Hi again from Africa. I have arrived at the end of my trip here. It flew by at lightening speed. One day you get up, do chores, have lunch with a friend at Tandem West, take the bus to Logan Airport, and a few weeks later you are packing to board a flight again. Man, in two weeks I will likely be baking a chocolate bourbon pecan pie in my kitchen in Maine for Thanksgiving.
I will never forget this year when I was fortunate enough to visit this extraordinary continent twice. Thanks to friends the chickens were looked after so I didn’t have to worry about them (though I really enjoyed pics sent of them) and was able to really take in this experience – the scary moments and all the fun ones.
These last few days are being spent in Kigali. I am actually writing from Café Neo, my favorite café here – best Rwandan coffee and bonus good Wi-Fi. It’s warm here so in the mornings I eat breakfast outside and in the afternoons am soaking in the sun. Among the things I will miss – the freshest pineapple and the best ever avocados.
Spent last week in Uganda. To those who recommended I go, thank you!! I have to go back and explore the country further. It never occurs to me how much I will miss a place until I leave it and as much as I will be happy to be home, I will miss Uganda – and Rwanda.
In order to get to reach my first destination in Uganda – the Lake Mutanda Resort, I had to endure a drive on bumpy dirt roads along steep inclines through utter poverty and ultimately unbelievably breathtaking scenery. Along the roads, a daily procession of men and children leading herds of animals and women bearing enormous loads of produce on their heads. After a couple hours, my driver Nicholas (a gem) had us in another world. (see prior snapshot post w/ pics from the road)…
You round this curve and all of a sudden this valley folds out below with a scenic lake and the Virunga Mountain Range. It’s impossible to do justice with words or even photos to the extraordinarily beautiful view that you get from just above and at Lake Mutanda Resort. I’ve tried with these images.
The resort itself is a comfortable place with good food. I made fast work of the pizza served for lunch upon my arrival. Each cabin/tent has a porch. For a couple hours till this incredible storm rolled in (pics will be in longer post once home), I played with watercolors. A friend suggested I bring them and I am so glad. It had been years and the process was fun and helped me notice details in the landscape I probably otherwise would have missed.
A few dugout canoes with men setting, checking, and hauling in traps for crayfish quietly skimmed along the lake. My last day there (I spent two nights) I met one fisherman who let me take his picture (in longer post once home). This is a quick snapshot I got with my iPhone.
After several hours on paved and dirt roads, we entered/exited/entered Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and arrived at Buhoma Lodge, my home for the next few days.
Titus, the assistant manager, and Frank, his assistant/waiter extraordinaire, welcomed me with a wet washcloth for my hands and a glass of fresh fruit juice. While my bags were magically whisked away to my cabin I was sat down in the loveliest lodge, which opens up to the forest, and a home-cooked meal was prepared for me. Afterwards I went to my cabin three flights of stairs up in the trees (incredible!!) where I took a hot shower and then enjoyed cocoa and chocolate chip cookies on the porch. Right then and there I fell in love with that resort and Uganda.
Every day it was a big breakfast, lunch, wine and snacks by an evening fire, and a four-course meal for dinner. Each meal was shared with new friends from San Diego, Minneapolis, Kampala (Uganda), Verona (Italy), and the U.K.
One morning while having coffee I watched L’Hoest’s Monkeys play on the cabin rooftop below and another one jumped on my porch once I had gone inside with a cup of coffee.
The primary reason I headed to Uganda was to meet with visionary Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, one of Africa’s leading veterinarians working to protect the endangered mountain gorillas from human diseases. She initiated Uganda Wildlife Authority’s first veterinary unit and founded Conservation Through Public Health, aimed at improving primary health care for humans and animals in and around Uganda’s protected forests. Because humans and gorillas have a similar enough genetic make-up (98.4%) there is a real risk of a tourist or more likely member of the local community passing on a viral or bacterial infection to a gorilla. Community areas border the park = there is no buffer zone. Dr. Gladys and CTPH with the help of UWA guides, trackers, and a large team of village based volunteers do everything from collect gorilla dung samples on a regular basis (so they can be proactive instead of reactive if a gorilla is sick) to educate communities about personal hygiene (a baby gorilla died from scabies passed on by locals). There is so much more to share on her, I’ll do a post. She is incredible. A hero to the gorillas and people around Bwindi!
CTPH encouraged me to bring over school supplies and futbols to donate, so I did. The joy on those kids’ faces!!
After about four or five hours of hiking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, much of which is thick forest on steep muddy slopes, I had the incredibly humbling and magical experience of looking into a mountain gorilla’s gentle eyes. I still have to look at the photos to believe I was really there!
The gorilla family we “met” has been “habituated” – which means UWA staff have spent up to two years with the group on a daily basis getting them used to humans for tourism or research purposes. Gorillas are identified by their nose – I was told each nose is as unique as a human fingerprint. It is one way researchers identify them.
The group of eight trekkers I was with got to spend one hour near the Rushegura Mountain Gorilla Family. We shuffled around with the trackers who used their machetes to open up foliage so we could see the gorillas (I was told by Dr. Gladys the trackers use their machetes in a non-menacing way so as not to scare the gorillas). A-mazing!! Dr. Gladys joined us for the trek, which elevated the experience even further. I sent her pics to help identify which gorilla is which.
If you ever have the chance to go and trek – do!! Tourism = conservation!!