A Trip to Africa and Switzerland
(Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania & Switzerland)
Summer 2009 (9 July – 1 4 August )
Part 1 – East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda)
Date issued: 29 October 2009
Table of Contents
List of Figures
List of Tables
Given cost of the flights to and from Africa (Figure 1), we needed to maximize the activities. Hence we wanted to include both a safari trip in Africa with a stopover in Switzerland. The constraint was that the trip had to occur in period of 15 July – 15 August since I had booked time off work in the summer of 2008 to coincide with Donna’s 2009 school summer holiday break.
I had always wanted to go on a safari in Africa to see animals that I have watched in Disney movies and TV shows since I was a child.
Figure 1. Grand lines of our travel to and from Africa via Switzerland
This trip report is written to remind us of the trip that we took, the sights that we saw and why the places that we visited are of general interest. Without the later understanding, the sights are little more than interesting piles of stones that are unconnected to history.
I've tried to illustrate our trip mainly with our pictures, supplemented as required by other photographs freely available on the Internet. Apart from describing our experience, I've included the history of many of the sights. I hope that I've given credit to any material taken from the Internet in the list of references.
The costs of this vacation are shown by leg in Table 1. The grand total cost was about C$14,964/person or C$2,993/person/week which is close to triple what we’ve paid in the past for a week at an all inclusive sun destination in the Caribbean. In short this was an extremely expensive trip for us.
All miscellaneous expenses were paid for in cash. In the East African countries and Switzerland, we exchanged some of our US dollar into local currency. Most souvenir vendor in Africa took US dollars, the local currency or a combination of currency using close to the going exchange rate. The Canadian dollar was at about the 90 cent level compared to the US dollar when I exchanged money in Canada.
Table 1. Key Vacation Costs per Person
In preparation for our trip, we saw a travel doctor who gave us prescriptions for Ciprofloxacin (2 x 500mg) for diarrhea; 36 days of Malarone against malaria; and a booster dose of Dukoral against traveller's diarrhea and cholera. Donna used the Cipro following supper at the Cinnamon Cocktail Bar in Nungwi, Zanzibar.
Again I constantly wore my big Coleman belt pack that proved very useful for carrying my camera and money belt although at times it was hot around my waist and a drag to wear. As well as my belt pack I also ended up carrying Donna’s when it bothered her to wear her smaller blue one (left, Figure 2) so Donna frequently was the water bearer when we were out exploring and not shifting our luggage (right, Figure 2).
Figure 2. Loaded up with pack, belt pack and binos (left), water bearer (right)
During our three and a half week long trip on continental Africa, we visited many interesting places and met a number of people. The people were almost invariably helpful and friendly despite the endemic poverty. The people on Zanzibar were less friendly.
A traveller cannot go wrong visiting the places that we went to and experiencing the different means of transportation that we used, i.e. truck, bus, train, plane, ferry, all terrain vehicles (ATV), cable cars, tram and land rovers. Particularly memorable are balloon flight over the Serengeti, Lake Nakuru National Park, the hour spent with the gorillas in Rwanda and the mountain scenery in Switzerland.
After testing out the difference between 3, 5 and 8 megapixel images. The testing showed that the diffence was simply the dimensions of the images rather than their resolution. Hence I set my camera to take 5 megapixel images instead of its maximum of 8 megapixel images.
During our 36 day trip, I took some 8,589 photographs (15.9 GB) and 589 videos (9.8 GB) with a Panasonic Lumix DMC- TZ4 (10X optical zoom and 5 megapixel setting) using two 16GB and one 8GB SDHC memory cards. This works out to approximately 255 images per day! Some of the more interesting of these photographs are found in this document. In order to take so many photographs, I spent most of my time when traveling along observing the passing scene while the other fellow travellers frequently slept or read. I rarely got tied of watching the people and the sights going by. Even if only 1 in every 100 images was of high quality, I was happy to use the others to jog our memories.
The Lumix DMC- TZ4 performance was mediocre with some shots being excellent and some being washed out or out of focus. The later is especially true during our balloon flight over the Serengeti when the images in the LCD screen appeared fine but they were clearly out of focus when view on a computer monitor. Unfortunately as it is a “point and shot” camera, one cannot manually focus the lens so when taking videos, the scene drifts in and out of focus even when the scene is a distant one. The 28mm lens provided a wide field of view which was very useful at times.
I’d like to go back to Africa to visit southern and western Africa.
2 East Africa
We travelled around East Africa for 30 days from 10 July to 8 August 2009 (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Route of travels around East Africa
We booked the Intrepid Tours “Gorillas, Game Parks & Beaches” trip (UON). This was a combination of the following two separate trips:
We started and finished our 1st trip in Nairobi while our 2nd trip started in Nairobi and finished in Dar es Salaam.
When traveling around East Africa both on the truck and in souvenir shops the term the ‘Big 5’ animals was frequently heard. This term was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and not to their size. The ‘Big 5’ consists of the lion, the African elephant, the Cape Buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros (either the black rhinoceros or the white rhinoceros). Of the ‘Big 5’ only the black rhinoceros is classified as an endangered species.
We saw three of the ‘Big 5’ (lion, white and black rhinoceros and buffalo) during our first game drive in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya. Elephants were seen a couple of days later in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. The final sighting to complete our viewing of the ‘Big 5’ was a leopard from a balloon in the Serengeti, Tanzania. Later we saw a leopard in a tree during a game drive in the Serengeti.
Some tourists are fixated on spotting the ‘Big 5’, however, I was more interested on seeing all of the large land animals, e.g. giraffe, hippo and zebra. In fact watching giraffes was most interesting as they are such an unusual animal.
Figure 4. Intrepid truck (left), individual lockers at back of truck (right)
For 3½ weeks of our four week of travel we traveled in a large truck (left, Figure 4) and camped out in our two person safari tent (left, Figure 50). We were lucky that the truck was not full on either of our trip due to the amount of baggage that we had. The truck had locker space for 24 people (right, Figure 4) and on our first trip there were 16 people, while on our second trip there were 14. In the end we used four lockers on our first trip and five on our second (I’ll not soon forget moving our stuff into and out of lockers 2, 3, 10, 11 and 13). On both trips, the big bag from MEC was stored empty behind the last seats since it was too long to fit into a locker (left, Figure 38).
Figure 5. Our two seats in the truck (left), drying our laundry in the truck (right)
On the first day of both trips, I went to the truck as earlier as possible (0615 hours) to try and get us a seat at the front of the truck on the passenger side (less dust from passing vehicles compared to the driver’s side) where I thought we’d have the best view. There were twelve double seats in the truck (6 on either side) but when I got there on our 1st trip the 1st seat on the passenger side was already occupied by a couple from the truck’s previous trip. Hence I took the 2nd seat on the passenger side which proved very fortunate since the front passenger window exploded mainly on the woman sitting in the first seat on the passenger side (Figure 90). After that incident, we had two seats for our use (left, Figure 5) but we never sat in the 1st seat.
Time did not normal permit our washing to dry so people dried their laundry in the truck while we were on the move (right, Figure 5). This sometimes made the truck humid but there was not much choice.
On 8 August, the day before our scheduled departure, I was working outside when I noticed a wonderfully painted ‘Safari Plumbing’ van stop directly across the road from my home (left, Figure 6). The safari scene on the van included lions, an elephant, a giraffe and a meerkat – animals that I wanted to see in Africa. While I’m not into superstition but I could not imagine a more auspicious omen for our African trip.
It started to rain as we drove in our taxi to the Ottawa Airport (right, Figure 6) on 9 July. The July rainfall at Ottawa International Airport totalled 243.4 millimetres which not only shattered the July record of 186.4 millimetres but was the highest total ever recorded for any month in Ottawa. It rained on over 17 days in July.
Figure 6. Omen 1 – ‘Safari Plumbing’ van (left), raining on taxi ride to Ottawa Airport (right)
Whether one believes in omens or not, our trip went as smoothly as we could have hoped for. All transportation ran on time so we were able we to keep to our planned schedule.
2.1.3 Getting to Our Hotel in Nairobi
We took a $60 taxi from my house to the Ottawa airport to catch our flight at 1415 hours on Thursday, 9 July. An Air Canada Jazz Dash-8 turboprop took us from Ottawa to Montreal (left, Figure 7) where we caught a Swiss Airline Airbus A330-200 at 1650 hours for a flight to Zurich (right, Figure 7). This model of Airbus was identical to Air France Flight 447 that crashed on 1 June over the Atlantic during a flight between Rio de Janeiro and Paris. After this unexplained crash, some were calling for the grounding of all Airbus A330-200 worldwide which would have obviously affected our trip and those of many others since some 640 of this type of Airbus have been sold worldwide.
Figure 7. Air Canada Jazz Dash-8 at Ottawa (left), Swiss Airline Airbus A330-200 at Montreal (right)
Apart from the excellent service on Swiss Airline including meals and open bar (including beer, wine and Bailey’s Irish Cream), the highlights of our flight were watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean (left, Figure 8) and seeing of the lights of Paris at night at 0518 hours (right, Figure 8).
Figure 8. Sunset over Atlantic Ocean (left), Paris at 0518 hours (right)
When we arrived over the Zurich Flughaven (airport) we had our first encounter with a side effect of Swiss Airlines drive to obtain a high rating for punctually as the airplane circled around for ten minutes (left, Figure 9). However this gave us the opportunity to see the Alps in the distance (right, Figure 9), overfly the Zürichsee (right, Figure 10) and watch our plane’s wing pass in front of the moon (left, Figure 10) until we landed on time at 0615 hours.
Figure 9. Map showing flight circling Zurich (left), Alps in the distance (right)
Figure 10. Moon over the wing of our plane (left), over Zürichsee at 0604 hours (right)
We spent three hours in Terminal E of the Zurich Flughaven (left, Figure 11) and watched (right, Figure 11) planes come and go until our flight left for Nairobi at 0930 hours.
Figure 11. Land of the large Toblerone (left), planes at Zürich Flughaven (right)
The flight to Nairobi was full but we did not have a window seat because the Air Canada agent in Ottawa mislead us when she told us that we had a window seat all way to Nairobi. The casual lie is representative of the service provided by Air Canada. Again we have a nice flight on Swiss Airlines and received the customary tab of Swiss chocolate before landing (left, Figure 12).
Figure 12. Swiss chocolate before landing (left), immigration line at Nairobi Airport (right)
We arrived in Nairobi at 1810 hours on 10 August at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO). To avoid having to standing in line at the Nairobi airport, I had bought our visas for Kenya from the Kenyan High Commission in Ottawa before we left. However, in our case it was a waste of time since there was no line for those with visas so we waited in line while those without visas purchased theirs (right, Figure 12). It took about 20 minutes to get through the immigration line which gave us lots time to complete the mandatory swine (H1N1) flu survey form.
Figure 13. Loading taxi at Nairobi airport (left), heavy traffic into Nairobi (right)
To try and avoid any problems getting safely to our hotel, I had arranged via email with Kivi Milimani Hotel for a taxi driver to meet us at the airport for a cost of 1500 Kenyan shillings (US $20). Having cleared customs with our bags, we walked out of the arrival area and saw a sign saying “Thomas Rogers”. I went over to the man and told him that I was Thomas but had no idea who Rogers was. Since he was only waiting for 2 people we headed out to his car and I realized that the Rogers came from my email address of “…@rogers.com”. We loaded our bags into James’ taxi and were off to the city at 1900 hours (left, Figure 13).
On 27 December 2007, the disagreement over results of the Kenya presidential election erupted into violence. In the week that followed, Kenyan towns suffered mass riots and looting that resulted in the death of more than 600 people and the uprooting of a quarter of a million people. The clashes were largely ethnically based between the tribes loyal to incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo. I asked our driver James, a Luo, how these riots had affected him and he explained that his income was severely reduced since the number of tourists coming to Kenya fell dramatically in 2008.
The airport is only 15 km southeast from the center of the city but it can take a long time to get to a hotel in Nairobi due to the traffic congestion. Since it was a Friday evening most of the traffic was leaving the city, but still there was congestion (right, Figure 13) and it took us 40 minutes to reach our hotel. On the way to the hotel, I asked our driver James, what it would cost to hire him for the entire next day. He pulled out a card a stated that the rate was 7,000 shillings (US $90). I misunderstood the currency conversion and agreed to the quote without any bargaining – the cost should have been less than 5,000 shillings. Needless to say he readily agreed and we set of time of 0900 hours to meet at our hotel.
We arrived at the Kivi Milimani Hotel and checked in to our room. The hotel building reminded me of an old military barrack block. The grounds were very nice (right, Figure 14) but the building seemed to date from the 1960s and needed renovation. The rooms have an individual water heater that worked during our first stay but not during our second stay in the hotel. The food at the hotel was edible but not much more – the chicken burger was terrible and tasted like a spicy hamburger.
Figure 14. Our five pieces of luggage in room (left), grounds of Kivi Milimani Hotel from balcony (right)
The Republic of Kenya, named after Mount Kenya (2nd highest mountain in Africa at 17,057 ft (5,199 m)), sits astride the equator on the Indian Ocean (Figure 15). Its population of 38 million occupies an area about 85% the size of France.
The country has strategic importance due to its location which borders Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda. It provides shelter to almost a quarter of a million refugees, including Ugandans, Somalians and Sudanese.
The East African region, including the area now known as Kenya was colonized by the British. Following a struggle, Kenya gained independence in 1963 and was governed by its founding president Jomo Kenyatta until his death in 1978. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982 when the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) made itself the sole legal party in Kenya. In December 2007, Mwai Kibaki re-election as president brought charges of vote rigging from rival candidate Raila Odinga and unleashed two months of violence in which as many as 1,500 people died. UN-sponsored talks in late February produced a powersharing accord bringing Odinga into the government in the restored position of prime minister.
Figure 15. Map of Kenya
2.2.1 Day 1 Nairobi (11 Jul, Sat)
· Day 1: Non-driving day, staying in a good quality hotel in Nairobi
Although this was called Day 1 of the trip it really was not since the only activity was a group meeting at 1800 hours.
Since we had the whole day free and a taxi at our disposal, we had the flexibility to visit some of the popular tourist stops in Nairobi in the following order:
1. Giraffe Centre.
2. David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.
3. Karen Blixen Museum (author of Out of Africa).
4. Village Market (East Africa's largest all in one concept shopping centre).
We left the hotel at 0845 hours and returned at 1700 hours in time to relax before of trip briefing at 1800 hours. Hence it took us eight hours to visit these sites around Nairobi with the traffic only being a factor when we drove across the city from the suburb of Karen to the Village Market (left, Figure 16). The first three of the sites we visited were essentially in the suburb of Karen in the southern part of Nairobi. The suburb of Karen is an upscale area named after Karen Blixen, the author of ‘Out of Africa’. The key planning factor was that tourists can only visit the Elephant Orphanage during the daily feeding at 1100 hours.
Although the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is in the Nairobi National Park Entry, we did not go into the park proper since the admission is US $40 and we were spending three and a half weeks traveling around East Africa to see these animals in other parks.
Figure 16. Sites visited in Nairobi (left), Giraffe Center (right)
James picked us up early (left, Figure 17) and we drove on Ngong Road towards the suburb of Karen and our first stop, the Giraffe Center. The traffic going into Karen was heavy so the matatu passed people by driving on the unpaved shoulder of the road (right, Figure 17). In Nairobi, matatu are mainly vans that function as independent public transportation. They stop anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers and do not have fixed time schedules. Since time is money to the driver and his fare-taker, they drive in a very aggressive and somewhat dangerous manner.
Figure 17. With taxi and driver James (left), matatu driving on shoulder while heading to Karen (right)
The road passed by Nairobi National Park and see we saw our first African wildlife – a troop of olive baboons including mothers with babies (left, Figure 18). The reason that they had babies was evidenced by the horny baboons that we saw (right, Figure 18). It was very exciting to see some African wildlife even though we all became a little jaded about seeing baboons in the wild since they are quite common and somewhat of a pest like our racoons.
Figure 18. Troop of olive baboons beside Nairobi National Park (left), horny baboons (right)
Arriving at the Giraffe Center, we paid US $12/person to enter and feed the giraffes from the feeding platform. We were given at handful of food pellets and told to be careful to avoid head butts when feeding the giraffes. It is interesting to feel the stub of their chins on your hand and feel the tongue licking up the pellets (right, Figure 19). An attendant showed us how to hold the pellet far enough away from the giraffe so that we could see the length of its long bluish tongue (left, Figure 19). After feeding the attendant took us to the display room and talked to us about the giraffe – we tipped him.
Figure 19. Feeding pellets to Rothschild's giraffes at Giraffe Center (right)
On the grounds of the Giraffe Center is the very attractive Giraffe Manor (left, Figure 20). It was built in 1932 built in the style of an English manor and now serves as the headquarters of the Giraffe Centre also known as the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife. The manor has four double guest bedrooms with one of the bedrooms boasting Karen Blixen's 'Out of Africa' furniture a hall houses the original bookcase made for Karen by Denys Finch-Hatton, her lover.
The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya is a non-profit organization founded by the late Betty and Jock Lesilie Melville in 1979. Betty discovered that there were only 120 Rothschild’s giraffe left on an 18,000 acre ranch in Western Kenya that was scheduled for settlement. Apart from bring some giraffes to their property in Langata, they built the Giraffe Centre and raised funds to move five groups to different parks in Kenya including Lake Nakuru National Park. When we later visited Lake Nakuru NP, we saw one of these Rothschild’s giraffe (right, Figure 59).
The giraffes come to the feeding platform but they also wander around the 120 acres of forested parkland where they blend very well with the trees (right, Figure 20).
Figure 20. Giraffe Manor at Giraffe Center (left), giraffe in woods (right)
Before leaving the Giraffe Center, we checked out the souvenir shop but it was too early in our trip to buy anything even a flattering giraffe mask (left, Figure 21). A good thing about the wildlife centers around Nairobi is that they encourage visits by school children (right, Figure 21). School children must wear their school uniforms which vary between schools. The only downside of these uniforms is that they can cause financial hardship on poorer families who must also purchase books.
Figure 21. Souvenir shop at Giraffe Center (left), school children waiting to visit Giraffe Center (right)
We left the Giraffe Center at 1030 hours for the 15 minute drive to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage whose visiting hours are 1100-1200 hours. Since the orphanage is in the Nairobi NP we had to pass through a guarded gate (left, Figure 22) and then drive past the ubiquitous baboons to the orphanage parking lot. We waited in the parking lot for the Elephant Orphanage to open at 1100 hours (right, Figure 22) and then followed the stampede in to line up and pay the US $5/person admission.
Figure 22. Entrance to Nairobi NP (left), waiting for Elephant Orphanage to open at 1100 hours (right)
The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage exists because baby elephants have been orphaned because they have become stuck in man-made objects or more likely their mother has been killed by poachers for their ivory. A young elephant can only survive a day or two without milk so baby elephants are flown here from all over Kenya. The orphanage is run by Dame Daphne Sheldrick, 74, who founded the place and has been working with elephants for 50 years. The number of orphans has grown since the sale of ivory stockpiles has been legalized for the first time in ten years. The price for ivory has gone up from 300 shillings a kilo to 5,000 or to about $1,000 a tusk in Kenya, where the sale of any ivory is still legally prohibited.
The orphanage’s elephant keepers strive to teach the elephants how to be elephants as there are wild elephant things these kids don't know how to do, since their mother wasn't around to teach them. It's things like covering themselves in dust to prevent sunburn; the keepers do it with shovels until the elephants pick it up themselves.
Figure 23. Entrance of elephants (left), keeper bottle feeding elephant (right)
There were two groups of elephants that were brought separately in for feeding – first the younger ones and then the older ones. The younger elephants with their blankets looked like they were in Barnum and Bailey Circus (left, Figure 23). The blankets were to keep them warm in place of the heat from their mother’s body. They were feed from large baby bottles (right, Figure 23). It was interesting to watch the older elephants drinking from the water barrels (left, Figure 24).
Figure 24. Elephant drinking using trunk (left & center), elephants leaving past school children (right)
The same group of school children that we saw at the Giraffe Center showed up to watch at the Elephant Orphanage (right, Figure 24).
Following the elephants, a young black rhino was brought out. He is named Maalim after the ranger named Maalim who found him abandoned during a routine patrol around Tsavo National Park in late 2008. The ranger waited a day to see if the mother would come back, but by evening the baby looked so weak that Maalim picked him up and took him to the ranger base and the ranger station called the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to request them to take the rhino calf in.
Maalim was the star of the show. He was very animated and loved when his keepers covered him in dirt and mud (Figure 25). After his dirt and mud bath, he ran along in front of the crowd as if he knew what people wanted to see.
Figure 25. Covering Maalim in dirt (left & center), covering Maalim in mud (right)
After the feeding time was over we went to see the blind 3½ year old rhino named Maxwell (left, Figure 26). Since he is blind, he’ll never be released back into the wild. He is quite docile and we were able to touch his horn which felt like something hard. As we were watching Maxwell, a group of 5 warthogs walked close by (right, Figure 26) which probably is not totally unexpected as the orphanage is located in the Nairobi NP.
Figure 26. 3½ year old Maxwell (left & center), warthog walking by us (right)
Leaving the orphanage we stopped at a shopping center to exchange some US $200 in Kenyan shillings so that we could pay the taxi driver and have some local currency to shop. In front of the shopping center, there was a group of women in what looked like tribal dress selling bracelets (left, Figure 27). We stopped to buy a couple of cards from a handicapped man (right, Figure 27). He was happy to have our business and explained that he was the artist who drew the images on the cards.
Figure 27. Women selling bracelets (left & center), handicapped man selling cards (right)
Next we were off the visit the Karen Blixen Museum. We were motivated to see her house having seen the movie based on her book ‘Out of Africa’. In this we were not alone as the attendance at the museum has doubled since the movie was released in 1985. Karin Blixen's book ‘Out of Africa’ begins with the lines “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.” So I wanted to see the Ngong Hills and visit a house from the height of the British East African colonial era.
The title of the book is very memorable and is frequently put to various uses throughout East Africa, including as a brand name of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts (left, Figure 101). Its derivation may be from the famous ancient Latin adage “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi”, which translates as “Out of Africa, always something new”.
In 1914 the then 28-year-old Karen Dinesen arrived in British East Africa by ship from Denmark in Mombasa where she was met by her Swedish cousin and fiancé, the Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke. They married the day after her arrival and she became a Baroness, a title she coveted. They had purchased land near the the Ngong Hills outside of Nairobi (Figure 28) where they were sure to make their fortune – first they tried cattle but switched to coffee for which the acidic soil was not ideal.
The guide who took us to see the remains of Karen’s coffee dryer (right, Figure 30) told us that the word "Ngong" is a Maasai word meaning "knuckles" due to the hill peaks on the ridge which rises up from the plain around Nairobi. I tested out this explanation and I confirmed that it was true (right, Figure 28)!
Figure 28. View from house towards Ngong Hills (left), knuckles and Ngong Hills (right)
They bought more land in 1917 which included the house called Mbogani (Figure 29), which means 'forest house'. This is the house that is the backdrop of her African stories. Their marriage was not solid and in 1918, Karen met Denys Finch Hatton and became immediately captivated by the charming English aristocrat who had come to Africa to hunt and trade. She wrote, "That such a person as Denys does exist ...compensates for everything else in the world, and other things cease to have any significance." Interestingly, in 1911, Finch Hatton traveled to British East Africa and bought some land on the western side of the Great Rift Valley near what is now Eldoret and we would overnight near Eldoret on Day 3 (Section 2.2.3).
Figure 29. Front view of Karen Blixen’s house called Mbogani
For whatever reasons, Bror and Karen divorced in 1925 and Karen solely managed the coffee farm. The Baron became renowned as an excellent safari leader whose clients included celebrities such as the Prince of Wales and Ernest Hemingway.
By 1931, the financial condition of the coffee farm was such that Karen Blixen left Africa never to return except in her books. However, before her left, Denys Finch Hatton was killed in a plane crash and she had him buried in the Ngong Hills at the place he had always called his grave. Back in Denmark, she turned to writing and in 1937, her nostalgic memoirs about the years (1914–1931) she spent living on a British East African coffee farm were published to great success in the U.S. under penname of ‘Isak Dinesen’ and with the title of ‘Out of Africa’. Finally Hollywood took notice and in 1985, the movie "Out of Africa" (left, Figure 30), starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, was released and won the Oscar for "Best Picture."
Figure 30. ‘Out of Africa’ movie poster (left), Karen’s coffee dryer from England (right)
Our US $10/person admission included a guided tour. The house is not as big inside as it appears from the outside, mainly due to the huge and attractive veranda the gives the appearance of a much bigger house. The tour was interesting but photographing inside the house is prohibited. In the house are some of Karen’s possessions including books from Karen Blixen's library, a number of her African portrait paintings and some of her furniture.
Figure 31. View of rear of house (left & center), millstone table in back of house (right)
Blixen had a flour mill on her property run by Indian men who ground maizemeal for the Africans. The stones had come from Bombay, because the soft conglomerate rock in Kenya was not hard enough for milling. Later Blixen had these stones made into tables at the back of her house. She used to conduct business with the Africans from a stone seat behind one of the mill-stone table (right, Figure 31). She also entertained there, and she and Denys Finch Hatton watched the stars from this location.
The gardens at the back of the house are beautiful and very interesting (left, Figure 31 & right, Figure 32) and include palms, Norfolk pines, cypress tree and a very large candelabra cactus that is supposed to be over 90 years old (left, Figure 32).
Figure 32. Large candelabra cactus in garden (left), bougainvillea on passageway in garden (right)
Leaving Karen Blixen’s house at 1430 hours, we drove across the city to the Village Market where on Friday’s there is the Masai Market. Along the way, we stopped at the city’s viewpoint to see the skyline of downtown Nairobi (left, Figure 33). The drive was slow and took an hour due to the Nairobi traffic which gave the street vendors a good opportunity to sell their wares to motorists stuck in traffic (right, Figure 33). Just before arriving at the Village Market we passed by the United Nations (UN) compound which was heavily guarded and had signs prohibiting photography.
Figure 33. View of downtown Nairobi (left), vendor selling mops to motorists (right)
We were very disappointed in the Village Market since we had expected more of an African market and not something like we shop at at home. However, the market is attractive (left, Figure 34) and it was very hot so we had a Tusker beer and Fanta in the food court (right, Figure 34). Since it was Saturday and the Masai Market was not there, we did not buy anything except dental floss.
Figure 34. Village Market waterfall (left), a Tusker beer at the market (right)
After at hour, we left the Village Market and started back to our hotel at 1530 hours. There were more interesting vendor alongside the road, especially notable was one selling baskets and carvings including a 12 foot high giraffe (left, Figure 35). Back at our hotel we bid our driver James farewell and headed back to our room to relax.
Figure 35. Roadside carving & baskets for sale (left), President Obama on Kenyan TV (right)
We enjoyed the sites that we visited except for the Village Market which was too western to be anything out of our normal experience at home.
While waiting in our room for our group briefing to start, we watched Kenyan TV and lo and behold, President and Kenya's son, Barack Obama was on TV because of his visit to Ghana, Africa (right, Figure 35). He challenged its people to shed corruption and conflict in favour of peace. This did not go over that well with the ruling elite in Kenya since they benefit so much from the status quo. It was interesting to be in Africa when Obama visited the continent since he has great popularity amongst the masses. We saw signs of Obama’s popularity in both Kenya and Uganda.
Figure 36. Kenyan town near Ugandan border (left), service station 2 hours west of Kampala (right)
That evening at our group meeting we met the 14 other travellers and our tour leader named Lelei. It was clear at this meeting that one of the couples (Queen E and her consort) who had just travelled overland from Cape Town to Nairobi with Intrepid Tours thought that they knew it all. During the rest of the trip, this couple’s arrogant attitude dominated the group dynamics. The group leader announced our departure time of 0700 hours and collected US $1110/person in cash for the kitty. As is the norm abroad, the standard for US cash was bills printed after 2003.
After our meeting, back at the room I became worry about the amount of luggage that we had (right, Figure 14) - our three big duffel bags were one too many since we only could count on one locker per person on the truck.
Figure 37. Map showing days 1-3 and 15-16 in Kenya, and days 4, 13-14 in Uganda
2.2.2 Day 2 Lake Nakuru (12 Jul, Sun)
· Day 2: AM 170 kms drive to Nakuru. PM game drives and bushcamp in Nakuru National Park (campground is very basic having drop toilets and cold showers)
As this was the real first day of the trip, I went to the truck (left, Figure 4) as earlier as possible (0615 hours) to try and get us a seat at the front of the truck on the passenger side (less dust from passing vehicles compared to the driver’s side) where I thought we’d have the best view. There were twelve double seats in the truck (6 on either side) but when I got there on our 1st trip the 1st seat on the passenger side was already occupied by a couple (Queen E and her consort) from the truck’s previous trip. Hence I took the 2nd seat on the passenger side. In the event, this proved very fortunate when on Day 4, the passenger window exploded mainly on Queen E sitting in the 1st seat on the passenger side. After that incident, Queen E and her consort vacated the 1st seat and moved to the back of the truck. We were too wary to sit in the vacant 1st seat but once the window was repaired, the person behind us moved to the vacated 1st seat and we ended up with two seats for our use (left, Figure 5).
The next concern to be addressed was the shortage of storage space for all of our luggage since we did not want to have to put a bag at our feet. Fortunately the truck had locker space for 24 people (right, Figure 4) and there were only 16 people on our trip. So we used four lockers, but the big bag from MEC was stored empty behind the last seats since it was too big to fit into a locker (left, Figure 38).
Figure 38. Truck crew & too big MEC bag (left), store security guard in baseball helmet (right)
We set off at 0730 and stopped twenty minutes later at a department store in downtown Nairobi to allow us to buy missing items and to visit an ATM (we only used cash during our trip). At the store, to secure our truck lockers, we bought several padlocks that were made in China of course. We asked the security guard wearing a baseball helmet as part of his uniform if we could take his picture in front of a bronze elephant and his boss came over and wanted in on the photograph (right, Figure 38).
When we left big cities such as Nairobi and passed through small town or rural areas, the locals frequently called out ‘mzungu or muzungu’ at us and waved (Figure 39). Mzungu is a singular noun in Swahili and other East African languages that refers to white travelers (wazungu or bazungu is the plural). Since many people especially children outside of the big centers rarely see Caucasians, they are very curious and call out mzungu/muzungu/wazungu/bazungu and wave as we passed through. In our politically correct society the use of this term would be racist but in this setting it was entertaining.
Figure 39. Kids near Gilgil, Kenya hailing mzungu (left), kids hailing ‘mzungu’ near Jinja, Uganda (right)
Passing through the outskirt of Nairobi, we could see the slum areas were many houses are made with rusty corrugated steel sheets (left, Figure 40). Once outside of Nairobi, we encountered our first of many police checkstops (right, Figure 40). These checkstops are mobile ones that are made by laying down strips of metal spikes. The supposed purpose of these checkstops is to check driver licenses and vehicle registration but I would imagine that an American banknote of the right size could resolve any issues.
Figure 40. Nairobi slum area (left), metal spike strips forming police checkstop (right)
For some time now, the normal rain in parts of Kenya have failed to fall as expected resulting in severe drought across the northern and eastern parts of Kenya (Figure 41). The twin hearts of Kenya’s economy, agriculture and tourism, are especially imperilled. Apart from deaths of children and livestock, the game animals that tourists come to see are dying from hunger obliging the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to feed some hippos in the north to keep them alive (Ref F). The Times reports that “In Baringo, in the Rift Valley, people are eating cactus because corn and wheat have gotten so expensive. In Nyeri, in central Kenya, some have turned to pig feed. In Nairobi, the capital, even the fanciest neighbourhoods often go without running water for a week. And it is dark too. Kenya relies on hydropower for electricity, so less rainfall means less power.”
Our route through Kenya largely missed the areas of severe drought but some of the land that we saw was dry. During the two times that we stayed in Nairobi, we did not notice anything amiss in terms water supply nor did the Kenyan TV news mention the drought. However, we did experience very brief power outages that our group leader stated were due to power conservation. It is strange that we were so unaware of the drought and its affect over such a large area of the country.
Figure 41. Areas in Kenya hit by severe drought (Ref E)
Despite the drought in part of Kenya, we saw roadside vendors offering a wide variety of fruit and vegetables (Figure 42). These roadside sellers are found throughout East Africa.
Figure 42. Oranges for sale (left), fruit vendor in city of Nakuru (right)
Only thirty minutes outside of Nairobi, we stopped at a fabulous viewpoint overlooking the Great Rift Valley (right, Figure 43). The Great Rift Valley is a name given in the late 19th century by British explorer John Walter Gregory to the continuous geographic trough that runs from northern Syria in Southwest Asia to central Mozambique in East Africa. However, today the term is most often used to refer to the valley of the East African Rift that is in the process of splitting the African Plate into two new separate plates.
Figure 43. The Great Rift Valley (left), overlooking the Great Rift Valley (right)
An unfortunate but unavoidable feature of the viewpoint is the plethora of souvenir shops manned by high pressure salesmen (left, Figure 44). Their constant badgering quite detracts from enjoying the view. Nonetheless, I did buy a mask at the Black Rhino shop for a negotiated price of US $15 as the vendor told me that he needed to make a profit. We saw nicer masks at cheaper prices later during our travels.
Figure 44. Souvenir shop at viewpoint (left), flamingos on Lake Elmentaita (right)
Leaving the outlook over the Great Rift Valley we proceeded along the highway and passed by Lake Elmentaita (derived from the Masaai word muteita, meaning "dust place”). This is an alkaline (soda) lake, in the eastern limb of East Africa's Great Rift Valley, about 120 km northwest of Nairobi, Kenya. We could see pink islands on the lake formed by masses of flamingos (right, Figure 44).
We drove through the city of Nakuru with the guide telling us that its citizens were not friendly. This was confirmed when the people shouted at us as we took photographs from the truck (Figure 45).
Figure 45. Matatus queuing in Nakuru (left), sidewalk shoe store in city of Nakuru (right)
Arriving at the entrance to Lake Nakuru National Park, we were excited to see buffaloes and zebras in the distance by the lake (left, Figure 46) and monkeys running about (right, Figure 46). This was our first sighting of large wild animals in Africa. We visited the souvenir shop and were impressed with the wooden bowls around whose rim there was a parade of the ‘Big 5’ animals. The saleswomen told us that these bowls sold for $300-$500 which was too expensive for us. We later bought such a bowl south of Nairobi on our 2nd trip for US $80.
Lake Nakuru National Park (188 km²), created in 1961 around Lake Nakuru (one of the Rift Valley alkaline (soda) lakes) very near the city of Nakuru. It is best known for its thousands, sometimes millions of flamingos nesting along the shores. The number of flamingos on the lake varies with water and food conditions. Part of the Lake Nakuru NP borders the Soysambu conservancy established by Lord Delamere's descendants, including the controversial Thomas Cholmondeley who in 2009 was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting of a black poacher on his estate. Lord Delamere, one of the first and most influential British settlers in Kenya.
Figure 46. Our 1st view of large wildlife (left), three Vervet monkeys on fence (right)
The park has recently been enlarged partly to provide the sanctuary for the black rhino which necessitated a fence to keep out poachers and cattle. The park now has more than 25 rhinoceros, one of the largest concentrations in Kenya, so the chances of spotting one of these are good. Among the parks predators are lion and leopard. There are also a number of Rothschild's giraffe relocated for their safety from western Kenya beginning in 1977 by the couple who established the Giraffe Center in Nairobi that we visited earlier (Section 2.2.1).
Nearby Lake Nakuru National Park is the Mau forest which is Kenya’s largest forest (Figure 47). Some 10 million people depend on its rivers especially during the dry season when months can go by without rain. Rivers originating in the forest feeds six significant lakes including Lake Nakuru. However due to corruption in the Kenyan government, ‘settlers’ have been granted plots in the forest and now a quarter of its 1,544 square miles (400,000 hectares) have been destroyed by farmers and loggers. Lake Nakuru is disappearing since the rivers that feed it originating from the Mau forest have run dry.
The government-appointed Mau Forest Task Force recommended resettling people and reforesting their cleared plots. This means replanting 100,000 hectares of indigenous forest with more than 100 million trees. If this goes ahead, it will take decades to restore the canopy - years in which Kenyans will continue to suffer from the lack of water coming from the forest.
Figure 47. Map of Lake Nakuru National Park
I’m not much of a birder but we saw some very interesting birds during our African travels starting with a colourful male Superb Starling (left, Figure 48). The member of the starling family puts our drab black starlings to shame.
Figure 48. Colourful male Superb Starling on park gates (left), putting up our tent for the 1st time (right)
The Njoro campsite adjacent to the park’s main gate (Figure 47) had its endemic vervet monkeys (left, Figure 50) and olive baboons (right, Figure 50). One of the baboons grabbed my coat and ran off with it but a man in our group chased the baboon and fortunately it dropped my coat. Like our racoons, the baboons and monkeys went through any garbage at the campsite (left, Figure 49).
Figure 49. Vervet monkey in tree with milk box (left), Muslim woman wearing baseball cap (right)
There were other campers at the site including a family of Muslims whose mother looked incongruous wearing a head scarf and a baseball cap decorated with demonic flames (right, Figure 49).
Figure 50. Vervet monkey on our tent (left), morning arrival of troop olive baboons at campsite (right)
Although this is a very small park with the city of Nakuru visible at one end of it, the park provided us with the most amazing variety of wildlife viewing of any place we visited in East Africa including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. After putting up our tents for the 1st time (right, Figure 48), we headed out on our very first truck safari during which we saw white and black rhinos; waterbucks; buffaloes; Rothschild's giraffe; dik-dik; hyenas; warthogs; kobs; antelopes; zebras; and lions!
Driving through the woods we saw a troop of baboons by the river (left, Figure 51) and buffaloes and zebras (right, Figure 51). We were surprised to notice that the zebra’s striping continues onto their manes and tails.
Figure 51. Olive baboons drinking in stream (left), a Plains zebra (right)
We then headed to the lake to see the flamingos on the lake up close. On the way we passed by several of the large marabou storks cooling themselves by spreading their wings (Figure 52). These are large birds that can reach a height of 150 cm (60 in), a weight of over 9 kg (20 lbs) and have a wingspan of 3.2 m (10.5 ft).
Figure 52. The large Marabou storks cooling themselves by spreading their wings
The mud around the lake is covered with a crust of alkali (left, Figure 53) but it is deceptively soft and smelly when the surface is broken.
Figure 53. Surveying Lake Nakuru (left), buffalo on shore with flamingos on lake (right)
Lake Nakuru provided the setting for one of cinema’s most memorable and beloved images – the scene in "Out of Africa" (1985) in which actors Meryl Streep and Robert Redford fly over the lake and its masses of pink flamingos. "They rise in a cloud, like dust from a beaten carpet; they are the color of pink alabaster," wrote Karen Blixen (author of "Out of Africa") of the sight.
One cannot help but be amazed by seeing pink islands on the lake that are formed by masses of flamingos (right, Figure 53) and the high speed flypasts of flamingos and pelicans (left, Figure 54). The flamingos feed on algae, created from their droppings mixing in the warm alkaline waters, and plankton. But flamingo are not the only avian attraction, also present are two large fish eating birds: pelicans and cormorants. Despite the tepid and alkaline waters a diminutive tilapia fish has flourished after being introduced in the early 1960s.
Leaving the flamingos we passed buffaloes and stopped to see a lone acacia tree on the plain where two buffaloes and a mother white rhino with calf were all resting with a line of pink flamingos in the background (left, Figure 54).
Figure 54. Pelicans near Lake Nakuru (left), buffalo and white rhino mother with calf in shade (right)
The white rhinoceros is the world's largest land mammal after the elephants with adults weighing from 1,440 to 3,600 kg (3,168 to 7,920 lb). The animal has two horns made of keratin, rather than bone as in deer antlers. The front horn is larger than the other horn and averages 89.9 cm (35 inches) in length and can reach 150 cm (59 inches).
Figure 55. Baboons keeping eye on lion (left), lion disappointed with red plastic bag (right)
Proceeding along we stopped to see a troop of baboons in the woods when suddenly the baboons all climbed into the tree and started chattering. A lion emerged from the woods and started walking towards a red plastic bag on the beach (left, Figure 55). When the lion arrived at the bag (right, Figure 55), swatted it around and seemed to be disappointed that it was not edible. The baboons reacted again and a second lion emerged from the woods and started walking down the open area and joined the first lion on the shore (left, Figure 56). This lion then went to a small waterhole for a drink (right, Figure 56). Unfortunately the patience of our group ended and we drove on before seeing if anything would develop with two lions on the prowl.
Figure 56. Lions pair up (left), lion drinking (right)
As we emerged out of the woods, we saw a large mud-covered white rhino sauntering down the beach towards the lions (left, Figure 57) with a large male waterbuck on the grass in the foreground (right, Figure 57). The waterbuck is an antelope that does not spend a lot of time in the water but will take refuge there to escape predators. Its sweat glands produce waterproofing secretions.
Figure 57. White rhino sauntering along beach (left), waterbuck poses for photograph (right)
Unfortunately again we did not stay on and see if anything developed when rhino passed by the lions. Moving along we passed by some warthogs and a herd of kobs (an antelope) and Thomson's gazelles (left, Figure 58). Next we saw a solitary black rhino covered with birds (right, Figure 58) – being solitary is their norm state. Their thick skin which protects the rhino from sharp plants including thorns, harbours parasites such as mites and ticks which are eaten by birds such as oxpeckers and egrets that live with the rhino. Interestingly, recent evidence suggests that oxpeckers are more likely parasites than welcome guests on the rhinos (Ref H). The rhino obligingly moved around to show itself in various positions including an impressive head-on pose (left, Figure 59).
Figure 58. kobs with a Thomson's gazelles (left), black rhino with birds (right)
The Black Rhinoceros is similar in colour to the white rhino even more so when covered with mud hence the names of both these animals are misleading. The word white in the name "White Rhinoceros" is a mistranslation of the Dutch word ”wijd” for wide, referring to its square upper lip, as opposed to the pointed lip of the Black Rhinoceros. Black rhinos are much smaller than white rhinos with an adult weighing from 800 to 1,364 kg (1,800 to 3,000 lb). The black rhino is rarer than the white rhino so we were happy to see one.
Figure 59. Black rhino facing truck (left), Rothschild’s giraffe (right)
By this time, most of the passengers in the truck were very excited and looking all around with their cameras and binoculars (left, Figure 60). The windows were all down on the truck, which enabled good photographs and people to hang out of them (right, Figure 60). Next we came across a Rothschild’s giraffe (right, Figure 59) that did not stay around for long. The presence of this giraffe is due to the work of the couple who established the Giraffe Center in Nairobi that we visited earlier (Section 2.2.1).
Figure 60. Excited passengers in the truck (left), good viewing with window open (right)
We then drove up a hill to the Baboon Cliff Lookout which is the best vantage point to see Lake Nakuru. The views over the lake were impressive (left, Figure 61) and there was a troop of baboons including a couple that were delousing (right, Figure 61). We could see the animals down on the plain including the buffaloes and rhino (left, Figure 62). The view clearly illustrated what I thought was the main problem in Lake Nakuru NP, namely the extensive damage done to the ground cover by uncontrolled vehicle traffic.
Figure 61. View of plain from Baboon Cliff Lookout (left), nit-picking baboons on their lookout (right)
While the view was impressive I preferred to be down on the plain where the interesting big game animals were.
Figure 62. Buffalo & rhino on plain near ruins (left), the small Dik-Dik (right)
Leaving the lookout we saw a Dik-Dik (right, Figure 62), named for the sound it makes when alarmed, which is a small antelope that only stands 30–40 cm (approx. 12-16 inches) at the shoulder and weighs 3–6 kg.
Figure 63. Urinating hyena (left), hyena lying down in vehicle track (right)
Arriving back on the plain, we saw a number of Spotted Hyena including one urinating (left, Figure 63), one lying down to rest (right, Figure 63) and one near a waterbuck (left, Figure 64). The adult male spotted hyenas weigh some 100 lbs (45 kg) or more with the females weighing about 12% more. Spotted hyenas do not merely scavenge rather they hunt in packs animals such as wildebeest, zebra and Thomson's gazelles. Unlike other African carnivores they are able to splinter and eat the largest ungulate bones and they can digest all organic components in bones, not just the marrow.
Figure 64. Hyena near waterbuck (left), hyena runs by rhino (right)
We passed by the impressive white rhino who had arrived from his walk down the beach in time to feed (left, Figure 65). An approaching hyena made no impression on the rhino who resumed grazing. The rhino’s horn was covered with mud from rooting around while rolling in the mud by the lake.
Figure 65. Waterbucks passing by white rhino (left), white rhino with mud on horn (right)
In a tree, we spotted an African Fish eagle (left, Figure 66) which looks remarkably like an American bald eagle. The African fish eagle is a large bird with the male weighing about 8 lbs (3.6 kg) and having a wingspan of 8 feet (2.4 m). Not surprisingly, the Fish eagle feeds mainly on fish which it snatches from the water using its large clawed talons. We frequently saw this attractive bird during our travels through Uganda (Figure 149).
Figure 66. African Fish eagle (left), ad for 1958 Chevrolet Impala (right)
We continued back to our campsite, arriving there at 1830 hours and thus ending our single most amazing game drive in Africa.
During the night, some of our group reported hearing the roar of a lion in the area near our campsite.
2.2.3 Day 3 Lake Nakuru to Eldoret (13 Jul, Mon)
· Day 3: Early AM drive 60 kms to Kariandusi School project. Mid PM leave project and drive 160 kms to Eldoret and stay at a well equipped and comfortable campsite
The following morning near our campsite, I saw some impala in the early morning light (Figure 67) at 0718 hours. The impala (from the Zulu language meaning "Gazelle") is a medium-sized African antelope related to gazelles, kobs and hartebeests. The impala’s sporty name was used on the Chevrolet Impala which in yesteryear was a sporty drive (right, Figure 66).
Figure 67. Impala at dawn near our camp (left), impala in the mist near our camp (right)
As we drove out at 0800 hours, the short distances listed on the park signs showed the small size of this impressive park (left, Figure 68). We also clearly saw the incongruity of this park being situated right next to the city of Nakuru (right, Figure 68).
Figure 68. Lake Nakuru NP is small (left), warthogs & buffalo with city of Nakuru in background (right)
We drove back in the direction of Nairobi past several typical small roadside towns (left, Figure 69) and then through the town of Gilgil to visit one of the schools involved in the Kariandusi School Trust (KST). This project started as a result of the 1992 tribal clashes in parts of the Rift Valley that resulted in many Kikuyu villages being burned and the occupants forced to move away taking nothing with them. Slowly, communities resettled in areas like Kariandusi eking a living and building basic homes. In 1993, Kariandusi Primary School was started with just 35 pupils taught in basic grass thatched classrooms. Since then the KST has built ten purpose-built primary schools currently educating some 5500 children.
Intrepid Tours makes direct payments to KST for each school visit which helps to fund the schools. During our visit to the school we would briefly help with small construction and meet the school children.
Figure 69. Typical small roadside town (left), entrance to Kenyan army base at Gilgil (right)
To visit the KST Karunga Primary School, we drove back to Lake Elmentaita and through the town of Gilgil. In Gilgil we passed by the to Kenyan army base (right, Figure 69) and the Gilgil War Cemetery that contains 224 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, one from First World War burial and graves from the Mau Mau rebellion (War for Independence – 1952-1960). Although the uprising failed militarily, it hastened Kenyan independence which arrived in 1963 and motivated Africans in other countries to fight against colonial rule. Coincidently in our Nairobi hotel, we saw a TV interview with Mau Mau veterans who described their experiences.
Leaving Gilgil, we drove north past the shanty town of Langalanga (left, Figure 70) and climbed up steeply to reach the plateau on which the Ngumo Primary School sits. The location of this school is impressive as it has wonderful 360o views (right, Figure 70).
Figure 70. Children waving in shanty town (left), wonderful view from school towards Gilgil (right)
Before the KST work started in September 2008, the Ngumo Primary School was housed in a primitive building clad in sheet metal (left, Figure 71). The KST funded school is a nice one made of cinder block that is scheduled for completion in September 2010.
Our arrival at the school was a cause of great excitement for the children (right, Figure 71) and pride for the teachers. As elsewhere in East Africa, the children wore school uniform even though they were well worn.
Figure 71. New school in front of old one (left), Donna with children on sports field (right)
We visited the classrooms and could not help but have been warmed by the enthusiastic welcome that we received (left, Figure 72). I was interested in looking at their books which reflect the African objects that they would be familiar with compared to those we’d be familiar with in Canada, for example a bundle of sticks and a herd of elephants are not in our daily experience (right, Figure 72).
Figure 72. Donna with kids in class (left), African objects illustrate grammar book (right)
It is quite a hike to the school’s outhouse at the far end of the sports field (left, Figure 73). Water for the school and the construction is brought by women who carry it up from the valley below – a long carry (right, Figure 73).
Figure 73. Going to school’s outhouse at end of sports field (left), school’s water bearers (right)
After visiting the classes, we went to briefly help with the ongoing construction of the school beside the dilapidated old school (left, Figure 74). In my case, I spent some time chopping off excess mortar with hatchet which turned out to be hard work (right, Figure 74).
Figure 74. Donna in front of old school (left), me chopping off excess mortar with hatchet (right)
Since we were there between 0930-1130 hours, the children had a recess period and came out to play on the sports field. At the end of recess, a school bell was rung by a student (left, Figure 75) and the children returned to their class undoubtedly motivated by the teacher with stick (right, Figure 75)!
Figure 75. Ringing bell at end of recess (left), teacher with stick to motivate return from recess (right)
Our visit to the school lasted for about two hours and at the end it was time for us to move on and let the school return to its mission of education. Overall this school visit was very interesting and rewarding the problem was that Intrepid Tours piled on three school visits during our second two week with them which was simply too much and boring.
Driving back through Gilgil, roadside commerce was in full swing including the bike repair shop (left, Figure 76). Later passing through Nakuru, we saw the only example of the Kenya Railways (KR) in action (right, Figure 76). The shipping container on flatcar had been forced open somewhere along the way. The KR railroad is in a state of neglect and is not heavily used.
Kenya Railways, a narrow gauge road (3 ft 33⁄8 in), is the national railway of Kenya and was established in 1977 based mainly on the remains of the Uganda Railway that are in Kenya. The Uganda Railway was a British colonial railway built to provide a modern transportation link to carry raw materials out of the Uganda colony and to carry manufactured British goods back in. Construction of the line started at the port city of Mombasa in 1896 and reached Kampala in 1903. It was mainly built by Indian labourers brought in from British India. Many of these workers would remain in Africa to create substantial Indian minority communities in Kenya and Uganda. With the establishment of this railroad, the British government encouraged European settlers to farm large tracts of Kenyan highlands which the railway had made accessible – policy which would shape the development of Kenya for decades.
Figure 76. Vendors & bike repair (left), Kenya Railways at Nakuru with jimmied container (right)
On the western side of Nakuru, we passed by a slum, with buildings constructed of corrugated metal sheets, beside the KR railroad (left, Figure 77) which was appropriate since the railroad is made entirely of metal including the ties due to termites. It must be hot in these metal shacks in the blazing sun.
Near these shacks was a well dressed man in a suit waiting in the heat of the sun to catch a matatu (right, Figure 77). It was always impressive to see locals dressed like this while we were sweating in just our shirts and shorts. Of course there were cool days when the locals were bundled up in sweaters and wearing toques while we were still in our shirts and shorts. Obviously the temperatures that one is accustomed too make all the difference.
Figure 77. Slum beside KR railroad (left), matatu loading & well dressed man in heat (right)
Small business in Africa outside of the large cities was fascinating to observe. They ranged from roadside vendors selling agricultural products (left, Figure 78) to small shops in villages that were colourfully decorated with advertising (right, Figure 78).
Figure 78. Roadside potato vendors (left), colourful shops in village (right)
We had just visited a school but we frequently saw children who were not in school, for example we passed by two young children acting as goat herders while their goats grazed on nearly barren ground beside the road (left, Figure 79). Grazing domesticated animals beside the road was quite common in East Africa as was giving young children adult responsibilities. Clearly parents in Africa do not wrap their children in cotton batten as parents in North America do.
As we drove further into the western portion of Kenya nearer the border with Uganda, we gained altitude, the country became greener and the people appeared to be better off (right, Figure 79). This continued as we approached the green country of Uganda.
Figure 79. Very young goat herders (left), more green in western Kenya (right)
In the hills, we came upon a semi-trailer truck that had just recently rolled on its side (left, Figure 80). The cause of this accident on such a benign stretch of road was probably that the driver, who was looking over the vehicle, probably fell asleep.
Nearer Eldoret, we passed by a combined small hotel and butcher shop (right, Figure 80). This combination of businesses was quite common in East Africa, perhaps the hotel guests eat at the butchery, i.e. room and board.
Figure 80. Overturned semi-trailer (left), hotel & butcher shop (right)
We arrived at 1800 hours at the Naiberi River Campsite and Resort (http://www.naiberi.com/) which is just outside Eldoret. The campsite was by far and away the nicest that we stayed at on our travels. The grounds, reminiscent of those associated with resorts in the Caribbean, include the very interesting Stonecave Bar, a pool with a waterfall (left, Figure 81) and a deck overlooking the Naiberi River. However, the prices of most things were expensive and at the bar they made a big production of making change including asking other patrons if they could change a bill. They wanted several dollars to plug in a camera battery charge so I decide to wait and charge in the truck.
Even though it was hot during the day in Kenya, the fireplace in the Stonecave Bar at night was welcome (right, Figure 81).
Figure 81. Waterfall at pool at Naiberi River Campsite (left), fireplace in Stonecave Bar (right)
At the campsite, I talked to a couple, Jacques and Mandy, who were driving from Australia to their native land of South Africa in their Toyota Landcruiser named Pumbaa II (pumbaa = warthog). When I spoke to them, they had been on the road for some 400 days since starting in South Korea in July 2008. Their route and other interesting information are available on their website.
· Day 4: All day drive, 400 kms crossing into Uganda to Kampala and stay at a well equipped and comfortable campsite
Today we were scheduled to drive all day some 400 kms from Eldoret, Kenya to a campsite at Kampala, Uganda. Leaving the campsite, we made the very short journey to Eldoret which is a major city and interestingly it was where Finch Hatton (love interest in ‘Out of Africa’) bought some land in 1911. In Eldoret, we stopped at a supermarket to pickup food supplies. We had enough time to take a short walk around the downtown area.
Unfortunately, one of the women in our group had arrived with a doozy of a cold and we started to feel the symptoms on this day. The symptoms would get progressively worse over the next week.
We found the commercial buildings in most East African cities to be very colourful (left, Figure 82) and hence interesting unlike our drab grey building. The amount of manual labour in Africa was impressive (right, Figure 82). While this is due to a lack of mechanized equipment, it does show how ancient man constructed their monuments without such equipment.
Figure 82. Colourful Eldoret buildings (left), manually breaking pavement (right)
The colourfully decorated matatu in Eldoret were always eyecatching and some of them were kitted out with fat tires and mag wheels (Figure 83). One of the matatu paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and Barrack Obama (right, Figure 83). One can only hope that the latter does not suffer the fate of the former.
Figure 83. ‘Diablo Fast’ matatu (left), ‘Martin Luther King Jr. & Barrack Obama’ matatu (right)
We stopped in front of a Hindu Temple whose metal gates were decorated with swastikas – the Hindu symbol of good luck (left, Figure 84). Stopped at a nearby intersection was the Rocky driving school with ‘Instant Brakes’ topped with a ‘Caution driver under construction’ sign (right, Figure 84). I was sure that the Rocky driving school produced very aggressive drivers J
Figure 84. Swastikas on gates of Hindu Temple (left), Rocky driving school with ‘Instant Brakes’ (right)
Returning from our walk, we helped our cook, Emmanuel, with the food shopping for the group. Fortunately the in-store bakery had just finished a fresh batch of bread and we were able to stock up (left, Figure 85). In the vegetable section, I was very pleased to see actual arrowroot as I regularly eat Mr. Christie’s Arrowroot cookies (right, Figure 85). Arrowroot is a starchy tuber which is processed to yield a arrowroot starch powder. I naively expected the arrowroot tuber to have a taste similar to the Arrowroot cookies but such was not the case.
Figure 85. Buying bread for group (left), arrowroot & inset of favourite Arrowroot cookies (right)
Figure 86. Vendor & pig at stand (left), potato & charcoal vendor (right)
The children at most places that we drove past would wave to us enthusiastically and called out ‘mzungu’ (left, Figure 87). Of course we waved back and I frequently initiated the waving from our truck as I was looking out the window most of the time we were driving.
Faith is very important in East Africa probably because of the poverty. In Western society, faith as expressed in organized religions has waned dramatically as the standard of living has increased. I was impressed by the faith that must have been behind the construction of the no-frills ‘Full Gospel Church’ (right, Figure 87).
Figure 87. Children waving at mzungu (left), no-frills ‘Full Gospel Church’ (right)
As was frequently the case in Kenya we encounter many police flying checkstops setup using very formidable spike strips to check vehicle and driver papers (left, Figure 88). Some of the police carried the FN 7.62mm assault rifles that we used to have in the Canadian Army. Clearly one would be advised to stop when requested.
As this was participatory camping, we always setup for lunch and then prepared the fruit and sandwich material which was generally cheese, carrots and cucumber (right, Figure 88).
Figure 88. Policeman with assault rifle at checkstop (left), preparing group lunch (right)
Some of the advertising on shops is quite interesting and refreshingly straightforward. For example the ‘Faster Killing’ with Doom insecticide sign makes a clear pitch to the consumer (left, Figure 89). Later in Eldoret, we saw cans of ‘Doom’ (right, Figure 286). West of Eldoret there were many homesteads with simple traditional circular huts made of waddle and daub with thatched roofs. This type of hut is called a banda.
Figure 89. ‘Faster Killing’ with Doom insecticide (left), simple homestead with goats (right)
Having crossed the border into Uganda, we were leisurely driving along about an hour’s drive east of Jinja at 1517 hours. I was standing up looking out our side window and taking pictures when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a semi-trailer truck passing by us going in the other direction. I saw the outline of something heading towards the passenger window at the front of the bus and suddenly there was a loud bang and the window shattered into thousands of little pieces (left, Figure 90). These pieces sprayed over the seats at the front of the truck but mainly over our side. The woman sitting in front of us was sleeping when she was hit by pieces of glass and received several cuts. Donna sitting beside me was hit by pieces and received a cut on her hand and glass in her hair. The metal part of my camera lens was hit and damaged. After an initial short period of shock, we exited the truck (left, Figure 90) and the clean-up of people and the truck began. Our group leader was adrift was to what to do but a couple of the passenger including me removed the remaining glass and cleaned up the truck.
Figure 90. Shattered window immediately after accident (left), recuperating after accident (right)
While the group leader wondered what to do next, Donna and I advantage of the time to cross the road and visit with a local poor family living in huts. They were curious about why we have stopped but were very shy and initially reluctant to meet us rather the mother and her children ran towards their huts. However with a little coaxing, they came up to meet us and Donna even briefly held the baby until it started crying for its mother (left, Figure 91).
After about a half hour, we reboarded the truck and headed off, however the group leader decided not to cover the window so it was rather windy at the front. I mentioned to Donna that the way things were going, the next thing to happen would be a rainstorm. Well about 30 minutes later, we were caught on a tropical downpour and had to stop since the rain was pelting into the truck’s missing window. We jury-rigged a tarpaulin over the missing window and sat out the storm which stopped after about 15 minutes (right, Figure 91). The group leader ignored the option of simply turning the vehicle around since the rain was very directional.
Figure 91. Donna returning unhappy camper to mum (left), jury-rigged rain shield & downpour (right)
Furniture is commonly sold from small shops alongside the road (left, Figure 92). However one of the more curious combinations that we saw was the furniture combined with the TJT Computer Center which according to their sign offers "quality research, proposal/report typing, project proposal, colour printing, scanning, stationary and photocopying".
Near Jinja, we passed by a convoy of Ugandan soldiers (right, Figure 92). Perhaps these were some the Ugandan soldiers who bloodily put down the riots in Kampala on 10 September 2009.
Figure 92. TJT Computer Center & furniture shop (left), Ugandan army soldiers (right)
Near Jinja we passed through a small town and as I was taking a picture of the scene, I noticed a man in the scene taking a picture of us – a most rare event on our trip (left, Figure 93). As we were running far behind our timeline, we were on the road to see a pretty sunset (right, Figure 93). Intrepid Tours has a rule that their truck cannot drive after dark but we regularly ignored this rule on our trip to make it to the scheduled campgrounds.
Figure 93. Man in Jinja taking our photo (left), sunset on road to Kampala at 1846 hours (right)
We arrived at our campsite near Kampala at about 2000 hours and set ups our tents beside the St. Bruno SSerunkuuma Multi-Purpose Hall (Bbiina Parish). St. Bruno SSerunkuuma was one of 22 Ugandan Christian converts martyred by being burned alive in 1886 during the persecutions by King Mwanga. He was canonized on 18 October 1964 by Pope Paul VI.
Because we arrived so late, we had supper laid on in the St. Bruno SSerunkuuma Multi-Purpose Hall. We bought a Nile beer and coke to go with our meal of rice and beef (left, Figure 94).
Figure 94. Supper at St. Bruno SSerunkuuma Hall (left), sunrise over Kampala at 0700 hours (right)
The area of what is now Kampala was a hilly area that provided the ideal spot for the impala. Hence the British called the area the “hills of the Impala” which translated to the Luganda language as "kasozi ka Impala". Eventually the hills became known as Kampala.
Uganda, once known as “The Pearl of Africa”, was described by Sir Winston Churchill in 1908 in his book “My Journey to Africa” as having “a unique description which cannot be close to the truth….situated in the fertile heart of Africa, astride the Equator boasts of wide diverse landscape, from rugged snow capped mountains, the vast flatlands stretching to the horizon, Uganda offers visitors a wealth of breathtaking scenery”.
However, it has not been smooth sailing for this country blessed by nature since it gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. The dictatorial regime of Idi Amin (1971-79) was responsible for the deaths of some 300,000 opponents and then a guerrilla war and human rights abuses under Milton Obote (1980-85) claimed another 100,000 lives.
Figure 95. Map of Uganda
During our time in Uganda, we learned very little about what is going on in the country. I knew that the Ugandan government has been fighting the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the western region for some for 22 years. However, I did not know about the tension between the government and the country's largest ethnic groups. This tension boiled over on 10 September 2009 when two days of bloody rioting erupted in Kampala that left at least 21 dead and around 100 wounded. Cars and police stations were set on fire and looting was widespread. In response, President Yoweri Museveni, a rebel leader who seized power in 1986, sent thousands of police and troops onto the streets with orders to shoot on sight — they fired live rounds into the crowds. With an election scheduled for 2011, many fear that the latest burst of violence may be a taste of things to come (Ref G). Our time in Kampala could have been much more exciting!
2.3.1 Day 5 Kampala to Kibale Forest National Park (15 Jul, Wed)
We had to get up early so that we could drive into Kampala proper and have a new window installed in the truck. While Donna worked on tearing down our tent (left, Figure 96), I took a photograph of a beautiful sunrise over Kampala with metal huts in the foreground (right, Figure 94). I also discovered that our campsite was guarded by an armed guard toting an AK-47 – it must be a tough neighbourhood (right, Figure 96).
During breakfast, there was a Catholic mass held in St. Bruno Hall. After mass, Donna talked to the priest, Father Robert Halwango, who gave her his notes for his homily.
Figure 96. Donna tearing down tent at 0700 hours (left), armed guard at St. Bruno’s (right)
This day we need to travel about 320 kms from our campsite near Kampala to Kibale which normally takes about 6 hours of travel time. However, we got into our campsite late since we spent 5 hours stopped at the Garden City Shopping Center in Kampala until the broken window was replaced by a sheet of plexiglas. The shopping center was targeted at well to do people and its guards were armed (left, Figure 97). The shopping center’s parkade had a curious sculpture of humans hiding from dinosaurs (right, Figure 97). There was also the Casino Simba in the center and the Golf Course Hotel and Uganda Golf Club adjacent.
Figure 97. Armed guards at shopping center (left), humans hiding from dinosaurs (right)
The group leader kept revising the estimated time of completion by a half hour, so we really did not get a good block of time to walk around Kampala. However, we took the time that others were spending in the shopping center to walk to the parliament building and visit the 5-star Kampala Serena Hotel. On the lampposts lining the street near parliament were a number of the large marabou storks (Figure 98).
Figure 98. Marabou storks outside of parliament building (left), stork in flight (right)
While walking past the parliament building, we watched a VIP motorcade leave the ground and head on up the boulevard (right, Figure 99). Following the presidential vehicle was a truckload of heavily armed bodyguards (left, Figure 99).
Figure 99. Heavily armed presidential bodyguards (left), waving at presidential vehicle (right)
However the real highlight was visiting the Kampala Serena Hotel. Amazingly its room rates range from US $300 to $3000 in a country with an annual per capita income of US $370. This newly completed hotel is an oasis in the hot and impoverished city of Kampala. It features a pool terrace with a 7-meter waterfall (right, Figure 100), which cascades down a hand-sculptured stone cliff, into a shimmering plunge pool below. The grounds include wonderful which include for a wide selection of indigenous trees and a beautiful array of flowers, birds and butterflies (left, Figure 100). We had time for a drink and for the use of the wonderful toilets.
Figure 100. Grounds of Kampala Serena Hotel (left), pool terrace with a 7-meter waterfall (right)
The grocery store in the shopping center was very well stocked for Europeans and wealthy locals. One could buy ‘Out of Africa’ chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and whiskey in a bag (left, Figure 101). Finally after five hours of trying, the installation of the plexiglas replacement for the broken window succeeded (right, Figure 101) but by then it was well into the afternoon, 1415 hours, that we finally left the Kampala shopping center for the long drive to Kibale Forest National Park area some 35km south of Fort Portal.
Figure 101. “Out of Africa” nuts & whiskey bag (left), loading groceries & installing window (right)
We drove up Old Kampala Hill on Col. Muammar Gaddafi Road at the end of which is the Gaddafi National Mosque. This mosque is said to be the largest mosque in Africa with praying centre for the men's wing accommodating over 5,000 people. The mosque was a donation from Libyan President, Col. Muammar Gaddafi and it opened in 2006. Just past the mosque we saw a most unusual advertisement for sending money via a cell phone if you are a woman whose been thrown out of her home by her mother-in-law. Apparently this must be a common occurrence.
Figure 102. Gaddafi National Mosque, Kampala (left), advertising using mobile in home eviction (right)
In Kampala as elsewhere in East Africa, there were roadside furniture stores selling locally made beds and overstuffed sofas – where these goods were stored was not clear (left, Figure 103). The variety of goods for sale in some of the roadside outdoor markets was bewildering (right, Figure 103).
Figure 103. Roadside furniture store (left), a wide variety of goods for sale (right)
On the outskirts of Kampala, I saw one of my iconic images of Africa – the Ankole-Watusi cattle (Figure 104). This breed of cattle, native to Africa are distinctive for their comically large horns which are reminiscent of the Texas Longhorn except their horns are of greater circumstance. The large horns are honeycombed with blood vessels such that blood moving through the horns is cooled by moving air and then flows back into the body and lowers the animal's body temperature. In previous times, the cattle with the largest horns belonged to the king, thus this breed is sometimes referred to as the 'Cattle of Kings'.
Figure 104. Man walking Ankole steer beside road (left), Ankole mother with calf (right)
Many of the little towns had used clothing markets stuffed full of clothing from donor countries, mainly western ones. During our stay in East Africa we encountered locals wearing clothing from US colleges such as Ohio State and even NHL jerseys. One perverse effect of all this used clothing coming into Africa is that it depresses the market for the local clothing industry which has not developed as it has in Southeast Asia and China.
Figure 105. Used clothing market (left), men congregate at bicycle repair shop (right)
In East Africa, we frequently saw traditional brick-making kilns whose the technology was probably imported from India. This process starts with the excavation of suitable clay or loam which is pressed into wooden moulds to shape the bricks (left, Figure 106). These bricks are removed and put on the ground and covered with grass (protection against rain) to dry for 2 to 3 days depending on the weather. After that they are piled up into heaps of up to 15000 blocks to form a kiln. The kilns are sometimes plastered with mud to keep out air that could come in from the sides (left, Figure 106). Once ready, the kilns are stoked with firewood continuously for about two days until the grass that was put on top catches fire indicating that bricks are ready (left, Figure 107).
Figure 106. Filling brick moulds (left), mudding up outside of kiln (right)
Unfortunately this brick production method is inefficient with high wastage of bricks (poorly fired and broken bricks) and mediocre quality (right, Figure 107). Needless to say supplying the wood for these kilns adds to the region’s deforestation.
Figure 107. Busy brick factory in Rwanda (left), high wastage of bricks kiln-dried (right)
Perhaps to feed the demands of the kilns or the demands of people for charcoal for cooking, we saw cutting and burning of tree covered hills (left, Figure 108).
Figure 108. Cutting and burning trees (left), truck heavily laddened with charcoal bags (right)
The travel was long and fortunately we brought inflatable neck pillows for use in the truck (left, Figure 109). There were some women in the villages who dressed in saris which is reflective of the East Indian population in Uganda (right, Figure 109).
Figure 109. Beauty rest (left), local beauty shop & dairy farm store (right)
Unlike North American farmers, African farmers typical work process their crops manually into large sacs for distribution (left, Figure 110). It was very common to see stores fully painted in company colours to advertise product like cooking oil (right, Figure 110) but mainly for cell phone companies. The cell phone service in East African was better and the coverage more complete than that in Canada and so much cheaper that its use was very widespread.
Figure 110. Women filling grain sacks (left), Fortune cooking oil advertisement (right)
Of course due to the unplanned window repair time spent in Kampala, it was getting dark and we’d still not reached our campsite. Just before we entered our campsite, we caught a glimpse of dusk falling over the Rwenzori Mountains which are also known as the Mountains of the Moon (left, Figure 111). The Rwenzori Mountains range up to 16,761 ft (5,109 m) and the highest Rwenzoris are permanently snow-capped – the only other such mountains in Africa being Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.
We got in late at 1900 hours to our campsite in the grounds of an old colonial-era tea plantation called the Chimpanzee Forest Guest House and Campsite. The location of this plantation is very scenic in the rolling hills above Lake Nyabikere, a crater lake (right, Figure 111).
Figure 111. Dusk falls over distant Mountains of the Moon (left), campsite overlooking crater lake (right)
Figure 112. Map showing days 5 to 14 in Uganda and Rwanda
2.3.2 Day 6 Kibale Forest National Park Chimp Visit (16 Jul, Thu)
• Day 6: Non-driving day, explore Kibale Forest and Chimps and a second night at campsite
This morning we drove to the headquarters of the Kibale Forest National Park (left, Figure 114). The Kibale Forest National Park is the most accessible of Uganda's major rainforests (Figure 113). This equatorial rainforest is home to the highest concentration of primates in the world. Twelve different species have been recorded. However the major attraction is the 500 Common Chimpanzees, which have been habituated to human visitors. The park was created in 1993 to protect a large area of forest previously managed as a logged forest reserve.
Figure 113. Map of Kibale, Uganda
At the park HQ, we found out that only half of our group could go on the walk in the morning while the other half would have to return in the afternoon. We were fortunate to get in the morning group as it was already hot enough in the forest without having the additional heat of the mid-day sun.
Figure 114. Entrance to Kibale Forest National Park HQ (left), with Francis our guide (right)
We met up with our guide Francis who gave up a briefing in front of the sign that set out the chimp visiting rules (right, Figure 114). These rules are very similar to those for visiting the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, including: keeping at least 25 feet (8m) from the chimpanzees; not going if you are sick since chimp can catch human diseases; and not chasing them. The one difference was the rule not to mimic the chimps’ vocalization as ‘you never know what you might be saying!’
As with the mountain gorillas, our guide would bring us to where a troop of chimpanzees that had been habituated to human contact could be viewed. He was in radio contact with other guides who are similarly tracking the chimpanzees. As we walked our guide pointed out the other flora and fauna of interest (Figure 115).
Figure 115. Tracking chimps in Kibale Forest NP (left), big deciduous tree (center), big tree roots (right)
I enjoyed seeing the lines of red army ants marching across the trail as these ants have a fearsome reputation in stories such as ‘Leiningen Versus the Ants’ and its movies adaptation as ‘The Naked Jungle’ starring Charlton Heston. I was surprised to see a grasshopper in the jungle and a colourful one at that (left, Figure 116). I mainly associated grasshoppers with the wide open prairies of North America.
Figure 116. Colourful jungle grasshopper (left), red army ants crossing trail (right)
After about an hour’s walk from the park headquarters up and down through the jungle, we saw some fresh chimpanzee scat being rolled into ball by dung beetles (left, Figure 117) and then heard the calls of some chimpanzees. We arrived at the area where a troop of about 20 were located. Unfortunately they were high up in the upper level of the trees some 40-50 feet above us. This made viewing difficult firstly because we had to crane our necks to see them overhead (right, Figure 117) and secondly because there were generally branches and leaves obscuring our view of them.
Figure 117. Dung beetles roll fresh chimp poop (left), ‘Look up, way up’ (right)
Taking photographs of the chimpanzees was very difficult since they were high up in the crowns of tall trees and the background light from the sky was bright when looking up (Figure 118). My camera had a great deal of difficulty autofocusing (no manual focus option) due to the number of branches and leaves between me and the chimpanzees. As a result, I did not get a single very good photograph of a chimpanzee and this help me decide not to go and see the Golden Monkeys in Ruhengeri, Rwanda for US $100. The video clips that I took showed the chimpanzees much better than my stills.
Figure 118. ‘You say there’s a chimp up there?’
The chimpanzee is more closely related to humans than to any other living creature so there is interest in their behaviour. Chimpanzees share 98.4% DNA with humans, making them genetically closer to humans than gorillas. Chimpanzees are classified as “apes”. They are different from monkeys because they don’t have tails as monkeys do. The other apes are gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, gibbons and humans. One thing was clear that the chimps have feet that are much more useful than human feet for climbing around trees. Their big toe functions much like the thumb on our hand and is used to grasp branches (Figure 119).
Figure 119. Chimpanzee, high in tree, showing off amazing hand-like foot
There were up to 20 chimps high up in the trees and occasionally a couple would interact including grooming one another (Figure 120). On one occasion a young chimp was sitting high up on a small branch when an adult passed by and caused the small branch to bob up and down. Undoubtedly the small chimp’s heart raced and he was swaying to and for.
Figure 120. Pair of chimps up in tree (left), chimp grooming another chimp (right)
Kibale chimpanzees are basically frugivorous. They spent 78% of feeding time eating fruit pulp of the ripe fruits of Ficus spp tree. They eat these fig fruits very fast and drop the inedible part on the ground. To get photographs of the chimps eating, I stood under a fig tree where the chimpanzees were voraciously feeding the figs (top, Figure 121). It was raining discarded fig rinds (bottom, Figure 121) and chimp urine under the tree. It seemed as if the chimps tried to urinate on anyone under the tree that they were up in the branches.
Figure 121. Chimp eating figs (top), fig pits in chimp scat (center), figs discarded on ground (bottom)
After about 20 minutes of straining to see the chimpanzees in upper canopy, the troop of chimpanzees decided to come down to the ground and move off to a different area. We followed these chimpanzees along a track but they frequently defecated on the track and we were hard pressed to avoid fouling our shoes. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the new area where the chimpanzees started eating again in the tops of the trees.
Figure 122. Chimp swinging down vine to ground (left & center), young chimp in tree (right)
After our time with chimpanzees was up (only about an hour can be spent with them), we headed back to our campsite for lunch and a shower.
Figure 123. Drying on tent (left & center), wood-fired boiler for shower (right)
We then had the time to explore around the grounds of the Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse where we were camped. This guesthouse is on the grounds of a colonial-era tea plantation that was established in the 1950s by the British District Commissioner. His Ugandan son now runs it but surprisingly he does not speak English.
In my travels, I’ve always found it fascinating to see North American houseplants in the wild where they grow full size. Hawaii is a very good place to see this. On the grounds of the plantation house there was a full grown poinsettia bush. For us, the poinsettia is a small flowering plant associated with Christmas. It is indigenous to Mexico and Guatemala and is named after Joel Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico who introduced the plant into the US in 1828. I'm certain there is an interesting story about why this poinsettia is in Africa.
After lunch Donna arranged for us to go on a three hour long walk through the tea plantation, through a hamlet and down the hills to the crater lake. It cost us US $10 per person for the guide named James. The walk was tiring but we got to see how the pickers harvested tea; how some of the locals lived; how they subsistence farmed and fished; and some of the local birds.
Figure 124. Guide explaining how tea is cared for (left), tea plants growing in amphitheatre (right)
Figure 125. Hammerkop (hammer head) nest (left), Hammerkop in guide’s birding book (right)
At the end of the trip we walked back to the campsite along the dusty road as the occasional vehicle raced by flinging up clouds of dirt. I bought a bunch of lady-finger bananas from a woman vendor along the road.
Figure 126. Hiking through elephant grass (left), fishermen on reed mats on lake (right)
Figure 127. Walls of banana leaves (left), up hill to hamlet (center), new waddle & daub hut (right)
Figure 128. Kids run to see mzungus (left), meeting another family (right)
When not trekking there is plenty to do in
this beautiful area including walks to villages, rivers, lakes, or just kick
back and enjoy.
Figure 129. Decrepit fishing boats in lake (left), guide showing size of fishes being caught (right)
Nearby the lake there were some beautiful flowers growing in the damp micro-climate (Figure 130). The pink flower looks like an orchid.
Figure 130. Beautiful flowers near the lake
Walking along the dusty road back to the tea plantation, cars zipped by us in clouds of dust. I bought a bunch of pleasant tasting ladyfinger bananas from a woman vendor (right, Figure 131). At the tea plantation, there was a tea picker’s basket stashed between the rows and so our guide showed us how the tea pickers go about picking the tea leaves (left, Figure 131). It is hard work and pickers are paid by the weight of leaves picked. Of course tea picker should not damage the tea plant so there is technique involved.
Figure 131. Guide showing how tea is picked (left), holding ladyfinger bananas in tea plantation (right)
2.3.3 Day 7 Queen Elizabeth National Park (17 Jul, Fri)
· Day 7: AM 50 kms to Queen Elizabeth National Park and game drives / boat trip. Camp at basic campsite in the national park.
We left the Chimpanzee Forest Guest House and Campsite and drove for about 30 minutes into Fort Portal where our tour leader, Lelei, said “Are you having a good day? Well I’m not as my father died last night.” He left us after Queen E and her consort collected tip money for his 5 days of work with us. The temporary tour leader became a man named ‘Papa’ who was on our trip to learn about Uganda before he took his own tour through Uganda in the coming weeks. Unfortunately Papa proved to be a weak tour leader and our trip suffered for it.
As we drove to Fort Portal, we again saw how dusty the unpaved roads in Africa can be when vehicles pass by (left, Figure 132). We stopped at a gas station in Fort Portal across from the Wooden Hotel which advertises that it is an affordable pool table joint (right, Figure 132).
Figure 132. Dusty roads (left), ‘Big Beer’ at the Wooden Hotel, an affordable pool table joint (right)
While waiting for Lelei to organize his departure and take his leave, we had lots of time so I had a chance to see some of life in Fort Portal.
The small business buildings have an amazing variety of unrelated businesses next to each other, e.g. a very small hotel where you can buy insurance while dropping your loved one off at the nursing home (left, Figure 133). The public display of rifles is common as witnessed by the armed guards were heading off to work with their old bolt-action rifles, one of which had black tape around the top of the stock (right, Figure 133).
Figure 133. Multi-purpose building (left), armed guards heading off to work (right)
Evangelism is very much alive in Africa at there was an upcoming three day evangelical event in town (left, Figure 134). Many of the African newspapers are ultra-tabloids with graphic headlines and straightforward writing – ‘syphilis leads to blurred vision’ – that makes them very refreshing to read (right, Figure 134).
Figure 134. Flyer for evangelical rally (left), hot headlines in ‘Red Pepper’ newspaper (right)
The butcher shops that we saw including in Fort Portal are very basic with slabs of meat hanging on hooks (left, Figure 135). It must be fresh meat but no one spend any effort to keep the flies off.
To pass the time, I went over to watch and talk to the workmen who were calibrating the gas station’s fuel tanks gauges which must be done once very two years in Uganda. The amazing thing was the cavalier manner with which they handled gasoline as if it was water. They washed their hands in it and used their safety hardhat to scoop up gasoline. Obviously the occupational health and safety (OHS) regime has got gripped Uganda.
Figure 135. Butcher cuts meat (left), using safety helmet to scoop gasoline (right)
We enjoyed seeing the vivid colours apparent on the shops fronts and the colour prints worn by many of the women (left, Figure 136) but not so much the men who frequently dressed like westerners in t-shirts and jeans. We finally saw a market with colourful cloth on display (left, Figure 136).
Figure 136. Colourful cloth in market (left), women dressed in colourful prints with baby (right)
Apart from the regular sighting of markets, we frequently saw farmers drying grain and occasionally mud bricks in the sun (left, Figure 138).
Just after lunch, we stopped at the Ugandan equator monument along side the road which was very simple (left, Figure 137) unlike the grandiose Mitad del Mundo monument that we visited just north of Quito, Ecuador (right, Figure 137).
Figure 137. Ugandan equator monument (left), Ecuador’s Mitad del Mundo grandiose monument (right)
Having crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere, we were approaching Queen Elizabeth NP and the amount of wildlife increased dramatically. In a large virtually dry alkali crater lake, there were Cape buffalos having advantage of the last vestiges of water (right, Figure 138).
Figure 138. Drying grain in the sun (left), Cape buffalos in drying waterhole (right)
We saw some beautiful Uganda Kobs and waterbucks (left, Figure 139) but the mystery was how the one-horned waterbuck lost its horn (right, Figure 139).
Figure 139. Ugandan kobs & waterbuck (left), waterbuck with but one horn (right)
From Fort Portal, it took us 4½ hours to arrive at the Katunguru gate of the Queen Elizabeth National (Figure 140) Park at 1420 hours.
Figure 140. Map of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Queen Elizabeth NP is situated at the foot of the Ruwenzoris Mountains on the border of the DR Congo (Figure 140). This NP protects over 200 sq km of Rift Valley Savanna, interspersed with patches of forest and crater lakes. The main geographical feature is the 32km Kazinga Channel, which links Lake Edward and Lake George. The game in the NP is making a recovery after years of heavy poaching in the 1980’s and is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. There are healthy populations of Ugandan Kob, buffalo, hippo, an estimated 200 lions, the elephant population is said to be around the 1000 mark.
Figure 141. Katunguru gate of Queen Elizabeth NP (left), plaque commemorating QEII’s visit (right)
Entering the Katunguru gate of Queen Elizabeth NP (left, Figure 141), we drove along a ridge road on the north side of the Kazinga Channel that provide an excellent lookout over the channel (left, Figure 142). For our vantage point, we could that the black dots across the channel were a herd of elephants which caused great excitement (right, Figure 142). With this sighting, we saw number four of our ‘Big 5’ – the African elephant.
Figure 142. View across Kazinga Channel (left), elephants on south shore of channel (right)
The Kazinga Channel is a wide, 32km long body of water that links Lake Edward and Lake George (Figure 143). It is a dominant feature of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The channel attracts a varied range of animals and birds, with one of the Africa’s largest concentrations of hippos.
Figure 143. Satellite view of Kazinga Channel connecting Lake Edward and Lake George
‘Papa’ our inexperienced guide took us to the visitor information center and we started to look around (right, Figure 141), however, in short order he told us to hurry and leave or we’d miss our boat tour. The purpose of this extremely short stop was not clear.
Figure 144. Dock on channel under Mweya Safari Lodge (left), tour boat crossing channel (right)
We drove down a steep road to the boat dock under the impressive Mweya Safari Lodge (US $270 for a double) which has a wonderful view out over the Kazinga Channel (left, Figure 144). At 1500 hours we were on our tour boat at the start of our 2 hour cruise. We headed across the channel to its south side where most of the game animals were (right, Figure 144). The boat was crowded and only half the passengers could go up on the top deck to avoid capsizing the boat. We stayed down below (left, Figure 145) and viewed the animals at eye level. In front of us were several German birders with cameras with very large lens. They monopolized the windows and made taking photographs difficult.
Figure 145. Guide on main deck of boat (left), elephants and Cape buffalo (right)
We cruised along the south shore of the channel traversing from east to west, finishing at Lake George. We saw lots of big game animals and many species of birds, particularly water birds.
Figure 146. Hippos, Ugandan kob, Black-headed heron, elephants (left), elephant dirt bathing (right)
The elephants, hippos and Cape buffalos had no problems mixing together in close quarters (Figure 147). Almost all the hippos were in the water sheltering from the strong afternoon sun but we did see one hippo on the shore that was making a brief stay on the shore before returning to the channel (left, Figure 147).
Figure 147. Buffaloes & muddy hippo on shore (left), hippos, buffalo & elephant (right)
Again we saw oxpeckers on the backs of the big game animals (left, Figure 148) supposedly cleaning off parasites. However, there is debate over whether oxpeckers are actually parasites themselves rather than welcome guests (Ref H). Nearby were a mated pair of yellow-billed storks hunting along the shoreline while a Pied Kingfisher hovered overhead looking for food (right, Figure 148).
Figure 148. Oxpecker pecking back of hippo (left), yellow-billed storks & Pied Kingfisher in flight (right)
Figure 149. Two African fish eagles in tree (left), fish eagle & Egyptian geese on shoreline (right)
The Cape buffalo is considered to be one of the most dangerous of all big game animals and it is one of the ‘’Big 5. They play a major role in the ecology of grasslands since several of the smaller grazers are not able to digest the taller grasses and the tall grasses prevent them from getting to the shorter, more appetizing grasses. The Cape buffalo crops the tall grasses allowing smaller grazers access to the shorter grasses. During breeding season, bulls fight over the cows in estrous. Fighting involves shoving and head butting. If the loser is wounded, he will leave the herd and live on his own or with other losers. The channel shores had a number of losers looking lonely (left, Figure 150).
Figure 150. A loser Cape buffalo & pair Egyptian geese with goslings (left), Nile crocodile (right)
Further along the shore was a Nile crocodile with its mouth open to cool off (right, Figure 150). The male crocodile usually measure from 11.5 to 16 feet long (3.5 to 5 meters) and usually weigh about 1100 lbs (500 kg). On land they are capable of surprising bursts of speeds, briefly reaching up to 7.5 to 8.5 mi/h (12 to 14 kph), while in the water they can swim much faster by moving their body and tail in a sinuous fashion attaining speeds of about 30 to 35 km/h. The Nile crocodile is an opportunistic apex predator capable of taking almost any animal that is within attacking range. However there was a hippo in the water near the crocodile and he did not seem concerned.
Figure 151. Hippos with scarred backs (left), Glossy ibis in tree (right)
We passed by some huts used by fishermen from Mweya village up on a hill. It was interesting to see the fishermen working just some 30 feet from a hippo (left, Figure 152) and the buffalo that knocked over one of the fishermen’s outhouses (right, Figure 152).
Figure 152. Hippo and fishermen from Mweya (left), buffalo overturn fishermen’s outhouse (right)
There were quite a number of two person fishing boats heading out onto Lake Edward for some late afternoon fishing (left, Figure 153) as we tourists cruised by their village (right, Figure 153).
Figure 153. Tour boat passes along shoreline (left), Fishermen paddle out to Lake Edward (right)
Perhaps the most interesting single spot along the channel was the sandy point near the outlet to Lake George. On this point were birds cooling themselves in the breeze (Great cormorants, Pink-backed pelicans, Great white pelicans) and a crocodile (left, Figure 154), while in the waters around the point were hippos (foreground) and an large elephant (background left). The Great cormorants on the point showed no fear of the Nile crocodile that was lounging in the sun amongst them (left, Figure 154). They must have been able to sense that the crocodile was not looking for lunch.
Figure 154. Birds & animals at point (left), Great cormorants surrounding Nile crocodile (right)
Just past the point, we cruised up to where the large elephant was deep in the water (left, Figure 155). On the shore near the elephant were a series of holes in the ground that were Pied Kingfisher nests. The Pied Kingfisher is a pretty black and white bird that we saw here (right, Figure 148) and at Lake Bunyonyi (right, Figure 185).
We were at the point the channel opens onto Lake Edward and we turned around and started back. On the way back we saw the large Saddle-billed Stork that has a beautiful head and bill (right, Figure 155). The massive bill is red with a black band and a yellow frontal shield, i.e. the “saddle”. It is a huge bird that regularly attains a height of 5 feet (1.50m) and a 9 feet (2.70m) wingspan. This attractive stork was in a group of aquatic birds including the Great cormorants, a heron and an Egyptian goose. Speaking of Egyptian, the Saddle-billed stork was known to the ancients and had it own Egyptian hieroglyph.
Figure 155. Elephant & kingfisher nest holes (left), Great cormorant, Saddle-billed stork, goose (right)
For some reason, the powers that be at the boat dock decided that our truck was too big to stay parked down at the dock and we had to make the long walk up to the ridge where our truck was parked. It was long slog up to the truck in heat. We then drove to the Hippo Hill Camp is situated north of the Kazinga Channel near the town of Katwe in Queen Elizabeth NP on a hill overlooking Lake Edward. The camp offers 10 luxury tents with private toilets, hot showers and solar power, and a dining room with a bar. Of course we pitched our tents in the camping site.
Figure 156. Our tent at Hippo Hill (left), luxury tents with private toilets & our truck (right)
Since it has wilderness setting in a NP, game animals including elephants and hippos frequent the area. I was hoping that a hippo would come by our camp even though hippos have killed more people than any African animal. This explains why this experienced ranger in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda is running for his dear life (right, Figure 157). They have razor sharp teeth and they can gallop up to 30 mph. This hippo chased the experienced ranger for more than 100 metres before it stopped for a rest.
· Their gaping yawn is actually a threat, displaying long, thick canine teeth that can bite a dugout canoe in half.
· They are the second heaviest land mammal after elephants, at up to 4,000lb and as much as 17ft long.
· Hippopotamus, whose name is Greek for 'river horse', can stay under water for five minutes.
Unfortunately we only saw ankole cattle (left, Figure 157) and marabou stocks near the campsite.
Figure 157. Herding ankole cattle (left), Hippo chasing park ranger in Uganda (Ref C)
There was another pretty African sunset to end the day, this time through the cactus-like euphorbia plant (left, Figure 158). The euphorbia plant is frequently confused with true cacti. Euphorbia's can be found all over the world, but most originated in Africa. If you cut a euphorbia, it will secrete a sticky, milky-white fluid that contains latex.
2.3.4 Day 8 Lake Bunyonyi (18 Jul, Sat)
· Day 8: AM 190 kms drive to Lake Bunyonyi. PM free to explore the beautiful lake. Camp at well equipped and comfortable campsite
At 0800 hours we left Hippo Hill Camp for a game drive back along the ridge overlooking the Kazinga Channel to the entrance gate of the park and the road to Lake Bunyonyi. Driving along the same ridge overlooking Kazinga Channel that we entered on, saw came upon a large herd of elephants walking amongst the cactus-like euphorbia plants (right, Figure 158).
Figure 158. Sunset at Hippo Hill Camp @ 1712 hours (left), elephants near euphorbia plants (right)
The herd included an couple of mothers, one nursing (left, Figure 159) and another with a baby and her older offspring (right, Figure 159). The nursing mother had somehow broken her right tusk.
Figure 159. Mother elephant suckling youngster (left), mother with baby and youngster (right)
Just down the road from the elephants was a solitary hippo feeding in the bush (left, Figure 160). It was always interesting to see a hippo on land as they spend so much of their time in the water. We came upon a hippo footprint. A hippo's foot has four toes the splay apart to distribute the weight and there is webbing between them.
Figure 160. Hippo feeding in bush (left), four-toed hippo footprint (right)
A short way from the hippo was another herd of elephants and one obligingly crossed the road in front of truck (left, Figure 161). This one had a large nick in its right ear.
Figure 161. Elephant crossing road in front of truck (left), Black-face vervet monkey in bush (right)
There was a Black-faced vervet monkey in bush that was curious about our truck passing by (right, Figure 161). Nearby for the only time we saw an ungulate – a waterbuck – with his harem (left, Figure 162). Perhaps it was mating season.
Figure 162. Kob & waterbuck with harem (left), horny male Olive baboon examining trash (right)
We came upon a large troop of Olive baboons in a clearing and we got good views of them. Some of the males were obviously horny (right, Figure 162). The result of this condition in the males was evidenced by the number of mothers with babies that we saw. It was interesting to see the different ways that a baby could hitch a ride on their mother (Figure 163).
Figure 163. How many ways can I ride on mum?
We exited the Katunguru gate of the NP and headed south towards Kabale and the Rwandan border. Near the gate on the Kazinga Channel was a small fishing village (left, Figure 164). Further south we climbed up the side of the Great Rift Valley and we rewarded with a view of Lake George from heights at Kichwamba (left, Figure 164).
Figure 164. Village on Kazinga Channel (left), view of Lake Edward from heights at Kichwamba (right)
Along our drives through populated areas, we never ceased to be amazed by the loads that people, mostly women, were able to carry on their heads (Figure 165).
Figure 165. Africa – A chiropractor’s dream
The roadside in southwestern Uganda has many people moving bunches of bananas. Those with bicycles can move several bunches in one heavy load (Figure 166). The number of people who went barefoot despite the ground or hot road surface was surprising.
Figure 166. Southwestern Uganda – Land of the bicycle bananas
The children were friendly as per the norm and excited to see mzungu passing by their villages (Figure 167). The fear of strangers so prevalent in North America is not present in East Africa.
Figure 167. Children waving at mzungas
Roadside shops sell a wide variety of goods including metal doors and window grills (left, Figure 168). Millennia ago, the ancient Egyptians produced a thick paper-like material called papyrus from the pith of the papyrus plant. This plant grows in Uganda (right, Figure 168) and it was our first sighting of this legendary plant.
Figure 168. Ironworks doors & window grills for sale (left), papyrus growing in marsh (right)
Bandas (circular hut with thatched roof) dot virtually treeless countryside (left, Figure 169) while in the villages, roadside vendors sell their wares including onions (right, Figure 169).
Figure 169. Bandas (circular hut with thatched roof) dot countryside (left), onion sellers (right)
It was always a treat to see the outlandishly long-horned ankole cattle being herded (left, Figure 170) or grazing beside road (right, Figure 170).
Figure 170. Moving herd of ankole cattle (left), ankole cattle beside road (right)
We pulled off the road into a farmer’s field for lunch and after lunch as per normal we dried off the utensils and dishes by swinging them about in the air in a process called flapping (right, Figure 171). Intrepid Tours does not believe in using dish towels so flapping is the only alternative. However, if the final rinse is not in hot water flapping is problematic.
During lunch, I was able to get some excellent photographs of a glossy ibis hunting insects in the field (left, Figure 171).
Figure 171. Glossy ibis in farmer’s field at lunch (left), flapping dishes after lunch to dry them (right)
Locals must gather water in most of East Africa and this is mainly women’s and child’s work. It was very ironic to see locals gathering water in a small stream near a patch of very nice houses (right, Figure 172). For me, this illustrated the gulf between Africa’s rich and poor. In East Africa, every source of water is precious so streams containing discarded tires and garbage are still used for laundry (right, Figure 172).
Figure 172. Collecting water near expensive houses (left), washing laundry in stream (right)
The sun is very strong during the day as the equator run through Uganda. The strong rays of the sun are routinely used to dry grain and sorghum which is favoured by goats (right, Figure 173) and even babies (left, Figure 173).
Figure 173. Baby eating drying grain (left), goats enjoying drying sorghum (right)
The trip to Kabale passed through some beautiful countryside with fertile, verdant rolling hills and patchwork farms (Figure 174).
Figure 174. Beautiful countryside in southwest Uganda
We stopped at a roadside market so our cook could pick up some vegetables. I took the time to examine a wattle and daub wall with striations (left, Figure 175). Looking closer at the wall, I could see the striations were in fact made by workers’ fingers when they were applying the daub (left, Figure 175).
Figure 175. Baby eating drying grain (left), wattle & daub wall showing finger marks in daub (right)
Africans use the resources available to them. For example we saw men harvesting long poles in the forest (left, Figure 176) and then being used to support floors during the construction of multi-floor building (right, Figure 176). This is exactly how we saw building in Southeast Asia.
Figure 176. Loading up poles for construction in forest (left), using poles in construction (right)
In Kabale as in other towns, there were seamstress and tailors working on the sidewalk (left, Figure 177). Their sewing machines were driven by a treadle as those were in North America many decades ago.
We did not see a lot of musical instruments for sale in East Africa, but in Kabale vendors were selling the ennanga harp (arched harp) (right, Figure 177). This is one of the traditional instruments used in music in the southern province of Buganda, Uganda.
Figure 177. Kabale tailor on sidewalk (left), ennanga harp for sale in Kabale (right)
The roadside in Kabale was busy with people walking to work or home since there was no other affordable transportation available (left, Figure 178). Meanwhile on the street in downtown Kabale, there was a Wedding procession for well-to-do as it was Saturday (right, Figure 178).
Figure 178. Busy Kabale roadside (left), wedding procession for wealthy (right)
The Kabale market in front of a building sporting the colours of the MTN cell phone company was selling water and unripened green bananas (left, Figure 179).
The amount of dust generated along the dirt roads of Africa is impressive. This dust, frequently red in colour, coats the vegetation along the roads (right, Figure 179).
Figure 179. Kabale - selling water & bananas (left), dust covered vegetation near L. Bunyonyi (right)
Nearing Lake Bunyonyi, we passed by a men and women quarrying the side of the hill for gravel using hand tools (left, Figure 180). The rock was broken up by hand and heavy loads carried down the hillside by hand (right, Figure 180). It was extremely demanding physical work.
Figure 180. Quarrying rock for crushed stone (left), woman carrying heavy load of stone (right)
Finally Lake Bunyonyi ("Place of many little birds") came into view buried deep in the folds of the surrounding hills (left, Figure 181). Lake Bunyonyi is 25 km long and 7 km wide, covering an area of 61 square kilometres. The lake is surrounded by hills that rise 250 to 512m above it and are intensely cultivated.
Figure 181. View down to Lake Bunyonyi (left), Lake Bunyonyi is deep (right)
There was constant dugout traffic on the lake as the locals transport all kinds of goods in them (Figure 182).
Figure 182. Locals in dugout on Lake Bunyonyi
Arriving at our campsite on Lake Bunyonyi, we quickly setup our tent and then walked to the activity area to rent a dugout canoe (US $10) as it was already 1745 hours.
Our rental dugout canoe was the classic log that had been hollowed out (left, Figure 183). The ‘God is Great’ rental dugout did not necessarily inspire great confidence (right, Figure 183). We were given each a basic carved paddle but no lifejacket which did not seem important at the time – perhaps we were tired and not thinking straight.
Figure 183. Dugout log (left), ‘God is Great’ but not this rental dugout (right)
When we loaded into the dugout, the first hint surfaced that this was not a North American style canoe as the dugout was very tippy since it had no keel. We pushed off and paddle out a ways and the safety concerns increased as the tippiness of dugout became a great concern. Basically any minute shift of our body weight would make the dugout feel like was about t overturn which was a great concern as we did not have lifejackets and I had all our money, passports and camera. The solution was that Donna ceased to paddle (left, Figure 184) while I tried to become accustomed to paddling without tipping us over. We paddled for 20 minutes to a dock around a point where Donna decided that enough was enough and exited to walk back to the campsite. I setoff and paddled the boat back alone to the activity area (right, Figure 184). All in all boating in the tippy dugout without lifejackets and with all our valuables was not at all relaxing.
Figure 184. Don’t paddle for goodness sake (left), ‘alone again’ (right)
Donna’s to walk back to the campsite had some adventure since the dock where she got out was not in the campgrounds and she had to walk through property becoming to a family that came out to see her. Donna felt that the situation was potentially dangerous and the man sensed it and asked her “Are you afraid?” (left, Figure 185) After calling out at the gate, Donna finally got back in and her ordeal was over (right, Figure 185). The lesson to take away – get a lifejacket when boating.
Figure 185. The “Are you afraid?” family (left), ‘Let me back in!’ (right)
That evening alot of time of was spent discussing a design for a custom t-shirt order from a vendor in Kabale. The cost was US $20 for what I thought was too much for a pretty basic t-shirt with iron-on transfers. Queen E and her consort pretty well dictated the design which reflected their affection for the former group leader, Lelei, but including his catch phrases such as TIA (This is Africa) and sawa sawa (OK OK). The TIA acronym was used by Lelei as a copout when situations arose that were challenging – ‘hey we can’t do it because this is Africa’.
Donna ordered a t-shirt but I passed. We’d drop off the order when we again past through Kibale on our way to Rwanda and then pickup the order on our return from Rwanda.
The Republic of Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa. It is bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and Tanzania. It is home to some 10 million people and given its small size, Rwanda supports the densest population in continental Africa. Most of the population engage in subsistence agriculture with ¾ of the population living below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
This small verdant country of fertile and hilly terrain is sometimes known as "Land of a Thousand Hills" or “Pays des Mille Collines” in French. The country rocketed to fame due to its 1994 genocide, in which between 800,000 and one million people, mainly Tutsi were killed in an ethic bloodbath.
Figure 186. Map of Rwanda
2.4.1 Day 9 Rwanda (19 Jul, Sun)
· Day 9: AM 250 kms crossing into Rwanda to Kigali and then onto Ruhengeri and Volcano National Park to stay in local catholic mission
In the morning, down on the lakeshore near our tent was a pretty Pied Kingfisher (left, Figure 187) which is common throughout sub-Saharan Africa and is estimated to be the world's third most common kingfisher. It is mainly a specialist fish-eater, although it will take crustaceans and large aquatic insects. The word ‘pied’ means patchy in color or splotched and is derived from the colouring of the magpie.
Our truck could not climb up the steep hill to the entrance of the campground carrying the passengers so we walked up while the truck laboured up the incline. On our way back to Kabale, we passed by the quarries which looked pretty in the earlier morning light (right, Figure 187). Whatever the aesthetics of the scene, I could not help but think of the hard working men and women could produced this rock pile.
Figure 187. A Pied Kingfisher on lakeshore (left), basket atop rock pile in morning light (right)
In Kabale, we stopped to place the order for custom t-shirts at a local specialty business (right, Figure 188). These t-shirt were supposed to be picked up and fully paid for on our return passage from Rwanda in three days. While waiting for the protracted discussions to end, I was able to finally get a good photograph of an African Pied Crow even though it is rarely seen very far from human habitation (left, Figure 188). Its beak makes it seem like a crow-sized Raven.
The newspaper vendors gathered around our truck in Kabale selling Sunday newspapers with salacious writing. For example, one of the tabloids reported that the celebrity "Luli has had sexy-time with rock dinosaur Mick Jagger". The term ‘sexy-time’ was popularized in North America by the movie ‘Borat’.
Figure 188. African Pied Crow in Kabale (left), placing custom t-shirt order (right)
At Gatuna, Uganda, some 16 miles (26 km) south of Kabale, we crossed into Rwanda (left, Figure 189). Surprisingly, Canadians did not have to pay any visa fee to enter the country but most of the other nationalities on our truck did. Apparently there is a reciprocal agreement between Canada and Rwanda.
At the foreign exchange bureau operating out of an old shipping container (right, Figure 189), we exchanged US $100 into 57,000 Rwandan Franc (RWF).
Figure 189. Border crossing at Gatuna (left), shipping container offering foreign exchange (right)
The countryside between Gatuna and Kigali contained many tea plantations (left, Figure 190). The streams from the hills surrounding these tea plantations were used by the locals to wash their laundry (right, Figure 190).
Figure 190. Tea plantation (left), doing laundry in stream in tea plantation (right)
The population of Rwanda is religious with 56.5% of the Rwanda's population being Roman Catholic, 26% Protestant, 11.1% Seventh-day Adventist, 4.6% Muslim and only 1.7% claiming no religious affiliation. Hence as this was a Sunday, we saw large gatherings of worshipers who were dressed in their ‘Sunday go to Meeting’ cloths (Figure 191).
Figure 191. Sunday gathering (left), well-dresses masses along side road (right)
The road from near the border at Gatuna narrow and unpaved (). There are optimistic bicyclists who leave their bicycles on the narrow road despite the large trucks driving along (Figure 192).
Figure 192. Dusty road from border (left), at times a narrow road with bikes in way (right)
It was never boring to watch the people walking along side the roads – they must be developed nerves of steel as vehicles move along at a fair clip (Figure 193). In Rwanda, unlike most of the rest of East Africa, women frequently used parasols to ward off the effects of sun on their skin.
Figure 193. People in Sunday-best and some with parasols along roadside
The Rwandans utilize the steep hillsides for agriculture by means of intensive terracing (left, Figure 194). Fortunately for Rwanda agriculture, it was not suffering from the drought being experienced by Kenya (right, Figure 194).
Figure 194. Intensively terraces steep hillside (left), workers & storks working bottomland (right)
Coming into Kigali, there were a number of interesting sights that were so interesting to us coming from the North American environment. The advertising dominance of cell companies was again evidenced by a giant panel for MTN’s “Fata Cash” promotion (left, Figure 195) that allowed MTN subscribers (MTN is a South Africa-based multinational mobile telecommunications company) to win prizes up to a main prize of 5 million RWF (US $8,700) just for being a customer.
Figure 195. Spooky ‘Fata Cash’ man (left), hiking a ride on back of semi-trailer (right)
Seeing young men jumping onto the back of the semi-trailer for a ride was surprising (right, Figure 195), as was seeing people doing their laundry along side the road in Kigali (left, Figure 196).
On an uncomfortably hot day, we arrived at the Kigali Memorial Centre at 1230 hours and our tour leader, ‘Papa’, asked us to be back to the truck in 2 hours. This was more than enough time to see the centre as a guide at the centre told us theat 1-1½ sufficient for a good visit. The centre was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried. The Centre is a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and serves as a place for people to grieve those they lost.
The genocide was not spontaneous as the events on 6th April 1994 demonstrate. On that day, President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyrien Ntaryamira of Burundi were flying into Kigali when, at 20:23, the plane was shot down on its approach to Kigali airport. By 21:15 roadblocks had been constructed throughout Kigali, houses were being searched and shooting began to be heard within an hour. The death lists to identify Tutsis for killing had been prepared in advance.
The murderers used machetes, clubs, guns, and any blunt tool they could find to inflict as much pain on their victims as possible. Women were beaten, raped, humiliated, abused and ultimately murdered, often in the sight of their own families. Children watched as their parents were tortured, beaten and killed in front of their eyes, before their own small bodies were sliced, smashed, abused, pulverised and discarded.
The seeds of the genocide were sown by the Belgian colonizers who took control of Rwanda from the Germans following World War 1. All Rwandans were originally associated with eighteen different clans. The categories Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstances. However, under colonial rule, the distinctions were made racial, particularly with the introduction of the identity card in 1932. In creating these distinctions, the colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows as Hutu, and this also applied to his descendants. Obviously the Tutsi were more economically privileged than the Hutus and ended up in many positions of power even though they were in the minority. Rwanda gained its independence in 1962 and the Tutsi/Hutu distinction continued on.
A colleague at work is from Rwanda and he explained to me that there is no racial, religious or language distinction between Tutsi and Hutu.
Canada’s contribution to the genocide was the ineffective General Romeo Dallaire who served as Force Commander of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) - the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda - between 1993 and 1994. He was ineffective in the position and unwilling to step outside the bounds of his orders and take effective measures against the people committing the genocide. Since returning to Canada, he has played the sympathy card and advanced his career despite his failure as a commanding general.
"Canada will remain the only country of Humanity that aligns medals on the chest of a man who says" I failed ". The first gesture of humility would be of saying, "I do not deserve it" ", thinks François Bugingo, vice-president of Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) and spokesperson of the organization in Canada. According to the journalist, present in Rwanda during the conflict, the attitude of Roméo Dallaire is paradoxical, he denounces his failure while agreeing to be treated as a hero. (Ref J)
Figure 196. Roadside laundry in Kigali (left), downtown Kigali from Kigali Memorial Centre (right)
There are testimonial plaques by the victims of the genocide. One, by a girl who lost her parents, was particularly moving (left, Figure 197). In the video room, we watched a PBS documentary on the genocide along with a Rwandan couple who were visibly moved by what they saw (right, Figure 197).
Figure 197. Moving statement by child (left), Rwandan couple visibly moved by documentary (right)
There is a memorial flame at the Kigali Memorial Centre but the center does not have the visceral impact of a site like the Nazi Struthof extermination camp in the beautiful Vosges Mountains of France nor the Choeung Ek Killing Field near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Perhaps the impact is diminished because the killing was widespread and not concentrated on the site of the Kigali Memorial Centre.
We finished our two hour self-guided tour at the memorial flame (left, Figure 198) and returned to the truck about 1430 hours as we were requested to do. However, three in our group, including Queen E and her consort, felt they wanted to spend another hour in the centre which meant that we again got in late to our campsite after an unnecessarily long day. It was this type of selfish behaviour that detracted from our trip. Unfortunately our tour leader, ‘Papa’, did not act as a leader and failed sort out the problem.
Following our tour and return to the truck we had lunch in the parking lot of the centre (right, Figure 198). I found having lunch nearby the centre to be entirely inappropriate and disrespectful to the victims commemorated by the centre.
Figure 198. Memorial flame (left), lunching at the memorial parking lot (right)
The hunt for the authors behind the genocide continues. Recently on 6 October 2009, Ugandan authorities detained top Rwandan genocide suspect Idelphonse Nizeyimana, the so-called Butcher of Butare wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for genocide, complicity to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Nizeyimana was captured Monday in a Kampala hotel. A former Rwandan army captain and senior intelligence officer, Nizeyimana is accused of organizing the slaughter of Tutsi civilians and ordering the murder a former Queen of Rwanda. He was caught in Kampala after he entered the country by bus from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Subsequently he was extradited to Arusha in northern Tanzania to face trial at the ICTR (Ref I).
The United States had offered a five million dollar reward for the capture of Nizeyimana (photograph in center of bottom row, Figure 199), a former Rwandan army intelligence officer and one of the four most wanted suspects on the ICTR list.
In Canada, a Rwandan named Désiré Munyaneza, was convicted in May 2009 under Canada's war crimes law. He was found guilty in May of seven counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity connection to his actions in and around Butare, Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide. Munyaneza arrived in Montreal in 1997 and claimed refugee status. His claim was dismissed in September 2000 and twice again on appeal.
Figure 199. Reward poster for Rwandan genocide suspects
The drive from Kigale to Ruhengeri was very scenic as it seemed that we were driving along a ridge with views on either side (left, Figure 200). We saw a UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) truck heading to Ruhengeri. The UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, services the numerous refugee camps in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) that dot the Rwandan border due to the ongoing violence and economic problems in the DR Congo. The most recent war in the Congo began in 1998 and involved foreign armies. The fighting continues in the east of the country and this war is the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people. We also saw trucks from the UN World Food Program in Ruhengeri.
Figure 200. Patchwork fields on hills (left), UNHCR truck heading to refugee camps in Congo (right)
We saw the smallest mosque of our trip on the way to Ruhengeri (left, Figure 201). The single room building was called ‘Mosque La Famille’ (family mosque) and overlooked verdant hills.
Figure 201. Small mosque & beautiful countryside (left), heavily terraced hillside (right)
Finally after another long day, we arrived in Ruhengeri and our campground in the local Catholic Church complex named Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima. We had a choice to either stay in our tent or in a dormitory room. Initially the dormitory room seemed attractive but then my mind flashed back to my experience staying in army dormitory rooms and I did not fancy hearing late night revellers or early morning risers moving about. So we pitched our tent on the lawn near our truck (left, Figure 202).
Donna was not feeling well but she was lucky that the doctor in our tour group examined her and recommended a course of treatment.
2.4.2 Day 10 Ruhengeri, Rwanda (20 Jul, Mon)
· Day 10: Non-driving day, free day at campsite
On this free day some folks left very early to see the golden monkeys (US$100) in the Virunga Mountains where we would see the gorillas on the following day. However, Donna wanted a rest day to help her recover from her cold while I was not interested in seeing the monkeys having seen the chimpanzees in Uganda so we slept in until 0900 hours. When I got up, I walked around near the Centre Pastoral where I saw an old woman who would tug at anyone’s heart strings (right, Figure 202). I went over to her and gave her some money that would hopefully help her a bit.
Figure 202. Camping at Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima (left), old woman (right)
While waiting for Donna to get up out of her sickbed, I saw a number of hard working women, including those carrying heavy loads (left, Figure 203) and those washing the bed sheets by hand at the Centre Pastoral (right, Figure 203).
Figure 203. Women carrying vegetables (left), women doing laundry at Centre Pastoral (right)
There was a large Russian built Mi-17 troop transport helicopter ferrying slung loads overtop of the Centre Pastoral so when Donna got up we when over to see where they were landing. It turned out that they were landing at an army airfield nearby (left, Figure 204) which was attracting a very large crowd (right, Figure 204). We walked to the airfield fence through the crowd to get a good look at the helicopter. This turned out to be a very harrowing experience for us since most local people there started crowding around to see the mzungus and hopefully to get a handout. There was pushing and we just wanted to get out of there and back to the Centre Pastoral. We were both we relieved to get back to the Centre Pastoral with our health and possessions intact. This was the only time that we were in such a position during our African sejour.
Figure 204. Russian-made Mi-17 troop transport helicopters landing (left), large crowd watching (right)
At 1445 hours I headed out on the 5 hour marathon village walk through Ruhengeri (US $10) while Donna relaxed at the campsite. This walk was lead by two local guides. Our first stop was an orphanage where the staff showed us how to start making banana beer by mashing up peeled bananas in a container that looked like a small dugout canoe (left, Figure 205). After this the staff took us to see a dairy cow and showed us how it was milked – this was the low point of the village walk as most of us were quite familiar with cow milking.
The inmates of the orphanage performed a dance show which was entertaining (right, Figure 205). Even the locals climbed on the roof of adjacent buildings to see the performance.
Figure 205. Making banana beer at orphanage (left), group performing at orphanage (right)
After the dancing, I bought a woven basket to contribute something towards the orphanage (left, Figure 206). Finally after spending an hour at the orphanage, we mercifully left and proceeded downtown passing by the campground where several people dropped out as the village was already boring.
There were lots of locals making their way downtown with goods balanced on their heads (right, Figure 206).
Figure 206. Basket purchase at orphanage (left), people taking goods into town (right)
The atmosphere at the main market in Ruhengeri (Figure 207) was not welcoming as most people objected to having their photographs taken. As well were no goods targeted at us tourists.
Figure 207. Market stall in Ruhengeri (left), working on sewing machines at market (right)
Just out of Ruhengeri we visited a small water fall whose source is a nearby spring (left, Figure 208). There were curious children following us around so I felt like the Pied Piper. Next we visited the mineral spring which has dissolved gases that make it bubbly (right, Figure 208). The locals believe that this mineral water has medicinal property which can heal the afflicted. The concrete structure around the spring was built in 1987 to commemorate a visit to Ruhergeri by a German scientific expedition lead by Adolf Friedrich zu Mecklenburg in 1885.
Figure 208. Waterfall outside of Ruhengeri (left), bubbling mineral spring near waterfall (right)
Our final stop was the swimming hole which was full of locals. It looked very inviting but we had no time for a quick dip. Leaving the swimming hole we walked back and arrived at the campsite just after 1800 hours. Overall the trip was interesting but at some 5 hours, it was simply too long. Spending an hour an the orphanage was overly long and boring. The local guides for the village walk need to think more about where to take people.
Figure 209. Swimming hole outside of Ruhengeri (left), sunrise at 0721 hours on 21 July (right)
· Day 11: Non-driving day, gorilla trek and the third and final night at campsite.
Today was the big day that we had been anxiously waiting for since the start of our trip – an opportunity to see the mountain gorillas in the wild. We had paid a US $500 per person fee for a gorilla visit and hoped that it would be worth it. Since we had caught colds on day 4 from a fellow traveler, we were worried that we would not be able to visit the gorillas as they are susceptible to human diseases. Fortunately the previous rest day helped Donna’s recovery.
At 0700 hours we left our camp to drive to the headquarters of the Parc National des Volcans (PNV) located Kinigi some 14 km from Ruhengeri (Figure 210). This is near where the ORTPN (Rwandan Office for Tourism and National Parks) offices at Musanze are located. ORTPN currently has a team of some 80 trackers and anti-poachers, many of whom speak French or English. On the way we witnessed a beautiful sunrise over the tranquil countryside (right, Figure 209).
The Parc National des Volcans is located where three countries converge (DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda). There is turmoil on the DR Congo side due to the ongoing and seemingly never ending warfare.
Figure 210. Map of Parc National des Volcans
Gorillas remained unknown to the West until 1847 when they were discovered and brought to Western attention by Thomas Savage, a missionary in West Africa. He wrote that "They are exceedingly ferocious and always offensive in their habits". Later in 1856, Pal du Chaillu, an American explorer, was the first to shoot a gorilla and described the gorilla as a "...hellish dream creature - a being of that hideous order, half man half beast." The mountain gorillas were first catalogued by Captain Robert von Beringe in 1902 whilst travelling to Rwanda through the Virunga Massif. Along his journey, von Beringe spotted a group of black, large apes on the peak of the Sabyinyo Volcano. Of this group von Beringe shot two and thus, the mountain gorillas acquired their scientific name, Gorilla beringei beringei. It is generally thought that there are some 700 mountain gorillas now in the wild.
Gorillas are apes together with chimpanzees. They are our closest relatives as humans share 97.7% of their genetic material with gorillas and 98.4% with chimpanzees.
Since its start in 1979, gorilla tourism has helped change Rwandans’ perception of mountain gorilla conservation and habitat protection by providing an economic rationale. Currently, it is the third largest driver of the Rwanda economy, after tea and coffee. The Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) was created to oversee gorilla conservation and tourism development. Following the 1994 genocide, the process of Rwandan rebirth and renewal that has led to the current peace in the country and mountain gorilla tourism has been growing rapidly to 11 thousand tourists in 2005 up from 7 thousand in 1989.
Our tour group of 16 people was broken up into two groups since only eight people can visit a gorilla family for one hour as it would be too stressful for the gorillas to have people around them all day. Even our being there for only an hour changes the gorilla’s behaviour. However the gorilla permit money that is paid by tourists (US $500 per person) pays for the preservation of the gorillas’ habitat; the guides; the trackers; and the protection of the gorillas from poachers. In short it is the gorilla tourism that disrupts yet protects the gorillas in the mist.
Our group for the gorilla trek consisted mainly of the older people and was assigned to visit the Amahoro gorilla group (Amahoro means "peace" in Kinyarwanda). The Amahoro group was started to be visited by tourists in 1997. This group consists of some 15 individual members including: 1 silver back; 1 black back; 5 females; 3 juveniles; and 2 infants. The individuals can be uniquely identified by their distinctive nose prints which are as unique as human finger prints (Figure 211). The gorillas are named and ORTPN now holds an annual gorilla naming ceremony called the Kwita Izina ceremony. This ceremony was held in June, several weeks before we arrived. Figure 211 shows the Amahoro group members with their names and nose prints.
Figure 211. Amahoro group members with their names and nose prints (Ref A)
Each of the gorilla families tends to stay in different sections of Volcanoes Park. However, within each section there is a wide range that they moved around in every day so finding the gorillas could take twenty minutes or two hours!
The following are the guidelines for visiting the gorilla:
· To minimize possible transmission of human diseases, visitors are asked to maintain a distance of 7m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas (left, Figure 212).
· If you are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, please do not visit the gorillas.
· Viewing time is limited to one hour.
· Maximum 8 visitors per group.
· Should you need to cough, cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas.
· When with the gorillas, keep your voice low.
· Try not to make rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
· If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions.
· Recommended clothing is long trousers and shirts when in the forest to avoid nettle stings.
· Study walking shoes or hiking boots are essential. You may find raingear useful.
· Photography is permitted, although you may not use flash
Figure 212. Testing the 7 meter rule (left), packed into SUV – us beside Christina (right)
Francis, our guide, who started working as a tracker in 1999 became a guide in 2001. He gave us a briefing and we loaded into our vehicle. Our group consisting of 8 tourists, a guide and a driver was packed into one of our three SUVs that we arrived in (right, Figure 212), while the other group of 8 was spread out over the remaining two SUVs. This made for a crowded 45 minute drive to our jumping off point for our trek to see the Amahoro gorilla group.
The first part of the road was paved, however the second part was gravel and very bumpy which made for an uncomfortable trip especially considering how packed the vehicle was. Our start point was a small farming village where children attempt to sell us their crayoned drawing of gorillas. There were porters available to carry backpacks and walking stick for sale. No one said they wanted a porter but a couple came along and it was not long before a woman in our group soon gave her pack to one of the porter and later on relied on him to complete the hike. The idea is that you tip the guide about US $10 for his services.
Figure 213. Hiking up the fields to the treeline (left), Zahida, Donna, James & armed guard (right)
Leaving our parked vehicles, we walked uphill on paths along side the farmers’ fields – it was hot going in the sun (left, Figure 213). After about 45 minutes we reached a stone wall about four feet high at the edge of jungle on the side of the volcano. The wall was primarily built to keep out the buffalo that would otherwise come down and trample farmers’ fields (left, Figure 215). At the wall we were joined by two soldiers armed with AK-47s (right, Figure 213). Their purpose was to protect us from the buffaloes in the jungle and any bandits/rebels. Unfortunately we did not see any buffaloes, although we did pass by an area where they had bedded down (left, Figure 214).
Figure 214. Buffalo bedding area in bamboo (left), clouds streaming off a Virunga volcano (right)
Meeting our armed guards made me think of the group of tourists that I had spoken to earlier in Uganda that were also going to seeing the gorillas. However they were too late to get gorilla permits in Rwanda so they were going to see the gorillas in the Virunga National Park on the side belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo has been wracked by years of war and in August 2007, four mountain gorillas were shot even though they belonged to a group that was frequently visited by tourists and provided an economic boon to the area (Ref B). Some articles suggest that the gorillas’ presence was interfering with the illegal charcoal trade. In any event, I was sure that they’d be OK but their gorilla experience must have been very different than ours.
When we climbed up the ladder and over the wall to enter the jungle, it reminder me of the sailors leaving protection of the village wall and entering the jungle in the movie “King Kong” (right, Figure 215) – everywhere there were big trees, bamboo, heavy undergrowth and outstanding views of the Virunga volcanoes in the Parc National des Volcans (PNV) (right, Figure 214). Fortunately it was only an hour’s hiking up the trail to where the trackers had located the Amahoro gorilla group.
Figure 215. Ladder to cross wall in gorillas’ territory (left), King Kong at gate in wall (right)
The trackers locate the groups by staying with the gorilla group until the gorillas make their nest for the night. At this point, the trackers mark the location of the nest and return to town. The next morning the trackers go back to where the gorilla group nested and follow their trail. Because mountain gorillas generally don't move very far in one day, the trackers are able to locate them very quickly. Once located, they radio their location to the guides.
Figure 216. Organizing ourselves to meet the gorillas (left), tracker towing Donna up hillside (right)
When we met the trackers, our guide gave us a brief orientation to proper behaviour when near the gorillas and told us to leave our walking sticks and packs, and follow the trackers. Given the tumbles that some of us including me took, not having poles and packs was a good idea. While we were with the gorillas, the porters brought for equipment to our lunch site.
The trackers led us up through the stinging nettles to see the gorillas (right, Figure 216). They also towed several people by the hillside (right, Figure 216). The stinging nettles thoroughly justified our decision to bring leather work gloves with us since the steepness of the slope meant that we had to grab on to the nettles to safely move around on the slope. Even though I had the gloves, I still fell and rolled down the slope a couple of times since it was never certain whether we were stepping on the ground or mats of vegetation which were very slippery and besides I was frequently looking at the world through my camera’s small LCD screen. Fortunately I did not roll into the gorillas but I am sure that it been done.
The mountain gorillas rank among the rarest animals in the world. The mountain gorilla is the hairiest race of gorillas. Its long, thick black hair insulates it from the cold living conditions at high elevations ever raining foggy and wet. When the males are mature they develop a streak of whitish hair on their backs and are therefore called "silverback gorillas". Adult male gorillas can weigh up to 400 pounds, while females can weigh about 200 pounds. Female gorillas don't have silverbacks like the males. When a male gorilla with a silverback is standing upright, they can be as tall as six feet tall.
When first we saw a gorilla, I was very disappointed since it was far away and buried in the vegetation that it was eating. I thought that we would be hard pressed to get a good view of a gorilla. However that rapidly changed at the tracker has brought us below the gorilla troop that was moving downslope in their feeding. Soon we were surrounding by gorillas feeding and moving about. The gorillas did not pay us much attention since as habituated gorillas they had seen people coming to see them every day for years. For the next hour and a quarter (1145-1252 hours), we moved about the slopes to better see the gorillas and to follow them as they moved about feeding on the stems of the stinging nettles (they strip off the outer layer and eat the middle part like celery).
Suddenly we saw a gorilla plainly through the vegetation and it really looked more like a man in a gorilla suit!
In the area there were mainly celery nettles for food but gorillas also eat bamboo and thistles. As we watched them feeding like machines, it was clear how a full grown gorilla can eat up to sixty pounds of vegetation a day. When we saw them, they were feeding on the pith in nettle stalks by peeling off the covering on the stalk to get at the interior (left, Figure 217). Fortunately we didn’t tread on one of the results of all this feeding (right, Figure 217).
Figure 217. Young gorilla feeding on nettle stalk pith (left), gorilla scat (right)
We were lucky enough to see a mother carrying her baby on her back while she moved around to feed (Figure 218).
Figure 218. Baby on mother’s back (left), mother with baby feeding (right)
Once in a while, our trackers made groaning and grunting noises. Apparently these noises relax the gorillas and tells them that we would do them no harm. The trackers obviously had a close connection with the gorillas as they understood where they would be moving next and could get very close without upsetting the gorillas. They also moved vegetation out of the way so we could clearly see the gorillas – this really enhanced our time with the gorillas.
Figure 219. Gorilla taking a break from feeding (left), feeding on nettle stalk pith (right)
During our stay there were many photographs taken by our group but Donna mainly watched and use her binoculars (left, Figure 220). Occasionally the gorillas would show their strength by pulling down a mass of nettle stems (right, Figure 220).
Figure 220. Donna & Christina watching gorillas (left), gorilla tearing down nettle stems (right)
Along one is supposed to keep some 21 feet from the gorillas, this does not apply if they decide to pass by you. In our case this is exact what they did. I was videoing when one of the trackers told me to move back since I was in the way of where a large gorilla wanted to move. I stumbled backwards and the gorilla emerged from the bush and passed by just in front of me (left, Figure 221). I took an interesting video of the encounter with a gorilla.
As noon approached, the gorillas started to bed down and I took my best photograph of a gorilla (right, Figure 221). The gorilla looked very placid and it was staring directly at me with its brown eyes.
Figure 221. Quick move away - gorilla coming through (left), gorilla relaxing (right)
Ubumwe, the group's silverback, was very peaceful and calm perhaps because he is one of the oldest of all the silverbacks in all the groups. He reminded me of an old man who has seen it all but tires quickly and sleeps a lot (left, Figure 223). I assumed that some of the young blackback males were conducting succession planning as they sat around eating.
Figure 222. Ubumwe, the group's silverback feeding (left), Ubumwe on the move (right)
Figure 223. Ubumwe, the group's silverback sleeping (left), Ubumwe’s human-like hand (right)
When Ubumwe flaked out for a siesta, the other gorillas in his troop took his queue and flaked out as well (right, Figure 224). We watched them bed down (left, Figure 224) and then took our leave at noon. At no time during our visit did we feel nervous being around these powerful animals. They seemed quite gentle and laidback – much more so than the hyper chimpanzees in the Kibale Nationa Park Forest.
Figure 224. Overlooking gorillas relaxing (left), gorillas relaxing (right)
After leaving the Amaharo Group we walked a short distance to rejoin our gear at the lunch spot (left, Figure 225). We were not that hungry so we gave most of our lunch to the trackers as then did others in our group.
Figure 225. Trackers at lunch & Donna hot and tired (left), view of the Virunga Mountains (right)
The hour long hike back down to our vehicle seemed very long especially the trek along the paths in the farmers’ fields but we were rewarded with some wonderful view of the Virunga Mountains (right, Figure 225). Once again while walking across the fields, children tried to sell us their primitive drawings of gorillas which was tiresome by now – perhaps they was a label on our forehead saying ‘Mzungu - I’ll buy anything’. Of course the drive back to the park headquarters at Kinigi was no less bumpy and crowded than during the morning but there was a chance to look at the interesting bandas (circular huts) along the way (left, Figure 226).
Figure 226. Banda with goats (left), carving purchased at ORTPN souvenir store (right)
When we returned to ORTPN buildings at 1530 hours, I stopped into the souvenir store where I bought a pair of expertly carved African figures (right, Figure 226). Then we squeezed back into our ‘sardine can on wheels’ for the drive back to our campsite in Ruhengeri.
At the end of our gorilla trek, we could not help but admire the work of Dr. Dian Fossey in studying and protecting these mountain gorillas under difficult circumstances (http://www.gorillafund.org/dian_fossey/index.php). She began a long-term study of the mountain gorillas in December 1966 under the auspices of Dr. Leakey (he of the Olduvai Gorge excavations). Initially she worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) but due to political upheaval moved to Rwanda in 1967. What followed were thousands of hours of intense observations that enabled her to gain the gorillas’ trust and acquire new knowledge about their behaviour. On Dec. 26, 1985, Dian Fossey was murdered while back at her cabin in mountains. In 1988, the life and work of Fossey were portrayed in a movie based on her book named ‘’Gorillas in the Mist”. Sigourney Weaver starred as Fossey.
The day before we had the opportunity to make a hike to Dian Fossey's grave site at the diplidated Karisoke Research Centre on the slopes of the Bisoke Volcano (US $75). This was where she carried out her studies on the mountain gorillas for 18 years. However our group leader discouraged us from doing this as he thought that this 4 hour hike would make us too tried for our gorilla trek on the following day. Hence many of us went on a 3 hour marathon village walk through Ruhengeri (US $10). Unfortunately Christina (left, Figure 220), who had travelled from Brazil to see the gorilla and Dian Fossey's grave site took his advice and later regretted it. Had I known that she had wanted to make this hike, I would have gone too since I was interested in seeing more of the volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains.
While some have written how seeing the gorillas was a life changing experience, we did not find it so. The visit was very interesting, rewarding and enjoyable but it was not as if we were meeting a long lost uncle who lived in the jungle. Perhaps the most surprising observation was how utterly unintimidating these powerful creatures were in the wild even considering their habituation. We were also impressed by the helpfulness of the trackers and our guide. At US $500 per person, a gorilla permit is expensive but if it motivates the locals to keep the gorillas protected, then it is more than worth it.
That night, our cook prepared ugali which is a staple food made of maize meal mixed in boiling in water and then formed into a dumpling (left, Figure 227).
Figure 227. Cook preparing ugali (left), sun rising over Rwandan hills at 0731 hours (right)
2.5 Uganda (Again)
2.5.1 Day 12 Ruhengeri, Rwanda to Lake Mburo NP, Uganda (22 Jul, Wed)
· Day 12: All day drive, 330 kms crossing into Uganda to Lake Mburo National Park and stunning lakeside bushcamp with limited facilities
Early in the morning, we packed up and left Ruhengeri for the return trip to Uganda and Lake Mburo NP. On our way back to Kigali, we saw the large number of people along the road who must walk to work or to the market each day (Figure 228). It is a hard life for many in Rwanda.
Figure 228. Walking to work or to the market
Bananas are a staple in Rwanda and large trucks, people and bicycles were used to transport them to market (left, Figure 229). Truck drivers like many others carry lots of them around (right, Figure 229).
Figure 229. Banana truck (left), bananas in truck – swastikas on sides (right)
Between Kigali and the border at Gatuna, the tea pickers were out working in the fields (left, Figure 230).
Figure 230. Tea pickers in action (left), Kampala Coach serving East Arica (right)
At the Rwanda-Uganda border, we completed the exit formalities but the border was closed for about ½ hours, so we waited along with others like the colourful Kampala Coach painted bright red (right, Figure 230). Kampala Coach is an East African company with a fleet of more than 30 coaches and serving destinations in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan (far right, Figure 230).
Figure 231. Ironing on transfers to t-shirts (left), checking clothing at seamstress (right)
In Kabale, we saw a number of signs advertising the 2010 FIFA World Cup (left, Figure 232). Mandela National Stadium in Kampala is host 2010 World Cup warm-up games next year (right, Figure 263). The Chinese government is going to refurbish the stadium prior to the games.
Figure 232. Football World Cup 2010 fever (left), selling pineapples from bicycle (right)
There was a herd of the fascinating ankole cattle on the move near Lake Mburo National Park (Figure 233). Everytime I saw these cattle, I was expecting to see there heads falloff due to the weight of their extravagant horns.
Figure 233. Herding ankole cattle near Lake Mburo National Park (NP)
Nearing Lake Mburo NP, the land became hilly and dry (Figure 234). It is not an easy area to making a living.
Figure 234. Passing by waving local (left), bandas amidst euphorbia plants (right)
We arrived at Lake Mburo, a little visited National Park that is fairly new. This park is mainly known for antelopes like the impala from which Kampala, the capital city, was named. The ATV company that we used in Jinja has an operation in this NP and offers guides ATV tours. We’d have loved to take such a tour but we had no time.
Figure 235. Map of Lake Mburo National Park (NP)
We entered through the zebra-striped Nshara gate and read the rules (Figure 236) as we waited for our tour leader to purchase our permits for camping and walking safari. There were a number of Black-faced vervet monkeys playing peek-a-boo as we waited.
Figure 236. Park regulations (left), Nshara gate to Lake Mburo NP (right)
We stopped at the park’s headquarters (HQ) and had time to check out the Curio Shop (left, Figure 237). I like a zebra mask, but at UGX 30,000 (US $16) it was too expensive. Outside the shop, one of the employee’s kid was playing in the dirt with a simple wooden pull toy shaped like a Land Cruiser (right, Figure 237).
Figure 237. Simple wooden pull toy (left), the Curio Shop (right)
Just down from the HQ we camped in a large grassed area on the shores of Lake Mburo at its north end. We were the only campers at the site, however we were not alone as there was half a dozen warthogs feeding on the grass (Figure 238). They were use to being around people so one could get quite close to them for excellent photographs. The male warthogs have long manes (left, Figure 238) unlike the females.
Warthogs have relatively long legs and a short neck which forces them to drop to its knees to feed. They have developed horny pads on their knees to protect them while feeding. The warthog's eyes are set very high and well back on its forehead which enables them to keep a look out for predators when feeding.
Figure 238. Male warthog feeding on knees in campground (left), warthog near tent (right)
We were setting up our tents as the sun was going down (left, Figure 239). After sunset, we had supper and then spend some time in the campground’s bar by the lake. As we were walking to the bar in the darkness, we could hear but not see the hippos in the lake.
Figure 239. Sunset over Lake Mburo at 1830 hours (left), warthog feeding in campground (right)
We were told to go the toilet in pairs in case we ran into an animal during the night.
2.5.2 Day 13 Lake Mburo and Jinja (23 Jul, Thu)
· Day 13: AM 380 kms drive to Jinja and the White Nile. Stunning well equipped and comfortable campsite overlooking the Nile
We packed up our tents and left our campsite at 0645 hours, before having breakfast, for our walking safari in Lake Mburo NP starting at the park HQ. We were divided into two groups with each having an armed ranger as a guide.
Lake Mburo National Park is found in the only part of Uganda which is covered in extensive acacia woodland, giving it a very different fauna than other NPs. It is the best place in the country to see the gigantic eland antelope, common ungulates are zebra, impala, buffalo and topi while predators include leopard, hyenas and jackals. Lake Mburo has hippos and crocodiles. This small park is not swarming with tourists and so has a much more natural feel to it than some of the other more famous East African parks.
Our ranger and guide, James, was a tall man who was proud as a peacock as he took us on our walk with his AK-74 slung over his shoulder (right, Figure 240). This walk was a very interesting way to see the animals in the wild without being surrounded by the metal of a vehicle (left, Figure 240). James was an endless sourced of stories, many passed on to him by his grandmother. For example she told him that a person would live to 90 if they saw an aardvark. Over 5 years working as a ranger, James saw ten aardvarks so he asked her if he would live to 900.
The ranger was very knowledgeable about birds and identifying them by their sounds. He pointed out where a hippo had spread out its dung to mark territory and then told us his grandmother’s story about why the hippo spreads out its dung. In a nutshell, the elephant only allowed the hippo to stay in his territory if the hippo could prove to him that he had not eaten any of the elephant’s food. Hence the hippo shows the elephant that he has not eaten his food by spreading out his dung for the elephant’s inspection.
Figure 240. Walking on savannah at 0645 hours (left), ranger with AK-74 and skull (right)
The savannah was dotted with a wide variety of ungulates that changed as we walked along. However the most numerous and beautiful ones were the impalas which looked so sleek and healthy (Figure 241).
Figure 241. Donna in front of female impalas (left), impala and harem feeding on tree leaves (right)
In constructing large vegetated mounds, termites play a key functional role in many African savanna systems since their mounds facilitate the growth of vegetation that ungulates like the impala, zebra and topi feed on.
Figure 242. Topi beside large termite mound & aardvark hole (left), young zebra near mound (right)
The horns on the mature male impalas could be very impressive (left, Figure 246). Turning our head we could see a pair of breeding waterbucks (right, Figure 246).
Figure 243. Male impalas (left), pair of male & female waterbuck (right)
It was enervating to walk pass zebras and antelopes grazing and moving about (left, Figure 244). We twice came upon the remains of dead animals. One was a carcass burned by rangers as it had a disease. I went to examine it closely the ranger warned me to stay away. The other carcass was that of a warthog whose backbone had been ripped out (right, Figure 244). Only the skin of the warthog remained. It will take time for the insect life or decay to away.
Figure 244. Topi & warthogs (left), remains of warthog (right)
Seeing zebras was always intriguing due to their dazzle camouflage which can be effective in trees with barren branches (Figure 245).
Figure 245. Zebras amongst the trees (left), zebras in background (right)
We passed be a group of female impalas and their young grazing in the bush (Figure 246). Their rear ends were amazingly angular and uniform. The apparent circular dark spot of their haunches is in fact a shadow created by the deep indentation where their rear leg joins their body.
Figure 246. Female impalas & young (left), impala fawn (right)
We returned to our start point at the park HQ. In summary, this safari walk was one of the highlights of this trip since it was the only time, apart from the visits with the gorillas and chimpanzees that we were able to walk on the ground amongst the wild animals.
Returning to our campsite at 0830 hours and had our breakfast while warthogs had theirs (left, Figure 247). Walking around after breakfast I decided to walk down to the water’s edge near our breakfast area and lo and behold, I finally spotted some hippos in Lake Mburo. They were just off the shore keeping an eye on me (right, Figure 247).
Figure 247. Warthogs & us eating breakfast (left), hippo in lake beside campsite (right)
Also near our breakfast area were some beautiful African Fish eagles up in the trees (Figure 248).
Figure 248. African Fish eagle on vine-covered tree (left), pair of Fish eagles high in tree (right)
After breakfast we left and made a brief stop at the park headquarters. I had just enough time stop in at the Curio Shop (right, Figure 237) and barter a zebra mask (right, Figure 249) down from UGX 30,000 (US $16) to 20,000 UGX (US $11). Due to its long ears, the zebra mask was hard to pack. One of the ears was broken when we arrived back in Ottawa but glue soon put that right.
Figure 249. Inside packed Curio Shop (left), zebra mask (right)
We left the park HQ at 0945 hours for the 10 hour long 520km drive to Jinja via Kampala. On our way out of Lake Mburo NP, we were briefly stopped by a large herd of impalas on the road (left, Figure 250). The impala is a very attractive ungulate (right, Figure 250).
Figure 250. Herd of impalas (left), male impala (right)
Just outside of Lake Mburo NP we met up with the custom t-shirt maker from Kabale.
Figure 251. The t-shirts arrive from Kabale (left), second hand clothing for sale (right)
We stopped briefly at a 1st world style gas station and saw a truck handle a bulldozer and a large quantity of the ubiquitous bananas (left, Figure 252). Inside the station’s mini-mart, there was an Obama picture for sale that was prominently displayed (right, Figure 252).
Figure 252. Bulldozer with bananas (left), Barrack Obama for sale in gas station (right)
The juxtaposition of vendors was entertaining. For example one could buy a casket with large crosses on the lid from one vendor (left, Figure 253) while just next door one could buy a wooden bed (right, Figure 253).
Figure 253. Roadside casket vendor (left), bed vendor (right)
Similarly one can buy charcoal or a wooden bed from vendors next door (left, Figure 254) – perhaps the charcoal is made from beds that did not turn out as expected! Are you a farm wife that needs a new dress and to buy feed for the livestock then you can get both at a one-stop shop (right, Figure 254).
Figure 254. Charcoal & furniture makers (left), clothing & animal feed vendors (right)
When we again crossed the equator on our way to Kampala, we stopped our lunch at a roadside shopping area lined with souvenir shops (Figure 255). After lunch we were told that we had 20 minutes to look around but the group took some 40 minutes which raised the ire of our tour leader. He did not do well in consulting with the group or reading the general feeling which was that most people wanted to do some souvenir shopping.
Figure 255. A gourd tree (left), pretty seats on three-legged stools (right)
Apart from the butchers in shopping centers targeted at the wealthy, the butcher shops that we saw were small and lacked any refrigeration to preserve the meat (Figure 256). There was the Good Butcher shop and my favourite, the ‘Jesus is the way’ Pork Joint.
Figure 256. Typical butcher shops – (note ‘Jesus is the way’ Pork Joint)
It was ironic that a tiny barbershop barely six foot high was called the Titanic Barbershop (left, Figure 257). There was no shortage of headroom in the outside fish market just outside of Kampala (right, Figure 257).
Figure 257. Titanic Barbershop (left), roadside fish market outside of Kampala (right)
Just to the west of Kampala there is a marsh along side the highway where locals exploit the papyrus for its stems which are sold as a building material or woven mats (Figure 258).
Figure 258. Reeds harvested in marsh (left), women selling reeds & woven mats & charcoal (right)
There is an obvious garbage collection problem in Kampala (Figure 259) as elsewhere in East Africa.
Figure 259. Garbage in ditch in Kampala (left), garbage on roof in Kampala (right)
We stopped in a shopping mall in Kampala (P1120413.JPG) at 1645 hours but before we got off the truck, our tour leader told us that if we were not back on the truck at 1715 hours, we’d have to catch a taxi to Jinja! I welcomed that firm direction was finally given to this group of people too many of whom acted selfishly and took as much time as they wanted at a stop.
Figure 260. Woman making whisk brooms on roadside (left), Emmanuel there’s no bacon! (right)
The less affluent people did not shop in shopping centers, rather they shop in outdoor markets that offer and wide range of cheap Chinese-made goods and local produce.
Figure 261. Cheap Chinese-made goods in Kampala markets (left), local produce in markets (right)
One must question why we must trust in God when buying dairy products but it did have a nice drawing of an ankole cow (left, Figure 262). Similarly it would by interesting to know why a spa must be protected by a woman guard toting an old bolt-action rifle (right, Figure 262).
Figure 262. ‘In God We Trust Dairy’ shop (left), woman with old rifle guarding spa (right)
We were crawling along in the heavy traffic out of Kampala at 1730 hours when we noticed a young girl in her school uniform running along side the road and going in our direction (left, Figure 263). She kept pace with us for some 10 minutes. She even went into a building for something and was able to rejoin us since we were moving so slowly. Finally we started to pick up speed and we gave her a chocolate bar for her efforts.
Before leaving Kampala, we passed by Mandela National Stadium (right, Figure 263). This multi-purpose stadium with a capacity of 45,202 people was built in 1997 with a grant of $36 million dollars from China. It will host some of the FIFA World Cup 2010 warm-up football matches with the help of some $1 million dollar from China in the form of a loan to refurbish the stadium.
Figure 263. Stella the schoolgirl runner (left), Mandela National Stadium (right)
Leaving Lake Mburo National Park, we drove east toward Jinja on the Kampala-Kenya Road (Figure 112).
Nearing Jinja, we again drove across the top of the Owen Falls Dam wall. Due to security concerns, stopping on the dam is not permitted and photography is forbidden. The dam, constructed in 1954, is vital to Uganda since it supplies electricity to Uganda and much of Kenya. Before the building of the Owen Falls Dam, the Source of the Nile was the Ripon Falls, where the Nile left Lake Victoria on its way to the Mediterranean. The waters of the new dam submerged the falls. The area near Jinja is still known as the ‘Source of the Nile’ for purposes of tourism.
Finally at 1900 hours after 10 hours since leaving Lake Mburo NP, we arrived at the Adrift Riverbase campground on the banks of the White Nile near Jinja where the following day was free of any scheduled activities. Adrift is a company that offers white water rafting and jet boat rides leaving from their campgrounds and bungee jumping from a platform along the banks of the river. The rate for camping is US $5/person with upgrades to a tent on a platform at US $40 per tent. Stacie and Stacia again opted to upgrade and stayed in a platform tent which was quite nice (left, Figure 264). This time it really paid off for them as it rained hard both nights we were there (right, Figure 264). The rain itself was no problem for us in the tent but certainly was a source of concern about whether our free day would be suitable for our ATV trip.
Figure 264. Platform tents (left), heavy rain in morning (right)
At supper on our first night at the Adrift campground, most of the younger traveller started a bitch session with our tour leader. They complained bitterly about his statement that if they were not back at the truck at 1715 hours in Kampala, they’d have to take a taxi to Jinja. They complained that the itinerary included a trip to see the “Source of the Nile” at Bujagali Falls which the tour leader had unilaterally cancelled. As well they complained that no one should tell them to move along and respect the timetable since they had travelled far to get to Africa and had paid a lot of money for the trip. After listening to this bitching at our tour leader for a while, I decided that it was piling on. Hence I interjected that people had a responsibility to stick to the timetable and return to the truck as requested so that we’d not have to drive in the dark with a tired driver like we did when driving from Kigali to Ruhengeri because a selfish few including Queen E and her consort decided to stay at the genocide memorial for 3 hours vice the 2 requested. That interjection went over like a lead balloon but it did end the bitch session.
The results of the bitch session included our tour leader scheduling a trip to Bujagali Falls on the day of our departure for Eldoret and an unfortunate change in attitude from being tour leader to simply being a fellow passenger too timid to exert authority when required.
Note: At the end of our trip, we provided feedback to Intrepid Tours as obviously did others on our trip who must have complained bitterly since months later we received the following email from Africa:
Date: Mon, 2 Nov 2009
i hope this email finds you well. am ok . am at the catholic mision camp in rwanda on the gorrilla trek trip. thank you for your feedback . you saved me .were it not for your feedback i could haven been fired from the other people;s feedbacks. thank and MY THE GOD WHO LIVES AND PROTECTS AND GUIDES BLESS YOU FOREVER;
· Day 14: Non Driving day. Free day for white water rafting. Second night at campsite
For our free day, most of our group opted for the ½ day white water rafting followed by a couple of hours of ATV riding at Bujagali Falls. Others took a jet boat ride up towards the dam while Stacie and Stacia took a 44 metre bungee jump from the Nile High Bungee tower (left, Figure 265). The bungee tower is a 12 metre cantilevered steel structure sitting atop a 32 metre high cliff on the river. If the jumper wants they can have a water touch jump. As the representative from Adrift stated to us, “the rafting and bungee do not use some made-up Ugandan standard” rather they conform to the applicable New Zealand standards.
In June, I had booked the full-day ATV trip for our free day starting at 0900 hours at the site of All Terrain Adventures (http://www.atadventures.com/ata_home.htm) near Bujagali Falls. To get to All Terrain Adventures, we asked the bar to phone for a taxi for two. The taxi was a motorcycle and after negotiating a US $15 fee, the three of us (driver included) headed up the steep hill and on to the muddy main road to the ATV site (right, Figure 265). Since none of us had helmets there was some assurance that the driver would be careful in the slippery conditions.
Figure 265. Nile High Bungee tower (left), three on motorcycle taxi (right)
All Terrain Adventures has a nice building and we were welcomed by Peter Knight, originally from New Zealand, who used to be a professional motorcycle racer. Coincidently, his wife, Shirray, was returning that very day from a two month stay in Australia. We were introduced to our guide, Mawazi, and kitted up in coveralls and gum boots for our ATV ride (left, Figure 266). We both got ATVs with automatic transmissions which facilitated my ability to ride with one hand and hold a camera in the other. After a ten minute familiarization session on their learner’s course, we stopped for a photograph overlooking the White Nile River (right, Figure 266) and then we were off. There were only three people in our group counting our guide so we have great latitude in our trip.
Figure 266. Donna kitted up with guide (left), on ATVs overlooking Nile (right)
As we drove off I could read the warning on the back of Donna’s ATV to “KEEP BACK – Damage is Charged Extra” (left, Figure 267). I knew about this penalty clause but for the whole trip, my eyes kept on wandering back to re-read this sign – it was quite distracting. Donna experienced the same thing with the sign on our guide’s ATV. However, in both our cases, we did at times come close to running into the ATV ahead of us which is why they probably have a spare tire in front of the ATV. Once I was going to take a picture of Donna riding in front of me so I was holding up the camera and driving looking through the viewfinder when I suddenly noticed that Donna and her ATV were rapidly looming larger and larger in the viewfinder – rapid braking saved the day.
Figure 267. ‘KEEP BACK’ from Donna (left), site of future dam (right)
We first drove along tracks that took us to where we could view the site where the third dam, Bujagali Dam, on the Nile near Jinja is being constructed some 2½ kilometres downstream from the Bujagali Falls (P1120508.JPG). The completion of this dam will back up water to a projected depth that will take the flat water level to halfway up the falls. This means that the section that is currently rafted (left, Figure 268) will be below the new water so rafting trips will have to start further downstream and use sections of the river that were previously only rafted on two day trips.
Figure 268. Dugouts near rapids to be drowned (left), 91 year old woman working cassava field (right)
Leaving the Nile behind, we headed inland and stopped to meet a 91 year old woman hoeing in a cassava field (right, Figure 268). She was permanently bent over. We gave her a bottle of water and took our leave.
We continued past scenes of farmers working in the fields including those clearing plants from a stream (left, Figure 269). In was nice when we stopped at a hut and visited with a grandmother and her grandchild as they were preparing cassava (right, Figure 269). We had frequently seen cassava growing but this was a chance to see it being prepared. Cassava (also called yucca or manioc) is a woody shrub with edible starchy tuberous roots that are a source of carbohydrates. It is native to South America but is extensively cultivated in Africa because it does well despite poor soils and low rainfall, and because it is a perennial that can be harvested as required.
Figure 269. Working to clear a stream (left), preparing cassava (right)
Our guide took us over tracks that past by many huts or through hamlets. One of the more interesting scenes was when we stopped beside a sports field of a school. As soon as we stopped, Donna was thronged by school children in their school uniforms as if she was a rock star (right, Figure 270). Since Donna works in a school she talked to them about their schooling.
Figure 270. Driving passed a hut (left), Donna surrounded by school children (right)
We stopped for a cool pop at a local store and Donna attracted the children in the area (left, Figure 271). In some way it was an uncomfortable situation since we had a pop and the children did not. The store also sold minnows as food (right, Figure 271). I’ve never seen such small fishes for human consummation. Surely this is an indicator of a shortage of food.
Figure 271. Meeting children at store (left), minnows for food (right)
We drove past many huts along the way that were about as basic construction as possible, e.g. mud, sticks and thatch (left, Figure 272). These huts contrasted sharply with the mansions of the rich that we saw (right, Figure 272). I have never seen such a wide gap between rich and poor.
Figure 272. A peasant hut with friendly child (left), mansions of the rich (right)
We return to the AT Adventures site for lunch in their “DeNile Café” that has a good view out over the Nile (left, Figure 274). We both ended up having the excellent red snapper with fries and a salad (right, Figure 274). This is one of our better meals on our trip and certainly much better than the white snapper dish that I was served at the Cinnamon Cocktail Bar in the highly rated and pricey Z Hotel on Zanzibar (see Part 2 of this report).
Figure 273. View from “DeNile Café” out over the Nile (left), excellent red snapper (right)
After lunch we ventured out on the main road which had completely dried from the heavy morning rain. Again we saw how bicycles are used to carry everything – in this case a long tree truck (left, Figure 274). The climax of our day of ATV riding was going up to the top of Mwiri Hill to see a wonderful view of Jinja & Lake Victoria (right, Figure 274). On the top of this wonderful hill is the Busoga College Mwiri which is one of the best and most popular boys' boarding schools in Uganda.
Figure 274. Hazard on the road (left), view of Jinja & Lake Victoria from top of Mwiri Hill (right)
After lunch we decided to cut our ATV tour short by a couple of hours in the afternoon so that we could go into Jinja which lies on the shores of Lake Victoria. Fortunately by the time that we returned, Shirray had arrived from the Entebbe airport and offered to drive us into Jinja. During our drive in Jinja, she mentioned that long term residents like her do not take anti-malaria drugs rather they accept that malaria will occur and take drugs when a relapse occurs.
Jinja has many once beautiful buildings that date back to when the town had a sizeable Asian community before they fled the regime of Idi Amin. Amin was a military dictator and the President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 following a military coup in January 1971. In 1972, Amin gave Uganda's Asians (mostly Indian origin) 90 days to leave the country, following a dream in which he claimed that God told him to expel them. The Ugandan government claimed that the Indians were hoarding wealth and goods to the detriment of indigenous Africans and sabotaging the Ugandan economy.
Figure 275. Indian inspired building (left), roof lined by marabou storks (right)
Since Jinja was only founded in 1906 and Indian traders stated moving into Jinja starting around 1910, much of Jinja's architecture is Indian-influenced (left, Figure 275). However the detailed shop-fronts and buildings were poorly maintained after the Indians were expelled and the local industries, abandoned by the Asians were mismanaged into ruins. We saw examples of the derelict ruins of what would have been wonderful looking buildings (left, Figure 276). Even the “Evening Glory/Nile Sports Club” is now a dilapidated shell fit only for turkeys (right, Figure 276).
Figure 276. Wonderful derelict building (left), turkey at “Evening Glory/Nile Sports Club” (right)
There are Asians returning to Uganda who are choosing to set up businesses in Jinja and the town is slowly again becoming prosperous.
Walking around the main street, we went into a store named “The Source” which is recommended in several tourist guides. It was interesting but not what we were looking for so we went into some more stops and finally found the beautiful craved wooden bowls upon whose rim African animals paraded around. These were valued at some US $100-200. The men in the shop were watching an episode of “Prison Break” on TV when suddenly the part of the bowl that Donna was hold on to broke and the rest of the bowl fell onto the floor and shattered into many pieces. After an initial moment of shock, one of the men watching the TV said to the other “if you break it, you buy it”. Hearing that, it was my cue to tell Donna that it was time to quickly leave the store before the spell cast by “Prison Break” wore off and the men were roused into action. We would likely have bought a bowl but the atmosphere for good bartering lay broken on the floor.
Figure 277. Making bread on street (left), 3 on motorbike taxi (right)
Continuing our walking tour, we passed by a building whose roof was lined by marabou storks (right, Figure 275) and a man kneading bread dough on the sidewalk (left, Figure 277). The accident with the bowl breaking had put a bit of a damper on our visit and it was time to get back for supper so at 1745 hours, we negotiated a US $15 motorcycle ride back to our camp. Again it was three on the motorcycle although this time the driver had a helmet which put us at a distinct disadvantage in the event of an accident (right, Figure 277). We arrived back at the campsite in time to go to the bar and wait to view a beautiful sunset over the Nile River at 1845 hours (left, Figure 278).
Figure 278. Sunset over the White Nile (left), drying out towel and clothes in truck (right)
After 1900 hours, the scheduled time for supper, the group of people who opted for the ½ day white water rafting followed by a couple of hours of ATV riding returned from their ATV ride. The first thing out of Queen E’s mouth was “I hoped that you left us something to eat!” She could not be bother asking how our day went hence this statement surely solidified the older folks’ view of her as a spoiled b*****. Curiously, five minutes later she started crying and collapsed into the arms of her consort. It turned out that she was just one of three people who had accidents while on the ATV. She overturned her ATV and hurt her wrist, while two others hit trees and hurt themselves – apparently they felt that speeding along narrow tracks was essential for enjoyment of riding an ATV despite the danger that it posed to local children or animals. Bizarrely, one of our fellow travellers who is a doctor was not even asked to examine Queen E before she went to a local clinic. Queen E and her consort took a taxi and went to a clinic for treatment after which she returned with her wrist bandaged up.
After the bitch session, we went to the bar and watched the video that was made for the day’s white water rafters. It was interesting video but it was expensive at US $40 for a CD. The scenes of Bujagali Falls showed that it is more of a rapid than a waterfall since it has a drop height of only 10 feet – its claim to fame is the volume of water passing over it. After seeing this, I was not very motivated to see it.
2.6 Kenya (Again)
2.6.1 Day 15 Jinga, Uganda to Eldoret, Kenya (25 Jul, Sat)
· Day 15: AM 350 kms drive crossing border into Kenya. Mid PM arrive Eldoret. Well equipped and comfortable campsite
On the morning of Day 15, it was raining hard when we had breakfast and the mood was somewhat sombre. We spread out our clothes around our seats to dry in the truck (left, Figure 278) and then headed off to visit Bujagali Falls as our contrite tour leader had agreed to at the previous bitch session. However, suddenly the main complainer about not visiting the falls asked if anyone wanted to visit them and no one did in the rain so we drove on to Eldoret. Apparently the main complainer wanted to make a point with the tour leader and did not really want to visit Bujagali Falls.
Fortunately on this day, the cigarette lighter outlet was working and I was able to recharge the camera batteries (right, Figure 279). Just before we reached the border, we passed by rice fields with scads of workers out in them (left, Figure 279). The variety of crops that are grown in Uganda is very impressive. It is not much wonder why Uganda was known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’.
Figure 279. Workers in rice field (left), recharging battery & rainy day for sleeping (right)
We stopped at the Kenyan border and were expected to pay $25 each for another single use entry visa. However a man in our group strongly argued with the immigration agent that everyone was told at immigration at the Nairobi that the first visa we purchased would get us back into the country. Surprisingly the argument worked and we did not have to pay again for a visa. Needless to say the people who purchased multiple entry visas in Kenya were not pleased.
Figure 280. Calf under truck at border (left), vendors at our truck at the Uganda-Kenya border (right)
In East Africa it is quite common to see mosques in villages and cities. A few of these mosques exhibit no ecumenical spirit with the phrase of “None to be worshipped but Allah” painted on them (left, Figure 281). There were also lots of private and mission schools. One of the more interesting schools that we saw was the Malaba Academy whose mission is “Education for Bright Orphans” (right, Figure 281). Apparently if you are a less than bright orphan, you are out of luck.
Figure 281. “None to be worshipped but Allah” (left), “Education for Bright Orphans” (right)
The Obama Traders were a dealer of motorbikes (left, Figure 282) – the connection with the US president was not clear. Nearby was a village of bandas underneath a kopjes that looked very pretty (right, Figure 282).
Figure 282. Obama Traders (left), village near kopjes (right)
The roadside vendors of produce presented their wares very attractively (Figure 283).
Figure 283. Roadside vendors with their well presented wares
It was another long day of driving and some took advantage of the time on the truck to rest (right, Figure 284), while others snapped observed and snapped pictures of passing parade of life (left, Figure 284).
Figure 284. Roadside drying of sorghum (left), some slept as world passed by (right)
Throughout East Africa, we saw a large number of very small, one or two bed, hotels (left, Figure 285). These were frequently collocated with butcher shops.
In Eldoret, many of the matatus sported impressive custom paint jobs (right, Figure 285). That this type of customizing was localized to Eldoret, illustrates the regional differences in East Africa. It was not clear if by putting the US flag on the vehicle upside down (traditionally a method to indicate one is in distress) has any political meaning or if he simply made a mistake. Looking at this photograph, you can see the driver shaking his finger at the camera. Our tour guide explained that this was because of the popular belief that mzungus use these types of photographs to make money when they return home and publish a book – unfortunately for me, I’ve yet to experience that happy situation.
Figure 285. Very small roadside hotel (left), impressive paintjob on matatus people-mover van (right)
The resourcefulness and strength of many Africans was impressive as witnessed by the man with the heavy load of wood on his bike in Eldoret (left, Figure 286). That his bike did not fall over was to wonder at.
We again stopped at the grocery store in Eldoret. They were selling the Doom insecticide (right, Figure 286) that we’d seen the advertisement for on a shop (left, Figure 89).
Figure 286. Heavily loaded bicycle in Eldoret (left), Doom - truth in labelling (right)
We again camped at the impressive Naiberi River Campsite and Resort outside of Eldoret. Just as we were starting the buffet, it started pouring rain and I hurried back to close up the door on our’s and Zahida’s tents. The buffet itself was Indian food and pretty marginal and not worth the US $10/person that we paid. It was also cold since we were supposed to start at 1900 hours but everyone waiting for Queen E and her consort to arrive while the food cooled.
It rain throughout the night and into the morning so we packed up in the rain. However this was not that bothersome as is was our last night of the night and we did not have to deal with putting up wet tents.
Figure 287. Gorilla sculpture in Stonecave Bar (left), Christina, Zahida & us at buffet supper (right)
2.6.2 Day 16 Eldoret to Nairobi (26 Jul, Sun)
· Day 16: AM 320 kms drive to Nairobi. Trip Ends at about 1700 hrs
We begin our journey back to Nairobi at 0830 hours. We retraced our steps back through the City of Nakuru to Nairobi. In Nakuru there was a large flock of Great White pelicans over the city (left, Figure 288).
There was an interesting contract between the dry fields of the peasant farmers and the green fields of the irrigated fields of the wealthy (right, Figure 288).
Figure 288. Flock of Great White pelicans over Nakuru (left), irrigation sprinklers (right)
Washington DC has its Watergate building and so too does Kenya (left, Figure 289). Nearing Nairobi, the police were working their flying checkstop made of formable looking spike belts (right, Figure 289).
Figure 289. Watergate building in Kenya (left), police at flying checkstop made of spike belts (right)
After 4 hours on the road, we arrived back in Nairobi at 1230 hours and again got a room in the Kivi Milimani Hotel. We had shower (had to use another room to get any hot water) and then lunch at the hotel’s outdoor patio where we were joined by Christina. Donna had a beer and burger while I had a Bailey’s Irish Cream and a fish burger which was terrible as it tasted like spicy mystery meat. Christina was due to fly back to Recife, Brazil via Johannesburg the following day. After lunch we spent a while doing our laundry in our hotel room.
At 1800 hours that night we had our group briefing for our second trip – this time to Tanzania. Our leader tour did not change and there was one other member of the group from our 1st tour, James from Australia, on this tour. At the meeting, the tour leader collected the local payment of US $850 for 2nd trip.
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