Hi everyone,Ok, I have a fair amount of time so I'm just going to write everything I've done for the last 2 weeks, sorry if it's a little long-winded. Ok, here we go...
Ok, I think the last thing I got up to was the gorge walk to see the chimpanzees so I'll start from there. After Queen Elizabeth NP we camped at a place called Lake Bunyonyi which is this beautiful lake set in the middle of mountains. It was a fantastic view, one of my favourite campsites on the trip. Monique and I (my tent buddy) went out on the lake in a dugout canoe, which is literally a carved out tree that you sit in. It was so peaceful floating on the lake watching the sun go down. T
he next day which was Saturday 21/7/07 we left for Bwindi National Park to track the gorillas. The roads were just awful, so many places have unpaved roads. The campsite was lovely, right in front of the forest on these massive mountains. The cool part about the campsite is that it was part of a village, Buhoma. That night we went to a local bar to see what it was like. Also early that afternoon we went to a dance and song show put on by the local community orphanage and the kids danced and jumped around, it was so inspiring to see how happy they were. The next day, 3 people went off to track the gorillas, only 24 people a day can go, so the rest of us did what we liked. i went on a walk to see these waterfalls in the forest, a hard walk at times but they were just beautiful. in the afternoon I went on a village walk which I really enjoyed. We hiked quite a way for it but it was good. First we stopped at a souvenir shop where we were show the materials baskets and things were made from. Then we went to a coffee and tea plantation, past a river with a small waterfall they want to build a bridge to so people could shower under the waterfall! The next stop was quite high on the mountain, it was the medicine man/healer's house.He showed us all these plants and herbs that were used for many different ailments, such as headaches, constipation etc.He works in conjunction with the local hospital so if someone is really sick they have access to western medical care.There was this really cool plant that recoils when you touch it, it was quite eerie.From here we went to the local brewery where we were shown how they make banana juice, wine and gin.I tried all three and quite liked the juice, the wine was awful and the gin was very very potent.There are 4 types of bananas - roasting, matoke (hot banana dish), eating and juicing.Next we headed to the local church (Anglican) and school.It was a Saturday so no children had to be at school but there were many of them all over the yard playing.It's so funny when you take a photo of them they all come running over to see it, as they don't have any mirrors, they love to see what they look like.Also, I'm not sure if I've said it yet but the children here love getting pens from white people so I asked our leader why.He said that they believe that if they receive a pen from a muzungu (white person in Swahili) that they will become like one and will be able to read and write.Sweet, huh. Nearby is where the pygmies live and one woman, Ida Mary, gave us a short talk in her native tongue, Richiga, (translated into English) about how they used to live in the forest but it was really hard because there wasn't much food.The government helped them move out of the forest into the village where they love living and they receive free medical care, which is part of the government initiative.They then danced and sang for us with so much enthusiasm and energy, and it was really lovely.I bought a carved gorilla from them which is really cool, I love it.That evening we had traditional food for dinner - matoke (hot banana dish), ugali (bland 'filler' food made from maise), chapatti (flat bread) and vegetable stew.We also had fried chicken which was so good, but it's not a traditional food.I went to bed relatively early as the next day I was heading out to track the mountain gorillas.
We woke up early the next morning, had breakfast, packed our lunches and headed for the gate to the park.There our group (there were 10 of us as 3 had seen the gorillas the previous day) was divided into 2, one with 4 people and one with 6.My group was going to see the Habinyanja (H) group and the other the R group.There are 4 groups of habituated gorillas, and 3 can be seen each day.A maximum of 24 people can see the gorillas each day, 8 per group, and the time is limited to 1 hour viewing.I hired a porter, Enoth, to carry my bag as the walking can be quite long and strenuous and the water adds quite an amount of weight to the bag.We had a talk about the gorillas, and who was in our group and then headed off.The trackers head out earlier and start from where they found the gorillas the previous day, which in our case was in a village.We drove about 20 minutes and then had to climb this massive hill (reminding me how unfit I am) and then through the village to where they had been.From here we left everything except our cameras behind and followed the trackers further up the mountain.It was here we had our first sighting of the magnificent creatures.It was incredible, very hard to describe, I was so excited and in awe at the same time, they're huge.We found them just as they were heading back into the forest which is where we followed them.Our first proper sighting was in this kind of clearing where many of them were eating and playing.This group has 2 silverbacks (adult males) and quite a few juveniles and infants.There was this one baby who was only 4 months old, so cute.I took stacks of pictures.I actually got charged by this juvenile gorilla, which was scary, I seriously nearly had a heart attack! It's really frightening if a silverback charges you, they are huge and incredibly strong and they could easily kill you.We followed them through the forest for a while, stopping when they stopped and watching and taking photos.It's amazing how similar their facial expressions are to humans.It was really funny, there was this juvenile who climbed this tree, tried to swing to another tree and fell all the way to ground.He then sat there and looked at us like he was embarrassed.Another example is when the baby was swinging around this branch over its mother's head.All of a sudden the mum grabbed it and pulled it in, like it was saying "Stop being an idiot!"Very cool.When our time was up we had to trek back out of the forest and back to the camp.I bought this really nice t-shirt from a shop in the village which says I tracked the mountain gorillas and which group I tracked.I also bought a sheet with photos and names of all the gorillas in the H group.
The next day we headed off to Mbarara for a night on our way to Jinja.It was a really long drive and very tiring.It really is amazing how tired you get when you're just sitting in a truck all day.As we were leaving Bwindi we stopped at Buhoma Community School to have a look around the classrooms and meet some children.It's a little sad as there aren't enough classrooms for all the children so some of them learn in sheds.We all gave them some books and pens.There are grades from P1 to P7 but the children aren't all the same age.They have to reach a certain level in one class before they can move up to the next.Some children chart school late so they are in a lower class with much younger children.There isn't much to do in Mbarara we had a quick look around the town and then back to the campsite.
The next day we headed to Jinja.Again it was quite a long drive, we arrived there at about 4pm.On the way to the campsite we stopped at the source of the Nile (where Lake Victoria flows into the Nile River) and Gandhi statue (some of his ashes were scattered there).The camp site there was really nice and the showers were seriously the best showers I have ever had they were just fantastic.The next day I went white-water rafting on the Nile, which was soooooooo much fun!I went in the "WILD" raft (rather than "MILD") which went through rapids that were a little more daring.We flipped on a grade 3 rapid (easy rider) which was scary but fun.There were mainly grade 3 and grade 5 rapids where we went through.There was this little island in the middle where we had lunch, quite nice.After lunch there was this long stretch where there were no rapids so we just had to row.Unfortunately there were really strong winds blowing upriver which made it a bit harder, and worse still, it started pouring as we were going, freezing cold rain, it was actually a relief to get dunked by warm water in the rapids.My favourite rapid was the last one, the Bad Place, where we went up vertical and some of us fell out, not me I was hanging on for dear life.It was a lot of fun.They made a DVD of the trip which was cool and a CD of photos which some people bought and are going to put on the internet.
The final day we drove to Entebbe (near Kampala out where the airport is).Some people went on a tour to a chimpanzee island to see the chimps feeding.I didn't go as it was quite expensive so I washed my clothes (for the first time they were so gross) and had a nap.We said our big goodbyes that night and went through our highlights of the trip and went to bed pretty early.The next morning most people were heading back to Kampala.Me and a couple of other people were staying in Entebbe as I was catching a flight that afternoon so it was easier.It was a bit sad saying goodbye but I had a lovely trip.We took a group photo which was nice.I hung around the hostel for a few hours and a man there drove me and Asko (we were on the same flight) to the airport.We hung around the airport for a few hours and met up with a guy, Tim, also on the same flight, who had been staying at the same place.We chatted to him for a while and it was good to have some company while waiting.The flight was good, they even fed us, even though it was only an hour long flight.
Ok, now we're up to Kenya?
I arrived in Nairobi about 4.30pm and caught a transfer to the hotel, along with 2 other girls also doing the same tour.The hotel rooms were multi-share so the 3 of us were put together.The group meeting was at 6pm where our leader, Sara, introduced herself and our driver, Wessel, and she told us all about what we would be doing and collected local payments etc etc.There are 24 of us in the group, half males and half females which is awesome as a lot of tours have way more women than men.Two are finishing this Friday in Zanzibar and another 5 are finished after Livingstone National Park in Zambia, but we are picking up 2 more there as well.Most of the people are British, 2 Welsh, 3 Aussies, 5 Americans and 1 Kiwi.I'm the only one actually living in the Southern hemisphere though as the other 2 Aussies and the Kiwi are teachers in London.It's a very English trip.My tent buddy is Clare, a 26 year old from Britain.We get on quite well.We all had dinner together that night and went to bed pretty early as the tour started early the next day.
On Sunday the 29/7/07 we left on the tour.We had to pack a 3 day daypack as we were taking minibuses and not the truck out to the Masai Mara.We drove to the Masai Mara that day where we had a game drive on the way to the campsite.We saw wildebeest, zebras, and a couple of young male lions on that first day, very nice.Our tents at the campsite were luxury ones that are big and have actual beds inside.That night we had a big campfire following dinner and played name games so we could all get to know each other.The group is really good, everyone's young, the age range is 19-31 which is good.Sara, the tour leader is 33 and she is originally from New Zealand.She has lived in Africa for years and has only been doing the tours for 4 months.She's very knowledgeable about the countries however which is good and she worked in animal conservation around Africa for quite a while.Wessel (Ves) is from South Africa and he has been touring for 10 years so he pretty well knows everything there is to know, it's great.
The next day, Monday, we headed into the Masai Mara National Reserve for a game drive for the whole day.We saw lots of lions, a big group asleep on this rock that looked like Pride Rock from the Lion King, some warthogs, zebras, spotted hyenas, vultures, giraffes, ostriches and the wildebeest migration.It is really hard to describe the sheer number of wildebeest and zebras that were there.The photos just can't capture how many there were it's incredible.That afternoon we headed to a Masai village for a talk and the Masai people sang and danced for us.I'm not sure if anyone has seen anything about the African people that stand and jump really high?It's these people that do that, it's amazing.Some of our boys were invited to join in and jump with the people.It's like a competition to see who can jump the highest.We were then told about the warriors who guard the town.After that we headed into the village where we were split into groups and actually taken inside a hut.They're quite low and built out of mud and dung.It's also very hot and cramped inside.The husband and wife sleep on an animal hide on one side and the children on the other.The baby goats and sheep also sleep inside the hut at night time.I got a photo of me with the Masai man outside his hut.We then headed into their local market to have a look around.The Masai people are very very pushy trying to get you to buy their products.I wish they would realize if they left you alone you would probably buy more stuff.I bought a Masai blanket, which is really lovely, and I bartered for the price for the first time, I was very proud of myself.We headed back to camp after that for dinner and another campfire.
The following day, Tuesday, was our final day in the Masai Mara.2/3 of the group decided to do a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara while the rest of us went on another game drive through the reserve.We saw some great sites, mainly a 2 hour old baby gazelle which was still finding its legs and it kept stumbling and falling over, so cute.Nearby we saw some zebras mating too, which is quite an interesting site to see.When we left the park, the ballooners hadn't come back yet so we had a look around the village.Yaniv (an American from our group), befriended a local who showed us around, in different huts and houses.We headed over to a school across the road as well where we played with some children until the others came back.That afternoon we headed back to Nairobi to stay at Karen Camp for a night.On the way we passed a spectacular view of the Great Rift Valley but it was difficult to get any decent photos as there was a haze over the whole valley.
The next day was a long day driving, we were leaving Kenya and heading into Tanzania, to Arusha.We passed over the border, got some new stamps, yay, and then went to the bank and changed money.From here we headed to Meserani Snake Park in Arusha, where we would be staying that night.That afternoon we went to a Masai Cultural Centre, which was made of clay figurines depicting various scenes of Masai life, very cool to look at.I bought a snake park t-shirt with Mzungu (white person) written on it.We then walked to a Masai village where we had a walk through and looked at the huts and had a talk from a local Masai warrior.He was telling us how the Masai people can have as many wives as they like, but the more the better.In fact a man can have like 8 wives, 10 children to each wife, which would mean he has 80 children!!!He would spend a day or two at each wife's house before moving on the next.The children were so friendly.They would just come running up to us and grab our hands then they'd want to be swung around and picked up.We were all seriously exhausted by the end. Also in the village there is a computer centre, which is funded by a charity group from the UK.That night was a very big night for alcohol.Everyone was pretty toasted by the end.The major gossip from that evening was Stevie (a Pom from the tour) hooked up with Sara the tour leader.They've been together since so we'll see how that all goes, lol.
The following day, Thursday, we packed our daypacks again as we were heading into the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater for 3 days and 2 nights.We all piled into this tiny little minibus that crammed all 24 of us in like sardines.The roads were really bumpy so I was feeling a little queasy by the time we stopped for lunch.We ate on the rim of Ngorogoro Crater but unfortunately we couldn't see down as there was a lot of cloud cover.After lunch we separated into groups as we were taking four wheel drives into the Serengeti.My group was me, Clare, Bevan, Marie, Carly and Elisse, and our driver was Bear or Big Man.I fell asleep on the way but woke up when we arrived at the gate to the Serengeti National Park.It's amazing the plains just go on forever into the horizon.It's pretty bear until you see these rocky outcrops that just pop up out of nowhere.We stopped at the main gate to walk up to the viewpoint to see the Serengeti from up high, just amazing.We then did a game drive that afternoon on our way to the campsite.We saw so many animals, much of what we'd seen before but we saw some sleeping lionesses up close.A funny story of the afternoon is 6 of the boys were in one truck and driving around without any shirts on so at the next animal stop, the girls in my truck decided to take off our tops and stand there in our bras looking perfectly normal at the animals and see how they reacted.It was so funny.We camped in an unfenced campsite that night which was a little eerie and the toilets there were seriously disgusting.They were long drops but they smelled so awful most us went in the bush next to the toilets instead of actually going into one.
On the Friday, we went for another game drive in the Serengeti.We left early so as to hopefully catch some big cats with a kill.We left before the sun rose so I have this fantastic shot of the sun rising over the acacia trees.We came across a pride of lions eating a zebra they had killed the night before.The adult male lions get to eat first, even though the lionesses would have killed the animal.You could see them hacking into it and at times, even hear the bones crunching.Cool, but gross.There were a couple of lion cubs too that were soooo cute, but they kept ducking down behind the grass so I didn't get a good photo.When we got closer to the lions the car in front of us (not our group) were talking really loudly and one of the male lions roared at them to tell them to shut up, it was actually a little scary.On that day we also saw some vervet monkeys, so cute, hyena eating, a jackal, a crocodile baby, rock hyraxes at the visitor centre (like ground hogs), blue and pink lizards and a leopard in a tree with a kill.Very cool.We've seen 4 of the big five, now all we have to see is rhinos and I'll be set.That afternoon we drove to Oldavai Gorge which is the birthplace of mankind.Here they found the first footprints that are evidence of the first humans standing upright.It was interesting to see.We then drove to Ngorogoro Crater where we would be sleeping on the rim of the crater that night.A funny story is that when some people went to have a shower, they were in there and the water ran out.They went outside and an elephant was drinking all the water out of the storage tank.It was that night I got really sick.Clare got sick first and then I followed and was violently ill.It was terrible.I went to bed early after I had thoroughly emptied my stomach but I couldn't sleep as I had terrible cramps and was shivering (it was freezing) and felt like I was going to throw up any moment.I was terrified to go outside though as there are these hug wild pigs that come into the campsite and they can rip a person in two with their tusks.So that was a pretty awful night.The next day 4 more people were ill so it went around a little bit, I think 8 people ended up sick in all.The good thing was though that it didn't last more than 2 days so everyone's fine again now.
On Saturday we did a game drive into Ngorogoro Crater, which has been my favourite place so far, even though I wasn't well.The sheer number of animals down there is amazing.We saw so many incredible sites.We saw heaps of lions and the best was when this lion was chasing a lioness to make hera mate and then this other male lion comes tearing along behind the other one and they have this huge fight. One of them eventually won and got the girl, which he went on to mate with, again an interesting thing to see.The definite highlight of the day for me was the two cheetahs we saw.They are my favourite and the one animal I desperately wanted to see, but you don't see them that often.We saw two!!! It was just incredible, I loved it.
Ok, I have to go, my time's running out and I have to get back to the lodge but I'll try and get back on tomorrow and finish updating.I have more to say about the crater as well.Love you and miss you all.I send love particularly to Mum and Mama and all our family.Lots of love, Sarah