North America, Africa · 14 Days · 20 Moments · June 2017

Martha's African Adventure

28 June 2017

Day #3 - this time with photos. Now that I'm home I can finally download the photos from the river rafting - they don't appear nearly as scary as it felt at the time. That's me down low in the back trying not to be thrown from the raft!

26 June 2017

Day #11 - today we toured Kigali. It is a beautiful modern city without very many tourist attractions. Four of us from the tour started at the Natural History Museum which is on the site of the first modern house built in Kigali in 1908. We had a personal guide who walked us through the small museum talking about the 3 national parks and impact of German colonization. It was a German who claimed to have found the source of the Nile River in Rwanda. Of course when we were in Uganda, they told us the source was in Uganda. And apparently Burundi also thinks the source is there. After that, we looked for a craft market to do shopping but the map provided to us by the tourism bureau did not reflect the actual layout and nothing was where it was supposed to be. So we had lunch and the other 3 went back to the hotel. I took another try and found the craft market area for some shopping. A good way to end the trip. So I'm now waiting at the airport.

25 June 2017

Day #10 - today ended on a somber note. We visited the Genocide Museum in the capital of Kigali. They quoted several survivors who said it couldn't be explained and seemed like a dream. It's hard to understand how neighbors and coworkers turned savagely on each other resulting in one million deaths and over 3 million people displaced as refugees or as orphans. The survivors told stories of watching their mothers and younger siblings killed by machetes. One key note - the hatred was stirred up primarily by hate radio and extremist tv broadcasts egged on by the country's leaders. Our official trip ended with lunch at Milles Collines - made famous in the movie "Hotel Rwanda" and now a hangout for the rich. A real step up from the rice and yams we've been having for lunch! Tomorrow I'll do additional exploring in the city and then head for home.
Impressions of Rwanda - this appears to be a more prosperous country than Uganda. It is incredibly clean (large fines for littering), the homes are painted and not as run down. The women dress in spectacular colors in traditional dress - although you see more women in pants and casual wear here than in Uganda. The main roads are in much better shape and you see a fair number of personal cars on the road. Rwanda provides free healthcare and free education to all its citizens. There are many police on the road to keep speeds down. Kigali looks like a modern city ( but with a lot of motorcycles). We asked our guide why there is such a difference between the countries and he said there is no corruption in Rwanda so all the revenues are used for infrastructure and care of the people. It is a beautiful country - called "Land of 1,000 hills for good reason. Lots of forests, fertile soil, beautiful flowers.

24 June 2017

Day #9 - Today is the reason most people come on this trip - gorilla trekking. Honestly, it wasn't on my list but I'm here so I did it. They warn us that it is physically demanding with lots of climbing in the jungle at a pretty high altitude (7,000 ft above sea level). We are at Volcanoes National Park which is shared by Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda. We are in Rwanda - there were 7 of us in our group with our guide, Fidel. We were accompanied by porters who carried our backpack and pulled us up through the steepest sections. Once we reached the jungle, the first in line was our tracker with a high powered rifle, then a porter who used his machete to cut through the undergrowth and bamboo shoots to create a path, then our guide and the rest of our group. Up ahead of us are 3 trackers who are looking for the gorillas. We found a silverback male first, then two moms with their cubs, then a variety of other gorillas. They were maybe 5-6 feet from us. Why wasn't this on my list??

23 June 2017

Day#8 - another long travel day. We left Queen Elizabeth Park at 7:30 this morning and arrived in Musanze Rwanda at 5:30 this afternoon. The day started with some unexpected safari moments as we left the park - check out the animal photos. Then we drove over mostly unpaved roads with phenomenal potholes (I will never complain about Jersey potholes again) - all drivers zig and zag from one side to the other - not to avoid them (which is impossible) but to pick the most shallow ones. That lasted for an hour or two which had us all with sore bums. The roads got better as we started into the mountains but then we had one s-turn after another. We saw a couple overturned trucks and we had a punctured tire. Not like traveling in the US but that's what makes it such an interesting trip. We finally arrived in Rwanda which is much cleaner (plastic bags are prohibited) and are staying in a very nice real hotel! Such a treat.
Day #8(2) - on today's drive we went through many villages that had much in common. The road into and out of the village is crowded with people walking - carrying firewood, water cans, or produce on their heads, babies strapped to their mother's backs, school children (you can tell by the uniforms) as young as 5 or 6 walking along the busy highway alone or in groups. The towns themselves always have lots of people on the street, including groups of young men with motorbikes - apparently they wait for produce, strap it to their bike and ride it to transport stations where large trucks can pick it up. Most towns seem to be 1/3 of unfinished construction. There are always food booths with the food being cooked over an open fire and booths with raw meat hanging for sale. The children all wave at us (and sometimes ask for money, but we were told to give them nothing but a wave back - they don't want to encourage begging). It is SO different from where we all live ......

22 June 2017

Day #7 - are you tired of hearing me say how incredible the day is? Well this day did not disappoint. The alarm went off at 5am for an early start on our safari. We saw a spectacular sunrise then saw Ugandan kobs, water buffalo and a female lion in the distance. Then things got quiet and for almost an hour there was nothing exciting. Then I became the hero of the group when I spotted (play on words) a leopard by the road. It was sitting up in high grass. I was so shocked I could barely get the words out to our guide - "Jamal - leopard, I see a leopard." He stopped and we all jumped up with our cameras. The leopard of course laid down in the grass then snuck away. I have a marginal shot. It's very unusual to see a leopard on the ground and so close. Our guide was shocked. So a good day. In the afternoon we took a cruise on the Kazinka Canal and saw elephants, crocodiles, hippos and water buffalo. Amazing for our last day in Uganda - tomorrow we enter Rwanda.

21 June 2017

Today's safari was a great success. We saw water bucks (national animal of Uganda), water buffalo, antelope, and two LIONS! Very exciting. The national park is well controlled and there are not alot of vehicles which is nice. The top of our van pops up to become a safari car we can stand in. Here are some of the animals we saw.
Today was a day of changes: (1) the summer solstice and (2) crossing from the northern hemisphere to the south. The second was pretty cool.
Day #6 - we drove 3 hours south today to Queen Elizabeth National Park where we will be doing 3 safari drives (hoping to see a lion this evening!!). On the way here, we saw many big trucks, lots of taxis, even more motorbikes (called bodas here) but I only counted 3 personal cars. Most people only walk or take the taxis. Despite the incredible heat, there is no air conditioning - not in the cars, not in any restaurants, not in any of the places I've stayed. I'm drinking tons of water. Staying in the leopard room at our current lodge.

20 June 2017

Some other things I've learned about Uganda: 1). Most children attend private school (government schools are felt to be poor) and each one has its own uniform color. As you drive in the morning or late afternoon, you see all these kids dressed alike (first the purple uniform, then the green shirt with tan pants or skirt, then the white shirt with black pants/skirt). The children love to wave at us - they ask for pennies but we've been told not to give them anything. 2). Very few people in Uganda smoke (and it's true I haven't seen anyone with a cigarette). They grow tobacco so cigarettes are cheap. Our guide explained that most prefer to take their own tobacco leaves, curl them up and smoke. 3). The current President (in power for over 30 years) and all his cabinet ministers and government leaders are in their late 70s. Doesn't bode well for a peaceful power switch if no one else has been allowed in.
Day #5 - an incredible day. Today I went chimpanzee trekking in Kibale National Park park. There were 5 of us in our group with a guide carrying a high powered rifle (to protect us from elephants, lions, etc - but apparently the chimps will leave you alone). We were very lucky because we came across a family early on and walked quite a ways with them. Learned a lot about chimp society (suffice it to say that loose morals are a big part of it) and got quite close. In one case the alpha male chimp and 3 of his juniors rushed by us on the path - I could have reached down to pet them, except I was riveted in place with fear since they are big, fast and make an incredible screaming racket. It was a really amazing experience.

19 June 2017

Day #4 - this was a travel day - almost 10 hours of driving from the east of Uganda to the west. There was lots of "African massage" time as the roads are quite rough and unpaved in some areas. So here are some things I learned today. Ugandan women are to be respected which is why they can't bicycle in their own and have to sit sidesaddle when they ride on the back. They always wear skirts and dresses so they don't call attention to the crotch area and for modesty purposes. I will say the women always look lovely although how they can put themselves together in these living conditions is beyond me. Most homes have a few things in common - mud brick walls, thatch/tin/daub roof, a few stalks of corn in the yard, a clothesline (or if they are lucky enough to have grass in their yard, they just lay the clothes there), an outhouse (no running water), a few chickens and a goat and perhaps coffee beans drying in the yard. The homes appear to be just one room. Interesting day.

18 June 2017

Day #3 - best news of the day? I lived to tell about it. My adventure was a full day whitewater rafting trip on the Nile River. There were 8 Category 5, verging on 6 rapids. On the first rapid, our raft got stranded on a rock with an 8 foot drop to rocks below. The raft completely filled with water that was rushing over it at tremendous velocity. At one point I lost my grip on the rope and started going out but Josh, our guide was able to pull me back in. Didn't realize my heart could beat that fast. Also swallowed significant amount of the Nile River so not sure how the stomach will be tomorrow.... but it was a great day - beautiful scenery, lots of good camaraderie (only 3 others from the trip went and they were in different rafts) and just a lot of fun. I couldn't take my camera so photos will be posted later.

17 June 2017

Day#2 - we met as a group and took off for Jinga, the adventure capital of Uganda. Our accommodations are along the Nile River! That's the good news. But it is a simple canvas tent with a bed (so at least I'm not sleeping on the floor) and a toilet that is about a 50 yard walk (feels a lot longer in the dark!). So really roughing it. Last night we did a sunset cruise on the Nile. Tomorrow the fun starts! Internet service is iffy so I'll post when I can. The group is quite a mix - 1 Ukrainian, 2 Irish, 3 British, 1 Canadian, 1 Dane and 3 Americans. Two of the group have visited over 100 countries - can you imagine? We're enjoying each other's company.

16 June 2017

Entry #2 for Kampala. We also visited the Kings Palace for the Kingdom of Buganda which isn't much to see ( you can't go inside) and the King no longer lives there. I had to wear a skirt there as well (I finally bought one in case there is more touring to do). There are 8 kingdoms in Uganda - each with its own king. But there is one central government. There are multiple languages - the common language is English reflecting the time they were a British colony. All shop signs, ads and newspapers I saw were in English. The biggest "attraction" at the palace was the Idi Amin torture chambers - he killed over 800,000 Ugandans while in power - the army was behind him and he treated them well so they ruled by guns. Apparently his successor, Obate, was just as bad. The current President has been in power for 30 years and appears to have brought stability back. But many are without jobs and education costs ( even for primary school) are high. So I think bad times could come back.
I hired a driver for the day to show me Kampala. The streets are all so crowded with cars, motorcycles, trucks and pedestrians that the traffic jams are unbelievable. We started with the Oweni Market which is quite accurately described as chaotic - so glad my driver came with me! Next stop - Qaddafi Mosque ( built with his money during his buddy, Idi Amin's time in office). Not only did I have to wear a headscarf, I also had to cover my capris with a skirt. Several times the guide had to move my scarf because it didn't cover my neck - it was odd. The photo is me in the woman's section of the mosque. Only 20% of the population is Muslim but you see an incredible number of men and women on the street in their garb so perhaps it's growing.

15 June 2017

After 15 hours of flying, a 4 1/2 hour layover in Brussels (was only supposed to 2 hours), and an hour drive from Entebbe to the outskirts of Kampala, I have arrived at my first hotel - Red Chili Hideaway. The bed has mosquito netting, they have wifi in the bar, and the bar is open till midnight (I arrived at 11:20 pm) so I'm happy! First impressions of Uganda from my drive here: people are out walking everywhere - my driver said that's because it's so safe here. The white taxi vans are ubiquitous - they stop constantly along the road for anyone waiting (not like real taxis - more like a regular shuttle service) - many of them have 12-14 people stuffed in. There is a smell of peat fires and I saw some open fires along the road with people cooking on them. They drive on the left and the tons of motorbikes and taxis don't actually think the lanes apply to them. I tried not to gasp for my life too many times on the drive. Tomorrow the adventure begins!

14 June 2017

Packing is done (for the trip - apartment is a work in progress) and I've made it through airport security. I tried checking my walking sticks but they have to be carried on. Makes no sense since they have a sharp tip on them - far more dangerous than nail clippers! Hoping I can keep them. It will be a long travel day - first stop is Brussels where I should arrive at 7:45 am tomorrow. Then on to Entebbe Uganda where I arrive st 7:30 pm tomorrow. Then an hour drive to Kampala to my hotel. So no postings or photos till then. This is my first time using this app so let's see how it goes......