A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Week 63, 8.May.10 - 14.May.10

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania to Kilimanjaro National Park (Kibo Hut, 4703m), Tanzania

View Week 63 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Arusha, Tanzania
Heading out to grab a bite to eat, back in sketchy Arusha on Saturday night. Today, day 5 and the last of the safari, saved the best for last. After breakfast in the brisk dining hut (around 5 degrees this morning - eek!) in Ngorongoro campsite, we headed down in the 4x4 into the massive crater (around 20 km wide at the bottom) with some spectacular dawn views.

Not 20 minutes after hitting the bottom of the crater we were spotting a cheetah and some groundhogs, then the jackpot - a lioness attacking a small wildebeest.

Soon, of course, all other 4x4s down there were at the spot, but fortunately no worries of penalties going off-road, she dragged it right next to the road - actually leaned up against a 4x4 for a while!

We were jockeying for position with other 4x4s, most of which were far less considerate about sharing the view - some just flat out drove up and cut off our 4x4 from view - damn rude, reminded me of Jersey drivers! When we were able to reclaim position for a better view, we were witnessing something quite incredible - while the lion had initially bit her prey several times in the neck,

here about 20 minutes later, the wildebeest was still alive - and still trying to flee! The lion was literally eating the wildebeest ALIVE... it was truly a site of nature at its most raw and unfiltered one could ever hope to see - as gruesome as it appeared, you couldn't look away!

Eventually, the creature did die,

and while the lion ate, a hyena came about, keeping an eye on the fresh carcass while maintaining a safe distance.

Our guide told us that if a pack of hyenas forms, they'll eventually move in and overtake the carcass - but unfortunately for us, that could take several hours/all day, and with the time running out we decided to move on to spot other wildlife like black rhinos, kori bastard birds, and ostriches.

We came upon another family of lions who had taken up residence in a drain pipe system underneath the road - they came out of the home to take a look at us, taking a look at them!

Today I met up with Yi, a guy from China who posted a note in the Arusha tourist office looking for fellow travelers interested in climbing Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately for us, all tour companies are closed today (Sunday), so we'll have to start looking tomorrow.

Today Yi and I visited a couple different tour operators to negotiate a 5 day Kilimanjaro climb up the Marangu path (most popular). The same company Yi had booked his earlier safari with was quoting a pretty good price, but seemed to want to cut corners/add-on charges for basics like rain jacket/pants and waterproof bags for the luggage. We got the price down to $800/person (ouch!), which was probably as cheap as it would get booking from Arusha instead of Moshi. We also visited the tour company I booked the safari through, and got the price down, but only to $850/person, so we settled on the first, heading out tomorrow.

Kilimanjaro National Park (Mandara Huts, 2700m), Tanzania
Well, day 1 of climbing 'Kili' was pretty easy - this morning back in Arusha Yi and I were picked up by the tour company's guide Huessin and porters, and driven to Marangu, small farming village at the base of Kili and our starting point. During the 2 hour drive over, found myself having to start up most conversations with Yi - he's definitely not the most outgoing/sociable person I've ever met. At the park headquarter main gate (1800m), we met a group who had just finished the climb and were heading down - they didn't look so great, but were happy, all having made it to the summit. After the delay of bank card issues courtesy of the dodgy tour company I knew we'd regret booking with, Huessin got it sorted and at 12:30 we started out.

Headed up the well kept path through lush rainforest (with lots of rain),

greeted along the way every so often by a team of ants in the path, a couple of which here and there would climb up your shoe to your leg and start biting - not fun. Later in the afternoon, I felt one on my lower back biting - how'd it get there?? Anyway, arrived here at Maranda Huts at 15:00, having walked 7.11km to an altitude now at 2700m. During dinner, met other climbers heading up on the same route - a German girl/Irish guy couple, S. African guy with 2 Aussie girls, solo Norwegian girl, and a Canadian and local Tanzanian duo. Now, even though it is only 19:00, going to rest up for day 2.

Kilimanjaro National Park (Horombo Huts, 3720m), Tanzania
Here in the Horombo Huts, just finished dinner and at 3720m altitude, feeling just a little light headed (first sign of altitude sickness), so going to rest in a bit. Not a great night sleep last night - the German girl kept yelling at the Irish guy in the adjacent cabin last night and early this morning. This morning we headed up the trail at 08:30. Yi soon decided our pace was too slow, saying "Going slow makes me more tired."... um, ok? So he decided to walk ahead of Huessin and me, despite the guide's recommendation of "poley poley" (slowly slowly), to help our bodies acclimatize to the altitude. Huessin and I took our time along the 11.7 km route, and watched as the landscape changed from thick rain forest to sparse moorland.

Passed by the Maundi crater (too foggy to see anything), then further up as it cleared, some pretty views of snecio trees surrounding waterfalls.

Continuing the ascent the vegetation gradually becoming more and more sparse. We arrived in good shape at 15:15, Yi having arrived about 30 minutes earlier and saying the path was "difficult" in some spots - which it wasn't, provided you were going slowly (kind of makes sense??). Anyway, the various groups arrived at different intervals, and at dinner we met another group, 3 French guys and and Australian girl, who are hiking the same Marangu route but taking an extra day to acclimatize, having arrived here at Horombo yesterday. During dinner we met a couple Swedish girls stopping off at Horombo on their way down, having just summited, and mentioning the difficulty of the climb, and not having a sunrise this morning but faced with a blizzard - not the best reward!

Kilimanjaro National Park (Kibo Hut, 4703m), Tanzania
Here at Kibo hut, its only 18:00 and after force-feeding a few bites of pasta for dinner (no appetite whatsoever), going to try and sleep a few hours before starting off at midnight for the climb to the summit. This morning back in Horombo, now above the base clouds, we awoke to our first glimpse of the snowcapped summit.

After breakfast, and feeling pretty good (despite another early morning wake up call from the German girl) with the light-headed feeling passed, headed out at 08:30 and along the pretty easy 10.26km route, as the landscape changed from moorland to a lunar-looking alpine desert, we passed the landmarks Zebra Rocks,

and Mawenzi peak (5149) - which although lower than the summit, was glad we didn't have to climb that sucker!

As we approached the Kibo hut with the steep slope to the summit looming overhead,

I started getting a headache - 2nd sign of (worsening) altitude sickness. Arrived at 13:15, nibbled a bit of lunch and hoping that resting will take care of the headache, but remembering the problem just worsening last year back when I arrived in La Paz, so definitely getting concerned.

Well, it wasn't easy, I feel like hell, but I did it. Last night with my headache worsening (as expected), couldn't fall asleep so just laid in bed and waited for midnight. After popping 2 aspirin with my hot tea and one cookie (I could barely eat), Huessin, Yi, one of our porters and I took off this morning at 00:00 with all 12 other climbers and their guides/porters. Fortunately, it was not too cold out (of course, maybe that had something to do with my 6 layers of upper body, 3 layers of lower body, 2 pairs of socks, etc.) and the stars were out. We kept a slow pace, zig-zagging up the steep slope. Most groups were clustered together at the beginning, but we started spacing apart as the slope grew steeper and more difficult - the path soon became snow-covered, the clouds moved in, and more snow began to fall. After a while, there became less and less of a defined path, the snow was becoming thicker, and instead of walking we were mostly climbing over big snow-covered boulders. Yi dropped back with the porter, and although my body was telling me to stop, mentally I knew I wasn't quitting (singing some motivational tunes like "Rocky IV" soundtrack to myself along the way). By this point, well above 5000m, we were taking rests frequently. During one of the rests, Huessin mentioned that near Gilman's point he often vomits. And if I need to vomit, I should just go ahead and do it, and it doesn't mean I can't finish. Well, ok then, I'm thinking that is a possibility because in addition to my headache, definitely began feeling nauseous (3rd sign of altitude sickness). Well, at 04:45 Heussin and I reach the 5681m Gilman's point milestone (without vomiting),

and passed what most consider the most difficult part of the climb, as the last 214m up is much more gradual (albeit, another 1.5 hours away). So along the next stretch, sometimes the path would narrow to about 1m wide wedged between a slope wall, and about a 50m drop straight down the side of a crater - yikes! Along the way, a few km from the summit, Huessin started to vomit (just as predicted). Several times I thought I'd join him, but never did. As we approached the summit, the S. African guy and one of the Aussie girls, followed shortly by the other Aussie girl who was paired with the French group, passed us on their way back down having just summited, calling out encouragement that I would repeat to other climbers behind me. Finally at 06:30 we arrived at the summit, waited a minute or so for the sun to rise while soaking up as much of the spectacular view as I could.

Watched the sunrise,

stayed for about 10 more minutes for some more photos,

then started to descend - quickly. My head felt like it would explode, still felt like vomiting, and with the sun now up, the snow on the path was melting and becoming quite slippery for the 11km trek back here to Kibo hut. Arrived at 08:30, exchanging stories with the S. African and Aussie girl. Although I passed him on his way up to the summit, still no sign of Yi yet and it is now almost 12:00, but Huessin and I will wait here for him before descending further to Horombo huts - hopefully that will be soon, because although my head feels better, I still am anxious to get off this damned mountain!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 07:42 Comments (0)

Week 62, 1.May.10 - 7.May.10

Mwanza, Tanzania to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

View Week 62 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Mwanza, Tanzania
Ok, I gave it an extra day to see if any groups were going to be heading on a Serengeti safari tour that I could join, but it doesn't look like its going to happen... well, not from Mwanza during "low season", anyway. The guidebook is mentioning Arusha as the main hub for organizing safari tours in northern Tanzania (including Serengeti), but unfortunately that means a long bus ride southeast looping around the Serengeti and back up north in a sort of half-moon route - 12 hours, minimum, taking off tomorrow at 06:00. I just hope when I arrive in Arusha I can join a safari tour ASAP! Now, I'm heading over to the 4-star hotel's bar on Lake Victoria for a cocktail or 2 to spend my Saturday night.

Arusha, Tanzania
14 hour bus ride - with a few obligatory break downs along the way -

and now here in Arusha. The guidebook and fellow travelers' stories are spot-on about this place - incredibly annoying and persistent touts and con artists, just hovering around the bus station waiting for Mzungu tourists to harass - one "fly catcher" (as they're known) from the station, talking away as if I really gave 2 sh-ts about what hotel he's recommending (to get a commission by bringing me there)... and as clear as I could possibly be about picking a hotel of my choice without assistance, he just kept following me along as if we're old buddies where he'll conveniently jump in front at the reception having "brought" me to the hotel. I actually ducked into a nice 4-start hotel lobby (where I knew they wouldn't give commission) just so I could lose the loser, but he was still waiting outside 10 minutes later! Gotta love Africa... I finally was able to lose him, arrived at a hotel (of my choice, commission-free), got checked in and just had a couple beers in the courtyard with an Ethiopian girl also staying here, visiting Tanzania as a tourist - I told her that Ethiopia was a really interesting place, but couldn't even try to hide my general feelings about the annoying people there - she didn't argue!

I'm reemphasize the point of Arusha being loaded with super annoying con artists and touts - it seriously took a concerted effort today not to take a swing at some of these guys. But fortunately, I did find a 5-day safari tour leaving tomorrow that I was able to join, day 1 to Lake Manyara, days 2-4 Serengeti, and day 5 Ngorongoro. The word spread quickly around that this Mzungu has signed up for a tour, as it seemed by afternoon the touts bothered me less and less...

Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania
Here at the campsite at Lake Manyara National Park and having a cold beer while watching a football (soccer) match at the camp's bar with satellite TV (roughing it here!). I departed Arusha today for the safari, joined by an American couple Dan and Nova, Danish couple Michael and Getty, and our guide/driver Dickson and cook Misya. About 2 hours drive, spent the time getting to know my safari mates, then arriving at the lake, drove around for a few hours spotting a variety of wildlife - from turtles and baboons,

to zebra and giraffe,

to hippos,

not to mention spectacular views of the lake... very cool! At one point a group of giraffes and zebras were foraging next to a dense spot of forest, then abruptly took off running - something definitely spooked them, we're guessing a lion on the hunt. But alas, all the animals survived! Spotted a few elephants on our way back out to the camp site -

great start to the safari!

Serengeti National Park (Seronera), Tanzania
We've just set up camp in the Seronera area of the Serengeti, and day 2 of the safari did not disappoint! Departing Lake Manyara this morning, we passed through some incredible views near Ngorongoro en route to the Serengeti.

Our first visual of Serengeti proper was a vast landscape filled with zebras - hundreds and hundreds, with all of them alternating looks over at the curious site of our 4x4 and their mates' shoulders for predators.

Next saw more zebras groups with wildebeest. Stopping for boxed lunch at a picnic site, we were greeted by colorful birds looking for a handout -

of course, we were reminded against that consideration.

Driving on, passed lions laying lazy on rocks,

and groups of giraffes, where I was able to finally figure out (with Michael's help) some different settings like black and white

and speed shutter, with my 6-year old camera! Also was able to spot a leopard perched up in a tree - the one of the "Big Five" I never was able to see back in my '03 Kruger safari in S. Africa.

Now, as the sun is setting, with something of an amazing view that you see only in magazines (but its really here!),

heading over for a (cold) shower at the bathrooms before turning in.

This morning we were up at 05:30 for tracking down game hunt - the vultures were also up, anxious as well.

Saw plenty of wildebeest - like, in the thousands - honking some strange noises.

We spotted a couple cheetahs, following them as they strolled along the plains -

at one point coming a bit too close to a lion sleeping in the grass, as it lept up and roared, scaring the cheetahs away! We kept following in the 4x4, noticing the peculiar habits for the child to imitate every single move of the mother ("You scratch this tree, so will I!"). They perched up on a large rock for a while,

then finally made their move - charging toward a herd of zebras and wildebeest, which all took off running and for a brief moment, the cheetahs stopped. I was saying, "Oh, come on - the fastest land animal in the world giving up after a 10 second run?!?", but then noticed a young wildebeest who stopped, not following the rest of the herd - not sure if it was confused or injured, but that's all she wrote! The cheetahs were instantly on it chowing down, but off in the distance away from the road and not a very good view. Our guide Dickson was at first resisting driving off-road toward the kill, saying, "It is not allowed." - Crazy! What a bunch of crap I'm thinking. Anyway, after we watched a different safari company drive pull up, spot the kill and then drive off-road toward the cheetahs, the tourists did not hide our disappointment. So eventually Dickson got the message (probably thinking of his tips at the end of the safari), and also pulled up alongside to the cheetahs for us to get some shots.

For the rest of the day, got a good mix of other animals spotted along the way - lions up in trees,

love birds, vervet monkeys,

groundhogs, African buffalos,

and on and on! Now back at camp and have just eaten, about to try to get some sleep while the sound of roaring lions is commencing just outside the campsite - Dickson puts them at 200 meters away, just a tad close for comfort... I won't be strolling too far to the toilets if I have to get up in the middle of the night!

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
It is mighty cold here at the camp site on the Ngorongoro crater rim - no hot water showers, either! Today for the 3rd day in Serengeti, saw more great animal activity - a herd of elephants slowly made their way across the plain, at one point the head male thought our 4x4 was too close to their path, so trumpeted a warning - didn't matter that our vehicle was parked their first, we backed up!!

Saw a couple crocs,

and one stray elephant who passed within a could inches of them when crossing the stream (the crocs didn't try anything).

Later, the same stray elephant (possibly) was moseying along the roadway - not being able to go off-road (and certainly not trying to pass it), we just slowly followed for quite some time......

Finally, saw plenty of wildebeest migrating toward the north in search of more water -

one of the true Serengeti highlights and really glad we got to see, before departing and heading here to the famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area - heading down into the crater tomorrow!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 23:40 Comments (0)

Week 61, 24.Apr.10 - 30.Apr.10

Bujumbura, Burundi to Mwanza, Tanzania

View Week 61 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Bujumbura, Burundi
Heading out for dinner in a minute with Mike & Chris, a couple of Canadians I had initially met back in Jinja, Uganda, and bumped into this morning when checking into my new hotel - cheaper than last night's $35 room, and definitely nicer than the first place I checked out when arriving in Bujumbura. Today after checking in the hotel, I wandered around checking out the limited sites of Buj, like Place de la Revolution

and then over to Musee Vivant - which I guess is supposed to be an open air museum with traditional Burundian village huts that contained cheap statues and broken musical instruments, which I sat down with to strum out a tune.

The musee is also home to a zoo of sorts, but this zoo is not winning any humanitarian awards - small, unkempt cages with malnourished looking animals - not many, fortunately - a couple chimps, baboon, leopard, about 6 crocs, and the most ridiculous attempt at an "aquarium" I've ever seen - a couple fish tanks in a small dark room that doubled as a storage closet for chairs.

Moving on, headed back toward city center at Place de L'Independence where a political rally was underway - presidential elections are coming up and one party just nominated its candidate (the incumbent president).

Knowing Burundi isn't a model for political stability, decided not to hang around the rally very long and instead made my way over to meet up with the Canadians at Bora Bora beach club on Lake Tanganyika. Now, this place is nice... Hamptons-style beach club complete with bar and swimming pool,

and the beach itself - white powder sand, clear water (at perfect temp), and views of the mountains on both the Burundian and Congo sides of the lake were just breathtaking... it was really hard to believe this place is volatile Burundi. Plenty of Mzungu expats frequent this place, so also spent some time with a group swimming, playing frisbee and finally beach volleyball, just as Toto's "Africa" started playing on the bar's speakers.... ah, good times!

Spent quite a bit of time today recovering from yesterday/last night out with the Canadians - WAY too many beers were consumed. When I finally rolled out of bed, made my way back to Bora Bora for a swim and some volleyball - but no drinks, not today! Also at Bora Bora, bumped into Thomas from Finland who had made his way down from Rwanda, and got caught up with each other's travel stories. Now, ever since Uganda, there has been a tale told among us travelers heading south that somewhere in Buj exists a bar with a caged chimp who smokes, and likes to be tickled by the spectators... of course, another humanitarian faux pas for Burundi. Well, legend became reality today as he was finally discovered, at the beach bar right next to Bora Bora. We all headed over and although a bit shy at first (I think shy, anyway... but not entirely sure what doing flips in your cage really means), sure enough he was soon turning around in his cage waiting to be tickled, and joining in on games of patty-cake.

The crew is heading out now for drinks, but after last night, needless to say it will be an early one for me...

Kigoma, Tanzania
Here in dusty Tanzanian border town of Kigoma, just had dinner with some Tanzanian guy Saully from Dar Es Salaam, telling me about his work of inspecting/validating road construction projects - based on the conditions of the road heading in from the Burundian border today, would say his job was anything but easy! Early this morning back in Buj, all us Mzungus traveling through took the minibus south through Burundi - more spectacular views of the countryside along the way, spotting small fishing villages along Lake Tanganyika,

and lush mountains covered with moss. One of the Canadians, Chris, had some soccer balls he bought at a market to give away, so when the bus pulled up alongside a primary school, it certainly made the kids' day!

Along the way was the ubiquitous breakdown for about 30 minutes where we just waited on the side of the road for the repair.

Eventually, made it to the border where we were stamped out of Burundi and reaching the Tanzanian immigration booth, stamped in and connected with a private 4x4 taxi here to Kigoma.

Today, after shopping around a lot to finally find a black market guy to exchange my Burundian Francs for Tanzanian Shillings and not completely take me to the cleaners, I headed south to the nearby village of Ujiji - even more dusty and depressing than Kigoma (which says a lot), to visit the one tourist draw - a monument underneath an old mango tree where back on 10-Nov-1871, Henry Morton Stanley found (after a 1-year search) Dr. Livingstone ("I presume?"), who had embarked on a commissioned journey 5 years earlier to locate the source of the nile, and became impossibly lost.

When I arrived in Ujiji, I felt a little like Stanley myself, having to ask several times the locals where the (poorly marked) darn monument was, saying "Livingstone?", and the locals would keep pointing down the road. They were also all completely fascinated with seeing a Mzungu - I can't imagine what the reaction must have been like 130 years ago for Stanley!

Mwanza, Tanzania
Spent 14 hours on the bus today from Kigoma here to Mwanza. It wasn't very eventful, and actually not the most scenic landscape along the way... just the usual overcrowded bus conditions, horrible roads, driver going WAY too fast.. so I read my cheesy novel most the way. Just got checked into a hotel, now heading the their bar for a cold beer to toast my 14 months mark of traveling!

Spent a majority of the day here in Mwanza visiting tour operators - at least 7 or 8, to see if any of them have a group that booked an upcoming Serengeti safari and have an open spot to join, but no dice. Considering the cost to do it alone, I'll have to wait it out until something opens up - so hopefully that means soon!

Today I visited a few sites that Mwanza has to offer - the Lake Victoria views with oddly shaped Bismark rock,

and Mwanza city from the Capri point at sunset were really nice.

I also visited the same tour operators as a follow up, but still no luck joining a safari! I even put up a note at the pizzeria on Post Rd. where Mzungu foreigners frequent - but so far, have met only expats who aren't interested in dropping hundreds on a safari....

Posted by rd wrld1yr 08:35 Comments (0)

Week 60, 17.Apr.10 - 23.Apr.10

Itambira Island (Lake Bunyonyi), Uganda to Bujumbura, Burundi

View Week 60 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Kigali, Rwanda
This morning I hired the dugout canoe taxi and paddled from Itambira Island on Lake Bunyonyi back to the mainland, took a shared taxi over to Kabale where I loaded up with Ugandan Shillings (having learned that there are no international ATMs in Rwanda or Burundi), then changed to another shared taxi for the border. Got stamped out of Uganda and stamped into Rwanda - finally a monetary advantage for being an American traveling in Africa when it comes to border formalities: no visa for Rwanda! Arrived here in Kigali on the minibus and got checked into the nice, but comparatively expensive, hotel room along Blvd de Nyabugogo in the city center. Coming from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda was like sticker shock shopping around for accommodation here in Rwanda! I spent a little time shopping around for the best rate to exchange my shillings for Rwandan Francs, and while wandering observed the moto (motorcycle) taxi drivers not only are all wearing helmets here compared to Uganda, but have helmets for passengers, too! And unlike Uganda where the "boda-bodas" will cut you off at an intersection while walking along, honking and shouting, "Mzungu! Where you go? Mzungu!", here in Kigali they just pull up along side and look to see if you will need a taxi - not even a honk! And while the pedestrians walking by look at me (well, OK - stare), but don't start shouting or calling out.. in fact, they don't say anything - very different feel!

Today I went to Nyamata, about 30 km south of Kigali and one of the most infamous sites of the '94 genocide. There is a church in this tiny, dusty town that looked very normal and modern from the exterior, but as I approached noticed the purple and white memorial banners/streamers (what I later was told, represents peace and unity) strung outside.

Around back I observed a large concrete pedestal with flowers laid around, where there were open hatches leading down to a type of cellar. Walking down the steps the first thing I noticed was the smell - mold or some sort of dampness, not pleasant at all. There were several dozen coffins with purple and white sheets covering, and alongside, place upon shelves, were hundreds and hundreds of skulls and other bones on display, out in the open. Many of the skulls had holes and cracks, visible signs where the person was struck down. It was certainly one of the most disturbing things I may have ever seen.

Surfacing, I headed back to the front and entered the church, which was filled with ratty old clothes laid upon the pews.

When I exited, there were a couple men outside sitting at a table for donations - when I asked some questions about the church, one of them offered to explain the story with gut-wrenching details - telling how tensions began back in '92, but conflict staved off for a while. Then in April of '94 - 16 years ago almost to the day, tensions again built up from the propaganda being broadcast from the media, and the town's Tutsi population sought refuge here in this church. Soon Hutu Interahamwe militia, tipped off by the priest, surrounded the church. The commander of the militia gave the order to break in the door, and they began slowly and methodically executing the ~2,500 Tutsis with machetes, hammers and other blunt objects used to cause the most trauma... those with money paid for a bullet to end their lives quickly. And the story grew even more disturbing, how the wives of the militia came in to assist - grabbing anything of value, and killing the small children by smashing their skulls against the wall. The massacre was finally ended by locking the doors back up and throwing grenades inside to make sure the job was finished - visual evidence of shrapnel damage can be seen on the roof.

When he finished telling the story, I asked his personal involvement with the genocide - turns out he was 8 at the time, his whole family killed in the church. I have no idea how he survived. Heading back to the bus stand, I couldn't help but look at the people walking around the town today, trying to determine if they were Tutsi survivors, or Hutu former militia integrated back into society, having either claimed amnesty, served out a brief sentence, or after fleeing to the Congo or Burundi, returned to Rwanda never identified as a perpetrator of the genocide - which I have heard is the case with many. I can't even imagine what the Tutsi survivors must be feeling, living among Hutus and trying to carry out normal lives. I headed back to Kigali and over to the Kigali memorial centre, which had more information on the genocide - from the early tensions (history of the 2 groups being segregated by the Belgians during the colonial era), to the genocide itself, and the aftermath. It had video testimony from survivors, displays of media propaganda inciting hatred,

and hundreds and hundreds of photos of nameless victims - very sad to put a real face to the skulls on display back in the church.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the memorial was the information displayed of how easy it could have been to prevent the genocide, if the UN would have assigned more peace-keeping troops from the beginning instead of pulling out. Another level of the memorial showed other genocides in history - Armenia, Holocaust, Bosnia, etc. - in an effort to make sure the world is aware of the past, and doesn't let it happen again in the future - then again, the memorial was built in 1999, and hasn't been updated to reflect the current situation in Darfur.

Today I went over to the Burundian embassy in the morning to apply for a tourist visa, then wandered around Kigali a bit. More of the usual stares from the locals, but this time I did notice some pointing and commenting (in Kinyarwanda language) at the shopping bag I was carrying... at first wasn't sure what the deal was, then I remembered reading how the government banned plastic bags, making them illegal! I decided not to break any laws and so transferred the contents of my Ugandan shopping bag into a Rwandan paper bag. And I will say, the effect is noticeable. I'm sure it isn't 100% of the reason, but Rwanda definitely appears cleaner with less garbage strewn on the sidewalks and streets compared to other African countries. For lunch - beer, burger and fries with real ketchup (not tomato water) for the first time since probably Europe - I went to Hotel Des Milles Collines, a.k.a. "Hotel Rwanda".

The bartender was asking my opinion of Rwanda (beautiful), we were chatting a while and then I asked him whether anyone working at the hotel in '94 was still here today. "I am", he said. After what I saw yesterday, I decided not to ask more questions about that. Back here at the hotel I bumped into Thomas from Finland who made his way down from Uganda and just arrived along with a few others, now heading over to the very westernized coffee shop with wifi at the mall - very much roughing it here!

Gisenyi, Rwanda
Here in Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu - very pretty views coming in on the road from up in the mountains, but the center of town with its dusty, dirty roads leaves a bit to be desired! The bus ride here today from Kigali was uneventful, aside from the guy in the seat in front of me puking several times - it was a pretty windy road to get here. I arrived, checked into a cheapie hotel, and asked around for any tour companies in the area that organize trips over to the DR Congo to climb Nyiragongo volcano. There were also 3 other backpackers I met who were potentially interested as well, so when an agent for one of the companies showed up, the first thing we heard was the park permit alone costs $200, not including guide, transport, camping equipment, visa, etc.. $200! In the DR Congo?!? In the 2008 edition guidebook, lists the permit costing $100... so it has DOUBLED in price in 1.5 years?!? I mean, I climbed a volcano back in Guatemala for probably $25 including guide and transport. Well, that $200 instantly knocked out the 3 other potentials. So, although ridiculously pricey, I still would like to climb it so I'm going to try and find others to team up with, hopefully tomorrow. Now I'm about to head to some German expats' place, I met them today and was invited over for dinner... free meal sounds pretty good!

Day 2 in Gisenyi. After switching rooms in the hotel due to the used condom I discovered (not mine) next to the toilet in the bathroom (classy!), went out and spent the day asking around for any potential fellow would-be volcano climbers, but came up empty. Last night at the German ladies' place was a good time - 2 expats now living in Gisenyi volunteering, had invited over a few local Congolese folks as well - very cool group of guys that were down to earth and telling me really interesting stories of what it was like living in this area. The dinner - spaghetti bolognese, was pretty good, too!

Goma, DR Congo
I'm having a Fanta in a restaurant - well, its really a shack with dirt floor and burner stove in the corner, but the sign hanging up outside says "restaurant" - here in Goma, DR Congo.

And the reason I'm sitting around right now drinking a pop, instead of hiking up the Nyiragongo, is the reason for my huge feeling of disappointment. This morning back in Gisenyi, I was thinking it may just take forever to find other travelers to meet and join on a volcano tour. Not wanting to spend said forever in Gisenyi, and since it would be too expensive to book a tour alone, decided I would head here to Goma on my own and do the climb independently. I bought a bunch of snacks at the market, a couple 1.5 liter bottles of water packed my day pack with sleeping bag and warmer clothes, stored my big pack at the hotel, and headed via moto-taxi the short hop to the border. Got stamped out of Rwanda/stamped into DR Congo ($35, 8-day tourist visa), then grabbed a moto taxi through town and ~15 km or so to the volcano itself. A couple of times along the way was pretty sure the motorcycle would spill out and I'd crack my head open (no helmet laws this side of the border). Arriving at the volcano in one piece, was told by a ranger I had to go back into town to buy the permit from the park office, they weren't available a the volcano - son of a b----! Paying the maniac moto-taxi driver now to head back into town, arrived at the park office where I was told, "The volcano is closed." Huh? It turns out they're building facilities - I'm guessing that mean toilets - up at the rim of the crater, so the park is closed, has been since Tuesday ("Why was a tour operator trying to sell a tour??", I'm wondering to myself) and would remain closed until Sunday -- of course, this being Africa, Sunday could mean Monday, Tuesday... hell, maybe next Sunday. I asked if I could climb up the volcano and descend down today, not camp up at the crater and if necessary promise to take a crap in some discreet location off to the side - no dice. So since I'd already paid for the visa, decided may as well spend the day checking out Goma, and I must say, it is one of the dirtiest border towns I've strolled through! Crazy sights like several street vendors walking around selling nail polish, stacked 7 rows high in a pyramid... nail polish??

And the trash piles all over burning - normally relegated off a side alleyway, but here right on the side of the main roads.

Some weird type of inverted big wooden bicycle guys were using either as a taxi,

or to haul cargo.

And the town is dominated by UN - trucks, armored vehicles and armed soldiers all over, at least a few different compounds I saw.

Definitely a different world over here, and definitely not one I want to stay in 4+ days longer with all my stuff back across the border, waiting for the park to finish building toilets! So now I'm heading back over to Gisenyi and will catch the next bus back to Kigali this afternoon. So long, Congo!

Bujumbura, Burundi
I'm heading over to grab some beers at a bar around the corner from my pricey hotel, here in Bujumbura. This morning back in Kigali I took the bus south to the border, got stamped out of Rwanda (again) and stamped into Burundi, where the idiot immigration officer decided to place the entry stamp on the blank page adjacent to the Burundian visa, instead of on the Burundian visa page itself (where he's supposed to), putting me one visa page closer to having to get a new passport. Meanwhile, riding in what I'd like to call, the "Suicide Bus" through the windy mountain roads of northern Burundi, was just blown away by the views - so beautiful. That is, right up until we stopped on the side of the road to look down at a wreck of a car that had plummeted off the side just yesterday - not a good sight, but at least that seemed to prompt the maniac bus driver to slow down a bit. Along the way also noticed some peculiar sights, like countless piles of bricks on the side of the road, which I was told were for sale...

Arriving in Buj, stopped by over at the cheapest hotel my guidebook listed - definitely not in a great part of the city. I took one look at the room and said "No, thanks", and walked away from the ~$8/night place to the $35/night hotel I'm at now. I can't say for certain, but think this may be the first time in nearly 14 months that I actually passed up the cheapest lodging option, but decided finally had to draw the line somewhere - I guess that line was the bed with a sheet probably not changed EVER, toilet with an equally long track record (nice poop streaks in there), and seedy-as-hell area with riff raff all over. Whatever it was, decided I would bite the bullet and fork over the dough for a nicer place tonight - although remarkably better location and room, couldn't help but laugh when the cook at the hotel's restaurant, upon pulling out the menu for dinner, was brushing away the dead cockroach stuck on page 4...

Posted by rd wrld1yr 08:06 Comments (0)

Week 59, 10.Apr.10 - 16.Apr.10

Kampala, Uganda to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

View Week 59 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Kampala, Uganda
Continuing the slow pace trend I set for myself here in Kampala, today was spent casually wandering around the city a bit past a few monuments here and there,

and getting caught up with the family on Skype calls. Now I'm heading to dinner at my now "regular" place, Antonio's, before taking in another round of Kampala nightlife...

Ate, drank, napped, Skyped... uh, actually stopped by the mall and did some shopping... that about sums up my day!

After dinner at Antonio's, went over to the National Theatre this evening to watch a free live informal music jam - very cool! Earlier today I wandered over past the (filthy, stinking) market to the bus station and booked my ticket for tomorrow's 06:30 trip to Bwindi via Butogota. Not a terribly exciting week here in Kampala - but as far as having a base to be stuck in, no complaints!

Buhoma, Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest)
Woke up early this morning to the unfriendly sound of pouring rain - VERY unfriendly when you have to head out somewhere, while the previous 7 days with no place to go hadn't registered even a cloud in the sky. Since the kitchen didn't open until 07:00, had to skip my free/included breakfast at the hotel in order to trudge through the downpour and waded - quite literally - through sidewalks and streets turned knee-high rivers of sewage from all the garbage on the streets that had been collecting, probably since the LAST rainy day. Arrived at the bus station at 06:15 for the 06:30 bus that took off at... 08:00. This, of course, after the rain had stopped, rivers dried up, and a majority of the passengers showed up relatively dry, only having to jump over the occasional puddle here and there. As I was sitting in my soaked clothes with soaking wet shoes that already starting smelling like the garbage I waded through, let the ticket collector know my extreme annoyance with the fact that for some reason the bus company told me to be here at 06:30, while all the locals knew it wasn't leaving until 08:00. Meanwhile, the bus ride itself was actually entertaining, with street vendors selling fried grasshoppers (?) at the stops, and the man on the bus who lost his chickens along the way - literally, they were running around under the seats. Arrived in Butogota and took a shared taxi with a few others here to Bwindi campsite for tracking tomorrow.

It was not cheap, but the experience I had today is difficult to put a price tag on (well, ok... the Uganda Wildlife Authority decided to put it at $500 - ouch!), and one I won't soon forget. This morning I registered with the UWA park office, which told me, "OK, you are assigned to view the Habinyanja gorilla family, located in the interior of the forest... do you have your own transportation?... because, it is too far to hike to there" Huh? I told them I did not, and emphasized the point by bringing up the fact I asked the UWA rep back in Kampala how to arrive at Bwindi via bus, yet was still booked for a tour where you need your own transportation? But fortunately the point was moot, as after the group (couple from England, guy from Sweden with Ugandan girlfriend, and guy from Netherlands) gathered for our briefing, were instructed to board the UWA truck for the ~45 minute ride into the forest. Passed a lot of small shack homes with curious children coming out to greet us.

The armed scout and guide led us into the Bwindi forest - where the name "Impenetrable" was quite fitting in some areas...

I was told the scout was armed in case of wild elephants charging at us while tracking - fortunately he didn't have to take that on today. There were a team of lead trackers who were up ahead and radioed back to our guide on the location of the family - because while the family may remain in the same general area as the day before, this is in fact an open forest, not a confined zoo/reserve, and they do move around. When they spotted them, it was about an hour hike into the forest for us to come up to the gorillas. Bwindi is home to half (about 330) of the world's extremely endangered gorilla population, and there are 18 total members in this particular family we were tracking, of which there were probably 10-12 we saw in the immediate area during the track. It was sooo cool! The are just amazing creatures - initially just laying around, occasional curious stares back at us,

Although us human spectators were mostly stationary when we approached to our 7-meter buffer, the gorillas were moving around, sometimes coming within a meter of us!

The weather was fortunately sunny, so the gorillas became very active - supposedly when it rains (as this is a rainforest) they'll just sit and not move, mothers holding and rocking the babies trying to keep warm - but now the young babies playful with gestures and mannerisms not very different from humans - 98.4% shared genetic material, we were told. At one point the silverback started walking in my direction - instinct took over, I turned off my camera and I turned to run, even though I knew I wasn't supposed to which the guide whispered a reminder to me "stay here" (and crouch down/be submissive).

But then he stopped and changed direction and took off charging toward the sound of a few of the family that strayed, and the rest followed (and so did we). Gathering as many pictures as I could take,


but most not turning out too well (as using the flash is prohibited), all too quickly our 1 hour was finished (maximum amount of time they're exposed to humans per day, for fear that too much time induces stress). We said goodbye and started hiking back to the 4x4. We had lunch at one point along the way, then back to the campsite just as the clouds rolled in and the pouring rain began - great day!

Ntungamo, Uganda
Such a ridiculous day spent on the road. This morning around 08:00 back at the Bwindi campsite in Buhoma, I said goodbye to Thomas, Finnish guy I met on the bus ride down from Kampala (who was also tracking gorillas yesterday), and headed out to make my way down to Lake Bunyonyi. Thomas was also heading that way but we would try to meet up tomorrow, as he had a bad case of travelers' stomach problems and was staying in Buhoma to visit the hospital this morning, and would catch a ride with a German woman in here 4x4 this afternoon. Well, the transportation options are quite limited in this area, as I found out. Waited about 45 minutes for a pickup truck shared taxi heading toward Butogota, where I found a space in the truck bed squeezed between about 10 other people as the drizzle started. Arrived in Butogota and negotiated the price for a ride in another pickup truck taxi heading to Kihihi - never heard of this place and not in my guidebook map, but was told it was on the way to Ntungamo, which was on the way to Lake Bunyonyi. I was told the price by the driver - 5,000 Ugandan Shillings. I then asked a local nearby how much the ride should cost (3,000 USH), that is, if you're not a mzungu (white person) being overcharged. Well, when I told the driver I was only paying 3,000, and he could take it or leave without me - he looked like he wanted to rip my head off. But since his truck was leaving anyway, and he could cram another passenger in the bed, he reluctantly - and I mean very - agreed. Little did I know that once arriving in Kihihi, I'd have to take another pickup taxi to Rukungiri first, to then change again for another pickup to Ntungamo - I couldn't believe it! I mean, I'm looking at my map, and it is literally 50 km from Butogota to Lake Bunyonyi in a straight line... is there really an extra 140 km of windy, pot-holed dirt road with all these small towns along the way?? Waited a LONG time for the next pickup truck while contemplating that question, and was starting to consider paying for a "special hire" (private taxi) at around 125,000 USH, or even a boda boda motorcycle taxi - not ideal with the horrible roads and rain looming, all my luggage and no helmet. Finally, about 3 hours later a pickup shared taxi comes along and after waiting around another 45 minutes to pick up more passengers who were off shopping or whatever, we were on our way. Stop at some small village where the truck bed is loaded up with bags of grain and milk jugs - so I'm riding on top with two others, then looking at the horizon see a completely black sky - not so encouraging if it is only 16:00! The driver stops and hands back to us a tarp, then motors forward and into the rain. For a while it seemed to be actually working, but soon everything was getting absolutely soaked. My arms were getting super tired propping up the tarp, and I'm starting to become concerned whether the water will soak through my day back and protective sleeve to my laptop. After another 10 or 15 minutes, a 4x4 passes us and honks. The two vehicles stop, drivers talk, and the driver for my truck comes back and says, "Mzungu, this 4x4 is going to Ntungamo and will take you". Happy not to have to wait for another connection and really happy that the 4x4 is a dry, grab my soaking luggage and climb into - the German woman's 4x4 with Thomas, sitting dry inside laughing away at me - he relaxed around the camp back in Bwindi all day and still caught up to me! He was nice enough to take a picture of the pickup truck I was riding in...

We were dropped off at a guesthouse here in Ntungamo, figuring we'll get to the lake tomorrow. Now waiting around an hour for our dinner after ordering, I'm just hoping this day will eventually end!

Lake Bunyonyi (Itambira Island), Uganda
Having a couple beers with Thomas here at a hostel campsite on Itambira Island in Lake Bunyonyi. This morning back in Ntungamo, Thomas & I boarded a shared taxi and drove down the (welcomed) paved road to Kabale, switched
to another shared taxi to get to the lake, then waited for our dugout canoe "taxi" to the island. At the pier the market was pretty lively with all kinds of fish strung up on display.

When the dugout canoe taxi arrived we were handed paddles - this was a full participation ride! About 45 minutes later we arrived at the island, got checked-in to the dorm and had some lunch. We decided on renting a dugout canoe from the camp, and, joined by a Swiss girl, headed out to paddle around (oftentimes uncontrollably in circles!), to different parts of the lake.

Docked at one of the islands for a rest and some amazing views, and met a local who was telling us tales about the lake - like tiny "Punishment Island", where unwed pregnant girls were brought to and left stranded until the father of the baby came forward to rescue (and marry) her.

Headed back to the camp and jumped in the water for a swim - one of the few freshwater lakes in central/east Africa not susceptible to bilharzia, I wanted to take advantage!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 04:00 Comments (0)

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