lovely lady at the desk of BWS assured us that we could go to Moremi, but it was "entirely at our own risk".  Hmmm!  Now more than ever, we were very pleased that we would be travelling together.  We sorted out the permits and booked into Xakanaxa camp in the north.
Organised to meet up later, and set off to get provisions - fuel, food, beer, wood and then we were off.
The drive was mostly uneventful, only one vet fence where the official looked pretty bored and waved us through, a pee stop once or twice, a bumpy dirt section, and then we were turning off towards the park entrance.  The reserves seem to have a very big dispersal zone, and we were thrilled to spot some impala, elephant and the others saw kudu, on the way to our bush camp rendezvous. We picked a spot about 9kms from the gate.  It was perfect - level with low bush all around.  The sunset was lovely and it soon started to get dark.  We put up the tents, then Karel built a great fire in their webber braai.  Mike built his own fire in the Kelly kettle and made us all tea.  We set up the chairs between the cars and spent the evening chatting and admiring the beautiful stars - quickly hiding the light of the fire when a car came past in the dark.  Not sure if we're allowed to camp rough this close to the park!  Must admit that we were a little nervous about the beasties coming to visit and spent a fair amount of time shining the big torches in the search for any eyes nearby.
Karel shared out their last meat vetkoek with us for dinner, and then it was time for a quick babywipe-wash and teethbrush then bed.  We packed up everything too, as we had an early start planned. 

Day 163 Tuesday 17th March BOTSWANA (57.7 miles, Total 20,026.7 miles)
(M) Today we passed the 20,000mile mark!  That's 32,000km and to put it in perspective we generally travel at a maximum speed of 50mph (80kph).  Assuming we've managed to average half of that (highly unlikely) that's still a phenomenal 800 hours of driving - equal to 20 working weeks.
We were up early and on the road by 06:00, eager to cover the remaining 9km to the Moremi gate to start our game drive.  Karel and Hildy had two-way radios, so we were staying in touch as we drove.  The signs were promising too - fresh leopard spoor on the road next to our camp and about 3km on, they spotted the cat, our first of the trip.  What a great way to start the day!  Unfortunately it was wandering off into the bush so we didn't see if for long enough to take photos, though were still highly chuffed.  The rest of the morning was a bit more of a struggle for wildlife, though there were the ubiquitous impala and a number of red lechwe (a first for both of us and included an albino).  Navigating the road was probably occupying a bit more concentration than normal, even though the guy at the gate had directed us to take the southern track as the middle one had too much water.  Well, I don't want to know what the middle one was like because the one we were on was drowned enough.  In patches it was puddle after puddle, some of them reaching as high as the top of the wheels.  The ground was sandy though, so we managed to get through them ok.  Then, at one long stretch we decided it would be best to wade it first.  Again, the two cars handled without problems.  We stopped once for a snack and then pressed on towards third bridge for lunch, the game viewing picking up with hippo, zebra, etc. - and tracks and spoor everywhere.
At Third Bridge campsite there were another two groups already there and we had our first elephant sighting of the day, just behind the bathrooms.  I was chatting to one of the guys from another group and found out that their vehicle computer had got some water in it and they were now without 4wheel drive.  Understandably a bit nervous for the trip back the following day, though they were travelling with a Landcruiser as well.  Have to admit, we wouldn't have attempted to continue if we'd been alone, so were glad of the company.  Really enjoying travelling with Karel and Hildy actually, it's a bit of a shame we're going in opposite directions.
We were hoping for lions around Third Bridge but it was not to be.  Instead the road got even worse.  We were a bit nervous to cross a particularly swampy piece of ground and even more nervous to wade it after Karel started in and then decided against it when he saw something in the water.  So we tried a route around and were turned back when the road disappeared into a lake.  Did have a great elephant sighting though.  When we could see the road we wanted to be on Karel lead into a muddy puddle and couldn't make it out the other side.  Fortunately a park vehicle arrived and showed us a way around, so that we could pull them out from the other side (Land Rover pulling a Landcruiser :)).  I then led in the next pool, where the wave came up over the bonnet. By this stage it was late in the afternoon and we didn't really want the vehicles submerged, so we started to look for a way around for Karel.  But the park guys assured us our vehicles would make it through, and they did.  A bit of water came up through the floor, but judging from the amount pouring out of the chassis on the other side, I think we did pretty well.
In camp, at Xakanaxa, we thought the excitement for the day was over.  We'd all had enough adrenalin for the time being so settled in for a cup of tea and then, when we'd showered and got a fire going, for a well earned beer.   There was one other group of four in the campsite, about 30m away and we sat chatting while the steak and boerie sat on the fire.  We'd barely finished eating when Karel said,'oh my God!. There was a very disconcerting stampeding sound coming from behind me and Sarah was already on the move when I turned to see a full size hippo bearing down on us.  None of us stopped to watch its progress though.  Sarah made it the seven or so metres to the car in double quick time; I did one better and made it into the back in one leap - smashing a glass in the process, and Karel managed the roof of their car (they don't have a ladder and he could see no footprints on the bonnet, so how he got there remains a mystery). Hildy was already at the car so managed to avoid much of the fuss.  Believe any one of us; a hippo at full sprint is not to be underestimated - even the dainty sidestep when it saw our fire would have made a Springbok centre proud, though we agreed later that it wasn't actually charging us but had probably been startled by the other camper's spotlight.  Ish!  The other two had some brandies in their 'bribe box', which helped to settle the nerves before we made our weary ways to bed.

Day 164 Wednesday 18th March BOTSWANA (66.7 miles, Total 20,093.4 miles)
(S) Despite (or because of?) the adrenalin pumping action yesterday we all slept a little fitfully I think.  I had to do a midnight pee run and opted to stick pretty close to Mapenzi in case there were more rogue beasties lurking in camp.  Discovered the next morning that Karel and Hildy had heard hippos munching during the night, so just as well!
We were up before light and packed swiftly, quickly brushing teeth before learning that the camp water had run dry.  Then set off south, pausing at the airstrip to admire some wildebeest and then doing a detour into a pan where there were some plains game hanging about in the dawn light, perfect for photos.  One of the zebras had a nasty wound (from a kick?), though it was grazing pretty unperturbed.  Once we'd crossed the valley, we turned and the sun hit a million spider webs threaded above the grass.  Was very ethereal and quite beautiful.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, though we got excited at seeing some lion spoor near Third Bridge.  When we stopped there in the campsite to use the loo, one of the SA guys came by to chat.  We watched the baboons wreaking havoc in the sausage tree, while he encouraged us to check out the road to the boat launch, where yesterday they had seen a monster herd of buffalo.  They were dreading making their way out of the park today - he sounded resigned to towing his mate's stricken Nissan through most of the wet patches.
So we set off looking for buffels - saw great birds, a small crocodile (no more wading today please!) and lots of evidence like droppings and flattened grass and game trails.  But, no buffalo.  The boat chaps at the water's edge promised us they'd been around and we just needed to try another route.  So we waved our farewells and set off on a mini adventure.  The track marked on our GPS's turned out to be a real challenge; very twisty, overgrown and scratchy and though scenic, still no buffalo.  Oh well!
We found our way back to the main track after a while and made good progress - perhaps the worst of the water was already drying up a bit?  We stopped for a gourmet lunch of leftover braai meat and salad and yummy tuna-sweetcorn-cheese-provitas.  After a while the South Africans came by.  The Nissan was filthy!  They've decided that the only way to make it in 2wheel drive is to gun it through the puddles, which means that they have serious spray over the bonnet.  All in all, the driver was not looking too cheerful.  Let's put it this way - they've stopped counting the number of rescues they've each earned on this trip!
After we'd packed up the lunch stuff we set off again.  At one stage we paused as we could see the others ahead of us and they looked totally stuck.  Karel searched his GPS for our old tracks from yesterday and we tried one or two options, but in the end saw that the other vehicles had made it through, so we thought we'd be fine.  Mike decided to use their ruts past a deep looking puddle... And then we got stuck!  We should have just driven straight through the water.  Mike tried digging out the wheels that had lost traction, but no joy.  So it was Karel's turn to rescue us, winching us free of the gluey-mud.  (Landcruiser pulling a Land Rover :)) It was the first time he'd ever used his winch though, and he needed to unwind it most of the way, but unfortunately it totally unspooled - and then it didn't wind back on properly and got terribly tangled - not only did the connector bit fatigue and break, but the cable chafed too.  We felt awful that he'd ruined his new toy saving us from a foolish driving decision!  Once free, we still had to circumnavigate the worst of the wet patch and ended up on a meandering roundabout track.  We soon caught up with the Nissan again - all this careening through water allowed their air filter to get wet.  Oh boy!  Amazing how one "small" problem with your vehicle out here means that you drive it damaged and cause all sorts of other things to start to break... 
I then managed to completely ruin Second bridge.  The "bridges" here are a clever design - floating logs lashed together that enable you to maintain traction over the water.  I decided to go slowly and then had to frantically lurch out of a hole when the rotten logs crumbled into the water.  By the time Karel had had to drive through the gap behind me it was looking pretty unpassable!  Oops.  From there we were on a rush to the gate.  We saw some wonderful elephants, with lots of youngsters, all spread out, though perhaps got a little too close to one that flapped its ears at us menacingly.
We signed out rather later than the 11am departure time, but the guard was very relaxed and shrugged acknowledging that when the roads are this sticky they simply have to be grateful that we made it out at all, and that they didn't have to rescue us!
We dashed along the track outside the gate, one eye looking out for our leopard, and the other for our bush camp spot.  Karel's brakes have stopped working though, so he overshot it a bit. When we'd set up and put out the chairs, we recognised two vehicles going past.  Hooray, they'd made it!  The Nissan was looking very sad, and the driver a bit morose, but his passengers had already been sampling the last beers in the fridge and were very merry!
We wished them well and waved goodbye as the sun started to set and Karel built up a lovely big fire.  When it was properly dark we looked for eyes along the road and think we could see a spring hare hopping into the bushes - not sure.  At least it wasn't large and mean and out to trample us!  I made a huge macaroni cheese, accompanied by delicious cheap rose wine and salad for dinner, then we had a hot brandy toddy with chocolate before climbing up into our tents.  The stars were magnificent again and we would need to be up fairly early tomorrow to head back to Maun.  Karel is anxious to have his brakes sorted out, as well as the winch, and we need to seriously plan our next steps as we only have a few days of our journey left.  This time next week we'll be spending our final night in Botswana before the long drive across the border into SA and on to Jo'burg.

Day 165 Thursday 19th March BOTSWANA (62.4 miles, Total 20,155.8 miles)
(M) A few cars passed us with curious looks while we were pottering about in the morning, but none stopped.  Then a truck pulled around the bend - Florian and Ute!  Apparently they'd been camping just a few kilometres along the road and had had a close elephant encounter during the night.  We chatted for a bit while I took off the left headlight to empty water from it and Karel did a few bits and bobs on their car.  After the mud over the past two days their brakes are more or less finished (ours are feeling like they're on their last legs too).
The other two left a few minutes before us and we said our farewells to the Florian and Ute to head back to Maun.  It seemed to take longer than I remembered (stopping twice to photograph a dung beetle and a chameleon) but probably only because Mapenzi sounds a bit rougher than usual.  She really needs some TLC after the treatment she's had over the past month or so.  In Maun we made for the airport to see if we could get a wireless connection and check our emails.  There was a weak signal from the car and we did some work there, but decided a milkshake and something to eat at the corner, aviator café (frequented by the Okavango flights' pilots) was in order.   We had to return to the car when the computer battery started to give up and were surprised when Karel and Hildy pulled up alongside us.  Nessie (their car) had new brake shoes and had been promised a wash if they took her back to the garage after 14:00 - so we had to hide our jealousy.  Even better news was that it seemed they'd be able to have their winch repaired at another place in town.
We tried to finish off on the internet when they left, but we'd lost the signal, so followed them to the café / shop to finish up over a cup of tea.  We bought a couple of small things and then made our way to the wildlife office to buy permits for our park visits.  We've decided to spend a night in Nxai Pan and two nights in the Central Kalahari Reserve.  Unfortunately, the camp at Nxai Pan was fully booked so we had to reserve a space in Makadigadi (adjoining park but supposedly many of the animals migrate into Nxai at this time of year).  We'd been told that the entrance was valid for both parks so we planned to go to the gate at Nxai Pan and ask of they could accommodate us anyway.
Back in camp at Old Bridge we were pleasantly surprised when Karel and Hildy turned up 15 minutes after we got in.  We'd expected them to be well on their way to Nata but were very glad of the company.  Another young couple that they'd met in Namibia also arrived - Berns and Hilda.  Berns is a keen (obsessive) fisherman and they've planned their six month honeymoon around sampling the waters of southern and east Africa.  He has ten rods in their heavily weighted Toyota Hilux.  They were great company too and we sat up well into the night unwisely mixing drinks.  We supplied the beer, Berns and Hilda the wine and Karel and Hildy G&T, brandy and even a round of Tequilas, something I haven't done for some time.  At about 22:00 we were treated to some drumming by Berns (pretty good actually) and a very enthusiastic dance routine from Karel.  Without the advantage of dinner having been eaten, when I had a bit of a dizzy session a bit later, we decided it was time for bed - after 02:00 in the morning!

Day 166 Friday 20th March BOTSWANA (101 miles, Total 20,256.8 miles)
(S) What a party last night!  Can't believe we didn't even let the rain dampen our spirits and spent a good while hiding under Karel and Hildy's rooftoptent until we realised we were all supposed to be making an early start today!  Fortunately the resident rooster didn't let us oversleep.  I was inches away from climbing down the ladder to go and throttle the wretched bird at about 6am when one of the staff came and chased it away, circling the bar a few times.  It had actually perched on a wooden bench right next to our camp crowing purposefully in our direction.  Torturer!  Karel did spend the remainder of the morning calling it "roast lunch" so I'm sure it was on all our hit lists...
Considering our booze intake we were all rather fresh and bright eyed after a good shower and some breakfast.  Then it was the sad time to say our final goodbyes (again).  Can't believe we've only known Karel and Hildy for a few days - they have been the best fun and it was brilliant travelling with them to Moremi.  Hopefully we can join their welcoming committee when they get to the UK!  Berns and Hilda had decided to join us for our mokoro trip so we paid up and set off in convoy, driving fairly slowly down the dusty track to Boro village.  The community have a thriving business catering for both independent and safari group tourists, and it's a great way to organise a jaunt through the lower reaches of the delta.  We simply pitched up and arranged for two polers to take us out for a few hours.  The charges are very reasonable - 150Pula for the day.  There was some bickering among the remaining men who all wanted to guard the cars.  One character who reeked like he'd also had a bit of a festive night last night (or even this morning already!) wanted 100Pula!  Hilda simply laughed and said 10.  They seemed to sort it out between themselves, so armed with suncream, water and cameras we strolled down to the mokoros.  They've started making them out of fibreglass as the traditional wooden versions are made from sausage trees that take 100 years to grow to the size needed.  And then the boats only last about 10 years before they start to leak.  It's sad that the tradition is dying of course, but then again it's totally unsustainable and there are no old trees left to be used apparently.
Anyway, the whole experience was lovely.  The waterways were narrow and strewn with the pretties water-lilies, white ones open wide and night-time blue ones secretively furled.  There were loads of dragonflies, butterflies, a cute little painted frog, and some birds, and we spotted some fry and even some bigger fish in the incredibly clear water.  There are a lot of tannins so it's a tea colour, but very, very clean.  It was such a peaceful, scenic, calming way to explore the channels.  Edward, our poler and Life, who was poling for Berns and Hilda even sang some traditional songs for us - one of which was all about love, rather fitting considering this is their honeymoon :)  We stopped at an island for a short walk to a hippo pool where there were unfortunately no hippos, but it was good to stretch our legs.  On the way back we had a snack and some water as the heat of the day called for a rest.  Back into the mokoros and we set off for a swimming spot.  I foolishly hadn't brought my costume (dire warnings of crocodiles and hippos having persuaded even me to assume swimming wouldn't be on the menu).  Some of the others took a dip and claimed it was very refreshing.  Well, lucky for them!
On our way back we energetically overtook a huge party of about 13 mokoros, some with lady polers, who seemed to belong to one group.  Once back at the launch site, Berns had a go at poling, doing a very admirable job. 
We then returned to the cars, paid our excellent polers (can highly recommend Edward!) and gave the chap on car-guard duty some money.  We were then swapping addresses as we would have to part ways soon when the drunken man from earlier and his equally sloshed mate appeared.  He got a bit shirty about the fact that we wouldn't give him anything, claiming that he'd been watching the cars too and that the other guard had cheated him.  Okaaay, but where had he been when we got back, and why was he doubly plastered since this morning? We'd said we'd be back at about 2pm but had arrived a few minutes early.  It was now 2pm on the dot and he'd suddenly turned up on cue.  Hmmm!  His friend was gamely trying to stand upright and wanted Mike to know that he owned land nearby and that we needed his contact details and something else that he couldn't make out...  Anyway, we firmly said our goodbyes, and drove away!
On the way back we had one slight mis-turn before leaving the village.  We stopped to let two guys thumbing a lift hop onto the back for quite a distance.  They directed us onto another path but it seemed to go generally in the right direction so we kept on.  They were very grateful for the lift, and it was fine as we simply let the GPS guide us vaguely back towards the tar road. 
In Maun we waved our final goodbyes to Berns and Hilda and hit the Spar for some final goodies.  Filled up with fuel, and loaded three of the jerrys too.  Set off towards the parks feeling a bit weird.  It's been so lovely travelling with other overlanders again, and though we're excited about seeing more wildlife in Nxai and CKGR, the end of our trip is really weighing on our minds. 
We had to cross a vet fence and then were in wilderness areas again.  The sunset behind us was glorious, and the driving was going smoothly until Mike had to swerve and brake hard.  He'd expertly avoided a puffadder in the road.  Linda at Mukambi had told us that in some parts of Southern Africa people purposefully run over snakes as they fear and hate them.  Personally, we both admire and respect snakes, so Mike bravely offered to "help" this one off the road.  While I armed myself with the camera and the awning pole, Mike used the spade to coax it onto the grass verge.  It initially preferred the idea of playing dead until it dropped off the spade upside down.  Oops!  At least that encouraged it to make its own slow way off the tarmac into the grass.  Once there it made swift progress and camouflaged itself worryingly well!
Adrenaline pumping we hopped back into the car and found ourselves a lovely bush camp up a side dirt track a few km's from the park boundary.  We set about making spag bol with cheese for dinner, washing in turns with the 12V shower.  The night got darker and darker as the stars got brighter until the clouds rushed in and it started to rain.  Tired out, we brushed teeth and hit the sack before 9pm.

Day 167 Saturday 21st March BOTSWANA (122.8 miles, Total 20,379.6 miles)
(M) We were up before light and packed in a few minutes for the trip to the park, which took longer than expected.  Still unsure whether our permit covered us for both parks but headed straight for Baines' Baobabs anyway.  Baines painted these seven magnificent trees sometime in the 1800's and apparently the only discernible difference today is one missing branch.  We saw some lion tracks on the access road but it took a while before we spotted anything - first a steenbok and a little later some oryx (gemsbok), which we stopped to photograph on the pan before continuing towards the baobabs.
As we skirted the large mud pan nearby I started to worry that we were going to have to cross the mud in the tracks of previous vehicles.  It looked like the sort of mud that kills people, where you die thrashing in the filth (unless of course you've watched the 'Lone Ranger' and know to lie still on your back until Tonto comes and pulls you to safety).  Needless to say Mapenzi made it through with nothing more than dirty feet and we stopped for a bit on the other side to admire the stand of trees.  Quite something to have the place to ourselves.
From there we headed north up what looked like a firebreak track, towards the main Nxai Pan entrance gate.  Game viewing was a bit dull, with the road slightly sunken and the bush pretty thick and scrubby.  Also, by the time we'd covered the distance, the day was heating up and it couldn't really be considered prime game viewing time anyway.
The guy at the gate was quite amenable to our request to spend the night at the camp there, even though it was actually fully booked, so we entered the park and headed towards the main pans.  The place was really quite different; flat and beautiful with huge numbers of zebra (one foal with a broken leg) and other plains game.  We stopped for a cooked brunch under a lovely old baobab before continuing on another loop through mopane bush.  A lot of the park doesn't have road access, but there was plenty to keep us occupied around the main pans.  No predators but we had a very nice day's driving, which included elephants dust bathing, a number of jackal, a panorama of three storms on the horizon and even a stop to make some popcorn.  Disappointingly we also missed some bat-eared foxes that the occupants of another vehicle told us about. 
We made it into camp before dark but it looked pretty full and we weren't sure which one we were supposed to be in, so meandered back to the gate to ask.  When we were sure of our campsite we made our way back, set up the tent and built a fire.  Also discovered a scorpion sharing space with a millipede under a stone next to the car.  The two German guys in the hired Landcruiser next to us were very excited and came over to get a couple of pictures.
Braaied all our meat so that we wouldn't have to cook again the next night and sat for a short while.  We were being hounded by mosquitoes and the biggest wasps though, and also had an early morning to contemplate, so grabbed the torches and wandered across to have a shower.  There are brand new smart looking ablution blocks, but the one next to us hadn't been opened yet so we had to make do with a cold shower in the old block, surrounded by insects and without proper light.  On our way back a couple of guys from another camp warned us that they'd heard sounds from near our tent, but it was just our German neighbours, so nothing to be worried about.
We fell asleep listening to the gentle strumming and singing of another group around their campfire.

Day 168 Sunday 22nd March BOTSWANA (160.8 miles, Total 20,540.4 miles)
(S) Slept fitfully, hearing lions roaring in the morning hours and keen to seek them out.  Out of the tent and ready to go in 10mins but it was already beginning to get light.  We set off on the main loop, but there were few animals moving about yet.  Zebras were clustering and we startled a few wading in the pan, but no lions.  The sunrise was spectacular.  A huge herd of giraffes loped away from the road.  We decided to push on to Mkgadigadi, signed out at the gate and pushed fast along the dirt track, spotting steenbok and lovely birds. 
Past the turnoff to Baines' Baobabs we slowed, as we thought there was an oncoming car, but it turned out to be stationary; it was just the sunlight reflecting off their windscreen.  They had a flat and had been stuck overnight.  The three women looked cold and tired, though one was cheerfully boiling water for tea.  They were in Bots' park uniforms and looked a little rumpled.  The man was delighted we'd stopped and asked to borrow our hi-lift jack.  He needed it in the soft sand to raise his staff bakkie high enough to get his own bottle jack under the wheel.  That done he insisted he was now fine, so we wished them well and set off.
Once on the tar, we struggled to find the entry road labelled on the GPS.  It turned out to be a single track footpath through the grass.  Deciding to backtrack we went west and found another road that drew us into Mkgadigadi.  There were gorgeous rollers and wydahs on most of the trees lining the track, and we did see a steenbok and a lone giraffe, but it was a disappointing drive and very bumpy. Mid-morning is usually a rotten time of day for game-spotting but even so.  There was a lovely diversion past a hippo pool.  The grass was a pretty golden colour, and with the dwindling river snaking past steep banks linked with trees, it was very scenic.  At the campsite we used the loo and washed dishes and made some milo to have with our rusks.  Then we got to the office where we were told we didn't have to sign in or out and were directed to the south/western gate.  The new buildings were surrounded by a sturdy fence locked tight, so we followed a GPS track to see if there was another way out.  The first detour went past a game pen that looked solid enough to be a rhino enclosure? We paused to assist a fab yellow chameleon across the road and then had to turn back.  After driving around aimlessly, past impala staring balefully at the livestock on the other side of the electric fence (Mike was said they were trying to work out why they were trapped on the side with lions and leopards and things that ate them while the cattle had it easy) we gave up and returned to the main track.  At the new gate building I managed to open the gates and we set off.  Once out of the neighbouring villages we were on the tar and aiming south for CKGR.  We made good progress and stopped in Rakops for fuel, donating our old plastic jerrys and their crate to the petrol attendant. She was rather pleased and it seemed to make up for her having to work on a Sunday I guess.  Mapenzi looked good without the tacky blue box on her roof.
Then began the long road to Matswere gate.  There were deep puddles but the road wasn't too bad and we had a very entertaining 15mins or so watching meerkats and a ground squirrel checking us out and foraging.  Man, they are cute.  They disappeared as a goshawk swopped overhead so we carried on.  Then the road deteriorated - deep ditches filled with water, one after another, after another.  The dry sections were almost like speed humps, with the muddy dongas the bits of track in-between.  It was tiring and boring and we soon felt knackered. About 12kms from the gate we spotted a marooned Nissan in one of the deeper ditches yet and some people milling about.  We followed new tire tracks around the ditch and stopped to help. Josh (from California) and Candy (an Alaskan) were colleagues who worked in Antarctica.  They had hired the vehicle in Windhoek and were travelling around SW Africa before Josh had to go to Greenland and Candy was due to go home before returning to the Antarctic.  A Parks vehicle had also stopped to help them but when we arrived they looked relieved and suggested that maybe we could tow them as they had to get to the gate and we had a proper tow strap.  Mike joined the parks guy and Josh looking under the bonnet while I got more of the full story from Candy.  They'd been stuck for two hours, the engine simply cutting out mid-puddle.  A trio of South African gents had stopped to help but ended up setting fire to themselves and the bush.  They'd checked the distributor apparently and decided that it must be the spark plugs at fault.  One had a petrol soaked rag around the pipes and when for some reason it flamed up he panicked and threw it on the ground, while the other guy holding the pipes turned and knocked over the jerry can, which promptly lit up like a bonfire.  The third guy managed to get their car out the way while Josh and Candy used three fire extinguishers to prevent their stricken hire-car and the Central Kalahari bursting into flames.  One of the rescuers had third degree burns on his legs so they hared off to take him to hospital. What a disaster.  Josh and Candy were guilt-ridden and exhausted.  Turns out they'd had a wretched time on this trip - they'd been swindled by the border guys in Zambia, Josh's tent was cut with a razor in Livingstone and all his kit stolen, and now this.  We towed them to the gate, but it was an agonizing, terrifying journey.  Their brakes wouldn't work with out the ignition on, so they rolled fast into each ditch, leaving the tow strap slack, so that to heave them out and up the other side, we'd be jerked viciously back while we struggled to keep momentum.  It was torture - Mike convinced that we'd lose our back bumper or pull the Nissan's towpoints clean off the chassis.  Lurching along we crawled to the CKGR gate.  There, Toko the guard on duty rolled up his sleeves and got to work under the bonnet.  After an hour spent checking the fuel pump and lines etc. he cleaned out the distributor points and it started! Candy had tried to convince us to use their permit and campsite as a thank you, but we were adamant that if they were confident the car was now fixed they should still try and have their stay in the park. We were pleased we had turned her down as if they pushed it they could still make it to Deception before dark.  They tried to get Toko to let us go in and stay with them, but rules is rules!  As a compromise he offered to let us stay in the gate camp, which was generous as we then had the use of their ablutions - more comfortable surely than bush camping as we'd originally planned. 
A pair of hornbills entertained us as we set up camp, the male feeding the female and admiring themselves in the reflection of Mapenzi's windscreen.  We washed the tow strap and had a beer, lit a fire and prepared macaroni for dinner.  Unfortunately the bathroom was infested with insects - 8cm long praying mantis' (my favourite - NOT!!!), bright green grass bugs, spiders, beetles, huge crickets - you name it.  And it smelled a bit festery, the drains plugged with decaying insects. Eugh!  At least the shower water was warm.  Then to bed - we've got another early start planned!

Day 169 Monday 23rd March BOTSWANA (133.9 miles, Total 20,674.3 miles)
(M) Up early again and at the gate to be signed in at 06:30.  The road to start with was frustrating - more of the undulating ground going in and out of muddy puddles. It started to ease after a few km and then there was a shape on the road.  I couldn't make it out in the gloom but Sarah saw that it was a lion immediately, a young male.  There was another in the grass off to the side so we pulled over to watch them.  They seemed a bit too interested in us for either of us to be comfortable with the windows open.  Every time we moved the car the male would take a few paces towards us and stare us down.  Intriguing behaviour and a very cool sighting to start the day.  We left when Thoko arrived on his way to work.
It was a bit quiet for a while after that, but as we entered the open grasslands towards Deception Pan we started to see a bit more; a pair of courting ostriches, gemsbok herds and lots of springbok.  At Deception itself we watched a mixed group of meerkats and ground squirrels foraging in the short grass whilst keeping constant lookout for aerial threats.  The area seemed quite popular and we could see at least another four vehicles.  We couldn't hang around though, as we still needed to make it all the way down to Piper Pan, where we'd booked our campsite for the night.  We'd heard from a number of sources that a cheetah appears every day with her two cubs - we were trying to maintain low expectation though. 
The drive down was uneventful - possibly due to the time of day, but probably more to do with the speeds we were going to try and get down there.  At one stage we spotted two cars ahead so pulled over when we got to them.  One was a filming vehicle who pointed out a lioness which we'd just passed next to the road.  She wasn't up to much and we didn't stay long.
We got to Piper Pan at about 16:00, perfect for the afternoon game drive.  It was very attractive but a very big area with three loops and try as we might there were no cheetahs to be seen.  We did get photos of a big tortoise and saw a dozen kori bustards. We stopped in at our camp to leave a water jerry in the sun to warm up for our shower later, then continued.  After racing all the way down it was a bit of a disappointing afternoon and we gave up when the sun started to sink. 
We were the only campers booked in at Piper, so my guess would be that the nearest people would have been at least 50km away through the bush.  With that in mind we built ourselves a generous sized fire and surrounded ourselves with a bazillion mosquito coils before making the short, but nervy walk to the shower.  The showers in the park are ingenious - a bucket with a shower rose attached on a cable so that it can be raised and lowered.  You have to carry your own water in as the camps are pretty remote with no facilities.  When you've filled the bucket you raise it, turn on the tap and hey presto.  Our water hadn't heated up very much though, so it was only luke warm.
After dinner we sat around our fire listening to the night sounds and enjoying one of our last nights in the bush, before climbing into the familiarity of our rooftent.

Day 170 Tuesday 24th March BOTSWANA (146.9 miles, Total 20,821.2 miles)
(S) We hadn't heard any roaring or hyena noises which was disappointing, but always a relief when you need the loo in the middle of the night! The sunrise was going to be a stunner, so we quickly packed up and set off on a slow game drive round our part of the pan.  The springbok were gathering and joining the wildebeest strolling out to the grass.  Mike spotted an unusual shape about 100m away, and I was first to grab the binoculars. I was too speechless to confirm that it was a cheetah - my first sighting of one in the wild!  We were thrilled at sighting her, though she was very far away.  She was incredibly camouflaged; as she lay down again she instantly disappeared from view, until another head popped up about 50m to her left. And then another!  Her two large cubs soon strode over to join her and the three of them set off towards the bush on the outer limits of the pan.  Suddenly Mike spotted a honey badger (ratel) make a dash for the road and we excitedly followed him as he swaggered along and dived for thicker bush up the track.  Sadly we could only follow the cheetahs through the binos as the cubs greeted the female with gentle head butts and feline swishing of their tails.  Soon they were too far away and we decided to push on.
Around the pan we saw lots of birds, springbuck pronking, some kudu cows and paused for milo and a rusk.  Heading North I spotted a pair of bat-eared foxes which was a real treat.  It was a very long drive and though the golden grasses are just gorgeous, the scenery became a little monotonous after a while. 
We stopped at one of the smaller pans for yummy bacon and egg breakfast, watched by oryx who kept a safe distance.  By midday we had reached Tao pan and campsite, another area supposedly famous for cheetah.  What a glorious spot - could only imagine waking up and having the panorama of golden grass and wildlife laid out just beyond your tent.
We had a cup of tea and continued, aware that we had some serious ground to cover still to get to Deception pan for our evening game drive.   We paused to get some extra firewood, lashing it to the roof.   Other than lots of rollers and goshawks we didn't see terribly much.
At Deception we visited our campsite to set up the fire and make popcorn, then set off towards the pan and tried our hardest to will the big cats to make an appearance, with absolutely no luck. On the way back, we stopped to chat to a safari guy with two guests.  Really nice man who asked all about our trip and Mapenzi, and told us about a huge black mamba they had just diced with!  It had reared up at their open sided vehicle before slithering away.  Until it came back and threatened them again!  He reckoned he must have been parked near its nest or something - scary stuff!
In a foolish moment of last minute desperation to try and find a leopard, we decided to rush a sunset drive around Leopard and Sunday pans.  Eish, stressful.  Knowing we weren't supposed to be driving after dark, we sped along, of course hardly seeing anything.  Nice jackals and lots of oryx and some hartebeest, but really we shouldn't have pushed on in the first place.  Anyway, the sunset was spectacular and though it was pretty dark when we sneaked into camp, we made it with a minute or two to spare! 
Mike lit a perfect fire while I prepared dinner and boiled water for the shower with the Kelly kettle.  A seriously ugly spider did the wild thing running around the concrete braai pit, gnashing its pincers and freaking me out.  Then poor Mike had the fright of his life when an owl flew off the toilet wall as he walked round the opening, noisily rattling the planks in its escape.  We used all our torches to go up to the bathroom after that!
Unfortunately the water was still a bit cold, so we washed quickly and dashed back to the car. 
We had visitors for a few minutes when Toko and two colleagues came by to see whether we were alright.  Apparently, when they are really busy they check up on the campsites as a courtesy.  We raved about our morning sightings and they assured us that Deception was the place for lions.  Hmmm!  We'll see!  They also mentioned that Josh and Candy had seen lion and cheetah!
We had a tasty lentil soup for dinner round the marvellous fire before weakly climbing up into the tent.  It had been a very long, hot, tiring driving day.  Toko had encouraged us to stay in the park again tomorrow, saying that we needn't exit at 11am on the dot - they seem really relaxed about it, in fact he told us openly that as long as we signed out by 6.30pm we'd be fine!  But we want to cover some ground, so probably won't take him up on the offer.
Slept fitfully and I was annoyed at having to pee in the middle of the night.  Again.  Have to stop drinking a beer with dinner!  Luckily we didn't have any visitors in camp other than the owl but still, I struggled to get back to sleep with all the adrenaline pumping...

Day 171 Wednesday 25th March BOTSWANA (313.4 miles, Total 21,134.6 miles)
(M) We'd had a restless night trying to pinpoint the direction from which we were hearing lion, and were up at the crack of dawn to try and find our first maned male.  We thought we'd be first on the road and only a kilometre or so down the track we picked up spoor.  They were heading along the road towards Deception Pan so we followed.  At an intersection they went right, so we followed some more, and then up ahead we saw three cars!  Bleak.  Oh well, we assumed they were watching something, so gave up on our attempt at tracking and drove straight towards them, being rewarded by the sight of a big, very full looking male lion wandering along the road.  The plains game, especially the wildebeest, had their eyes on him and were making sure they kept just enough distance from him, even following a bit.
We stayed with the lion for about 15 minutes while he marked his territory.  When he looked like he was heading towards a patch of trees we thought it was our chance to get ahead of him, so drove ahead and parked.  But he didn't come out again so we left him for the drive back to the gate.
The track is fairly soft sand in patches and it's difficult to swerve out of the ruts, so there was nothing Sarah could do when a small snake slithered across in front of us.  We stopped and I went back to check on it.  It was upside down and a bit sqwonky - very clearly demised.  When I turned it over with a stick I saw it's tongue flicker and we spent the next few minutes watching as it ironed out the kinks in its torso, huffed a bit at us, had a go at the stick and then slithered off into the grass. Amazing.
Back at the park gate we stopped to put in our remaining fuel and got chatting to a Swiss couple in a shiny new Defender who've just started their trip.  Unfortunately for them their guidebook had failed to mention the new parks regulations in Botswana, which require that you purchase your permit in advance, and they'd been denied access, so they set off back towards Rakops.
We set off a few minutes later and soon caught them up.   They were going a lot slower than us but there was nowhere to overtake, so we stopped for lunch to let them get ahead.
On the tar at last we said goodbye to our final dirt road and turned south towards Palapye. The journey was uneventful and about 40km short we stopped in Serowe to get some milk and fruit.  Just after we saw a sign to a campsite.  It was starting to get dark so we pulled off the road and made for Musama Camp.  Not quite what we had in mind, Musama is locally run and has some potential, though is still pretty rudimentary.  Nevertheless, we were greeted enthusiastically by Edward who showed us to a site next to a fruit tree.  He stoked up a fire to make us some hot water and provided a plastic bath, so all in all we were very well looked after.
Other than a monster stick insect about as long as my forearm, the evening was much like many others.  We had no desire to sit up so after bathing and making dinner we just packed up and went to bed.

Day 172 Thursday 26th March BOTSWANA (206.1 miles, Total 21,340.7 miles)
(S) We woke to the alarm but ignored it and closed our eyes for a few more minutes.  Hadn't slept well again - is the Larium finally catching up with us?  When we did rouse ourselves and climbed out the tent we already had visitors.  Eddie and the manager, a very friendly retired army officer, were waiting to talk to us.  Neither of us was really in the mood but we dredged up some enthusiasm.  They were keen to find out what we thought about the site and asked if they could take photos of us on their 4x4 track to add to their marketing file.  'Sure' we agreed, and hastily packed up and brushed teeth, hoping that we could satisfy their request and then push on as we were now running late. 
Mike had bossed me into driving first shift, so I had the pleasure of coaxing Mapenzi's cold engine in low range up their steep rocky hill.  We posed for photos, had a look at the little dam below, grinned for more pictures and then finally managed to say our farewells.  The site has lots of potential, and once they've finished the bathrooms etc it'll be a great stopping point between Gabs and the parks.
We stopped for fuel, then for a coffee at some petrol stations and pressed on, driving into Gabarone by lunchtime.  We found the Land Rover dealer easily with the GPS, though the showroom was very intimidating with all the impossibly shiny new vehicles, and they were refurbishing the Service Centre (since LR was bought by Tata they've issued a new image and livery, so Gabs were tarting up their premises). 
After waiting a long time to be served, we soon had four or five gentlemen trying to assist us - the parts manager and head mechanic among them.  The latter set off on a test drive with Mike while the parts chap coerced me into signing an invoice before he went off on lunch.  So began a confusing number of hours spent in the LR dealership.  We sat in the car for the lunch hour doing internet on free wireless, then booked Mapenzi in so they could check the rear brakes.  Her steering shrieked unmercifully as they wrestled her into the garage.  It was horrible! 
I struck up conversation with a really nice Belgian chap, Jan, who is working out here on the diamond mines for 3 years, and has been having endless problems with his new Landy.  After seven months he was already afflicted with the African dilemma many Europeans struggle with - he was really enjoying himself, loved the friendliness of the people in Botswana, and the gorgeous wilderness, but was frustrated by the extraordinarily long time it takes to get anything done, the 'laziness' of people in business apparently, and the overall culture shock I guess.  Mike sorted out all the paperwork and I sneaked away to get some groceries and lunch.  The hours ticked by and soon I was totally restless.  We sneaked into the garage and put our stuff in the fridge in the back of the car while the petite lady mechanic finished off putting the wheels back on.  Then we waited some more.
Turns out that we need new brake pads, but they have no parts in stock, so they decided to adjust them slightly for us to travel on until we can replace them in Pietermaritzburg.
Finally, the mechanics decided to do another test drive, and it was gut-wrenching watching them simply disappear with Mapenzi away down the street.  Don't think we've had to watch someone else drive her like that and it felt very uncomfortable!  They were gone an unnecessarily long time we felt, and it was with great relief that we welcomed her back into the garage!
By now she was famous of course.  We'd had to expressly ask the guys not to wash her as Mike wanted some authentic dirt to show off to the family.  The fact that she was 17 years old and in such good condition raised much admiration, and even the dealership owner wanted a tour of the layout in the back.  They were all so enamoured with the vehicle that they magnanimously waived the labour costs in entirety.  So although we were back at square one in terms of needing new brake pads, all it had really cost us was time.  Whew!
Touched by their goodwill and good luck wishes we set off towards the Citi-camp.  We stopped in town for some beers, also sponsoring two little orphaned girls who charmed us with their smiles.
At the campsite we had to knock very loudly on the closed reception door to be served, but a sullen women who was obviously annoyed at being dragged from her loud TV soap opera.
We set up camp, chilled with our beers and some crisps as the sun went down and felt all melancholy that our trip is virtually over.  We had a hot shower then packed up so that we'd be ready to hit the road first thing.


Day 173 Friday 27th March BOTSWANA - SOUTH AFRICA (260.9 miles, Total 21,601.6 miles)
(M)  The guys at Land Rover yesterday suggested we should cross the border at Tlokweng, but we decided to stick on the main road and head down to Skilpad's Hek near Lobatse.  We packed up the camp that's seen us through the length of Africa and paid a quick visit to a couple of street stalls for some last minute purchases before heading south again..
The Botswana side of the border went quickly and suddenly we felt like we were home.  Took a picture of the 'Welcome to South Africa' sign and crossed into home territory. It didn't last long though; after being stamped in we were pulled over by customs and asked for declaration forms for all our electronic goods.  Of course we didn't have any so had to return to Botswana for the relevant paperwork, which we dutifully completed before returning.
The immediate effect of being in a new country was not particularly marked though traffic was noticeably heavier and faster.  We stopped in Zeerust to buy a sim card and then pushed on to Jo'burg, passing through the Groot Marico and signs to Abjaterskop as we went.  We'd been given coordinates to my Uncle and Aunt's new place in Jo'burg but the GPS was struggling a bit.  Nevertheless Sarah managed to guide us expertly there - after six months of travel it was good to see familiar faces again, though still sad that the trip is more or less over. 
In their hospitable way we were whisked inside for a couple of drinks before joining them and cousin and friend for dinner.  We were shattered by the time we got back to our plush room and en suite shower!

Day 174 Saturday 28th March SOUTH AFRICA (0 miles, Total 21,340.7 miles)
(S) Zero mileage clocked today, as Gaye kindly lent us her car and GPS to play with.  Nursing mild hangovers, we had a really nice, relaxed breakfast with Graham and Ann then set off.  Found our way easily by following the polite Garmin voice prompts to Sandton City to meet up with Sarah George and her beautiful little baby girl, Aarya.  It was marvellous to see them both. From there we joined Megan and Paul in Parkhurst at a trendy bar/restaurant where they very generously treated us to delicious prego rolls for lunch.  Pored over their gorgeous wedding photos too, and caught up on all their news.  Our next stop was Martin and Mareza's new home in Randpark Ridge - it is such a lovely, spacious house, with a pretty garden.  We were spoilt with tea, quiche and cakes (yum!) while we bored them with some of our thousands of photos!  Mike had vowed to buy Martin a drink with his earnings from his Fishing & Hunting Journal freelance article, so we set off to a smart bar for cocktails.  Mareza and I finally got our Mojitos (only a year or more of waiting - long story!) and we caught the tail end of the rugby on the big screen.  Anticipating the big "lights off" for Earth Hour, we dropped them off at home and pushed hard to get back to Glen Vista.  Panicked slightly when we realised we'd let the GPS battery go flat, but thankfully had Graham's mapbook to steer by.  Made it without getting lost but missed most of the switch off.  Graham and Ann got home shortly afterwards, and we had a nightcap or two before collapsing into bed.  Early start planned for tomorrow!

Day 175 Sunday 29th March SOUTH AFRICA (303.8 miles, Total 21,644.5 miles)
(M)  We'd planned to surprise Ian for his birthday and were on our way out of Johannesburg by 06:00 as planned.  It's usually a five hour drive to Howick (Howich on the Michelin map!) but at our speeds we anticipated 7.5 hours, sticking on the main toll roads all the way.
The cosmos was stunning in places and we stopped to pick some for my mom, otherwise only pausing to change drivers, or buy a toasted sambo or biltong.
Made it to Howick by 13:30 and spent the rest of the day catching up with my family over roast lamb and meeting our nephew Jaques for the first time.  Still feels a bit surreal having driven all the way from the UK.

Day 176 Monday 30th March SOUTH AFRICA (approx 14.7 miles, Total 21,659.2 miles)
(S) Up early with porridge for Michael's breakfast, and Cornflakes for mine.  Lovely sunny morning.  Sue was very brave and agreed to drive the Landy to the car wash, and very professional and capable she was too!  The car wash lady looked askance at the vehicle's state, but was diplomatic and quoted us their normal fees for an engine clean, chassis steamclean and overall jetspray wash and dry. 
From there we set off to Pietermaritzburg to visit Aunty Margie and to say hi to cousin Brenda, her husband Chris and their two kids who are in SA on holiday.  Uncle Dale popped by from work for a quick hello too.  Armed with a book for Bryan that Brenda had brought out from the UK, we waved farewell and returned to Howick via the shops where I picked up some face cream at last.  Mike saw his former scout leader there and we had a quick chat, then it was off to collect the shiny Land Rover.  She looked a million bucks - and Bev and her poor husband looked just a little bit shell-shocked!  The guys apparently had to use shovels to remove the heaps of mud that rinsed off poor ol' Mapenzi.  We paid a hefty tip on top of their very reasonable charges, and regaled them with some stories before Mike drove her home, so that Bryan could take her for a quick spin, while Sue and I went in search of treats for tea with Aunty Kath and Aunty Rose. It was lovely to see them though poor Kath was traumatised by the sight of Mike's hairy beard!
We had scrambled eggs on toast in front of the telly for dinner and then Uncle Nick and Aunty Jean popped by for coffee.  Not too late to bed though it feels like it's been a long day!

Day 177 Tuesday 31st March SOUTH AFRICA (approx 14.7 miles, Total 21,673.9 miles)
(M)  A day of rest.  Ian took the day off to bring Jaques up to see us again and we sat around at home drinking tea.  Enjoyed lunch in the garden and took the dogs for a walk in the afternoon before making our way down to Pietermaritzburg, with Yolande leading the way and the two of us following in Mapenzi and my mom's car (Mapenzi has a doctor's check up in the morning so we wanted the other as a runaround).
Spent the evening in Pmb with Ian, Yolande, Jaques and a couple of pizzas.

Day 178 Wednesday 1st April SOUTH AFRICA (approx 14.7 miles, Total 21,688.6 miles)
(S) We woke to Ian's anxious voice - "Mike come quickly, the Landy has two flat tyres!".  Brains fuzzy with sleep Mike challenged me, asking if I'd driven over anything yesterday, and muttering my denials we dashed outside into a rainy morning to have a look.  The tyres were fine?!  Happy April Fools Day!!!!!!!!
Threatening revenge we could only laugh, and enjoyed milo cereal for breakfast and a quick play with Jaques, before we had to say our goodbyes as he got bundled into the car to go to crèche.  We followed Yolande to her mechanic friend Piet's garage, and left the Landy in his capable hands, said farewell to Yolande and grateful to have Sue's car, wiled away some hours in the nearest shopping centre.  Finally found some new shoes for Mike, called Barclays and reactivated my ATM card, had a milkshake and tried to kill time.  Decided to kidnap Ian from work for a juice at lunchtime before catching a movie.  Afterwards we drove straight to Piet's and collected the Landy with new brake pads, a tightened handbrake and a worrying diagnosis re her rear lights (the cabling seems to have burned against the exhaust and will need to be rewired at some stage) as well as a deep cut on the inner sidewall of the spare tyre we're using for the rear left.
We dashed home, collected Sue and met up with Bryan who'd gone on ahead to Nick and Jean's for a wonderful braai.  We've decided to stay one more day so that we can put the second spare on, pack up properly and gather our strength for the trip south. So after a call to my mom, and a nice hot bath, it was straight to bed.

Day 179 Thursday 2nd April SOUTH AFRICA (approx 14.7 miles, Total 21,703.3 miles)
(M)  Glad that we decided to leave a day later as we had the whole day to finish off a few chores - last of the laundry, changing a wheel, tidying up the back etc.  And I made pretty good chicken pie (if I may say so myself) under instruction from mom.  A bit sad that Sarah won't be coming back this way after Cape Town but we need to finish the trip and the tip of Africa is calling.  Early into bed with the prospect of a long drive tomorrow.

Day 180 Friday 3rd April SOUTH AFRICA (414.3 miles, Total 22,117.6 miles)
(S) We're on the road again!  Up at 5am, packed and said our farewells to Mike's parents.  Set off in the darkness towards Underberg, sipping at our thermos mugs of delicious hot choc/tea Sue had kindly made for us. 
Neither of us had driven this route before (that we could remember) so we enjoyed the gorgeous midlands scenery, with the morning mists in the valleys and a beautiful sunrise.  We did have a momentary panic when we thought we'd missed the turnoff to Kokstad, but a quick look at the map and we were reassured we were going the right way.
An uneventful drive through the Transkei, constantly pulling into the inside lane to let all the faster traffic past, marvelling at how much more prosperous the villages look to what we remember when we used to commute down to Grahamstown in our university years.  Most homes have rainwater tanks, some have solar panels up and there is scant litter and good fencing unlike the bad ol' days when livestock plagued the roads.
Unfortunately we had a bit of a road rage incident outside Mthatha (formerly Umtata) where we had to virtually force our way into the straight lane when some stupid woman wouldn't let us in.  Indicating and waiting courteously turned out to be hopeless, and I resorted to the taxi driver's trick of leaning out the window to ask politely if she would let us in and was rewarded with energetic hooting and a stream of verbal abuse from her and her passenger.  I was stunned and could only manage a "how rude!" at her while Mike simply applied some bull-bar pressure and skilfully edged in anyway. She kept hooting and yelling but by now we were moving in the traffic and could happily ignore her.
We paused at the big Shell service station for a toilet break and to nosh our yummy pies (again part of Sue's fabulous padkos bag) then continued.  Making pretty good time we arrived in East London by about 3.30pm.  It was lovely to see Niall and Steph and meet their beautiful 8-week old baby girl.  With the cricket in the background (to Mike's initial delight and then disappointment when Australia beat SA) we caught up on all their news, and I got to hold and feed Marin which was a treat.  Had a delicious braai for dinner and chatted late into the night.

Day 181 Saturday 4th April SOUTH AFRICA (189.4 miles, Total 22,307 miles)
(M)  Surprisingly we weren't woken in the night by a screaming baby and managed a good night's sleep, though couldn't lie in too long as we'd planned to meet other friends for breakfast and in keeping with our SA experience so far they have an even younger baby.  So far we've met friends 17 month old, nephew of 14 month, an  eight week old and now a 1.5 week old.  And we have a pregnant friend in Cape Town.
After a lovely breakfast with Andrew and Claire we left East London for Grahamstown at 11:30.  One more stop for a drink with Cliff and Helen and their girls on the farm.  We would have loved to stay over but had to decline the invitation as we needed to make some ground with another long drive to Cape Town to look forward to.  We made it as far as Colchester by the time it was getting dark and decided to stop off in the campsite on the Sundays river.  Considering we only needed a shower and a parking space until 05:30 the R225 seemed a bit steep, although it is holiday season.  In the end we weren't charged though. 
Bought takeaways and into bed early.

Day 182 Sunday 5th April SOUTH AFRICA (+/- 400 miles, Total 22,707 miles)

(M)  Today should have been the last official day, arriving in Cape Town, but really we need to make it down to the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, to claim that prize.  It’s quite a detour though, and at our speeds we were always going to struggle to fit it into the same day as a drive from PE to Cape Town, so we’ve decided to do it as a separate day excursion next Sunday.  In the meantime, this will be the last full diary day.
We were up and ready to go by 05:30 as promised, packing up the tent for the last time, and were past PE by the time it was properly light.  Anyone who’s driven the garden route will already know of its beauty and I won’t go into any details of the trip, other than to say it was pretty easy going on the wide SA roads.  We did spend a lot of time in the hard shoulder allowing other traffic to pass though.   Then, in Albertinia we stopped for a sup of tea with some friends who were returning from Cape Town and who we’d planned to try and meet.
The first glimpse of Cape Town is from an hour away, at the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass but we didn’t stop at the viewing point, instead taking a couple of rubbish photos from the moving car.  Then, one last fuel stop in Somerset West and we made it through to Sarah’s Mom’s at about 19:00.  05:00 on October 6th 2008 – 19:00 on April 5th 2009.  A total of over 22,000 miles.

(S) Well, our journey is now over. Mapenzi has clocked almost 23,000 miles, and is currently having a well-deserved rest in SA.  We've celebrated while standing on the marker at Cape Aghulas, the southernmost tip of Africa, and it all seems quite surreal that only six months ago, we glimpsed the Cap Blanc lighthouse at the northern limit of the continent.
It really has been the adventure of a lifetime.  We've met some wonderful people, seen some spectacular landscapes and incredible wildlife, and challenged our vehicle and ourselves, physically and mentally.  When we crossed the border into SA, as excited as we were to be seeing our friends and family again after so long, we were sorely tempted to turn up north and keep going!  Perhaps next lifetime :-)
We've finally uploaded the last diary days and photos, and will work over the next few weeks to complete the prep and links sections on the website. Our heartfelt thanks to our families (and apologies to our mum's for the sleepless nights they had worrying about us!) as well as our friends for being so supportive and excited on our behalf, and to those who followed our website so diligently!
All the best, and happy travels,
Mike and Sarah