TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
First edition August 2011
East Africa News
ELECTRICITY SHORTAGES EXPOSE WOEFUL STATE OF PLANNING
As the East African region continues to suffer from unacceptable and entirely avoidable power cuts business and civil society leaders are ganging up against power companies and government oversight bodies and ministries, demanding answers why such outages should hit the region with a regularity, stemming from negligence and lack of planning.
While Rwanda seems to manage their power shortages in the best possible fashion, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have again fallen victim to wide spread ‘load shedding’ a word creation by the electricity companies to explain away their failures.
There is light on the horizon only in Uganda, where the IPS promoted Bujagali Energy will start producing at the very latest by early November, starting with 50 MW and progressively moving to 250 MW by April 2012.
That will allow the country to phase out expensive diesel powered thermal plants, for which contractual subsidies must be paid by government, a crippling burden considering the cost of fuel right now. Still, having no power is more expensive in the long run as industrialists are now vocally protesting against electricity rationing with some threatening to move their businesses to a country where power is assured around the clock and not subject on / off / on / off schedules.
In Tanzania the problem has been gradually worsening in recent months, are frequently referred to in articles here, but again is attributed to the lack of preventive and scheduled maintenance of power plants, causing breakdowns of equipment and, as recently during a major football cup match, power cuts extending across the entire country.
Even in Kenya were warnings sounded earlier in the week that the country should brace for ‘load shedding’, but the gentle words cannot mask the fact that extended parts of Nairobi and other cities and towns will begin to sit in darkness from tomorrow onwards, as here too hydro generating capacity has suffered from the drought while thermal plants are not operating at full capacity again due to the current cost of fuels.
Kenya presently has 650 MW of wind power under development in two approved plants in the Turkana area and is hastening, belatedly it must be said, the exploration for geothermal power sources, where in particular in the Menengai crater area of Nakuru drilling is ongoing and added generation, on a 10MW at a time feed, is being pursued.
However, the crucial words are belated and unprepared, as power distributors and power producers were long aware of medium term weather and rain forecasts and had experience from their colleagues in the region of breakdowns of equipment caused by lack of maintenance, or shutdown of thermal plants due to lack of fuel.
For sure one thing across the region is a constant, that in times of economic hardship governments and regulators better not mess with the private sector, which is the only source able to improve the immediate outlook and that is exactly what is being done right now. ‘Lack of electricity has shot back to the top of the business associations agendas in all of East Africa. But that is being chased by demands from business leaders for more prudent spending of our tax money, cutting out waste in government and bringing corruption under control. When business confidence suffers as it does right now, governments cannot ignore justifiable demands by the business community and think it will not be forgotten. If the business community turns their support and allegiance away from government, how can they sustain themselves beyond the next elections? We are tired of hearing their songs about private sector being the engine of growth and yet they starve that very engine of fuel. Let them know they are being closely watched’ said one leading association head in Kampala to this correspondent, serving notice of discontent on behalf of his membership.
Meanwhile though the region is struggling to continue live as ‘normal’ albeit without power every second night in Uganda and more irregular power cuts in Kenya and Tanzania. Businesses and those domestic households which can afford the expense are also investing where possible in solar panels and inverter systems or else pay through the proverbial nose for diesel or petrol to power their inhouse generators. Watch this space.
AUGUST RAMADAN EXPECTED TO IMPACT ON DOMESTIC TRAVEL ACROSS THE REGION
The annual summer holiday of local schools is underway in Kenya, but unlike in other years marked by the onset of the Holy Month of Ramadan earlier this week.
Hoteliers along the Kenya coast traditionally bank of domestic travel during the school holidays, when parents take time out and bring their families for a beach side vacation, but this year these expectations have been tuned down with few if any Muslim families travelling on pleasure during this period. Said a regular source from Mombasa yesterday: ‘Ramadan is a month of prayers and cleansing of body and soul. Normally in August we get a lot of visitors from upcountry but our Muslim brethren are not taking time off during this special month. Travel is a pleasure and as such does not conform with Ramadan principles, where no such pleasures are supposed to be enjoyed. When the month ends we expect many of them to travel, before schools start again but not during August. We wish all the Muslim community in Kenya a peaceful Ramadan month’.
Arrivals from Europe and Kenya’s other main markets for tourists are said to be steady though inspite of the economic wobbles and worries caused by the Eurozone crisis and the ‘almost default’ of the American government.
SHERATON OFFERS DAILY ‘IFTAR’ FEAST
During the entire Holy Month of Ramadan has the Sheraton Kampala Hotel set aside a prayer room for the Muslim faithful, which can be used by those then breaking their daily fast together with an Iftar feast, laid on especially to allow families and friends to enjoy their evening meal together.
The Sheraton has offered this service for many years now and the market has responded well to it year after year, with many Muslims in fact inviting their non Muslim friends to break their daily fast with them, having a meal with all the traditional ingredients of the first evening meal as it would be cooked at home.
Adds this correspondent to his many friends in Uganda and beyond professing to the Islamic faith – have a blessed and peaceful Ramadan month.
AFRICAN GREY PARROTS RELEASES
Last week saw the release of most of the African Grey parrots, which were confiscated by UWA and customs officials at the Mpondwe border post between Uganda and Congo DR last year.
Initially kept at the Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, where they were assessed and as necessary received veterinary treatment, the ever rarer birds were set free in Kibale National Park to enjoy their life in a habitat where there is enough food for them and the space to roam and breed.
It was learned that amongst the over 200 birds initially released were also others taken from a private residence along the Entebbe highway, where the African Grey is often found in patches of forests and regularly trapped by illegal traders, since a bird can fetch as much as 2.000 US Dollars in overseas markets. The remainder of the parrots still kept at UWEC are also due for release soon at another location upcountry.
Sections of the expatriate community too are said to be keen to display the birds in cages at their posh residences, fueled by UWA’s policy to issue permits for keeping inspite of the illegal captures. The African Grey has progressively disappeared from areas near Kampala but appears readily available on a thriving black market for this and many other attractively coloured species of birds. Time to act on these transgressions, diplomatic status of many of the keepers in Kampala notwithstanding.
EMIRATES ADDS KUALA LUMPUR AS 15TH A380 DESTINATION
The Kampala office of Emirates has confirmed that come December the route to Kuala Lumpur will be served with the A 380 sky giant from Dubai. Many Ugandans, and in fact East Africans are studying in Malaysia in one of their many universities and lots of them will have the opportunity when coming home for the Christmas holidays to travel on the double decker aircraft, which has added a new dimension to the comfort of air travel in all classes of the aircraft.
Emirates presently already operates 21 weekly nonstop flights between Dubai and Kuala Lumpur and continuously growing demand has now caused the decision to be made that the A380 will be deployed on this route. Malaysia is one of the UAE’s leading trade partners and traffic volumes of passengers and cargo have been rising above average.
Emirates is the world’s largest A 380 customer and is following in the footsteps of Lufthansa and Air France, both of which are already flying this aircraft to Johannesburg, when adding JNB to their A380 destination on October 01st this year. Entebbe, as was recently reported her, has been designated as an emergency diversion airport enroute. Watch this space.
KENYA AIRWAYS RELEASES FIRST QUARTER RESULTS
Following the good news given only weeks ago when the full year results were published by ‘The Pride of Africa’ in Nairobi, the trend seems to continue with the release of first quarter data for the financial year 2011 / 2012. European capacity grew by a staggering 26.3 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago, spurred by the re-introduction of flights to Rome and more frequencies to London Heathrow, the latter to get yet more flights just as soon as slots have been secured.
Increases in capacity offered was even greater to West Africa where the use of the B767 on the routes to Lagos, Accra and Freetown, from the previously deployed B737-800, has made a significant impact.
Regional flights across Eastern Africa are up by a remarkable 7.5 percent, and considering the already deep penetration of this important market the increase is all the more significant as it continues to strengthen KQ’s dominant market position as a point to point and a hub airline, offering their passengers instant connections across the region, the continent and beyond.
‘The Winner’ though, compared with a year ago, is the domestic market which KQ re-entered with a vengeance and their 10 daily flights between Nairobi and Mombasa, their daily flights to Malindi and several flights a day to Kisumu have served notice to the market that the national airline of Kenya is intent to ‘show flag’ even on the home market, giving travelers wider choices at often eye catching offers.
Average load factors across the network also increased showing that the capacity increases were well absorbed in the market places.
Visit www.kenya-airways.com for more information and specific details about their financial and operational performance.
NOW KAA BLAMES VANDALISM
The Kenya Airport Authority only managed to pour more fuel into the fire of discontent over their dismal performance of late, when their Managing Director yesterday blamed vandals for the power outages.
‘The man is not only incompetent, and his staff responsible are incompetent too, now they are also lying to us. How can they blame vandalism of cables in a secured area. Has anyone heard of intrusion into the airport perimeter, cutting of fences or climbing them? Had police got any evidence that there was in fact vandalism or that the power substation was broken into? Has KAA filed a case with police? That cable is underground so who can access it from above? And if anyone intruded into the secure area, what does that mean for KAA’s security measures in place? This is pure hogwash and they know it. They are trying to absolve themselves from blame and by lying make it worse. They must resign or be fired for negligence and incompetence. And no, you cannot use my name because these people are very vindictive and can cause our airline a lot of problems’ said a regular source to this correspondent yesterday evening when discussing KAA’s latest attempt to shift blame from themselves to ‘others’ who remain unnamed.
Airlines are demanding huge compensation from KAA for flight diversions and the resulting costs of passengers missing flights and having to be accommodated, the extra fuel to reach diversion airports and related cost caused by a string of recent power outages at East Africa’s most important international aviation gateway. Meanwhile is a crippling electricity deficit of up to 200 MW causing power rationing across Kenya, following suit to Tanzania’s perennial power shortages and of late similar problems in Uganda, leaving businesses, in particular the hotel industry and manufacturing reeling from the added cost of doing business by using in house generators which at present prices of diesel and petrol are eating deep into their bottom line. Watch this space.
CHANGE MAKES CHANGE
Kenya Airways has began to accept voluntary contributions from passengers, happy to donate ‘excess’ coins but also notes for that matter, for funding of the airline’s charitable programmes across the network.
Besides Kenya, where KQ’ corporate responsibility projects have made a big impact on society, and on the environment through their ‘plant a future’ treeplanting campaign in the Ngong Hills, the airlines has also been supporting carefully selected projects in Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.
This latest campaign however also accepts, besides the cash, requests from passengers which projects should be supported in their home country reflecting the interactive nature of Kenya Airways’ initiative.
With over 3 million passengers carried per annum the level of contributions anticipated will make a substantial impact on the lives of many deserving people, all due to ‘Change for Change’. Well done!
ZANZIBAR TO GET OWN AIRPORT AUTHORITY
Once Zanzibari president Ali Shein has put his signature on two bills passed by the Zanzibar House of Representatives a new Zanzibar Airport Authority will become reality, supposed to be taking charge of the main airport on Unguja island – commonly but incorrectly referred to as ‘Zanzibar’ – the second major airport on Pemba island and other airfields, current or future.
However, claims that the two airports were operated ‘illegally’ since the 1964 independence raised more than just a little bemusement, as the United Republic of Tanzania’s laws and aviation regulations have sufficiently covered air operations and the management of the two airports. Also dismissed were claims that the laws and aviation regulations in place across the United Republic of Tanzania did not govern the operation of the two airports in Zanzibar, as the respective laws and aviation regulations were applicable in every corner of Tanzania, including the islands of Zanzibar.
Said one regular commentator, by his own admission a staunch ‘unionist’: ‘there are separatist forces at work in Zanzibar, and the only thing they can show is duplication of regulatory bodies. They should have concentrated on developing the islands instead of wasting time on creating authorities which already exist for the United Republic of Tanzania. Our country is recognized by ICAO of which we are a member and the ONLY member representing the interests of the islands too. Our laws and regulations conform with ICAO resolutions, CASSOA was formed by the East African Community to act on behalf of each and every member state and Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, not an own member state. Instead of such gimmicks we should build out nation and address the many problems we have in the economy, we should unite and not divide.’
Adds this correspondent in closing that the relationship between the two partners in the United Republic of Tanzania, the mainland previously called Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar, is complex at best and often market by bickering and talks of separation though always brought back on the straight and narrow by the mutual recognition that the United Republic of Tanzania stands stronger together than apart. Watch this space.
GIVE US TAX RELIEF FOR FUEL HOTELIERS DEMAND
A high level meeting yesterday in Dar es Salaam by officials of the Hotel Association of Tanzania resulted in government being told to allow immediate tax and excise relief of at least 20 percent on fuel used to run generators or else risk condemning the sector to massive losses.
The ongoing power crisis in Tanzania, often reported about here, has reached new levels earlier in the week prompting the hoteliers to use their own generators as back up when the main electricity supply is switched off for rationing, but at a cost, going by claims made yesterday by a top association executive, which were wiping out any profits member hotels were making. HAT has nearly 100 members from amongst hotel operators across Tanzania and is the industry’s principal organ to voice concerns to government, which has been accused to ignore the dire situation TANESCO has put the country in. Tourists and business visitors, considering the hot and humid climate in Dar es Salaam, expect services in hotels to be fully functional or else demand major refunds should elevators and air conditioners fail, hence the need for hotels to run generators.
Beach resorts too are said to be equally affected similar to the city’s business hotels.
Added a regular contributor of information from Dar: ‘this makes promoting tourism even harder now. Our government does not seem to understand what is going on under their noses. Tanzania has a lot of negative publicity over the Serengeti highway plans, where people abroad claim the government has lied to UNESCO and still plans to build a highway, then the Lake Natron issue, the Eastern Arc Mountains, the Selous and the Tanga Marine National Park, and now this! The tourists coming here read it in papers, see it with their own eyes that there is no power, so will any of them send their friends to visit when we are full of so many problems? Tour guides and drivers tell them exactly what is going on in Tanzania when they are on safari for a week or longer. If government does not listen now and come to the aid of the hotels and give better commitments on conservation, our 50th independence anniversary will be a reminder of how badly we manage our own affairs. And let us stop kidding each other, blaming the colonialists after half a century is no longer believable. Government has to wake up to reality or get out and make space for those who can improve our living conditions’. As always, watch this space as dissent appears to spread in Tanzania.
TURKISH ANNOUNCES APRIL 2012 FLIGHTS TO KIGALI
Turkish Airlines has yesterday announced their intention to begin flights between Istanbul and Kigali by April next year. The information was given in Kigali by the THY Chief Executive Dr. Temel Kotil when he met with President Paul Kagame.
It was also announced that cooperation between RwandAir and Turkish will be stepped up, with codeshare arrangements being put into place under which the two partners can choose a range of ‘beyond’ destinations from the hubs in Istanbul and Kigali. Fleet maintenance and capacity building support was also discussed between RwandAir – due to get their first ever B737-800 in less than a month from now – and Turkish with the latter going to provide technical support and training opportunities.
It could not be ascertained however if the flights between Kigali and Istanbul would be nonstop or route either via or on to another African destination of Turkish, which has in recent years been aggressively expanding to now 142 destinations via their Istanbul hub, including 17 cities in Africa. Watch this space.
ONE MONTH AND COUNTING
RwandAir’s first brand new B737-800, which is presently being assembled at the Boeing facility in the United States, is now just one month away from delivery in Kigali.
Equipped with the latest ‘Sky Interior’, developed by Boeing to make the aircraft look more ‘sassy’ on the inside, the aircraft a few days ago got the engines attached to the wings while dozens of engineers and specialists are installing equipment and outfits before the plane will then go into a final phase of flight testing. Once that is accomplished a ‘rolling out’ ceremony will take place during which the aircraft will be officially handed over to RwandAir and commence a series of transit flights before landing at the Kanombe International Airport the following day to all the fanfare and celebrations RwandAir can lay on.
The new generation B 737 is the first of two presently on order and will boost the fleet of one of Eastern and Central Africa’s fast growing airlines, and ‘number two’ should be taking off to ‘the Land of a Thousand Hills’ within weeks.
RwandAir presently flies two leased B737-500’s, two CRJ 200 jets purchased from Lufthansa, and a Bombardier Dash 8 which is used to fly the domestic routes and for instance to Bujumbura.
‘WB’ has introduced new routes over the past year and now serves Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Libreville in West Africa, Johannesburg in South Africa, Dubai via Mombasa and of course Nairobi, Entebbe, Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam. Happy landings to the new ‘bird’ as the clock keeps ticking away to the big day.
NYUNGWE FOREST, VIEWS FROM ABOVE AND FROM BELOW
If ever I have entered an enchanted forest, where I expected to momentarily see elves and hobbits emerge from behind these huge moss covered trees, or where I would run into these legendary shepards of the trees, it would be Nyungwe. I have of course no idea if Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien ever was in Nyungwe or even heard of it, but his narratives in the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, of the Great Forest and others our heroes had to troop through, this comes the closest, including seeing giant spider webs.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see this magnificent forest, courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism & Conservation and of Nyungwe Forest Lodge, and while I had read up, extensively as I do when I prepare for travel on assignment, nothing had truly prepared me for the reality of it.
Steady driving from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, takes one about 3 ½ hours, though it is advisable to make stops enroute, for instance to visit the main national museum in Huye, formerly Butare, which contains a wide variety of cultural, historical and other important collections and artifacts from present day as well as the days of the Rwanda Kingdom. Butare used to be the administrative capital during the colonial days but has until now retained its charm and attraction as the ‘cultural capital’ of Rwanda, underscored through the presence of the National University which is based and headquartered here.
The road from Kigali to Butare is scenic and in first class shape, allowing for good progress to be made. Leaving Kigali in the early morning will allow for sufficient time to stop at the museum and take a guided tour, and thereafter having a late lunch in Butare before driving on towards Nyungwe Forest National Park.
On this stretch the road is gradually getting worse, probably as most visitors would expect, but it is due to be completely re-carpeted as of next year, which then makes the drive to this magical park the proverbial walk in the park.
The best time to arrive at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, in my humble opinion, is in the late afternoon, right in time for tea, which allows for a gradual settling in, getting to the cottage without a rush, unpacking the cases, sitting on the balcony and listening to the bird song or else get acquainted with the location by taking a walk across the extensive tea plantation into which Nyungwe Forest Lodge is ‘embedded’.
With 24 rooms and one very posh VIP cottage, the lodge is small enough to be ‘private’ and yet large enough to travel with a couple of friends just as keen as seeing this gem of a forest national park.
So what are Nyungwe’s main features you may ask. Well, let’s start with the fauna found in the park and adjoining buffer areas: records kept by RDB from the ‘old’ ORTPN days show that there are 13 species of primates including as many as 500 documented chimpanzees, 75 different mammal species, over 270 species of birds including about 25 endemics, complemented by what experts say hundreds of different butterflies. Moving on to the flora of the park, the records are equally impressive: over 250 types of different trees, countless shrubs and flowering plants including yet to be fully explored medicinal plants, and standing out from them are the giant lobelias found deep in the forest, as if sprung from prehistoric times. Most of the giant tropical trees are ‘home’ to symbiotic plants, ferns, mosses and most notably orchids in all shapes, sizes and colours, making every stop to gaze at these giants of the forest different, as the guide from the park office continues his expert explanations. And not to forget the smallest ‘things’, insects, never fully catalogued so no detailed numbers were available from the park head quarters, which add to the variety of life forms found in the forest.
Elevations reach from a ‘low’ level of around 1.600 metres to as high as Mt. Bigugu’s peaks which stands 2.925 metres above sea level and constitutes the highest point anywhere in the national park. The regular rainfall, just short of 2.000 mm per annum, contributes to the unique and varied biodiversity across the 1.000 square kilometres of forest to which researchers from around the world come to see and explore.
That does not mean though that ‘ordinary’ tourists are less welcome, to the contrary in fact. RDB – Tourism and Conservation has established a series of activities, guided walks and day long hikes which are available to those very fit, moderately fit and rather not fit at all.
The guided walk for instance to the Colobus monkey colony nearest to the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, while taking off from the RDB’s visitor reception centre at the edge of the park in the direction of Cyangugu, often ends within sight of the lodge and can be done, with great ease apart from some steepish climbs down and up, by just about anyone. Some of the walks to the chimpanzees and the ‘midsized’ hikes through the forest, maybe a little more challenging but guides are happy to slow the pace down to suit the clientele. While some of the walks and hikes are dedicated to see either birds or primates or orchids or butterflies, depending on what individuals are most interested in, the guides at both starting points are able to discuss which one of the walks or hikes suits a visitor best, and her or his fitness levels, while other hikes can cover a wider range of sightings over a more extended period of time, up to 8 hours for the longest of the day trips.
As often the case, I would personally prefer a hike with a guide alone, or at best with one or two persons of similar interests who can enjoy looking up a tree, one of those giant sized trees found in the deep of the forest and measuring 40 or more metres in height, where I would gradually walk my eyes up and down its house sized stem, taking in the various types of moss, orchids and symbiotic plants which made their home in the nooks and crannies of that particular tree, and then there are thousands more to see – if you get the general drift of what my aim would be like to hike that forest.
I should probably also use such hikes to recite sections from the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings, and utter elfish words in the hope that some of those fabled figures would in fact appear, which would make my forest hike a lot more interesting but would probably bore ‘normal’ tourists to no end who come for primates, birds and other ‘must see stuff’. But being only three on the occasion, plus two guides, I had ample opportunity to mutter into my beard when I thought I had seen strange creatures as the breeze made thickets move and vegetation sway, giving it faces which could have sprung out of Tolkien’s books. And if I would not generally be taken for quite ‘off the rocker’ I would swear that some of those faces did wink at me.
I did mention the word ‘enchanted forest’ a few times, so the results are even emerging here in this article.
Walking through the forest is undoubtedly a unique experience, whether one is interested in the flora and fauna alone or in some elfish stories on the side, and the growing popularity of such hikes speak volumes. Said the guide at the RDB offices where I had reported to be registered and briefed: ‘we now have a lot more visitors. The canopy walkway has made Nyungwe very popular. But here, on the ground, a lot of these visitors really see the forest from very close and then they can also see it from the canopy walk. They understand the forest better that way. We are opening new trails also, so that visitors have more choices. When you enter with us into the forest, you will not likely see any people until you come back here again.’ Well we did not, for a long time at least and then those seen in the buffer zone were picking tea while on another occasion we met a patrol of rangers on foot, got some valuable tips and off they went again disappearing behind thickets and trees as if they had never been there.
Literature about the forest and its walks and hikes is available, both in simple pamphlet style but also the glossy type of guide books which can be bought at the ranger station, or at the shop at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, or back in Kigali, to keep memories fresh of the wondrous experience of walking into the deep of a tropical rain forest, and being sure and certain to come back out and not getting lost enroute.
The RDB guides are well trained and specialize in fields of their choice, and are both cheerful and beaming with pride when their skills are recognized by amateur birders like myself – a contest of spotting and naming birds is a welcome opportunity for them to show just how good they are.
On to the ‘canopy walk’ now. Getting there requires the use of the safari vehicle as the distance to the RDB visitors and reception centre of the park from Nyungwe Forest Lodge is not for walking. Called the ‘Uwinka Overlook’ the name already tells the story. From an elevated viewpoint a sweeping view of the forest is possible from here and while the guides are ever willing to tell their stories, and the facts, a few moments of silent contemplation are probably best to take in the scale of the forest versus us human beings, before starting the walk ‘down’ to the ‘canopy walk’, over 300 stair steps and over quite a distance, and we were being ‘swallowed by the forest’ within the first few steps.
What is needed are sturdy boots, the walking stick is being provided by the guides, and a folded rainskin should be tucked away as rain often comes suddenly upon visitors to the forest, and heavily too. And, most important, to have the batteries in the camera charged and a spare at hand – besides the quintessential bottles of water, not so much for the walk down but the climb back up again later on.
The track to the canopy walk, while descending steadily downhill – one has to cover an elevation difference of well over 200 metres, down and up again – is well walked, covered by leaves and where necessary secured with railings to avoid tumbling down a very steep slope. The guides stopped on several points where views open up through the trees, as if they would make way to allow for sights across the hills and mountains, all covered with yet more trees, giant trees some of which might not have been seen close up by human eyes ever.
And then suddenly, almost unexpectedly, the pylons and wires of the canopy walk appear further below still, telling the story that ‘half time’ is about to happen, and that the character of each visitor is to be tested, as often, when seeing the almost ‘flimsy’ structure, sturdy as it in fact is, makes many back off from the crossing, which at places is a straight 200 feet up in the air.
This is the point where the guide goes into a whole series of instructions, stepping out on to the suspension bridge to demonstrate what to do and the also showing and telling of the consequences of what happens when the wrong this is done – it is at this point where the fainthearted finally decide to give it a miss and let those brave enough, or in need of some adrenalin rush, commence the crossing.
Back packs, walking sticks et al are left behind, to be picked after all three sections of the canopy walk have been crossed and when committed on to the structure there is only a way forward, yet richly rewarding those in the mid of the tree canopies and then above the trees with sights otherwise not seen.
The narrow ‘trays’, joined with bolts and kept in place with multiple steel cables, are not wide enough to even have someone pass the other, so step by step, and as told foot before foot before foot we make our way across. The second of the three sections is the longest and highest and again reminders are given how to avoid shaking and to secure cameras to the wrist with a strap – apparently a number of tourists, when looking down at the highest point to take pictures, were ‘overcome’ and dropped their camera, probably only too happy to then complete the walk ‘on the high wire’ without following it straight down. Yet, it must be mentioned that the structure is not only sound in terms of engineering but is being checked every day to make sure there are no loose bolts or chafed wires or the ‘hand rope’ being anything else but taunt.
High above the trees a scenery opens up, second to none and simple not visible from down below, showing the colours of the blossoming trees and opening up the secret world of the tree tops, where birds galore are found and where on occasions even some monkeys can be seen, though swift to disappear, shy as they are.
It is a rewarding feeling to eventually reach the third, and shortest of the suspension bridges, to have conquered, oneself first and foremost, as when down on the ground again and looking up once more to the tiny structure spanning the valley below, second thoughts might still creep up.
My fellow two adventurers, Henriette, the guide on our trip from the Rwanda Development Board and Kwita Izina ‘namer’ Anja had no qualms though, neither to cross nor to pose, and neither did the photographer on this occasion show any butterflies, yours truly of course being THE adventure addict when there is a place to climb or to jump from.
Only too soon was this adventure over and the climb back up to the reception centre is certainly more tiring and exhausting than the adrenaline driven walk down to the ‘high wire’, and the guide, mindful of the taxing climb back up those three hundred plus stair steps and steep inclines, stopped seemingly a little more often to interpret plants or to point out flowers and orchids – and thank you for that!
And then, suddenly it seems, we are back at the ‘Uwinka Overlook’, for one last fond view across the sprawling forest before bidding it Kwaheri Ya Kuonana, good bye until we meet again because two days of walks and hikes have only implanted a seed in me, that I have to come back and explore the ‘enchanted forest of Nyungwe’ some more at some time in the future.
Most visitors to Rwanda visit the mountain gorillas, or the savannah national park of Akagera, but missing out on a forest national park, when one is but a few added hours of drive or a short flight away, is something they will all regret for having passed it, when back home they read the story of Nyungwe.
Visit www.rwandatourism.com for more information on the country’s tourism attractions and best, GO VISIT! International airlines flying regularly to Kigali are RwandAir, Brussels Airlines, KLM/Air France, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.
ETHIOPIAN TAKES DELIVERY OF 5TH NEW B777
A brand new B777-200LR has last weekend joined the Ethiopian fleet, the fifth such aircraft. The airline also kept the tradition to name these ‘birds’ after landmarks in Africa, the latest being christened ‘Sahara’.
The sister ships already in operation were named Blue Nile, Rift Valley, Victoria Falls and Mt. Kilimanjaro, carrying the attractions and sights of Africa around the world.
Ethiopian Airlines is one of two pan African airlines connecting Africa through their hub to a growing number of cities across the continent and has been at the forefront to promote inter African travel by air for decades. The airline is undergoing a rapid fleet modernization programme with a number of B787 on order and flies in code share with Lufthansa from Frankfurt 10 times a week, then feeding and de-feeding traffic at their Addis Ababa hub. ET is due to join global aviation industry leader Star Alliance later this year at which stage their visibility and connectivity will strengthen yet more. Happy Landings to ‘Sahara’ wherever she carries the colours of Africa.
RWANDA BACKS SOUTH SUDAN FOR EAC AND NILE BASIN MEMBERSHIP
Rwanda officially went on record yesterday when expressing their support to the new Republic of South Sudan in their bid to join the Nile Basin Commission and the East African Community, amongst other bodies the new country is set to apply to for membership.
Egypt and the rump state of North Sudan ruled by a regime under ICC wanted Gen. Bashir, are thought to be most opposed to this development, as they loath the idea of another ‘water producer’ joining up with Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo DR., Burundi, Tanzania and Ethiopia, pushing the two sole ‘water consumer countries’ into an even more significant minority.
The signing on to the treaty recently by Burundi has made the new Nile Treaty a legal reality and replaces the 1929 and 1959 treaties the British colonialist forced upon their newly independent former colonies and protectorates in East Africa.
Long disputed and eventually ignored, first by Tanzania and then by others too, Egypt had under the old treaties a veto right on projects involving contributory rivers and the lakes Victoria, Kyoga and Albert for the ‘White Nile’ while equally demanding the same rights over Ethiopia’s sovereignty over the ‘Blue Nile’, something more recently firmly rejected by Addis Ababa and put into the ‘realm of myths’.
Predictably will in particular the regime in Khartoum fear that the South Sudan will be siding with their friends in East Africa when it comes to deciding on the portion of Nile water the South will claim as its own, then leaving Khartoum and Cairo to slug it out over the balance of the water left.
Juba is also expected to soon make a formal application for membership in the East African Community, something Khartoum also tried to push on the agenda with little success, as the EAC will remember Khartoum’s obstinate behaviour and foolish interference and oppression inflicted on fellow Africans in the South Sudan, which now controls the majority of the oil produced. Kenya in particular is said to be keen to offer railway and pipeline links to the South Sudan and will push for even closer cooperation between the two countries, already linked with the most flights from anywhere between Nairobi and Juba.
While the EAC is still ‘digesting’ the ascension of Rwanda and Burundi it is quite keen to see the South Sudan apply next, which will then set of a process of between 2 and 4 years to harmonize laws, regulations and economic cooperation on a wide scale before officially admitting RoSS as a full member.
South Sudan’s most important trading partner Uganda is also said to be in full support of upcoming joining applications and like Kenya set to take full advantage of the excellent bilateral relations between the two countries to advance travel and trade. Watch this space.
LATEST EDITION OF POPULAR VISITOR GUIDE MAP LAUNCHED
‘Seychelles In Your Pocket’ has just launched the 08th edition of its hugely popular ‘pocket map’ earlier this week, providing visitors to the archipelago with the very latest information and literally all there is to know about how to get around the Seychelles.
The main guide, now in its 22nd edition, is also periodically updated, reflecting the fast pace of changes in the hospitality sector across the main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue and while the pocket map is distributed for free from various outlets, the main guide book is available at a nominal fee at leading book stores and hotel shops.
The only recently launched MAIA Luxury Resort helipad is already included in the new map, as are various specifics on roads, especially where changes have been made in the recent past like near the Raffles on Praslin.
Said a source from the Seychelles Tourist Board: ‘our visitors can get this map for free from our office in Victoria and other places. Regular updates are very important so that our guests can always have the latest information, and can safely rent a car and drive across Mahe or Praslin and not get lost. The publishers are always doing a very good job in having the latest information incorporated. Seychelles is proud to have such professionally produced material for visitors, it reflects our country’s aspiration to be the best in everything we do.’ Visit www.seychelles.travel for more destination information or simply book a holiday of a lifetime in ‘Seychelles – Another World’.
ELECTIONS ON COURSE AS COURT GOES ON VACATION
Unlike after the first dissolution of parliament, when the Seychelles Constitutional Court almost immediately sat and passed judgment on the suit brought by the opposition SNP, ordering parliament to be restored as the resolution for dissolution had lacked in format, the same court no longer saw the urgency of the second case brought, after parliament in observing the required notice format again dissolved itself.
While clearly no indicator of what the court after the summer vacation will eventually decide, it is still a dead giveaway that, instead of considering the matter as equally urgent court went ahead with the planned summer break, letting the process of holding elections go ahead until it will eventually hear the new case in September. Under relevant laws the Seychelles must hold parliamentary elections within 90 days following a vote to dissolve parliament and it will be some time in October that a general elections must now be held, subject to the Constitutional Courts final decision that is. However, political observers from the archipelago are convinced that having decided to take the scheduled vacation the court has knowingly let the preparations for elections go ahead and is now not considered likely to stand in the way when deciding the case before them in September.
That spells almost doom for the SNP opposition which following the re-election of President Michel in the May Presidential election had decided to abrogate their duties and boycott parliament and political cooperation, eventually resulting in their leader throwing in the towel and declaring he would no longer seek nomination for any election, presidential or otherwise. SNP is now under considerable pressure to elect a successor for Mr. Wavel, whose glaring absence already from the announcement of the presidential election results had set him on collision course with his own electorate, many of whom in fact complained to this correspondent the morning after the results were announced, why their own candidate had chosen to go AWOL. Follow this column for updates towards the forthcoming general election in the Seychelles, which in line with recent political developments is expected to be peaceful and without incidents, considering that a new dawn has broken for the country through President Michel’s inclusive leadership style – not reciprocated though by the opposition MP’s who will now have a fight for their political life at hand to regain their seats. Watch this space.
And in closing today some interesting material from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ by Gill Staden … I was especially intrigued by the story of lions swimming across a wide stretch of water to reach a tourist island … watch were you go, this is Africa after all …
From Wild Zambezi
SPURWING’S SWIMMING LIONS
WILD ZAMBEZI enjoyed a recent story from Spurwing Island this month about two male lions who visited the Island by SWIMMING there!
Awesome!…. but pretty hair-raising for the management, staff and guests, I am sure, and very difficult to ensure that everyone felt safe.
However…. we all need to be reminded that tourism experiences in the Kariba and Zambezi Valley are all about wilderness and wild animals. There is an inherent risk involved in travelling to and staying in these places. There are lions and other dangerous animals around and, while camps and lodges in safari areas will do their utmost to ensure that no “incidents” occur… there is always some risk. It’s important to remember that that is why these wild places are so unique. A certain amount of wildlife risk is part of the whole safari experience and what makes this very special area…… well….. so very special.
Newsletter of THE ZAMBEZI SOCIETY http://www.zamsoc.org
EMERGENCY MATUSADONA RHINO DE-HORNING AND EAR-NOTCHING COMPLETED
We reported in our May 2011 Bulletin that, in view of the massive increase in rhino poaching that is sweeping Southern Africa at the moment, an emergency Zimbabwe-wide “rhino management programme” is underway to improve rhino protection and management throughout the country.
In the Matusadona National Park, the first phase of this programme took place in July. All animals located had their horns removed and were ear-notched for on-going identification purposes. An intensive ground coverage operation is underway to confirm that all the animals have been accounted for. This will be followed up by an aerial survey in the dry months. The work was carried out as a joint venture with Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management, AWARE Trust, The Zambezi Society and SAVE Australia.
In the meantime monitoring and focused anti-poaching patrols continue.
Thank you to everyone who responded to our Rhino Rescue Crisis appeal to help keep these rhinos safe! They are still extremely vulnerable. Please continue to support our efforts.
LEOPARD SURVEY GETS UNDERWAY IN MANA POOLS
The first of several leopard spoor surveys being undertaken by the Zambezi Society research team has taken place in Mana Pools National Park. More are to follow in the surrounding safari areas during this year’s dry season. This has been made possible with the generous loan to the Society of a 4×4 vehicle by Toyota Zimbabwe.
Researchers Justice Muvengwi and Matthew Mundy worked with a tracker from the Parks and Wildlife Authority to cover a 400 sq km area from the base of the Zambezi Escarpment to the Zambezi River which they had previously divided into transects. Searching tracks in the early morning over a period of two weeks, they found evidence of some 40 leopards. This number is not an indication of leopard numbers (the survey method is a lot more complicated than that), but it provides an index that can be used for comparative purposes with surveys in other areas.
Further spoor survey work is to follow in the Nyakasanga, Sapi, and Chewore Safari Areas.
The Zimbabwe National Leopard project is funded by the Darwin Initiative and is a joint venture between the Zambezi Society, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority and Oxford University’s Wildlife and Conservation Research Unit (WILDCRU).
LODGE DEVELOPMENTS IN MANA POOLS – LATEST
After initial announcements from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority that three or four new tourism development sites along the Zambezi River at Mana Pools were in the pipeline, against the recommendations in the Management Plan for the Park recently negotiated with all stakeholders (including the Zambezi Society), there has been no further news.
However, details are now emerging of one of these: a new 24-30-bed safari lodge development proposal on the Zambezi River some 3kms downstream from the Park Headquarters at Nyamepi, and located at the existing Nkupe Camp Exclusive Campsite, overlooking the main river and the popular Mana Mouth visitor recreation spot (see the red X on the map).
The Zambezi Society has met with the consultants who are tasked with preparing an EIA for this project and we have presented them with a list of our initial concerns about this. We are now preparing a detailed Consultation Paper on this development proposal, calling for feedback and comments from Zambezi Society Supporters worldwide, in order to be able to provide a more informed, detailed and considered response from our constituency.
WATCH THIS SPACE and please take time to give us your considered feedback.
Botswana will not ban Hunting
In a Mmegi article the other week it was quoted that Botswana was to ban hunting. This is not the case according to an official response from the Botswana Government.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism would like to clarify that there is no decision made to ban wildlife hunting. Instead, what is being done is to encourage photographic tourism and gradually limit but not ban wildlife hunting. It must be known that species with declining numbers will be considered for limited hunting while those with increasing numbers like elephants, will continue to be hunted within CITES framework.
On the 13th and 14th July 2011, the Ministry and other stakeholders organized two days training workshop for local Media Practitioners on Poverty and Environmental Reporting. It was at this workshop that the Ministry spokesperson highlighted the benefits of photographic tourism to Community Trusts in the country as compared to just issuing hunting quotes during a discussion on Community Based Resource National Management (CBNRM). But there was no reference to hunting ban. Unfortunately, he was quoted out of context.
In conclusion, the Ministry states that the Botswana Government has no plan to ban hunting in this country and we would like to assure all hunting safari companies and affected communities that live near wildlife management areas who continues to benefit from hunting. The Mmegi story does not reflect current government thinking on the subject of wildlife hunting.