Saturday, December 10, 2016
Friday, December 09, 2016
We had left our bags at Kajibange, so after getting checked in (including a drink and the "famous" DoubleTree Chocolate Chip Cookie), we walked back and collected our bags.
Sat around the Hilton for a bit, then walked down the beach to the turtle sanctuary near the lighthouse. They take in injured or lost baby turtles, raise them, then when they are two years old, they release them. They have an annual turtle release date of Feb. 20, which would be cool to see. When we were walking down there, and at the sanctuary, both of us were sweating bullets, and we didn't know why. Why stopped at a covered rest area at the sanctuary, where a little kitten curled up on Tracy's lap and fell asleep.
We walked back to the Hilton and went to the pool with a swim-up bar.
I also called our taxi driver who had taken us from the airport to Kajibange a couple of days ago, Mr. Hamad (+255-777-418944) if you need a great taxi driver. :-) We arranged for him to pick us up at the Hilton tomorrow at 11:00am and also told him our plan to tour Stone Town tomorrow, and hoping he could help us store our bags somewhere and then take us to the airport later in the afternoon.
We had booked a sunset tour yesterday, so at 4:00 we went back to Kajibange to wait for our pickup. Once collected, we walked down the western side of the beach to where the sunset tour boats are and missed it. The "captain" said that's ok, we'll get on another boat. They have lots of boats available, and they go out when they have enough people on it, so we had 10 people on our boat. The first boat that went out was packed, about 20-25 people crammed on it, so we were lucky.
Sunset tour finished about 6:30, we want to the Fisherman's Grill restaurant at the Hilton for supper, then went back to Gerry's Bar, which was happening tonight. To bed around 10:00.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
We slept in a bit and had breakfast shortly after 8:00. Then walked along the white sand beach, along an endless line of restaurants, guest houses, high-end hotels, souvenir shops, dive shops and tour companies. Fortunately, it's not like Cancun with massive hotels stretched along the beach for miles, this is much more toned down and much smaller. Of course you get your locals all trying to sell you things, like sunglasses, bracelets, boat tours. There are even quite a number of Masai here, trying to get you to come to their little souvenir shop. We bought a few things, I got an awesome hat made of coconut skin, it's so light and cool.
Back to the guest house to relax. We decided we're going to spend another night here, but Kajibange can't let us know if they have something available for tomorrow night yet, so we'll see tomorrow morning.
Not too much to report today.
Wednesday, December 07, 2016
We had a 9:00am flight, destination Zanzibar. We got up around 5:30 and got packed, and to the airport around 7:00am.
We flew Kenya Airways from Entebbe to Nairobi, then a 1-hour layover in Nairobi, then to Dar es Salaam, where we had to go through immigration. Fortunately, we got our visa when we first arrived at Kilimanjaro at the start of the trip, so we bypassed the visa payment line and went through immigration without hassles. We collected our baggage from the international arrivals area, then carried them to the domestic departures and got checked in. We had a 3.5 layover here, and the terminal in Dar es Salaam pretty much sucks ass. As our departure time was getting closer, there was hardly anyone in the departure area, and we were getting concerned we weren't in the right spot. I did ask a worker and she said we were ok. There was also one other tourist couple (and a handful of locals), and it ends up they were on the same flight, so at least we were in it together.
The flight was on a smaller propeller plane and was probably only 1/3 full, but the flight was only 20 minutes. No sooner had we taken off, then we were already preparing for landing.
We bypassed all the immigration/customs at the airport and collected our baggage and exited the airport, hoping to see someone holding a piece of paper with our names on it, as we had asked the guest house to pick us up. No luck, nobody there, but that was ok. There were lots of transport/taxi people around. One of them started talking to us, as it was clear we didn't have a ride, so after waiting for 15 minutes, we hired him to take us to Kajibange Bar & Guest House for the same price that the guest house pickup was going to be ($50 USD). He first took us to a bank machine in town, then headed out. The taxi guy stopped along the highway and picked up some BBQ corn on the cob for his supper. It was about 1.5 hour drive to Nungwi, on the north side of the island. As we were driving through town, it looked like a war zone, and I imagined that's how Aleppo would look like, dilapidated and ruined buildings, destitute people and dogs wandering around. Around 6:30pm, we came around the back way, to the car entrance to Kajibange, and Tracy eyes were wide, like "What are we doing here? This place is a disaster." She had a WTF look on her face. She thought we were in Mad Max or something. After entering through the gate, however, we were greeted with a wonderful beachfront guest house, reggae music playing on the speaker. This place is run by a Rastafarian guy (where 99% of the island is Muslim), and it's totally laid back. We got checked in to an awesome bungalow room, except the bed is about 4 feet off the ground, and you have to jump up to get into the bed. We went to the restaurant/bar area. Imagine an open, covered air bar/restaurant, all wood, lots of little tables, chairs, hammocks, lounging beds, and cold, cold beer in a deep freezer. It was kind of heaven. The rest of the property is all sand pathways and very well kept and clean.
After eating (I had grilled king fish, Tracy had jumbo (or maybe tiger) prawn salad. After eating and relaxing, we literally jumped into bed.
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
We slept in a bit....well, we were up for breakfast shortly after 7:00.
We called Bike2Go Entebbe and arranged a city bike tour for 10:30. It was mediocre, we went pretty much around the whole city in a circle. The highlight would have been the Tuesday market, which goes on in a few streets where people sell everything, mostly clothes and shoes it seems. We then walked through the food market, people selling all kinds of veggies, fruits and meat. It was pretty cool.
We got back around 1:00pm, then had lunch.
Around 3:30, we headed to the botanical garden and walked around it for a while. Nothing too special, but it was nice time killer and a nice to place to get out of the sun.
We had supper, then to bed around 9:00.
Monday, December 05, 2016
We were up early, we had a long drive to Entebbe, the small city where the international airport is. We had to drive most of the way back to Kampala, then turn south to Entebbe. Along the way, we both had to pee horribly, so Kazeem stopped in small town at a gas station. The toilet was nothing more than a concrete pad with a hole in the middle and Tracy was disgusted. She almost hurled from the smell, and she was swearing and hated it. It was kind of funny.
We also stopped at the equator line, where we ate lunch and then were given a demonstration of how water swirls down differently (clockwise vs. counter clockwise) on either side of the equator, while right on the equator, it doesn't swirl either way, it just goes straight down. I have read that this is a myth, and really only affects large scale storms (hurricans, typhoons, etc. swirl different in the northern vs. southern hemisphere), but his demonstration was fairly convincing. At first I thought he'd pour the water in the drain so that it swirls the way he wants, but he put a blocker in the bowl to stop any swirling caused by the pour. Hmmmm. He used a flower to visually show us which way the flower swirls when put in the bowl. After showing us north of the equator and south of the equator, he showed us right on the equator, and the first time he did it, it swirled clockwise, and he remarked that it swirled, so the bowl must be a teeny but south or north, and adjusted the bowl about half in inch and then did it again, and then the water went straight down and didn't swirl. Hmmm. The bowls were not well made, and looked like they were made by someone hammering on tin (not by a machine, to ensure a perfect bowl shape), so I think that had something to do with why they swirled the way they did, but it was still interesting.
We made it to Entebbe and Kazeem had booked us in the Anderita hotel, right along the shoreline of Lake Victoria, with a bunch of other large hotels and a bunch of beachfront bars and restaurants. It was very nice. The hotel was $60/night, but Tracy was soooo happy. She's officially done with camping for a long time, she says. Haha. We thanked Kazeem and he left.
We showered up (so much dirt and grime in the hair and all over), then we walked along the shoreline road checking out the places to eat as it got dark. We chose one where they had a bunch of tables in the sand, and had pizza. As it got darker, bugs came out. A very specific bug, by the millions, came out of the sand and congregated all over everything, getting on the pizza, into the drinks, into hair, hitting you as they tried to fly towards a light. It was crazy. People started eating/drinking quickly, paying their bills and getting out of there, which we did as well.
We ended up going to bed around 9:00, I think.
Sunday, December 04, 2016
We got up very early, 5:30, as Kazeem wanted to do an early morning game drive.
We heard a party/music all night from the town close by, and I heard hippos all night long. The sleeping mats are crap and neither of us really slept very good. Well, only one more night, then no more camping.
Nothing very exciting during the game drive. I think we totally got spoiled from the Serengeti. One lion, quite a number of Ugandan Kobs (antelope), warthogs and other antelope. Not nearly the numbers in Serengeti.
Then we headed back to the camp for lunch, then at 12:30 left for our boat cruise along the channel that runs between George Lake and Edward Lake. We first stopped at a super high-end resort, Mewai. Swimming pool, overlooking the lake, super nice cabins, full restaurant/bar, super nice premises. We were allowed to walk around for a while. We got the price list. The starting price for the basic accomodation, including breakfast, was $205 USD/night. The Queen room was over $1000 USD/night. And that price doesn't include any activities. Mom, would definitely enjoy it.
At 2:00 we went to the jetty and boarded a nice double-decker boat for a boat cruise. The cruise went along the shoreline and there were tons of animals along the shoreline, drinking and cooling off in the water. Buffalo, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, baboons and tons of various birds. The crocodiles live right along with the other animals, which surprised me a bit. But I guess the crocs live on a diet of fish and don't try to take down any animals, so they live alongside each other. We saw a couple of hippo fights as well, which are apparently common. We also floated along by a village, where the villagers live alongside the channel, with the local fauna. The villagers can fish the lakes, but can't fish in the channel, as it's a national park. There was also a small fish market.
After the cruise, we did an evening game drive, and we went back to the same lion we saw yesterday. He was lounging in the sun, then moved along and climbed up in a tree. So, we got to see a tree climbing in the end, one of the last hurrahs of game driving. We were spoiled by the Serengeti, the game driving here wasn't all that grand. In retrospect, instead of doing a day of game drive, we should have went to the chimp trekking here (in addition to the gorillas). Oh well, we didn't know.
We got back to camp quite late, it was already dark. We had supper, then around 9:30 Tracy and I headed to the tent. We got to the tent and there was an awful manure like stench by our tent. We wondered what had taken a dump in the vicinity. We walked over the toilet and there was an awful reek. We kinda heard strange noises coming from other side of the hedge, so Tracy went into the bathroom, and I shined my light over the hedge to try and see. I saw this large gray mass. Is that an elephant? I wasn't sure and didn't believe it, so I looked again, and saw it again, then it turned towards me and I saw the massive tusks and it's eyes reflecting back at me. YIKES! I'm like less than 10 feet from an massive elephant, with only a bush in between us. The elephant was feeding on trees behind one of the cabins, right beside the washroom building. We weren't sure if this was "normal" or not, so I went back to the dining area, fortunately our guide was still there (the staff don't really speak english), and I told them there was an elephant right near our tent. They look surprised and confused, like they didn't quite know what to do. They talked for a bit, then our guide said they would build a campfire. The guide and me headed back to the elephant, and a while later, some of the staff came with firewood, and they started a campfire by our tent. Animals are afraid of fire and will stay away instinctively (so we're told). As they were building the fire, one of the other staff decided to go around the building to check on the elephant. He disappeared around the hedge, then we heard a blood curdling scream and running, and a door slam shut. Hahaha. Our guide started laughing. The elephants had startled this poor guy and he screamed and ran away.
Once the fire was going, they took a hot piece of wood from the fire and a few of the staff went to try and scare the elephant away. Our guide said he thought those guys were crazy. They did successfully get the elephant to leave, but a while later we heard an elephant trumpet a bit in the distance and someone blowing a whistle. The poor elephant was now in another camp and they were trying to scare it away.
With that excitement done, we headed to bed.
Saturday, December 03, 2016
We left the gorilla trekking campground and we were able to watch the amazing landscapes, mountains and valleys as we headed north towards Queen Elizabeth National Park. Amazingly beautiful.
We descended into more plain like landscapes and arrived to a town just outside of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kazeem had arranged to pick up a tent from a fellow in a town close the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We waited for about 10 minutes, then got the tent and continued on into the park, doing a game drive as we headed towards the camp. Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for tree climbing lions, and they are typically found in the southern part of the park, but we didn't see any on our drive up. We just saw two elephants.
When we got the campsite, Hippo Hill, it's a private run cabins area, and there was a lot of confusion. The people working here were confused because they thought we were going to be in a cabin, and weren't sure where the camping area was located on the premises (or that's what I gathered). Kazeem had to call and talk to the manager or someone to get things all sorted. Finally, the staff (who barely speak any english) took us to the camping area, that has its own bathroom/shower complex. One of the men got the lady to go clean the washrooms, while the men tried to setup the tent. Our guide has never set up a tent, so he was useless. The camp staff had an idea, but I had to step in take control, as I've set them up before. Well, the tent was in pretty bad shape. A huge hole in one side. No rods for the fly, and lots of other little holes all over. We couldn't properly secure the fly, so we covered the part of the tent that had the big hole with the fly and then I used duct tape to try and hold the fly in place and to cover all the holes. And there was only one sleeping mat included. There was also a lot of concern about hippos. They come out of the water at night, and we're fairly close to the lake (either Lake Edward or Lake George, I can't remember which). Our guide was concerned about us being in a tent with the hippos so close, but the staff said it was all good.
The washrooms were pretty hilarious as well. There were four toilet stalls and four shower stalls. I pooped in the first toilet stall only to discover that it didn't flush properly. So my poop just stayed there. The second had no toilet seat. The third seemed to work fine. The fourth was completely locked and you couldn't go in. I shudder to think what horrors may be in that one.
This Hippo Hill place is hilarious. They try to act all sophisticated, the waiters in tuxes, and they always greet you, three course meals, but they're failing miserably at it. I don't want someone doting on my all the time. The cabins themselves look quite nice, though. And the restaurant/bar eating area is very nice. The kitchen is a long walk from the eating area, so that's quite funny too, seeing them waiters come walking from probably 100 feet (or more) with a platter of food.
Kazeem also arranged to get us sleeping mats for the evening.
There was nothing more planned for the rest of the day, so we just sat around the restaurant area for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Friday, December 02, 2016
We slept amazing last night on our tiny mattress. Breakfast was at 7:00, then shortly before 8:00 we headed just down the road to the start of the gorilla trekking. I've heard horror stories about doing this trekking with old people who can't handle the intense hiking up and down the valleys to get the gorillas, causing the group to slow, so I was praying there would be no old people in our group. As we pulled in, there were two old people. We greeted them and discovered they were from Austria. Austria is full of mountains, so I figured they'd probably be ok going up and down.
We met our guide, Shaba. He's been doing this for 25 years, and he's now 60 years old. Most people retire at 60 in Uganda, but his contract says he can stay until he's 63, so he's going to keep doing it, hoping one of his kids can take over for him when he retires. I also must say, you can really, really tell that Shaba truly believes in the cause and he loves his job. He still gets excited when he sees the gorillas.
The briefing included things like keeping your distance. We're not allowed to get closer than 7 metres (23 feet), although a gorilla can come closer to you if he/she wants to. We also had two armed guards in case anything happened. Apparently the wood elephants (also called mountain elephants) in this area had been persecuted for years before it was a park, so they have a bad memory of humans and can still be quite dangerous here. We are also not allowed any more than one hour with the gorillas, then we have to leave. The Austrian woman was being pressured to get a porter to carry her stuff and help her along, but she was resisting, then finally relented and got one (only $15 USD).
Earlier in the morning, they sent out trackers to track the gorillas, so we could hopefully know where we need to be going. It's not uncommon for these treks to last for 4-6 hours before finding the gorillas. Indeed, someone staying at our campsite did it two days ago and they were out there for 6 hours. Part of that was because his 72 year old mother was with him, and she really struggled.
We started along a dirt road for about 15 minutes, then our ranger (Shaba) got a message on his walkie talkie and we started to hack and slash our way through the jungle, down into the steep valley. Then our guide told us to sit, as the gorillas were coming our direction. I looked up behind me and I saw one climbing up a tree. I started to take pictures and the guide is telling me to stop, and to listen to him. Haha. I listened, and as we sat there, other gorillas started to appear, as they fed. They are virtually all vegetable diet, except for sometimes ants and termites. So they need to eat LOTS of veggies. We started following them through the thick jungle, as they fed, getting much closer than the 7 metres. We were often within 2-3 metres of them. As they moved on, our guides would hack a path through the jungle for us to follow and watch. It was truly amazing. One gorilla came up through the bushes and literally walked right beside the Austrian man as he went in search of his favorite food. They (the gorillas, not the Austrians) have the most amazing farts too.
There are a few gorilla family groups that have become completely habituated to humans, so there's very little issues with us being there, as long as we don't overstay our welcome. I got some good pictures, but it's hard in the thick jungle.
After about 50 minutes, we went in search of the silverback, the largest male and leader of this specific family group. He was close by, so we sat and observed him from close range for a few minutes, then it was time to go.
We got extremely lucky. The gorillas were close and we were experiencing them within an hour. The Austrian lady was very happy she got a porter. The valleys were very steep and footing was difficult at the best of times. But her porter helped her along the whole time. She agreed it was money well spent. And we were done before noon.
This was truly amazing. There are less than 1000 gorillas left in the world, but the population is growing in Rwanda and Uganda, thanks to conservation efforts, which does include tourism. Our guide begged us to tell our friends and relatives and get them to come and have the same experience.
We had lunch at the main gorilla meeting point (where we started), then headed back to the campground. We decided to do a nature walk this afternoon, so at 2:00pm, our guide came and took us on a very nice walk through the village and surrounding area, including a waterfall. We also saw a number of colobus (sp?) monkeys on the way back.
We didn't do to much for the rest of the day, just relaxed, had supper and went to bed.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
We didn't sleep much, but dozed off and on in short bits.
The Kenya/Uganda border crossing was quite a bit easier. We didn't have to take our bags off and go through security or anything. I exchanged $20US to Ugandan shilling (40,000) and got a crap deal. I should have had checked the exchange before talking to the money exchangers that walk around. I should have got between 60,000-70,0000 I think. Oh well. Then Tracy had to go to the bathroom, so I gave her 10,000 shilling in case it was "pay as you poop" deal again. She ended up paying 10,000 shilling ($3.75 CAD) to take a poop.
We passed by the Nile river on the way. It's HUGE even way up here, much closer to the source.
As we got close to Kampala, they turned on the video system again and started playing gospel, God is amazing music videos. I laughed because it was a sharp contrast to the music videos they had playing when we got on the bus.
We arrived in Kampala around 12:30pm. The bus was scheduled to arrive at 10:00am, and there was a guy waiting with our names on a piece of paper. He'd been waiting for 2.5 hours for our bus. Kaseem was his name and he's to be our guide for our time in Uganda.
We then headed off to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where the gorilla trekking will be. We stopped at a "Cafe Java", a quick sit down restaurant for a lunch, as we hadn't eaten almost 24 hours.
Uganda is beautiful. So green and lush, mountains and rolling hills. Our guide says it's green and lush all year round. It was fun to pass through all the town along the way.
We didn't arrive to Bwindi until 10:00pm (9 hour drive from Kampala), so we couldn't really see much of the mountains or scenery for the last part of the trip. They were doing some road work, so there was a bulldozer, a grader and one of those pavement roller things parked by the side of the road. It was dark, but by the headlights of our vehicle, as we passed we saw a human figure sitting upright in the seat of the bulldozer, wrapped in warm clothes. Freaky! After we turned into the park gates, our guide remarked that he didn't see that we had a tent. I said, "Uhhh, we have no tent, we have only sleeping bags. We were not told to bring anything else and that everything was supposed to be included." Anyway, once we got to the camping area, which is in a small village, and run by some locals, our guide called someone and found out that there was a tent already at the camp for us. So the camp people set out setting it up and everything and it's all good. In Uganda, locals are allowed to live in the national parks, so the villages cater to the tourists with campgrounds and cabin options and restaurants and everything. The one we are staying at Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort Campsite, and the people running it are lovely. They offered us supper, but it was so late, and we were so tired, we passed. Once they got the tent setup (a small tent with a small mattress for Tracy and me....our bums touched each other all night, the mattress was so small), we crashed hard.