THE CURSE OF THE TRAVELLER

All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.                                                                                                 – Mao Zedong.

On September 3rd, 1988, my girlfriend Linda and I set off overseas. We intended to be away for two years. As it turned out, by the time we returned home for the final time, six years had passed by. In that time we had visited 35 countries on five continents, taken thousands of photographs and written home dozens of times. We had also found time to become engaged in Vienna and get married in New Zealand. IMG_6625

These are my diaries from those years. They chronicle our journey from a couple of naive country kids from the South Island of New Zealand to hardened world travellers and adventurers. They also chart my emergence as a writer, beginning with farmer-style notes in a 1988 New Zealand Farmer’s Diary, to long, descriptive entries as our adventures unfolded out in the world.

There will be occasional gaps in the narrative: times when we were settled somewhere and I didn’t keep up with my entries. There will also be letters we wrote home, letters we received on the road, photographs, maps and other bits and pieces.

Where it is necessary, I will add relevant explanations in the form of annotations at the bottom of each entry. And although I will reproduce these diaries as they were written, occasionally, I may omit details that are too personal or sensitive. But rest assured, all swearing and offensive material will be left intact and included for your delectation!

So, if you want to travel with us…read on!

26/8/89

DAY SIX We had a fairly leisurely get-up and were away from the camp at 8;30. We drove up into the town of Nakuru and spent 2 ½ hours there buying supplies. We took turns guarding the truck and we all went for a walk thru the crowded and chaotic market. 

The drive up to Lake Victoria took us up into the highlands , through fertile, rolling farmland, the road we were following pot-holed and rough. We stopped for lunch at 9,104 feet and on the Equator. We had to make a hasty retreat into the truck as a squall hit us and we completed the rest of the trip with the sides down, sweltering like hot-house tomatoes.

We arrived at our campsite near Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria at about 4:30 and pitched our tents under our dark and stormy sky. There was a big lightning display as darkness fell but, luckily, the rain went round us.

Lake Victoria, Kenya.

Our camp beside Lake Victoria.

After a tea of bangers and mash we settled down to drink 2 saucepans of Sangria which is a lethal concoction of Cinzano, White Rum, Cane Spirit, Gin, red and white wine, and fruit. We were all pissed as rats when we went to bed at midnight.

Sangria Night.

25/8/89

DAY FIVE We got up at first light and had breakfast and broke camp. It took about 3/4 of an hour to drive to Lake Nakuru and get to our campsite. We set up our camp then drove out to see the flamingos.

Even from a distance, we could see the edge of the lake was fringed with a lovely pink colour and when we got to the edge of the lake we were greeted by the sight of millions of flamingos standing in the shallow, brackish water.  It was a glorious sight and we took a lot of photos. We then moved up to the lookout above the lake called Baboon Bluffs and spent an hour or so there.

Flamingoes at Lake Nakuru, Kenya.

Flamingoes at Lake Nakuru.

Lake Nakuru.

Lake Nakuru.

Driving back down the hill, we took the road that led around the lake and stopped for lunch at a campsite beside some falls. It was a good place to stop as there was a make-shift shower there so everyone took the chance to have a wash.

Baboon Bluff

Baboon Bluffs, Lake Nakuru.

We left there at about 2;25 and drove to the Lake Naivasha Lodge where we had drinks and a swim. As we were getting ready to leave it came on to rain so there was a mad dash to get the sides down¹.

We were about 10 minutes from the camp when we came across a family of leopards eating a freshly-killed waterbuck. Just to see a leopard is a rare thing but to see a family of 4 is exceptional. WE spent 1/2 and hour were photographing them although the light was getting pretty bad.

When we got back to camp we found that a group of idiots had pitched their tents right besides ours leaving no room. To park the truck. Scotty (who we had picked up at the Lodge) backed in right against the nearest tent. The camp cook from the other camp came over and there was a heated argument but it ended with the other lot shifting their camp.

¹The truck had canvas sides with PVC windows. The sides could be rolled up or down depending on the weather. For the first two months of the trip we drove with the sides up unless it was raining.

Lake Nakuru

The camp at Lake Nakuru.

24/8/89

DAY FOUR Linda and I got up at 6:00 and I lit the fire as no-one on the cooking team seemed inclined to do so. We went down and had a wash in the creek then had brekkie & packed up the camp.

About 20 minutes after we left camp, we came across a lioness sitting on the side of the road. We spent 15 minutes watching her and after that amount of time she got sick of us and moved off. We drove for an hour or so, heading for the exit of Masai Mara, and on the way came across another lioness with her mate, basking in the sun. They are superb animals and weren’t the slightest interested in us.

We left the park and drove through the heart of the savannah land occupied by the Masai tribesmen. Semi-naked children waved & shouted at us and their elders stared stonily at us. There were Manyatta  or villages dotted over the land – low, rounded houses made of cow-shit and straw surrounded by a fence of thorns to keep out the predators at night. Their stock are herded into the enclosure at night.

We bumped our way back out to Narok and had lunch there, then drove on up to Lake Nakuru. By the time we got there it was nearly dark and too late to go into the park, so we drove down a side road and camped in a paddock.

23/8/89

DAY THREE We got up at about 6:30 and had brekkie etc then headed off to Mara Serena which is 50 KM away. Being early morning the game was pretty active and as usual there were thousands of gnu [wildebeest] on the move. Above the plain, 7 balloons hung in the cool morning air, their occupants having paid £105 each to be up there having a champagne breakfast!

Images from out African overland adventure in 1989.

Wildebeest, Masai Mara.

We took several detours off the road to take closer looks at game, and one detour took us quite near to a group of elephants who didn’t take too kindly to our presence!

We got to the hippo pools in the Mara River about mid-morning. We spent ½ an hour there photographing the semi-submerged beasts. The area is one of the main crossing points for the herds of animals migrating into the Mara from the Serengeti and just downstream from the pools was an eddy where the corpses of the many animals who are drowned wash up. The place was swarming with vultures and marabou [storks] feasting on the carcasses.

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Marabou storks, Mara River.

We got to Mara Serena at about 12:00 and had lunch. We took turns guarding the truck and went up to the lodge for Cokes. The lodge is perched on the top of a hill commanding an absolutely spectacular view out over the park rolling away in all directions. The lodge itself is a pretty posh affair full of monied tourists “safariing” in style.

We left there and drove back to camp taking a few detours on the way to watch the ever-present gnus. Had a bath in the river when we got back.

22/8/89

DAY TWO We got up at about 7:15 and got the fire going. A couple of Masai herd boys came along while we were having breakfast and we gave them tea, toast and bread in exchange for them letting us take their photos. We packed up the truck and were on the road by 8:50. I sat up in the cab with Mike and we yarned away while the stereo played “Diesel and Dust.”¹

We stopped for ½ an hour in a run-down town called Narok and were pestered by kids wanting pens and women selling jewellery.

Moving on, we left the tar seal at about 11:30 and drove into Masai Mara game reserve.

The Mara is on the Tanzanian border and backs onto the Serengeti. Our camp is right on the border.

We had lunch, pitched our tents in the heat of the day and had a wash in the creek.

About 4:00 we went on a game drive. There were thousands of wildebeest about along with the usual zebra and impala. There were a lot of Thompson’s gazelle and Topi around too. We came across a herd of elephants but they didn’t hang around and it was getting too dark for photos so we went back to camp.

¹The classic Midnight Oil album.

Safari dinner prep in the Masai Mara. L-R Fran, Brian, Linda.

21/8/89

DAY ONE  We had a wake up call at 7:30 & got up, packed the rest of our stuff then checked out of the hotel and walked up to the 680.

Being true to form, Kumuka kept us waiting there until Mike came in about 10:30 and told us where the truck was. We walked up Kenyatta Av to where “The Silver Fox”¹ was parked and stowed our stuff aboard. We then had another 2 hour wait during which time I put a new stereo into the truck. Finally at about 1:00 we were away. We called in to The Grosvenor Hotel to pick up Brian and an Israeli couple called Uri and Yaid.

 We bumped our way out of Nairobi along shocking roads and past appallingly squalid slums made of mud and corrugated iron amid a sea of mud. There was an endless stream of people walking along the road with bundles of sticks & and bits of old iron and donkeys pulling ramshackle carts.

It took us about an hour to clear Nairobi and then we were out into the country.

The whole of the Nairobi area is on a high, rolling plateau and as such is quite cool and lush. A lot of the land has been cleared of bush and been turned into productive horticultural land.

We had a minor break-down mid-afternoon which we fixed with wire and insulation tape, and about 6:00 we pulled off the road and made camp. A couple of Masai herdsmen stood and watched us with amusement as we pitched our tents and made tea which was grilled steaks and veges. After we had eaten and washed up, Linda, Mike, Fran and me did some rearranging in the truck. Went to bed about 10:00.

¹The Silver Fox was a converted, ex-German army, 4WD M.A.N. truck. It took its name from its driver, John “Scotty” Rattagen who was a grey-haired Scotsman who had spent many years driving overland tours in Asia and Africa.

Out in Africa. Preparing dinner on our first night on the road.

20/8/89

LINDA’S BIRTHDAY. This morning I got up early and went down to the reception desk and asked the Kenyan guy there to translate “Happy Birthday” into Swahili for me. He obliged with a big grin and wrote “KUSHALIWA KWEMA.” I gave Linda a card with that written in it and the Batik then we lay in bed and talked till 10:30.

Mucked round in our room all day and went out to The Carnivore¹ with 8 other trip members.

¹As its name might suggest, The Carnivore was a restaurant that specialised in meat!