Somalia unravelled

For anyone even contemplating a visit to Somaliland – or even less likely one of the other parts of what used to be Somalia – this detailed Wikipedia map is worth poring over.

The most recent “autonomous” creation is Jubaland, a sort of buffer zone near the Kenya border intended to keep Al-Shabaab jihadists well to the northeast.

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Mauritius off the beach

Adrian Mourby in the Independent on getting away from the sun and sand formula on Mauritius.

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Travel in Lesotho

A nice piece on travel in the land-locked nation of Lesotho by the Guardian’s Africa correspondent, David Smith.

Our Lesotho page is here.

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New railway line for Guinea

This planned freight line might prove to be quite useful, especially in the rains, when roads in northern and western Guinea can be so slow. Whether it will have any actual passenger transport is another matter.

And don’t expect it before 2014.

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Taking a car from Europe to Egypt just got harder

Visemar Lines has cancelled its car ferry service between Venice, Italy and Alexandria, Egypt. This seems to be connected with the fact that it calls en route at Tartous in Syria.

It sounds like it might resume in October.

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Roads in DRC

This is a perennial subject. Roads in the Democratic Republic of Congo are just so unpredictable and can delay travel literally for weeks.

A compelling, brilliantly edited film shown on Al-Jazeera recently, “Hazardous trucking in DR Congo” provides a graphic account of a truck journey – 650km that should have taken a few days and turned into a one-month mud battle. If the film leaves that link I imagine you’ll find it one YouTube (Tony Comiti productions for Al Jazeera).

In contrast, Bukavu in eastern DRC has some excellent roads, at least in town, as these photos on SkyScraperCity.com show.

For some good insights into the condition of roads between Bangui and Rwanda (ie the old route across what was then Zaire), have a look at Pete Gostelow’s superb photos and descriptions of cycling (and going by river) through DRC in early 2011.

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Maasai Mara wildlife numbers

The BBC’s 2 June 2011 story about a “crash” in wildlife numbers in the Maasai Mara region has been widely picked up, in most cases without further comment.

I don’t think we should be complacent, but I’m not getting a sense of impending disaster from visits to the Mara and feedback from other travellers, conservationists and operators on the ground. It’s true the numbers went down hugely in the 1970s and early 80s, but although there are challenges all round – and the Narok council-run Maasai Mara National Reserve has lots of problems with human incursions – in some respects, the story now seems to be increasingly positive, as the private and community-run conservancies start to provide genuine, open sanctuaries for huge numbers of wildlife. A new conservancy, Naboisho, is just opening up now, as this year’s migration starts.

Anyway, I’ve had a look into the data behind the “wildlife crash” story on the Rough Guide to Kenya blog. What particularly surprises me is how patchy the numbers are. I know they’re only estimates, but how can the population of elephants be estimated at 125 one month and more than 2000 the next month? And elephants are presumably a bit easier to count than many species. Are they hiding or moving? It makes me wonder how accurate any of these aerial surveys are. I’d be interested in people’s views.

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Chad’s first cinema in years

Great news from Ndjamena, capital of Chad, across the river from the far-north tip of Cameroon: they’ve opened a cinema! The Théâtre Normandie opened its doors in April and it looks rather nice.

Chadian cinéastes Issa Serge Coelo (“Daresalam”) and Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who won the Cannes 2010 Jury Prize for “A Screaming Man”, who spearheaded the project, had presidential support. You need that for this kind of thing in Chad.

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First-Time Africa is published on 1 April 2011

I’m delighted that the new Rough Guide: First-Time Africa will be published on 1 April 2011.

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