30 Dec 2016

Two New Recruits

Well, 2016 saw some changes to the Nystrom Adventures team, with two new arrivals. The youngest recruit is Oskar Sixten. At only 4 months old he has yet to master control of the GPS (or even his own bowels), but in every other respect he shows excellent adventurer potential. He has already clocked up impressive outdoor credentials, but has also experienced the bitter taste of defeat after a failed summit attempt on Snowdon at only 2 months. We consoled him, both with the fact that the summit will always be there and that he has youth on his side – so much so that even the sandwiches in the Llanberis café were quite possibly older than him. His ability to charm even the crustiest of border officials will come in handy on this Moroccan adventure. Being his first foray into the Arab world, we dub him “The Milk-Sheik”.

The second new member is Tonka II, a factory spec 2004 Toyota Land Cruiser 100 series. While not quite as rugged as Tonka I, he still packs plenty of punch with Toyota’s bomb-proof 4.2L Turbo diesel engine, while at the same time offering levels of luxury distinctly lacking in his predecessor. While Tonka I had an interior that even Rasputin would consider a tad austere, Tonka II cossets us with all manner of electric gizmos and air suspension. We’re well aware that this level of electronic wizardery is not ideal for overlanding, but this particular example seemed well cared for and more than up to the job. After all, if it wears the Land Cruiser badge, it can’t be too bad. The Milk-Sheik gave it the final seal of approval by promptly falling asleep during his maiden voyage in it.

In contrast to Tonka I’s extensive modifications for his 25,000km travels around Southern Africa in 2013/2014, Tonka II’s upgrades are limited to an extra spare wheel (to compensate for keeping the standard Bridgestone Dueller road tyres) and a UV filter dark tint on the rear windows (the Sheik values his privacy).

And so, on 27th December 2016 Nystrom Adventures set off for Portsmouth and the 8.45am ferry to Bilbao.

15 Jul 2016

On Your Bike: 700km in 5 days through Lapland

John’s solo trip - cycling in Norway & Sweden

This mini adventure begins close to the Arctic town of Narvik, a smudge of civilisation at the northern tip of Norway’s “Nordland” district. It cowers rather ruefully on the shores of Ofot Fjord, and wouldn’t exist at all were it not for Sweden’s need to export its vast reserves of iron ore from the huge open pit mines in Kiruna.  25m tonnes of the stuff pass through Narvik every year – one of the benefits of its status as an ice-free port, warmed as it is by the Gulf Stream.  Sweden’s own northern ports are frozen over in the winter months and so Narvik’s commercial prosperity seem set to continue.

But this prosperity has not always been a blessing. During WWII, Narvik came to the attention of both the Germans and allies as they fought a bitter campaign in 1940 for control of the port.  Churchill was desperate not only to cut off the supply of iron ore to Germany but also to maintain the supply routes north to the Soviet Union.

But I decided to stay in Bjerkvik, a small hamlet just north of Narvik, at the imaginatively named “Bjerkvik Hotel”. Any weary traveller faced with this sober façade, peering weepily through the drizzle, may well feel they have discovered the font of Scandinavia’s brooding melancholy.  

But inside the reception is warm and friendly and, of course, spotlessly clean.  My room is on the 3rd floor looking out over the fjord, which, even at midnight, is bathed in an ethereal glow, filtered by the blanket of cloud hovering over it.  Fortunately my bicycle has travelled well on the flights from London, wrapped only in cardboard and cling film!

Day 1: Bjerkvik to Abisko
Distance: 78km
Ascent: 1,028m

After a large breakfast and a leisurely start, I headed East on the E6, enjoying the relative lack of traffic, which plagued my ride up the E4 from Stockholm 6 years ago. I stopped and watched a young bull moose standing just 10m from the road, frozen still, with plants hanging from his mouth.  One great thing about Norway is how courteous the drivers are.  This is probably to be expected from a nation of milk drinking, woolly jumper wearers, but it’s still a very pleasant surprise coming from the UK.  On steep twisting roads, which in Africa would have been strictly the domain of kamikaze boda boda drivers and impromptu picnickers, the Norwegians hang back for cyclists before eventually overtaking more cautiously than Abu Hamza putting his contact lenses in.

But no amount of courtesy can make the long mountain tunnels any less daunting. I wondered whether bicycles are even allowed to use them, but there seemed no alternative and so I had no choice but to submit to the gravitational pull of these black holes, the arteries of Norway’s mountain roads.  The darkness vibrates with the rumble of oncoming (or even more unnervingly, overtaking) freight before it thunders past. Each time I thought what an unglamorous ending it would be, under the wheels of an iron ore truck being driven by a Noel Edmonds look-a-like.  But fortunately Norwegians are the second largest consumers of coffee in the world, and their road safety statistics are impressive.  And so after leaving the tunnels intact I was able to relish in the serenity of the rising Lapland plateau as I approached the Swedish border.  The border is manned but open and a large EU sign marks the entry into Sweden.

My first stop on the Swedish side is the small supermarket in the isolated and rather lunar looking landscape of Riksgräsen.  Although not great examples of their kind, I can’t resist buying 2 “kanel bullar” - cinnamon buns which are a staple of the Swedish “Fika” ritual.  From here I pressed on eastwards, finding that I could comfortably manage 40km/b (kilometres per “bulle”)

Arriving at the mountain station at Abisko, I couldn’t help feeling that despite the great location and super cleanliness, this was not great value for money.  A six bed dorm (which I shared with 5 women) cost a reasonable 395SEK a night but the extras, including 60SEK for a towel, 110SEK for breakfast and extra for sheets, seemed steep.  After a much anticipated sauna, I headed to bed and feigned interest in my book as bras were discarded around me.

13 May 2014

We're selling our 4x4 - TONKA

UPDATE: Tonka has now sold.

We are now selling Tonka on ebay in the UK!  Tonka is searching for new adventures with new owners...

22 Feb 2014

Into The Wild

Botswana: Kalahari National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park

Having travelled this far in Africa we thought we had built up a pretty good repertoire of adjectives to describe the things we have seen.  The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has blown that notion out of the water.  This is, quite simply, one of the most jaw-droppingly beautifully places on the planet.  From peach melba and azure blue dawn to fiery red and gold sunset, this 53,000 km2 wonderland delivers one breath-taking view after another.

Equally striking is the fact that it is virtually devoid of people.  Not just tourists, but anyone.  For this is a place of great controversy as well as great beauty.  Only the indigenous hunter-gatherer San were ever skilful and stubborn enough to populate this area, but even they were powerless against the government’s internationally derided re-settlement programme.  As recently as 2002 San people were still being evicted from the reserve, purportedly in the name of wildlife conservation but coincidently at the same time as De Beers were lobbying the government for diamond concessions in the area.  This tragic programme has since been successfully challenged in the courts, but few San have returned, and the damage to their way of life seems irreparable.  So, for now at least, this vast wilderness is home only to stunning fauna, tenacious flora and, for five days in February this year, us.

The 45km road from Rakops to the Matswere Gate at the Eastern border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an experience in itself.  Described by our guidebook as “almost impassable” in the wet season, we were pleasantly surprised that the track had dried out over the last few days and was now mainly compact mud with only the occasional stretch of waterlogged black cotton soil.  This track gave us a foretaste of what was to come – a 360˚ horizon of unblemished wilderness surrounded us with Savannah and bush stretching out in all directions. The terrain is so flat here that you get a good sense of the curvature of the Earth, a feeling of being on a planet rather than just in a country.  Even now in the “wet season” the sky is deep blue, broken by fluffy white clouds.  And the sun is intense.  Hoards of butterflies carpet the muddy tyre ruts and scatter like confetti as we approach them. 


12 Feb 2014

Monkeying Around

Zambia: Chimfunshi, Livingstone
Botswana: Kasane, Chobe National Park, Nata, Rakops

In Northern Zambia there are very few tourist attractions, but one we had been looking forward to was a visit to the chimps, especially after our first encounter with the slightly larger primates in Uganda.  We had a great guide who explained the chimps were rescued mostly from the DRC, but also from as far afield as Israel and Moscow, but have now been integrated in family groups. One particularly sad case was an old male who was found in a bar in the Congo. He had spent 17 years there, and had been trained to drink beer and smoke cigarettes with the customers. He was alcoholic when he arrived, and had to spend a long time in the "naughty pen", away from the others. But he has since cleaned up his act and is part of the family. Unfortunately none of the chimps here have any prospect of being released into the wild, partly as they have lost the skills necessary to survive in the wild, but mainly because of the continuing trade in bushmeat. Chimps which are habituated to humans make particularly easy targets for hunters. We were lucky to be there during feeding time so we saw all the chimps get their mangoes, nsima and vegetables.  It was fascinating watching them taking the food from the crates themselves.

We also saw a cute chimp that was still potty training and living indoors in a small play pen.  He was very soft and also very shy.

When we visited Livingstone in October 2013, we were pleased to have an opportunity to visit the “Devils Pool” and “hang” over the Victoria Falls. However, now the falls are in their element.  We were not quite prepared for the “cloud that thunders” to deliver such a high intensity of water, and so we got completely soaked – so drenched that we had to dry ourselves with towels and change clothes!  We were transfixed by the amount of water – a million litres of water per second gushing over the side of the falls – a fascinating and very loud experience. 

23 Jan 2014

Nightlife In South Luangwa

Zambia: South Luangwa National Park, Lusaka, Kitwe

We had heard so many good things about South Luangwa National Park that, having missed out on it during our first crossing of Zambia, we were determined to visit it on our return journey. The historically bad road from Chipata to the park entrance at Mfuwe has now been completely tarred – so what could have been a 6 hour journey turned out to be a mere 2 hours! 

We stayed at *Croc Valley Camp* and made our way into the park as soon as we arrived.  The road was easy driving and we made our way around seeing a variety of animals including elephants, variety of birds of prey, the quite rare wild dogs and our first snake – a rather beautiful young puff adder.

In the evening we went on the highly acclaimed night drive.  As soon as we got into the car the heavens opened.  We were provided with de-rigour yellow ponchos – a fashion fate far worse than the alternative soaking.  But the open cab provided no shelter at all for the driver and guide…they got completely drenched.  

As the rain dried up we drove past a male antelope displaying his leaps and flicking his hind legs upwards as he bounced along the ground. This was followed by what looked like a competition amongst others who wanted to join in.

As the sun began to set, we stopped by the riverside for a sundowner.  It was a beautiful sunset, which was made more exciting by a hyena coming closer to inspect the commotion. 

Continuing our night drive in the dark and with a spotlight being expertly beamed all around us, we were lucky to spot a leopard heading off in search of some food.  Having seen both the front end and the back end of a leopard, this was the first full leopard we saw. Victory! 

Having had a wild night in the park, it was now time to head into the capital city for a wild night.  Well, being quite tired, wild was a curry and a trip to the cinema. 

Then we pointed Tonka North towards Kitwe where we were going to meet Henry and Joyce from Wukwashi Wa Nzambi – a charity which enables disabled children to reach their full potential.

19 Jan 2014

A Quick Transit

Malawi to Zambia

Earlier in our travels we had stayed at *Mushroom Farm* in Northern Malawi and we had enjoyed it so much that we wanted to visit again on our short transit back through Malawi into Zambia.  Being the wet season, it now looked greener and had also undergone some renovations since November.  It was also now living up to its namesake - the area was full of wild mushrooms.   

We took the beautiful forested route through the mountains the length of Lake Malawi to Lilongwe, before we made our way into Zambia to South Luangwa National Park where we had heard leopards were a likely sighting on a night drive. 

16 Jan 2014

Getting High In Tanzania

Tanzania: Usambara, Lushoto, Kilimanjaro, Pangani, Morogoro, Iringa
As we left Dar after the New Year Celebrations, we had added a new recruit in the form of Ida – the friend we had spent Christmas & New Year with.  She was taking some time out from her busy family life to accompany us first to the Usambara mountains on the Tanzania/Kenyan border and then to Kilimanjaro.  Three up front in Tonka is a bit of a squeeze, but manageable for a few days at a time. 

The Usambara’s are a much under-rated highlight of Northern Tanzania, lying just off the busy Dar-Arusha highway.  From the scorchingly hot valley floor, you get immediate relief from the heat as you climb 1,000m via a twisting mountain track that passes through the beautiful hillside village of Irente.  Boasting stunning views over vegetable terraces to the valley beyond, this is a perfect stopover en route to Kili.  Also very appealing is the great campsite at Irente Biodiversity Farm which stocks a selection of locally made organic produce.  Passion fruit juice, Mango chutney, Mulberry jam, homemade cheese, bread and local macadamia nuts were all added to Tonka’s pantry. 

After spending a day hiking the tranquil trails around Irente, winding through orchards of peach trees and fields of maize, it was time to continue west towards the roof of Africa…

The hardest part about climbing Kilimanjaro is trying to decipher the plethora of rules and regulations surrounding it.  If you ask ten different people you get ten different answers, and the greatest misinformation comes directly from the horse’s mouth – the National Park Headquarters at the Marangu Gate. 

1 Jan 2014

A Mafia Christmas

Tanzania: Dar Es Salaam, Mafia Island

We had arranged to spend Christmas on Mafia Island with Josi’s Danish cousin and family and some close friends of theirs who had moved to Dar earlier this year.  We would be 12 people in total and we were all excited to be heading to this marine paradise for the holiday season.

A small 13 seater plane brought us to the picturesque island of Mafia and we made our way to *Kinasi Lodge*.  The lodge was welcoming and, with freshly cracked coconuts on arrival, we knew we were in for a good few days.  Our room was also an upgrade from the many days of sleeping in the tent, and we were pleased to be having a break from driving!  The lodge was situated inside the highly acclaimed National Marine Reserve and we made plans for some snorkelling, cultural visits, swimming with whale sharks and even a private lunch on a remote island

18 Dec 2013

Paradise Found

Tanzania: Ngorogoro Conservation Area, Ngorogoro Crater

We both had ideas of what the Ngorogoro Crater would look like, but nothing quite prepared us for what would become our favourite day of our trip so far. 

The classic vast plains of the Serengeti continue into the Ngorogoro Conversation Area, but after turning off the main road and heading down a little used road – just two ruts in the grass - we encountered many Maasai in their villages or tending their cattle, sheep and goats.  This felt like true Maasai country – and apart from this experience of seeing them in their true environment, the only tribesmen we encountered were trying to sell us something.  It is sad that such a beautiful tribe has become so commercialised that its priority seems to be to sell you a spear or jewellery and charge you $2 for a picture of their livestock or themselves.  Unfortunately this was a key factor in our decision not to visit a Maasai village.

At the end of the ruts we came across an interesting, and rather surreal, natural phenomenon – the shifting sands.  This is a shifting mass of volcanic ash that moves between 10 and 20 metres a year across the plains.  Its black dune-like formation was a strange sight in the middle of this orange/yellow landscape.  Most incredible is the fact that it seems to hoover up after itself, as it leaves no trail. Following this we headed on a short detour through the Olduvlai Gorge – another important archaeological site which has yielded amazingly intact skulls of Homo Habilis.

With Tonka's help we gradually ascended to the crater rim at over 2,000m and arrived at a viewpoint – this only furthered our excitement for entering the Ngorogoro Crater the next day.