A Travellerspoint blog

Photos!

Due to our upgrade to a luxury tented camp (well worth the price), we also have access to a computer with reasonable internet bandwidth, so we decided to upload some photos which we've been unable to upload so far. Enjoy!

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Posted by cmgildea 05:14 Comments (0)

Colin in the Mist

Trekking to see the kings of the hill

semi-overcast 68 °F

A few years back, on our trip to India, a woman on the trip (who will make an appearance on this blog in a months time) mentioned to us that her favorite travel experience was a trek to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. I remember her description of the encounter as if she told me yesterday. A seed was planted. Couple that with my love of the movie made about the life of Dian Fossey and it's not a shocker that yesterday Colin and I trekked into the volcanic hills of Uganda to see these gentle giants for ourselves.

I believe in the last blog I said we'd be trekking in the Impenetrable Forest. This was a lie. We were actually in Mgahinga Park - a much smaller but just as dense park. There was nothing penetrable about the place so it really was an honest mistake. We drove by the Impenetrable one today if that counts. Anyway...

We left our lodge at 7am and after a VERY bumpy ride we arrived at the entrance to the Park. I believe "imposing" was the word Colin used to describe it. The top of the volcano and the surrounding hillsides were shrouded in a thick mist. The ranger told us that we might have to hike a good 5 hours to see the gorillas as they were on the move into the Congo. There were a few rain clouds in the sky so we put on our rain gear as a precautionary measure. Walking sticks in hand, we set out to find the gorillas.

We may have mentioned in the last posting that Uganda was beautiful - as green as Ireland in fact. This, of course, is due to the heavy amounts of rain the area receives over the course of 12 months. I think about 85% of their yearly rainfall fell on us during our hike. God bless Columbia sports rain pants and wide brim hats. I suppose the rain wouldn't have been so bad if the hike had been equivalent to say a stroll through Lincoln Park. But gorillas wouldn't be elusive if they were easy to spot would they?

Collectively Colin and I have hiked in many gorgeous parts of the world: The Cinque Terra in Italy, the Slovenian Alps, Yosemite Park, the hills of Vermont in the fall, etc. Nothing, in my opinion, was as amazing as hiking that volcano. The vegetation was incredibly thick; requiring a ranger to blaze a trail with a machete in front of us. Just as the rain picked up even more (if that is possible) we'd dip into dense bamboo forests where you had to squeeze yourself between shoots. Then pop out into lush greenery again. The mud was deep and slick so it was a challenge to stay upright or not lose a shoe to the sinkholes. So yes, perhaps the hardest hike (besides the time Rich and I were lost on the other side of Mount Mansfield) but may have made sighting the gorillas even more rewarding.

It happened without much warning. We were weaving our way through a maze of bamboo when the ranger just stopped and said "gorillas". WHAM. Right in front of us was the silverback just hanging out. We were about 8 feet away when a member of our group committed a cardinal gorilla trekking sin - she used her camera flash. Crash, bam, boom that silverback came charging out of the bamboo like kids coming down the stairs on Christmas morning. If I had any reservations that this was going to be like a visit to the zoo they were promptly scared out of me at that moment.

Lucky for us it was just a harmless warning. He settled himself comfortably on the grass nearby and we proceeded to take flashless photos and oggle every time he yawned or scratched himself. In all seriousness you could have given the guy a cup of coffee and a paper and he would have looked like any overweight guy on a Saturday morning. Soon we noticed another visitor peeking through the bamboo - a female gorilla and her 2 month old baby. They were quickly joined by the older brother who solicited a few "awws" from the girls in the group as he played lovingly with his dad the silverback.

We proceeded to move through the bamboo to see the rest of the troop. It was amazing how close we got to them - really just a few feet away. At one point, when I was a bit ahead of Colin, I turned back to motion to him to take a picture. As Colin was trying to decipher my "take a picture of this" hand movements, the silver back came strolling about 6 feet away from him - ripping through the bamboo like it was cotton candy. I almost screamed "Looook ooooout!" but then remembered cardinal rule number 2: No Shouting. It was totally intense and just about the coolest thing I've ever seen. We have plenty of pictures and video to share when we get home.

You can only spend an hour with the gorillas (which feels like 3 minutes) so we left unwillingly but totally satisfied by our encounter. The hike back to the base was much shorter as we all slid down the "path" which had turned into a river of mud. Exhausted but elated we said goodbye to our guides and headed back to our lodge. Note that the lodge we stayed in, Travellers Rest, has a rich history with the gorillas. It was the place Dian Fossey would come to take a break from her work. I was reading a book about her while looking out at the volcanic mountains where she conducted her research. It was one of those moments...

Special thanks to our friend Lee for her story which made such an impact and inspired this trip. Yay Lee! See you in Botswana! And another special thanks to Dian Fossey for all her early work with the gorillas. She may have gone off the deep end for awhile but her pioneer studies have helped keep these majestic and beautiful animals around for a while longer.

Okay - so I still haven't told you about our driver. Again, that is best saved for another post. Let's just say he's 28, South African and answers to the name Skank (or Skanky - which I prefer). The name suits him in many, many ways. Colin and I have grown incredibly fond of this character. He's almost impossible to describe in a blog so I might not even try. Thank God he's a good driver, though, as driving to Lake Binyoni - where we are hanging out today - was pretty trecherous. He also has a good way with matatu drivers - the crazy minivan drivers my friend Pat told me to watch out for (Side note to Pat: some little kid in one of the towns asked if we had a balloon. Hilarious.) His "good way" involves yelling "where did you get your license" out the window at them and tossing a random vegetable or whatever is handy at their car. Awesome. I can't fault the guy because he makes an amazing mac and cheese. The one thing I do give him endless razz about is his love of the show According to Jim. I need to beat it out of him.

Alright - must go. Skank is trying to lure us down to the bonfire for a Nile Special where I'm sure Colin and I will continue our debate as to whether Tuskar or Nile is the better African beer. Go, go Nile says I.

We head off to Jinja tomorrow for the "best white water rafting in the world." Also home of the mango worm that lays eggs in your damp clothing where they go on to hatch in your skin. Hmmm. Seems like we'll have to stay on the raft.

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods!

Posted by vandewme 08:52 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

six foot, seven foot, eight foot BUNCH!

Making our way to the Impenetrable Forest and feeling lazy because I don't put my desk on my bike and ride it to work every day.

When we were in Kenya Mr. Ozar made a comment that he would like to take a picture of all the different things the Kenyan women keep on their backs. For instance, they put normal things - like babies and groceries - and then they take it up a notch and carry, oh, a winter's worth of logs or a queen sized mattress. Once it's strapped on they walk a good 2 or 3 miles to drop it off. I thought this was pretty impressive...until we road into Uganda. The women here do the same thing only they carry it all on their heads. You want 2 weeks worth of laundry? Let me just toss it in this basket and walk it uphill 4 miles for you with it on my head. Couple bricks? An entire field of grass? Sure, not a problem. Just give me a minute while I slip on my flip-flops and strap my baby on my back before I go.

Incredible.

Equally incredible is the men who "ride" their bike to work with just about everything but the kitchen sink strapped on the front and back. I use ride loosely because I rarely saw them peddle - just push the stuff up hill after hill after hill. My favorite guys who do this are the banana pushers. No, they don't try and sell laced bananas to innocent school kids. They strap about 30-40 bushels of bananas to their bike and make their way to the town to sell them or put them on trucks. By the way, I'm not sure if the official unit of banana is a bushel but you get the idea. If you'd like a better idea you can do this little exercise at home: Break out the ten speed and ride it to Dominicks. Once you are there proceed to the produce section. Purchase all the bananas they have. This may not be enough in comparison but it should give you a rough idea. Okay...now ride the bike to Indiana. That should do it.

We were able to see a lot of this in action as it took us a solid 9 hours of driving to get to our current destination: The Impenetrable Forest in Uganda's Volcanic Region. Dum, dum, dum. It was a long drive but we managed to kill some time by looking at the amazing scenery and gawking at the banana dudes. Once we reached the foothills of the volcano our mouths just dropped. Ireland has nothing on Uganda when it comes to greenery. It's absolutely beautiful. Sure, there aren't any cozy pubs and I probably wouldn't stay at a good 95% of the roadside guest houses but hey - it's pretty. The drive was a little rough going (not for those pron to car sickness) but the scenery was just stunning. Oddly Colin didn't make a single Joe vs. the Volcano reference. Interesting. We'll see if this keeps up tomorrow when we begin our climb up it to see the gorillas. Considering he likes to reference that movie on a random Sunday around our apartment it's funny that it wouldn't come up while we are at the actual base of a volcano. Could this be the first sign of yellow fever?!?

Hmmm. I'll keep an eye out on him. Okay, so I realize that some of you may be wondering who is doing all this driving on this trip of ours. Great question. Not Colin and I. If that had been the case we would now be at the bottom of one of these green hills with sugar cane sticking out of our ears. We hired a company called Escape Expeditions to take us around and provide the camping gear we will be using. We have a driver and one other guy on our trip and we travel about via 4X4. The "other guy" is a Brit named Peter and the driver...well....that's another post all together. The internet place is closing so I have to go. Sorry for the cut off but the volcano known as the woman from this place is about to blow. Hopefully more tomorrow after the big gorilla climb. I'll also tell you about the campaign against sugar daddy's they are running here. Awesome.

Until tomorrow...

Posted by vandewme 06:53 Comments (1)

Conflict in the Cheese Capital

Entering Eldoret with hesitation and fascination

81 °F

Many of you had major concerns about our visit to Kenya (pronounced KEEN-YA by mom and grandma). Today we drove across the aptly named Rift Valley into Eldoret and while things are peaceful, there are definitly signs of the struggles that happend just weeks before. Our route was peppered with burned down houses and rows of burned out shops. Yesterday the reality of the situation hit home as our tour driver at Lake Nakuru drove us past the soccer stadium...now home to over 16,000 families. He was living there himself after his house was burned down. He said that we may have been one of the first visitors back to the national park (located adjacent to the town). The owner of our campsite had to switch all his full time staff to part time just to keep afloat. The good news is that all the people are still very welcoming and really positive about things picking up and going on as business as usual in the coming months. Col and I took a long walk through a small mud & thatch farming village to see the sunset by a big Acacia tree. We were greeted by 10 or so small children who just wanted to walk with us - no begging, no "gimme sweets, madam" -just bored little kids who haven't had visitors in a while. They would repeat everything I said in English (my favorite was when I'd call one "sweetie pie" and he'd say it with his little Kenyan accent - note he had to be about 3) and when we arrived at a field by the tree we met some older kids and played a little soccer. So, despite all the signs of recent violence, it's good to know that kids are still kids and life goes on.
I'm currently sitting in a semi-ripe internet cafe with an incredibly sticky keyboard so I'll have to keep this one short. To everyone who was worried - we are absolutely fine, the towns are rebuilding and we have been welcomed like family. To the Ozars - I keep thinking of father Riwa's flight into here and the remaining displaced children. It's hard to be so close and not do anything about it.

Tomorrow we begin the long journey to Uganda to see the gorillas. We are thinking about all of you!

Posted by vandewme 02:24 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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