Dear Mom and Dad,
Yesterday I got back from a four day safari. I got convinced to check out Planet Safari's office/hostel before going to my selected hotel from the airport. I believed the touts who said Planet was the place for backpackers (budget travelers). On the balcony outside the company office I met two Belgians who were going on safari. The touts were right, Planet is the place for backpackers. Mostly, I just wanted to meet other people. Not so many travelers in Ethiopia.
Nobody had to give me a sales pitch. The Belgians had already shopped around and were doing four days leaving the next morning. The company seemed good, the itinerary good, the price right, and at least two friendly people. Filip and Nancy, both 28, were married just three days before.
I came to Africa to see the animals. Lions, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, ostrich, hyenas, hippos, gorillas, chimpanzees, and meerkats were what I wanted to see. If Africa didn't have its wildlife on National Geographic I wonder if anybody would ever know anything about the continent.
Just driving into the park, before we got to the lake (one of the Great Rift Valley lakes) we saw the antelopes (Thompson's gazelle, impala, waterbuck) then water buffalo then zebra. The gazelles are so pretty with tan skin, white bellies, and a black swath across their sides. The males have cute horns. The Thompson's are the sprite ones you see leaping across the plains before being devoured by lions or caught by cheetahs. I knew I'd be seeing them all the time, so I allowed myself to marvel at my first sight of them.
And the zebras were very cool too. Their skin is very taut. I get the impression that the white with black stripes is just painted on, like the naked female celebrities who have clothes painted onto their bodies then pose for magazine covers.
The lake was nice, so many pink flamingoes wading in the shallows. Who knew that they make funny noises, so that from enough of them (thousands) eminates a rumble, like truck traffic sounds. We could walk right up to the water, close enough to scare them all away.
After the lookout we drove to the other side of the lake, to a flat grasslands. Saw jackals. Then two rhinos right next to the road. All the antelopes around too. And other birds.
Filip wanted a close photo of the Tommies (gazelles). Okay, just over there, 20 by the road. Nancy wanted to see a baby rhino. Oh, up the road, very close, mama, papa, and baby. I wanted to see giraffes. And there they were, in the trees, three of them.
Then came the baboons. There were so many animals so close to each other it felt like a zoo, though we could get closer to the animals and see them better than at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Driving out of the park we saw eland. They are antelopes as big as cows.
It was almost sunset, Filip was sleeping. I was just cataloging all the animals I'd seen when Spot! Stop! I saw a leopard! It was sleeping in a tree a little far from the road, but I could see it very well with binoculars for ten seconds before it climbed down and hid.
So in my first day of African safari I saw four of my Top 10. And in Mali on the pinasse on the River Niger I'd already seen hippos.
The second day we drove all day to Maasai Mara Game Reserve and only had an afternoon game drive like the day before. And like the day before we saw so much. Elephants close up. Lions mating (at least the male was trying). All the antelopes including the new wildebeest (gnu), kudu, topi, hartebeest, and Grant's gazelle. Zebras, giraffes. The thing about giraffes is they are much taller than I expected. I mean, I've seen them in zoos, but still, they are very, very tall.
That night the cooks and maybe others dressed up in their traditional red Maasai robes and did four dances around the campfire for us (the ones who paid the extra fee). Then their 'chief' answered our questions. The Q and A was the best part. He became chief of his age group 15-30 because he was the first one to kill an ostrich. If a man (one becomes a man after five-year circumcision ceremony age 15-20) kills a lion he gets a free wife. Otherwise he gets one only when he has 100 cows (and then it costs 10 cows to the wife's family). The women get married as soon as they're available, after their quick circumcision ceremony at age 15. If a man gets 200 cows he gets a second wife. One man had seven wifes. And all the wives have boyfriends. Men get married late usually but have girlfriends.
The other cool thing was that the Maasai tribe eat only meat, milk, and blood. At least that's their staples. They don't farm or pick fruit. The ones who live and work at the Planet Safari camp eat spaghetti and other foods though.
That day we saw a hyena, a 3 metre Nile crocodile (with Army camoflauge spots and coloring), big pool of hungry hippos, more elephants, all the antelopes and the rest of the usuals (zebra, giraffe, different interesting birds). A fun animal to spot is the smallest antelope, the dik dik. "There's a dik dik. Oh wait, two! Dik dik dik dik. Three! Dik dik dik dik dik dik."
But we didn't see a cheetah. On the drive back to the camp, just at the border of the park we saw a lone lion. I was sitting in front, with the window open right by it. Then I was leaning out the window for another photo. Really, I'm not afraid of lions.
Oh yeah, the highlight of the day was Porkchop the friendly warthog at the upscale lodge where we stopped to use the toilets. She was injured or orphaned a couple years ago and is now tame. I have a very good picture with her nuzzling my face.
Back at the camp for more plentiful, good, basic food, one couple of 30 year-old doctors said we had seen 30 animals today. 30 animals? And they listed them. It didn't seem as if we had seen hardly anything. The doctors (just finished six months in Sri Lanka for Doctors Without Borders) were wrong. With our collective memory the list grew to over 35 interesting animals (no pigeons or small brown unnamed birds or ducks, but including turtle and snake and the good stuff like hyena, elephants, hippos, warthogs running with their tales straight up, etc.) Being able to list off so many animals was impressive.
Last day of my safari was a game drive before breakfast. Hyena, jackal, lions, ostrich, and several meerkats sitting on top of termite mounds, or maybe they were mongooses. I have to check on that. But no cheetahs.
Exiting the park we got stuck in the mud. It is rainy season in Kenya. I had to push the 4WD through the mud with the help of red-cloaked Maasais and the other tourists. So I have pushed a bus through the sand dunes in the Sahara, a boat through sand bars in the River Niger, a truck through the savannah of Mali, now a Landcruiser through the mud in Kenya.
Happy Mother's Day,
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm trying to get back into my traveling groove. I think things started going downhill once I left the pinasse in Timbuktu, then for sure in Ouagadougou where I felt trapped. Ghana was a good place but I was ill and had very little rest until Bamn "You! You! Madam pen!" Ethiopia. I didn't feel tired or runned down, because each new place gives me new energy. But I was. That's it! Traveling is like a video game. Each overcharge or even a little kid asking (demanding) for money decreases my life reserve like being shot on the computer. Along the way (either traveling or video game) I can boost my life reserves by picking up treasures along the way, like seeing something cool or meeting an interesting person or just taking a deep breath. Eating inexpensive street sweets is the best thing for boosting my energy. Just street food in general is something I like very much. I love trying new, inexpensive local's foods.
There was no street food in Ethiopia, and nothing sweet unless I went to a faranji hotel restaurant. Still I tried to increase my energy reserves by appreciating the good things there like the coffee and tej, the honey wine. But I'm not a coffee drinker, and I only tried tej in the last town I visited. I couldn't find the tej houses in the other cities, or I was too tired (too many pre-5:30 AM wakeups), or I didn't want to go out looking for them alone.
So I'm trying to find my traveling groove. Nairobi was not a place to relax, so I stayed there only briefly. Safari was cool, but not relaxing and no street food. Now I am in Kampala, Uganda.
Kampala is just one-third of a degree north of the equator, the capital of Uganda. They speak English here as a widespread, universal second language. That's nice. The people are friendly except for the punks at the market. There's nothing really to see in the city. And there's not much street food and I haven't found any street sweets. I'm beginning to think that I shouldn't look to food for comfort in East Africa. In West Africa if I was feeling down I could go around the corner and buy cheap "sweetened yogurt milk in plastic bags" or ginger juice. Cheap being as important as good tasting and good for you. It's in my head that yogurt and ginger are good for me. I think I need more yogurt and ginger, or maybe I should start eating garlic again. But that means going back to the market.
So, into a traveling groove without spending too much time in one place.
Last night I talked with a girl in the dorm room. She was already in her bunk bed, but the lights were still on and I was trying to put my mosquito net up in a way which wouldn't drape all over my face. I said a little joke, she laughed. Talked a little more, she responded.
Anyway, I talked a lot with her just before going to bed. She was from Germany doing master's degree research on the bush pig in a national park in Uganda. She liked very much my warthog photos from my safari.
Then this morning after our showers I talked with another girl in the dorm, Kristin from Norway volunteering for Olympic Aid up in the north with Sudanese refugees. I went into the hostel bar/restaurant for breakfast. Kristin was talking with bartender. The German girl was sitting by herself reading. I went over to her, Sandra, blond, very cute.
I offered her some passion fruits which she glady accepted. Passion fruits increase my energy and life reserves. I've never had them in the States and they're really good. Just slice them in half and scoop out and eat the yellow fruit and seeds from the shell cups. I had about four halves, sharing the other halves with Sandra.
So that was my breakfast this morning. Back to the room, gathered up my laundry. The hostel has machine washing service, not expensive, very welcome. Recently I haven't wanted to take showers because my clothes are so dirty. I think it's a problem with my Burkina Fasoan deodorant.
Sandra asked if I was going into the city right then. Uh, um, yes. Are you? Yes, shall we go together? Yes!
Today is my relax day. I haven't had enough of them in Africa. Relax days are the second best thing for increasing my video game strength reserves. Maybe I'll just have a relax afternoon since I'm still in the city.
Oh heck, I'll continue with lunch.
Sandra had to do stuff like immigration office, so I went to internet but the connection was bad and it was expensive. That's not relax. I walked around, bought a strawberry yogurt in a bag. Here they use straws for the yogurt. I still bit a hole in the corner and drink/suck it out. It tastes better that way. But either way the yogurt here is no good. And it's expensive. I walked around a bit more and found myself at the market where I was yesterday with Jens, Alli, and Victoria. The punks followed Jens and me around trying to sell us marijuana and intervening whenever I wanted to buy fruit. I'd ask a vendor how much his mangoes were and a punk would answer, doubling the price. Ignoring them didn't work. Telling them to go away didn't work. Leaving whichever stall I was at as soon as one of the punks opened his mouth caused the vendors to get upset at the punks causing the punks to get very upset with me. After all our shopping the punks stood flipping me off and mouthing insults and bad words and saying, "This is Africa, mon."
Victoria went over to the group to see what they were saying. Then she came back to me telling me I shouldn't be rude to those people. I wasn't rude! Or maybe I was, but they were rude to me. She said I shouldn't get upset with those types of people, especially in crowded markets with our backpacks on. Yeah, but.
Anyway, this morning I was back there, by accident. I was meeting Sandra later, so I thought I should pick up some more passion fruit. And this morning I was nicer to the punks. I just said, "No thanks. No thanks. No thanks. I don't want any. No thanks. I can shop for myself thank you. No thanks. No thanks." And I got away without any threats of violence or bad language (and a bag of passion fruits).
So I met Sandra at the bookshop. We went to a local place for lunch
for me to try the local food. I got the "Local Food" plate which
consisted of a little bit of:
matoke--cooked, mashed plantains (starchy banannas)
posho--maize (corn) flour mixed with boiling water to make a tasteless mash of white mush
G-nut sauce--a groundnut (peanut) sauce like the West African mafe sauce
Enough of the food. Sandra and I just re-upped at the internet cafe for another hour.
I'm going to write a second email about yesterday and Nairobi,
Dear Mom and Dad,
After coming back from safari I went out with my safari mates and the manager of the Planet Safari company. He thought we ought to take a taxi back to the office/hostel, but it was just around the corner, so we walked it, except that it was raining so we ran it.
Morning I got up early, but it was light out and a cute girl smiled at me from the kitchen, so I decided I'd get up. I was taking the night bus to Uganda later that day so sleeping in would have just been a waste of time and tiredness. My tiredness would best be used on the bus.
After my shower I went to the balcony where the cute girl was writing in her journal across from a guy who was reading a book, both strange activities for travelers at 7:15 AM. But Africa is a strange continent.
I sat with them and started talking. The girl was Alli from Australia. She was also going to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas. The guy was Matt, just arrived after three days travel from Canada, first day of ten months in Africa. We three talked, Matt complained of tiredness, but didn't want to mess his body-clock system up.
"At home do you ever sleep until noon?" I asked.
"Then go to bed! You can sleep for four more hours and still have the whole day."
Alli was traveling with Victoria, another blond Aussie chica. They wanted to go to Uganda for the gorillas, but needed to wait until next day Monday for the banks to open. I said I could change them money and they could come with me on the Sunday night bus. They agreed. I was very pleased.
We went to the bus station, got my ticket. Then walked to the market for them to change money. I thought the tough guy with a bandanna around his hand who suddenly approached us on the quiet street in front of the crafts market was going to mug us. But he just wanted to push us into his uncle's shop.
With money we went back to the bus station. I felt much safer walking with the two girls. They've been hitch-hiking around Southern Africa. After tickets we went to the market. Yogurt is bad in Kenya too. Then we went to the internet cafe.
It started pouring rain and thunder and lightning. I haven't seen anything like it. The streets became rivers and all traffic stopped. I wondered how we'd be able to go the three blocks to the bus place.
But the rains subsided and the streets became more normal. Traffic was still stopped, but it was just the regular jam of buses and horn-blasting matatus (minivan share taxis). Everyone advised us to take a taxi, but the girls wanted to walk. They didn't have enough money for the 80 cents each taxi ride.
I've been in many criminal cities. Nairobi (Nairobbery) ranks just below Colon, Panama. I wonder if I can really feel how dangerous a city is, but some cities really do seem dangerous creepy. How much is just reputation and expectation? We set out, Victoria carrying mace, Alli with a big walking stick, and I armed with my Bic pen. Some lurking corner guys said 'Hello' to us. Victoria looked back and sprayed her mace a bit--'Oh, okay!' was the response.
At the bus place we met Jens, a 30 year-old IT worker Canadian with even less money than the Aussie girls (both 28, waitresses/apple pickers/backpackers). With three other Mzungu (foreigners) on board, the bus ride was very nice. It probably would have been nice anyway since it wasn't very crowded and Ugandans/Kenyans are friendly and for part of the trip I got the whole back row to lie down on. It was my seventh overnight journey of this trip.
Jens also wanted to see the mountain gorillas, but he didn't want to spend $250 to see them. I didn't want to spend that much either. No backpacker does. But that's the price, and everybody who sees them says it's an incredible experience.
We had decided to do a few errands in Kampala once we'd arrived, rather than go straight to the backpackers. So instead of taxi to our hostel at 11:30 AM we did our Kampala errands. It was such a long day I'll try to make it shorter.
First stop: Hardware store for replacement O-ring for Jens' camp stove.
Second: Travel agency for general info on seeing the gorillas.
Third: Bank ATM. My card was rejected (again). Learned there are no ATMs for international cards in Uganda.
Fourth: Another travel agency where Jens' said, "Bwindi is too expensive for us ($250) so don't even talk about that park. What about the $175 park?" So we got lots of info on the Mgagahinga (something) park where there is also mountain gorilla treks. They wanted to rent us a car for $100 a day. I asked what the difference between the two places for gorillas was: the Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest is more mountainous, has more animals and rainforest plants, has the largest (group? anyone with the collective noun?) of gorillas, and is more expensive. We also got lots of other info, most of it wrong.
Fifth: Barclays bank for Jens' Visa cash advance. I would have too, but the rate was horrible, plus commission. Instead we talked to a few other backpackers about the gorillas. They liked the cheap Mgahinga place.
Sixth: Forex office to check their rates on travelers checks.
Seventh: The Ugandan Wildlife Authority for more info on the gorillas and to get the gorilla permit. It was already 2 PM and we were tired -- tired of carrying our backpacks, tired of not eating lunch or breakfast -- and hot and bewildered with all the options.
I had decided early on in this Africa trip to change my plans to be with people. But the more I heard about Mgahinga park (the cheap, worse one) the more I wanted to pay for the best Bwindi. Even though Jens said he could not would not go to Bwindi, I still favored it. The Aussie girls were leaning toward Jens.
We learned that the Mgahainga mountain gorillas had that morning crossed the border into Rwanda, and who knows? when they'd be coming back. That sealed it for me, especially when everyday at Bwindi was booked out except the day best for me (Friday May 17). So I shelled out $250 cash for my permit which allows me to make my way to the park, pay myself accomodation, pay the $15 park entry fee, trek through the rainforest to see the gorillas for one hour maximum. I'm running out of US cash.
Victoria and Alli and Jens decided not to make the booking. They'd think about it more.
Eighth errand: The girls made a quick stop at a car rental agency. They won't pay $0.80 for a taxi, but they think they could afford a car? It was again, way too expensive.
Ninth: The Sheraton hotel for their good exchange rates on traveler's checks. But the rates were not good, so no change. I still had no Ugandan shillings, no lunch, no breakfast, no place to put my back down, no hostel, no shower but that didn't matter since I had no clean clothes.
Tenth: Back at the other Forex bureaux for decent rates on t.c. It's hard to know how much to change for how long? I'm going to be in the country, after already paying $250, like all my cash except enough for the necessary visas for Tanzania. So I changed enough and I can eat bread for a couple of days if I need, and so long at internet could go too. There's not so many street sweets to spend my money on.
Eleventh: The girls didn't want to get a taxi to the backpackers hostel because they wanted to charge more than a shared minivan taxi would cost, even though the taxi would only be $0.55 each. So we walked towards the minivan places but stopped at a supermarket (like a Western mini-market). Yogurt is definitely subpar in East Africa. The girls told me to buy whatever food I wanted to cook. I would have liked to have been included in their meal, but I wasn't.
Twelfth: The vegetable market to buy pasta sauce ingredients. There the punks followed me around, intervening when I wanted to buy fruit or garlic, driving the price up 100%. And I didn't want to buy grass. I don't care if it's Africa, mon.
They wanted to fight me. And I wasn't even angry or upset with them. Maybe condescending. Okay, so I treated them like the fools they are. Alli and Jens tried to negotiate a taxi, but nobody would take us as cheaply as the packed shared minivans (duh). Alli said one of the punks was following Jens all around because he had planted some drugs in his pack, so we'd better watch out for cops or the scamming fake policemen. My pack hadn't been touched. Neither had Jens'. I don't know what Alli had been smoking.
Thirteenth: The place for shared minivan taxis. How did I get stuck next to Jens with both Alli and Victoria's packs on top of me?
"Is that your passion fruit rubbing against my leg?" Jens asked me. "Because it had better not be your banannas."
Fourteenth: A couple blocks from the hostel. We made it at 5:30 PM, six hours after getting off the (14 hour) bus.
So I thought I would have traveling companions for all the way through Uganda. I mean, cute blond Australian companions. But I don't. And it's probably better this way. Cute blond European wildlife biologists are more my type.
Enough internet for one day,
Dear Mom and Dad,
Yesterday I got back to the hostel (the first backpackers hostel I've seen in Africa) to find my clothes soaking wet, still soapy, on the clothesline. I paid for them to be machine washed, and I expected the people to take them off the line once the rain started. My wet clothes got me thinking that I didn't need to leave Kampala this morning. I could leave tomorrow, then do an extra rainforest walk the day after I saw the mountain gorillas. I really liked the idea of staying here an extra day, but I still wasn't sure if I should stay. Clinching the decision was being invited out by Sandra (the blond German wildlife biologist student) for her friend's birthday dinner and drinks (with more wildlife biologists).
After my morning nap my clothes were mostly dry, but still soapy. Sandra said that's how Ugandans wash clothes. They don't rinse them. Oh well, when in Africa... I washed my money belt for the first time in a long time. I rinsed several times. Sinks drain clockwise four times and counterclockwise once in Kampala, 19 degree minutes north of the equator.
Shared minibus taxi into the city. Buying overpriced mineral water. To the internet cafe where I've met Sandra. I still haven't had lunch. I'd like a chicken burrito from the taco trucks please.
Or just chips and salsa,
Dear Mom and Dad,
Some say that it's not the destination but the journey that's most important. Yes, that applies to lives and lifetimes and maybe even mountain hikes, but I didn't come to Uganda to sit on a bus or ride in a pickup. I came to see the Mountain Gorillas.
However, the journey to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park cannot be ignored.
I stayed an extra day in Kampala to let my clothes dry (and hang out with the blonde German wildlife biologist I met at the hostel) so only had one day to make the trip to the Bwindi rainforest. Shouldn't be a problem though--bus to Butagota, special hire pickup 18 km to the park entrance.
Ian, a 24 year-old Ugandan tourism worker, sat next to me on the bus. He was traveling to Bwindi to see if he wanted the receptionist job at the expensive tourist lodge in the park. The bus ride was mentionable for two things: the roads in Uganda are very good, and once when there was a sudden small hill and the bus went up then down, all the women screamed. Then they laughed. It was a minor bump yet everyone acted as if they were on a roller coaster. It was cute.
At 1 pm the Butagota-Kampala bus passed us, so I calculated we ought to arrive in Butagota at 6 pm. Excellent.
At 3 pm the bus stopped in a town and all the taxi drivers said it was the buses' final stop. "You need to take a taxi or pickup." I just smiled and nodded, 'Yeah, I've heard that one before.'
The bus was getting empty, but I had Butagota written on my ticket. The bus placard said Butagota. Nobody made any announcement that the bus would stop there. Yet, the bus stopped there. I got my "balance" (change) from the ticket man (he had overcharged me that morning) and hopped into the back of a pickup with Ian and a young Ugandan woman--I never knew her name.
The pickup filled with 20 passengers in the back, plus all the luggage. Even so, it wasn't that crowded, though I had a girl leaning against my lap for an hour. Pickup rides through green rainforest hills and farms are nice.
For an hour I walked down the one-lane mountain cliff dirt road with my backpack and carrying one of the Ugandan girl's bags. Neither Ian nor the woman knew where the pickups would be. They were as surprised by the change of bus and the landslides as I.
Okay, so we made it to the pickups on the other side of the valley and landslides. Some guys wanted to charge us too much. Ian and the young woman refused. We got into a pickup to a town along the way, normal price. This time I leaned against the cab, with a man standing right in front of me holding my waist for support.
Again, speeding through villages past deforested rainforest farms (hence all the landslides), cries of "Mzungo!" White-person! from the children. It was much more pleasant than the cries of "You! You! Faranji!" from the Ethiopians.
Off at a junction. 6:30 pm getting dark, worrying about further transport to Butagota. A pickup came by, but wanted to overcharge for going only part way, so no dice. Then a truck came. First time for me riding on top of bags of tea leaves headed for the tea factory.
We were dropped before the tea factory, so walked another half an hour. This time I carried an older woman's big, heavy suitcase along with my backpack. It was dark, but fireflies and distant lightning made it fun.
Then we stopped a car (like the foreman of the tea factory) and the four of us (me, Ian, young woman, older woman) crammed in for the last bit to Butagota.
Young woman took us to her cousin Anna's house. It was very nice. She said I could stay and showed me one of two beds in the extra bedroom. I was very pleased to be able to stay with locals in a local house. That's not my aim for traveling, but I like it when it happens.
Then some men came in, greetings, discussions. It was decided it would be better for me to stay in the traveler's hotel. I didn't agree, but I asked (So, you're kicking me out) Anna, "So, you say I should leave here and stay at the hotel?" "Yes."
The hotel wanted to overcharge Ian and me, so we hestitated and negotiated. Then another miracle occurred. The car that was supposed to pick Ian up for the transfer to the tourist lodge was still around Butagota. I hugged Ian at our good fortune.
"Oh, I would take you, even for free. But the rule is no White people are allowed in the park after 7 PM."
"That's okay," I said to the driver. "I just want to go to the community campground in Buhoma, I'll go to the park tomorrow morning."
"No. I'm sorry. No white people allowed after 7 PM. But I can pick you up from here tomorrow morning, 20,000 shillings ($12)"
So, for a second time, the Ugandan tourist mafia struck down my miracles. Whatever. The rest of Uganda is nice enough that I can manage not to get too angry or upset. Everything (but the food, coffee, and lack of violence) in Ethiopia was bad, so I got very angry and upset at their tourist mafia.
I didn't want to spend so much on a special hire pickup for the morning, so I arranged for a guy to take me on the back of his 'boda-boda' motorcyle, 5000 shillings.
Morning came. 18 km with heavy pack on the back of a motorcycle. It was nice though. Beautiful pink sunrise, green hills, fresh air all that. Of course once we arrived at the park he wanted 10,000 shillings. But I've already done that. Not the first time, won't be the last, they try to change the price after we've arrived.
He hung around for an hour while I talked with my fellow trackers and signed the paperwork and all. In the end he accepted my 6000 shillings. They always do, though I don't always pay more than the agreed upon price.
Six tourists plus the lead tracker plus several armed guards (to protect us from rebel terrorist groups from the Congo and Rwanda) form a gorilla group. We're allowed one hour with the gorillas.
Half an hour walk along cleared path through the rainforest hills. Saw some other monkeys. Then the gorillas were located. We hiked cross-country straight uphill for another 30 minutes, and once at the top of the mountain (it's really just hilly country, but the gorillas are Mountain Gorillas, not Hill Gorillas), we descended to approach them from above.
We went down to the main trail, and I feared our gorilla experience was finished. But then we heard another gorilla near by so went back up the mountain and watched the juvenile male sitting in a tree, eating. He broke a big branch off like it was a twig, and started eating the leaves. We had a good, close-up view, and he even thumped his chest at us as a sign of dominance. I muttered gorilla-speak contentment noises and pretending to eat leaves in imitation of Sigourney Weaver's Diane Fossey gorilla imitation. I got my gorilla photo, though it's not as good as my warthog or lion photos.
I liked the gorillas. It wasn't worth so much money, but five year, ten years, two years from now when I talk about the mountain gorillas I won't even think about how much it cost me.
In the afternoon I went on a rainforest walk to a waterfalls. It was 50 times cheaper and maybe as satisfying. The rainforest was very green, very beautiful, very dense. Didn't see much besides trees.
Tomorrow I will be in Tanzania by way of Kenya,
Dear Mom and Dad,
I took the overnight bus from Kampala, so right now I'm in Nairobi, Kenya. I have a few hours before my shuttle bus to Arusha to meet Suzanne. I have emailed her several times that I'd be arriving today, but I haven't gotten a response. At least I got her address from you in an email a while ago. I really hope the software and cord to download my digital photos are waiting for me in Arusha. I doubt I will stay for very long. Ngorogoro Crater, Mt. Kilimanjaro, then off to Zanzibar. What should I do in Arusha? Is it a place I could relax for a bit? Is Suzanne's house nice? TV? Books? Am I welcome there? Are there any people I ought to meet? You've mentioned your safari driver and his wife, but I don't want to get ripped-off. Angela paid too much for Kilimanjaro.
The night bus to Nairobi was my eighth overnight journey on this trip. It was fine, though not super-comfortable like the trip to Kampala when I got the whole back row to lie on. I sat next to Anna from Sweden who was in my gorilla tracking group. In front of us were two more Mzungos, volunteer teachers in Uganda from England, on school break. Because I was surrounded by friends the trip was nice, though we arrived at 4 am. So we sat on the bus for two more hours before being kicked off onto the mean streets of Nairobi.
Eleanor, Mary Beth, and I went upstairs to a 24 hour cafe for breakfast and waiting for daylight and exchange offices and internet and stores and post offices to open. I had one fried egg, chaps, and a chapati. The chaps was like a meat patty coated in batter and fried. The chapati is like Malaysian roti (like a layered tortilla) and is the best thing but too greasy. Everything is so fatty fried.
We ate with Stephanie from Minnesota, a student here in Kenya working on a research paper. Most of the people I meet are volunteers (Stephanie worked with an NGO as part of her research). In Kampala the new batch of Peace Corps Volunteers were sworn in the day I arrived, so the hostel was full of them. It's quite an education talking with these types about the challenges facing Africa. The educational system here is failing. Class sizes of 100. No imagination, creativity, or critical thinking. Dependence on foreign aid. Expectance of foreign aid.
I see problems,
Dear Mom and Dad,
I almost missed my shuttle bus out of Nairobi because my computer at the internet cafe had a misleading time. Never rush in Africa, but I'm glad I hustled because the bus really did leave at 2 pm sharp (2:05).
At the Tanzanian border I paid $50 for the visa. I don't like paying so much for visas all the time, but I don't get upset about it because that's how much they cost, take it or leave it. However, in my passport all I got was a stupid little entry stamp. In every other country I've gotten either a nice-looking visa sticker, or at least a large visa stamp. For Tanzania just the one inch entry stamp. That pissed me off. For $50 I ought to get something interesting in my passport. I don't like Tanzania!
I'm trying to get back to the "not get angry or upset in Africa" mindset, so fine, let it go. My passport is already interesting without any help from Tanzania. Oh, not being able to change my Kenya shillings for Tanzanian shillings contributed to the visa rip-off frustration.
I was thinking about what to do once I arrived, in the dark, in the rain, no money, just an address to Suzanne's house, not even sure if she knew I was coming. But there she was, waiting for my bus.
We hurried back to her house. It's really nice. Another woman, Frieda from Texas, is staying in the guestroom, so I get a room in the guesthouse out back. Fire in the fireplace, hot bath, then Suzanne returned from going back to her office and the three of us had an excellent dinner, I mean like salad and smoked chicken and nice vegetables with beef, wonton soup, wine, even cake. Nothing was fried.
Today for breakfast I had muesli, fruit, plain yogurt, and milk. Probably the exact breakfast I would have if I could have anything, although your pancakes and sausage and canteloupe might get some votes.
On the shuttle bus I was thinking maybe I'd stay in Arusha one day, or two. Get off to Ngorongoro Crater, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and do my Africa relaxing in Zanzibar. But my welcome here in Arusha has been very nice. I might stay here a week. I like Tanzania!
Today I've watched some of the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda (Suzanne is working as part of it). I also went to lunch (Ethiopian, nice, but not as good as in Ethiopia, of course) with Lauren a Canadian also working for the UN Tribunal.
Now I'm in the Tribunal's library using free internet!
I'll write about the court stuff later,
Dear Mom and Dad,
Tomorrow I start climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Jonathan, who is traveling around Africa and is a friend of Victor who is stationed at the moment in Arusha doing research for his Ph.D. dissertation on War Tribunals and is a friend of Saleem who was invited to Suzanne's dinner party last week by Freda (who also staying with Suzanne) because he was playing pool at the restaurant with Stephan (who Freda has a crush on)... So Jonathan tagged along with Victor who was tagging along with Saleem who was a night-before invite by Freda. We had fourteen people sitting at a table for eight. That was last week, and at that time I met Jonathan and we agreed to climb Kilimanjaro together and he arranged mostly everything with a not-overly-expensive tour company in Moshi.
I started with a nice piece of chocolate cake and milk. Then a second large slice. Then scrambled eggs. Followed by fruit, muesli, and yogurt and freshly squeezed tangerine juice. Suzanne has at least three cooks. I think one just specializes in cakes. If there's none left for me this evening, there's sure to be a new one already baked.
I'm nervous now about my digital camera. It's at the cybernet cafe. A man named Innocent is waiting for my photos to download, then he'll burn me three CDs with my 1900 photos. I hope the photos will have been downloaded by the time I go back. Downloading hit a wall and now it's going very, very slowly.
PS Precision Air has moved their offices to some new place. I'll check about Angela's stolen digital camera when I get back from the mountain.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm back in Arusha after my attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I'm here a day early because Jonathan, my hiking partner, had had enough of the mountain and just wanted to get into a bed and eat normal food again.
We came back late last night. Now I am at the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal again, mostly just to check email and maybe meet up with people. The trial I had been following, The Media Trial, is in recess for a month.
I had a late breakfast this morning because I slept in. Freshly squeezed orange juice. Fruit with muesli and yogurt. Muesli with milk. Muesli with milk and yogurt.
Today ought to have been Day 6 of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but as I said, Jonathan had had enough. This morning before getting out of bed I moved my legs to check for soreness. None. But walking into town my right buttocks is sore as is my left lower quad. Climbing the stairs I felt it a little in my calfs.
I feel like I just ran a fast mile around the track yesterday, or like the day after climbing Half Dome and rafting down the river. My lips are slightly chapped. My face is not sunburned, but a little extra-tanned and maybe a little dry. I guess I'm still a little tired. I wouldn't mind an afternoon nap, but I have too many things to do.
To do list:
Write weekly email about safari
Write email about Tribunal
Write monthly email about East Africa and Mt. Kilimanjaro
Finish burning my photos onto CDs
Contact Jonathan to see how he's doing and what his dinner plans are
Visit the ATM and exchange TSH for US$
Finish this email,
Dear Mom and Dad,
The safari cost $80 a day. It was more expensive than in Kenya, but that's why I did the safari in Kenya. But the wildebeests are in Tanzania at the moment, and so is Ngorongoro Crater. And I really did come to Africa to see the animals.
Just getting onto a safari was a lot of work. I stepped into every safari office and every tourist restaurant in Arusha searching for a group doing what I wanted to do, leaving when I wanted to leave. All the touts knew me by name. And they knew that if they said there were two tourists at such and such place leaving on a three-day safari tomorrow, I would follow them.
Anyway, it was late. One guy said there were two English people or Germans, whatever, same story. They were at some hotel/safari company. He said it wasn't far. I believed him. I'm gullible. But it worked out perfectly. Maybe there were some people at the hotel. Nevermind. The guy was lying to me even though he said, "If they're not there you can fight me." I thought, 'Listen bud, it's late and dark and if this is another wild goose chase, I don't need permission to kick your ass.'
At the hotel/safari company I met Jeremy and Natasha, just arrived at the hotel ten minutes before I did. They wanted to go for three days, Serengeti to see the wildebeest migration and Ngorongoro to see the lush volcanic caldera (crater) filled with wildlife. And they wanted to go tomorrow. And they hadn't talked to the company yet. Perfect.
The salesmen lied to us (he wanted to sell us four days), but I knew the truth about all everything so we set up the tour itinerary.
First day: Lots of driving. Very nice countryside. Safaris are fun. The highlight was driving through the concentration of wildebeests and zebras. They're all milling about, chomping on the fresh grass, waiting for the signal to start their migration north to Kenya. I've never seen so many animals in one place.
Seeing the plains full of specks of wildebeests and zebras was amazing. Later that day we saw three mama lions and six cubs walking through the grass then along the road. I spotted a leopard in a tree. It was almost dark, and the tree was far away, but the guide had been told there maybe was a leopard there. I'm just bragging about my good vision.
The lodge was really nice, built among the rocks of a kopje (just boulders in the plain). I ate lots for dinner.
The next day we drove out early, saw hippos on land, plus a nice sunrise. For all of the Serengeti and the Crater my photos are better than my words. Nothing so cool happened except just the stuff I saw and I took pictures of all that.
So that day we saw three lions in a tree. One tried climbing up. We waited until they all climbed down. Lions are funny tree-climbers. They're no good at it. They hardly do it. So to see lions climbing trees like little baby cats, right next to the road--it's a special rarity (and I've got pics).
We stopped at Oldupai Gorge where Mary Leakey discovered footprints of the Australopithicus afarensis, the species of Lucy (whose copy I saw in Ethiopia), humans' first cousin twice removed. Again, I saw just the copy of the footprints. It wasn't as cool as the (real) dinosaur footprints in Bolivia.
I got really excited as we pulled up to the Ngorongoro Wildlife lodge. Sho' 'nuff we had an incredible view. It was outstanding, to be in my own room with full glass window looking out at the crater at sunset. The place was a Wonder of Africa. It was like viewing an untouched planet from the deck of Starship Enterprise. It was another world, and the glass separating me from it added to the effect.
Maybe I should have jogged,
West Africa I:
M email ,
West Africa II: M email , D&W , Photos
Ethiopia: Both M&W emails , Photos
East Africa: M email , D&W , Photos
5th Month: M email , D&W , Photos
South Africa: M email , D&W , Photos