Well, one of the least likeable traits of mine is the inability to make a decision (I guess it's debatable in this case since I attribute this debacle to being burnt out). But, excuses aside, Father time and a looming visa expiration sometimes makes a decision for you. At that point, thinking for yourself becomes moot, a farce, a joke... By my calculations my Ugandan visa is kaput in seven days. There's no way I will renew. So, it's time to move on... It's time to meet new people.
Life here in ed. rock/bujagali falls creeps along. The days are hot. Everyday, the heat is broken by late day downpours, leading to comfortable cool evenings. The rain comes down in frightening sheets, turning the local roads into quagmires of mud and pools of runoff. Mosquitoes seem to have a minimal presence surprisingly.
My bro and mum phoned this morning. Good talking with them. Mum's expecting me to be home soon. I'm afraid with the route ahead of me that my return to Canada is tenuous at best. Until I secure my Sundanese visa, I'm not sure when I'll be home. Just as well. I'm not sure what I'd do there.
Out of Canuckistan, Feb 28/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I'm still here. I'm not quite sure why anymore. Sometimes I feel like I'm hiding from the rest of the trip Must I step back into reality? Some days I forget I'm in Africa. The "island" effect is pretty wild.
To counter the feelings of isolation, I talk with Lydia, the girl who sells me overpriced bottle water every day, along with Bill, Davis, and Sandra, at the restaurant next door at length to get myself grounded. The trip will continue...some day soon.
It's ok here in Ed Rock (good grief, I've even nicknamed the place). Ben, the manager, is overseeing a massive renovation of the premise. It's little noisy during the day but I try to get out.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Still here but I'm getting the itch to move on. If I don't have this Murchison Falls thing sussed out by tonite, and if I check out financially, I should be off to Eldoret [Kenya] tomorrow or the day after. I've never stayed in one place for so long. The place has grown on me.
I've grown terribly addicted to beer, women, and mad rafting videos - not necessarily in that order.
The Czech kayakers have moved on. To my great fortune, a group of young ladies posing as volunteer teachers have moved in the dorm for the weekend.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The Czech National Kayak team has moved into the dorm. They're fun. Kind of serious as well. Apparently, a lot of world class kayakers come to Bujagali Falls to train.
Happy Bday Mum!! I talked to her tonite. She sounded good. I'm sure she's fine. Having to put up with my antics over the years, she's the best...
Nothing much happening today. The TV signal's down (I love watching BBC World for research purposes of course), read some more and went down to the river. Ho hum...
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Nile at sunset...
Damn it, I'm still here. More photos tomorrow. Maybe I'll make a friend or two by then. Maybe not. I've got the entire bunkhouse/dorm to myself. Sweet.
[ed. note: I'm staying down the road from the NRE - Nile River Explorers hotel - in a place called the Eden Rock. The Eden Rock is a pretty cool place run by Dutch expats, Ben and his wife. It's got a big open front building that houses the restaurant/lounge and moreover, the TV w/satellite dish. In the back are individual chalets and the dorm.]
Spent most of today reading. I did do an analysis of the trip so far. It doesn't look good. Bad time/pace management. To review, at the beginning of this month I was lying on my death bed at the Kinigi Guesthouse. How times have changed...with the rafting and all. The pace is now non-existent once again. Must relax... embrace the chillin'.
I talked to an American guy today at the NRE. I recognized him from the day I went rafting. His name is Greg. He's from Arizona, spending some time here in Uganda volunteering. This may be a contradiction in terms but he's a rich artist. He suggested that real estate is the way to go and I should read his bible, "Rich Dad Poor Dad". He owns 5 houses for chrissakes. Just charge 2 percent of the original investment and you'll own the sucker within 4 years. Sounds good... I love making friends...
Monday, February 18, 2008
I'm alive and well. Finished rafting yesterday. It was excellent. Beyond excellent. Some pretty big, nasty rapids. There's nothing like having your heart jammed in your throat as you're being launched off a 15 ft waterfall or crashing through 10 ft standing waves. It's truly surreal world when you're at the trough of some of these waves. You quickly lose perspective as the horizon disappears and are surrounded by the deafening roar of the boiling rapids.
An even more surreal experience is being tossed into the drink. Got thrown out twice. The first tip happened when we rolled the raft broadside into a gargantuan wave. Everyone was given the heave-ho except for Klaus, the resident Danish funny guy.
In the second incident, I alone was thrown. I'm not sure what the hell happened to this day. I think we got a little too cocky. We were setting up the raft to "surf" at the bottom of a waterfall. As we approached the sweet spot in the stream (where a gigantic eddy pool would hold us steady), the raft jerked and then tilted toward my side. Without any effort, I inelegantly somersaulted head first over the side of the boat and found myself in a peaceful white bubbly world (with the Strauss' Blue Danube playing in my head). Smooth move, ex-lax. After getting through the initial set of rapids, it wasn't so scary after all. Embarrassingly I was reeled in by one of the accompanying rescue kayakers.
[Inevitably there will be questions regarding the Zambezi River vs. the Nile. The Zambezi was much more intense. The rapids there are much closer together. The flat water stretches on the Nile gave us a lot of rest (much appreciated sometimes). There were a lot more rocks in the Zambezi. I'm talking about the house-sized variety. The channel was much more narrow than that of the Nile. The roar was much louder as well on the Zambezi. All because of the river being confined to the bottom of a gorge, I think.
The paddling techniques were different as well. I don't know if it had to do with the smaller rafts used on the Nile, but Henry, our guide was never hesitant to shout out "get down" command. On the Zambezi we had to paddle the entire rapid. Maybe we needed more speed to crash through the waves. If i recollect correctly the Zambezi rapids, on average, were longer. We were given a lot more instructions on the course.
In my opinion, you've got to do both. Life's too short not to.]
The price of admission included a huge bbq dinner plus a drink beer till you puke party. Oh how I feel like a kid again...
I've decided to stay in Bujagali Falls, home of the bbq dinner, for a day or two. Situated at the edge of the Nile Gorge, the view of the river is really nice. More importantly, the air is fresh compared to noxious fumes of Kampala. The ol' lungs, despite the occasional spasms, seem to be responding well.
I think I'm going to like it here...
Friday, February 15, 2008
monkeys, monkeys everywhere...especially the ubiquitous vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)
Sometimes I really don't know what the hell I'm doing...
I failed to book a tour to Murchison Falls. It seems like a really popular spot. Chimps will have to wait till Trip 3, whenever that is.
I've decided to go rafting on the nile river this Saturday. Aaron, the friendly English bloke, wants to tag along.
The rapids on the Nile are legendary. Huge waves that eat naive little white peeps like me. It should be fun, sort of. I say that with a bit of apprehension. There's a part of me enjoys an adrenaline rush. There's another part that has seen the bright light at the end of the tunnel on another African river called the Zambezi.
How many times must I stare death in the face before I stop doing these things?
I'm gonna go to Jinja and do my best and have as much fun as possible. Yep, damn it's gonna be a rip roaring good time...even if i crap in my shorts.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
[ed. note: just wanted to wish my loyal readers, if there are any, a happy valentine's day, especially to my lady readers (now i'm really pushing the envelope on the BTOG readership)]
i came halfway 'round the planet to set sight on the elusive Shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, perhaps the rarest of Ugandan birds...
a beautiful bird...mama must be very proud...
Went out for cappuccinos with Jason today, followed by a little shopping, then lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Gotta love Kampala.
Other than that I'm trying my best to get out of here. There's a chance for cheap chimp viewing up north in Murchison Falls National Park. My luck. There's conflicting info between the Lonely Planet (says it's possible) and the National Reserve Website (no mention of any facilities). Logistically, the Busingiro site might be a bargain, but it's gonna be tough to get to and when I get there I'm gonna have to improvise some camping equipment.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
[ed. note: hell, i think i spent another couple of days at the Lake. Very difficult to leave. From the island, I had to get retrace my tracks to Kabale to catch the bus from hell to the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Along the way, I crossed the Equator (then re-crossed it) for the first time overland. Appropriately, the imaginary line was marked by real big pothole, amongst innumerable potholes in the so-called road.]
Still recovering from the Kabale bus ride. It had to be in the Top 3 worst. Freakin' death trap. Got stuck in the backseat holding a piece of plastic against the glassless window to keep from freezing.
I've been basking in the thick smog of Kampala for the last couple of days at the Backpackers Hostel. Seems like an alright place - peaceful enough. It's packed with, ya know backpackers...fortunately, i haven't...
[ed. note: once in awhile i find myself staying at one of these tourist enclaves. they're pretty much mixed blessings. on one hand they could be really good places to gather information for onward travel or to hang out with other white people - mzungus. on the other hand, if you're not careful, they tend to insulate you from the locals.]
seen any overland trucks roll in. I've met some pretty interesting people so far: Jason, whom I met out in Bunyonyi, is here (small world), another Canadian guy named DJ, from Nova Scotia, and Aaron, a nice English bloke. DJ is a teacher on the run. Funny thing is he's been at the Backpackers for over 2 months now. He says he's burnt out after traveling from Europe, thru the Middle East, Sudan/Ethiopia and now here. 2 months...I thought i was burnt.
Kampala's been OK. It's chaotic. Went out to dinner with a swell Swedish couple last night for delicious Indian food. So, on the way, got a taste of the crazy traffic and hellish bus station. I've never seen such a quagmire. Today, I went for a boda boda (motorbike) ride downtown. It's a fast way to get around but you absolutely take your life into your own hands. Lots o' really close calls [I wish the damn traffic lights worked. Hell, what am I saying, there'd be noncompliance whatsoever] . Not for the feint-hearted.
In addition to the traffic, during the day, it's wall to wall people walking downtown. The unusual thing is the fact that I don't feel my life is in danger at any time. Weird but good.
With all this traffic, the air is pretty filthy and that's bad for my outmatched lungs. I still have the occasional coughing fits that I imported from Rwanda. To make things work I've felt quite rundown since getting here. I'm hoping it's from excessive road travel and nothing else. I need rest...
Advice of the day: my new friend Aaron is traveling in the opposite direction than I. He says to stay out of Isiolo (Kenya), on the way to Ethiopia.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Day 4 at the Lake. If there was anything that i could have prescribed for my recovery, it's the Boonya. So quiet here. Day slips into night and night into day. I've had difficulties keeping track of the time i've spent here. Life has fallen into a rhythm of sorts. Reading/writing, walking, or lounging around during the day [Jason, an expat Canadian bloke trapped here with me, was foolish enough to teach me how to play backgammon. Fun but I really suck at it]. I watch with amazement the regular late afternoon downpour. Then chow down on some really delicious food they serve here. then settle down to watching movies or the starry skies during the night.
Idyllic as the the setting is, it's time. Time to move on. Some observations I've made while sequestered on the island:
1) environmental sustainability means smelly toilets and intermittent electricity. have some sort of back up electricity. not essential. just a suggestion.
2) The more I chill out the less I feel chilled out. It's a fatal flaw in my genetic makeup.
3) The Lake needs a beach.
4) I love the bird life here. So many pretty birds.
5) This isn't the real Africa...is it? Doesn't really matter.
It's time to go. Pick up the pace a bit. It's been a long trip so far. The pacing has been erratic at best. That may or maybe my fault. I should just relax.
I talked to my bro this morning. It'd be nice to see him in person.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
It's not easy gettin' to the Boonya Amagara Lodge. From Kabale it's another hair raising boda boda ride. Then, once at the lake, I had to take a dug out canoe out to the island resort. Nice peaceful smooth ride...
Beauty, eh. This is on the way to the hut I rented out for 12000 Ugandan shillings per night...that's $6.34 USD. What was I thinkin'? I'm not exactly Mr. Money Bags you know...
My geo-hut. Home away from home. For $6.34, you'd expect a door, eh. Kidding aside I didn't need one despite a pretty good rainstorm that night.
Ahhh...nice view out the front.
A torturous, twisted, undulating road from Kisoro to Kabale (made worse by the insane bus driver). The scenery was breathtaking though. I didn't think this part of Uganda was so mountainous. Hardly wilderness area, the cultivated terraces raced from valley bottoms to mountain tops. My advice to people with tender bottoms or who are time challenged, is to head back to Kigali from Ruhengeri. The roads in Rwanda are smooth as a baby's bottom. Plus the cost of being stuck in Kisoro is exacting.
I'm here at the Boonya Amagara Lodge (1°18'4.58"S 29°56'20.25"E), on the shores of the beautiful Lake Bonyonyi. I picked up a brochure way back in Kigali advertising this place. Owned by Jeremy, an ex-pat American, the Lodge is touted as a backpacker's paradise with an environmentally friendly design (solar powered, compost toilets, etc). This area is supposed to be jam packed with recreational and cultural (volunteering) opportunities that Jeremy runs out of the lodge. I'm just looking to chill out after the hell I went through the last while. I took a quickie tour of the "lodge" and found a well stocked library. It's like I died and gone to heaven (this place is close enough) unless they have overdue fines.
I splurged and booked myself into a "geo-dome". The view out the front deck is quite stunning. There's two beds. I thought I had the whole place to myself but found out that a roomie was moving in for the night. Pretty expensive dorm, eh. No worries because I learned that I'm being kick out tomorrow... Such is life in Africa...just be glad you have a roof over your head.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
All in all, moved a pathetic 100 km today to cross the border into Uganda. Woke up late. Must have been really wacked by the gorilla trek yesterday. Then had to change money. This is one of those few times where I didn't have enough local currency to get to the border. Then I had to find transport in a chaotic bus yard. The conductor of the first border minibus was asking for an exorbitant tourist fare. Must have been double the regular fare. Tough to tell. It still costs nothing (a couple of bucks USD) in terms of "real" world prices but I decided to take the next bus (just to spite the first guy).
[ed. note: i can go on and on about "tourist prices" but, suffice to say, it happens everywhere i go. it's quite irritating but what can you do? there is no shame in ripping off tourists. most africans would rather see you walk than bargain with you. it's illogical. their philosophy is that if you don't try you won't get; hence, i nicknamed africa "the land of trying".]
The minibus ride to the border is quick and straight forward. The border proceedings went semi-well. The Rwandan official wanted to know where my Burundian exit stamp was in my passport. Right where it's supposed to be. But really, who gives a rat's ass, eh? After dodging a mob of money changers, on the Ugandan side I was almost set up for a blind date with the visa guy's youngest.
There was no public transport to the next town, Kisoro, other than the now familiar motorcycle taxis. Logistically challenging to say the least because of my huge backpack. I mentioned this to my hired gun and without hesitation he slung the bulky bag across the front of his bike: the bottom of the pack resting on the gas tank with the rest cantilevered over the handle bars. i climbed aboard in the back and off we went, speeding along a muddy red soiled road. We must have looked ridiculously funny.
Once in Kisoro, I immediately hit the Standbic Bank. According to the Lonely Planet, it wasn't possible to get money out of the ATMs in Uganda [ed. note: not so as it turned out.]. So, I got into teller line up, a decision that would cost me the entire afternoon to exchange a bloody 100 USD.
There must have been 20 people ahead of me, waiting for 2 tellers. Not bad. The problem was people kept cutting into line or those in front were accepting transactions from others. I've never been more frustrated in a bank. 2 hours later, you got that right, I managed to change my money. The bank manager gave me some lame excuse as to why it took so long and, at the end of the day, the most important thing was I got served. If I only had a rocket launcher, you idiot...
By the time I escaped the bank, the sun was already going down. So, I was stuck in Kisoro for the night. It proved to be a 2 street town. Kind of dumpy, but had 2 internet cafes. I'm in heaven. Not. The Virungu Hotel was described as a nerve centre for travelers who used it as a jump off point for gorilla viewing in near by Congo. It was dead (and overpriced - my bad). I had to unwind from such a crazy day. So, I headed over to an old stomping ground of Dian Fossey's, the Traveler's Rest Hotel. No sign of Dian. But I sensed her presence. It's a pretty high classed joint now. The beer was overpriced but, damn, it went down real good...
Monday, February 04, 2008
Yo, gorillas come-hither!!! Wait a minute...just human beings bushwacking through the forest...crap.
My trekking group readying for the encounter. Rwandan guys (red and beige shirts) were pretty funny. Totally outta shape and wasted by the time we got here. Kriss, hiking in her running shoes to the right. Two Italian ladies fully decked out in rain gear to the left. The tracking team is in the back to the left.
The gorilla patch. Lot's o Gorilla beringei beringei lying around. Dian Fossey was no where to be seen though... We're at an altitude of about 3200 m.
Nice Mr. Silverback....Nice Mr. Silverback. There might be 3 or 4 other males around, including younger ones, but there's not denying who is the king of the hill, eh. Our little session ended when he ended his docile ways and just took off like a bat outta hell, taking his troop with him. BTW, this is the best the pix get. I was an idiot when I left the tele zoom in the car. What was I thinking?
Didn't get a hell of alot of sleep last night. Not good when the trekker meeting at the park convened at 0700. All said, i would have felt better if the trek was yesterday. I was kind of worried about the physical effort that it might take.
Despite my logginess, I was excited to finally have my chance at finding gorillas. Grabbed breakfast, said my goodbyes to the hotel staff, and made my way through the early morning mist, about 400m down the road, to the park headquarters.
There I found about 40 people milling about. Where did they all come from? There must be much more accommodation around the village somewhere.
I checked in at the office and they still couldn't tell me if I could go today.
Only after they started placing everyone in smaller groups did I realize it was a go. The ranger charged with this duty knew about my medical history kept suggesting that I join "easier" groups [gorilla families that were easier to access] I'd come so far, paid so much money, and insisted on seeing the Susa group - the largest group in Parc National des Volcans. He relented.
I arranged transport with Sarah, Kriss, and a couple of their Rwandan friends. Sarah was an American NGO worker based in Kigali. She and her friends were producers and actors of a radio show aimed at teaching health issues to Rwandan kids. Really interesting stuff. Apparently, the show is a big hit.
It took almost an hour to get to the starting point, a nondescript village on the steep slopes of an unknown, brooding, intimidating volcano. We got out of the SUV to meet our amiable guide, Francis, and mandatory, AK-47 toting guard [ed. note: despite the ever present minute possibility of being kidnapped or being shot at, i thought the armed guard was a bit overboard].
It took an hour of slow but steady climbing through grassy terraces to reach the Park boundary which turned out to be demarcated by a long metre high perimeter stonewall and behind that a dense, dark forest of bamboo and deciduous trees. I felt good despite "getting away" with a couple of wicked coughing fits.
After a rest we walked through the gate (just a gap in the stonewall) and into the dark void of the forest. This forest was the extension of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda. I could see why it was famous for it's impenetrability, soon we were relying on a trail bushwacked by our Rwandan hosts and their machetes. If you couldn't keep up with the group you could very well get lost. I could not see more than 3 or 4 metres ahead of me sometimes. Forget about yelling for help, for at some points the vegetation was so thick it blocked any sound from escaping or entering your location, resulting in a very eerie feeling.
It was difficult slogging, made worse by mud and a relentless slope upwards. Some people in the group were brave enough to be wearing canvas top sneakers.
There were signs of mountain gorillas. Piles of gorilla kaka or nesting spots. Tantalizing thoughts of an easy find that swam in my brain were demoralizingly snuffed out several times. Onward we'd march.
Three hours into the trek, we reached a clearing (resembling the avalanche slopes back home in the Rockies). Francis scouted ahead while we took a break. In fact, he radioed ahead to the trackers (park staff whose sole responsibility it was to locate the gorillas on a day to day basis) and reported to us that we were 20 to 30 minutes away from the Susa group.
This really buoyed up my spirits as the past half hour I felt quite nauseous.
A half hour of bushwacking, and we heard a loud but muffled thud metres away and spotted 3 black human like figures swinging from thin trunked trees.
Eureka! The Susa, or at least part of it, group.
We met up with the trackers. After Francis briefed us on the etiquette of gorilla watching (i just remembered no touching and avoid eye contact if the alpha male - the silverback - decided to charge at us). we moved into the clearing where they were. Man, there must of been 25 to 30 of them! all sizes. all sexes. all ages (babies, juveniles, sub-adults to silverbacks). Francis was an incredible guide... He'd disarm the situation with a series of gorilla like grunts. He'd move us from small group to small group, telling us where to stand and where not to. We were supposed to be at least 10 feet away from any one gorilla but sometimes they'd approach to within one metre. The silverback was immense, a solid block of muscle the size of a Smart car. I was a bit anxious 'cause he could of snapped any of us like a twig. Most memorable was one of the more rambunctious young males. He'd rampage through the group then stop and beat his chest (way cooler than tarzan).
We would spend a very short hour observing them. I can honestly say that it was a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Such beautiful animals. Very sad considering that they are endangered. As we clambered and slid out of the forest, I was easy to see why their numbers are dwindling: human encroachment and habitat destruction (the landmass of Parc National des Volcans has decreased dramatically over the years plus there just isn't any buffer zone between park and surrounding farmland). In addition, the poor gorillas are subject to the horrors of poaching.
The group collected a handsome tip for the entire gorilla tracking team. In kind, each trekker received a gorilla watching diploma (which i promptly forgot in the SUV afterwards. so, i have no proof...trust me i saw them...).
I had supper with Sara and her friends that night in Ruhengeri, the closest town.
Good time had by all.
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Feb 4/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Sunday, February 03, 2008
I talked to Mum, Gawg, and B yesterday on my death bed. Usually I feel really good after a call from home, but man I was in a funk. I thought about the progress of the trip up to this point and about the rest of the journey through Africa. I really felt like baling out. Honestly, it was a really dark moment. My sis thought I was overly dramatic but it was exactly how I felt.
However, what a difference 24 hrs can make. I was awoken at 5 this mornin' by my dorm roomie (dormie?). I didn't mind because I thought I had one the best deep sleeps in recent memory. I felt like a million bucks, even after a shake down walk later in the morning. Felt so good I dropped by the Park office to check on tomorrow's gorilla treks. There's a 95 percent chance a spot may be open for me. Good as gravy, in my books. I think I'm gonna track me down some primates!
Matters aside, my american friend Lee ventrued back to the park yesterday for his golden monkey trek. Said the gorillas were spectacular. Good to see him. I bummed off his ibuprofen and a round of cipro (drug swapping in commonplace amongst travelers). He's a very nice person. [ed. note: i used up my last round of ciprofloaxin battling the disease. cipro is really handy, but i really don't want to abuse it and render it useless. having said that, it's difficult to obtain "real" cipro in Africa.]
Friday, February 01, 2008
If I had to pick a spot to be stuck, Kinigi would be tops. Well, not really... Beautiful vistas complete with volcanoes but a tad chilly at nights 'cause of the altitude (2132m). BTW, Kinigi is here 1°25'57.84"S 29°35'54.59"E.
I was able to go for short walks. Good way to avoid bed sores. Nice way to meet local kids and watch country life go by.
The disease is progressing. I felt listless all day. Chilled. Convulsing. I believe the listlessness is due to starving myself. I had spaghetti tonite. It seemed to alleviate some of my loopiness. Still stricken with the intermittent crazy cough. I'm not sure whether it's a hacking or dry cough. It feels different though. Like a knife slitting my throat with a metallic after taste. I'm not exaggerating.
I should be ready to go tomorrow or the day after. I'm not exaggerating (but kind of stupid), eh. I'm leaning towards the latter option. Why push it? I'll try to eat some more and clean the equipment tomorrow.
Even though the ladies (who run the guesthouse) have been really nice to me (looking in on me, bring me tea, I can't wait to get outta this place.
[ed. note: for those wanting to travel, inevitably, you too will get sick at one point or other. you'll be exposed to some pretty nasty bugs that will absolutely knock you silly. if you can handle this aspect of travel and not let it get you down, buy a plane ticket and get your ass out there.]
Super Bowl XLII Prognostication
NY Giants 40 NE Patriots 37