Capital trip

I was back at all too familiar Crewe Station on Wednesday to travel down to London. The train was on time but someone was sitting in my seat in the quiet coach. He moved and I got my window seat and phone-charging socket, which was needed. The not-so-quiet coach was soon subject to the debate of a family from Liverpool as to whether or not Suarez should be asked to leave Liverpool FC following his biting episode in the world cup. I read my Trail magazine and wished I could be out on the hills. Once we had arrived in Euston, I walked out in bright sunshine and did a few bits and pieces en route to the Royal Society of Medicine where I was staying for that night. All around the sales were in full swing but despite having been known never to miss a shopping opportunity in the past, I now feel curiously detached from it all and am trying to declutter.

After a rest and an e-mail catch up in the RSM I sauntered over to John Lewis to have my dinner and a view of the rooftops. After that I read and had a fairly early night as the TV choice seemed to be either football or endless debate about the phone-hacking scandal. I was up early for breakfast and out soon after to walk to the Barbican where I was attending a conference. I have been past it before but never been in it. It is a complete rabbit warren and I spent most of the day in windowless auditoria on the fourth floor or down in the underground rooms. The sessions were interesting, I caught up with several colleagues and had to chair my special interest group AGM at lunchtime. By 4pm I needed to be outside and left to wander back toward Euston.
Bindery shop Clerkenwell
I enjoyed pottering along through Clerkenwell and Bloomsbury, admiring interesting buildings and shops. A bindery caught my eye as I have occasionally bought books just for the cover or binding and fancy doing a bit of bookbinding myself. In Skoob books, one of my favourite secondhand bookshops in this part of the world I found John Muir’s eight wilderness books in one volume. I think I have read some of them about 30 years ago but having now been to the Sierra, I must read them again. My backpack is now even heavier so looking forward to getting home later this evening.

On the rails

 Railway Track Oct 2011
My journeys for the last two weeks, since we got back from Tanzania have been short, local and utilitarian. Today I woke to a bright sunny morning before the alarm clock and not long after dawn. It was soon time to head over to Crewe to catch the train to Edinburgh. The roads are even quieter than usual and some of the regular commuter faces at the station are missing as so many people are on holiday. The train was a few minutes late and came into a different platform to the usual one but once on, it was quiet and soon made up for lost time. As I munched a bacon roll and topped up the caffeine levels, we slid past Cheshire farmland where silage is being cut and cereal crops are slowly ripening. By the time we got to Cumbria, the green hills were covered with grazing sheep and cows. The track runs alongside the M6 for part of the way but leaves it to stop at Carlisle where the blue sky had disappeared and it became cloudy. There were several trainspotters on the platforms – all over 50 and with expensive cameras. After Carlisle we were soon in the Southern Uplands, the cloud was down over the hills and we were again alongside the motorway. In Upper Clydesdale, the track swings away from the motorway, alongside the river for a while and then creeps slowly past Carstairs Junction. Not much later I was at Waverley Station, off the train and up to George IV Bridge to catch the bus. By the time I had dumped my bag in the flat and set off to get some provisions and arrange my camera repair, the blue sky had arrived and it’s been sunny and warm all day. Found a guide to Colorado in the local library and will do some Lincoln Highway planning later.

Back to Dar and home

Mikumi to Dar 2
Time to head back to Dar es Salaam on Thursday. I had a quick look at the snake museum next to the hotel before the departure. The warden woke some of them up by poking them with a long stick. The queues at the weigh bridge were quite amazing. Many of the lorries are second-hand and from the UK. It is quite strange to see familiar hauliers’ names in East Africa. We passed the sisal plantations we saw on the outward journey and there was very little traffic compared with that first journey. We had to squeeze past an accident where those involved were having a vociferous argument. Back at the Dar hotel, there was a conference in full swing on globalisation and sustainability. Not sure how they square that circle. The hippy count is much higher than the average medical conference and there were lots of people in the bar staring at their laptops. There was Ibiza-style music from the bar until 11pm. On our last day we took a trip to Mbudya Island and had a relaxing time on the beach and wandering around the island which is a nature island. It was low tide so we had to wade out to the boat. The water near the shore was quite brown and cloudy but cleared to brilliant blue further out. Once on the island I did some beach combing. Lunch arrived (freshly caught fish) and later reappeared as fish and chips.
Dar Island trip 2
Back on dry land we had dinner with Elwyin who was leaving at 4am the next morning to drive back to Malawi. Our nightcap was on the pier. We were turfed out of our rooms fairly early the next morning by the cleaners so sat in the cool reception awaiting our taxi. The booked one failed to appear so we spotted the driver who had picked us up at the start of the trip. He got us to the airport in time via some back roads in much less time than expected. Once we were airborne, we flew over Zanzibar as I listened to music. As the sun set we left the Indian Ocean to fly over Somalia and then on to Dubai. After three hours between flights, I had discovered a paper without a sport section. Now we are back home with the washing machine on overtime and trying to settle back into the world of work and planning the next trip.

Mikumi National Park

Mikumi Lion 1
Mikumi National Park is a grassland plateau studded with trees and surrounded by mountains. There are vast herds of impala and wildebeest (and lots of tsetse flies). Having seen lionesses the previous evening, we were keen to see more lions but did not expect to find a male lion sitting on the road very soon after we entered the park. There were Cape Buffalo, water buck, jackals, more hippos, crocodiles and mongooses. Maribou storks were feeding among the impalas and we also saw a number of ground hornbills and heard their curious calls. Bright red bishop birds flitted among the bushes and trees. After leaving the park and heading back to the hotel along the road that bisects it, we wondered why a van was parked by the side of the road. James glanced at it as we passed and shouted ‘lion cubs!’. There were four, about 3-4 months old with no mother in sight, playing on the grass verge. In the late afternoon we did another circuit and spotted a large number of birds. I will be checking my list against the Tanzania Bird Atlas in case I can add a location for any birds that they are monitoring. Spent the evening packing up for our return to Dar the next morning.
Mikumi Crocodile 2

Mikumi lion cubs 7

Udzungwa to Mikumi

Ruaha Baboon14
The drive back to Mikumi took only two hours as there was far less traffic than on the outward journey and Elwyin had got used to dodging the potholes. We fed the remaining sandwiches from yesterday’s lunch to the local baboons who were very appreciative. We checked into the Genesis Motel again and after a short rest went out for our first foray into Mikumi National Park. It is a grassland plateau surrounded by mountains and studded with trees. Impala and wildebeest abound and are often in much larger herds than we saw at Ruaha. We also spotted Cape Buffalo, water buck and troops of baboons. Maribou Storks were among the impalas, feeding on grasshoppers disturbed by their grazing in the long grass. There were crocodiles and hippos in the pool and groups of ground hornbills with their curious calls. We had turned round and were heading towards the exit and leave the park when we suddenly spotted a pair of lionesses in a tree close to the park headquarters. They were alert and listening to the staff trying to dissuade an elephant from entering the area. They eventually had to fire a shot in the air. We took some photographs and then headed back to the hotel for dinner, hoping to see more lions the next day.
Mikumi lionesses in tree 2