Saturday, January 30, 2016

Yes, I am still alive. Come with me to Ethiopia & Uganda

1/30/16  Upon my return from Morocco in late November, 2011, I didn’t think I would ever want to travel again.  I was exhausted to the core and craved a “nest” to curl up in.   I then proceeded to buy an old house in a small beach town in SW Michigan.  My son, Chris, traveled from Chicago to help me most weekends for the next year as we dove into the renovation of it.  What was I thinking?  I lived with an air mattress and an electric skillet for nine months, but I had a toilet (life was good!)  before bringing my furniture and furnishings from storage.   Timing was perfect for me since I was pretty used to living minimally at that time, not sure I could or would want to do it today.   Pretty much finished up the work on the house to learn that I needed two hip replacements.  Okay, did that October and November of 2014.  I felt like I had a new lease on life with my new hips – whew.   Reality is that I know that new knees are in my foreseeable future, but for the moment I’m good and the travel bug awakes within me.  Chris has been working with Peace Corp and living in Ethiopia since February, 2014, do I want to visit?  Can I live out of a backpack, with two pair of pants, an extra pair of shoes, a few tee shirts and five underpants (TMI?) for near a month?  Yes!!   This blog entry is going to be a long one, I can just feel it.  I haven’t written in a while and I’m in the mood…….  I’ve been asked by some of you to write this and  I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures even if you don’t want to read this long writing.   I don’t know how many pictures they will let me put up at a time, so you may have to check several entries to see everything.

I spent much of October, 2015 with my son, Christopher.   We traveled the northern part of Ethiopia, Peace Corp style (meaning cheap).  We  travel via local transport and stay in lodging you might find substandard.  But, I must say, most of our lodging were nicer than that I stayed in while in Morocco, and more expensive too.  It has been said that I flew to Africa, and yes that is true.  I flew to the continent of Africa and visited the countries of Ethiopia and Uganda.  The African continent is larger than North America with many countries (54 to be exact).  It is helpful to think of Africa’s countries as we think of the states in the US or perhaps a better comparison would be to Europe with its many different countries, languages and cultures. 

You didn’t think you’d get off without a bit of a history lesson did you?  A bit about Ethiopia thanks to Wikipedia.  There are two countries in Africa which are considered to never have been colonized.   One was, Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 1800s. The other, Ethiopia, was temporarily occupied by Italy during WWII, and the Italians tried twice to colonize it, but were unsuccessful.  Ethiopia is a country located in the Horn of Africa (NE Africa). It is bordered by Eritrea to the north and northeast, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south.  It’s size is about three times the state of Montana.  The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. The Ethiopian Highlands cover most of the country and have a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. Most of the country's major cities are located at elevations of around 6,562–8,202 ft above sea level   The modern capital Addis Ababa is at the elevation of around 7,874 ft.  It experiences a mild climate year round. With fairly uniform year round temperatures, the seasons in Addis Ababa are largely defined by rainfall, with a dry season from October–February, a light rainy season from March–May, and a heavy rainy season from June–September. There are on average 7 hours of sunshine per day.

Some of the oldest evidence for anatomically modern humans has been found in Ethiopia, which is widely considered the region from which Homo sapiens first set out for the Middle East and points beyond.  Ethiopia is one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, and its historical roots date to the time of the Apostles. Christians make up 62.8% of the country's population (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims 33.9%, practitioners of traditional faiths 2.6%, and other religions 0.6%.  A small ancient group of Jews, the Beta Israel, live in northwestern Ethiopia, though most immigrated to Israel in the last decades of the 20th century.    Despite being the main source of the Nile, the longest river on Earth, Ethiopia underwent a series of famines in the 1980s, exacerbated by civil wars and adverse geopolitics (a 17-year-long civil war, along with severe drought).   The country has begun to recover recently.  Deforestation is a major concern for Ethiopia as studies suggest loss of forest contributes to soil erosion and loss of nutrients in the soil.  In 2008 it is stated that about 16% of the population in Ethiopia are living on less than 1 dollar per day. Only 65% of rural households in Ethiopia consume the minimum standard of food per day, with 42% of children under 5 years old being underweight.  Most poor families (75%) share their sleeping quarters with livestock, and 40% of children sleep on the floor, where nighttime temperatures average 41 degrees F in the cold season.   The average family size is six or seven, living in a 325 square feet mud and thatch hut.  The life expectancy of men is reported to be 56 years and for women 60 years.  Ethiopia's main health problems are said to be communicable (contagious) diseases worsened by poor sanitation and malnutrition. More than half the population does not have access to clean water.  These problems are exacerbated by the shortage of trained doctors and nurses and health facilities.  The state of public health is considerably better in the cities, of course. 

The best-known Ethiopian cuisine consists of various thick meat stews, known as wat, and vegetable side dishes served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread made of teff flour.  (Note picture)  Teff is the grain of a grass that is ground and then fermented .  It is rather like a crepe/pancake and is about dinner plate size.  Wat is not eaten with utensils, but instead one uses the injera to scoop up the entrées and side dishes. Almost universally in Ethiopia, it is common to eat from the same dish in the center of the table with a group of people. It is also a common custom to feed others in your group with your own hands.  I found injera to be “sour” and not especially appealing to me.  Of course, each household/entity ferments it a bit differently and the taste varies, but I think I could live without ever having to eat it again and I am not a fussy eater as you know. 

Ethiopia is the origin of the coffee bean.  The country produces more coffee than any other nation on the continent.  Each household/establishment will roast the bean before serving, fanning the smoke from roasting for individual enjoyment.  Serving coffee is an “event” to be admired and appreciated.  Other main exports are wheat and beef.

I flew into Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, but spent only the night, flying into Makale the next morning.   Makale is the capital city of the northern Tigray region.  This is the city that Chris travels to and through most often.   The two largest ethnic groups is this town are Tigrayan (96.5%), the Amhara (1.59%), foreigners from Eritrea (0.99%); all other ethnic groups made up 0.98% of the population. Tigrinya is spoken as a first language by 96.26% (this is what Chris was taught), and 2.98% spoke Amharic

We didn’t dally long in Makale, so after a lunch of Special Ful (ground up ful beans with scrambled eggs and yogurt on top, that you scoop with bread), we hit the road north to Adigrat (Hohoma Hotel) since it would be a good starting place for the next day.   Adigrat is very near the border of Eritrea and is the gateway to the Red Sea (through Eritrea).  We had Tolo for dinner which is a spicey meat sauce served with barley dough balls for scooping (yep like eating a ball of dough). 

We were on our way early the next morning with the goal of making Aksum by lunchtime.  Aksum (Africa Hotel), one of the oldest cities in Africa, supposed location of the Ark of the Covenant, massive ruins, dating from between 1st and 13th century including monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, & royal tombs, (note picture) the Queen Sheba’s palace and bath.  Joined by Chris’s friends, we started the night off with Taj (honey wine) which is not one of my favorite things L  followed by Kaitibs (meat in red sauce served on injera.

Early the next morning we set off for a full day of travel through the foothills of the Semien Mountains.  The Semiens are remarkable as being one of the few spots in Africa where snow regularly falls.  Despite their ruggedness and altitude, the mountains are dotted with villages linked by tracks. The tallest peak is at about 15,000 ft.  We stopped in the town of Debark to meet up with a friend of Chris’s for a lunch of Tagabeano (bean/chickpea powder, similar to hummus, only served warm) and Kay Wot (sheep in sauce) both served with injera.

Our day’s travel ended in Gonder (Lodge du Chateau).  Gonder was founded by Emperor Fasilides around the year 1635, and grew as an agricultural and market town. The Gonder of yesteryear was a city of extreme brutality and immense wealth. Today the wealth and brutality are gone, but the memories linger in The Royal Enclosures an amazing World Heritage Site. The compound contains numerous castles and palaces (the Castle of Emperor Fasilidas, the Castle of Emperor Iyasu, the Library of Tzadich Yohannes; the Chancellery of Tzadich Yohannes; the Castle of Emperor David, the Palace of Mentuab and Banqueting Hall of the Emperor Bekaffa)  that has been restored with the aid of UNESCO.  By far the most impressive, and also the oldest, building is Fasiladas’ Palace, just inside the entrance gate. It stands 32m tall and has a crenulated parapet and four domed towers.  (Note picture of Chris and me)

If it weren’t for a swarm of bees, the beautiful church of Debre Berhan Selassie would have probably been destroyed like most of Gonder’s other churches by the marauding Sudanese Dervishes in the 1880s. When the Dervishes showed up outside the gates of the church, a giant swarm of bees surged out of the compound and chased the invaders away. This was a lucky intervention: with its stone walls, arched doors, two-tiered thatch roof and well-preserved paintings, Debre Berhan Selassie is one of the most beautiful churches in Ethiopia. The roof, with its rows and rows of winged cherubs , (note picture) representing the omnipresence of God, draws most eyes. There’s space for 135 cherubs, though 13 have been erased by water damage. Aside from the cherubs the highlights have to be the devilish Bosch-like depiction of hell and the Prophet Mohammed atop a camel being led by a devil.  A large stone wall with 12 rounded towers surrounds the compound and these represent the 12 apostles. 

Fasiladas’ Bath, which has been attributed to both Fasiladas and Iyasu I. The large rectangular pool is overlooked by a charming building, thought by some to be a vacation home. It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot, where snakelike tree roots digest sections of the stone walls (note picture).  Although the complex was used for swimming (royalty used to don inflated goat-skin lifejackets for their refreshing dips!), it was likely to have been constructed for religious celebrations, the likes of which still go on today. Once a year, it’s filled with water for the Timkat celebration. After the water is blessed by the bishop, the pool becomes a riot of splashing water, shouts and laughter as a crowd of hundreds jumps in. The ceremony replicates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River and is seen as an important renewal of faith.   As you can see by so much writing, Gonder is quite a historical site to visit and I’m glad we didn’t miss it.  While there we ate Quanta Fur Fur (beef jerky in sauce with injera), Habesha Kitfo (?) and I can’t remember what else. 

We moved on to Bahir Dar (Blue Nile Resort) for the weekend where we met up with Chris’s friends.  It was a laid-back, lazy weekend with good conversation, good food and good people.  Little walk-about through the market, but did little else. 

Although not far to travel to Lalibela (Cliff Edge Hotel), it was one of our more difficult days.  Public transport was especially slow, crowded, greedy drivers who wanted to charge the tourist more than others, etc.  We had terrible roads to traverse to one of Ethiopia’s most popular sites.  Yes they are working on the roads, but ever so slowly.  The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.   This has led some experts to date the current church forms to the years following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Muslim leader, Saladin.  Lalibela’s unique churches carved from the solid, volcanic mountain side during the 12th century AD from the top down (so into the ground, not on top).  Note picture of Chris and I near the Church of Saint George, probably the most popular picture you might have seen of Lalibela.  UNESCO identifies 11 churches:
 Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world
 Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary), possibly the oldest of the churches, and a replica of the Tombs of Adam and Christ
Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael), known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela)
Biete Meskel (House of the Cross)
Biete Denagel (House of Virgins)
Biete Giyorgis (Church of Saint George), thought to be the most finely executed and best preserved church and the one you’ve seen in most pictures
Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), possibly the former royal chapel
Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos/House of St. Mark), which may be a former prison
Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos)
Biete Gabriel-Rufael (House of the angels Gabriel, and Raphael) possibly a former royal palace, linked to a holy bakery.
Biete Lehem (Bethlehem Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם, House of Holy Bread).

Lalibela caters to tourists and must admit that we ate recognizable food while there.  We hired Desta, a tour guide, for our two days there, and he was well worth the money.  We could have visited these churches on our own, but would not have known what we were looking for or at.  If visiting Ethiopia, don’t miss this, but expect the usual hassles you encounter at tourist destinations.

We stopped in Maychew to meet up with Jake for lunch and had ChaklaWat (stewed meat w/egg)  and Tibs (pieces of meat in sauce), both with injera.   Proceeded on to Korem (pronounced Korm, more or less), which is Chris’s site.   Korem is a town of 28,000 people and at an elevation of 10,000 feet.  Chris lives in a compound, meaning an enclosed area with multiple living units within.  There is a center courtyard and the squat toilet, shower area (mind you no running water in the shower, so bucket bath area w/drain), and a community sink are shared by all in the compound .  When the community has water, there is running water in the sink and there is also a faucet in the courtyard.  Most likely they will not have running water every day, so water is gathered in buckets and containers for later use.  Chris filters and purifies his water in a two-five gallon pail system.  Chris lives in two rooms, one being his bedroom and the other his kitchen/living area.   His bed is in a frame and the mattress is relatively comfortable.  His couch/guest bed is comprised of 4-5 small mats stacked on top of each other, and set on a frame.  Not particularly comfortable L  I might add, but off the floor.   He had a steel framed counter with shelves made to house his food and his two-burner butane cooktop sits on it.  Not as plush and luxurious as my living conditions were in Morocco, but doable.  I think my biggest issue would be that the squat toilet (note picture) is shared by all in the compound.  At least I could keep my personal hole clean!

Chris’s landlord and wife (host family), Habte and Yetim live onsite with their teen-age son, Musi.   Habte is a planner at the health department and Yetim is a teacher.  Their 16 year old niece, Quiros, lives with them and is the maid, more or less.  She does the majority of the cooking and cleaning.  She also fits school into the mix and is quite a good student.  Will she go on to further her education?  Might not be an option, time will tell.  They squat to cook their meals over a charcoal stove.  They roast coffee beans over this cooker and fan the smoke of the roasting beans so that the smell can be enjoyed by all that are near.  Serving coffee is an art and a highlight of the day.  They invited us for dinner and served DoroWat (chicken stew w/injero).  Dessert  was popcorn!!  I met several of Chris’s Ethiopian friends, one being Dil whose fiancé graduated from Western Michigan University (small world).   We ate Sambusa (lentils and onion in a deep fried foldover) for lunch and Inkilol Sils (eggs in tomato sauce w/bread) for breakfast. 

We left Korem and went to Makele (Rodas Guest House) for the night since we would catch a flight into Addis Ababa on the next day.  We had Kita w/beriberi & ful & honey for breakfast (kind of a noodle in a sauce w/honey).

Spent two days in Addis (Stay Easy Hotel) and while there visited several sites including the National Museum.  The archaeology/paleontology section is interesting and includes a replica of the skeleton of 'Lucy'.  The basement is well explained, it takes you on a journey from around 4 million years ago when our distant ancestors first started walking upright. Lucy is kind of the star of the show,  We also visited The Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum.  It is like a Holocaust Memorial.   It is a very solemn museum.  (Note picture)  It explains and summarizes the atrocities that took place while the Derg was in power during the 1970’s-90’s. This was a very tragic time in Ethiopian history. Never a pleasant subject, these types of museums are important as a reminder to all of us of the atrocities that our race is capable of inflicting on one another based on what makes us different. Perhaps we should focus more on what makes us the same.

They have changed this blog site since I last used it - yikes.  You all know I'm  not the sharpest pencil in the pack, and I thought I uploaded pictures of Ethiopia, but the preview doesn't show me that I've done so, but maybe??? and I wonder if they'll be in the order I wanted them?  Guess I won't know what's happening til I post this.  You may have to view separate entries for the pictures.  

We then flew from Addis Ababa to Entebbe, Uganda where we were met at the airport by Fred, our tour guide for our time in Uganda.  Simonpeter, the owner of  Whitecrest Tours & Travel Ltd, a Ugandan tour company,  planned a 9-day custom safari for us.    Once we were in Fred’s hands, this trip was easy-peasy, he took care of everything.  A luxury in and of itself!!

 Uganda (again, thanks to the aid of Wikipedia), is a landlocked country in East Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the southwest by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania.   Beginning in 1894, the area was ruled as a protectorate by the British, who established administrative law across the territory. Uganda gained independence from Britain on October 9, 1962. The period since then has been marked by intermittent conflicts, most recently a lengthy civil war against the Lord's Resistance Army, which has caused tens of thousands of casualties and displaced more than a million people.  The President of Uganda is both head of state and head of government. According to the US State Department's 2012 Human Rights Report on Uganda, "The World Bank's most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected corruption was a severe problem"   The official languages are Swahili and English.  Although landlocked, Uganda contains many large lakes. Besides Lakes Victoria and Kyoga, there are Lake Albert, Lake Edward, and the smaller Lake George. Uganda lies almost completely within the Nile basin. 

Uganda's economy generates export income from coffee, tea, fish, and other products.  Uganda has substantial natural resources, including fertile soils, regular rainfall, and sizeable mineral deposits of copper and cobalt. The country has largely untapped reserves of both crude oil and natural gas.  Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. In 2012, 37.8 percent of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day.  Tourism in Uganda is focused on Uganda's landscape and wildlife. It is a major driver of employment, investment and foreign exchange.  Tourism can and is being used to fight poverty in Uganda. There are the tourism companies which employ people directly as drivers, guides, secretaries, accountants etc. These companies sell products to tourist for example art and crafts, traditional attire. Tourism can also be operated online by the online based companies. Tourist attractions in Uganda include national game parks, game reserves, traditional sites, natural tropical forests.  Uganda has been among the rare HIV success stories due to a variety of factors, including increased condom use and sexual health awareness.  According to the census of 2002, Christians made up about 85 percent of Uganda's population, The Roman Catholic Church had the largest number of adherents (41.9%), followed by the Anglican Church of Uganda (35.9%). Adventist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and other Protestant churches claimed most of the remaining Christians, though there was also a tiny Eastern Orthodox community. 

Had I read Wikipedia’s description of Uganda in the planning stage, I might not have visited and what a mistake that would have been.    I know this method is backwards to most, and rest assured, I do do my research, but my way.    I try to have an open-mind and unbiased expectations so that my impressions are my own.  Granted, I had the expertise of Whitecrest Tours and Travel, Ltd., on this trip to guide and organize this trip.   The trip was “easy”, thanks to them.  We stayed in lovely lodges, sharing a room w/ twin beds, hot showers and western toilets (note picture – beds surrounded with mosquito netting).  Our meals were part of the package and if on the road, a “take away” lunch was provided.  The impression that remains with me of Uganda is of friendly, smiling, welcoming people.   I learned that the way I waved to people was actually beckoning them to come to me, and in most cases they came running to see what I needed.  I tried to correct that wave!!  I had to adopt a more of a beauty queen wave.  Yes, a few years back, they had several cases of ebola, but nothing in recent times.  Although I will admit, had Kampala, at 6p been my first impression and experience in Uganda, it might have started me off on the wrong foot.  OMG, it was crazy wild with people, cars, scooters, etc.  I kid you not, it took 1.5 hours to get through a round-about.   I don’t like to drive in South Haven, Michigan, well actually anywhere, but ……… I would never go downtown Kampala if I had to deal with this every time!!  Luckily we flew into Entebbe (Cassia Lodge) mid-day and missed this congested mess until the night before our departure home.

For almost two decades (60’s-80’s) Uganda fought a bitter civil war and tourism came to a standstill.  But, tourists are finding their way back to this unspoiled “Pearl of Africa”.  Nearly a quarter of the country is covered in fresh water.   Western Uganda is bordered by the glacier-capped Rwenzori mountain range.  The countryside is velvety green, thanks to rainfall throughout the year and it has a cool climate due to an average elevation of about 4,000 feet.   Wildlife is coming back from almost total destruction in the war years.  Uganda has the widest variety of primates found in Africa, including chimpanzees and half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. 

We started off our trip with a stop at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the home to the only rhino in the wild in Uganda (note picture).  Rhino’s were declared extinct in Uganda by 1983.  The rhinos we saw are Southern White Rhino’s.  A fully grown, male White rhino can weigh up to 3 tons and they can be aggressive.    The rhino has acute hearing and sense of smell, but poor eyesight over any distance.  Most rhinos live to be about 50 years old or more. A male rhinoceros is called a bull, a female a cow, and the young a calf; and a group of rhinoceros is called a "crash".  The gestation for a rhino is 16 months.  It is the hope of the sanctuary that one day enough rhinos can be raised for possible reintroductions into Uganda’s parks.   

We then proceeded to Murchison Falls National Park (Murchison River Lodge) where we did a game drive.  Our vehicle allowed us to stand up through an opening in the roof to view and photograph fields of giraffe’s, herds of hartebeest, elephants, waterbucks, bushbucks, lions w/cubs, antelopes , warthogs and more ………  We hiked to the top of Muchison Falls where the entire Nile River cascades 150,000 feet through a narrow gorge (note picture).   We later had a boat cruise up the Nile River to the base of the Falls.  There were literally hundreds/thousands??? of hippos in these waters, as well as Nile crocodiles, more elephants and birds.  Not being a birder myself , I can’t tell you much about the birds, but there were a bunch of them!! 

Baboons were along the roadside and most anywhere you looked (note picture).  We were waiting for the ferry to cross the Nile.  We were walking about, with baboons walking with us.  Fred our driver told us to beware.  Baboons could be bold and brazen and we should watch our car door, as well as windows.  I decided I needed my water bottle and unthinkenly I opened the door about two feet.  Before I knew it, a baboon was beside me.  He put his little hand on my thigh and pushed me away and hopped into the van.  I didn’t want to slam the door, I might hurt him.  Fred our driver was inside and his face was priceless to behold.  The baboon grabbed our sack lunch and did an about face and off he ran with five people running after him.  I’m thinking the baboon has done this before and knows the drill.  He outruns them and I’m sure later enjoyed our lunch.  Note picture, I think this is the bugger that stole our lunch!!   I thought it was the absolute funniest thing to have happened.  Chris was very perturbed with me and my lack of respect for rules.  Funny how this has shifted – Who is the parent?  Who is the child? 

After a long day of travel through tea plantations, sugar cane plantations and small villages and a flat tire L we arrive at Fort Portal (Mountains of the Moon Lodge).  Fort Portal is located on the base of the Rwenzori Mountains also called “the mountains of the moon” by Winston Churchill. 

We trek the next day through Kibale a classic African rainforest in search of our closest living relative the chimpanzee.  Like us, chimps are highly social animals, care for their offspring for years and can live to be over 50. In fact, chimpanzees are our closest cousins; we share about 98 percent of our genes. In their habitat in the forests of central Africa, chimpanzees spend most of their days in the tree tops. When they do come down to earth, chimps usually travel on all fours, though they can walk on their legs like humans for as far as a mile. They use sticks to fish termites out of mounds and bunches of leaves to sop up drinking water. Noisy and curious, intelligent and social, Territorial calls and screams are heard before the chimps descend from their nests in the trees.  Several chimps entertain us by pounding on trees and others groom each other picking lice and whatnot from each other, much like you’ve seen them do in zoos (note picture), but without fences and barriers between us.   We have rangers with us, with guns, and I must say they are on the alert.  We are told that chimps can be aggressive if provoked, so we mind our p’s and q’s for sure.

We move on to Queen Elizabeth Park (Mweya Safari Lodge) located between Lakes Edward and George.   Of Africa’s Big Five (coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot, being the lion, elephant, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard),  we have seen all but the leopard.  We are told to keep our eyes high, as they like to sit up in trees.  Unfortunately, even though this area is one of the best areas to spot the elusive leopard, we do not see one L  But, a herd of buffalo are spotted resting in a pond of mud, a male lion is seen and a hippo comes  within feet of our vehicle and he doesn’t look particularly happy that we are in his neighborhood.  And, of course, elephants, kob,  bushbucks, waterbucks and antelope, warthogs, et al,  are everywhere – hooohumm, so old hat!!  A launch cruise (kind of a pontoon boat) down the Kazinga Channel finishes off the day. 

Next stop is the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Gorilla Valley Lodge) where we will trek to see a gorilla family in the wild.    With approximately 400 mountain gorillas living in the impenetrable forests, Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s total population of mountain gorillas. The majority is found in different areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of Africa’s most ancient rainforests and one of the most popular tourism destinations in Africa.  Bwindi Park extends to Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, with gorilla families living in all three countries. 

The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95–99% depending on what is counted, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after chimpanzees and bonobos (a black-faced ape, one of humankind's closest living relatives, having diverged from a common ancestor about 7 million years ago, and sharing more than 98% of our DNA. These great apes are complex beings with profound intelligence, emotional expression, and sensitivity).  Gorillas move around by knuckle-walking, although they sometimes walk bipedally for short distances while carrying food or in defensive situations.  Wild male gorillas weigh 298 to 397 lb while adult females usually weigh half as much as adult males at 150–249 lb. Adult males are 5.6 to 5.9 ft tall, with an arm span that stretches from 7.5 to 8.5 ft. Female gorillas are shorter with smaller arm spans.  Adult male gorillas are known as silverbacks due to the characteristic silver hair on their backs reaching to the hips. Occasionally, a silverback of over 5 ft 11 in and 510 lb has been recorded in the wild.  Gorillas live in groups called troops. Troops tend to be made of one adult male or silverback, multiple adult females and their offspring.  Gorillas live in groups called troops. Troops tend to be made of one adult male or silverback, multiple adult females and their offspring   The silverback is the center of the troop's attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites, and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Younger males subordinate to the silverback, known as blackbacks, may serve as backup protection. Blackbacks are aged between 8 and 12 years and lack the silver back hair. 

Gorillas are considered to be highly intelligent. A few individuals in captivity, such as Koko, have been taught a subset of sign language. Like the other great apes, gorillas can laugh, grieve, have "rich emotional lives", develop strong family bonds, make and use tools, and think about the past and future.

Gorilla trekking permits cost $600/person, and must be purchased in advance since permits are limited by the day.  We set out in the morning in a group of 5 with two Rangers, with guns (note picture).  There are rangers keeping a watchful eye on the gorilla families from afar 24/7 and a family has been sited relatively near.  We are heading that direction.  I hire an extra porter for $20 to help me maneuver the rainforest and hike ahead of us.  I feel confident that my new hips will do fine, but will my knees?  It is a steep climb, slippery with mud and wet leaves/grass (note picture).  It is lush and green, it is after all a rain forest J.  We trek for 1.5-2 hrs, and for me this is quite a workout.   I’m not sure that my knees would do much more.  Luckily, a silverback male gorilla is spotted up in the trees.  Where??  All I see is a big black lump up there (note picture).  Ahhh, an arm stretches out and before you know it, he has swung down (note picture), just like we’ve seen in the movies.  This gorgeous animal is within eight feet of us.  He is not fearful of us and we are told that gorillas are not aggressive. We are instructed to keep our voices calm and low, no sudden movements are recommended and if we are approached by a gorilla to not flee and run.  Let him become acquainted with you, and he’ll soon lose interest.   He seems to pose for us, giving us photo shots of all his sides (note picture).  He gives us a thoughtful expression, you know the finger to lip and thinking look.  We are allowed to observe for one hour.   The same family is rarely viewed two days in a row.   This is an experience of a lifetime!!!   A three-year old male hops on a log to watch us and before you know it he is thumping his chest like AhhhhhhOhhhhh and ends it with a bow for applause.  The ranger said – “he is entertaining you today”.  Sure seemed so.  His two-year old sister hops up next to him and they are batting and teasing each other, just as kids do, until the little female falls off and I swear that boy stood there laughing!!   This trek was physically challenging for me, but this was probably the highlight of the trip and I/we did it.  I am filthy with mud and sweat and a hot shower is most welcome.  After 800mg of ibuprofen and a few hours to read my book, I am rejuvenated.  I can happily report that I was up and ready to go the next morning, but one lady from yesterday’s trip skips breakfast since her knees just couldn’t carry her today. 

L our safari in Uganda is almost over.  We travel down muddy, slippery, treacherous roads.  Ah-Oh, what is that noise?  Yikes sounds like brake problems and it is.  We make it to the main road where almost anything can be observed (note picture of jugs to carry water).   Brake pads around…… not really a part of today’s calendar, but no worries.  I can watch people forever and thankfully we really don’t have someplace to be except back in Kampala by tonight.  That brings us to Kampala and the congestion of that city.  If you’ll remember, I wrote about Kampala at the start of our Uganda adventure.  Not my favorite place to visit.  We spend the night at Whitecrest Guesthouse, home to our tour director/owner, Simonpeter.  We meet his family (wife, Lisa and three sons) and share dinner and breakfast with them (note pictures).   Off to the airport in the morning and a return flight to Addis Ababa where Chris will stay and I’ll return to the US. 

My day begins in Uganda, with travel to Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Germany and concludes finally in Chicago, well the air travel part does.  I then board a bus to Michigan City, IN and a friend meets me there to return me to South Haven,  MI.  I have been traveling about 36 hours at this time.  I stink, I’m dirty, and I’m exhausted, but I am excited about the trip I just experienced.  I’m not ready to throw that backpack back on, but where shall I go next and when?  Squatting over holes isn’t as easy as it once was and traveling in an overcrowded van with live chickens and motion sick passengers might be in my past, but I still want to experience “real” people living life.  I don’t want to be an observer, I want to be a part of it.  I need travel to remind me of the fact that we are all just people, trying to live the best we can with what resources we have regardless of our color, religion or surroundings.  It’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture and big world we live in.  We need to get out of the box occasionally and stretch!! 

Til the gypsy in my soul screams again and the travel bug can’t sit still any longer, I leave you until my next adventure with this parting thought…….. Live Life and Forget Your Age!!!  Hugs to all.

No comments:

Post a Comment