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Chimps, Gorillas and Camels- a Tale of Three Countries

Chimps, Gorillas and Camels- a Tale of Three Countries

Feb 5th, 2015, 07:01 AM
  #1  
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Chimps, Gorillas and Camels- a Tale of Three Countries

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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Feb 5th, 2015, 07:05 AM
  #2  
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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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Feb 5th, 2015, 07:27 AM
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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. However....my 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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Feb 5th, 2015, 07:58 AM
  #4  
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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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Feb 5th, 2015, 08:05 AM
  #5  
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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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Feb 5th, 2015, 09:34 AM
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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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Feb 5th, 2015, 12:12 PM
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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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Feb 6th, 2015, 04:36 AM
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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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Feb 6th, 2015, 07:08 AM
  #9  
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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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Feb 6th, 2015, 08:22 AM
  #10  
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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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Feb 6th, 2015, 09:02 AM
  #11  
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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.

Perhaps.

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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Feb 7th, 2015, 02:15 AM
  #12  
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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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Feb 8th, 2015, 04:55 AM
  #13  
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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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Feb 8th, 2015, 05:59 AM
  #14  
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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 seeking...help 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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Feb 9th, 2015, 07:17 AM
  #15  
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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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Feb 9th, 2015, 07:38 AM
  #16  
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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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Feb 16th, 2015, 07:59 PM
  #17  
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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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Feb 16th, 2015, 08:17 PM
  #18  
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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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Feb 22nd, 2015, 07:19 AM
  #19  
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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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Feb 22nd, 2015, 07:35 AM
  #20  
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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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