The Whirling Dervishes, Khartoum, Sudan

Any tour of Sudan should have going to Omdurman on a Friday night on its to-do list, where every week hundreds gather at Hamed al-Nil Tomb to witness the dervishes.

Doughnut balls sprinkled with sugar -- delicious!

We arrived at 5pm, when the crowds were scarce. In front of the mosque was a huge cleared area, littered on the sides with tea stalls and trinket shops. With the festivities not starting for a few hours, we sat down amongst locals and imbibed on Sudanese tea (which is incredibly sweet) and these amazing home-made donut balls that were made on the spot.

Around 6pm, a group of men, cloaked in green and white, strode in carrying the green banner of the tariqa (the Qadiriyah order in Sufism) to the mosque steps. Turning to the quickly growing crowd, they begin to march in a wide arc, chanting alongside drums and music. And with the banner raised and the large open space cleared, the ritual began!


Religious leaders guide the crowd in chanting


As the night goes on, more join the march in the middle

The idea of a “whirling dervish” is a bit misplaced. A handful do spin, but the majority clap and chant and dance. And as the evening goes on, the sounds pick up in volume and speed. Incense and smoke fill the air completely, and the continuous chanting heightens–“La illaha illallah,” which translates to “There is no God but Allah.” And as the fervor peaks, more adherents step into the circle to spin and dance. It’s a hypnotic experience, a rare glimpse into an active religious community so different from anything else we’ve seen. And despite sometimes feeling like I’ve stumbled upon a very private and reverent ritual, the locals could not have been more welcoming to tourists, as long as the respect was mutual.

A whirling dervish       Incense-filled air   DSC_0331       DSC_0258



The Caprivi Strip, Namibia

A little dated but…

Our first night in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, we stayed right on the banks of the Okavango River in Rundu. Though the view of the river and Angola on the other side was beautiful, we decided to escape the bug-infested campsite the next day.

We arrived at Ngepi Camp on the Okavango River, an eclectic campsite with a strong liberal lean and an ablution tour, as well as a swimming pool in the Okavango River (fenced from the crocs and hippos, of course)… See for yourself!

Lounging on the Okavango

Lounging on the Okavango


Bush shower!

Bush shower!

His and hers... all in one

Notice the padlock on the men’s side

Next river destination was the Kwando River, the beginnings of the more well-known Chobe River in the Okavango Delta. Our lunch spot was on an island, reachable only via a small boat ride. Zipping at river level through the maze of tall reeds, we encountered a troupe of hippos native to the area. As we passed by, one cheeky hippo followed us with his gaze… before dunking under the water. Our driver drove our boat a little further up… and good thing he did, because the hippo proceeded to jump out of the water right where we were a few seconds ago, so high that we could see his legs. The troublemaker had tried to flip our boat!

The local troublemakers

The local bullies

Having had enough excitement for the day, we wound up at an extremely secluded camp, with our site right by the riverbed. We were unwinding over a beer and chatting about the hippos, when we noticed a pair of eyes hovering above the water, slowly encroaching upon our campsite.

"Hippo! Get to the car!"

“Hippo! Get to the car!”

Beers still in hand, we bolted to the PPE and dog-piled in the backseat.

What then commenced was a debate on appropriate action steps while the giant hippo rose from the water and began dinner 3 feet away from us. Eugene wanted to shine lights on the animal. I vetoed. He shined the lights anyway. Alpheus inquired about his camera flash. I lamented on the spilled beer and my leg cramp. Eugene yelled that we were talking too loudly.

When the hippo strolled into the nearby bushes, we dashed for our respective shelters for the night and resolved only to emerge if necessary.

Morning cruise picked us up at our campsite

Morning cruise boat picked us up right at our campsite… exactly where the hippo had risen a mere 12 hours earlier

The following day, we camped again on the Kwando River a few hundred kilometers south and retired to the roof tent when the sky was still a beautiful blue, though we only glanced at some lightning and storm clouds a ways away.

Should’ve paid a bit more attention, as an hour later, it was pouring inside our tent.

We tried frantically to sop up water with our towels, but it became clear that it was a temporary band-aid. {At this approximate moment in time, Alpheus also realized his tent’s waterproofing had worn off.} Hopes of a respite withered as the rain continued. It was the beginning of one memorable night, which would end in an uncomfortably soggy morning and a quick group decision to outrun the rainclouds.

To Zambia!


Epupa Falls

A Tale of Two Radiators

After 2 weeks, 2 cities, and 2 national parks, we finally got our holy grail in Tsumeb: a new radiator. At one point I thought the radiator just wasn’t meant to be. The one we initially ordered only fit Prados with petrol engines. A different one had to be shipped from Windhoek.

As with all other stories involving the car, there is more. The delivery truck carrying our long awaited radiator crashed on the outskirts of Tsumeb. Frank, the head mechanic, had to retrieve his order from the truck wreckage. Although the majority of his order was damaged during the crash, our radiator serendipitously survived.

With the new radiator installed and our overheating problem a thing of the past, we decided to make a detour to Epupa Falls in Kaokoland before making our way to through the Caprivi. This is no ordinary detour. Kaokoland is the northwestern corner of Namibia; it is the most sparsely populated part of the sparsely populated Namibia. It is one of the truly unspoiled frontiers of Southern Africa. Epupa Falls is 9 hours from Tsumeb in the opposite direction of the Caprivi. From Epupa we can see Angola across the Kunene River.

Back to the Heart of Africa

From the time we entered Namibia from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park all the way through Etosha, Namibia felt like one giant tourist attraction: there was a whole lot of nothing in between lodges, National Parks, and UNESCO heritage sites.

The road from Tsumeb to Epupa Falls brought back memories of the Africa I experienced in the lesser developed Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique: Villages and huts scattered along the side of the highway, locals walking to a destination nowhere in sight, and herds of goats and cattle wandering aimlessly on the road.

The last 3 hours of our drive – a 180km stretch of corrugated gravel road from Opuwo north to Epupa – was a surreal experience. The scenery was right out of Jurassic Park: I was half-expecting a T-Rex to walk across the forest in the horizon.

Our campsite at Epupa was meters away from the (undoubtedly crocodile infested) Kunene River and less than 50 meters away from the main Falls.


View of Epupa Falls from our Campsite.


Epupa Falls

Although the scenery at Epupa was otherworldly, so was its unbearable heat and humidity. After spending some time at the falls, we decided the amazing scenery and campsite was not worth the discomfort of spending another night at Epupa. With the amazing Opuwo Country Lodge – featuring an infinity pool overlooking Jurassic Park – only 3 hours away, it was an easy decision.


Campsite at Opuwo Country Lodge

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Kisolanza Farm, Mufindi, and Kyela

Our campsite at Kisolanza Farm

I apologize for our absence from the blogosphere the past week. Our wanderings have led us to a part of the country where Internet connection and electricity lies somewhere between spotty and non-existent.

Since my last blog post from Iringa, we’ve spent a large portion of our time at Kisolanza Farm exploring the nearby area. The beautiful setting, hot showers, spotless facilities, and fresh meat and produce available for purchase made it incredibly easy for us to keep extending our stay.

We made (attempted) a day trip to the Mufindi Escarpment after reading Lonely Planet author Tom Hall’s raving review of the place: ‘the view from Mufundi Escarpment near Iringa – it’s quite simply the best view I have ever seen.’ We wanted to decide for ourselves the validity of that statement but locating the viewpoint at the Mufindi Escarpment proved as difficult as finding one’s way into Mordor.

Mufindi Loop Road

The directions to the Mufindi Escarpment in the guidebook was simple, make a left turn from the Dar-Mbeya highway onto the Mufindi Loop, then make a second left turn 40km in onto a small road to the viewpoint. Easy Peasy. What the map did not convey is that the Mufindi Loop is 40 kilometers of punishing corrugated dirt road that takes us to a maze of narrow, winding, forking rural roads thru tea farms after tea farms.

The sight of these tea farms sprawling across the lush rolling hills of Mufindi was stunning, but navigating these unmarked roads thru them proved impossible. These roads are not marked on any map or GPS. Local farmers we asked have never heard of the viewpoint. After many hours of searching, we decided it was prudent to give up and try to find our way out with whatever little daylight is left. That night we were told by Jason, the manager of Kisolanza Farm, that it is nearly impossible to find the Mufindi Escarpment viewpoint without a guide: what a great piece of advice it would’ve been 12 hours ago.

Tea Farms at Mufindi

After Kisolanza Farm, we made our way west out of the Eastern Arc Mountain region to Mbeya in the Southern Highlands, then south from there to Kyela and Lake Nyasa. Kyela was not on our radar as a destination but Nathan, a friend of Eugene’s from Technoserve, is currently working there so we fell compelled to visit. Despite his exquisite company I cannot bring myself to forgive him for luring us to Kyela, as it is truly the armpit of Tanzania. Making matters worst was an unusual influx of visitors in Kyela at the time of our visit; acceptable accommodation (our standards are fairly modest) was non-existent (our room came with lots of mosquitoes and no bed net; we had to pitch our tent on top of the bed to protect ourselves from mosquitoes). At first light, we bid farewell to Nathan and head for the greener pastures of Matema, a beautiful beach town on the Northern shore of Lake Nyasa (i.e. Lake Malawi). After three days at this tranquil, secluded lakeshore town, we’ve yet to find the motivation to go anywhere. Looks like we will be here for a few more days.

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With all this…

On the road to Morogoro

With all this talk of us ‘getting the car ready’ and ‘leaving tomorrow,’ it came as a bit of a shock when we drove past Mlimani City Shopping Mall today that we are actually leaving Dar es Salaam and not going to there to buy that one safety pin we forgot to get.

We ultimately decided that the 8 hour drive to Iringa was a bit aggressive for our first day, so we opted for a much more manageable 3 hour trip to Morogoro. Aside from getting pulled over for going 57km/h in a 50km/h zone by overzealous policemen looking for a small gift, the first leg of our journey was exceptionally smooth.

Today’s drive, which brought us from Morogoro, thru Mikumi National Park, up into Tanzania’s Southern highlands, was simply spectacular. Driving across the vast rolling landscape with the lone baobab tree standing at a distance with families of baboons gazing at the ‘purple people eater’ while pumping Toto’s Africa out of our 3 working speakers was a surreal experience. It was one of those rare instances where the reality of my travel meets the expectations of my imagination.

The loud music blaring from Pub +255 next to our decrepit hotel in Iringa will challenge my self-proclaimed ability to sleep anywhere tonight. Hopefully I can get a restful night of sleep before exploring the forested highlands around Mufundi tomorrow, which one Lonely Planet writer claimed as ‘quite simply the best view I have ever seen.’

Follow my odyssey on Twitter @AlpheusChan