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Trip Report Chimps, Gorillas and Camels- a Tale of Three Countries

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My group stood in a small circle, seven of us from all over the world. Our guide, Christian, had just asked us if we wanted a porter. Off to the side and waiting eagerly was a group of young men waiting to be asked, so like a lineup of kids asking to join the soccer game.

No one said anything.

I piped up. "I do, please." A young man trotted over and took my bad, and introduced himself as John.

One of the sixtyish guys in our group bragged loudly so that everyone, including these young men could hear, "Well I sure don't need a porter. Didn't need one to see silverbacks and I sure don't need one today!" He hefted his backpack and threw his shoulders back to make his point."

The men, disappointed, made their way back to the village.

"Not the damned point," I thought, with some steam. Truth was I could likely make it without one too. "It's about taking the cost of two double lattes back home and giving employment to the locals. Nobody here cares about your big fat ego." It's not mine to try to shove my opinion down someone else's throat. But my opinion of my fellow group members didn't rise as I watched those men walk home. I had John though, and was repeatedly glad I did, for he earned the twenty bucks I'd already stashed in a pre-packed envelope for him many times over within the first twenty minutes of our hike. Who was to know?

The last time I was in Africa I summitted Kili, so mountain hiking isn't that big a deal. I'm no stranger to hiking in vine strewn tropics. However, early in January I tried to keep my roommate's cat out of my basement by kicking a big wooden door- barefoot- and in doing so managed to nearly break a toe. Anyone who's ever done anything as harebrained as this also knows how long those digits take to heel, and to reduce from hearty German sausages to something more reasonable, and then to stop hurting so that you can walk, much less taken on something epic like we were about to do. But do it I was about to do anyway, I was most definitely in shape in all other ways but this TOE. I had no idea how it would perform, and having John was not only to provide employment but also, I had no idea how much I could trust it. John was the back up plan to my Black Diamond hiking pole.

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    BTW I'm going to apologize in advance to any of my readers, I am using an Ipad Air to write and I'm finding that making corrections and editing is sometimes very challenging, so those of you who are rough on mistakes, bear with me. I'm just getting used to this thing, and sometimes it posts without allowing me to edit. As I adust to not having my trusty laptop (and no USB ports, alas) I will get better. Thx to all for patience.

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    I plunked a water in John's front pocket as he had no supplies for the day, and off we headed. The road was broad. Then suddenly Christian disappeared off to the right, up and out of sight. So did we, and then we headed down.

    This 45 sq mile part of Nyungwe Forest National Park is a magnificent piece of heaven, its exuberant overgrowth leaping out of rich red clay, nourished by much rain. Rwanda is a land of many hills. That means a few things for those of us who want to hike around to see chimpanzees- a great deal of slipping and sliding, and, if you happen to be gifted with a good sense of humor, a lot of laughter.

    I had followed the advice of previous threads- canadian robin and others to be exact, and taken good gaiters and duct tape (although I did not tape my boot treads for obvious reasons. Pants were tucked into socks to keep off ants and there were plenty of them.) Gaiters further protected legs. I wore very good Marmot pants for warmth, waterproofness and toughness, all of which came in handy. hiking boots hardly did diddly squat and here's why. I want to explain because it seems no one provides this kind of detail to those of us getting ready for these treks.

    The paths you begin on here are nice and wide and well maintained. Ours went down, straight down. And they were flat. And slick as racing tires. Once we had stepped in some of the sticky mud that was omni present on the path, our treads got full of it and so our shoes were as slick as the path. And that's when it got fun. Now mind you where it was really steep the path had branches laid in the mud to create paths. But not everywhere. Every so often one foot would go flying off in an unfortunate direction, and my walking pole was useless to stop it. The only thing that kept my butkus from landing on that hard clay was John, who quickly earned his keep. I found my aerials very funny, which is helpful because when you're stiff and fearful you land a lot harder. It's easier to recover if you're loose. Down we wound, deepr into the forest, sometimes on leaves which would give traction if dry, and act like ice if wet. I kept John busy and the sheer adrenlin kept my mind off what was happening to my toe.

    The track never does flatten- never- at one point it crosses a stream and happily for me heads up. I love to climb, anyhing, for gravity is my best friend. Most folks I know prefer climbing to descending. At this point, about half an hour in, Christian spotted a chimp ambling towards and us and we all got out our cameras. She took a sharp turn into the forest and reveled a second tracker. Once we got our photos, we followed this new man with Christian taking up the rear post.

    The deeper in you go, the narrower the trail, and you are walking one at a time. There is no guarantee you will see anything, as with any safari, and Christian was very honest with us at the start. We might have a short day, a long day, anything inbetween. I just didn't quite know what to expect of the terrain. So this is parly why I'm writing this post.

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    Almost as soon as we left the main track we were immersed in deep forest, with no track whatsoever. I was right behind the lead man with John immediately behind me. I was slapped in the face by everything- vines, bushes, and all of it was taller than I was. The ground was getting steeper by the second, and was completely different composition. As we rose up the hill, the clay base was layered by soft damp loam, and then a layer of damp leaves, both of which moved under our boots. This, especially as we climbed, made getting a solid foothold outright comical. The thick growth on the hillside provided ample handholds but some of those handholds snapped back into the face of anyone behind you, and you also had to look at what you were about to grab as things weren't always friendly. Hence, those gardening gloves. One errant branch raked the top of my hand and left me bleeding hard.

    As the tracker climbed, I did my best to put my feet where he did, thinking that he was leaving a trail to follow. This was a bad move because he had already loosened the soft dirt. This cost me a couple of face plants before I realized that I had to make my own trail. I also realized that moving slightly more quickly worked better, for the longer your foot plants in one place, the faster it slides, and you lose purchase. Almost instantly you're back where you started or below. Again, if you can laugh this helps, it's all a part of the experience, and the challenge of finding this elusive quarry.

    The walking sticks that Christian provided those who didn't bring their own were sometimes better than the Black Diamond for two reasons: first, they were unemcumbered by the sectioning pieces which allow you to break them down. That's key when your stick is enmired in a mass of tiny vines, and a simple wood stick comes right out. Second, on one epic hike up the mountain my Black Diamond literally lost its bottom section. Luckily one of the trackers noticed it and brought it up to me. Again, the simple wood walking stick won't do that, and it gave me pause about using it again in the demanding conditions of the forest. It's nice that it breaks into sections but that's exactly what gets in the way.

    After about an hour or so our new tracker brought us, via radio contact, to another tracker. By now we had largely shed most of our fleece or thermal layers, jammed them into our packs and were sporting the effects of branch backlash and mud painting. We had on several occasions crossed over big parties of those famous ants, and our trackers and porters made us stand for a full inspection to insure we were clean of them.

    Now we were following a new tracker, who indicated we weren't terribly far off from a family group of chimps. The ground here was completely unpredictable. We had followed along hillsides, with barely a few inches to balance upon. We had climbed up hills through deep bush. Now we were making our way on top of deep bush, often with our boots descending into holes so deep that our feet would disappear- and once in my case i couldn't feel the earth beyond the brush. The tracker cut steps out of disintegrating trees and mud, and used his panga to cut a way through the burgeoning forest. I hung onto trees when I felt myself lose my balance, and invariably John's steadying hand would be right there. A few times I would step over a huge tree onto what the tracker had cut and for some reason just keep on going- my foot would go right through the step into the mud, I'd do a180 and land face down in the bush and mud and come up guffawing. There really is nothing else to do but laugh, as John and the tracker worked to haul me out of the vines and leaves and holes that had me in their grasp.

    Happily we were almost there, and there was another group of trackers, and above them was the chimpanzee family, spread throughout the trees, the bright morning sunshine shing on their fur.

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    I forgot to mention, and I should here, that I am in Africa via ETrip Africa whom I used when I summitted Kili back in November 2013- we all have our favorite providers, they are mine, and it's a testament to what a great job they did that I am using them again. This is a five week trip through three countries and Ben and his wife Aurelie put together a killer itinerary including chimps, gorillas, river rafting, bungee jumping, horesback riding and camel riding for seven days - and a little kayaking. What I love about working with ETrip Africa is their willingnes to design to a budget, a lifestyle and your athletic ablity.

    Highly recommended, if anyone is in the market, and if you need personal recommendations please send me a private inquiry on another thread or via Trip Advisor.

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    For the next hour, which is about what you're allotted, we moved quietly from one vantage point to another to see the smaller females and large males who sat higher up in the trees in their nests while they groomed, and mostly ate the bark they stripped from the trees. Every so often there would be a great blast of activity, a lot of hooting and calling, and it would die down just as quickly as it started. For the most part, the chimps would find a spot, strip the bark methodically and eat quiety until the tree was bare. They would then move higher or lower, settle in and start over.

    The trackers were moving us constantly as the animals moved to different trees, offering to take photos for us, and watching out for our footing. Here the brush was deep and the ground full of holes.The chimps were fully habituated to humans so largely ignored us, only engaged with each other and the very important business of gnawing the tree.

    It was here that my toe announced itself, loudly and with a pained voice, about the offenses it had just endured. Now that we were standing, the blood was heading south and setting itself up for a party in my digit. I found John and ripped everything out of my backpack hunting for my little flat of Percocet. Percocet is one of those drugs that makes you very happy it's OTC in other countries, and very happy it's OTC in OTHER countries. It works. And it works extremely well. It has pleasant side effects. Which makes it extremely easy to understand why people can get addicted to them. So you buy just a few, use them in real emergencies, and don't buy extras to bring home. My toe was making it very clear that without one I wasn't going to make it out of the damn jungle.

    I had taken my jacket off, which sent steam rising in the cool jungle air, and for the rest of our viewing time we sat, leaned and just watched. The amount of time and effort you pay to see these extraordinary animals is totally unpredictable which is part of the adventure. You plan for the full day and a great deal of work and celebrate if it's less. The first animal you see- without bars separating you, without anything but air, is a stunning experience. Here is a creature that shares 99% of our DNA. How fortunate we are to see such a thing in the wild, to earn the right to be so close.

    After our hour, Christian, with his beautiful perfect gleaming smile, grinned at us and bade us head back. "Back" was straight up the hill behind us, again an epic hike replete with slipping sliding steps and loam over mud, only this time the promise was that the trek was only 25 minutes. Over what, wasn't explained. Good thing, too.

    Up we climbed, three of the trackers in the lead, too busy hauling themselves up the mountain to use their pangas much. John was right behind me and I was doing my best not to slide into him, as my boots were so packed with mud that in some cases it took four or five tries to get enough traction to move one step. But up we went, to the edge of a valley, where we looked down into a bowl of deep tropical foliage.

    Here the men spit as they tried to find the best path through. This was amazing as the brush was so thick we couldn't cut through it. We literally stood on top of this heavy undergrowth and forced it down, walking on top of it (and sometimes going through it) until we made our way down the very steep sides of the valley to the bottom were an almost invisible stream made its way through. There we jumped across and similarly made our way back up the other side where the trackers had been able to carve some steps down to the brown earth, which now sported bright sunshine.

    Which was downright HOT.

    The final climb was in the brilliant 10:00 sun, quite the contrast to the damp cool of the forest, and we were sweating as we made the clear top of the hill. Here we handed out our tips, and I dug out my envelopes for Christian and John. I hadn't expected so many other trackers and guides but at least had my wallet with me so was able to hand out some francs to the others.

    After this (and after John snuck a look at his loot) John led us back into the forest through the welcomed shade and back to our cars and waiting guides. I tucked my mud-decoated rear end into Alex, my guide's car, and we drove back to Gisakura Lodge, where I made my best attempt to remove the worst of the stains. The mud, which dried quickly in the afternoon sun, refused to be whacked off. I need a metal bristle brush for that job.

    This is absolutely worth while in every way. I would be forwarned about the conditions, which, if it's raining, could prove to be even more fun. By all means, hire a porter. It has absolutely nothing whatsover to do with your ability to hike, carry a backpack, do the trip. Rwanda is coming back from hell. Before you come, consider reading "A Thousand Hills" to understand why it matters that we hire porters. Or give someone 500 francs for helping us find something when we're wandering around Kigali- which is another story. This is one place in Africa where I don't get bombed with people asking for handouts. I get surrouned with people who want to work. I'm going to give them stuff to carry, and pay them, because it's the right thing to do.

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    How good to hear from you. I am happy to learn that you have arrived safely and that your trip is underway.

    My goodness - it sounds as though you endured quite the challenging hike. Our hike to the gorillas was embarrassingly easy by comparison. It is a good thing you were so well prepared for mud and ants. If not, I can imagine that it would not have been nearly as enjoyable an experience.

    Pity about the porters. It is a shame that tour companies do not enlighten their guests about the benefits of hiring a porter (to both parties) - perhaps they do and guests are choosing to ignore the input. Hopefully, the members of your group will have learned their lesson and reconsider for the remainder of the trip.

    It sounds as though you had a wonderful visit with the chimps - worth the effort of getting to them. My DH and I debated Nyungwe Forest - your description is making wish we had found the time to visit the park.

    I look forward to reading more. Hope the toe is on the mend. Safe travels!

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    Good to hear from you Robin. This morning Alex, my driver from ETrip, took me over to the Canopy Walk activity which is close to Gisakura, and at that park I went with another ranger who, when told about this story, gave me a good bit more depth for all of us to understand. To wit: all these porters, rangers, guides and trackers- ALL of them- are previous poachers. Rwanda has found a terrific way to prevent poaching by engaging, training, employing and encouraging the very people who once killed in the forest to protect it. By doing so, these men use the skills they most value- bush skills, handed down through centuries- so that they don't have to give up doing what they love- and they now apply those same skills in another way. This is just brilliant.

    He told me this story: a bushman spends five days in the forest trying to get one animal, say an antelope. That poached antelope MAY get him 1000 francs at the market. That's a lousy payoff for time and effort if, for example, you show up on tracking morning and someone pays you 10 or 20 US dollars for three hours working using those same skills. This really brought it home for me.

    The young man I was walking with had- and remember, he comes from a poacher's family- completed his bachelor's, and is now working on his masters in resource management. He has used his money to pay the education fees for his brothers and sisters. He travels to the villages to preach eco tourism. He has helped develop co-ops to get villagers to stop begging and instead to dance, make baskets and created goods for tourists before and after their gorilla tracking. The poachers all over the country, and the tribes and villages who once lived off their illegal poaching, are now learning the benefit of saving wildlife for tourists, which brings the entire community benefit.

    Education gave this young man the big picture and he submitted proposal after proposal- many of which were implemented- on how to solve local problems. Education is the key. Not just men, there's a big focus on women, which is really smart.

    Alex, my driver, spends time in every city and village as we travel checking in with the locals preaching the value of tourists. That both he and I (or others) buy food and drink and hotel rooms and souvenirs, and go on treks, and all this spreads wealth through the community. This message is getting through.

    It's not about the 10-20 bucks. It's about getting poachers out of the forest, providing gainful employment, redirecting people to use ancient skills in new ways which helps preseve the very animals we travel there to see. If we don't do this, then African nations will have a hard time conserving those animals as populations grow and encroach on the forests. This is why it cranks me a bit when people bang their chests and say they don't need porters. They simply don't see the larger picture, which involves the development of a nation, the preservation of dwindling species that we all want to preserve, and ensuring that the villages that surround these forests, feel good about, and supported by those forests. It all works together but we have to do our part too. It requires so little from us, and it means a great deal to them. If every tourist gave just a little- think of the difference it could make.

    And BTW I took another lovely butt over teakettle today too- on the same slick clay surface heading downhill- and my safari coat looks like it's been though...well...a forest. Currently I am at a simply charming hotel overlooking Lake Kivu, having washed (most) of the clay and dirt out of my clothing which is now festooning the pretty balcony, partially obscuring my view.

    A couple of things to note along the way. It's clear that some tourists give money away to kids, which is appalling, because what it does is teach them to beg. To wit: as Alex drove the lovely hilly road here (much of which was under construction) we constantly passed groups of schoolkids. Once they noted a white broad in the front seat they stopped waving and started yelling mzunga, for white person. Often it just stopped there. But all too often the kids, usually boys, would adopt an arrogant pose and demand money. Or shout "give me a pen!" I supposed that's better than money or candy but nobody's working for it.

    What I saw in Sa pa Vietnam was a classic case: the children, who are uber cute, learned quickly that begging paid off better than school. So the streets of that overly touristed city was overwhelmed with children and women who were in your face for money or things that everyone else was selling at the same prices- so aggressively that you had to fend them off bodily . An awful experience, not like anywhere else in country. What I know is that where you teach people that begging works, kids leave school. And that's one more lost and angry kid who grows up to adulthood expecting something for nothing.

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I never ever give things away. I hire. And it makes me feel good about paying someone. When you give kids money out of a car window, or candy or pens, it reminds me vividly of feeding wild goats in the Rocky Mountains, which is highly illegal. It kills the goats. Not much different to my mind. But hey, that's just me. It's entertaining to us, but there's a legacy being left behind. We're responsible for that.

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    Now to the story I never got around to telling. It's another one at my expense but those are the best kind.

    The folks at Murugo Hostel, which is situated on the same road as the embassies, picked me up at the airport and helped me check into their very nice, quiet facility- after the longest airplane trip I'd ever taken, 31 hours. I was toast. I've sometimes landed in Jo-burg overnight and then continued, or the flight's been about 24 hours, but this was a beaut.

    The first order of business was to exchange money, find a SIM card and charger, get some 123 Lithium batteries once I found out that my water purifier's batteries were dead, and possibly pick up some fruit. Love fruit markets in summer. I had slept fitfully, but was ready to meet the day. At about 11 the hostel called me a cab and I headed downtown, just a few kms away.

    In no time flat most of my business was done but for the batteries. They proved a problem as they're not common. I got mutliple offers for help, with one person or another instructing me to wait for them after they got off work. I was far too tired to do this so I kept looking in the local shops. At one shop a young man grabbed my battery and launched himself down the street into a number of shops and came back empty handed. I suggested that we might find them at a camera shop and he gently dragged me into the street. We were on a city safari in search of batteries.

    It took us about eight shops and a whole lot of blocks but we ferreted out a tiny spot where lo and behold, the woman pulled two Panasonic 123 Lithiums off the wall, six thousand francs, and the young man and I left. I paid him 500 francs for his trouble, but he wouldn't leave my side. As far as I was concerned we were done but he seemed to expect another errand. At this point I needed something he couldn't help me with- so as soon as I saw a ladies' I ducked in, waving thanks and goodbye.

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    The rest of the story goes like this: somehow I got it into my head that I had paid the cab driver 50000 francs for the ride. The money and the different colors was unfamiliar, and combining that with my sleep deprived brain, this thought wormed in. So I check my wallet and I don't have enough to get back. I change every single US bill I have and there is simply not enough. I choose to walk, sore toe and all. After all it's only a few kms right? I think I remember that turn.

    Nine kilometers later I realize the tactial error I've made and my toe is shrieking. I limp into a Job Petroleum station, and engage a lovely woman, whose English is minimal. My French is execrable, my Swahili nonexistent. Between pantomime and gesticulation I finally communicate my situation. I get her to call my hotel and talk to the manager. He insists I take a cab. I explain I don't have the funds and have to walk. He's terribly perplexed but willing to help.

    Now the fun starts. We try to put together a map. We walk outside and soon a crowd gathers. One man, Patrick, appoints himself Senior Advisor to Lost White Woman. The longer he interviews me the bigger the crowd gets and the more people throw in suggestions. It is now close to 2:30 pm and I left town at one.

    Patrick offers to take me where I'm going after listing a litany of options that, in my state, make no sense and I don't know what he's offering anyway. So I take him up on the offer to get me to my hotel, Thinking he means to drive me there. I ask him how much. He begins by saying, "Well, you see, you need to understand, I've been listening to you.." I can see where this is going and I ask him again, "How much?" He immediately says precisely the same thing again and I ask him again, "How much?" We go around like this five times and now I'm laughing because I know exactly what he's doing. The longer it takes, the higher the price. He's creating a consulting job and it's brilliant. However, I am tired. My body hurts. I want to lie down. I say to Patrick, "I want to know how much right now or I am going to start walking." "Two thousand frans," he says, annoyed. "Done."

    Then he excused himself to go change, for some reason, and I go back in and talk to the women again. When I walk out Patrick is dressed to the nines in a bright pink shirt, black slacks and nice shoes, quite the change from a blue work jumpsuit for the garage. And he gestures for us to start walking, which we do, past all the cars.

    He explains that we're going to take the local cab. Really?

    Well, one cab ride led to another long hike up hill. My toe is speaking in tongues. We stand in a neighborhood and Patrick announces that we're here.

    The hotel is nowhere in sight. Mind you, Patrick has called the Hotel and I assume he knows where the place is. This is not it. I burst out laughing, because there was nothing else to do. Patrick called the hotel again, and off we headed down the hill, which of course forced my poor digit into my boot, and now we had to wait for yet another cab.

    Everywhere we go and all the transport we use I am the only mzunga, which means this elicits long starts.

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    LIke I saiid, my iPad. Long stares, is what I meant. We climb into another cab, and by now it's nealry four pm. I'm between laughing at the situation, cranky from lack of sleep and mad at Patrick for not knowing where we were. I still needed to get home. Now we were on a cab that had come to a complete stop. I asked Patrick what was going on and he started yelling at the driver, which meant everyone turned to look at us, or actually at me, because clealry I was the cause of the commotion.

    I did my best to sink into the upholstery while telling Patrick to please stop, as it was becoming clear that the cab was waiting for some folks. But now he was on a roll, he had an Important Passenger and we had to GO NOW. I felt like a royal jerk, with many pairs of eyes on me, I pulled my hat as low as it would go and hoped that the movement of the cab would divert the attention.

    We finally stopped at the top of a hill, and when we got out, I spotted Thomas, from my hotel, just a block away. I rarely have been so glad to see anyone in my life. He was too, for he felt responsible. I paid Patrick his francs and the cab fares and we headed back to the hotel.

    By the time we got it all sorted out, I realized that I'd paid my cab driver only 5000 francs, because I remembered the color of the bills. Because of that small detail, I had spent the rest of the day walking all over the neighborhoods of Kigali, gathering up a cast of characters and causing my toe to swell like a German sausage.

    I've long since learned to laugh while you're in the middle of the story, not much later. When you are frustrated, angry, annoyed or otherwise not happy, that's the first clue, at least to me, that a story is unfolding. Invariably it involves something I've done or thought or misjudged and I get to deal wih consequences. About the only thing to do was let it unfold. Readers can offer a lot of what I could have done.


    Had I had enough sleep. Had I memorized the money. Had I put the cab money in an envelope instead of trying to sleepily count it out in a hurry. Lots of great ideas after the fact. Truth is after that long a flight, I probably should have stayed in and just rested. So very glad I didn't.

    Patrick created an impromptu consulting job which delighted me even if it wasn't terribly efficient. I got myself lost and found in Kigali and a great many people went to work to get me home. At many points that first day there were delight and laughter and yes toe pain but at no time did I feel in danger. And now we both have stories.

    Any day you have an adventure, discover the goodness and ingenuity of the people in a new country, and come back with a few good stories, I'd count that fair.

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    Moriah Hills Resort is right around the corner from Home Saint-Jean, which is where I am now. This lovely spot which overlooks lovely Lake Kivu seems to be home to the local Peace Corps contingent which is currently having a major meeting just under my balcony, their barely-out-of-their-teens voices laughing and eager. Oh to be in my twenties again.

    Alex has just dropped me off from a two hour kayaking trip around the lake's lovely islands, on a sit on top kayak, new to me, but not terribly different from my regular Jackson Rogue at home. I felt a bit exposed not having a cockpit and skirt, but I guess it's appealing to those who really like the sun. I climbed in well covered, including sun hat (thx Outdoor Research) and headed off to one of the nearby islands.

    There were two men on a fishing boat who slid by me almost right away, and bantered with me a bit for money (what- out kayaking? really?) and I headed out to circle a nearby island. This one sheltered a herd of goats, which observed me warily from their grass lined perches.

    As I've at times found myself hopelessly lost trying to get back to my launching spot once having left a hotel or beachfront property, I asked the Moriah Hills Resort's man how to find my way back. He responded with "Go out and then come back," which was of course hugely helpful. I kept this sage advice in mind, and circled around the island to get my bearings. There, a construction project. There, Moriah, very distinct against the hillside. Beyond, lots of hotels, inlets, places to get lost. Here, open water, great paddling on a placid lake, gorgeous temperatures, out and back. Sage advice.

    I paddled out towards the open water, into the wake of a large cruiser which carried water skiers. Right about then is when I really wished I had a cockpit and skirt as I maneuvered the waves, but nothing and no one went swimming, although the water did land under my butt. Fast drying pants- drying now on the balcony.

    The two hours shot by, during which I wrote a speech in my head, discovered weaver nests, spent a lot of time daydreaming, counting clouds and doing those nothing things that people on lazy lakes love to do, and should do. That is what they are for, after all. I saved the power paddling for getting back, for after all I did want the exercise. There's nothing like powering yourself through the water in a fine (if well-used) little craft, practicing what for me was a brand new sport last summer.

    Home St Jean provides a few things very well which include place, as I sit here and drink in the emerald islands that take up most of the window while I type. More kayaks dot the lake in the distance. Trees jeweled with bright red flowers sway below and the staff is highly attentive. I did miss having a toilet seat, which in my case can be disastrous since I have a skinny patootie, and can slip through on nighttime visits causing much laughter. It could have been worse given that the plumbing wasn't working for 12 hours. Happily that didn't happen but the seat does come in handy.

    The other is that when you ask for grilled chicken this is loosely interpreted. You get chicken that has been fried, literally to a crisp. As in so hard it is inedible. The consistency of, well, a brick. I was offered, and accepted, a banana in lieu of french fries and got three bananas. One bite of one banana was like eating a piece of chalk. I believe these are green bananas - which I guess aren't my cup of tea. The salad was delicious, but small, so I ended up requesting a carton of yogurt.

    The scenery makes up for so much that these things are minor. I had brought mangoes, so that is going to be lunch. I so enjoy the staff, and the kids, and this ridiclously life giving weather- so what if the chicken died in the pan? I love yogurt. Meh. Who gets to see this view? Who cares about a chalky banana? If that gets in the way of being in this gorgeous country, well....

    This is a very well kept little place, if lacking in small things here and there, like toilet seats. Minor stuff. But this from someone quite accustomed to going in the bush, and being grateful for toilet paper in the first place.

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    Well, let's say I liked Home St. Jean a lot more before I discovered late this afternoon that we'd been double charged for breakfasts we'd already paid for, charged for the dinner I'd sent back because it was inedible, and for a pizza I hadn't ordered. Hmm. Well, my fault for simply paying the bill and giving them a nice fat tip for their pleasant service. That'll teach me to go over the details before leaving on a four hour journey, huh? Well forewarned is forearmed, for those of you considering staying there. Selah.

    My room here at the Muhabura Hotel-that of Dian Fossey fame- is two doors over from her famed #12. It's threatening rain, cool, and a sweet Sunday. The volcanos that we can see are shrouded in the lovely mists. The drive here was marked by the sun on cultivated hills, every inch but the tops in most cases. I understand why Fossey was so protective of her primates, they are almost literally cornered in their corner of the world. There is nowhere for them to go. Work is underway to buy back farmland to give them more space, but its a gradual process. Thank heaven, at least, it's underway.

    There's a big poster next to her room showing her as a young woman, and older, sitting next to her beloved Digit. Her face is haunting, She was born one day before my birth anniversary, January 16, two decades before me. Hers is quite a story. She might have been a polarizing figure in some ways, absolutely against any kind of tourist visitation, but without her what's there now wouldn't have been possible. I guess sometimes people pay a price for being revolutionaries in their own way.

    Alex and I regularly get pulled over, sometimes to be harrassed about whether he's actually going the speed limit (is he really going to say he's speeding?) or like today, when the gendarme simply wanted to greet the mzunga personally. I was happy to shake his hand and receive that brillant smile. Today was church day and the entire world was out on the roadside going to, from or gathering for servcies. The amount of color was stupendous. It decided me once and for all to search for one of the grand outfits the women wear, an assignment I've also enlisted hapless Alex to help me with, although he knows nothing whatsoever about women's clothing. What he does know is that the second I walk into a shop the price doubles, so he is going to ask around and go in with me and do the buying.

    Green or turquoise. This is going to be fun.

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    Does anyone on here know the best place to find khangas? I believe that is what we're going to be is welcomed. They're in the high twenties on ebay so that gives me a great idea about pricing here. Thanks for all input.

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    End of the day on the 9th, after a lovely long day which began at about 4 am. All the prep again for being on the mountain, just in case the chase for Golden Monkeys took us up the mountain into the nettles. The tip envelopes got stuffed into my backpack along with binculars and yogurt-in-a-jug, and a few other necessities like extra camera batteries. That was a really GOOD idea.

    Alex and I stopped to pick up a group of rangers on the way up, among them was a lovely woman who happened to know about kangas, and offer to help me later in the day. A done deal. We took our crew up the to meeting place where much drumming and dancing was going on, and a great many people were gathering to see gorillas and monkeys. A lot of milling about and tips in the bucket later- on our part at least, the talent was great- we were gathered up by our respective signs to be briefed about our treks. Our guide was joined by a large group of folks from Holland who were in shorts, low sneakers, low socks if any at all. I'm duct taped, gaitored to the nines. We peered at each other wondering who got the right memo.

    Immanuel, our guide, gently suggested to our underdressed crew that given the presence of red ants, nettles, deep mud and a few other aspects of tropical forest that a bit more coverage on feet and legs might be more appropriate. They weren't happy, but gaitors were for rent, and all headed off to obtain them. What I was reminded of was how important it was to read ahead, and never ever ever take one email from the safari company as adequate information. Read everything, other peoples' trip reports and a book about the country and the land you're going to trek. Which is why canadian-robin was so useful, and why again three out of our group of nearly 15 people hired porters. Justin was mine, and he hefted my little pack and handed me a walking stick- the local wood one this time.

    We walked through the fields that abut the forest, where sometimes the willdlife strips the crops and the government pays the villagers compensation. Given how poor these people are this is a key aspect of making sure there is peace since there is no buffer zone.

    We entered the bamboo forest, with our guide having informed us that the tracking team had already located our monkey troop not far away. It wouldn't be an epic hike but it would still be in the mud and through brush. We made our way through the bamboo, side stepping the deepest puddles, and watching for signs.

    In no time we saw the group of trackers, and our guards (both of whom carried Very Serious Weapons) took up guarding our backpacks and walking sticks while we headed off to where the monkeys were munching.

    We saw our first, the chestnut fur picking up the bright sun, and more of them soon came into view. Soon they were everywhere, jumping from bamboo tree to another, peering at us from a safe perch and then moving along. We moved to get the best view in the bright sunlight, moving as quietly as we could, and then into the cool shade again to move to another open spot.

    After about forty minutes a large male took up a spot on a high promontory where we could all see him- and he knew it too- and he sat and ate. And preened. Ignoring us utterly. We moved closer to photograph him, and I swear he knew that he was the object of our cameras' adoration. He stayed right there, not more than a few feet away, moving around to get the best shoots. Then he jumped down right at our feet, knowing we had to move out of his way, and wandered through the middle of us, and sat down again to eat and preen. BMOC indeed.

    Nobody left that day without some terrific photographs, of babies and females and that big arrogant and beautiful male.

    We tromped through the bamboo and mud to reclaim our backpacks and sticks, and headed back into the sunlight and open air. Here I paid the the lead tracker and guard, who were very very grateful, and when we stepped out of the forest, I paid Justin and the head guide. It is remarkable how responsive they are when they receive recognition for their work, and they restated that everyone came from a poaching background.

    Alex had told me that another offering existed, whether I'd like to spend some time visiting the local village. It cost thirty dollars US and a guide would take me through some village homes and I could meet the people. This sounded great despite my sore toe and empty belly. We drove down the road and pulled over, and Alex called Theo, my new guide. Then we waited.

    When Theo didn't show up for a while, Alex called again and gave him the funniest directions I've ever heard: "I'm somewhere!" That still cracks me up. Somehow with that highly specific piece of information Theo managed to track us down (I swear I am NOT making this up) and he jumps in the van with us, and we are off to the visiting village. I'm still giggling about the directions as Theo is explaining what we're going to do, I grab my camera and not much else other than my glasses and we head off. Alex puts the van in park and waits.

    Theo takes me to (I think) nine different houses, of which eight have occupants. In each, most have women occupants, several have couples and all have kids. Some have extended families and often they are involved with drying maize or getting crops ready for some kind of production or cooking. I've attracted a group of kids, some very shy and others not so much. A girl about six or seven has decided to stay close and every so often I put my hand behind me and she taps it or lets me grab it and that causes much laughter.

    This series of visits allows me to see conditions that I otherwise would not see, and as well what my thirty dollars purchases. Books, pencils, soap, support for the very poorest. The bee keeper, who is also a healer when medicines aren't readily available. I was allowed to cradle an extremely young infant, whose silk soft skin was so precious. I've held maybe two babies in my entire life.

    Two days prior, Alex was kind enough to point out the formal way to hug, the proper formal greetings, and this allowed me to touch people in the right way- and the other (this actually comes from being both a Southerner and in the military) the almost formal "mama" and "papa" used for elders, which acknowledges their position in the village. This helps endear you to people as you walk around, and they are also so happy to see you for your presence in the village means supplies and support. They are allowing you to invade their privace and take photographs, and in doing so, this helps the village, so they like it when we visit. Still, it's a trade off.

    By about half an hour later the kids had grown to a community of about eight, intensely curious about me and how I would interact with them. Shaking hands with them was terribly important, touching a curious nose cause for great hilarity. Squeezing a shoulder sometimes meant a child would walk very close by for a while. The young girl I mentioned earlier kept very close behind me, and when I put both my hands behind me she slapped them lightly and I grabbed for them, and we started walking the path holding hands. I told Theo "I think I have caught a big fish!"

    Moving through the village and touching cheeks with these people was an extraordinarily moving experience. Seeing the mud houses, and the paper decorations they cut out and hung from the ceiling to amuse the children, the mats they wove with such delicacy and precision to put over eucalyptus leaves to sleep on- what a perspective. Theo walked through each yard and when he was done he handed out new soap to each woman, sometimes money to the poorest of the poor, each family got something different. All of them greeted us with warmth. One older woman responded to me with such physical affection when I called her mama it nearly left me in tears. As did most of this walk. Not from sadness, not at all, but the welcomes, the exchanges, the willingness of the villagers to engage with me and answer my questions, touch their children.

    When we were walking through the maize fields on the way back my "big fish" and I were holding hands, and we were nearly at Alex's van. I stopped, squatted down and patted my shoulders. The girl didn't quite know what I wanted- so I grasped her hands and put them around my neck, and grabbed her legs around my waist. "Now I have my big fish!" The kids were laughing and squealing, and I carried her down to the road, where Theo took my camera out of my pocket to take a picture.

    I put her down gently, and Theo "tipped" her with a book and pencil, and I shook her hand and thanked her. Theo has given me a card for me to forward all the photos to him as soon as I get home which of course I will do, as the villagers nearly never see themselves in photos. So I will take care of that soonest.

    Rather than just head down the hill after your Monkey trek do this. For every right reason there is. I was so touched, my heart was brimming when I left. I'm happy about my monkey pictures and I care about conservation but there's one little girl in that village who made my day, and if I am really really lucky I made hers.

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    Kangas. Two of them worn together make a didi, if I have my facts right, although that might be Swahili.

    The wonder Muslim woman who offered to guide me around was at lunch with Alex when I emerged with those comfy Keen sandals, and we headed downtown. We talked all the way, and she was very interested - as is everyone else- in "how do you find Rwanda?" I've come to understand that question in a variety of ways including, "have you taken the time to try to understand us, our history? Do you see what we are trying to do here?" It is a highly complex question, and instead of barrelling into an answer, I like to probe a bit for what is meant. That's lead to some wonderful discussions, and as we made our way to the world of textiles I was able to have a wonderful discussion with my new guide.

    What I've found is that Rwandans really appreciate it if you've done some reading and understand the history, know the leaders and have knowledge of the genocide. They want very much for people to see the hard work that's been put into rebuilding their country. And they are enormously happy if you have good things to say about what you've seen, are complimentary (everyone loves that of course) but it's particularly important here, where horror was only twenty years ago, and the younger generation is working to overcome their parents' past. They like people who notice, who consider, and will tell them what they think.

    We had this energetic exchange all the way to the market which was equally energetic and my friend was warmly greeted. I walked into stall after stall of riotous color, and the six yard kangas hung side by side in eye popping colors everywhere. It looked like Mari Gras.

    She took me directly to her friends' stall, one of them but I didn't see a pattern I liked. I begged her permission to wander. It was a little overwhelming. This was close, that was well, sort of. I gave her some hints. Something green and botanical, the green of new crops and spring, and turquoise. We kept walking.Women napped on their sides. People grabbed her hands softly and said hello, curious about met. Finally I came upon a bolt of briliant green, yellow, orange and full of birds and leaves. Quick negotiations and the bolt was put into my backpack, and I mimed leaning backwards with the weight which sent everyone into peals of laughter.

    Now- I looked around, and up-THERE was the turquoise, in shapes of Nautilus shells, perfect, that came down and another quick negotiation, same price, and that very heavy bolt landed in my backpack. I leaned farther back like I'm about to do the limbo dance and we're all hooting. Now I just have to get this mass of gorgeous material into my jam packed backpack. Augh.

    I told her friend thanks, and we headed back. When we parted ways she asked for my email and we got paper and pen- I couldn't sort out her phone- and she went right and I left. What a beautiful woman.

    Tomorrow, now that they have my lights working again and I can pack- I will leaving for Uganda. My francs are almost all gone...

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    That's how long it has been since I've had access to wi fi....I'm now in Jinja and early this morning getting ready for river rafting on the Nile. There's very little time but I will try to put in a few comments here. To my very real sadness, my guide Alex and I had to part company yesterday and he drove into Jinja while I continue the adventures from here. I owe Alex a great deal and expressed as much monetarily yesterday for his kind help when I came down with something simply awful that nealry cost me my only opportunity to see gorillas.

    On the 11th of February I had begun to feel quite ill, and this contined to get ugly until by the end of the day when we arrived at the gorilla park I was in seriously bad shape. I slept for an hour to rest prior to going on a village walk in the forest to see the Batwa tribe, which I highly recommend, but by the time I got back I was wiped. The the fun started. I was down for the count for 36 hours, despite numerous attempts to rouse me. Alex came by frequently to check, and at one point a Park Ranger was trailing him into my room to check to see if I was indeed seriously ill, for there was no chance to change the date (it's simply not aallow

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    bear with me, writing in the dark here, Eden Rock Resort has very loud obnoxious patrons but no lights in the mornings.

    So you are not allowed to change your trekking date. Alex fought hard for me and won a reprieve. The next morning I woke up early and wobbly and went off, having not eaten and continued unable to eat, but took along three porters with me just in case I needed them. Because the majority of this particular trek is downhill to get to the group and it's very steep, I did indeed use the shoulder of one of the porters for balance, which was helpful on the wetter parts of the trail. The trek wasn't terribly long, It was beautiful beyond words, the forest draped and covered with moss and lichen, flowers and hung with butterflies. Our group was compact, made up of Germans and Swiss, two couples, and one single man. We moved in two groups, everyone else and then my small group with my porters, and Eric the guard right behind all of us.

    As we followed the others, the smell of fresh earth and loam wafted up to our nostrils, a rich and wonderrful smell so full of life. The forest explodes with it, every possible shade of green and as you walk, the birds cry, call, swoop, sing, warble, flirt, dance, and dart.

    Adrift is here, and despite the overcast and rain looks like we're going.

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    Oh my. Well quite a few days without wifi, and I'm now in Tanzania.

    First things first. The Nile. Yes. The Nile. I chose to do the all day, Class V Rapids. I laugh as I write this, which hurts. The very first rapids we all went over (about seven of us, I was the ancient), the boat flipped. Clanged me on the coconut, hard, gave me a walnut on my left cheek and right gorgeous black eye, nearly concussed me and the next thing I know Joshua is rescuing a few of us by kayak. You wrap your legs around the front and grab a bit of nylon you head back. This is three minutes in.

    So goes the day. Boat lands on my noggin five more times, once I am underneath it for a while. They really did a nice job of explaining that you're cool under there in a disaster movie kind of way. There's air yes, but you are not in any way out of the washing machine, so you suck air, water, air water, air water, you get the picture, then you get sick of it and shove the damn boat off your punkin head and find another kayak and do your best to locate a paddle. Any paddle. Which more than likely one of the kayakers has already captured for you.

    This is just intense, the rapids are brutal, and any fool who ventures into them better be prepared to get injured to a point. You cannot go into waters like that and expect to come out without some sort of a bruise. I bruised a rib, to be sure, but other than the black eye suffered little more than the soreness anyone would have from paddling madly through waters that are trying very hard to tear your arms off your body.

    Extraordinarily exhilarating fun. Absolutley positively worth doing once. However, being a kayaker (by NO means a Class V) I am far more eager to make my own way through rapids rather than have a boat smash me on my dome repeatedly which hurt like hell, suck down gallons of water I(had to get bilharzia treatments) and walk around feeling like I'd been in a Rocky movie. But I wouldn't have missed this for the earth. I'd do the Grand Canyon. But the Nile River is something else again. On the slow bits you can enjoy its lovely color, the egrets that slide over its surface, the mists that catch the sunlight. And then you hear the roar of another named rapid, like The Bad Place.

    Adrift has earned an excellent reputation for safety, and I can attest. They had at least six if not more highly adept kayakers downstream at all times to watch for and pick up anyone thrown from the boat. They were instantly upon us and picking us up. Our guide Sadat was very clear and concise with his safety instructions and made us practice until he was sure we understood his instructions. This made for a much safer day and a more confident crew.

    I recommend them highly. You can do less epic versions of this, but if you want to know what it's like being a wet cat in a washing machine, do the full tour.

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    Nile River Horseback Riding is run by an Aussie couple, TJ and Natalie, although Nat is actually a Kiwi whose accent has gone Dinky Di, and they are by far two of the finest people I have met in Africa. They run a terrific horse riding outfit, primarily focusing on novice riders in and around the Nile River/Lake Victoria area. ETrip Africa had scheduled a three day ride for me and another gal joined us. We were in for a treat.

    First of all these two love their horses and it shows. The animals are well cared for, extremely well trained and groomed, and sleek with good feed and loving care. The guides are locals or men from Kenyan stables. The rides go through local villages, long canters alongside the sugar cane plantations or through the rain forests and provide plenty of opportunities for lovely views. Or, in my case, a view I hadn't counted on.

    I was seated on Moonshine, a high stepping and forward going three year old with a floury face (he looked a bit like he'd poked his head in a sack of it) and a fine disposition. I was second in line behind Francis, our guide, and we were walking through the rainforest. I'm minding my own business and suddenly I feel something around my neck- a vine has caught me right under the throat, and is throttling me. Moonshine keeps walking, and I am being strangled but this vine, then dragged backwards until I am lying flat on my back, managing to get out a garbled GACK, ICK and wave my hands in the air. Now Moonshine realizes that the mzungu on his back is off the saddle, in fact by now my right leg is on top of the saddle and I can see my boot. Everyone is clustered around doing those dumb things people do when they don't know why someone has turned purple. Francis has turned around, and I slide my boot out of the stirrup as the desire for air has become a rather distinct priority, and unhook the damned vine.
    Now I"m laughing, and we're all still jammed in together in this very tight space, and I move to mount. For some untold reason the woman behind decides I need help and she gives my ass a boost, which nearly sends me headlong into the bush on the other side of my horse. After a brief comment about kindly not handling my posterior I completed mounting Moonshine and we headed on through the forest. Francis was sweet enough to inform me that in all the years he's been guided he's never had any one get clotheslined by a vine. Thanks for sharing.

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    TJ had taken care of our camping arrangements and we stayed at The Haven, which featured lazy camping right on the river. This place also featured, according to TJ, one of the best restaurants in the area and he was right. Denis, one of the servers, was attentive and accommodating, and the tents themselves were wonderfully sturdy. That was handy as one helluva storm came in that night, and blew out one of my stakes, but made for some solid sleep. The views from the restaurant were breathtaking- a much different view of the rapids from a few days prior.

    I have to also mention here that TJ also feeds his clients, and he does it well- when my riding partner and I first got back he laid out plates full of goodies ranging from sandwiches to quiche and lots and lots of fruit, and we were surrounded by the local vervet monkeys who were hoping for a bit of a bite. TJ's land is one of the few plots around not burned to the ground, and offers shelter and habitat for the vervets.

    The guard who watched out for our mounts had a big German Shepherd- I had seen so few dogs in Uganda (and none at all in Rwanda) and I wasn't sure what to expect. I adore dogs, and spend a great deal of time petting strange ones. But a guard dog, I don't just walk up to. He and I eyeballed each other and I didn't do much more than smile at him.

    About an hour later I was sitting in my plastic camp chair watching the mist over the rapids when a streak of black and brown came flying into my campsite and stopped dead in front of my chair. This dog's butt was smack in front of my knees. Well, whaddya do when a dog's butt is in front of your knees? You scratch it! Any dog loving fool knows that. So I get my nails down deep in his fur and he does that OMG doggie bend like wherehaveyoubeenallmylife and he gives me this LOOK. Next thing I know I have this huge shaggy head in my lap and these eyes saying, mind doing the ears while yer at it?

    No problem.

    So for the next few hours, GS and I are fully engaged in Keep Away, Find the Stick, Throw the Stick, Lemme HAVE It, Go get it, Gimme it, Can't catch me, Fake out, every dog game in the book. This poor sweet animal is dying to be played with. I am dying to play with a dog. We are a perfect happy match. He lies down. I roll him on his back and give the belly rub special. He play bites. I pull him around on his back. He's in heaven. So am I. The guard grins at us.

    That night, in the dark, I can hear his low growl, and a deep warning bark. He's all business at night. I smile. I like knowing he's out there.

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    It dawns on me rather late that I forgot to mention a couple things about the gorilla trekking that might be useful to some folks. To wit: the gorilla duct tape left a sticky residue not on the boots but on the pants. I suspect this might require dry cleaning or some kind of solvent to remove. Unexpected outcome.

    The KEEN hiking boots that I chose for the lightness proved quite inadequate for the conditions of the mud. Within seconds of being on the treacly mud of the African forest, the mud lodged itself in the tread and I might as well have been on perfectly slick bottoms. I don't have another answer for this. The tread wasn't terribly deep, but deeper tread might also have gotten thick with it. No idea.

    The very expensive Black Diamond walking stick I bought from REI for $170 was useless. I immediately switched to the wood one used locally. May have said this before, if so I apologize.

    Depending on where you go I"m now at the point where I might just outright point out to my other group mates that it's nice thing to hire porters, now that I've learned so much more about the villages, the work they do, where the rangers and guides and trackers all come from. All poachers. And in all frankness, at what point did centuries of hunters suddenly become poachers in their own land, which is a perfectly valid question they must be asking, but since it's the lay of the land now, let' s at least make animal protection worth changing their focus. Just walking in the other guy's shoes for a moment.

    I realize I never did finish the trekking story- the short version was that we trekked to a group that had been habituated for 15 years, with so many of the females born into seeing trekkers looking at them. It's part of life. So we surrounded Rafiki, the big silverback, who was happily, lazily, dreamily waving his feet in the air after a morning of chowig down figs, and generally gorging himself. We all were quite close, and he could frankly care less, unless one took his emanations as a statement of his state of mind. He rolled this way and that, arms here, legs there, looked at each of us in turn. We moved about to get better views. After a bit he got up and purposefully marched past me about two feet away and found a seat down the hill a bit that wasn't quite so touristy.

    Up the hill was 38 yo mama with her 9 month old, rambunctious, demanding, scrambling, bouncing on her tummy which caused all kinds of gas, and mama's other daughters were trying their best to take their naps after a morning of eating. Kid was having none of it. Jabbing, biting, poking, clawing, pulling, exploring, climbing, didn't seem to matter which female, baby would climb up a little vine and dive bomb onto the closest full stomach. This was a Kodak moment times a million.

    We had that hour and were able to move in remarkably close. At times I was mere inches away from a placid female who watched me "chew" a leaf, those brown eyes fastened on my face. Two sisters lay side by side, upside down, studying me, patiently allowing me to photograph them, look back and ponder.

    It really does grab you in a very deep place to be there;. You may only get an hour, but what an hour it is. Unforgettable.

    One of the things I didn't quite report here (largely due to long wifi blackout) was that I stayed at a little place called Lake Mutanda Eco Community Center- not much to say except that the village walk was great and don't eat the food. The short version is that I spent nearly fifteen minutes- really- trying to explain omelette with onions and cheese, catsup on the side with fruit for breakfast. What I got, and I am not making this up- was a platter of fruit with catsup on the pineapple. That did elicit a horse laugh from me.
    What didn't was that I got deathly, horribly ill for three days, including the day I was supposed to go gorilla trekking, after I ate their food. Now this can happen to anyone, anytime. But thanks to my guide Alex, and the great staff at Nkuringo Gorilla Camp who tended to my groaning form, I was able to salvage my trekking day and go out despite being a wee bit wobbly on the pegs. Four days with no food will do that to you. But the great guides and excellent porters I hired were right there just in case, but all went just fine.

    Now I apologize for being out of chronological order here but that's what happens when hotels don't pay their wifi bills (The Haven) and others'wifi just doesn't work at all (everyone else) and I am now weeks behind. Kindly bear with me. Lots has happened. There are some fun stories and good people I'd like to introduce you to in the hopes that you will also find them along the way on a future trip.

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    When I was at Nkoringo, there was an option, which I took, to visit the Batwa tribe. For the price of a few dollars you join a few men and go on a trek to the forest nearby and are greeted at the forest's edge by a very lively end energetic storyteller, a diminutive woman (they're pygmies) and dancers. This woman then takes you on a tour of the forest and through a translator tells you the story of how they live. You see their world, food, homes, home life, and hear the rather awful story of how they were moved out of the forest and nearly killed off entirely. All too familiar, but well worth the trek, and worth the hearing. I got the opportunity to give bow and arrow shooting a try and managed to get an arrow into a nearby tree. It's the kind of thing you don't want to miss, and you very much wish to add some shillings to when you can, as the storytelling so both fun and lively, and the tribe has also worked hard to learn crafts to help pay their way in the world. What I found was that any time a village tour was made available I'd jump at it and was always richly rewarded. The balance of visiting the animals- gorillas, chimps- with getting the chance to directly interact with, touch and play with the kids, and mothers and elders oif the local tribes was priceless.

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    Alex and I drove for hours which took us in and out of Bwindi, which meant over and around these breathtaking hills, in and out of the the forests and parks. Rain came and went, and we were always in sight of the white mists that touched the treetops. Near the end of the day after I'd done the trekking (and this was the fourth day without food, so I was a wee bit tired) we arrived at the Gorilla Conservation Camp. This was a series of tents on the side of a hill. Now true to ETrip Africa's style, all my dietary needs had been communicated ahead, as well as the next day's box lunch paid for, as we had a very very long day of driving ahead of us to get to Queen Elizabeth Bush Park.'s a fair warning.

    Beware men named Solomon intoning that they know all about the hotel business. And that you are in good hands. The Tao has a great line: He who speaks does not know, he who knows does not speak. In this case, boy did that apply. So we unload and while Alex is making sure that Solomon is taking care of my food and the box lunch the next day, the guys are taking my gear up the hill to my tent. I'm barely stumbling up the hill, obviously extremely tired. It's downright chilly and there's a wind. Alex and I both ask for extra blankets. We ask twice. Three times. Someone finally gets the message. Someone goes, gets two blankets. The guy shows up at my tent, throws them in and runs off.

    Oh. Okay. I'm tottering there- and mind you if this is all self catering I normally would have no issue but today I"m the leaning tower of Pisa here and about to fall flat on my face. Would have been kind of the guy to put the bloody blankets on my bed, perhaps, take note of the fact that I'm wobbly. Nah. But this outfit knows all about the hotel business you see, they just threw the blankets in.

    Then there was the business of food, which by this point I was ready to try. I ordered. It took a full two more hours to get there, by which time I was nearly asleep. Didn't get what I asked for but what did come was manageable. No shower. Wifi is advertised but not available.

    Sleep was good but that had to do with the place, as did the pure sweet grace of the next morning, waking up to the light pink glow over the hills, the chorus of thousands of birds and a light breeze sweeping the foliage of millions of trees. Who gets to see these things? Unbelievable.

    Solomon was of course not there in there in the morning and neither was any box lunch, so we drove about 8 hours without finding a food source. 'Tis what it is. Trip Advisor was advised and Solomon was discussed in unflattering terms. He pocketed the extra cash meant for the lunch- and given the fact I was just getting my appetite back that was unfortunate. I went hungry for most of the day, but the one star for Solomon stays on line forever.

    You take these things in stride, and as I continually am learning, bring your own food. Eat before you order.

    At one point in preparation for this very thing Alex and I had stopped off at an Indian supermarket and I had loaded up on yogurt, which is one of my staples. Carton after carton. After Rwanda, where you get vanilla or strawberry, strawberrry or vanilla, it was wonderful to face a panoply of flavors. So I stocked up, and got a handful of Snickers bars. We carried this precious load with us for a few days. Uh, unrefrigerated, during which time I got sick. The bag sat in the corner of my room at Nkuringo while I lay in bed. Neither of us thought to have the yogurt put in refrigeration. So natch, by the time I was vertical, which was about three days later, I go to pick up my bag, which now, interestingly enough, is full of green goo. Hm. I dutifully remove all the contents, wash them off, take out the exploded yogurt carton and throw it away and replace everything after washing the bag.

    About twenty minutes later I am getting ready for the trek and and pick up the bag, and this time I look in and sure enough, another carton has exploded and everything is covered in green goo again. This time I get the message, foggy cranium or not, and I stick my forefinger in the green goo to check it out. Nasty. Right. Out they all go, save the Snickers bars, and so much for having a supply of backup food just in case. Snickers are not what you want to eat after being ill for a number of days so they sat in the car and quietly melted in their wrappings.

    That was the last time I ate yogurt until I got to Tanzania (where I have just ploughed through my first carton of the morning and am eyeing my second).

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    March 4th, Korona Bed and Breakfast, of the impossible to read signage (orange and green- a really bad combination, but once you find it what a nice place). Yesterday I remember little more than ploughing back into the same room I had before (and finding the camera charge plug where I left it THANK YOU on my way to the shower, where I took about an hour to remove a week's worth of spiders, crud, ants, dust, small animals, mozzies, baby goats and everything else that had taken up residence in everything from my hair to my armpits. Now mind you the Mkuru Camel Safari people had offered showers but I had refused them for several reasons: One, they are very hard to set up. Two, they use up an enormous amount of water which we then have to replace. Three, I have a supply of bath wipes which worked quite well the first time I traveled with these guys and on all other adventures and four, not using all that water gives my four man crew more to drink. It also allowed me to initiate a wicked water fight that lasted until yesterday morning when I had a chance for a second, last round of goodbyes, where upon Babu, or grandfather, dumped half a waterbottle down the back of my neck. Then hugged me hard and we laughed into each others' eyes. Priceless.

    Dominique was the camel I'd long yearned to see again. Not because I carried some stupid notion that he'd remember some mzungu from 15 months ago but I did hope he retained some of his sweet nature. However, 15 months of daily beatings will tend to put an end to any sweetness in any animal, so this time around not only did he not respond to my expensive brush, he took mutliple swipes at me with his teeth. It was only after six days of solid daily affection, and feedings of lovely salads and sweet talk did he bother to put his huge mug close to mine, by which time I hardly knew whether I was about to lose half my face. As a farm girl, an animal lover (but not one of those morons who wants her animal to not smell like an animal to wit- perfumes for horses, PUHLEESE) I feel great empathy. But this is Africa, these are Maasai and an animal is moved by whip and stick, and very very very young children beat the holy crap out of animals that tower over them- and the glee on their faces in doing so makes me physically ill. However, you either set this aside as a fundamental cultural difference and move on or you don't do this safari. There is no African ASPCA. So get over it.

    Our journey of 7 days took us through Maasai country. Read: we saw animals. Lots of them. Great if you like cows and goats. And goats and cows. Oh, and sheep. Oh, and officious petty bureaucrats who spot foreigners and think- ah, mzungu tax! and come marching out ot say so sorry, rule change as of yesterday, now you must pay an extra 30k TSH, you have to camp here. Or oh sorry, now new rule change, Natural Resources Visa (of which no such thing exists), now you must pay, and holy bullwhackey pops up everywhere to the extent that you begin to resent the appearance of just about any car. Anybody striding up to your group. You stop trusting anyone approaching you. The imposition on the crew is enormous. It's minor money- but it's hours and hours waiting in the brutal sun while some martinet imposes his petty authority on your group. The Tanzanian Tourist Ministry is very unhappy about this but I can tell you that there are many tiny, stinky, filthy, dirty, foul little Maasai villages with a big drop gate across the only road leading to the tarmac- and they are looking for vehicles with whites/foreigners in them or logos on the side. Their arugment? "You saw our village. You must pay." On one hand this is guffaw territory, you saw a horribly poor, no facilities, filthy town which is full of people desperate to find a way to fund itself. On the other you cannot blame them. On the third hand, they are extracting a pound of flesh from the very companies whose clients get righteously annoyed by these tactics- Mkuru pays, and that riips off their profits. I got livid about it not because it hurt me in any way but because I"m a journalist and it hit my righteous heart and I like these guys. Every petty Pol Pot who wants to can drop a gate and say okay you looked at my cow. That's 50 TSH. Wait. You looked at my other cow. That's another TSH. You get the drift. A really really negative impression.

    To help with this, Sam the manager, came flying out on a motorcycle to try to deal with it the best he coulid. All these fees are paid for in advance for you- by E-Trip or your operator or by Mkuru, so the rest of this is pure scam. That's why I get angry about it. Now trust me, the part of me that grew up in the South during Civil Rights, had left leaning parents and works in Diversity and Inclusion sees the delicious irony of this from a discriminatory standpoint (white skin equals special tax) and that is funny. But the impact on local tourism businesses like Mkuru is rough, and that's not. It's the bigger issue of creating jobs and opportunities and education outside the bomas (the Maasai do not educate their kids for the most part, but keep in mind there are many many many Maasai tribes). The whole idea behind Mkuru was to create a different kind of tourism and this is the kind of thing that hamstrings it.

    The camps at night are a horror of disorganization if you are anal, neat, and Western minded. Gear is unloaded and dropped wherever the camel happened to be standing. There's a method to this which you learn after a while, but if you lean towards organization this may drive you batty initially. You stumble and trip walking everywhere. Raymond the cook says "sorry, sorry" but no one moves anything. You get your head caught on the omni present acacia thorns Sorry sorry. No one takes out a bush knife and cuts them down. That's because this is not a five star catered safari for soft Westerners who need to be pampered. If you don't have the senseGod gave you to look where you put your feet or watch where the thorn branches are (EVERYWHERE) then you don't belong in the bush. I love this aspect of the trip. This is the real thing and that's what makes it authentic.

    The tent gear is slightly busted ( zippers are broken) but clean when you start. It's too damned hot to sleep in the bag anyw

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    anyway. You sweat on top of the bag, I wet my clothing, draped a bandanna over my nekkid form and prayed for breezes which didn't appear until about 3 am. Which was about the time that I went looking for my water bottle that had become a pee bottle. I dunno about you but I am not going out into the African night in my birthday suit to find the toilet. So my lousy 20 dollar Oregon Research water bottle got demoted, and became a priceless resource. And on occasion, because of the plumbing, I'd miss, which is why you do these trips with a wicked sense of humor, extra toilet paper and you don't aim over your bed clothing.

    Food is African, and I supplied Justin's Almond Butter with honey. Those little packets brought such a look of distrust it was comical, at least until a tongue test provided a positive result, and then my supply was wiped out almost immediately and I had to hide the last two. I also brought a good supply of KIND bars, which despite the godawful heat did a nice job of staying together. Out of our seven days, two of them I was able to provide the crew with a round of bars which went the way of all good things, and got me some good marks and forgiveness for my pranks. Raymonds' Magic Pancakes- which I am not a bread eater- were absolutely necessary for making it through the very long days, two or three of them wrapped around a ripe banana were a treat indeed. A piping hot pile of them in the morning with fruit jam and honey was out of this world. The ability to eat when they ate, drink when they drank, and not demand breaks all the time allowed for good movement and progress to make camp - and the trees providing shade and fodder for the camels would come into sight by late afternoon, and all of us would silently cheer.

    We saw a little wildlife, which is why there isn't much mention of this. The last two days as we approached Lake Natron we began to see small herds of zebra and wildebeest. Most of what we saw were cattle, goats and sheep. I can tell you that this trip can be, and will be, full of laughter if you have a good sense of humor. If you don't you will be flat out miserable. For example, one of my favorite stories is the day we were passing through some pretty featureless land. Very few trees. rolling hills and ravines cut by previous rains. Bomas dotted here and there, not far from each other. We'd been on the road for close to four hours, so approaching lunch break. That meant that my bladder was right at that point. We were not at a good place for right at this point, a great many Maasai were pouring out of the bomas- kids and moms- and a number of men- were coming our way. Mzungus just don't show up around here and neither do camels. So this is pretty exciting stuff, as events go. Unfortunately my bladder doesn't give much of a damn about any of this and has started to complain pretty loudly, which I have mentioned to Raymond and we are looking around for.....a rock. A tree. A bush. Geez. ANYTHING. He drops Dominique to the ground and I clamber off. Instantly the crowd moves towards me. Crap.

    I head for a a big shady tree. Almost get there. Two men sleeping. Run the other way. Women holding babies, blue robes flying in the wind, legs pumping, white beads going this way and that. Here they come. Damn! I head into the ravine. LIttle kids staring. A huge herd of goats and a guy staring right at me appraisingly. Women and kids coming from all directions. Ahead, Raymond and the crew look back and grin. He makes a gesture. I nod, Standing next to the single bush and rock, I squat, pull my hat down over my face and in the midst of this crowd of people, relieve myself.

    Having taken care of business. I stalk back with all the dignity I could muster, climb back on top of my massive animal and he instantly takes me way way way higher than anyone standing. Really. If watching a mzungu pee is the most exciting thing you've seen this week, have at it.

    As I say every time I get on a plane to a new country- best leave your ego at the doorstep and pack an extra funnybone. And an extra roll of TP. Which, BTW, I just had to use in Korona's bathroom.

    At the end of each day, we would regale each other with funny stories like these through pantomime- only Philip and I shared some English and Raymond's English was really limited. So the most fun was finding a way to act out a tale so that people understood it, classic physical comedy. Laughter really is the one language we all share. The more simple the fun the more fun we all had.

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    OK so since everything is out of order anyway and I've already apologized for it, I'm going to go back to one spot that I left out due to no wifi back in Uganda. I stayed at Kibale Forest Camp which is a lovely little spot, a tent space with its own happy collection of red and black Colobus monkeys to keep you company and plenty of cool breezes at night and some nice food at night in their restaurant. The Chimpanzee tracking here was terrific, although I can recommend our particular guide who took off like lightning and us far far far behind as she chased after the chimps. Hello? Your group is back here.....

    At one point about four in our party were standing in a clearing and there was an elephant hidden in the bush. This woman had said to our group that an elephant was nearby and had alerted. After that all she did was complain to the other guides that her group wouldn't listen to her. These four were in a spot taking photos of chimps in the trees. Fact is that our guide spoke so quietly it was very hard to hear her. I was standing right next to her and it was nearly impossible to hear her. So while on one hand we got to see lots and lots and lots of chimps, on the ground very close with lots of photo ops, I can say that in this case, I'd stick to the male guides. I lodged my concerns with my driver who took the time to express them to the facility for me, as he agreed that the lack of concern for safety and for the cohesion of our group were significant.

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    The food provided at the restaurant was perfectly good, and the nice part- as I found everywhere- was the guests close to my table were hugely entertaining. I found that the woman sitting nearest me was a 15 year veteran of the RAF and since I"m a Vietnam Vet that made for a fun conversation. That's one of the main reasons I travel alone.

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    Thanks KathBC,

    A number are on my Facebook page, my first name is Julia so if you use that plus my last name you'll find a nice selection of pics on that site. I traveled with an iPad which was a huge mistake. There's no USB port so I couldn't download pics until I got home.

    BTW the Mkuru Camel Safari ended at Lake Natrone, which might have been a nice nature walk had it not been so bloody awful hot and had I not so desperately needed a shower. My team helped me scrape enough cash together to get a lodge which was at least protection enough from the various vermin that I'd been living with and a place that I could get washed up. Raymond handed me three water bottles all hot enough for boiling tea, and I dumped them each in the toilet. No, not like that. They sat in the toilet bowl until they cooled off. Just like I lay down on the floor of the shower where it was a nifty 70 degrees on the concrete while the water I'd just showered with evaporated- and I was for once able to rest in comfort- and while away the wicked heat of the afternoon while my laundry baked on the bushes outside. The lodge had very nice beds, the sheets where so hot they felt as though they'd just been ironed. No breeze. No relief. I briefly considered spending the night on the shower floor, but no mosquito netting. I already looked as though I had the measles from my time in the tent.

    So while I'd initially planned to see the flamingoes at Lake Natron I never made it out of the lodge area. I'd honestly had it with the heat, the blistering sun, my lips were blistered beyond repair, and while I'm sure the sight might have been worthwhile there are times when you forfeit a vision for the sake of your being. This was one of those times. I hid inside out of that brutal sun all day, and the next morning headed back, only stopping when we passed by my camel team so that I could hug everyone once more (and we could splash each other one last time).

    Arusha was seven hours away. I'm not a fan of this overpriced little town, and for anyone planning to shop here I strongly advise you to know your African product and pricing before you do and be ready to bargain VERY aggressively to get a fair deal. To wit: I like kangas and found one I liked. They cost me US$15 in Rwanda. They go for $21 on ebay. In Arusha, around US$40 and up. Absolutely out of the question. Same item, same quality. So be forewarned and forearmed.

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    Something else I learned the hard way on this trip, which is about medical kits. Before I went on the camel safari I cut my things down to one small bag and a small backpack. I failed to take my full med kit, which was almost a disaster. I had taped up my ribs after my fall in Uganda, and by the fourth day on the camel trip discovered that this taping job had literally ripped three big holes in my skin. I had no wipes, bandages, anything. Mkuru had, at best, two very old plasters. I ripped through my supplies and just happened to find two things: a small tube of wound cream and a script for antibiotics, which is what probably saved me from having those wounds go septic.

    It was a superb reminder to never ever go out into wild country without those key supplies. The wounds were serious, but they healed quickly and without problems. Given that I was regularly poked, punctured and ripped by thorns and everything else imaginable (it IS Africa) the antibiotics were priceless. Bio Oil is the single best skin product on earth for getting rid of scars (I'm a BIG fan) so no biggie- but the dangers are real. Just a thought for anyone else considering something similar. On a more catered trip, they'd have the meds. This one, they don't. You're largely on your own, which I really like, but I nearly forgot and it could have cost me dearly.

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    Back home in America, and before I wrap up this trip report I'm going to look through it to see what I left out since there were long blackouts. I do have to admit to seven hours in the emergency room last Friday due to the head injuries, resulting in double vision, extreme fatigue and all the other nasties one gets from concussions, but otherwise nothing serious. It was lovely to return to the same very nice hostel in Kigali where I first landed.The very attentive staff there fed and attended to me like royalty and made sure that I got to a certain souvenir shop where David, the hotel owner, bargained for some antiques for me and got me a very reasonable price for the kinds of things I most like to bring back from Africa: old, used, smelling of smoke and goat's milk and long use and an African table, and stories. They took up every last living inch of space in my onboard baggage but it was worth it. I got this treatment for two reasons: I had tipped his staff nicely the first time around and I had also written them a fine review after staying there the first time, and David was extremely warm towards me. I'm a great believer in passing good things around, so when I landed I was received with some big hugs, and treated like family.

    All I know is that kindness is returned wherever we are in the world and what you spread around comes back. David worked hard with his friend at the souvenir shop to shave me about $35 off the prices and that helped, and my final night in Africa was restful, blissfully cool in the Rwandan morning, and I was sent off with the kind of warmth and kindness that I experience from friends.

    I do also wish to do a final shoutout to ETrip Africa, my planning team, who for a second time (one of my future trips together) did a simply superb job of putting together an exhilarating itinerary, put me into situations where I was challenged, as is my wont, gave me athletic options to push my boundaries, gave me a smorgasbord of African delicacies to enjoy and learn from, and allowed me the kind of learning experiences that they know I value highly. What I love best about ETrip Africa is that they continue to learn from my feedback and are highly sensitive to my comments, are a learning organisation in the best sense of the word, and I've already asked them to start thinking about a return trip for 2017. Ben and Aurelie are responsive and engaged in their work and in giving back to Africa. in making sure that their employees are giving more than just a living wage, and the fact that their Kilimanjaro team has been together for many years attests to this. Teams don't leave a good thing. So if anyone on this Forum is seeking a firm that tends towards the best of customer service, boutique quality attentiveness, the kind of customized itinerary planning that seems old fashioned any more with the Zaras of the world, and a sensitive eye towards your budget, I strongly recommend ETrip. My second trip simply solidifies my impressions of the first, and locks in my loyalty. Ben and Aurelie base out of Arusha and they really know East Africa and beyond. I love that they allowed me to make some of my own recommendations to shave some costs off my trip and were completely open to working with me on my itinerary. Highly, highly recommended, and if anyone has any questions about them please, feel free to send an inquiry to me.

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    I work for a charity that is campaigning to Save Kafuga Forest, which forms a buffer zone on the outskirts of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Kafuga is in danger of being felled to make way for tea plantations. Clear felling the forest will negatively affect the livlihood of those that live close by and residents may be forced to work on the tea plantations which are notorious for paying below a living wage and in some cases for employing children. Felling the forest, further, will negatively affect local water catchment & carbon sequestratiion and local biodiversity.

    We are looking for a video taken in the Bwindi Forest (Gorilla's would be great,) and also possibly another in that part of Uganda to show how beautiful the country is.

    We are seeking someone who can donate raw footage that we can cut, annotate and add audio to. This will be used to raise funds for the campaign to save the forest. Would you be able to help? Of coures we would list you in the final credits

    (International Tree Foundation.)

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    Julia your report is outstanding. I am surprised there are not more comments on here. It is so detailed and well written. I am in the early stages of planning a trip to Africa, including Rwanda and Uganda, so was happy to come upon your report. Thank you very much.

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    Dear Sandra and live42day,

    My apologies to you both. Once done with a trip I am guilty of not returning to it until much much later if at all.
    Two things:

    Sandra, I didn't take video of the gorillas. I have photos only. The bad news is that I was so ill on that trek I'm forunate to have any footage at all. However if you would kindly give me more information there may be other ways to help. Please contact me again and I will see what I can do. I wasn't willfully ignoring you.

    Live42day, you are most kind. I appreciate your words. Sometimes I find that people comment most if they feel they are being helpful, at others people fire darts. It fascinates me no end. As a long time journalist, this forum allows me to present stories.

    I hope you looked at E-Trip Africa. Ben Jennings and his wife are simply superb. Can't recommend them enough.

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    An outstanding report indeed I don’t often read trip reports as I find them overburdened with detail but without giving a true sense 0f the experience Y0ur professional ability shines through, as d0es your true sense 0f adventure and ability t0 laugh in the face 0f calamity G1ad y0u made it back in 0ne piece, if 0n1y barely

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    Thank you so kindly eliztravels, those are wonderful comments indeed. I did make it back in one piece although I have to admit, I lost the entire month of March to the concussions. At this age one has to take head injuries very seriously, and I did, so I rested up and slept a great deal. All is well.

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    Thank you so kindly eliztravels, those are wonderful comments indeed. I did make it back in one piece although I have to admit, I lost the entire month of March to the concussions. At this age one has to take head injuries very seriously, and I did, so I rested up and slept a great deal. All is well.

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