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Hell's Gate National Park, KenyaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 18 Jun, 2010 22:32:27

This was a park I really looking forward to – it was a bike-through park! Yes you read correctly, a bike-through! And I actually travelled the 22km trough the park on a bicycle!

What was even more conveniently was that you could reach the park entrance by public transport (from Naivasha), you could sleep at lakeside (cheap) campsites outside the park and you could hire the bicycle at the campsite – so a cheap (possibly the cheapest ever) safari indeed!

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What about lions in the park? Well to be honest I was a bit scared when I was there and I felt especially vulnerable being the only human being on the large open plains. But I calmed myself thinking that this park actually advertise that you should cycle through, so maybe it was safe after all?

That safeness-feeling played with my emotions some 30 minutes into the safari. Suddenly I spotted 3 giraffes and 5 antelopes/impalas/”something beige with horns” running down a hill – Oh shit, something is chasing them! My pulse bumps, but in the end I didn’t really see the predator (if any) and after one minute when the animals stopped, then they were actually only 50 meters from me.

Not to much more happened on my trip. I spotted big herds of Zebras and realized that they actually make a really funny sound, a sound I can’t describe, but definitely not horse-ish, I also spotted lots of small grass-chewing animals I can’t name and some warthogs (commonly called “a pumba”), in addition there was some nice scenery with all the rock walls (Hence the name: “Hell’s Gate”)

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All in all, a cool experience, and maybe the only place to feel the African fauna without the safety of a car!

Murchison Falls National Park, UgandaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 18 Jun, 2010 19:48:40

When Lonely Planet list a safari as one of the most budget-friendly in East Africa you just have to check it out don’t you? In the word budget friendly, there’s something that triggers my backpacking instincts

And besides, after a long pause from the animals of South Africa I felt like it was time for a second visit into the animal kingdom – this time to the Murchison Falls National Park in North-Western Uganda. The park itself is named after a place where the 50meter wide Nile narrows into a 6m gap in the rocks, and then drops 40meters. We went both to the top and to the bottom of the falls. You really witness true power by Mother Earth standing on that edge, hearing the roar, tasting the moist, and seeing the forces of the white water. The geeky parts of Karl thinks of MWh produced if commercialized, the adrenaline junkie-Karl thinks of rafting possibilities (HELL NO!), while the normal Karl just enjoys another magnificent moment on his world trip.

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There was also time for safari; we did a morning game drive (in a 4WD matatu-style vehicle!), and spotted the full range of animals – where the most amazing being a lioness and her two cubs. Even though I actually would have preferred not seeing them, since we did interfere too much with wildlife at that point. What happened was that our park-ranger and driver suddenly drove 250meter off the park roads (not allowed) and then stopped 3 meters from the cubs and the lioness (who was chewing up a prey). And we weren’t the only ones, soon after, 6 cars where circling the big cat and her two kittens. If I was a lion I would certainly felt that my comfort zone was being invaded. BUT, well well –what can I do about it? We had a park ranger, and it was because of the communicating park-rangers that the spot got crowded. Nevertheless, to see two cubs in the wild, that close, was THE moment of the safari-trip. I feel extremely lucky (and a bit guilty).

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Of course there were other animals in the park as well. Actually in my opinion this park had more wildlife than the Kruger Park, strange – because not many have heard about Murchison Falls as a prime park for wildlife, while everyone knows that Kruger is a must-see.

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The afternoon the second day we had a Nile River Cruise, which led to some close-up meetings with dangerous wildlife (hippos are the animal that kills most people, so I’ve heard) When we was close to the Nile-Crocodile I actually in a jokeful way asked the boat captain if he wants the tourists to tap the Crocodile on his head. Not too much laugher from that guy – But damm, we were close!

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The last day of the trip was devoted to Chimpanzee trekking. We were going to trek trough another tropical rainforest in search for mans closest relative! I was exited, and well prepared for what was supposed to be a three-hour trek. Almost disappointed we actually located the chimps after 30minutes, but the “disappointment” of too little effort soon vanished when we actually got to spend almost 2 hours watching these amazing animals, and listening to their classical “pant-hoots”. Unfortunately they are not that easy to photograph, but I’ll remember the experience a long time. My neck also remember those two hours, constantly looking up means seldom used neck muscles get pushed into action. Chimp trekking is on par with their bigger genealogical brothers in the Rwandan Mountains, absolutely recommended!

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The Nile, UgandaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 18 Jun, 2010 19:20:31

I need photos for this post, so therefore I'm postponing it.

Parc National des Volcans, RwandaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 14 Jun, 2010 17:06:55

Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda

As previously mentioned I got a gorilla-trekking permit the 6th of June. When I first decided to go to Rwanda, I didn’t really plan to see the gorillas (too expensive was my conclusion, yes – 500USD). Therefore I didn’t really bother prearrange a permit, and since I had read on the internet that you had to secure your permit months before I believed it wasn’t possible anyway. But on Zanzibar I met a girl that told me there were plenty of free spots when she booked a couple of weeks ago, so I started giving it some thoughts after all.

When I arrived Kigali, I soon found out that there were many free spots. And I needed to think, should I do this or not? I had already reached 0kr on my bank account, so it would hurt. In the end I decided to do it, I persuaded myself that this is a once in a lifetime experience. Either the gorillas will get extinct or the price will just rise more (anyway, it’s years before I’ll be back in Rwanda, so now or never). I also come up with the brilliant idea that the Vertshuset Tips of 2010 should go to funding the permit. So each time you are giving waiter Karl some extra tips it will go into funding his gorilla-trekking - one NOK after another.

And then on the 6th of June I started the trekking. Not too hard, and not too far away, maybe two hours of walking (I was prepared for 5-ish). I was also amazed to learn that we were supposed to trek a gorilla family that lived closed to the Karisoke Research Center, in the very same slopes Dian Fosey did her research some decades earlier. (I had just finished my “gorillas in the mist” book, so my gorilla endorphins were sky-rocketing)

And the encounter with the Isabukuru-family was magic:

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I think we were really lucky to find the gorillas in an open area, and without rain, also the fact that we saw most of the members, the juveniles, the silverback and the females from a close distance of about 5 meters. It was just amazing to be standing there and observe these humanlike animals in their natural behavior, and they didn’t seem to bother us either, since they just kept on doing whatever they did before we arrived. It almost felt like a zoo, but it wasn’t.

When we went down from the mountain again, just outside the park boundaries I saw something strange on the next hill – more gorillas? But this is open land, close to human population. Actually it really was another gorilla family, the Bwenge family. We couldn’t go close, but in a way we got two gorilla families for the price of one, and since I was the one that spotted them I felt sooo cool.

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So was it worth it? Well, yes and no… Just the 45minutes with the gorillas wasn’t really worth 500USD for a poor backpacker as I am. But if I keep thinking about it as I did in Nyungwe - my money goes into the conservation of this National Park and its wildlife and also that it contributes to the economy of this poor country then it’s another business.

Parc National de Nyungwe, RwandaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 14 Jun, 2010 16:35:31

A friend of those I couchsurfed with helped me quite a lot fixing my stay in Parc National de Nyungwe, bus tickets, making sure I get on the right bus and other park-information. So thank you Yves! Also thanks to Marja and Xavier for hosting me in Huye!

After 2.5 hours on hairpin roads (remember, Rwanda is called “land of thousand hills” – sure it’s beautiful, put the price to pay is some uncomfortable bus-journeys, and plenty of accidents) the Muzungu (me) was dropped off at the Uwinka park entrance. I got appointed a guide, and left for the forests - The 5.6km pink trail. Supposedly the 5.6km trail was really hard, and the longest walk we have time for today (as I was interested in the 10km trip).

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The trip trough the park was beautiful (and not really strenuous), steep hills and lush vegetation as far as you can see. The forest is a virgin equatorial rainforest that survived the last Ice Age; therefore it’s one of the oldest green expanses on the African continent. It’s also Rwanda’s most important place for biodiversity.

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But the beauty also has its price. I paid 50USD for the 5.6 km guided trip, a guide was compulsory, even though I have been running orienteering in Scandinavian forests for more than 10 years. The camping site (with tent and sleeping bag rental) also claimed me off 50USD. But after some consideration I understand that it’s actually necessary. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in mainland-Africa, and number 29 in the world with 404.9 persons/km2. All these 10 million people need food, and since the country preserve area in the national parks, area that could be used for agriculture, Rwanda must make sure that the national parks provides income other ways. In the industrialized world the nature should be free, but with a poor country – creating a future with eco-friendly up-marked tourism I understand the difference.

The park is also famous for chimpanzees and other primates, so I was filled with hope during our trekking. Apart from a frog and some birds, the diversity didn’t really show.

But later, when my tent was up, and in the dusk of the sunset I heard something outside my tent (The tentsite was some 500m from the park headquarters – in the forest! And I was the only one there) I looked out, and to my surprise it was actually 10 l’Hoest’s monkeys in the tree’s. I got to see the primates, and I was happy. Later it started to rain heavily (rainforest style) and it got tremendously dark, then I felt a bit lonely, laying there in my tent.

The next day I got up early and did an hour of illegal trekking in the forest. After that I started a minibus-marathon all the way down to Musanze.

Kigali, RwandaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 10 Jun, 2010 15:12:58

Along with Ecuador, Rwanda was one of the countries I was really interested in visiting. And since I did stay on Zanzibar a bit longer than scheduled I decided to fly here rather then the epic overland-dalla-dalla (aka Tanzanian public transport) trip first planned.

Kigali proved to be a nice introduction, the airport was among the calmest I’ve ever been to (outside Europe), and the city felt safe! Still Kigali was such a surreal place to be. I’ve read about the 1994 genocide, and I’ve seen numerous movies/documentaries about Rwanda where 800,000+ people were killed during the 100 days of madness. And this was the place where everything happened, to walk in the streets and imagine the Interhamwe (the killing militia) probably had a roadblock here by this junction, that the corpses most likely were left there, in that
ditch or just to sip a coca-cola by the pool at the REAL Hotel des Mille Collines (famous from Hotel Rwanda) felt absurd.

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But rapidly I decided that I didn’t want to remember Rwanda as this sad horrible place. Everywhere I met people with hopes for the future, people smiled and Kigali felt like a really western city (no litter, no begging and busy people), well maybe apart from the moto-taxis (more about those later). I wanted to experience Kigali and Rwanda as a prime tourist destination, therefore I dropped my plan to indulge in genocide books, but rather started reading the amazing story of “Dian Fossey –
Gorillas in the Mist”, also set in Rwanda, in the Virunga volcanoes. Much likely this also got to do with the fact that I just acquired a “gorilla-visiting-permit” for some days later. I also decided that I would only search up one genocide memorial and after that rather focus on the natural beauty of Rwanda and the sophisticated eateries of Kigali!

So, the moto-taxies, I haven’t seen them in any other country than Rwanda (so far), but here’s the idea: You give a teenage-guy a motorcycle (or a moped), but usually I think they were 125cc, these guys drive around the streets looking for passengers (there’s almost more moto-taxis than cars). Seldom you have to wait more than one minute, you will get a helmet, you discuss the price (cheap – like 1USD within the city), I always say “drive carefully”, you climb on, and then the trips starts. The teenager drives past traffic, sometimes one the sidewalk, sometime in the opposite file. Sometimes in goes too fast, and sometimes you feel scared. But thanks to passenger-motorcycle-experience with Jorgen and Jon Magnus at least I knew how I should position myself. In addition I doubt that the teenager wants to collide himself and that he knows his motorcycle very well, so therefore I put my thrust in their hands. And it worked, I had 8 trips with mototaxi around Kigali (twice even with my 20+kg backpack, that must have been a sight!)

At my second day I got invited to a dinner with Harald, Sigri (both Norwegian Red Cross Youth-delegates in Rwanda) and their friends. It was a nice evening, 10 people volunteering one way or another in Rwanda and me, the backpacker. Trough friends of them I even got a place to stay in my next city (Huye).

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In the front of the picture are massgraves where 250 000 people are buried.

Zanzibar, TanzaniaUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 02 Jun, 2010 10:15:04

So you might wonder why there haven’t been any updates on my blog the last month, well actually the only reason is that there hasn’t been much to blog about. I stayed 1 month on the same place – Kendwa Rocks, on the north coast of Zanzibar. The dorm room was 10USD a night (with breakfast) and when the location on this beach, why not?

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Lonely Planet said that there’s going to be rainy season (the long rains) and that scuba diving will not be so rewarding due to poor visibility. So I was a bit anxeious, especially when it rained A LOT my 2 first days. But miraculously, the day I arrived Kendwa it stopped raining, an after that not much at all. Of course, there were some showers, dramatic cloud formations and even a sky pump, but mostly the sky was beautifully blue.

So what did I do on my extended Kendwa-stay? Scuba-Diving! I had the idea that I wanted to do Rescue Diver + Divemaster or just the Rescue Diver. The people of Scuba-Do Dive Centre advised me that I didn’treally have enough time to add the Divemaster course, but they could teach me to become a Rescue Diver. I liked the people, so I decided to go with them.

Blog imageIt turned out that it was a good choice, I got to join another Advanced Open Water course, just to get more experience and besides my theory and scenarios that followed my course I got more “real life experience” as well. From day one I got told that I could get non-scheduled rescue-scenarios at any time. In the beginning it was mostly observing people (someone had some kind of entanglement in their gear etc etc), but I was supposed to get a trained eye and notice it, before we went into the water. Later in the course, I could get people panicking underwater, non-responsive divers at the surface and actually everything I’ve read about and practiced in the shallows. Not all happened, but I had to tow both Doullah and Tammy on different days while giving rescue breaths (fake ones). Sometimes I also got paired up with people freshly qualified as divers, so I could help out if they had small (or big) problems. During my course I learned so much, and I actually learned it trough real-life scenarios and not only confined water sessions. In total I got 29 experience dives from Scuba Do, and I transformed myself from a slightly egoistic diver to a diver with 49 logged dives and with bigger awareness of the group I’m diving with. My air consumption also got a lot better, Scuba-yoga together with less movement and less negative buoyancy are the secret. So I’m not longer among the first that need to surface, hurray!

The days of scuba-diving were never the same, and since I did stay there a some weeks, I got to learn the dive sites quite well, especially “Mwana Wa Mwana” and “Hunga” The 15th of May when we dove down to Hunga Reef we found one of the southern coral-patches to be covered by a large abandoned fishing net. Most likely it has been drifting, because there were some fish caught in the net (Among other – Phantom, our favorite “one black eye” Longfin Batfish and a Surgeonfish). The next day we (Tammy, Curtis, Ian and I) went back, we decided to do as much as we could within the limits of our air and no deco times. By good teamwork we were actually able to roll the net off the coral, and freeing numerous lobsters in the same time. Parts of the reef were broken, but in all, the “operation” was successful.Blog imageBlog image
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Blog image Some of the highlights we saw under water were all the fish (obvious). The Zanzibar archipelago is amazing because there is so much different to see, you could find a new species every day, and there was never a boring dive. And all sizes from tiny nudie-branches, flatworms and sea-horses to potato groupers, turtles and big sting rays. I didn’t se a shark and I didn’t see a whale, but apart from that I felt like I had seen almost everything in the “Fishes of the Indian ocean” encyclopedia.

Other highlights on the Kendwa-months were the 17th of May (Norway’s constitution day). I borrowed a flag from the Sun Set Restaurant and carried it on the boat that day. I even attempted a small underwater parade, but it was a bit difficult. Anyway – the 17th of May was nice, Tammy played the national anthem, I sung, and later I told how we celebrated. Even Juan brought hot dogs for his lunch that day. The only thing that I missed was Lollipop (my favorite Norwegian ice-cream), and of course my friends and family back home.

Once more I would like to thanks everyone I met at Kendwa (both at the Dive Centre and elsewhere). It was a great month! Sometimes I’ll come back!

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“Mozambique Transfrontier”, South Africa/MozambiqueUpdates

Posted by Karl Kristian Larsen 29 Apr, 2010 22:58:11

The only thing I pre-arranged from home was this 17-days overland tour with “Drifters” You may see a detailed itinerary here: http://drifters.co.za/index.asp?pgid=68, but our adventure was a bit different (Just day 4-7).

Our team consisted of 4 “young” Scandinavians and 5 “elder” Germans/Austrians + our South African guide, Dawid and “I-have-been-off-the-beaten-track-before”- “Nelly” (aka as our 12-seat 4WD truck).

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The first couple of days were devoted to wildlife in and around Kruger National Park. By remarkable luck we were able to see all “the big 5” in one day; actually we saw plenty of animals in and around the Kruger Park:

-Zebras
-Elephants
-Impalas
-Lions
-Leopard
-White Rhino
-Waterbuck
-Cape Buffalo
-Puffadder
-Steinbucks
-Chacma Baboons
-Hippos
-Warthhogs
-Giraffes
-Kudus
-Ostriches
-Wild Dogs

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Then Mozambique was on hold, we camped 4 days in the wilderness on route from Kruger Park to Vilanculos , Mozambique. Despite Dawids carefully driving, three windows broke. Maybe because we went by a road “not-that-used” for the better part of it, and because of that the vegetation were significally not adapted to a 4m tall truck. Nevertheless it proved as a “decrease your comfort zone” booster, us sitting there while it was raining leaves, branches and the occasional bug. Well actually it rained a lot of bugs. The most fascinating were the colorful caterpillars, especially the one who shitted a lot on Linda while being removed. Of course there were also spiders raining, all gently or violently removed (according to who removed them and the removers panic-level). At one stage, the tourist lounge of Nelly also got a big dead frog (actually more like a toad) bleeding down our fridge.

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Camping in Mozambique was good; there is a special feel of camping 300km from the civilization, while making the food around a fire. There is also a charm in using “bush toilets” (dig your hole in the ground style) while experiencing the tickling feeling of grass and insects you know where. The best part of camping was indeed the stars! As you could imagine the nighttime-sky was AMAZING, really! To experience the African night-sky is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, for that I’m jealous of the Drifters guides that sees the sky from their bed year-around.

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Another interesting aspect of Mozambiquan transportation happened day 3 in the wilderness, we came a cross a big river (or a lake?). At least it was too deep for the truck to cross. But by luck there was some guys removing landmines nearby (for the record, the only time we saw guys removing landmines during the whole trip, no need to get anxious), and they had an even bigger truck than ours so they could pull us over, still not without any effortfrom our side. We had to push and pull Nelly ourselves a bit while crossing the lake, making another of those memorable once-in-Africa moments.

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Along the coast we didn’t do much else than enjoying the sun, going on dhow-trips or just be on some of the most deserted beaches I’ve ever been to. I also did my share of scuba-diving, and I think that Mozambique at the moment holds my spot at the best place in the world to scuba-dive – It was fantastic!

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Further south, Maputo (the capital) got a short stopover before heading in to South Africa again. It was on route out of Maputo our truck experienced our first stop buy a police. I’m the end Dawid (our driver who handled the conversation) got fined 500 Meticas (=15USD) for not knowing Portuguese. Personally I felt the situation resembled “paa flukt” a bit and I was happy to understand that we didn’t have to leave the truck, line up and deliver our passport. Still, these Mozambiquan police-officers don’t earn too much and when some tourists pass, sadly they often see that as a way to add their salary.

Back in South Africa we spent the remaining days (in cabins) close to Hluhluwe National Park. On a game drive we got to see even more animals (crocodiles and Njalas), but the highlights were our close encounters with elephants and rhinos. We could sit 20 minutes just observing a big pack of elephants eating leaves close by. Later on that day we bumped into a young elephant bull, he was obviously not shy of humans and cars and approached us so close that he used his trunk (norw: snabel) to feel the contours of the car. And this was not the big-truck-Nelly but an open-air small car, so the adrenaline started to pump on all of us. It’s when you are that close to an elephant you really understand how big they are! Just 10 minutes later, with pulse still above resting level we found 2 rhinos in the middle of the road. While eating grass they moved closer and closer to us, until we were maybe 5 meters apart. Then I also got to see that Rhinos are big as well, and that their horn in the forehead looks as intimidating as the teeth of the big elephant. But being so close to these animals in their natural habitat really makes you appreciate and respect the nature, and the fact that the world is actually habituated by more than just humans.

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All in all, the trip was great! In my opinion we ended up becoming a big family, so thanks to all of my Mozambiquan-Transfrontier-Family-members, and especially thanks to Dawid for guiding us.