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Oct 2019

Crossing Kenya by Train

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Taking the train across Kenya.

Take the train from Nairobi to Mombasa.

Travelling by train in Kenya used to be “unpredictable”. The colonial period narrow-gauge train that ran from Nairobi all the way to Mombasa on the coast was called the Lunatic Express and was a 15 hour overnight sleeper service.

Brand new for 2019
The brand new Chinese-built railway has reduced the travel time to 4 ½ hrs and is really reliable. It follows the same route as the Lunatic Express, so spotting big game while you travel makes this train journey unique.

The new service is called the Madaraka Express and can carry 1,200 passengers. The train departs Nairobi in the morning and you can be on the beach just after lunchtime. The Nairobi terminus is close to the international airport (6 Km from the city centre) so you could go direct from airport to beach. The Mombasa terminus is less than a Km from the airport, or about 15 mins from the Likoni Ferry which gives access to Diani and the southern Mombasa beaches (which are the best!).

Buying tickets: crossing kenya by train
Tickets are incredibly cheap (approx £10 second and £30 first class, each way) but can’t be bought on-line, only in person. Venture Co can obtain tickets via our partner in Nairobi (no fee charged). 2nd class is crowded, but perfectly comfy. 1st class has reclining, rotating seats, fold-out trays, power socket and air conditioning; and only first class has access to the buffet car. All the rolling stock is made in China.

Crossing kenya by train: the Nairobi terminus

Crossing kenya by train: the Nairobi terminus

Time to kill in Nairobi: here are some ideas.

The safari business is incredibly important to the Kenya economy, and the nation is justifiably proud of their new train service, so security is really tight. You go through two separate screening processes: the point being, allow plenty of time to board the train.

The Lunatic Express Remembered
In 1898 the Brits began building the ‘Coast to Kampala’ railway line. Local Kenyans had no clue how to build such a thing, so the Brits imported several thousand labourers from India where railways were an established institution. Several canvas villages were established to accommodate the labourers in the area of Tsavo National Park through which the track runs. Then the mysteries began: labourers kept disappearing … at night. Lion attacks were identified and the horror spread through the workforce. The project leader was a military man and he decided to employ 20 experienced Sepoys to track the lions, which proved elusive. Weeks and months passed and the lion attacks continued, munching their way through 31 people. Eventually the first lion was shot and it was a huge, mane-less male which looked terrifying. The other lion was identified as another mane-less male of equal size but possessing more cunning. Night after night they tried to shoot it, but it transpired that the lion was stalking the guns, rather than vice versa. The second lion was eventually shot an incredible nine times before it died and they say it was crawling towards the guns and sank its teeth into a fallen branch in defiance, with its dying breath. The lions became known as “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” and the skins and skulls were sold to America and now reside in the Chicago museum.

And so the Lunatic Express was born!

I remember the old train service, with three classes, as a mission in itself. You would leave Nairobi in the evening and chuff through Nairobi National Park before settling down for the night. 14 hours later you arrived in Mombasa, maybe. Break-downs were not unusual; big game on the tracks slowed things down and the whole thing was a bit of an adventure, but great fun. The rolling stock was all British and had that ‘Agatha Christie’ feel to it. Now it’s all Chinese and utterly reliable …. ‘plus ça change’.

Crossing kenya by train: the Mombasa terminus

Mombasa terminus

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Oct 2019

The Amazon just got closer

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Amazon Jungle, Peru.
Visiting the Amazon is a Bucket List event and one of the lodges we always recommend, and many clients have visited, is Tambopata in Peru. For birding and wildlife, this is the best. It began life as a research centre but has morphed into a comfy jungle lodge, with outstanding guides.

The bad news is that Tambopata Research Center (TRC) used to be a real mission to get to: 1 hr flight from Cusco, over the Andes and down into the hot, sweaty jungle; a road and canoe transfer and 8 hrs later you arrived. TRC just got closer thanks to a recently improved road, it now takes just 3 hrs to reach.

A 3 night stay is ideal for most people.

Timings are now:
Puerto Maldonado Airport to Rainforest Expeditions office – 5 mins by shuttle-bus
Office to Puerto Filadelfia – 1 hr by road
Puerto Filadelfia to TRC- 2hrs 30mins by boat. (This will come into effect from 1st November 2020.)

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Oct 2019

Lady Gorilla-guides

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Many years ago while travelling in Uganda I met a guide with ambition: jog on through the decades to 2019 and Kazinga is a well-respected tour operator in Uganda with outstanding guides. It’s still run by that original founder/guide, Felex Musinguzi and Felex and his team look after all Venture Co clients visiting Uganda.

Our most popular trip (max 6 clients) is the 15 day Highlights of Uganda.

And to this day, we have never had a bad report.

Felex is a forward thinking chap and has been instrumental in establishing a formal guide qualification in Uganda, not dissimilar to the highly respected qualification that exists in South Africa, the Professional Filed Guide. He has gone one step further and pushed hard for more female guides so we can now guarantee a lady-guide.

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Jun 2019

Top Ten Travel Tips

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Last week I met up with a friend who has been flying airliners for a couple of decades; here’s a summary of our top travel tips:-

1. Write your name, address, phone number and email address on a sheet of A4 paper, laminated it and put it inside your suitcase, just in case your baggage tag falls off.

2. Photocopy your passport and leave the copy with your next of kin at home. It’s also worth keeping a copy on your phone.

3. Don’t order a vegetarian meal: apparently veggies hardly ever get upgraded, because there might not be a suitable meal available up front. You’re also more likely to be moved to the bigger seats if you’re in the airline’s frequent-flyer scheme, and don’t have any special dietary requirements.

4. Carry your phone charger and international plug adaptor in your hand baggage. Planes can be delayed or diverted so avoid the risk of a dead battery in strange countries. And turn off data roaming before leaving the UK.

5. Keep a change of underwear in your hand baggage. It won’t take up much space but will tide you over till the shops open if your main bag is delayed or disappears.

6. Make a copy of your travel insurance policy and carry it in your passport. After all, it isn’t much use if no one knows who your insurers are. Tell your travel companions where it is and leave a copy at home with your next of kin. Do all this and sod’s law states you won’t ever need it!

7. Keep any prescription medicine in its original packaging, ideally with a copy of your prescription, in case you’re questioned at customs. If you’re found carrying a stash of hard-to-identify pills your immigration experience is unlikely to go well.

8. Never fly in shorts – because you never know where your plane might land. A recent Swiss Air flight from Zurich was heading for Los Angeles where it was 21°C and sunny. But after a technical issue it spent nearly 12 hours in Greenland – where it was -21°C and snowing.

9. Don’t fly in flip-flops either. Emergencies are incredibly rare but if they happen you want to be in sensible shoes.

10. If you use the safe in your hotel room put a single shoe inside it, along with your valuables. Looking for that missing shoe should remind you to empty the safe when you pack to leave.

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