Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sorry for the sudden barage of posts but internet access is about this sporadic at best. There are also some more photos finished and up for you guys to see :)
Just thought I’d tell you how the marathon went. We were up super early of course getting ready and driving to the stadium where the starting line was. I was a sneaky ninja again and hoped the fence in to the VIP area where the media and the press had all the big cameras set up in front. I got the best shots and video of the race taking off and Ben waving as he ran by. I couldn’t believe how many people were there and how squashed the runners were at the beginning; lots of people were pushed over and trampled on. One hell of a stampede if I ever saw one. Once he was gone I went to the truck and started face painting my self with a big Marathon across my forehead and big stars on my cheeks then I painted up his parents up too. Marg had GO BEN across her cheeks and Duncan had AFRITREX across his forehead. We cheered him on as he ran by. I think I might have turned red when some other people cheering winked and gave me the thumbs up when Ben trotted over, gave me a kiss and ran away. Ha-ha. Then I managed to work my way in to the staff, competitors and VIP only area again in the closed off area of the stadium and got on to the field. Muahaha and got more great shots of his finish. I miss competing, getting awards, medals and free T-shirts etc. Good fun. At the end of the day when everyone washed off the face paint and realized that Duncan had Afritrex suntanned on his head. Ha-Ha!! It looks hilarious.
That night Patrick and Sarah arrived after a 12 hour drive and we went straight to Carnivores! It was an awesome experience. The staff kept coming around with different types of meat on skewers and cutting chunks off and plopping it down on your plate. Instantly I had a huge plate full to eat. Everyone made fun of my face when I tried the chicken gizzard and liver something since they made me. EW, EW, EW, SO GROSS. Never again. Bluck.
I really liked the decorations in the restaurant and even the bathrooms had some one ready to give you soap to wash your hands and a towel to dry off. Crazy. Lots of pictures and laughs again especially when we went into the gift shop at the end and one of the Masai workers started dressing us up in traditional clothes and laughing at us laughing at each other. Wicked night out experience. Excellent!
The next day we decided to take Margaret and Duncan to the Elephant and Rhino orphanage which was again awesome and the little ones were adorable. Then we went over to the animal orphanage with lots of animals large and small ranging form all of the big cats, buffalo, ostrich, hyena, duiker, jackal, giraffe, etc. There were some baby buffalo that could roam around the areas between the fenced enclosures keeping the long grass at bay. Some of these enclosures contained lions and as the innocent young buffalo walked by, one of them started to stalk it, the fence being the only thing keeping the hunter from the hunted. The baby didn’t even flinch as the huge maned male lion made repeated efforts to attack it through the fence. That was so cool to watch. As we were taking pictures of the leopard a worker came up to us and asked if we wanted to see a cub lion. Hell ya! And he took us over to the cub's cage and we got to go in! We couldn’t hold it or freely play with it because it was getting too big and rowdy at that age. We did however get to pet it on the head and tease it with a string cat toy. Then he said the best thing ever!! Do you want to hold a 1 month old baby cheetah? “OMG, WHERE IS IT?” “YES”!!! I have always wanted to do that. There were 3 babies. We weren’t really suppose to be in the closed off area that said staff only and I doubt the worker was really suppose to be taking us back there but we went anyways. He wanted a tip and we wanted to hold the cubs so who cares. Omg! They were soooooo cute and yes we got to hold one and it was busy licking my hand. Awe! I have always wanted to do that! Then we got to go and pet the adult cheetah. Sweeet!!! I loved it so much! One of the adult cheetah went ahead and licked Ben's cheek. Wow. Amazing! And we got to watch them feed. Awesome! I was full of smiles. Next adventure was the giraffes. Feeding them with little pebbles of food that you could hold between you lips and the giraffe would come up and kiss you and take it right from your mouth. That was funny. We’ve got loads of great pictures. This day has got to be one of the best days ever!!! It was a blast. Then we had a really good lunch at a restaurant near by. I had French onion soup which I had been craving for ages! Yummmm!!! I’ve got some serious journaling to do now so I’m going off to do that. Hope I didn’t make you too jealous or anything……Hee-Hee!
Until the next blog! See ya!
Happy smiling Bre!!


Ok, I think it’s been long enough with out hearing anything from me.
Right. After our Nile River rafting adventure in Rwanda we crossed the border into Kenya and stayed in Nakuru for one night camping and the next day we drove to Nanyuki where Ben would be meeting his guide and crew to climb Mt Kenya with. I unfortunately wasn’t included in this hike. Instead I was safely tucked in to the Sportsman hotel for a few days by myself. Don’t worry I didn’t get bored or anything. There were lots of things I could do right on the property. Suntan and swim in the pool, eat and drink (non-alcoholic) at the bar and restaurant, dance all night at the surprisingly busy night club, walk a block or two to the gift shops and market where I could get some fresh fruit and veg, watch movies or catch up on some journal, internet, reading and laundry. It was nice to have some alone time. Ben surprised me and was back a day early because he was so fast hiking. He had an amazing time and loved the view at the top. Good one on him for completing number 6 of his challenges. We met a very nice couple there from Australia who own a camp in Nairobi called The Wildebeest Camp and since we hadn’t any idea where we were going to stay in Nairobi we followed up the offer and went there. On the way we stopped at the cheese factory and bought some amazingly fresh cheeses (Cheddar, Mozzarella, White Stilton, etc). Wow, now that’s the way to go! We stayed a few days there. Did some food stock up at the market, change money, internet stuff, truck repairs, cleaning and repacking, planning and chatting to other travellers for more info.
I really liked the baby elephant and rhino orphanage we had time to visit. The David Sheldrake Trust, is a charity which opened to care for the little orphan animals in the late 1970’s. The sanctuary is only open for one hour a day between 11am and 12pm. I wish it was open longer then that because the babies were SO CUTE! The park is within the Nairobi NP and the little chaps can wander wherever they want but they generally stick close to their keepers. There are 20 in the camp. Most of them have been orphaned by human interaction, some have fallen down wells and got stuck and others have lost their parents but are all taken in and cared for by the dedicated keepers who stay with them 24/7. The youngest of the babies is only 3 months old! Cute, cute, cute! They were given bottles to guzzle down their milk and then played for a while in the mud bath before heading back out into the park. We got a very detailed speech about the park and the babies which was very good. I was sad to leave the little ones when the time was up. Great experience! It reminded me of the elephant sanctuary in Nepal that we went to. I know Sandra spent some time in Kenya . I remember her writing to me and telling me how much she loved it. Yes, it is great! Sandra e-mail me babe!!
From there we crossed the border into Tanzania and stayed in Arusha at the Maasai Camp for a long while. This is where we picked up James (Ben's friend from England who flew out to join us for 2 weeks) and where I was stationed while they climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. Too expensive for my butt, I’m sure it would have been amazing but definitely hard work for sure. Once again I just chilled out for a while and did my thang. I met a huge NGO group from Kenya also staying at the camp and had an awesome time hanging out with them. They treated me so well and I was included in all the meals, fun events and games they were doing as part of their trip. I helped cook, organize and come up with more activities for the group of 40 to participate in. At one point I had their video camera and climbed up a tree for the best birds’ eye view I could get of the camp while they were playing games below me when all of a sudden I felt a tickling at my foot and it was Ben! “What on earth are you doing in a tree?” Again he had come back early and surprised me. He and James hauled ass and finished a few days early. WOW. I was shocked and glad to see them. I guess Ben didn’t like sharing a tent with smelly James in the cold and missed me too much so he hurried back. Teehee. Awesome job guys. I’m impressed at the determination and speed in which they completed it. I’m glad they had a blast but they sure were stiff the next few days. I remember how it was after climbing Mt Cameroon. I can’t believe Kees actually went ahead and climbed it. Whoa, Kees, that’s awesome! What possessed you to do that after hating The Cameroon Hike so much?? I know I would have frozen at negative 20 on the top. I freeze at positive 20 as it is. I am a wimp and I do get teased a lot when I am cold by people saying “What kind of Canadian are you??” to which I reply “A COLD ONE”. Funny. I also made really good friends with a really nice Dutch gal at the camp who I’d love to see again if I ever make it to Holland. We had fun dancing and one night we actually got James and Ben to dance a bit. Lol.
On the drive to Maasai camp we pulled over and bought an ostrich egg from a boy alone on the side of the road waving the egg around like a loonie bin. We thought it would be funny to open it with James when he arrived as a welcome to Africa type funny thing. At first it wouldn’t crack open after banging it a few times. I demonstrated how strong it was by standing on it. Ben got out the drill and had a go at it but the power died right away. Then he tried that trick where you make a hole in the shell at each end and try blowing it out. That didn’t work either. I was laughing the whole time. Finally we had a big enough hole to shake it out. EWWW a part of deformed something plopped itself out. Gross. We asked James if he still wanted to cook it up. “Why not” he said and we picked out the nasty part and cooked the rest up anyway. It wasn’t as good as the one we had in South Africa but interesting enough to laugh about.
Then we were off to pick up Ben's parents in Dar Es Salaam. We were based at Kigamboni and stayed at a lovely beach resort ( Sunrise Beach Camp) until they arrived. It took about 8 hours to get there from Arusha. A long drive but we had a good time chatting up a storm, listening to music and cracking jokes. I cut up some fruit and made sandwiches in the back seat for lunch like I always do. Yum. On the way we saw something very funny going on in the middle of a roundabout. A wedding. What? That’s not very scenic with all the loud vehicles driving around constantly and not to mention all the exhaust. Then the funniest thing ever was when the photographer signalled for the groom to pick up the bride and hold her in the cradle position for a picture. The groom was a skinny thing and the bride was a FAT ASS huge monster. You should have seen the look of horror when the groom realized what he had to do and the awkward attempt he made to do so. The three of us were busting a gut laughing. You would have been cracking up too I’m sure. I’m not sure if that will beat the story of how Kees got the Maasai tribal people to dance and chant for them then got in trouble by their chief but still it was hilarious.
Ben’s parents arrived safely. I was a little bit nervous to meet them but they are awesome and really nice. The 5 of us had a few relaxing days on the beach. The sun was hot, the water warm, the sand white as snow, the breeze refreshing, the food tasty and all the fruit smoothies you could ask for! I loved it! I suntanned and got a little burnt again but I am coming up with a wicked tan! We swam lots, met other travellers, played Frisbee, the boys worked on the truck while the rest of us relaxed and did whatever we wanted. The only bad part was how a creepy Indian man dressed in a suit and tie was lingering around watching all the girls and being perverted. I told James and Ben that he was being a creep and watching me constantly. Ben took offence to his girlfriend being watched by another man so him and his buddy James took some measures to stop the gawping, firstly they stared him down which didn’t seem to work, then they took photos of him so he could see…still nothing so as the last resort they turned away from him, bent over and dropped their shorts to give him some real naked white flesh to look at! I was shocked and laughed my ass off. The creep still didn’t do anything. Eww.. He probably liked it. lol Finally we went away.
All of us decided to go to Zanzibar . We missed the first ferry and were harassed by touts. We took the next ferry a few hours later across but one of the engines broke and it took extra long to get there. Blaaawww. We stayed in Stone Town for one night and went to awesome restaurant called Mercury’s where we had the most amazing sea food platters ever with a view over looking the water. Beautiful and delicious! The next morning we hopped on a bus to Eaje and stayed at another amazing beach resort for a few days. We did lots of snorkelling and saw loads of colourful fish and starfish. That was awesome! I easily floated over the shallow areas with sharp stag coral everywhere, whereas James and Ben looked like idiots trying to stay afloat. I heard that women’s legs float and guys legs sink. That probably had something to do with it. It was a lovely place to stay and we had a really good time. Seems like everything is always over far too quickly when you are having fun. I would love to have stayed longer but James had a flight to catch in Dar Es Salam in a few days so we had to get moving.
Back to Stone Town and for our last night in Zanzibar we went to a small roof top restaurant where we sat on the cushions on the floor and were served a very nice meal on the small wooden tables in front of us. As the sun was going down there was a live performance. A traditional dance! The African women sure know how to shake their booty! WOW. I really enjoyed our night out and walk through the narrow streets with lots of cute shops to look in. Early the next morning we hopped the ferry and took off. It was really wavy and rocky which didn’t help because Ben’s mom and I both felt sick. She ended up puking. Oh dear. I hate barfing so I held it in but I came close. Yuck. The rest of the crew sat back and watched the screen showing Mr Bean’s something or other adventure. Yadda, yadda. The journey back seemed to take forever but we made it. Back to Kigamboni where we sadly had so say goodbye to James. He signed the truck, took a group photo, packed his back pack, gave out big hugs and was gone. Poor guy has to go back to work. Ha-ha. He was great fun though. “1 down 2 to go.” Ben and I said jokingly as the taxi drove away.
The next mission was to get as far as we could driving north. We drove all day to Kigombe where we stayed for one night. Again it was a little place on the beach. The water was warm. That might be the last time I swim in the Indian Ocean for a long while so I made the best of it. The bar had a dart board so we all spent hours competing against each other. That was funny. I did get a bull’s eye once!!! Wahoo! We didn’t stay up late because our eyes couldn’t stay open long enough. I was out cold the moment I hit the pillow. Up early for another long day of driving until we got to Tsavo and stayed at the Rock Sight Camp and the parents treated us to a very nice room for the night which was amazing and lovely! Again, another long day of driving on semi bad roads and lots of road kill to look at. We stopped to do a little bit of shopping for lunch and in the shop I pointed out a huge cockroach. A second later it ran up one of the local ladies ankles; she screamed and then kicked it off. I couldn’t help laughing. That night we stayed just out side the Maasai Mara National Park in a camp called Aruba. The staff members were very helpful and the food was good in our hungry bellies. Slept near the river where the frogs and animals never stop making noise.
We made an early departure just before sunrise to catch the morning predators before they retired for the day, hopefully to see the migrating Wildebeest which we heard so much about. The park was full of wildlife and had more than any of the other parks we had been to. Right away we spotted a group of lion’s vegging out with full tummies. We were about 5 meters away from them. It was incredible and the younger cubs were sooo cute! We were lucky enough to see thousands of migrating Wildebeest headed by a group of Roan Antelope. That was amazing to see and I think I took a million pictures! There were a few hot air balloons in the sky. I have always wanted to do that. It’s on the “to do list” so one day it must happen! We saw the points on the river where the herds had been crossing with big crocs in the rivers waiting for the next set of X-Factor hopefuls to take their chance against these awesome prehistoric predators. We found a great place over looking the river and hippos to make sandwiches and have some lunch. I loved it! Unfortunately we couldn’t spend the whole day roaming about because we still had to reach Nairobi the same day. On the way we had some truck problems so the boys jumped out and went right to work. Luckily a Maasai mechanic drove by and stopped to investigate the problem and help us out. In no time we were off again. Don’t ask me what the problem was, I was too busy talking to all the village kids who came to chat and scout out the truck. Later that day we ended up helping a lady and her daughter in their Land Rover with some engine problems and then we also used the winch to pull a car out of a ditch. Help and be helped. One big happy circle. One nice deed goes a long way!
We are now in Nairobi saying at the Wildebeest camp once again. Lots of running around and organizing to be done lately. Ben is excited to run his marathon tomorrow! All of us who are here will be CHEERING him on!!! Yey, wish him luck, “Go Ben GO!” I miss cheerleading so much. Hahaha. Once he is finished we will be going to Carnivores, the restaurant where you can eat loads of different kinds of meat like Crocodile, Ostrich, etc, etc I am so excited! I think the family and Kees are going to be going river rafting soon. “Good luck guys that’s awesome because it's so much fun but I really wish you were here to cheer along and go to dinner with us.” I am happy because Patrick and Sarah, the couple who drove from Ghana to South Africa with us are hoping to arrive here and meet up with us. Yey! It will be so great to see them again and catch up.
I’m really missing everyone! But having a blast at the same time!!
Love to all. Hugs and kisses!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Equator

I know it's one of those things that we have always wondered about and can't effectively prove to ourselves when we get the chance so I'm hear to clear up the confusion. Does the water really turn the opposite direction on the other side? Well, on our way down to Nairobi we had to cross the equator again heading south (we crossed north in Uganda so this was actually our 5th crossing) and we tested it. When we stopped to take another photo of the equator sign there was a souvenir-selling guy standing there with a little bucket of water and a cup with a hole in it. He put the water in the cup standing on the north side and lo! the water turneth clockwise. When he moved to the south side of the sign the water turnethed counter-clockwise. Ok, maybe it was a trick so we had him do it a couple times and it was consistent. The scariest thing was that when he stood right on the line the water didn't turn at all but just fell through the hole without making a ripple on the surface. All this and he only shifted position by about 10ft on either side. Pretty convincing and the only way to really test it. I thought it was cool, but then I'm know to be a science geek...... Of course if I'm wrong you'll have to let us know.
Getting into Kenya was interesting. There was a line of trucks about 9km long waiting to get out of Kenya and into Uganda. Since Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and even the DRC use Kenya as it's port there is a ton of truck traffic on the road from Mombasa, through Nairobi and on to the border. I have never seen grooves in road as deep as that caused by the trucks on parts of this stretch. I was also surprised to find this part of Kenya so green and beautiful. We normally think of safari savannah or the northern deserts or the beaches. Not green hills and farms that could almost make you believe you were at home. Something about being between 2000-3000m that makes it all very non-equatorial. Strange. Maybe the most "un-African" stretch of land so far.
We are now in Nairobi, have met up with Ben, Bre, Patrick and Sarah and are waiting for Ethiopian visas and making new plans before we head north. It will also be the final farewell to Patrick and Sarah as they will not be going any further north.


One thing we noticed right after crossing into Uganda was that although we were still travelling up the same valley, Uganda is farmed with little plots of land and cattle rather than endless rows of tea. Our first stop was not far across the border at Lake Bunyoni where Bre and Ben had also stayed briefly.
What an amazing place! The lake was created by a volcanic eruption with a lava flow blocking off a river so it is irregularly shaped and completely surrounded by terraced hills. And I mean completely surrounded! Every square inch of land seems to be terraced or part of one of the little villages tending them. There are also 27 little islands dotting the lake in random places too. It is a popular tourist spot but since not many people actually come this far into Uganda, and it is currently the offseason, we pretty much had our little camp to ourselves. It was great and we didn't even really have rain for the 3 days we were there. Well, sort of but I'll get to that in a minute. We mostly relaxed and there was some swimming too but the water isn't all that warm because the lake is nearly 2000m up in the mountains.
One of the afternoons we opted to go on a little boat ride down to the other end of the lake to visit a little village market and hopefully see some pygmy people. It was just the 5 of us, the hotel manager as guide and the guy running the boat (more of a motorized canoe). We had to go nearly the full distance down the lake ~22km to get to the market. There really wasn't much there to see and the most interesting part was just seeing the little dugout canoes bringing people in to market from various villages along the lake. It was also nice because it wasn't touristy and people more or less ignored us. Unfortunately the pygmies (there are two villages along the lake) weren't at market that day because of a funeral. We opted to go a little further down the lake to see where they lived anyway and were hit with a thunderstorm for our troubles. We didn't really see anything and the strange thing was that back at our end of the lake it was still nice and sunny and we were pretty much dried off by the time we got back.
From Lake Bunyoni we tried to get all the way to the capital, Kampala, but because of the terrible roads we didn't make it in a day. I think we were the only ones to notice the huge potholes as everyone else was still going full speed and like crazy. Even though we were the most careful drivers on the road we managed to finally break two of the leaf springs in the truck right at the end of the day :( The following day we limped into Kampala and found a popular and busy backpackers to settle down in.
Kampala is busy. Heavy traffic, lots of pollution and we didn't like it much at all. We stuck around the camp for a few days while Kees sorted out the leaf springs. I talked to a few people working in South Sudan as aid workers. You've no doubt heard about the Somali pirates and the tanks bound for South Sudan. Well, we need some background to understand this one. Sudan had a civil war between north and south for decades. This was recently ended (and moved over to Darfur). Part of the peace agreement says that the south will get to hold a separation referendum in 2011. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the south will vote to separate, and the north will not let them and war will restart so in the meantime there is a stockpiling of weapons....
From Kampala we headed north to Murchison Falls National Park to see some chimps, waterfalls and try our hand at fishing. The first place for chimps, just outside the park told us there were no chimps in the area and hence no tours at the moment. Not 5 minutes later driving back down the road we saw a mother chimp carrying her baby, run across the road and jump in the bushes with a bunch of others. No chimps, right. We still had to go to the more expensive chimp viewing area in the park and did see chimps, though they were 100 ft up in the trees and peeing on the group. Kees actually got crapped on so that must count for something.
Murchison Falls is an ok park I guess. There wasn't much wildlife all that long ago because of the civil war in Uganda with rebels shooting them for bush meat. Parts of the park are still considered unsafe. It took us until dark to get to the top of the waterfall where we camped but we nearly hit a buffalo and a hippo on the way there. The hippo was literally millimeters from the front bumper. The falls is supposed to be an awesome display of power as the nile rushes through a narrow gap through a gorge and falls 45m. What they don't tell you is that there is another waterfall beside it that was created by a flood in 1962 which takes a lot of the power out of the falls. It's still a beautiful area though.
At the base of the falls in the fast flowing river can be found the Nile Perch. The largest specimen caught in the area was 186kg so Kees, dad and Savannah got it in their heads that they wanted to catch one. Right. We got the gear and spent the better part of a day in the attempt. First you have to catch little bait fish of a couple inches and put them on a larger fishing line to catch the big fish. Well, apart from getting lines stuck in trees and feeding the monstrous fly population with our blood (the following day we were all covered with bites), only Kees and the guide managed to catch anything and they were just the small bait fish. No Nile Perch or electric catfish for us :( On the drive back out of the park we saw our second snake of the trip, a solid green snake of easily 2m. Not sure what it was but since most are very poisonous out here we were happy to be in the truck. Maybe the nicest part of the whole park was the road closer to the entrance where the forest growth is so dense that it feels like you are driving down a green corridor. As you head down this corridor there is a constant supply of birds of prey swooping down to fly just in front of the truck. It was something like dolphins jumping in front of a boat and some lasted for quite a while and were very close. It was a bit of a weird experience but very cool.
From Murchison Falls we drove to Jinja for our shot at the river rafting. My back was trashed from all the bumps in the truck so we took a day off to heal. And who should turn up on that day in our camp but Patrick and Sarah. We'd last seen them at home in South Africa and they've continued their trip up the east side as well. We knew they were East Africa but it was still a big surprise. They stayed only the night and then took off early to go find Ben in Nairobi (where we were supposed to be as well but were running behind schedule).
Rafting, oh yes, rafting. Bre told you the basics already. They have a cameraman the will go down the river with you and film half of the rapids and put together a little video that is played every night. We'd been there 2 nights for the video and were pretty pumped to go on our day. Kees had never rafted before so it was extra exciting for him. There were 3 boats of 6 people each including the guide so the 5 of us had our own boat. The funny thing is that our guide thought we were a little chicken and nervous to start so on the first half of the day, 8 out of 12 rapids, we went through them perfectly, got wet but nothing terribly exciting happened. The other 2 boats had flipped twice each and Kees and dad were starting to get a little pouty and disappointed with the whole thing. A few hints were dropped to the guide, who grunted noncommitally (he can't admit to intentionally trying to drown us) and then proceeded to get us flipped on the final 4 rapids that came after lunch, including going down the waterfall sideways! Wow! Is that ever a different kind of ride. One second you are in the boat, the next under it. It was awesome but at the same time exhausting and I don't know if I'd've wanted to do more than 4. 3 of the flips are on the video and it looks awesome! The sad thing is that they are currently building another dam across the river so in another year they won't be able to raft on these parts :(
We had a great last day in Uganda and left the following day to hurry off and find the others in Nairobi. Uganda is definitely one of the most beautiful and best countries in Africa.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Wow, Bre was right, it is a beautiful country although there are those of us in this group that were still more impressed with Burundi. In all honesty they are probably both the same with the mountains and terracing, it was just more fun to see all the bicycles with bananas in Burundi :)
Rwanda is even more famous than Burundi for it's civil war and if you haven't seen "Hotel Rwanda", now you have an excuse :) Ok, so it's not the happiest film but it gives you an idea of the kind of mess that went on here back between April and July of 1994. Not surprisingly our trip to Rwanda sort of centered around this theme. Like in Burundi, the whole issue was between Hutus and Tutsis who as different ethnic groups were at various times incited by outside forces, and especially their own government, to hate each other to the point of genocidal violence.
We did things a little backwards though because we entered Rwanda from the south and the capital, Kigali was our last stop rather than first. From Butare we did a little day trip to the Murambi genocide memorial site at Gikongoro. It was the site of a massacre, killing about 50,000 people who had come to an unopened school on top of a hill just outside of town. Apparently the people were told to go there for their safety by the powers that be and in the end they were all slaughtered. The creepiest part of the whole experience is that the mass graves were dug up later and the rooms of the school (which was never opened) now have 1800 of the bodies that have been preserved with lime to show to people like us. They have been completely desicated to the point of being more of less just bones, but the twisted bodies, some in obvious agony, and their death wounds are still visible. Smashed skulls, broken bones, etc. Lots of families and children were killed too. It's not a pretty scene but in the perverse ways of chance, the hilltop setting gives perhaps the most beautiful view in all of Rwanda that we saw. Unfortunately there was no information given and we were mostly confused as we left having received no background on the genocide.
We ended up killing a few days in Butare because of another one of those travel problems that makes you smack your head and wonder how you made such a simple mistake. As we were leaving Burundi and getting stamped out, Kees suddenly realized that his carnet (the papers for temporarily importing a vehicle) was finished, he had no more countries left to enter, and he needed a new one. He'd been working on it in Dar and was going to have it sent to Nairobi when we got there but obviously we wouldn't make it. Somehow, we managed to sneak a 10 ton truck right across the border into Rwanda without having them check the truck and get it stamped in at customs and we were trying to organize having the papers sent to Kigali so we could leave.
Kees also wanted to see the gorillas while we were in the area. Gorilla viewing is done in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, all very close to each other and all costing $500US for a day trip into the forest to spend 1 hour with the gorillas. Obviously this is also out of our budget but Kees wanted to go. The problem is that due to very limited numbers allowed per day (~40 tourists in Rwanda, at 8 per gorilla family group) the slots are reserved months in advance by tour groups. We drove to Kigali and talked to the National Parks people and found an empty slot for him to jump in on. There were only 3 empty spaces for the whole month so we didn't have a lot of choice and had to immediately turn around to drive up to Ruhengeri in the northeast, right on the border with both Uganda and the DRC. The area is supposed to be the nicest to see the gorillas because the whole area is part of the Volcanoes National Park and the town is surrounded by a volcanic mountain range. The most recent eruption was only a few years ago and managed to destroy some villages across the border in DRC. Anyway, it is the original "Gorillas in the Mist" area and Diane Fossey, who did all her work with Gorillas lived and was murdered here, with her grave being somewhere in the hills nearby.
It is into the rainy season now so the volcanoes were often covered in mist and while we hung out in Ruhengeri for 5 days we learned that the warmest and clearest hours of the day were the first 2 or 3 and by 9am you wouldn't see many more mountains. We still sat around beside the pool at our EER guesthouse (run by a catholic church and for some reason related to an inside joke of his childhood had dad laughing all the time) and watched the thunderstorm and downpours roll up the hills towards us and sometimes hit, but more often just barely miss. Kees swore everyday that it was the most beautiful scenery in all of Africa to which we replied "yeah, but you're a flatlander" and then secretly pretty much agreed. His trip up to see the gorillas was perfect. Sightings are guaranteed now but we'd met a lot of people who came back disappointed because the gorillas were just sleeping the whole time. Not so for Kees. He got some great video of the babies playing and silverback male hitting his chest and mock charging them.
We spent the rest of the days hanging out waiting for the weekend to end and his papers to arrive. While exploring the market we found boxes and boxes of goods for sale with "USAid, not to be sold" written all over them. If you actually still believe aid ends up where it's supposed to.......
And then it was down the hill to Kigali, which we'd seen briefly before, but not really. Kigali, looks and feels like one of the smaller and nicer capitals in Africa. It's very green and built over a number of hills and somehow doesn't seem as chaotic as others, indeed the whole country is a lot cleaner than most we've passed through. There isn't much to do in the capital except visit the Kigali Genocide Centre which is the mother of memorials here. The centre opened only recently (2004 to mark the 10 year anniversary) and has all the info, pictures, skulls and stories about their genocide as well as some of the other major ones of the 20th century. They also have the mass graves for 258,000 people, the number killed in the Kigali area. It was pretty brutal with friends, neighbours and families killing each other and the papers here lately estimating as many as 2 million killed. The effects are still seen today with memorials dotting the countryside and a staggering number of prisoners being held on suspected genocide charges. There are hundreds of thousands of them and it is quite common to see them in the countryside working the terraced fields wearing their pink prison suits. These of course are just the small time guys while many of the architects of those days remain at large with asylum in other African countries.
Perhaps the worst part of the whole thing is that it all seems to be the result of western manipulation dating back to the Belgian colonial days. The Hutus and Tutsis lived together peacefully until then and intermarried and had done so for so long that Tutsi's simply were the upper class rather than an ethnic group (if you owned 10 cows you could be called a tutsi!) and the Belgians forced it back into an ethnic issue, manipulated feelings and encouraged what would ultimately lead to the genocide.
We saw the famous "Hotel Rwanda" right in the middle of the city and spent a night in a different (cheaper) hotel before heading off to Uganda the following day, new carnet in hand. The road up to the border followed a valley that was completely covered in tea plantations. At the border we avoided the whole problem of the carnet by simply passing through without going to customs yet again. They never knew we had a truck at all! How convenient :)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Transit through Tanzania and Burundi

The whole internet thing is giving me such a headache these days. If we aren't in some village with no internet, we roll into town just as the power cuts out or there is no network connection. It's not that I'm trying to avoid you guys....
From Marangu, we convinced Kees to take us to Burundi and Rwanda which meant a very long transit through the middle of Tanzania on routes rarely taken by tourists. We enjoyed the ride and the scenery but we only made about 250km a day and it wasn't until the 5th day that we got to Burundi. The road in some places had been improved but for a lot of the time was dirt and slow.
I have one overriding complaint about Tanzania. They have the worst signage and most ridiculous road system ever. As the navigator I was continually embarrassed by getting us turned around all the time because the main highway would be a wide dirt road, enter a village not on my map, not deviate at all nor shrink in size, and a little while later we'd discover that we were now on what was listed as a little dirt track on my map heading the wrong direction. Somewhere in the little village was a turn off onto a narrow lane, unsignposted, that would've kept us going in the right direction. And this seemed to happen continuously, for days on end. In fact, the maps we were using weren't even accurate so I was really in trouble. Anyway, it makes for some sort of an adventure because we bush camped every other day, and drove through some very isolated villages out in the middle of nowhere. Forget the touristy Maasai village stuff, we ran into a bunch of guys heading out with their spears to do whatever manly thing they do and Kees got them to start a chant and dance for us on the side of the road, until the chief got all mad about something and ran them off. We took tons of pictures, which we now refer to as "soul stealing" and had to pick up a few villagers to guide us through the really tricky parts when we were "locationally challenged". Still, it's nice to see some of the more remote areas of an otherwise overly touristy country. I can understand why people often complain about Tanzania because when we were in touristy towns it was a lot of hassle, but if you get out a little further.....
There was never a doubt that I was going to Burundi. We just tricked Bre and Ben into going first to make sure it was safe. Bre may have covered most of what there is to say but I'll just reinforce a few points. Nobody goes to Burundi as it is still thought of as dangerous, having still been unstable and with fighting only a few years ago. I think the fact that there really isn't anything to do there is going to keep tourists away for a while too. I loved it though. We got our 3 day transit visa at the border and without any hassle entered a small but beautiful country.
The first village was pretty poor and dirty looking but we found the people to be smiling and welcoming right from the start. Being back to speaking French was no fun but I think driving on the right again was even harder! Lots of hills and terracing, but they are a lot more haphazard about it than in Asia. Tons of mud brick being made everywhere and every building is made from it. We descended from the hills to Lake Tanganyika, the longest and second deepest lake in the world, and followed along it until we reached the capital, Bujumbura, at the northern tip where we ended up staying the night camped on the beach just north of town at a hotel/bar.
A few things about Burundi have really surprised me. There were a lot of military and police around but I was expecting us to get stopped a lot more often. The country has reminded me more of Asia than anywhere else in Africa so far. It's all the terracing, the very lush, tropical look and the fact that everyone seemed so busy. Everyone seemed to be working rather than sitting on the side of the road. People making mud bricks, lots of bicycles carrying various goods around (mostly bananas), etc. and it is so nice to have locals genuinely excited to see us again. Compared to Tanzania, the Burundians are much happier and friendlier looking and in all honesty, seem to have more going on upstairs too.
It is the beginning of the rainy season inland here so we had our first thunderstorm and showers just after arriving in Bujumbura and setting up camp. No worries, they don't last long. The worst part was that the clouds obscured the view of the DRC across the lake. Buj itself wasn't as destroyed looking as I was expecting though there were lots of UN trucks around and plenty of aid vehicles throughout the country. I think with the industriousness the locals display and the rebuilding already in the works will have the country in good shape very quickly. Certainly faster than others I've seen.
Today left Buj heading north to enter Rwanda. We had to climb over 1000m into the hills and away from the lake and that took most of the 100km to the border it seemed. The drive itself was worth the trip to Burundi because of all the bikes. It is obviously banana season right now and the bananas are all transported from the plantations in the hills down to the capital by guys on bicycles. They overload the bikes and then ride down the road like maniacs. Some carry other things but the worst part is that they have to come all the way back up the hill too. Most were pushing their bikes up the hill but some of the more daring will grab onto the back of trucks and get pulled up. We had 4 on the back our truck for a long time and we saw a few trucks with 5. Seems like a rough way to make a living but it sure adds to the character of the country. We also picked up some really cheap fruit. 20 big bananas for less than $1, 10 huge avocados for less than $2 and a bunch of other really random tropical fruit for pennies as well.
We are now in Butare in southern Rwanda.

Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro

Upon joining Kees, we learned we'd be delayed a few days while he sorted out some things like money and carnets for the truck to finish off the trip. Since we were on a beautiful empty beach, with warm water and soft sand at what must've been a very nice hotel 20 years ago (like all places in Africa, "maintenance" is a word that doesn't exist here), it could've been a lot worse. I felt, however, that being so close I simply had to visit Zanzibar.
The others were not too keen on the idea so dad and I got dropped off at the ferry terminal in Dar es Salaam and went over ourselves. We've heard a lot about Zanzibar in the last few weeks. It's one of the biggest tourist destinations in Africa and it seems that every European I've talked to has been there at some point. It's an archipelago (but mainly the 2 islands of Zanzibar and Pemba), once ruled by the Sultans of Oman as their main trading base on the east coast of Africa. The island changed hands a few times in history between the Portuguese, British and Omanis and when it finally became independent, it joined into a union with Tanzania. Culturally, politically, historically and architecturally they've done a lot of their own thing relative to the rest of Tanzania and when you enter Zanzibar, even from Tanzania, they stamp your passport again. For the most part most tourists come to Zanzibar for its famous beaches and diving (which are supposed to be spectacular) and a quick run around Stone Town, the Zanzibari "capital".
Since dad and I were only going for 2 days and we've spent considerable time already being lazy by beaches of one type or another, we opted to concentrate only on Stone Town itself and after running the tout gauntlet upon arrival and checking ourselves into a cheap hotel we set about discovering the place. As far as Africa is concerned, Zanzibar is something different. It was primarily built by the Omanis so has a lot of Islamic Arab architecture (complete with arched windows) and also some Indian influence. The sultans moved their capital here completely in the 1800s so there are a couple of palaces, a fort and several nice hotels right on the waterfront. That is also where the touts are hanging out and they can be quite bad at times, but the real attraction of Stone Town is just wandering around the very narrow alleys getting lost and rediscovering some new historic building or perhaps its ornate doorway or balcony. Like the rest of Africa, everything built before is being left to decay but perhaps that just adds to the character.
Because of its strong Omani connection, Zanzibar is almost completely Muslim and there are quite a few descendants of Arabs and Indians living on the island. They of course have lighter skin and the Islamic look of headscarves and little mosques is ubiquitous. I can't really say how much of what we saw was the real Zanzibar though because it was Ramadan, the fasting month for all Muslims, so during the day the locals tend to be more apathetic and business slows down. As we walked the streets most of the shops were closed, there were surprisingly few people walking around and of course you lose the sights and sounds of street food too. It was nice in a way because you could get more breathing space (except for touts, who could never aspire to be good Muslims) and I suspect also that it keeps things just a little cleaner too. At the same time, you lose a lot of the atmosphere and character during the day and since it is still touristy Africa, it's not really in your best interest to go running around much at night either. They do have street food, mostly fresh fish skewers come out at night and that's good, but everything in Zanzibar is geared toward ripping off tourists and is much more expensive than elsewhere. In any case, I enjoyed it, especially the things that reminded me of my time in the Middle East (I actually did enjoy my time there) and a different kind of look to the same old Africa we've been seeing lately.
It takes all of 10 minutes to walk from one side of Stone Town to the other so we did a few laps along the little alleys and contrary to popular tourist opinion, it's quite difficult to get truly lost as it's so small and you aren't really looking for anything anyway. There are a couple of old mosques and cathedrals, an old Persian bath and the stuff on the waterfront but that's about it. If you'd never been to anywhere Arabic before, I suspect it would be a nice introduction but otherwise it wasn't as exciting as I was led to believe. One other interesting note is that one of the cathedrals was built on the site of the old slave market, and Zanzibar was the last slave trading site on the East African coast and one of its busiest as well. It is all well and good to feel guilty that the Europeans were trading in slaves from Africa, but we must also remember that the Arabs were doing it for much, much longer.
After a full night and day of running around we jumped on an overnight ferry back to Dar es Salaam where the others picked us up and we headed straight out of town.
We spent no time at all in Dar, and after talking to numerous tourists and tour guides who told us that Dar is their least favourite city in East Africa, we had no regrets. Our experience on the northern beaches was quite good, and our experience at the ferry terminal and it's very strong hassles left us very ready to continue to our next destination. (Although I am still confused about all these hassles and scams. How hard is it to walk to an office, be it for a ferry or bus or whatever that clearly says "ticket office for such and such company" and buy one there instead of listening to some sketchy looking dude that wants you to go elsewhere to buy one? It's all well and good to go on vacation and relax but if you're going to forget your brain at home leave the rest of your body there too!)
I told you before that we didn't really know what the plan was after meeting with Kees. Well, as it turns out, he had suddenly decided that since he was here, he wanted to attempt the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I would never've guessed he'd say that, especially after his hatred of Mt. Cameroon but he wanted to try so off we went north to a small village called Marangu at the base of Mt. Kili just below the start of the most popular route up the mountain. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and is unique from most tall mountains because it stands more or less alone and not as part of a large mountain range like the Alps or Rockies. It's summit is at roughly 5900m and can be reached without any technical climbing necessary making it the highest point anywhere that you can easily trek up to. Thousands of people of all ages climb up it every year and the word is that in a few more years there will be no more glacier on top so if you want to see snow on a tall mountain at only 3 degrees south you better go soon.
The drive out to the mountain was quite pretty, at times through land that looked very wet and tropical and at other times looked more like the usual dry African savanna. The most notable thing that happened on the drive up was that dad got his first speeding ticket in the truck. Kees had been caught in Tanzania before we met up with him so now all the drivers have a round of tickets under their belts. The buses in Tanzania drive like total maniacs and nearly ran us off the road all day passing us and the traffic cops don't really seem to make any headway on that problem. You can really tell that there is a seriously bad driving problem in this country because the local villagers really run way off the road when they see us coming. Driving at night is already banned for commercial vehicles in Tanzania because the drivers are so terrible and constantly go off the road and in Mbeya when we were buying our bus ticket to Dar there were touts advertising their buses as safe because "we don't let our drivers drink alcohol". Oh joy.... Anyway, the cops do have radar guns, but after two experiences with this in Tanzania, Kees is convinced that they use the radar gun on someone to get a high speed and then use that speed for everyone else and pull over whoever they feel like. We weren't going THAT fast. The good news is that all things are negotiable (since we have no idea what the real fine is anyway and it started at a different price both times) and we ended up getting away after forking out less than $10.
Back to Kilimanjaro.... Well, we checked into a a hotel that some overlanders had recommended to us for camping and it was pretty obvious why. It is a nice place, a converted coffee plantation with lots of space, very quiet (when Bindhi was not trying to attack the owner's dogs) and hassle free. They also give tour leaders in each group their own room (when available) at the price of camping. Camping is about $5, a room $100 and since I am usually the tour leader and checking us into places I ended up with my own room for the 5 days we were waiting for Kees :)
Early on we'd scrapped the idea of us going up the mountain too. The cost has become completely prohibitive and in my opinion the whole mountain has become a tourist trap. A standard 5 day climb will cost about $1000 now with mandatory mountain park fees of $525 and then the fees for your mandatory guides and porters for your tour. We ran into one guy that went up the mountain "alone" and as part of his package had a guide, a cook and two porters. They are obviously trying to employ as many people as possible but porters only make $35 for the entire trip. Somebody else is making a killing. Speaking of which, dozens of people (I've heard as high as more than 100, but it's not really something they want to talk about) die every year trying to go up Kili, usually from altitude sickness and we met one guy who told us that someone had died the day we arrived. Anyway, I'd rather spend a couple of months in Nepal for that kind of money and from the bottom we could see the whole mountain and apart from the fact that it is the tallest in Africa, it is not very exciting. It has a rounded top with a little bit of snow but there are much more impressive looking mountains in Africa as many experienced climbers are quick to point out. We enjoyed our time at the bottom being lazy again and didn't accomplish very much other than reading and cleaning.
Kees came down very exhausted but happy that he'd made it to the top. Apparently there are 2 tops. The very top top and the top that most people go to at the edge of the crater at the top. Of the 7 in Kees' group only 3 made it to the top top (Uhuru peak). His report was much the same as many others, it was really tough, especially on the last day, when they start climbing at midnight to reach the top for sunrise. The altitude gets to everyone to some extent and loads of people are throwing up all over the trail at the end. Mmmmm.... The ones that didn't go to the very top made it to the lower peak too soon and then were too cold to actually wait for the sunrise and started back down right away. As they were going up, the people that couldn't make it because of altitude sickness were sometimes brought down on something resembling a one-wheeled stretcher and seeing someone ill being run down the mountain by a handful of guides has got to be bad for the confidence as you are going up. He was happy he made it though. On to the next set of adventures....
On a more personal note, I decided that I'd had enough and have finally cut all my hair off. Perhaps it's the first step to becoming a respectable citizen again....

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Breanna River Rafting

We managed to hook our selves up with the “Explorers White Water River Rafting Company”. What a wicked, awesome, adrenalin-filled day on the Nile River it turned out to be! Started off with a buffet breakfast to pump us up with energy before we met our fellow rafters, A Polish couple (Ruddick and Kate), Nakhuru, a Japanese guy and our guide instructor Ruben from New Zealand, a very awesome crew indeed. The whole day reminded me of how we ran our river rafting tours in Chilliwack and all the muliti-cultural students we took. So that was cool.
We geared up with our helmets, life jackets, paddles, sunscreen and hopped on the back of the truck with the rafts in tow which took us to the launching sight. On the way we passed over the Jinja damn wall which separates Lake Victoria from the Nile River. It was very kind of Ruben to point out the crocodile that was lying on the river bank reminding us of how this river can be dangerous in more than one way. EEEP. We got our full safety briefing and demonstration then practiced the drills, commands, hand signals, what to do “if” or “when” so and so happens and flipping the boat etc before taking off into the unknown. The weather was perfect for us! Bright hot sun, clear blue sky and water warm as anything!! I loved it because I didn’t need a wet suit!!!! Yey!
The paddling arrangement was Ben and Ruddick as the muscle in the front, Kate and I in the middle watching their backs, then Ruben and Nakhuru taking up the rear power. Some of the names of the rapids where “Rib Cage, Bujagali falls, Silver Back, Point Break, The Pyramid, 50/ 50, Over Time, Bad place,” etc, crazy names! The rapid called “Chop Suey” is where I was Chop Suey’ed right out of the raft. I didn’t think I’d be the one falling out first at all but the river gods had another plan for me I guess.
The series of events happened like this:
Headed straight for a huge waterfall and furious rapids thinking “Oh, crap that’s a big one, I’m a gonner, better hold on tight”. Ruben shouts out the commands to brace and get down, we get down and pray for our lives. Crash into wave. Get tossed around in the raft, “Why am I not hanging on? Where’s the rope? Grab rope. Water floods the raft, we hit another rapid then myself and the paddle get launched up and out, flying through the air landing smack on my back into the rushing river. “Oh, crap I lost the paddle, “OH CRAP another huge rapid”. Rapid swallows me up and spits me back out. Come up for air. Grab on to the safety Kayak and swim like hell back to the boat where I’m yanked back in by Ben. That’s when we all started laughing. Glad I made it through that one alive! Haha! Super fun and exciting! At one point we actually lost Ruben to a massive wave, “Great we lost the pro”. Next thing I know Ben starts shouting out commands and taking over until we could pick Ruben back up at the bottom of the section. That was funny.
Had a nice long lunch break, eating crackers and slices of delicious pine apple as we slowly floated down the calm area of The Nile River for 45min. The second half of the day was just as good but Kate was too scared by the first half to continue doing the grade 5 level rapids and chickened out by hopped aboard the big safety raft that was also with us. At one point we had to get out and walk around a grade 6 rapid because the water was too low and it wasn’t safe. That really sucked. It would have been awesome.
Saw lots of Fish Eagles catching their lunch along the way, the scenery was very beautiful, too bad we didn’t have more time to spend hanging out there. The day ended too quickly as it always does when you are having fun.
The total distance covered was 30km and we went through 16 major rapids. We were lucky to walk away without having any serious injuries, only the regular chaffed arm pits from rubbing on the life jacket from so much paddling, a few blisters, bruises, sunburns and one of my finger nails bend all the way back twice. That bled and hurt quite a bit. Once everything was packed up again we got a lift back to the campsite and had an amazingly huge, yummy barbeque. The food felt so good in our hungry bellies and the cold drinks disappeared quickly. We all had a blast! It was worth it for sure!!
The next morning however the aches and pains of it all really started to kick in and sunburn is always a sore the day after. All in all it was excellent and we’ve got some wicked pictures to go with it!
Now we are off to continue the journey and into Kenya we go!
Love to all!!


First things first,
Happy Birthday AMMON!! Sorry we took off before your amazing birthday. We wish we could have been there to experience your embarrassing cake and song episode. Ha-ha! Hope mom took lots of photos!
I really liked Nkhata Bay and Lake Malawi. I don’t know how many times I swam across the 500m stretch across the bay, how many hours I spent laying in the sun, how many nice people I met or how many milk shakes I drank, in any case it was great and I could easily have stayed longer too. I really enjoyed Malawi and it’s definitely up there in my favourite places list.
Right after leaving the family we went on a chase to find Kees before he headed off to Dar Es Salaam but it appears that the yellow tortoise has picked up speed and we missed him by half a day in Livingstonia. We decided early on to take the western route up through Tanzania and what an awesome ride it turned out to be! But I’m glad to hear Kees and the gang have met up and are happy so that’s good but I definitely can feel for you guys on that 13 ½ hour bus nightmare. Eeek.
Ben and I have been keeping really busy, doing lots of fun stuff. We went to Katavi National park where I saw the most hippo and crocodiles I’ve seen at once. There was an ‘exciting’ moment when Ben’s truck (Colonel Mustard) missed a beat and wouldn’t accelerate just as we were passing through a herd of elephants and one young male decided to mock charge us!! Ben had a heart attack while I laughed and took pictures. Got the heart bumping though! We survived the incident, drove on and in the whole day that we spent in the park didn’t see another vehicle or tourist, then camped just outside of the park. A real African wildlife experience for sure. At around 10pm that night just as we were sitting outside watching a movie on Ben's laptop, 20m away in the dark we saw a large shadow moving around, followed by a big roar. Yikes! “Bre get in the truck quick”, Ben says with a shove and we jumped in. Never actually saw what it was but it sure sounded like a lion to me. What a great day but I must admit that I’m kicking myself in the butt for not going into Zambia(losing out on my country count) with the others and seeing that damn leopard. Dang it. Hey, wait a second, I get to go to Burundi and possibly other countries the family doesn’t get too. Aww, poor Ammon missing out. Heehee. This is starting to sound more like a competition isn’t it?
Since then we moved north from the park to Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, which was beautiful and stayed at Jacobsen Beach Campsite where we had the entire place to ourselves. Sandy beach, thatched parasols and crystal clear water coupled with rich colourful sunsets made our stay there stunning. While in Kigoma we visited the Burundi embassy and got our transit visas for $20 US Dollars. Stocked up on some fresh fruit in the market and headed off in the morning, leaving after only a few days in Tanzania. I did learn something funny from one of the custom officials, how to say I love you in Kiswahili which is “Mimi kupenda wewe”. Pretty funny eh? You just can’t say that seriously, it always makes me laugh.
Burundi is a country which only 4 years ago was embroiled in a bitter civil war but you can’t tell from the happiness of the people or the cleanliness and organization of the little towns and villages, the only clear sign is the constant chain of UNHCR trucks supplying the refugees in the outlying areas. The landscape is extremely hilly and to make the most of their environment the local farmers terrace the slopes giving them level fields to grow their crops on. I really like the look of all the many colours and layers of terraces. Really reminds me of China and how every inch of land is put to good use! As one of us would say “Maximum utilization of available resources”. Saw lots of tea, coffee and banana plantations too. I love all the green, simply beautiful. The local means of transport in Burundi is the bike as it is throughout Africa. Burundi’s mountainous terrain makes riding a bike a tiring proposition. On a number of occasions we witnessed 5 cyclist hanging on to the guard rails on the back of a big truck as they crawled their way up the steep slopes, making it a lot easier for the guys hanging on the back to get to the top. I was a bit surprised at the sheer number of military and police posted at every kilometre or so along the major roads. Wow! Speaking of roads they drive on the right side just like home, Cool! Oh, and back to French. It's really funny how everyone and their pet dog stares with dropped jaws and pointed fingers at Baccus the Buffalo skull mounted on the front of Ben's truck as we drive by. Then again Baccus always gets a lot of attention from bewildered locals no matter where we go. Anyways, it took about 6 hours to drive through the country south to north.
We had a nice lunch break in no man's land before crossing into Rwanda . Once we were in, the scenery exploded into equatorial lushness and beauty. Now I thought Burundi was beautiful but Rwanda just blew Burundi right out of the water. Ben and I were dumbstruck and our vocabulary was reduced down to one word. Wow! Ok, Rwanda is one of my favourite countries! Just so beautiful and amazing! Again, more hills with plantations and terraces like you wouldn’t believe. When our heads were in the clouds above the 2000m mark, farming stopped and the cool air felt like being at home with all the pine trees and their unforgettable fresh smell.
We ventured west from Butare, our overnight stop, to the rain forests of Nyungwe forest reserve; an unfarmed natural paradise and home to the rare Angolan Columbus monkey which we were lucky enough to see and photograph. Ben chose the park to do another one of his training runs in, so he kitted up, gave me the keys to the Colonel and ran off straight into a rainstorm. Yeah, it’s been raining lots unfortunately. After 10k winding through the jungle a Toyota Hilux loaded with military, police and a park official pulled us over and wanted to know what we were doing and why he was running through the park without a letter of authority?? Ben had asked one of the park officials at the entrance gate if it would be ok and they said no problem. He explained that to the guys who then radioed the entrance to check. Even with the story backed up, the little wanker insisted that Ben stop, get changed and drive out of the park with them escorting us the final 10k. Of course we drove as slow as we could, taking photos every 30sec just to wind them up. It’s not often that we’d challenge a group of African military with AK47s but it just felt fun to get back at them and I even managed to sneak a photo. Plus, I was having fun driving the Colonel… I’ve been learning standard on it and doing quite well I might add.
From Butare we went to Kibuye and stayed at Bethany lodge where we visited a memorial for the Rwanda genocide in which 11400 people were buried in a mass grave following the murders that took place on April 14th 1994 in the local area. That’s insane. The memorial displays some human skulls behind the glass at the foot of the grave. We even took a peek in the small church behind the grave where a few locals had gathered for their service. All of that was a very moving.
We left the lake and headed east to the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. To use up the last of Ben's Rwanda Franks we went to a crafts market and haggled with all the shop owners for 3 masks and 2 sets of salad servers as gifts until we got the right price. So we were happy! I love negotiating that kind of stuff. I’ve got a lot of good experience with bargaining along the way, that’s for sure.
Crossed into Uganda and stayed in Kabale at the Bunyanyi Overland Resort on another lake where we took an African style canoe, dug out of one tree trunk out for a few hours. Boy, was that ever fun. I was in the back steering and Ben was the man power in the front. We paddled around a small island and stopped at one of the little docks to get out and swim for a bit before heading back. The lake really made me miss home and want to go to the cottage at Loon Lake back home. Fun canoeing in the morning and lots of repairs and cleaning for the truck in the afternoon, including a shoe polish shine up on Baccus’s horns to stop the rot and keep him looking in tip top condition!
I wonder how everyone else is doing? One of the many questions asked by other travellers and people along the way is “How can you spend 24/7 with your family?” Well, it is nice to be off on a little adventure without them for a while but I do miss the group.
Oh Grandma, Guess what! As we were driving through Kampala, the capital of Uganda, I saw in the distance two guys with white shirts, ties, black pants, shoulder bag, instantly I knew it was a pair of Elders!!! It was confirmed when we drove past and I saw the name tags. Haha!! I love the missionaries!! I had a huge smile on my face!! I didn’t know they had an LDS church in that area so that was quite exciting! Just thought I’d add that in for you! Hope everything is good back home!
Onward to Jinja where we are going to hook our selves up some white water rafting with grade 5 rapids at the source of the Nile! Oh My Gosh!! It's going to be insane, I hope we make it back alive and in one piece! Wish us luck! I’ll keep you posted.
Hope you all are safe and having fun!
Lots of love