TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Third edition August 2010
ANTI HUNTING LOBBY SENSES NEW CHANCE TO STOP THE BLOOD SPORT
The anti hunting lobby in Uganda has taken fresh hope, following reports last week that the top management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority was suspended from office to clear the way for an investigation into alleged extortion of bribes from hunting firms. While the ‘real’ culprit, former ‘conservation coordinator’ – and what a misnomer that is in this case – James Omoding left UWA by handing in his resignation a few weeks ago, effective immediately, his bosses are now reportedly accused of having been too lenient with him when the information became known. Omoding may of course still face criminal charges for having allegedly solicited bribes, but for the hunting companies too this could spell doom as not just the corruptee but also the corrupter can face court action in Uganda under existing laws. Therefore, should the case end up in court, and the current new board of UWA seems determined to start their tenure with such a bang, the hunting companies could face a fine, jail and cancellation of their agreements with UWA if found guilty. Several anti hunting lobbyists have been in touch with this correspondent to point out once again, that should that be proven, hunting should be prohibited immediately to make way for a long term moratorium, which ought to be used for honest dialogue, the public evaluation of any and all data from the so called hunting pilot project which quietly, almost stealthily transformed into hunting proper, and a detailed country wide survey be conducted of game numbers to ascertain scientifically if hunting, and for what species, can potentially be allowed again, if at all that is. Hunting crept back through the new Wildlife Act’s ‘wildlife use rights’ section, and when first proposed the then CEO of UWA publicly promised to avail the study and results or the ‘pilot scheme’ to tourism and conservation stakeholders. This, according to many, however never did take place and although Moses Mapesa has repeatedly in the past made comments that the dialogue was held, no evidence to that effect was ever made public, as to the where, when and the list of participants, to ascertain once and for all which side was telling the truth. Evidence was also submitted to UWA in the past that the endangered Sitatunga gazelle had been advertised by the hunting firms, but also no visible action appears to have been taken then against the culprits. Hunting is hugely controversial amongst conservationists, and while proponents constantly point to the benefits, it is alleged that those are for few, while the excesses of ‘canned hunting’ in Southern Africa have certainly raised the emotions to boiling point. Watch this space. UWA BOARD ‘EATS’ OWN DECISION, NAMES NEW ACTING ED The Uganda Wildlife Authority Board did not exactly convince onlookers, when a day after appointing the UWA Director of Finance, Mr. Joseph Tibaijuka as Acting Executive Director, they turned 180 degrees and sent him on forced leave too, with the Chairman of UWA quoted in the local media as feebly saying it was ‘not appropriate to appoint the Finance Director as Acting ED’ – a thought clearly coming to him and his fellow board members a day too late … At the same time of announcing their turnabout they also sent two more senior staff on forced leave, amongst them the Director Tourism Development Ms. Eunice Mahoro, leaving observers both bemused as well as confused over the true reasons for the drastic action suddenly unfolding now. One regular source working closely with UWA on these issues suggested that the board better find hard evidence for what they are suggesting to the public by their action while also saying: ‘they are new, they may want to make an impact, leave a mark, or stamp their authority on UWA’s management from the word go. The old board served for one term, this is also somewhat unusual, so what is really going on in UWA. Are people right now being railroaded for expediency sake or are there truly things going on the public did not find out about. Mapesa was a tough counterpart when dealing with him and never gave us the impression he was on the take or otherwise ‘dirty’. Let that audit complete now to get some answers but if the chairman does not find the dirt he is looking for, then his own tenure is under the microscope too’. Mr. Mark Kamanzi was meanwhile named as Acting Executive Director of UWA and will now be finding it paramount to keep morale amongst staff intact and high to meet the daily challenges in the field the authority is faced with besides pleasing his new masters to avoid the same fate which befell others before him, should he not ask ‘how high’ when his masters tell him to jump. All these developments however now also brought the Ugandan parliament into the fray when the committee on tourism demanded that the minister and the board chairman of UWA appear before them and explain the circumstances of their various actions in recent days. Information given to the media also confirmed the statement made by the chair of the parliamentary committee for having said: ‘if Mapesa was sacked illegally we will re-instate him’. Watch this space as this hugely damaging saga continues. Also find more details and background on this story in an article in the last Saturday Monitor: http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/976242/-/item/0/-/1tpsj1z/-/index.html and yet more revealing revelations from the Sunday Monitor illuminating the undercurrents, why an otherwise honourable man is being sacrificed and put to the sword while Uganda’s key conservation body is driven to the near brink and having development partners and donors now asking questions as to who is in charge and running the organisation while closely monitoring and considering the long term implications of these developments to their assistance and support programmes http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/976562/-/x3avtt/-/index.html
FERRY GROUNDING ANGERS USERS
MV Kalangala was last week taken out of service for what was described ‘routine maintenance and inspection’, leaving many travellers stranded as they were unaware of this development. What angered regular travellers to and from the Ssese Island group on Lake Victoria however, was the fact that the ferry was tied up at the pier without any visible activity underway, leaving shippers of cargo and goods to the islands equally outraged, as they had to hire expensive lake boats – often in the news over accidents and poor safety standards. The weather at present and the prevailing strong winds across the lake are posing a danger for smaller lake boats and added to the anger by the public, many of whom were according to local media reports demanding the vessel to be put back into service immediately or else maintenance to start promptly and not delaying the work. Couldn’t agree more …
UN MAKES ENTEBBE REGIONAL AFRICAN PEACE KEEPING BASE
The international airport in Entebbe, for many years now the regional supply and aviation logistics base for the ongoing UN missions in the Congo DR, Sudan including Darfur and Burundi, has now been elevated into the global body’s main operational peace keeping base in this part of Africa. Added scope, according to a reliable source, will be training and pre-deployment preparations of troops and personnel, and staff numbers, civilian as well as military contingents attached to the various missions the UN is currently involved in, now stands at a staggering 60.000 across the region. Should the UN in fact get involved again in Somalia, as is quietly expected and hoped for by the African Union as well as in political circles in Uganda, which currently carries the troop deployment burden together with Burundi, added numbers of troops and support personnel could in fact filter through Entebbe in coming months and acclimatise and train in Uganda. The UN mission operates dozens of flights every week with aircraft both stationed in Entebbe as well as those flying in and out of the country, to keep their forward bases in Congo, Burundi and Darfur supplied and their base, storage and supply facilities are now occupying much of the ‘old’ part of Entebbe International Airport, visible for anyone coming to or from the passenger or cargo terminals. Already now has the UN’s staff based in Entebbe, and their activities including the employment of local Ugandans in various capacities, boosted the Entebbe economy substantially, with rented houses and apartments now going at a premium, while restaurants, supermarkets, entertainment hot spots and the nearby attractions like the Botanical Garden, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Ngamba Chimpanzee Island and the further out in the lake Ssese Islands all feature on the ‘must see’ agenda of staff based in Entebbe or transiting through. Watch this space.
MORE GORILLA ‘BABIES’ BORN IN BWINDI
Information was now confirmed that two gorilla babies were born in July this year, one each in the Mubare and Habinjanya groups of Bwindi National Park. The ‘Mubare’ addition has been identified by the trackers and rangers as a young male, while the second baby’s gender could not be ascertained yet. UWA has provided back ground information that the Mubare group now stands at 5 / 6 members after the ‘new arrival’ with one group member regularly migrating in and out of the family, apparently paying regular visits to a neighbouring group. The Habinjanya group now counts 20 gorillas in their midst (yes and in the mist too for those in the know). Tracking to gorilla groups with new born babies is said to be more difficult as they migrate a lot across the forest to find fresh food and shield the young one’s from prying eyes until the little ones’ are grown up a little. A naming of the babies is expected to be announced soon. Meanwhile, find more details and stay up todate on gorillas in Uganda via their Facebook pages or http://www.friendagorilla.org It is there that specific details on each of the habituated gorilla groups can be found, their movement tracked and donations be made from as little as US Dollar 1 (ONE) to make friends with a particular gorilla. Go visit and support gorilla conservation in Uganda. Webare Nyo Nyo Nyo – thank you.
RE-APPOINTMENT OF CAA CHAIR AND MEMBERS IRES PARLIAMENTARIANS
When the Minister for Transport and Works finally appointed Eng. Baliddawa to a further term of office recently, alongside other board members, it prompted an outcry from some members of the parliamentary oversight committee on transport but also members of the public accounts committee of parliament, who accused the Minister of ignoring their objections and termed the fresh appointment ‘illegal’. As reported in the local media they accused the CAA Board Chairman and some of the re-appointed board members of irregularities over contract awards, although clearly the minister thought otherwise when he signed the appointment instruments. The move to restore a fully functional board was generally welcomed by the aviation fraternity though, as the previous term of office of the board had expired many months ago, leaving the CAA management without the benefit of receiving advice and / or oversight. Eng. Baliddawa can look back at a long and distinguished career in aviation and is generally considered as a sound choice for chairman, but in the run up of general elections early next year every such appointment now tends to be politicised beyond reason irrespective of a candidate’s obvious qualifications.
TOURIST BOARD OFFICES ESCAPE FROM ‘DUNGEON’ – MOVE TO KOLOLO
The new offices of the Uganda Tourist Board, aka Tourism Uganda, have finally moved to their new location in the upscale Kololo suburb on Acacia Avenue, not far from the Protea Kampala Hotel and the Metropole Hotel, after years of ‘hiding’ in a much critizised ‘basement’ location. For many years the supposed showcase for Uganda’s tourism industry was located in the lowest floor of Impala House on Kimathi Avenue in the city centre, often overlooked and when found giving a rather not too inviting impression to their visitors. UTB also operates two ‘window shops’ at the Entebbe International Airport’s arrival lounge and the Garden City shopping mall, making contact for arriving tourist visitors easy and simple. The new premises are now fully operational and open for ‘business’ – aimed to bring more tourists and commercial visitors to the ‘Pearl of Africa’. Well done indeed to Cuthbert and his team for this achievement.
EMIRATES COUNTERS BLACKBERRY WOBBLES WITH ADDED US FLIGHTS
The current undertones when talking about the UAE, caused by intermittent talk of a card house property market, the near failure of some state controlled companies during the global economic crisis and most recently about UAE’s plans to ban the use of BlackBerry phones effectively ‘grounding’ communications while in transit in the UAE, has not deterred Emirates (the airline) to go double daily with B777 equipment from the end of October to Houston and Los Angeles. This offers even better connectivity to travellers to the US, and in particular those two destinations, and while some travellers will be put off by the ban intended on BlackBerry communications, others will not mind that at all considering the service levels on board and the ease of connectivity via Dubai. A source at the Emirates Kampala office has confirmed that Los Angeles will go double daily ‘first’ on the 31st of October while Houston will follow suit on November 01st. The same source was also reiterating that Emirates had during the recent Farnborough Air Show in Britain signed added orders for another 30 of those wide bodied aircraft. The new flights are on sale with immediate effect from Entebbe but also the other regional Emirates destinations like Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa, through where the Emirates flights to and from Entebbe route.
KENYA AIRWAYS GETS EXTRA B737 FROM KLM
The cooperation between KQ and KLM has again shown to bear fruits when a B737-300 arrived in Kenya, still painted in KLM livery, to join the fleet of the ‘Pride of Africa’. The aircraft will according to a well placed KQ source be deployed on the Nairobi to Mombasa route but is likely to appear also on some other regional destinations, a boost to KQ’s expressed plans to offer more flights on routes with growing demand. The arrival of the extra aircraft – we could not ascertain as yet how long the lease will last – will also serve notice to KQ’s competitors on domestic and regional routes, where other privately owned airlines like Fly540, Jetlink and East African Safari Air have made inroads in KQ’s previously dominant position and cemented their own positions with more flights and faster and more comfortable newer aircraft, also saving on fuel. KQ in their latest press releases had to acknowledge a reduction in domestic traffic, attributed to the fact of having withdrawn from Lamu due to availability of a suitable aircraft, and from Malindi – something according to another source under active consideration to maybe resume flights there. Kenya Airways is expecting more aircraft later in the year, including two E190 Embraer jets, but clearly wanted to add capacity to their fleet as the market shows strong signs of traffic growth, without leaving the field to their domestic and regional competitors while waiting for aircraft deliveries to take place. Watch this space for the most up todate information from the regional aviation scene.
SQUABBLES, ACCUSATIONS TRADED OVER ‘KOGELO CENTRE’ IN KISUMU
The paternal home of US President Obama near Kisumu / Kenya has come into the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. This time it is a set of accusations, counterclaims and a government graft probe which brought the intended tourism attraction into the news, when a government minister called for an immediate investigation over the use of a grant worth 10 million Kenya Shillings apparently misused for putting up, according to the minister, a ‘shoddy building’. Community leaders too have divided into two different camps, squabbling over the donation of land some consider unsuitable, again suggesting that vested interests have overtaken the initial grand vision of honouring the past of the present US’ president. Notably, the US Ambassador to Kenya has seemingly gotten involved in the dispute by seeking to mediate between the two opposing camps, but only time will tell how to put the PR for the centre back on the straight and narrow after these potentially derailing developments.
POTENTIAL AIR BERLIN PILOTS’ STRIKE PUTS MOMBASA FLIGHTS IN DOUBT
Pilots of Air Berlin, presently operating charter flights to Mombasa and intending to add scheduled flights between the German capital and the Indian Ocean resort city of Mombasa, have voted almost unanimously for strike action, should the airline’s management not make an improved offer in their present round of pay and term / condition talks. Strike action could start any time from now although added talks are scheduled according to a source in Germany for later in August and September already. It appears that while most areas of dispute can be resolved amicably the pilot’s demand for a third pilot on board for long haul flights is a position the airline vehemently opposes for cost reasons. Tour operators sources in Mombasa were not able or willing to comment as yet what an impact a strike would have on their tourism business, should one or several of the Air Berlin flights be affected by industrial action. Said one regular: ‘I have not even heard about this yet, let me find out more from the airline’s representative first before I can make a comment’. The news come hot on the heels of the airline announcing a rise of over 6 percent of passengers in a month on month comparison with the same period last year and continuously high loadfactors in excess of 80 percent for all their flights. Air Berlin has in recent years established itself, through mergers and internal growth, as Germany second airline after market leaders Lufthansa.
TANZANIA TOURIST BOARD ADMITS TO MISSING 2010 TARGETS
Officials of TTB have in recent days scratched their heads when the available half year figures of arrivals and revenues from tourism to Tanzania suggested that the targets initially set for this year will most likely be missed substantially. Estimates presented last year for 2010 spoke of reaching a million visitors and revenues in excess of 1.7 billion US Dollars, but the present trend indicates that the country may now only receive some 800.000 visitors and correspondingly lower revenues than forecast. Experts are divided over the reasons for this development, as neighbouring Kenya – which kicked of a marketing storm last year and early this year around the world – are already having their eyes set on their best tourism year ever. Suggestions have been made that the stand taken by the Tanzanian government and delegation at the global CITES meeting earlier in the year in Doha has influenced many would be travellers and more so travel and tour agents to send less visitors to Tanzania to express their disagreement on the proposed large scale sale of ivory, while other observers have pointed to the hugely controversial planned highway across the Northern Serengeti, which has conservationists from around the world up in arms. The coordinated campaign against this project may well have resulted in revealing and damaging articles and publicity against Tanzania’s government stand on the planned road, and may be just one added cause why less people are visiting Tanzania this year while tourism generally in the region, in particular in Rwanda and Kenya is showing a sharp upswing. Budget constraints for marketing too have been cited by usually well informed sources from Arusha, who claim that while Kenya and Rwanda in particular, have spent big to reap big. However, this logic has not apparently been understood in Tanzania as yet, and the present election campaign too has taken focus off the sector at a time when it is most needed. Watch this space.
CROSS KILI BALLOON FLIGHT COLLECTS CLIMATE CHANGE DATA
A recent successful attempt to cross Mt. Kilimanjaro via balloon was finally able to reach elevations suitable to collect weather and climate data supposed to flow into a wider study of the effects of global changes for the mountain and its immediate neighbourhood. A team from the Southern German university of Freiburg, together with Swiss colleagues, managed to reach over 5.500 metres elevation and drifted across much of the mountain’s side but failed in the face of prevailing winds to reach the top of the mountain peak, which stands at 5.895 metres above sea level. However, in the process of the flight the researchers were able to use their equipment on board to measure particles high up in the air but nevertheless thought to be of crucial importance for interpreting and forecasting future changes of weather and regional climate. Since mid of the last century, when the icecaps – immortalised by the 1936 book ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ by Ernest Hemingway – were still covering well over 10 square kilometres, the present icefields are thought to be just over 2 square kilometres wide and have shrunk visibly, putting the water supply of an entire sub region into future doubt, as melt off reduces as the ice gradually disappears. This correspondent has raised this issue already nearly a decade ago, at the time earning little but derisive comments and contempt but having been more than vindicated since then as the glaciers, not just on Kilimanjaro but also on Mt. Kenya and across the Rwenzori Mountains have visibly and progressively shrunk ever faster. The six ‘passengers’ in the balloon included two Swiss pilots, the two scientists from Germany, a cameraman and a journalist, the latter two covering the story for the media, hoping to raise further awareness of the present impact of global climate change and convincing the habitual deniers that indeed mother earth is sliding ever faster towards rising temperatures which in turn may irreparably change life as we know it. The flight, according to sources in Arusha and Moshi, was cleared by the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority although a rather inept sounding staff of Kilimanjaro National Park tried to kick up dust by claiming he knew nothing about it and ‘flying over the mountain is prohibited’. The team is supposed to also fly across Ol Donyo Lengai in coming days, an active volcano some distance between the Ngorongoro massif and Lake Natron, to gather added data on volcanic ash and gas concentrations found nearby, which might give added clues to the impact of volcanic eruptions on weather changes. The entire ‘expedition’ is scheduled to last between two and three weeks, following which they will return to their universities to process the gathered data and then interpret them before publishing their findings.
NO TOURISM DOWNTURN BEFORE AND DURING ELECTIONS Information was received from Kigali, that the arrivals recorded in the run up of the presidential elections last week were in line with ‘normal’ figures of tourists and business people coming to the ‘land of a thousand hills’, supporting a previous opinion voiced here that there was no cause for any concern over visiting Rwanda during this historic period. Feedback from Ruhengeri and Kigali also tells the story of satisfied clients who experienced the country immediately prior, during and after the election and were full of compliments over what they saw from their safari vehicles or when stopping to take fuel or have a rest stop, peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections and not a sign of troubles anywhere. General consensus was that visits to Rwanda are possible at any time and that political events were not deterring tourists from coming. Rwanda is for the current year 2010 looking at a new arrival and spending record from tourism and from half year figures available the country is very well on course to achieve this objective. Next week will the annual Rwanda Trade Fair take place in Kigali, as are a series of similar events presently unfolding across the entire region. Come on come all, said a regular source from RDB – Tourism and Conservation, we are open for business 24/7 every day of the year. Well said!
VICTORIA SET FOR INTERNATIONAL CARNIVAL FESTIVAL
March 04 – 06 next year will see the inaugural Victoria International Carnival Festival unfold, aimed to bring in participants from the key carnival countries and carnival cities around the globe to the Seychelles. The new ‘invention’ will work towards bringing yet more international ‘flair’ to the archipelago and each of the invited countries and cities were requested to prepare two ‘floats’ to be used for display and in a major parade, which will traverse the Seychelles capital city and for which tens of thousands of residents and tourist visitors are expected to line up along the route. More details will be made available through the Seychelles Tourist Board on request or via their website www.seychelles.com
SUBIOS 2010 OPEN FOR REGISTRATION NOW
The annual ‘sub Indian Ocean surface’ underwater festival, due to be held between October 01 – 03, is now formally open for intending participants to register with the festival organizers. SUBIOS is one of the major annual activities in the Seychelles bringing together photographers and film makers of underwater activities, and the prize winners in the past have included well reputed names. For more details on this year’s festival visit http://www.subios.com where entry details, terms and conditions can be sourced. More information can be obtained on the site of the Seychelles Tourist Board via http://www.seychelles.com. Entry deadline has been given as the 17th September, i.e. a month from now, so some urgency ought to be attached to downloading and completing the relevant forms and returning them to the organizers.
AIR SEYCHELLES PROMOTES ‘GREEN AWARENESS’
Visitors to the archipelago, flying on Air Seychelles, can now watch a short film on environmental protection measures and what tourists can do themselves while on holiday to avoid damage to the pristine environment they find across the islands. The initiative was supported by the airline, hand in hand with the Seychelles Tourist Board, and turned the idea by conservation NGO ‘Sustainability for Seychelles’ – aka S4S, into reality. Other partners funding the production of the DVD, it was learned over the weekend, were UNEP, GEF and private sector partners like the Constance Ephelia Resort. Passengers on board of long haul flights to Mahe can learn a lot about the Seychelles being one of the ‘greenest’ destinations around the globe and the efforts undertaken by government, the business community and civil society across the archipelago to keep it this way. Air Seychelles only recently was in the ‘good’ news when formally signing on to the EU’s carbon emission trading scheme, which will officially come into effect by next year, again leading from the front unlike many other foreign airlines still pondering how to get either around the new rules or else diddling with compliance requirements.
Southern Sudan News
KHARTOUM TIGHTENS FOREX RULES
Travellers leaving from the Sudan are facing yet more restrictions on the amount of foreign currency they can purchase, according to a source in Juba. Already suffering from a shortage of hard currency the situation seems to have grown worse in recent months, and questions are being asked in the South where all the forex earned from oil sales has gone. Allegations frequently emerge that the regime in Khartoum has mortgaged much of the oil proceeds to acquire arms and ammunition in defiance of a UN embargo, but insiders in Juba regularly in contact with this correspondent often argue that this is of no concern to the Bashir regime, said to re-arm on a large scale to be ready for another round of war, should they not be able to keep the Southern oil wealth under their control when the independence referendum has been concluded. At the same time the Central Bank also suspended operations of accounts for a number of government agencies and bodies, most notably of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, of the Stock Exchange and more worrying expatriate organisations. Having no access to their funds will make operations for the CAA hugely difficult, something those at the Central Bank in Khartoum do not seem to appreciate, but the blocking of expatriate organisations accounts is more ominous as oppressive and muzzling policies are thought to be behind this particular move. Southern Sudanese travellers, as well as leading business figures in Juba openly called to defy this move saying as a presently semi autonomous region, en route to independence, they are not subject to the regime’s command and control economy and dictates, while several were seemingly prompted to send messages to the effect ‘independence for us in the South cannot come soon enough’ … Indeed it can’t, adds this correspondent.
JUBA – NIMULE TO UGANDA ROAD ON COURSE
Information was received last week from Juba, confirming steady progress along the route of the newly constructed road between Juba and Nimule, near the border with Uganda. Officials from USAID, the main funding agency for the project under a bilateral grant, GoSS and state officials were joined by stakeholders from the transport sector to inspect the progress of construction of the 200 KM road works. Once completed the new road will not just ease transport between Uganda and the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba, but also link the areas in between to markets for agricultural products and livestock while making the delivery of supplies to these areas easier and more affordable. Southern Sudan presently imports over 90 percent of their daily requirements from Uganda and the link between Gulu and the border too us being worked on to create a lifeline for trade and travel between the neighbours. Kampala is linked to Gulu by a recently upgraded all tarmac highway and travelling times between Kampala and Juba, when the new road is open for traffic, will reduce to a daylight trip, making visits easier and supporting in particular visits to the Nimule National Park where, besides game and the appealing vista a long stretch of white water is of particular scenic beauty for tourists. It is notable though that the regime in Khartoum never made an honest effort to construct this road, arguably to keep the then ‘occupied’ and for sure oppressed South focused by force towards the North while keeping links with the Southern neighbours of Kenya and Uganda at a minimum. And they still seem surprised in Khartoum that the Southern population is so yearning for independence .
And here is a goodie travel report taken from Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ – always appreciated and a lot more next week from ‘further down South’ …
On my way from Harare to Kariba, I stopped off at Chinhoyi Caves. The caves have a sunken lake inside. It is very pretty. Anyhow, for a bit of a break en route, I thought I would give the caves a whorl … They are about 5 km east of Chinhoyi Town, which is 120 km from Harare or 240 km from Kariba Town. I was a bit shocked when I found out that it was going to cost me US$8 to enter the caves, but paid it anyway. Zimbabweans pay US$2, Internationals pay US$10. A short walk from the office, there are some stone steps heading into the caves. It is a bit dark so you need a torch to see properly. There are over 200 steps down … and worse still, there are 200 steps up … I reached the bottom and took some photos. Then I noticed a couple of signs: one stated that swimming was prohibited and that scuba divers should not stir up the mud … Very confusing … Anyhow, the caves were interesting, but not US$8 interesting. I can tick that one off and won’t need to go again.