MASSIVE LANDSLIDES BLOCK KEY SAFARI ROUTE
It was learned yesterday that a massive landslide cut off the main route between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater to Arusha at Mto Wa Mbu, the escarpment where the Lake Manyara National Park is located. Torrential rains, which currently lash parts of Eastern Africa, caused a major rock and soil slide, tearing the main road at sections while covering it at others, and in the process apparently also killing several people and injuring others.
As per the latest reports hundreds of vehicles are already piling up at both sides of the landslide, with tourists stuck returning to Arusha at the end of their safari while others are not able to reach the northern parks under the circumstances.
The deceased person was reportedly working for Serenas Lake Manyara Safari Lodge and was on duty at the companys water pumping station, when the landslide hit, with another colleague reportedly still missing.
The single grader / earth mover sent from Arusha proved unable to deal with the scale of the slide and local government officials are now scrambling to deploy more machinery to clear the road. Affected are not only tourists but thousands of Tanzanians using the road to travel while supplies to the lodges and tented camps and villages are also unable to get through.
Weather permitting tourists are now trying to fly out from the Manyara airfield to avoid missing their departure flights from Kilimanjaro International while others have opted to arrange for flights to the parks, instantly filling up available seats on the scheduled flights from Arusha.
It was learned from the same source that other bridges and parts of this key road have also suffered extensive damage as a result of the massive rains, leaving the tourism industry in particular worried for the upcoming peak season over Christmas and New Year, immediately appealing to the government to ensure road maintenance teams to be deployed to repair poor sections to prevent further traffic disruptions.
Condolences are expressed to the families, friends and colleagues at Lake Manyara Serena, over the death of their workmate.
Archive for November, 2011
MASSIVE LANDSLIDES BLOCK KEY SAFARI ROUTE
SOUTHERN STAR HALTS OPERATIONS
Only a few weeks ago was information confirmed that South Sudans first post independence airline, Southern Star, commenced flight operations, with big fanfare and big dreams. Following two months of erratic operations though, has Southern Star already halted operations and ALS, the company in Nairobi they had leased their single aircraft from, has taken the Bombardier Dash 8 back.
It was not possible to get a comment from either owners or management of Southern Star at this time, but parallels are already being drawn with the shortlived reign of Skyjet, which while registered in Uganda was owned by a South Sudanese business man operating in Juba.
The routes to and from Juba are presently dominated by Kenyan and Ugandan based airlines, with Kenya Airways flying twice a day and Jetlink equally flying twice a day from Nairobi while there are presently 8 flights a week on Air Uganda from Entebbe to Juba, due to progressively increase to double daily too by early 2012. This has left South Sudan, besides Feeder Airlines, with not much to match any of these airlines and it explains the South Sudans governments expressed intent to form a national airline sooner rather than later, as the private sector appears unable to make things happen on a reliable and long term basis.
Once that however takes place, the upcoming negotiations over bilateral air services agreements will certainly also reflect the concept of reciprocity, to protect a South Sudanese based and owned airline, even if the number of frequencies may than have to be shared or otherwise reduced to reflect the way rights of the new country. Watch this space.
SPATS AHEAD OF EAC SUMMIT IN BUJUMBURA
Old and new rifts emerged in the meetings preparing for the council of ministers and the head of state summit later this week in Bujumbura, when news emerged from there that new battle lines were being drawn up. The application by the Bashir regime in Khartoum, to join the exclusive club of East African nations, generally thought to be deliberately mischievous and ill intended to disturb the joining process of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan, has divided the member countries and Uganda and Tanzania have made it plain, ahead of the summit, that they stand radically opposed to entertaining the application, for any number of reasons but the given one being that North Sudan has no borders with any EAC member state, which makes joining under present rules impossible. Uganda of course has been a victim of Bashir when he had the LRA fight a proxy war in retaliation of the Ugandan support for the then liberation movement SPLM which is now in power, having gotten a near 100 percent yes vote for independence during the January referendum which led to a break away in July this year.
In contrast to the North does South Sudan have borders with Kenya and Uganda, which makes their application to join meeting key criteria, adding the fact that English is widely spoken in the South and many South Sudanese lived for long in exile across Eastern Africa while Bashir made war on their homes region. Kenya is thought to be pondering, having maintained cordial relations with Bashir who is a wanted man by the ICC over massive allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as manifested in his latest round of ethnic cleansing in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where he is again standing in the way of freedom and liberty for the predominantly African populations.
However, other issues with a longer history also keep emerging as Tanzania defied the four other members who had put pen to paper for a road map on political integration and the creation of the long envisaged Federation. When the delegations assembled Tanzania had notably gone AWOL, a clear indication that serious disagreements were not bridged and slapping the other member state delegations literally in the face through absenteeism. Officials were weary to comment on the record and tried to play down the significance of the lastest Tanzanian objection, with one expressing his hope that their signature will follow later, for sure, when only one thing has ever been certain that one can count on Tanzanian huffing and puffing, being dragged screaming and kicking into East Africa like Margret Thatchers UK back in her days when it came to European integration. With the fast tracking of a single currency also on the agenda, as well as dealing, jointly or individually with the present economic problems caused by wide spread electricity shortages, devaluation of the respective currencies and run away inflation, sparks are sure to fly behind closed doors when the smiles of the photo sessions are likely to turn into something quite different.
Meanwhile are tourism sources still hoping that a common East African visitors Visa will be sanctioned at last to spur travel across the entire region, something which might hugely benefit the regions tourism industry, but again, turf protection may once more override this long hoped for innovation. Watch this space.
BLUE PANORAMA OF ITALY SEEKS TO STEP INTO VOID LEFT BY AIR SEYCHELLES
The Vice President Sales for Italys Blue Panorama airline was in Mahe at the end of last week to discuss the upcoming gap in seats and flights between Italys main cities of Rome and Milan to the Seychelles, following the announcement of Air Seychelles withdrawal from the route and handing their European gateways to code share partner Etihad, and probably other soon to be announced code share partners. Blue Panorama is a member of IATA and has IOSA certification, meeting key requirements to be granted traffic rights.
Blue Panorama, already active on the long haul market, is seeking to become Italys designated carrier to fly to the Seychelles and has made urgent representation to the Seychelles Civil Aviation Board and the Ministry of Transport, to pave the way for obtaining traffic rights just as soon as HM has operated the last flight in early 2012, to continue offering seats and keeping the destination connected.
Mr. De la Porta met with top officials while on a flying visit to Victoria, and discussed his plans with the Chairman of the Seychelles Tourism Board, who is also the Secretary of State in the Office of the President, Mr. Barry Faure, the CEO of STB Mr. Alain St. Ange and his Deputy CEO Elsia Grandcourt, the Chairman of the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority Capt. David Savy and notably the CEO of Air Seychelles Bram Stellar, with whom undoubtedly special arrangements were discussed, hopefully leading to a code shared operation which can still carry HMs flight numbers.
Only last week was it reported here that Air Astral of La Reunion was considering routing their regular scheduled flights from France to La Reunion via the Seychelles under full 5th freedom traffic rights between the two vanilla islands, a positive development following the devastating news that Air Seychelles was to close down all their European stations and reduce itself, under a major restructuring package, into a pure regional airline. Watch this space for the most up to date news from the aviation scenes of Eastern Africa and from the Indian Ocean islands.
LAMU FESTIVAL A SUCCESS AND FREE OF ANY SCARES OR INCIDENTS
The annual Lamu Cultural Festival came to a close yesterday with every available bed booked up by locals, said to comprise over 75 percent of the hotel bookings but also by overseas tourists, who had defied the blanket anti travel advisories and flown, boated and drove to this ancient Swahili township. The Kenya Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism had gone flat out to promote the event and this was thought decisive of making the event a full house, with first feedback from a group of Tweeps, who were invited to cover the event under the hash tag line #TembeaKenya, also confirming the widespread presence, on shore and off shore, of security to ensure an incident free festival. #TembeaKenya is a social media campaign which evolved in recent weeks on Twitter, to promote increased travel by Kenyans across Kenya Tembea in Kiswahili stands for walk or travel and this correspondent has widened the scheme into #TembeaEastAfrica to have every country across the East African region embrace travel at home to enjoy the sights which attract so many visitors from abroad and yet are rarely appreciated by those living here.
Music, dance and poetry performances went alongside art exhibitions and of course the traditional donkey races, flagged off by tourism minister Najib Balala but the most spectacular event, as always, turned out to be the dhow races, which were increased from previously two to three categories, and turned out to be the largest assembly of the classic sailing dhows seen for ages, with participants coming from as far South as Mozambique.
The Lamu Tourism Association pegged attendance for the festival to nearly 70.000 visitors over the four day festival period, the highest ever seen so far and local tourism stakeholders expressed their gratitude to the Ministry of Tourism for standing by them and supporting the festival this year with an extraordinary promotional effort, at home, in the region and overseas.
See you next year in Lamu then, while in the meantime all eyes will be turning to the next major Swahili culture and arts festival Sauti Za Busara, staged in Zanzibar early next year.
Just over a week away from the launch of its return to Uganda has the Gulf Air team now gotten into gear and is working the market with launch fares. While travel to the GCC region, mainly thought to be Dubai of course, and some key destinations in India, is pegged at 200 US Dollars return, PLUS taxes, it is double of the recent launch fares by Qatar Airways which for the launch week were on offer at 99 US Dollars for Gulf destinations, and while this particular offer has since expired, market fares will surely reflect the entry of the latest airline into the Uganda market and the subsequently sharply increased competition.
Gulf Air will re-enter the Ugandan market with 4 flights a week on the 05th December and their choice of GSA, Lets Go Travel Uganda / UniGlobe ensures that they will leave no stone unturned to work the market hard. Happy landings, as and when, and watch this space for the inaugural flight report.
VIGILANT OFFICIALS SEIZE 87 ELEPHANT TUSKS
A Hong Kong bound container with 87 elephant tusks was seized over the weekend in Nairobi, when alert customs and security officials opened the container for a physical spot check, after various inconsistencies rang the alarm bells and raised suspicion of illicit contraband being hidden amongst the consignment of handicraft for importers in China. The entire container was subsequently scanned before being opened, at which stage the blood ivory was discovered hidden amongst other export items in the various crates.
Chinas reluctance in joining Africa to combat poaching with more draconian measures has been largely blamed for the rocketing rise in poaching across the continent, with rhino horn and ivory the main targets of poachers, costing South Africa alone over 300 rhinos this year, with one reportedly being killed ever 21 hours for the prized, but otherwise useless horn. Importers attribute healing properties to the ground horn, but experts say it would just be as good if the beneficiaries of such concoctions would bit off and eat their own finger nails, which is made of the very same substance as rhino horn.
African wildlife managers, conservationists and globally active NGOs have sharply critizised African governments too of dragging their feet in significantly raising the stakes in terms of fines and sentences for poachers and smugglers, and while making every effort within the resources available, seem to be fighting a losing battle against organized commercial poaching and smuggling operations.
Meanwhile though full kudos to the Kenyan officials who intercepted this latest shipment of blood ivory, while mourning the loss of at least another 44 elephant.
NEW ARRIVAL RECORD REACHED WITH NEARLY 6 WEEKS TO GO TILL YEAR END
174.530 and counting was the message from Mahe last week, when the archipelagos previous arrival record, established in 2010, was broken with weeks to go still until the end of the year. Notably did the record breaker arrive on the latest airline flying to the Seychelles, Etihad, which is now coming 4 times a week to Mahe. At hand to receive the winning couple Florence and Arnaud Gambert from France, was Seychelles Tourism Board Chairman Barry Faure, with STBs Chief Executive Alain St. Ange also on board of the same flight, after witnessing the opening of the Seychelles embassy in Abu Dhabi / UAE by President James Michel.
This is a major achievement by the Seychelles, which has been promoting itself as a destination of choice, a destination of THE choice, since the tourism board was privatised and more so since Alain St. Ange become Chief Executive Officer. What makes this early record even more remarkable is the current economic gloom and doom talk in the worlds key economies, showing that the diversification of target markets by the Seychelles, giving added focus to new and emerging markets, has paid off handsomely. The liberalization of air transport to the Seychelles, mainly taken advantage of by leading carriers from the Gulf region like Emirates, Qatar Airways and now Etihad, has also significantly raised the profile of the archipelago through joint promotions, with 25 weekly flights reaching Mahe by the end of 2011 from almost any point on the globe with one stop only and aided continuous growth of the tourism industry.
The Abu Dhabi embassy already has a tourism attaché posted to the mission, who will actively support STBs team responsible for the region with promotional efforts in this important market. Said Alain at the occasion: That we have broken last years impressive record shows that the tourism policy of the government is working before adding: Today is clear we are on the right path. It also shows clearly that the idea of positioning our offices in key market areas and putting our own people who are selling Seychelles from their hearts at these markets has also helped to promote our destination and ensure Seychelles remains at the forefront when the world economies are suffering and our main target markets are going through financial turmoil. Seychelles, truly Another World, which by the way is and remains Affordable Seychelles, where holiday makers on a tighter budget can enjoy the archipelagos unique Creole hospitality just as much as the worlds rich and famous.
(The starting point of the Congo Nile Trail just outside Bralirwa Bay / Gisenyi)
Before I set out to conquer the new Congo Nile Trail, at least in part from Kibuye to Gisenyi, during a trial trip with a group of other media representatives, questions were asked of my sanity, how anyone could walk across rural Africa, considering the presence of wild animals, opportunistic bandits and reckless drivers ready to catapult one into the nearest ditch. Of course, I have dealt with questions of this nature for long, including how I could in the first place have chosen to live in Africa, but alas, those ignorantia never seem to stop bringing that up. They also never deter me to do something new, something others have not done yet but something I always feel others should do too, to widen their horizon and to broaden their knowledge about the destination and in the process gain the experience lifes memories are made of.
Commonly tourist visitors are driven across our lands by saloon cars, converted mini busses or dedicated 4×4 safari vehicles, and they see the landscapes, villages and people race by them, one seemingly looking like the other, so why stop. But there is a growing number of tourists, who come to East Africa, and in particular to Rwanda, for the opportunity to walk and hike, more here than in any of the other East African Community countries.
The famous Parc de Volcanoes is made for walking, as it is the only way to find the rare mountain gorillas, often hidden deep in the forest. Nyungwe National Park too is a hikers paradise, as is Gishwati Forest where a major trail network awaits intrepid explorers ready to do a days work with their feet while their eyes and ears can feast on the magnificent sights and sounds of unspoiled nature.
The Rwanda Development Boards Tourism and Conservation division, has over the past years been active to develop new products for visitors, to show them that the country has a lot more to offer than just the prized gorillas, and it has worked. A motor launch was brought to Lake Kivu to allow for a new experience of seeing the often spectacular hilly scenery from off shore, or watch birds while meandering along the shoreline at low speed. Birding trails were opened up outside the protected areas, involving communities through guiding and accommodation services and giving tourists from abroad a unique bird watching experience while being able to interact with the locals.
But the latest addition to the range of Rwandas attractions, the Congo Nile Trail, is something quite different and quite special, as it stretches from Gisenyi to Cyangugu / Kamembe, 227 kilometres long and alternating between the hills high above and the Lake Kivus shores. Along the new Congo Nile Trail there are no wild animals laying in wait to pounce on unsuspecting walkers, although the occasional dog gave chase only to turn away when sharply spoken to, and there are no bandits in Rwanda, a country where security is now second to none on the African continent. As to drivers, this often being a rough road and for some sections truly very rough, speeds by the few cars passing were slow enough and nothing to worry about.
My trip started in Kigali, where those planning to hike the trail have plenty of hotels and guest houses to choose from, but yours truly opted to begin the trip in style at the Kigali Serena Hotel. And it is this part which puts another myth to rest, that such hikes are for back packers or low budget tourists only. Of course it can be, as the trail does not discriminate against the hikers over the content of their wallet or the colour of their credit cards but it is often the wealthier individuals who seek this type of adventure, aimed to exercise their bodies while on vacation and then return home, fit to stand another year of office stress.
The trail, which has 8 base camps spread along the entire length at convenient intervals more are being planned already and some of them in stunning locations can be done with a tight budget but can also be conquered by those able to afford 3, 4 or 5 star accommodation along the way, which is available in or near all major townships between starting and ending points of the trail. Here it is simply a question of what one can spend on the available options of a 10 day hike, a 6 day bike and / or a 3 day 4×4 trip. Add to that the opportunity to do sections on the lake in the motor launch, plus the various loops or sub-trails which offer even longer options and greater choices by navigating away from the main trail, like into the fabled Nyungwe or Gishwati forests, and suddenly the trail really comes together as a major vacation experience.
I left Kigali in the morning and the drive took me to Gitarama where the road then branched off towards Kibuye on Lake Kivu. I gave up counting the hills, but am now absolutely certain that the Land of a Thousand Hills must surely have a few thousand more than that. The first major landmarks were passing the edges of the Mukura Forest Reserve before reaching the Ndaba waterfall.
(The Ndaba waterfall and surrounding forests and farmlands)
After a brief stop for the obligatory pictures the journey continued, now mostly downhill towards Lake Kivu, but when reaching the turn off to Kibuye my guide Karim Gisagara (Karim is on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/GKK01), one of the fathers of the trail idea and a driving force behind the effort to turn this into reality, told me work comes first turning to the Gisovu sub-trail in order to show me the tea route to the Gisovu tea factory. Passing through the extensive factory estates was evidence enough how important an export commodity tea is for the Rwandan economy and Gisovu in particular, as all the production from there, arguably the very finest tea produced in East Africa, is exported to the UK. In fact, almost the entire buffer zone around Nyungwe Forest National Park is extensively farmed with one tea plantation after the next, and the Nyungwe Forest Lodge one very luxurious place hikers can opt for when on the Cyangugu / Kamembe side of the trail is embedded into a tea estate.
(The Gisovu tea estates with Nyungwe Forest National Park clearly visible beyond the ridge)
Other highlights of the day were a visit to LEsperance Orphanage (www.lesperancerwanda.org / or www.victormonroytrust.com / www.icatis.org/birambye) which is unique in as far as it is self sufficient in all aspects of life, though the Rwanda government absorbs the school fees for the 128 children presently at home there.
(The children at LEsperance Orphanage)
And wherever one goes in Rwanda, memories of 1994 are never far, as I paid my respect at the Hill of Resistance where those chased down by killer militias sought refuge and held out for weeks, only armed with sticks and stones, before regular troops then stormed the hill, killing all. These locations are part of the main trail, or the side loops and provide crucial insight for those hiking into the history of Rwanda, while witnessing the economic activities which dominate the wider area, tea plantations and subsistence farming.
(The Hill of Resistance Genocide Memorial, where all those passing pay their respects)
Enroute to our nightstop in Kibuye we also passed near the highest mountain in the area, Mt. Karongi, where a good view point allows one to see the town below and far across the lake to the mountains in Congo.
Notably, near our overnight stop, a guest house owned by the Diocese of Nyundo, is another genocide memorial, the very one which inspired the film 100 Days, where the church of St. Pierre was the gruesome scene of a massacre on 25.000 innocent women and children, arranged for and aided by Catholic priests who had switches sides and entered into the service of Satan.
Accommodation in the base camps like the Home St. Jean is clean and functional, sometimes rather utalitarian, and the home cooked meals provide the sustenance needed for another days hike but will not attract a gourmet rating of course. While some base camps are on the electricity grid, others use generators for a limited number of hours in the evening only, hence it is worth asking in advance when it comes to charging camera and phone batteries and keeping netbooks or tablets powered up. Most of the way the phone network coverage is average to good, though are there spots where the Congolese networks take over while the Rwandan networks fade away. This is particularly important for anyone wishing to tweet impressions and send instant pictures, which may not always be possible as experienced during my own hike along the trail. MTN Rwanda and TIGO both offer USB modems to stay connected via a netbook or lap top and when purchasing one of those in Kigali, take advantage of special first purchase offers which often include a months unlimited surfing the net. Such a modem also makes a nice gift to a guide at the end of the journey so that they can stay connected too with their clients the world over.
In the evenings, after supper has been taken, some of the camps, like shown here at Bumba base camp below the Congo Nile Crest view point, light a camp fire to allow stories to be told or a cold beer to be enjoyed, or a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee, considering the elevation and drop in temperature at night. The actual ridge, where the water divide between the Congo and the Nile basins is located, will be pointed out by the guides and those keen enough can hike up and stand on the physical divide itself, as in been there, done that and have the t-shirt to prove it.
(Camp fire night at Bumba base camp, with all of us, especially the author, huddled around the fire and wrapped up warm)
Not far off the shores of Kibuye are a number of islands, most prominent the Napoleon Island, shaped like the emperors distinct hat, but we visited Amahoro Island, where another base camp is located which can be used on request and which, while basic, offers the option to actually sleep on one of the many islands which dot the shores between Gisenyi and Cyangugu. On the mainland though are some rather posh properties available, like the Cormoran Camp outside Kibuye, which, when it actually has space, sets one back by a couple of hundred dollars a night, full board and wireless internet included. It is spectacularly set into the side of a sloping hill with views across the water and the cottages are built on stilts, giving an unrestricted birds eye from high above the ground.
(Amahoro Islands landing and important for yours truly, HAMMOCKS right at the beach)
The trail, coming from the Southern sides tea end, then enters coffee territory, leaving the green valleys and hills and the three major tea factories behind. Over a dozen coffee washing stations are now dotted along the trail towards Gisenyi, with several of them also serving as base camps. These stations are operational twice a year when the harvests take place, and are for the rest of the year in a bit of a slumber, with visitors not getting in the way when exploring the facilities and being able to get first hand explanations. Former Senator Prof. Chrysologue Kubwimana, who took pride in taking me around his estate at Kinunu, was telling the story of how coffee grown on his estate begins its long journey to overseas consumers by dehulking and washing the beans, drying them and then packing the top quality stuff into 50 KG bags, ready for export and their long trip into the cups of coffee lovers in Europe and America.
(Seen here former Senator Prof. Kubwimana, our host for one night at his Kinunu base camp, while in the other picture are piles of hulks which are eventually used to fire the boilers or else are turned into natural fertilizer to enrich the soil under the coffee trees)
Both the tea and coffee routes are highly educative for visitors as they can learn about the source of their favourite drinks back home and see how the processes work, in the tea factories year round as production is ongoing and with coffee most intensely during the harvesting season.
But the trail, winding its way through village after village, through forests and shambas, i.e. little farms, gives also an insight into the way Rwandans live in the rural areas. Visitors will be intrigued to see that many of these villages have no access to electricity, but the people living there are busy talking on mobile phones, batteries charged up through solar power converters, often done at a cost by a young entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to provide such a service. As I walked, the occasional call muzungu rang out from the young kids, surprised to see a European visitor walking, as they do themselves, and not being chauffeured around in the back of a 4×4. Yet, some of the communities do have power, generated by a small hydroelectric station, tapping into the elevation difference which the water has to come down anyway. Nearly 20 MW are being produced like that and more such stations are being planned to allow for the roll out of rural electrification programmes, aimed to cut down on the use of firewood and charcoal which will help to meet Rwandas goals of re-forestation to a 30 percent forest coverage margin by 2020, compared with around 23 percent right now.
Our 91 kilometre trail experience, from Kibuye to Gisenyi, came to an end all too soon and three nights and four days on this route is quintessentially not enough for aficionados of hiking and biking across this scenic part of Rwanda. A full 10 days hike, or 6 days on a mountain bike, or any part thereof can be supplemented if not spiced up by added visits to Gishwati and Nyungwe, which is really a must see experience, making a visit to Rwanda rewarding in any sense. Flora and Fauna and often breathtaking scenery combine with meeting the friendly people living in rural areas, ever ready to impart with an enthusiastic Uraho the typical greeting in Kinyarwanda, to which one then responds with Rahonesa. Expect plenty of birdlife along the way and to make the most out of it, carry spare batteries for phones, iPads or other tablets and cameras, in case recharging at a particular stop is not possible. One awesome sight tends to chase the next, and each appears to be looking even better than the previous one, so additional camera flash disks also come in handy, to be sure not to miss that prized picture when the camera shuts down and announces capacity full.
We had our 4x4s in attendance at all times, being a media trip and trial run for the trail ahead of the official launch, but while on foot we could have crossed anywhere, some sections were a challenge for the cars. The route from Kinunu to Gisenyi, where the 72 wooden bridges and crossings are progressively being replaced with new concrete bridges, to the relief of the locals who no longer need to fear their bridge being swept away. In fact, many of them have been employed to actually work on the construction teams, generating some much needed income for the local communities while substantially improving their local infrastructure and making their roads truly all weather, all year round.
(Crossing a construction site for a new concrete bridge, slowly and very carefully)
Having the cars around also helps to assist more quickly in case of a sprained ankle, or when biking tend to the scratches and knocks sustained in a fall, and having a 4×4 escort which carries the luggage and periodically teams up with the hikers, can be arranged by the trail guides and trip organizers at a cost of course.
The Congo Nile Trail is breaking new territory, breaking new ground, and while climbs up Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, treks into the Rwenzori Mountains or hikes up Mt. Elgon have long been available, hiking across rural Africa has not. It is the first such trail of its kind in Eastern Africa and runs along some of the most scenic parts of Rwanda, and the Congo DR is always within sight across the waters of Lake Kivu.
RDB in conjunction with local communities has created a sure winner and I for one wish to come back and hike the sections of the trail not covered by this special trip.
And in closing some practical hints: good hiking boots are essential, as are rainskins because during my hike it rained every day, at times very heavily indeed. Waterproof back packs are equally important, to avoid equipment or spare clothes getting wet. Umbrellas are not really suitable as hikers always need both hands free. Trips can be arranged through licensed tour operators or the Congo Nile Trail organization, which also attaches trained guides to the hikers. Information can be found via www.rwandatourism.com or via the RDB website www.rdb.rw. And printed material including an excellent map is available while a dedicated website for the trail is about to be launched, soon after the trail itself was being formally declared open.
Discover Rwandas hidden treasures via the Congo Nile Trail, the very latest tourism attraction to explore the country by hiking, biking, 4x4ing or boating.
AIR ASTRAL MAY STEP INTO AIR SEYCHELLES PARIS ROUTE
There is growing speculation that Air Astral, with a home base on the island of La Reunion, may in due course step into the vacant space left by the announcement of Air Seychelles, that they will progressively drop their European routes from early next year. Air Astral is now rumoured to plan the introduction of regular flights from France to La Reunion via the Seychelles international airport on Mahe, obtaining 5th freedom rights in the process which would allow them to uplift passengers between Mahe and La Reuion and vice versa.
The news comes as a relief to the archipelagos tourism industry which has watched the rapid dismantling of Air Seychelles with some incredulity and was left to wonder if other airlines would add extra capacities to their flights for instance via the Gulf hubs of Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, so that the loss of seats caused by the withdrawal of Air Seychelles from intercontinental routes would not impact on the number of visitors to the islands.
In a related development has the move by Air Seychelles also revived speculation that a number of international airlines could re-apply for 5th freedom rights, using the Seychelles as an intermediate stop over point from where to pick up traffic to their final destinations on the African mainland. Usually well informed sources however were swift to discount this option, as in the words of one regular contributor: a restructured Air Seychelles, possibly flying regional services to the African mainland, would be the loser on such deals. Other airlines could just siphon away the traffic base of our own airline. It was the same on international routes. When more and more airlines got traffic rights to fly to Seychelles, it impacted a lot on our national airline. The rot started when they had to drop Frankfurt, because they could not compete with the fares Gulf airlines in particular offered via their home hubs to German holiday makers. True, we are now having record arrivals as a result of more airlines coming here, but in the process lost our own national airline. Air Seychelles was a national strategic asset and one should be under no illusion, if the going gets tough it is only ourselves we can one hundred percent rely on. So it is a big NO, other airlines must not get 5th freedom rights from Mahe to the African mainland or otherwise even the minimalized Air Seychelles cannot survive.
Watch this space for updates on Air Astral and any possible change in aviation policy, which could see airlines from other countries try and use the Seychelles as a stopover point en route to Africa with full traffic rights.