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Book it Now! A Trip Report by Juliet

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Hello everyone,

I apologize sincerely for the 2-month delay in my trip report. I returned from my trip and back to work only to be presented with an offer that I could not refuse. The offer was to get a head start on my grad studies this September by traveling to Northern Ontario to do some water sampling. Not fun but definitely gives me a leg up on my thesis work. Minimal communication, never mind access to internet to post my trip report. Now the smart thing would have been to bring my little notebook with me so I could complete my trip report while everything was fresh in my mind but of course, I did not. So now I will have to try my best to remember the details of our trip.

By now you will have noticed that I am quite verbous and digress often. Again, I apologize but this will not change J.

First I MUST begin by saying THANK YOU to everyone on this forum that ever responded to any of my posts, anyone who ever posted because I lurked for a long time before I joined Fodors and found loads of information, Lynda for her packing list that I amended (always so much easier to have a starting point wouldn’t you agree), and most importantly to Sandi for helping me plan my trip. This site was an incredible help and a wealth of knowledge. I encourage any newbies to become hooked and book that trip now! Don’t wait; you have lots of time between handing over the credit card and hopping on the plane to become a full-on Africaphile.

Agents used:
- Myself = listen when you’re planning for others, it becomes a part-time job
- Gorilla Tours = http://www.gorillatours.com/
Used for gorilla trek in Uganda
- Sandi @ Africa Serendipity = http://www.africaserendipity.com/
Used for safari through Kenya and Tanzanai
I can’t say enough about both companies and highly recommend both. Gorilla Tours does Uganda, Rwanda, DRC when safe to and might do Kenya (I can not recall). Africa Serendipity does Kenya and Tanzania. Neither handles international flights but that’s what the internet is for. Kayak.com is a great site to use for that purpose.

My iitinerary: o/n = overnight, B = breakfast, FB = full board
2007
April 28 – Depart from Toronto (YYZ) to Entebbe (EBB) via London
April 29 to May 6 – In Uganda
– myself and boyfriend will go to Bwindi National Park for gorilla trek
May 7 - In Nairobi visit to Karen Blixen Museum Giraffe Center, Kazuri beads/shopping – (o/n) Intercontinental Hotel (B)
May 8 - Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage; lunch at the Carnivore; drive north the Mt. Kenya - o/n Serena Mountain Lodge
May 9 - Drive to Samburu National Reserve; game drive on way to your lodging; lunch; afternoon game drive - o/n Serena Lodge (FB)
May 10 - Samburu; camel safaris o/n Serena Lodge (FB)
May 11 - Drive to Mt.Kenya,; Jane Goodall Chimp Sanctuary - o/n Sweetwater's Camp (FB)
May 12 - Drive to Lake Nakuru; lunch; afternoon game drive - o/n Lion Hill Lodge
May 13 - Masai Mara; o/n Simba Lodge
May 14 - Masai Mara (FB)
May 15 - Masai Mara - visit to Masai Manyatta o/n
May 16 - Transfer to airstrip for Scheduled 11am flight to Wilson (domestic) airport in Nairobi -
Brother - will met here and transferred to JKIA for flight to Mombasa;
- o/n Indiana Beach Hotel
Family of 3 - connect here to Scheduled 12:40pm flight to Kilimanjaro
(JRO) Tanzania; met and transfer to Lake Manyara; o/n Kirumumu Camp
May 17 - Drive to Ngorongoro Crater; - o/n Sopa Lodge (FB)
May 18 - Morning crater tour; w/boxed lunch drive via Oldupai Gorge (w/ stop); continue drive to Central Serengeti; afternoon game drive - o/n Serena Lodge (FB)
Serena Serengeti
May 19 - Serengeti (FB) - o/n Serena Lodge (FB)
May 20 - Serengeti; morning, afternoon or full-day game drives daily - o/n Serena Lodge (FB)
May 21 – homewards bound to Toronto

Quickly:
For anyone considering a gorilla trek. DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can honestly say that it was the highlight of the entire trip for my boyfriend and myself. If we had been sent home without completing the rest of the trip and with all the money already spent, we still would have been happy. DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Also, spend the money on internal flights. In the grand scheme of things they’re not expensive and save you a lot of wasted time.

Alright that’s enough for now. Will return tomorrow with more.

Tomorrow: Background and Planning

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    Juliet, I am thrilled to hear that the Gorilla Trek was so wonderful. We will be in Bwindi at the beginning of Sept. for a trek and I just can't wait. Leave this sat. to begin our adventure. I just have a couple of questions.

    1. Any words of advice for the gorilla trek as far as clothing, guide, etc. How difficult was the trek and how long did it take you to get to the gorillas?

    2. On your internal flights, did they weigh your carry on backpack,i.e.camera equipment, etc. along with your main luggage bag and count both toward your 33 lbs allowed or did they just weigh your main luggage bag. I think this is our main concern as we are trying to pack. Sure would be great to not have to worry about the weight of the backpacks with the camera equipment.

    I can't wait to read the rest of your report and see your pictures.

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    Great start. I really want to see gorillas on my next trip. Glad you had such a good time.

    Smiley is a colon and the close-parentheses mark. :)
    For more--way more--than you could or should ever possibly use, see http://www.fodors.com/forums/smileys/.

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    Background: I am a 27 year old female from Toronto, Ontario, Canada who was born in Uganda. I had promised myself that when I had completed my long and drawn out undergraduate studies I would treat myself to a trip back ‘home’. I asked my brother (34 years old) if he would accompany me two years previously and he said he would as he had not been back in 17 years and it had been 10 for me. We were both curious to see if there had been any marked progress in Uganda, see some family, and for my part see some wildlife. One day over Mother’s Day lunch in 2006 with my brother Edward, my mother Oliver (54 years old) and my boyfriend Alan (34 years old), I again asked my brother if he was still serious since I had officially ended school just a few weeks prior. My plan was to work for a year to save up and pay off my student loans and then apply for grad school in September of 2007. As we began talking about it, my mother and Alan saw that we were serious about the trip. Prior to this my mother had no desire to go back home (for valid reasons that I will not go into) and Alan is the type of person that was convinced that at every corner there was something to kill/harm/maim/whatever i.e. snakes, diseases previously unheard of, rebels, elephants (I kid but you get where I’m going with this). We had previously only been to New Orleans and Cuba (where he caught an awful intestinal bug) together. So the last thing I expected was for these two to join us but as Edward and I started talking about it Alan became curious. His curiosity in turn aroused my mother’s interest and by the end of lunch it went from a trip of two to a trip of four.

    My excitement at this new development quickly retired once I realized that it would be I who would be planning this trip for four entirely different travelers. I prefer hotels but sacrifice luxury by staying in hostels to make trips more affordable. My mother and Alan on the other hand are hotel travelers through and through. To make matters worse, I wanted a safari, my brother wanted beach and relaxation. My mother was pretty easy except she wanted to visit a list of cities. Alan was too relaxed and had no input, which caused me further stress because I wanted to ensure he had a good time as well. Chaos indeed. So I had to plan a trip that wouldn’t cost a fortune, included safari for me, beach for Ed, some places for Mom, and whatever for Alan. Oh yeah, gorillas - might as well since I’m there already. All for not too much a price. So I told everyone to expect to spend $5000 but most likely $6000 because the plane ticket would be close to $2000 alone. Ha!!!!!!!!! Obviously spent much more by the time the trip was done.

    I began by first checking travel agencies and flipping through their brochures. I then checked on-line companies as well followed by the tried and tested Goggle search for forums, which is how I found Fodor’s months later. The first thing that was obvious to me was the great discrepancy in prices between tour companies for basically the same trip. Whether it was Kenya, Tanzania (northern circuit) or both the same itinerary kept cropping up. Smart cookie that I am (I’m full of it), I thought why not cut out the middleman and contact the local operators directly. So that’s what I did and some companies responded, some did not and some informed that they only deal through agents. Tsk, tsk I thought. I got six quotes in and compared the lot of them but I still wasn’t very pleased with most of the itineraries. They were too cookie cutter for me and cost a fortune and this was without adding Uganda to the mix. So I asked on the forum as many before have what is the difference between operators because asides from the ultra luxe ones it’s the same hotels I’m staying at. The answer = vehicles used and experience. Vehicles you say. Why yes, that would make quite a difference wouldn’t it what with all the driving involved. Experienced guides would also be a bonus seeing as how I didn’t realize that there are 3 types of giraffes running around Kenya and wouldn’t know one from the other. To make this long-winded story short I found Sandi. Roy Safaris (whom I had contacted because they came up in my Lonely Planet, Fodors and Bradt Books -another fine resource those books) informed me that I needed an agent and Sandi Spindel of Africa Serendipity was the one to contact. So I did and she responded right away. And guess what, she’s the same Sandi of these very forums. Who would have guessed. It took a bit to put two and two together because I had only begun to peruse the forums but when I did I was as excited as I am at Christmas.

    So now I had an agent and very helpful she was indeed. I told her what I needed (silly family) and she informed that she did not do gorilla treks but would handle the rest. So I still needed to take care of Uganda. This proved to be even more stressful because once again I saw the same itineraries and even larger discrepancies in prices. After goggling to death ‘gorilla trek’, I finally settled on Gorilla Tours to handle that for me and handled the flight and hotels myself by using Trip Advisor for hotel details. As many of you might know, not much is written on tourism in Uganda. The absolute best book I found was the Bradt tour guide and a new edition was just released this year. So I used kayak.com for the international flight, a kind fellow on Trip Advisor informed me of Mosa Court apartments in Kampala as did a cousin of my mothers, and Sandi for the rest.

    There were moments of sheer anxiety as I wired large sums of money to places unseen and people I’d never met before but that is the way things are done. Whenever possible send a money order as it is far cheaper then the bank transfer where in you get charged by your bank and the receiving institution also charges you on their end.

    Sandi and I probably went through six itineraries before everything was finalized by January of this year and she’s a wonder woman. Managed to get most of what I wanted for a great price. Mind you, going in May helped keep the costs down A LOT. We had internal flights for Kenya and Tanzania, our own private 4x4 with driver/guide, the cookie cutter safari through Kenya and Tanzania, side trips for the tourist in me, great lodges and two tented camps, and a beach holiday for my brother at the end while the rest of us were in Tanzania. I have to say, the private vehicle is the way to do it. Saw groups from Abercombrie & Fitch and other luxury outfitters and thought would much rather have spent the money on a private vehicle if I were them.

    So the trip was planned, got everyone booked in for their shots, booked off the three weeks off of work, found our duffels at Mountain Equipment Co-op (Canadian store with on-line shopping), found someone to look after our cat, confirmed and reconfirmed the itineraries, read all the East African trip reports so kindly complied by LyndaS on this forum, read and re-read my guide books, fretted over and over about packing but LyndaS kindly emailed me her list which is on this forum and I amended it for my needs, bought what we needed and WAITED. The packing wouldn’t have been so bad were I the only one going but I kept feeling like a mother of four and felt the need to have enough for four when it came to the first aid kit, the pharmaceuticals, the sunblock, etc. Clothing wise I had lots of room left over. The morning of our trip, I was still packing and unpacking and Alan kept saying I was over so I removed lots of clothes. When we got to the airport guess who had the lightest luggage? ME!!!!!!! Followed by Edward, Alan who was a tiny bit over 15kg (= the 33 lb limit on the light aircraft used for the internal flights) and then my mom who was in at 20kg. I swear she packed her entire wardrobe and of course I freaked. I figured we’d deal with it when we got to Uganda.

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    Paking List:

    Below is my original packing list. It was modified a bit (especially with regard to clothing) but I can't seem to find that file. I will comment of what worked and what I could or should have left behind. I found that most helpful when LyndaS did that. I know, I know, do I ever shut up. NO!

    LADIE'S
    6 t-shirts
    3 tanks with built -in bra for layering
    2 long sleeved shirt for evenings (re mosquitoes)
    2 pants - comfy but nice ( traveling & dinner)
    2 linen pants
    2 capris
    1 convertible pants (will also be used for gorilla trek)
    1 fleece for warmth -use as sweater too
    1 rain/wind jacket
    1 pr walking sandals (Nike ACG's)
    1 pr trail runners (my Nike ACG's, will also be used for gorilla trek)
    1 pair of gaiters
    1 pair of sock liners
    1 pair of garden gloves
    1 pr flip flops for pool use (Old Navy)
    1 pr pyjamas - light weight
    5 pr socks - quick dry
    1 pr socks - for putting over pants during gorilla trek
    10 pr cotton underwear - quickdry
    1 bra
    1 bathing suit
    1 camping towel

    ---------------------------------------
    MEN'S
    4 shirts
    2 long sleeve linen shirt
    2 short sleeve linen shirt
    2 pr cargo shorts
    2 pr linen pants
    2 pr convertibles
    1 pr walking sandals (Columbia)
    1 pr trail runners (Columbia, will also be used for gorilla trek)
    1 pair of gaiters
    1 pair of sock liners
    1 pair of garden gloves
    1 pr flip flops for pool use (Old Navy)
    10 prs socks
    12 pr underwear, quick dry
    1 fleece for warmth -use as sweater too
    1 rain/wind jacket
    1 bathing suit
    1 camping towel
    ---------------------------------------
    OTHER THAN CLOTHES:

    PERSONAL TOILETRIES
    travel size shampoo
    travel size conditioner
    travel size bodywash
    travel size mouthwash
    travel size hand lotion
    small washcloth - not always provided!
    1 facial cleanser
    face cream
    body soap
    Aveeno moisturizer (plus small amount in travel bottle)
    scent free deodorant
    Toothbrush x2
    Toothpaste
    Hairbrush
    Electric Razor for Alan
    Nail clippers and file
    Make-up bag for me
    Tampons and pads

    PHARMACEUTICALS
    Anti-malarial = Malarone
    Antibiotic = Ciprofloxacin
    Bandaids
    Neosporin, small tube
    Anti-nauseant = Gravol, also works as sleep-aid
    Anti-diarrhea = Immodium quick dissolve
    Sinus meds = Sinutab plus sinus spray for me
    Analgesic = Advil liquid gels
    Antihistamine = Claritin, non- drowsy
    Antacid = Rolaids with gas relief
    Eye-drops = Natural Tears
    Oral rehydration salt = Gastrolyte
    Bengay

    SUN AND BUGS
    After-bite
    Insect Repellent = OFF sports
    Sun block SPF 30 or more
    Chapstick with SPF 30 or more
    After sun lotion for burns
    Sunglasses
    Cord for sunglass
    Hard case for sunglasses
    Wide brim hat
    Bandana x2

    BUSH LOO STUFF
    Travel roll of TP
    Antiseptic wipes
    Small ziplock bags

    LAUNDRY STUFF
    Small laundry detergent x3
    Tide To Go pen

    CAMERA STUFF
    Canon S3
    3x 2GB secure digital cards
    Case
    Canon ?
    3x 1GB compact flash cards
    Case
    Rechargeable batteries 7xset of 4
    Battery charger
    Cyberspace Hyper Drive photo storage (back-up) device
    Lense cleaner
    Beanbag for support

    DOCUMENTATION
    Passport
    Yellow Fever vaccination certificate
    pre-filled visa application for Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania
    E-ticket for International Flight
    Ticket for Kenya Airways flight
    Itinenary through Gorilla Tours (gorilla trek in Uganda)
    Itinenary through Africa Serendipity (Kenya and Tanzania)
    Insurance
    Contact List
    Copies of passport, itineraries, insurance, etc.

    MISCELLANEOUS:
    a few pens
    small note cards with envelopes - for drivers tips
    small notebook - serves as journal and for notes
    small exchange calculator
    plastic file pouch/portfolio (8 1/2 x 11) - good for itinerary & e-tickets, etc.
    airline neck pillows (inflatable) - doubles as a cushion in the vans
    some sheets of bubble wrap - for fragile purchases or gifts given to you
    small Kleenex packages
    converter and adapters for the area
    very small multi plug outlet - only one electrical outlet in your room usually
    binoculars
    travel alarm clock - used when wake up calls were not early enough for us
    extra batteries, non rechargeable
    small basic sewing kit - just enough to fix a hem or two
    duct tape -some around a pen
    flashlight/reading light = Turtle lights
    Samsonite suitcase combination locks - for locking bags while at lodges, etc
    MP3 player plus AAA batteries
    addresses of contacts to send postcards to
    garbage bags for laundry, etc.
    assorted sizes of Ziplock bags
    energy bars for gorilla trek
    book to read
    small duffle bag for souvenirs
    small backpack
    money wallet around neck

    What I wished I had or forgot;
    - forgot the thank you cards with envelope for tips and ending buying super cheesy ones that cost a fortune
    - forgot the camera bean bag but was okay without it
    - mini pre-moistened towelettes for cleaning our glasses. My cloth was so dirty by the end that I resorted to using my shirt more often than not even with the cleaning spray.
    - Forgot to tell remind the boys about getting newer US bills. Had to constantly take out more money using the ATM in Uganda which was fine but it became a problem later on. Using US bills is better for tipping as we kept forgetting the exchange rate with local money and kept seriously overtipping at times.
    - Wished so much that I had packed the cold medicine because I was super sick for 5 days with a cold. I knew exactly where on the countertop I had left it.
    - More than anything else, I wished that I had brought more memory for my camera. We hardly used the smaller one. Note: spend the money on a really good camera. Need not be an SLR but at least something like my Canon S3.
    - More clothes, Alan had far more than I and he looked better and more comfortable.
    - More time.

    What I’m glad I brought:
    - lens cleaner for the camera, you have no idea of the dust
    - back-up storage device for the camera = Thank God because I had to start deleting photos so I could take the more than 3000 we ended up with.
    - blow up neck pillow for the plane. I was the only who used one but I loved it and used it in the vehicle as well.
    - Mini laundry soap for washing clothes. Most lodges will do but some I found way too pricey and it’s easy enough to wash my own undies. Especially handy when we were in Uganda.
    - Ear-planes for the flights.
    - Two toothbrushes so I could throw out the grimy one after two weeks of use.
    - The energy bars. Helpful through the trip while in vehicle and was hungry.
    - The ziplock bags. Probably one of the best tips I got on this forum. Kept me organized, as they were labelled, easy to locate items as they are clear, and way cheaper then those packing cubes. Had every size imaginable.
    - Bubble wrap. Fought with Alan over this but it meant that our prized wood carvings got home safe and he wasn’t laughing then was he!
    - All the undies that I did bring.
    - The small duffle to carry home our souvenirs.

    Didn’t need:
    - the bush loo stuff
    - the convertibles (Alan loved his but I didn’t care much for them)
    - camping towel
    - tide to go pen

    General: Used most of clothing but would have liked more and in more colours. Alan had a complete wardrobe with him and ended leaving behind so much clothing. You’d be amazed with just how much you can fit into a duffle with a 15kg weight limit. I had room to spare even with all the stuff I packed.

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    To ndonna:

    1. I posted here previously. http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?screen_name=julimbo&fid=4

    It took us just an hour and a half to reach the Nkuringo group because they were taking a siesta at the forest border. Them taking a siesta means for harder picture taking as they were sleeping in the bush but meant for an easier trek. We were blessed with the best weather as well. Note: The steepness of the descent when trekking Nkuringo is not exaggerated. I think a few minutes on a stairmaster is more helpful then an hour on a treadmill as most people are not used to hiking up or down at that slope. Definately get a porter that way you're not limited in the amount you bring with you. It also helps because you're supporting their livelihood. Not bad looking either. :) Bring twice as much water as you think you'll need. Take some energy bars as well. Most importantly, know your camera inside and out. I was so caught up in the moment that I blanked and forgot how to shot in bright sunlight (always told how dark it would be when shooting gorillas) that can occur depending on the location of the gorilla.

    2. Didn't weigh anything which worried me at one point as I saw people with luggage that seemed to far out weigh their allotment. Again, pack all of your camera stuff in your carry on, you can replace clothing not a camera and try to use soft cases instead of hard.

    Juliet

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    Forgot to add:

    Wished I brought warmer jacket and pants for Mount Kenya and night game drive at Sweetwater's. I was freezing. They provide you with blankets though during the night game drive.

    Juliet

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    Silly me, started posting the trip report in my original trip post.

    Sat April 28 Toronto to England:
    So we flew into Heathrow with British Airways (BA). Made sure we booked the seats at the start of each section that way we would have the most leg room. I told my brother to get the emergency exit seating as he is 6 feet 2 inches and would need all the leg room he could get. This was easily accomplished as BA provides seat selection as a free service 24 hours prior to departure. Our flight was uneventful except for a screaming toddler (not baby so I was more annoyed), which is the only downside to choosing those seats, as they are reserved for parents with young ones.

    Sun April 29 Arrive in England:
    We decided that since we had more then 12 hours until our flight to Uganda to leave the airport and head into London. Other options were to get a day room at a hotel so we could nap and/or freshen up but fairly pricey, or to book a stay at the KLM lounge in Heathrow. We were going to take an express train in but one of my Mother’s old and dear friends had her son pick us up form the airport and drive us in. Poor Ronald ending up waiting two hours for us because customs was taxingly slow. Once at their house her husband Peter took myself, Alan and Edward through London while my Mom stayed behind to catch up. We took the train from Waterloo station to Wimbledon and just walked about. We saw Covent Garden, Soho district, Leicaster Square, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the Parliament buildings, Big Ben, and lots more. It was great as Alan and Edward had not been to London before. Glad I packed snack bag for everyone (don’t like airplane food) that included veggies and fruit with granola bars and bottles of water as this came in super handy while we walked about and didn’t need to spend money on food. All day the weather was unseasonably warm which was awesome, as they had called for it to rain. This was a sign of the things to come as we were truly blessed with the weather throughout our trip. We then returned in time for dinner before Ronald dropped us back at Heathrow. At Heathrow, we went walking around while waiting for our plane and Alan and I found a ten thousand pound bottle of Glenfiddich (whiskey) that we looked at with envy. Flight was on time and excellent. Good food (for airplane) and great movie/TV selection. Sunday was also day one of our Malarone dosing.

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    Mon April 30 Arrive in Uganda:
    The weather was forecasted to be sunny for today only and rainstorms through the rest of the week. How wonderful for a gorilla trek I thought hence all the rain gear I packed. We arrived a bit earlier then scheduled and I felt like a movie star as we descended from the plane on the tarmac until the heat and humidity hit me. We did not get any of our visas while still in Toronto so we lined up in the Visa line, which was the longest line but only took 5 minutes to get through (could teach those agents at Heathrow a thing or two). Very efficient. We obtained our luggage and then changed some of our USD into smaller bills and walked out to find our driver from Gorilla Tours waiting for us. Since we did not book our nights stay at a standard hotel I needed to book airport transfers for us and Gorilla Tours provides that service. The vehicle wasn’t the most appealing looks wise (old 4x4) but it was comfortable and got us where we needed. The drive took about an hour until we hit traffic in Kampala – chaos indeed but fun. The transfer cost $50USD and we tipped our driver $20USD as he was friendly and very informative.

    We arrived at Mosa Court Apartments and the total for one week’s stay in a three-bedroom apartment with three separate bathrooms was $1698USD. Paying took awhile as Alan and Ed forgot my reminder that US bills must be from 2001 or newer. I was annoyed as I had told them, emailed them, Sandi’s tip sheet mentioned as much as did the guide books. Not much of a problem for Ed but Alan had $1000 bills that were now useless. We could and should have put it on our credit card but 1) didn’t want to pay the surcharge of 15% and 2) really didn’t want to walk around with that much cash on us plus Alan and I still had our payment to Gorilla Tours on us in cash. Our apartment was located on the third floor and included a sitting area with TV and dining table as well as a kitchen that we really didn’t use since the fridge did not work. We promptly showered (no hot water – would be like this for most of the stay) and went in search of water to drink, cell phones to maintain communication for times when we would be separated, a place to exchange our old bills, an ATM to withdraw cash from our Visas, and some small food items to snack on.

    We went to Barclays to exchange our money and while I line were informed by a very nice gentleman to go across the street to the foreign exchange place as the rates would be far better for exchanging old bills as well as for buying Ugandan shillings. The rate at the time was 1 USD = 1754 USH and 1 old USD = 1500 USH. We then went in search of the cell phones through Celtel as these would be use din three countries but we couldn’t find a dealer. E then went a most ridiculous search for a supermarket based on my Mother’s memory of twenty plus years ago. Needless to say we couldn’t find that either but stopped at a gas station to get water and snacks. When we went back outside it began to pour. We tried to wait it out but gave up and took a taxi (you negotiate the rate) and it cost us 3000USH. Upon our arrival we found some family members from my Mom’s side waiting for us (it was a revolving door from this point on as my Mom hadn’t been back for a long time) and the rest of us had lunch at Mosa. Now breakfast at Mosa, which is included in your stay, is very good but the rest of the meals are adequate but not worth the price. We return to our room to unpack our things and then Alan and I go for a walk. We find a Celtel dealer but they are out of the cheapest phone but are told that we can buy the Celtel phone with SIM card from the post office which isn’t far at all. The phone with 1000USH worth of minutes cost 69,000USD = $40USD and can be used in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It took us awhile to figure out how to dial out from it but Mom showed us and Ed ended getting one for himself and Mom to use the next day. Ed slept through dinner and the three of us just had dinner at Mosa for the ease of things. Alan and I then went for a walk at night and found Debonairs and ordered a plate of chips (2,000USH) and a coke as he was still hungry, then went back to our home base. Tried to take a shower but the water was cold so I phoned downstairs to let them know we had not had hot water all day. Just before I fall asleep someone shows up to turn the hot water on (why was it off in the first palce?).

    Our first day was eventful and we were all super excited. Kampala is a safe and easily navigated city. Alan and I would go walking by ourselves many times while there, even in the dark. Warning, it can get very dusty though with the red earth but we loved it.

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    Tues May 1
    Phoned Gorilla Tours to confirm our pick-up time of 7am. Spent most of today at my Mom’s friend Mary’s house then her brother’s outside of the city as they were having a wedding shower for her sister who was going to get married on Friday. It is custom back home to have a “send-off” for the bride to be where in all her family gathers and offers her well wishes, advice and prayers. At the start Mary’s brother spoke in English to welcome Alan and let him know that he should feel at home (Alan is Scottish) which was really sweet. After the mini Catholic mass (yawn and LOL! Alan thought I was lying and since he hasn’t been to mass in ages forgot how long Catholic masses can be and how repetitive some of the hymns are), we were fed (Matoke, chicken, chapatti, peanut sauce, kale, ugali, etc.), and music played and we all danced the night away. We retuned and all of us except for my Mom go for a walk and withdraw some funds form Barclays ATM using our Visa. Ed had a MasterCard which wouldn’t work there. Advice: Go online prior to leaving. Visa and MasterCard both have an on-line feature where you can locate ATMs that accept your card anywhere in the world. We then stopped at Grand Imperial hotel and had some Indian food and a few bevies at Goddfellas bar before ending back to sleep. Very yummy.

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    Wed May 2 Kampala to Kisoro
    Alan and I woke up early and we grabbed some food and waited. At quarter past 7 I was nervous and started to phone the office. Just before I had a total freak-out Richard pulls in with the car. Richard’s wife Abifnay (sp?) and his children Susan and Ronald were seated in the very back of the 4x4 and Anne and Iain were seated in the middle. Originally when we had booked our tour it was just Alan and I but three weeks beforehand Virgo had emailed me to inform that two others would be joining us. At first I was apprehensive but I’m so glad we agreed as Iain and Anne turned out to be the best tripmates. Introductions were made, money handed over (we had paid Gorilla Tours for our gorilla permits via money transfer beforehand and had to pay the remainder of $325USD), and Richard told us that we would be dropping his family off en route for holidays. This was fine as there was ample room. The vehicle wasn’t the newest 4x4 but this yellow Toyota Landcrusier would be our trusted steed. Water was provided for our trip and was in a large cooler and after getting gas and we had our first stop at the Equator a little over an hour later. The roads were smooth and there is a clean bathroom located here for 200USH each. Alan and I took some pictures at the sign, paid for the experiments and received a certificate. Well worth it and I found the equator presentation in Kenya to be very low-key, boring and not in very nice areas. Nicer certificate here as well. We all went to the bathroom and I paid, as the smallest amount of money anyone had was 1000USH that the poor girl couldn’t break. Right next door is a very nice restaurant and arts place that we stopped at on the way back. Highly recommend it and it is owned a charity organization.

    We continue on and stop occasionally for the bathroom (I have a tiny bladder and first bush pee. LOL!). It is obvious from this point on that Uganda is not flat like ‘the plains of East Africa’. Oh no. Hills and more hills everywhere and breath taking scenery. We stop for lunch in _______________ (oh, so bad with names will have to fill in later once I retrieve my notebook) and are a little disappointed. It’s more of a bakery with cakes and other sweet stuff. But whatever, at least we can get tea for me and coffee for the rest. We continue on for another hour and drop his family off where they will continue on in a hired car. Finally get a smile out of his little boy – way too cute.

    About six hours in we arrive in Kabale. We stop off here to get a leg stretch, have a bathroom break and have a cold bevvie. It is at this point that I really wish I had thought to a small bottle of liquid hand soap as most places did not have soap or had a small communal bar. This is also where we have one of our most memorable encounters. As we exited our vehicles these two girls who could have been no more than 11 years of age approach us with a basket of bananas on each of their heads. Richard says something to them and they do not approach. We go upstairs to the restaurant, use their facilities, order a drink and sit on the patio. While waiting for our bevies, the girls approach and the shorter one asks in the most eloquent English “Would you like to buy some yellow bananas?” We say no thank you and they ask again. Richard starts speaking to them but not in English. They continue to try and push their way with Richard and the shorter tells her partner to do the same (not in English of course). Why waste time when you could be selling to someone else. Savvy indeed. Just as she turns her back Richard says something and she snaps back around, looks at Richard and asks us in the same perfect English “Have you already bought some yellow bananas?” We say no and she starts waving her pointed finger at Richard and speaking to him as one would to a naughty child. We ask Richard what had just happened and he explains that he had said to them in hopes of finally getting them to leave that we had already bought some bananas but our darling business woman thought aha, let me ask them then to see if you are telling the truth. So she caught him in his lie and we then bought some ‘Yellow bananas’ that turned out to be the best tasting bananas we had the whole time we were in East Africa. Alan and I followed them downstairs and asked if we could have their photo which they complied to and then we each took a photo with them. We handed one of the girls 1000USH to share between them and then the other girl asked where hers was so to avoid any wrong doing we gave each of them her own 500USH.

    After saying our goodbyes to the most business savvy girls I’ve ever met, we continued on. Now, the Gorilla Tours website describes the rest of the journey as “the bad road takes us through a beautiful landscape known as the Switzerland of Africa”. I thought this was just improper grammar and exaggeration. Oh no, they were dead on. On a map the journey looks like it should only take one hour at most but what it does not account for is the unpaved road that begins just outside of Kibale, and the winding through the hills both horizontally and vertically. Also not mentioned is the sheer depth of the drop-offs into water, farmland or forest next to the same road you are driving on. Not for the faint of heart. A true testament to the skills of our driver Richard is the fact that even after the most tiring of drives ever I would not do it any other way. Yes you can fly in to Kisoro from Entebbe or take another road route but the scenery is breath taking. I could not believe the absolute beauty of our surroundings. En route we drove by Lake Bunyonyi, the second deepest lake in Africa and saw the strength of the locals as we saw them climb up and down these near vertical slopes with incredible weights on their heads or shoulders of crops, wood, you name it. We also had the pleasur eof slowly creeping up to the Virungus and seeing them in all their majesty. It was non-stop bumpiness and just when we were ready to give up we arrived in Kisoro. Thank you God for getitng us here safe we all thought.

    Kisoro is a bustling town close to the border of Rwanda. Travellers Rest hotel is located just outside and very beautiful. Payment was made by Richard as the hotel is included in the trekking fee paid to Gorilla Tours and we were greated with passion fruit juice. The rooms have double beds in them, hot water is plentiful, the layout is great and the food outstanding. It really was my favourite place out of all our trip. The Virungus are in the background and the location is peaceful. They was only one other group there that night and they only came in for dinner.The staff were friendly and felt more like co-owners. There is a dog on the property whose name is Simba. Alan went to pet and he barked and put up a fuss but he was backing off as he did this and didn’t feel safe unitl he found one of the hotel employees. It was quite cute – he’s just a big baby who puts on a big show. He doesn’t bother anyone and is usally found in a big heap laying on the floor outside of the dining area.I really wish I had planned it so we would stay one extra day instead of two nights only. The manager who was there at the time had only been there for two weeks as the previous manager had suddenly left one day and he was doing the owners a favour. He was from Belgium and staying in Kampala with his girlfriend who is a diplomat with the Chinese embassy. We unpacked, showered, walked around, had dinner, ordered our lunch to go for the next day and went to bed. We were so excited for the next day as that was when we would trek the mountain gorilla.

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