BootsnAll Travel Network

Green Bunyoni

February 9th, 2009

Day 285

We sat down for breakfast and ordered a rolex for breakfast, not as expensive as the watch but much more tasty.  A rolex is a Ugandan specialty, a roti rolled and filled with eggs and onions and such.  Simply put it’s an omelette wrapped in a roti and real good and a great starter for the day.  Today we were heading to Lake Bunyoni which is just outside the town of Kabale.  The region here is incredible lush, green and scenic.  It reminds us both of Southeast Asia and is one of the most beautiful parts of Africa we’ve seen to date, that combined with the lack of mass tourism here makes for a more authentic experience than anywhere else in  East Africa we’ve been.

We walked out of Edirisa, onto the muddy street down to Boonya Amagara.  A guesthouse that also runs a place on an island on Lake Bunyoni.  We’d read about Amagara from a small posting on the wall of the hostel in Kampala, it was started by a man from New York as a non-profit project that hoped to involve the local community in the management of the guesthouse.  It sounded a bit like Bulungula, the fantastic place we stayed at in South Africa, just not as developed yet.  It was only a few years old so it would be interesting to see the progress of the project and of course enjoying the beautifully surroundings.  We asked the Kabale location to call the island to insure they had a room for us and we also would have to arrange a boat to the island.  Everything was set and we headed back to Edirisa to pack up and head out to the lake.

I successfully avoided the piles of mud today and we hailed a taxi from the main street.  Once again our driver asked us about our wheat production when he discovered we were from Canada.  The taxi curved along the red dirt road with green terraced hillsides on each side of us falling down the mountainsides.  We stopped at the lakes edge at a small wooden building that was where the boat to Amagara was docked.  Did I say boat?  Well actually a canoe and a dugout one at that.  Jordana and I carefully stepped in the very rocky canoe for the 1 hour paddle to the island.  We could have opted for a motor boat but the self-paddle option was free and more environmentally friendly.  A young guy was at the back of the canoe to steer us, Jordana in the middle and myself at the front.  Since there was only one paddle between the two of us I elected to give Jordana some sun tanning time and I took the paddle.

The lake was incredible, so still and surrounded with green mountains, I was excited for our time here and instantly was already thinking we had to stay longer than our original plan of 2 or 3 nights.  We glided along the lake and arrived to a small hand painted wooden sign, “Welcome to Boonya Amagara”.  We climbed the steep hillside up to the reception area which doubled as a restaurant.  We were warmly greeted by the staff and shown to our room, we had booked a “geodome”, we had no idea what to expect.  We were led down a walkway and then up a set of stairs to a round grass roofed structure.  “Where’s the door?”  My first reaction and I think Jordana’s as well.  There was no front door, the dome was built on a large wood platform and the front was wide open to a stunning view of the lake down below.  The interior was large and we had a comfortable bed with a mosquito net draped over top.  Outside to the left was the coolest part, the toilets.  On one side was a toilet and beside it a urinal, the toilets are self composting.  On the opposite side was a wooden structure with a shower head at the top.  A beautiful rain shower that pumped lake water up here by solar power.  I’ve never had such a view from a toilet of shower before.  You might be asking yourself if people could see us.  Well no, the geodome is raised high enough and behind trees so that nobody can see in and there are strict rules that you do not walk up to one of the domes.  This was maybe the most unique and beautiful place we have ever stayed, it took about 2 minutes to completely fall in love with the place.

We walked up to the restaurant and enjoyed some amazing food for lunch, with good food and being on such a beautiful peaceful island it would be hard to leave one day.  Only a handful of families live on the island, which is really tiny.  There is no electricity and of course no cars and little motorised traffic goes by on the lake.  We spent the rest of the day just staring out at the calm lake, reading back at our room and doing laundry.  To think we almost didn’t come here, neither of us have felt so relaxed and at ease for a long time.  From Edirisa to Amagara it was great to be staying in such positive places, where tourism is trying to make a difference and not just a buck.

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Getting it Right

February 8th, 2009

Day 284

We were up early and had arranged a taxi from the night before to take us to the post office for the bus to Kabale.  I was pleasantly surprised to find our driver waiting for us in the early morning light as we walked out to the taxi and loaded our packs in.  The air was refreshing cool as we drove into the city centre.  Kampala was just beginning to awake at 7am as people rushed off to work just as we were deposited at the post office to wait for our bus.  Without assigned seats we were told to arrive early to be sure of a seat for the journey, although when the bus pulled up it was just over half full so we had no problem getting seats for both of us.  We were off, finally leaving Kampala to the countryside of Uganda.

It took just over an hour to get clear of the snarled traffic of Kampala before we reached the lush green countryside.  We passed banana plantations, rice fields and small villages, the landscape in Uganda is beautiful, a nice change from the brown of Kenya and Tanzania.  It reminded me of Southeast Asia.  The post bus was pretty decent.  Sure I think it stopped every 2km to pickup someone and of course in every town to deliver or pickup mail, but it wasn’t packed and it slowly but surely was getting us to Kabale.  We met David, a young Ugandan aboard the bus.  Actually he sort of just moved around and sat next to us, I think he just wanted to chat with the foreign tourists aboard.  He said he was studying at the University in Kabale.  His English wasn’t the best, which is odd because most people speak great English here.  He was an odd character to say the least.  “Speed humps, up there, hold on.  It’s cold in Kabale, is it this cold in Canada?”  He repeated those words more than a few times, which we found amusing.  Fr one, it’s was not cold in Kabale, maybe cool but not cold and nowhere near as cold as Canada.  David couldn’t really understand what minus 10 Celsius would feel like.  His idea of cold was 10 Celsius. He was an odd guy but harmless and was just curious about where we came from and what we thought of Uganda.  Of course the one thing he did know about Canada was wheat, I kid you not once again we are known for our wheat production.

We arrived in Kabale about 9 hours after leaving Kampala and the weather was definitely cooler as David had promised.  Kabale sits at 1869 meters above sea level so even though we are just below the equator the temperature is quite cool and the dampness in the air made it feel cooler than it was.  We were dropped off at the Kabale post office and were looking for the House of Edirisa, an interesting museum/hostel we had read about.  We walked down the muddy main street and soon found the funky white and black front of Edirisa.  It stood as quite a contrast to the surrounding tin roofs and concrete buildings.  We were welcomed at the entrance by the friendly manager of Edirisa and shown around the place.

House of Edirisa is the sort of place that you hope you would find in more places in the developing world.  They are using tourism to benefit the local community and making local culture accessible to tourists.  One of the main reasons we travel is to discover different ways of life in far off lands, maybe nowhere is that way of life as misunderstood as Africa.  Edirisa was started as a museum by Festo Karwemera a local village elder of the Bakiga Tribe.  Around that cultural museum a hostel and restaurant were added and Edirisa has grown to become involved in several community projects.  Staying in a museum sounded like a pretty cool idea so we were sold on the idea and it was really the only reason to stop in Kabale.  After being shown to our room that was decorated with local tapestries we went out to explore the town.  Across the road was the Hot Loaf Bakery that was recommended and we went in for some decent but cold samosas, still nowhere near as good as Brampton.  From there we just walked down the busy main street and bought some water and a sim card for out mobile.  Kabale isn’t much to look at but the surrounding green hills with the low cloud were a welcome sight after the smog and noise of Kampala.  What wasn’t a welcome sight was when I tried to leap over a puddle to what looked like solid ground.  I leapt and landed into ankle deep mud, actually judging from the amount of cattle walking the main street this was probably a mixture of mud and cow shit.  My sandal was filthy, mud caked my leg to above my ankle and it absolutely stunk, that horrible mud smell.

We went back to the hostel, I washed my foot and sandal in the shower, although I made a huge mess of the shared shower and the water wouldn’t go down.  I was having a great afternoon.  Besides the mud I was having a great afternoon.  We both loved the idea of Edirisa, not only was our money going to a good cause but we were learning something about the local culture as well.  Edirisa is more than just a hostel and museum though and they are involved in several local programs, I suggest checking out their website to learn more about them.  Kabale it self is a relaxed town and Uganda is quickly proving to be our favourite African country to date.  We enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Edirisa restaurant before turning in for the night.  It’s great to see a place such as this in Africa, run by local people who are doing a good job at it and are passionate about their work.  A success story in the tourism industry in a place where tourism usually benefits a select few.


Another Wild Ride

January 8th, 2009

Day 283

Finally our last day in Kampala, I mean it has to be.  We’ve been here too long and really we’ve seen just about everything we have wanted to.  It’s been a good stay and both of us have enjoyed Kampala.  We would have been off today if not for the copious amount of Nile Special beer we consumed last night.  I was up before Jordana today as I have somehow come up with a way to not feel hung over.  I simply put it down to drinking loads of water before bed but who knows.

I sat in the restaurant having breakfast alone as Jordana slept.  Did I mention before how good the coffee here is?  Well it’s so good it should be stated again, it’s fantastic.  I knew today we weren’t going to be getting up to much so I wrote some blogs and drank lots of coffee before Jordana rolled out of bed.  “OK, the only thing we need to do today is get tickets for the bus tomorrow.”  I laid this very easy task in front of my tired looking wife and before she said a word her look told me she wasn’t leaving the hostel today.  “Can’t you just go?”  So off I went alone to try and fetch us some advance tickets for the bus tomorrow.  I just hoped the guy who sold tickets was at the office today.  I walked out of the hostel and down to the main road looking for a minibus.  “Sir!  Sir!  Moto!?”  One of the motorcycle taxi guys was yelling at me.  They have these taxis all over here and they are cheap but I’m not so sure about the safety of them.  He gave me a good price so I figured why not?  It be faster than the hot and crowded minibus.  I think it was about 10 seconds later that I was missing the stink of sweat from the minibus.  Wow!  This guy is flyin!  OK, just hold on tight and it’ll be alright, it’s only 6km.  I wondered how much it would hurt to be tossed off the bike.  We flew threw traffic at 50km/ph, weaving so close to cars that my legs brushed up against the sides of them.  It felt like forever but soon enough it was over, I asked him to stop short of where I wanted to go.  I figured why risk another km when I was safe here, walking never felt so good.

I walked down the main street of Kampala, looking at the newly formed blisters on my hand.  Godfrey had mentioned that there was another bus company that ran nice express buses to Kabale so I thought I would check that out first.  They left from their own office and not the crazy bus yard so that was a plus.  They did have a bus going to Kabale but it left at 3am!  The final destination is Kigali, Rwanda so I guess leaving at 3am gets the bus to Kigali at 10am, so the 3am time ruled that option out.  I continued on to the post office to try and buy tickets for the post bus.  Like yesterday the post office was a classic display of inefficiency.  I asked information where to buy a bus ticket, I was sent to the “stamp desk”.  There a lady informed me to find the transport desk.  I found that and waited, finally I asked for two tickets for tomorrow’s bus.  I was informed that advance tickets were not sold at this desk; I had to find the transport office in the building and get them there.  So back inside I went and searched for this office.  Another woman led me outside, down an alley and to the back of the post office.  She pointed me through a door that looked like a delivery door, actually that’s exactly what it was.  I climbed over boxes and entered a hall with doors on each side.  “Can I help you?” a man asked.  I told him I was looking for a ticket for the bus tomorrow.  Now I was led into an office, told to take a seat and then proceeded to watch 3 men write up 2 tickets for me.  They asked where I was from, told me how nice Kabale and finally I paid and they sent me on my way.  All in all it took me 45 minutes at the post office to get tickets and I dealt with at least 10 people.  In the end I had two tickets for the 8am bus so I wasn’t complaining.

Returning to the hostel I opted for the safety of the hot and sweaty mini bus, these things really cook in the afternoons when they are full with commuters getting home.  It’s always fun to watch people’s reactions when I get in one as well.  They look at me with a face of, “You’re white, why don’t you just take a nice taxi?”  Actually the “nice” taxis aren’t air conditioned and are about 10 times the cost so really this is a better option.  I returned to the hostel with my tickets and found Jordana under the same patch of shade as when I left hours before.  We just had dinner at the hostel tonight, tasty veggie burgers again and turned in early to catch our 8am bus out of Kampala.  The city has been good but I’m looking forward to small town Uganda and getting away from the noise and filth of the city.

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Getting Irish in Kampala

January 7th, 2009

Day 282

Rafting tired us out; we slept in our small double room till 10am before we made our way into the Red Chilli’s restaurant for breakfast.  The coffee here is fantastic.  It’s Ugandan grown and comes in a big French press, it’s strong and flavourful and some of the best coffee I’ve tasted on the trip.  We are both really enjoying being at a proper hostel with a good restaurant, free internet and talking with other travellers.  It sure beats the usual crap hotel found in African capitals.  The vervet monkeys actually woke me up this morning, crossing over our tin roof, otherwise I may have slept till noon.

We took our seats in the restaurant/common room and ordered breakfast.  We were both really feeling the after effects of rafting.  My body feels like it went through a washing machine on extra rinse.  The plan for the day was to take it easy and I was content with sitting here with my coffee, moving between the pool table and the shady grounds of the hostel.  Kampala doesn’t exactly have a ton of sights to see but as I mentioned before it’s one of the more pleasant African capitals and finding a good place to stay we are really enjoying just staying put for a few days, free from dusty, bumpy bus rides.  Eventually we worked up enough energy to leave the comfort of the hostel.

Red Chilli is about 6km outside of the centre of Kampala, which is a bit inconvenient but then again it’s also why we love it here so much.  The grounds are green and it’s such a peaceful spot sometimes I forget we’re in a big city.  Jordana and I walked downhill about 300 meters to the main road where minibuses do the route into downtown.  We flagged one down and squished ourselves in, these mini vans are always packed but they are a much cheaper option than a taxi.  We were walking, looking for the bus station to try and find out about transport to our next destination, Kabale.  I guess we were a bit lost but since I was holding the map I wasn’t about to admit that.  The station should have been one street down, but all that we saw was a chaotic market.  Jordana suggested we just walk through and see where we end up; sounded good to me although I made sure I had a good hold of my bag.  It didn’t look like this area of the city saw many tourists, this was confirmed judging the comments and stares we got.  It’s something that bothers me or maybe it unsettles me here in Africa.  Random comments about us as we walk by and stares, for example one classy gentleman commented in a very sleazy voice, “Nice, just my size.”  As he looked Jordana up and down.  Besides the comments the market was complete mayhem and the further in we went the more interesting it became, a real assault on the senses.  I just hoped we got out without being assaulted, really though we never felt unsafe here.  Intimidating?  Yes, a bit but Kampala feels and is much safer than other cities in the region.  Soon we found our way out of the market and onto a busy street; we saw buses to the right and figured that was the station.  Sure was but I’m not quite sure what we were thinking.  I think we thought we were back in Argentina for a second, I men there was no way we were going to get an advance ticket or any information.  The “station” was a filthy, muddy parking lot with buses everywhere and people screaming at us to get on there bus.  One very drunk man came over and asked where we wanted to go, he reeked of alcohol.  “Kabale, tomorrow though,” I told him.  Another man, sober come down from a bus and told us to just arrive early tomorrow, before 8am and we’ll find a bus no problem.  Sounded fine to me, although the buses looked less than fine.  We moved on and walked back toward the roundabout where we could take a bus back to the hostel.

Along the way we stopped at the post office to mail a postcard, I remembered reading that the postal service runs buses around the country and that they were safer than the private companies.  We asked around and in true postal bureaucracy after 10 minutes and getting about 6 people involved we were informed there was a bus.  It left from here daily at 8am and we could even buy advance tickets.  Well we could have but the guy who sells them went home so they told us to be sure we were here by 7am and we should get a seat.  Sounded great and we would avoid the chaos of the bus station.  We walked to find a mini bus and along the way saw a sticker on a shop, “I’m Ugandan for Obama!”  The hype and love for Obama in East Africa is incredible.

Back at the hostel we had dinner and just relaxed, thinking we were going to turn in for bed around 10ish.  We got talking with Godfrey, a young Ugandan who has his own company that does anything from running safari tours to providing transport for business travellers.  He hangs out at the bar here and we’ve talked to him a few times since we’ve been here.  “You guys want to go see some live music?”  We were planning on bed but it sounded like a good offer.  Godfrey offered to drive us and even drive us back to the hostel as he lived nearby.  We climbed into his small car and drove into downtown Kampala.  We pulled up to a bar that we’d seen earlier in the day, it wasn’t as African as I had thought it might have been.  An Irish pub in Kampala, every city seems to have at least one no matter where they are.  The bar was a busy mix of well off locals and foreign aid workers, maybe a few other tourists thrown in.  We sat down with three guys who Godfrey’s car service was driving around Uganda.  2 were in the country clearing mines and headed to southern Sudan in the morning and the one was working with the Ugandan government on the security situation in the north.  We had some interesting conversation and many pints before Godfrey drove us back to the hostel.  It’s a great thing when you can meet locals travelling who are genuinely friendly and helpful and just want to show you around their town.  As we stumbled into bed I was thinking there was no way we were leaving tomorrow morning as we had planned.  We were thinking of taking the 8am post bus to Kabale but that was in less than 7 hours from now.  It looked like another lazy day in Kampala.

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Nile Wild

January 6th, 2009

Day 281

 Jordana and I were sitting in the chilled out bar area of the hostel here at Red Chilli last night, reading the guidebook about Uganda.  As I mentioned before I don’t really know much about Uganda and besides Kampala and white-water rafting I wasn’t sure what we would do here.  There is tons to do here and if wasn’t for the recent history of the country then tourism would probably be a massive industry here.  With the glacier covered Rwenzori mountain range, rare mountain gorillas, safaris, lakes and of course rafting the Nile Uganda has an incredible amount of attractions in a small amount of space.  We spent yesterday checking out Kampala.  The most pleasant and enjoyable African capital we’ve been in since Maputo, Mozambique.  It’s a green city with good food, great nightlife and it’s not as dangerous as other capitals.  Best of all only 1 hour away in the town of Jinja is the source of the Nile, the longest river in the world with some of the wildest rapids in the world.  Today we were headed their to run the source of the Nile.

We booked our trip with the company who started running the Nile more than 30 years ago, Adrift.  They picked us up at our hostel in Kampala, joining us were an American guy, a Dutch guy and a speedo wearing Belgium.  I mean come on man; it’s white water rafting here!  We aren’t sunning ourselves in the French Riviera.  We departed Kamapala and snaked through the terrible morning traffic out to Jinja.  The source of the Nile isn’t as special as you may have thought.  The river flows from Lake Victoria and immediately stops at a dam.  Just beyond this dam is Adrift’s put in point, which is a beautiful setting.  Looking down below at the wide fast flowing Nile I was both excited and nervous about this day.  We’ve been rafting a couple of times before and in Panama we hit some class 4 rapids.  The difference here was that we would be running several class 5, the biggest you are allowed to run and it wasn’t the size of the rapids that made me nervous.  It was the incredible volume of water, the river is absolutely massive here.  Our guide explained that this fact makes the Nile one of the safest rivers to raft, the advantage being that it’s so deep you shouldn’t get stuck on any rocks or get a foot stuck on a downed tree in the water.  After a safety briefing we were fitted with lifejackets and paddles and were off.  We walked down the steep embankment and climbed into the raft where the Nile was fast flowing but looked tame.

Just down river we practised jumping out of the boat and then climbing back in.  It’s much more difficult then you would think to climb back into the raft.  I was trying to pull myself back in when I see Jordana floating off in the current.  She couldn’t swim back to the raft through the stiff current, next thing I see is one of the safety kayakers telling her to hold on to the back.  We weren’t even in any rapids yet and one of us was being saved!  After that we practised flipping the raft, just in case that happens today, we were told it will happen today.  To get the raft back over everyone gets on one side and grabs hold of the guideline while the guide stands atop of the overturned raft, attached a rope and pulls.  We all go under water and he raft flips back over.  I wondered how this would work in the middle of the river today with some intense rapids.

The raft approached the first rapid; I couldn’t really see it which kind of worried me once I realized I couldn’t see it because of the drop in the river.  We dropped into the rapid, and I was shocked how large it was and how quickly we were sucked in.  I was quickly swamped by a wave and in a flash we were out, floating quickly but calmly along.  I said it when we rafted in Panama and I’ll say it again, rafting turns you into some whacked jock.  “Yeah!  Hell Yeah!!”  We all yelled out as we paddled away from the class 3 rapid, it felt much larger due to the volume of water.  Hitting that first rapid really gets you going though, you want more and you want bigger.  I did, until we saw “Big Brother”, the first class 5 rapid of the river and the first class 5 rapid we’ve ever run.  Big brother was massive; we approached it with our guide telling us it was not a place we wanted to flip.  I was thinking we’d try and not flip anywhere today.  “Oh shit!”  Yep that was my first thought, or maybe I yelled it out, I don’t remember as we fell into the rapid.  We sunk down and then were tossed up and to the left, it was exhilarating and terrifying.  We were through and hadn’t flipped.  Everyone had smiles on their faces and we thought it was over.  “Get on the right!  NOW!!”   Our guide barked at us.  We had run up on a large boulder and the water was pushing us up the rock.  I thought we were going to flip for sure, but with everyone on the right and the guide pushing off the rock we dropped down and made it out.  The support raft actually had flipped in “big brother” just before we ran it and one of the guides was actually pretty shaken up after being under for a good 10 seconds.

We cruised along the river with villagers watching us as they washed their laundry on the riverside.  Just beyond big brother the Ugandan government plans to build another dam which would completely alter to river and make this section un-runnable.  The river we rafted back in Panama was facing the same issue.  We approached another large rapid, it was only a class 3 but again with the volume of water it appeared much larger.  We fell in sideways and the left side of the raft, my side, began to rise.  The raft lifted straight up and I looked down at Jordana as she rolled out into the raging rapids.  I knew I was going to fall straight in but I thought maybe I could hold on to the raft.  I was high out of the water when I just couldn’t hold on anymore.  I came falling straight down on the others already in the water.  It’s a strange feeling being dropped into such a torrent of water.  I remember going under, trying not to fall on anyone and then my instinct was to grab for the raft which flipped on the other side of me.  I managed to hold on to the line and rode the raft out of the rapids into a calm part where our guide climbed atop and I helped him flip it upright.  I was looking everywhere for Jordana, I knew she was OK but I didn’t feel relaxed until I saw her floating along towards the raft.  Everyone worked their way back in the raft and we were off again.  The rest of the day was fantastic, so much fun and so much water.  We flipped a few more times and while I managed to hold on to the rafts guide line each time, Jordana was tossed into the water each time.  She said she just couldn’t think to hold on to the line when she was thrown in.  I on the other hand tried to never let go of that rope.  If I was going in the first thought was “hang on!”

The day was coming to a close as we approached the last rapids.  We actually had to come ashore and carry the raft around the first set of rapids since they are class 6 and not runnable,  Our guide told us that a guide had once taken a group down the class 6, he missed the take out spot.  They flipped and everyone had some serious injuries, needless to say he was soon out of a job.  The class 6 rapid was incredible to watch.  The only thing I’ve seen that comes close is the Niagara River just down from the whirlpool.  We all walked around the rapid and then were told to stop.  “We can’t go in here”, Jordana said to me.  “No, has to be down there.”  I said, pointing to a still rough but much calmer section then where we now stood.  “Is this where we put in?”  We asked the guide.  “Yeah, that’s the “bad place” and this is “fifty fifty.”  He replied, telling us the name of the rapids.  The bad place?  Yeah it looked pretty damn bad.  I figured it was still part of the class 6 rapid.  We climbed in the raft and paddled into the rapid.  I was in the front left and I don’t think we were in the rapid for more then 5 seconds.  We rounded the rock protecting us and dropped a good 2 meters then a massive wave hit me right in the chest, it felt like someone had tackled me and thrown me into a river.  I went under and for 2 or 3 seconds (felt like a minute) I couldn’t come back up.  Have you ever had that feeling?  Being underwater and not being able to come up for air when you are gasping for it?  I tired to remember to keep my feet up, look for the raft and try to hang on.  None of that was working here, I was in a washing machine being tossed about like my dirty boxers.  Finally I popped up and it was calmer, I saw Jordana next to me.   Never in my life have I seen a person with such fear in their face, she was whiter than Michael Jackson.  “You OK?”  I asked, but she didn’t respond.  “OH, one more wave, close your mouth!”  I shouted as we were swamped by a huge wave.  Then it was over, the current pushed us into calm waters and we swam with the little energy we had left to the raft.  Both of us had to be pulled in by our lifejackets.  “That was amazing!”  I said to Jordana.  “I don’t like being under,” was her response.

We pulled ashore and some locals from the nearby village helped carry the rafts up the steep embankment while tons of children watched.  At the top the bus was waiting for us with some cold beer that was much deserved, well it felt deserved after rafting the Nile.  We made the trip back to Kampala in the afternoon rush hour traffic and finally arrived back at the hostel at 5pm.  We both showered and were pretty wiped out from the day.  It was an early night after dinner.  Rafting in Panama was a great experience and the jungle scenery was stunning but today, the Nile?  Well my words can’t even begin to do justice as to how wild it was.  One of the most enjoyable experiences on the entire trip so far, I’m thinking we should go back tomorrow!

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Tales From the Chicken Bus Comes Alive!

January 5th, 2009

Many of you have recently sent me emails asking about photos from the trip.  Well I’m pleased to say the photo update is finally here.  If you follow this link you will be led to a whack of photos from our travels.  Mostly the albums contain photos from Africa and a few from Central America.  Photos include our recently completed safari in Africa.

I should soon be updated on the blog as well as we are out of internet depreived Africa.  Stay tuned and thanks so much to all of you who actually read this.

p.s. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment once and awhile….I know you are reading, the internet stats don’t lie.


Tales From the Chicken Bus Photos

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Pearl of Africa?

January 4th, 2009

Day 279

I don’t know much about Uganda, what do you think of when you hear the name?  I think of Idi Amin, first thought of most people I would guess.  After that I think of the movie; The Last King of Scotland, again about Idi Amin.  I remember reading an article about the Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA (Lords Resistance Army).  They’re a bunch of nutters in the north of Uganda who are fighting for a country based on the 10 commandments.  Of course their version of the 10 commandments includes not riding a bike, and if you do you will have your legs chopped off.  If that isn’t evil enough for you a large part of their army is made up of child soldiers, some as young as 10 years old.  Sadly it’s mostly negatives I know about Uganda, there are tons of positives of course.  Well I think there are and we’ve heard some great things from other travellers. The unknown was something that made Uganda attractive to me, today we would begin to find out first hand what the nation had in store for us.

We were taking the luxury bus to Kampala; we were splashing out for this trip, a grand entrance to Uganda, the so called “pearl of East Africa”.  The station, actually not a station but just a street where the companies office was located, was mayhem.  People were everywhere and buses seemed to be going too just about everywhere.  There were 4 different ones headed to Kampala alone, I pushed and shoved my way through the crowd to find ours while Jordana waited in a quieter spot with the bags.  Canadian politeness has long departed me here in Africa.  If I was in Toronto I’d be saying sorry to other people when they stepped on my toes, and gently making my way through filled with excuse me’s.  Here I had to bounce around like a pinball, pushing people out of my way that were trying to push me out of their way.  It was like a rugby match, and the sight of our bus was like reaching the try line.  Finally I scored, found our bus and we boarded.  Our seats were in the very last row, but the seats were large.  They were about the size of a business class seat on an airplane, only 3 per row!  Unfortunately as soon as we sat down Jordana saw a cockroach on the top of the seat next to mine.  It was luxurious in the space department but far from clean.  Which was fine by me, this was probably the best African bus we’ve been on since South Africa.  It looked like a bus from Argentina, one that they would have used 30 years ago.  Before we even departed a lady came by and handed us a styrofoam plate covered with plastic that contained a piece of roti and a boiled egg.  We were also given a bottle of water.  The luxury bus was proving to be a good choice; anytime you score breakfast before a long trip like this was a huge plus.  I unrolled my roti, peeled the egg and made a nice little wrap, Jordana saved hers for later.  The bus squeezed through the narrow streets and we were finally on our way, safely out of Nairobi.

Not long after leaving the urban sprawl of Nairobi we were back in the beautiful African countryside.  Beautiful, yet very dry in this region, the land looked more desert like than the grass plains that we’d seen in Tanzania.  Along the side of the road we occasionally spotted Zebras, some grazing just off the roadside on the little grass they could find.  Around lunchtime we reached the small city of Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria.  Kisimu may even sound familiar to some; it’s the birthplace of Barack Obama’s grandfather.  You would never believe how many times we have heard about Obama here in East Africa.  I’m pleased the man was elected but the people here have already placed him as the great saviour of Africa, I just hope they aren’t too let down when they realize their lives will probably not change much.  Regardless of what happens it is a nice change to see Osama bin Laden t-shirts replaced with Obama ones that read “Hope” or “Progress”.  I bought some fantastic french fries at our stop here before we were back on our way.

We reached the Ugandan border in the late afternoon; it was bathed in that unmistakable African reddish light.  The hazy sun, red soil and rusted tin roofs created a beautiful light and a great border crossing.  I love crossing borders like this.  People walked over the border carrying their entire lives with them.  It always makes me wonder what their story is.  Were they escaping somewhere?  Merely moving for work?  Or just shopping in Kenya?  It was the same scene at most African borders.  Posted just outside customs was a sign claiming that “Ugandan customs strives to be the best and most efficient customs agency in the world.”  I had to laugh but in reality they may be more efficient than Canadian customs.  The entire area looked as chaotic and unorganized as any African border but somehow it all seemed to work seamlessly.  They even had a guy telling people not to line jump.  Inside we were given a customs card, then paid our $50 visa entry fee and had our entry stamp.  It was all quite speedy and easy.  We boarded the bus again and after a bag search we were off, into Uganda.  Immediately the landscape made a dramatic change.  The brown of Kenya was replaced with lush green and rolling hills.  The road became progressively worse but the landscape was beautiful, very tropical feeling and I instantly had a like for Uganda.  It’s always a good feeling when you enter a country and instantly have a good feeling about it.  I had the same feeling when we arrived in Tanzania, although I had a good feeling entering Malawi and that didn’t turn out so good.  We bumped and bounced along, sitting at the back of the bus we got some serious height off the seats when we hit a large pothole.  As we neared Kampala the road improved.  In Jinja we crossed a bridge over the very source of the world’s longest river, the Nile.  We were planning on returning here in a few days to raft the river.

Just outside of Kampala we stopped at a fruit stand just as the sun set.  I decided to go outside and check out the scene, I was crowded by people selling fruit, water, chicken and whole fish on a stick.  You could buy just about anything here, mostly on a stick.  It sure beat a Tim Horton’s reststop on the 401.  “Chicken!  Muzungu, muzungu! Chicken?”  One guy didn’t seem to get I did not want his chicken, so I told him it wasn’t his chicken that was the issue it’s that I’m a vegetarian.  He couldn’t understand that and asked why?  I wasn’t looking to buy anything and after the food vendors realized that they just wanted to talk.  One young boy, about 15 years old was really interested in Canada.  It’s common that people are interested to hear about life in the far off land we come from but the fact he knew about Canada was rare.  You would not believe how many times on this trip we’ve told someone we are from Canada and we get a blank look in return.  He was trying to understand how large Canada was in comparison with Africa.  Did we have snow?  Were there Africans in Canada?  Were there many farmers?  He knew that we grew a lot of wheat, said he’d learnt that in school.  I found it amusing that the one thing this kid learnt about Canada was that we grew a lot of wheat and I think he found it odd that I didn’t know more about our famed wheat production.  The driver honked the horn, just before I said goodbye the boy wanted to know if I liked Uganda.  “It’s beautiful so far.”  The young boy and I said our goodbyes and I was back on the bus for the final stretch to Kampala.

Arriving in any city is not as pleasant during the night, arriving in an African capital at night is something we have always tried to avoid.  Tonight there was no way to avoid it as we finished our journey in a very quiet bus yard in a very dark and quiet part of Kampala.  I walked off the bus and looked around, there seemed to be a lack of taxi’s around.  Some people quickly got into one and were off.  Out on the street there were 2 cars, not taxi’s but the guys hanging outside them said they would drive us where we wanted to go.  This is the exact situation you try to stay away from while travelling but what option did we have?  It was either take a ride with one of these guys or walk the deserted, dark streets looking for a taxi.  I asked one of the men how much to the Red Chilli Hostel.  He told me some exorbitant fare and laughed when I tired to bargain.  His response was to take a motorcycle taxi.  Thanks buddy.   I asked the bus driver if he could call us a taxi.  The driver was a helpful guy, he told us to stay away from the men on the road and soon a car roared into the now empty bus yard.  It too wasn’t a taxi but the driver said we could trust this man and at this point that was good enough for me.  He agreed to a decent fare and we were off, only to stop 1km later to fill up on petrol.  Apparently the taxi drivers keep their cars near empty so if they get stolen then the thieves won’t get far.

We finally arrived at the Red Chilli Hideaway, the first proper hostel we’ve seen since Zambia.  We were just in time for the Sunday bbq, which got us a veggie burger, salads and a beer.  What a fabulous start to Kampala, the hostel is on the outskirts of town spread over a large grassy area.  It felt like we were at a summer bbq back home.  We ate, showered and passed out.  All in all another long bus day in Africa, but it really was one of our easier trips and the scenery was beautiful.  I’m excited about Uganda; I’ve been saying it will be like the Colombia of Africa.  A country that isn’t on the top of everyone’s East Africa itinerary,  the majority of tourists head straight for Tanzania or Kenya.  Just like most people head straight for Peru or Ecuador in South America.  Yet just as Colombia, everyone we’ve met that has been to Uganda tells us it’s one of the most enjoyable East African countries.  It’ll be interesting to see if Uganda proves to be the Pearl of Africa or the war ravaged country we’ve seen in the movies and read about in the papers.

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Nairobi or Nairobbery

January 3rd, 2009

Day 278

If there was anywhere on the trip I expected to get mugged it was Nairobi. A city with the nickname of Nairobbery. Since I’ve already been mugged in Panama City I hoped that was going to be my only time of the trip. So many African cities are considered dangerous, even in small towns we are constantly warned to not be out at night. I’m beginning to think a lot of it is just overreaction and over protection. When people mention Africa our first thought is danger. We fear disease, war and of course crime. Sure they all exist but I’m not convinced it’s as bad as we are led to believe, at least the crime. If I was to compare so called dangerous places on this trip I would say that Central America was more dangerous than here. We couldn’t even go for a basic walk in Central America without someone telling us we needed a guide or that we just couldn’t go period. In Africa I haven’t got the same feeling, at least not in the countryside. Today we were headed north to Kenya and the notoriously crime ridden capital, Nairobi. Hopefully we wouldn’t be leaving calling it Nairobbery.

“What time does breakfast begin?” Jordana asked the one of the wait staff in the hotel restaurant. “7am”, he replied. It was 7:15am now. We knew that it began at 7am, we were asking as a way to speed up the setup of the breakfast buffet. We were in a bit of a rush since our bus to Nairobi left at 8am and we had already purchased tickets. Eventually breakfast was served and after another Spanish omelette we were off on our way to the station. We boarded the 30 seater Toyota Coaster bus, now a very familiar ride in Africa. The majority of buses are these Toyota Coasters, very cheaply made with huge windows and seats that fold down in the aisle to create 5 seats across each aisle. They do the job but when one of these buses rattles down an unsealed road it’s quite a jarring experience. This was one of the newer and nicer ones we’ve been on. It was full but they used the roof to store the passenger luggage instead of everyone stuffing their belongings in the aisles and under seats. What a smart operation, they even had assigned seating!

We headed out of Arusha, past the UN tribunal for the Rwandan genocide and onto a decent stretch of road towards the Kenyan border. On our right we were afforded with a view of Kilimanjaro, through the thick haze we could just make out the snow covered peak. I looked up at the snow hoping the sight of it would somehow cool me off, it was not even 10am yet but the temperature was easily into the 30 Celsius range. We reached Tanzanian customs just before 12pm. The border town looked like most others, a line of trucks, a bit chaotic, beggars, money changers and not much organization. This was one of the busier crossings we’ve done and we waited for about 45 minutes to get into the office and be stamped out of Tanzania. We walked over to Kenya; I snapped a photo of the welcome sign even though I was being yelled at. “No photos!” I just played dumb tourist and moved on. We were merely using Kenya as a transit point on our way to Uganda. Originally we planned to spend more time here but since we have already done out safari and beach time in Zanzibar we have decided it would be much easier on the budget to move west to Uganda. We’ll be back another day, hopefully to do another safari in the Masai Mara and see the coast here. We waited in line to pay for our visa when they asked how long we’d be in the country; I had said 10 days to be safe. Thing was they actually offered transit visas for a much cheaper price than the regular 3 month visa. I hadn’t known this but now I wanted a transit visa instead. However now the custom agent wouldn’t believe me, since I’d written 10 days on the application form I now tried to explain that we would actually only need 3 days maximum. I didn’t get why he thought I was lying, did he think I was looking for a cheap way to stay in Kenya? Eventually we had our 3 day transit visa and were back on the bus on the way to Nairobi.

The rest of the drive from the border was not the best, the sealed road disappeared and we rattled along with clouds of dust filling the bus. Oh the dust, it’s the story of African bus travel. I have a big issue with dust, the smell, the way my head feels when my hair is coated with it and the cloud that rises if I slap my hand on my pants. I think I’ve developed a bit of OCD when it comes to dust. It’s something I won’t miss when we are out of Africa. Overall the bus trip wasn’t that bad, I mean we’ve been on much worse. Every bus trip here is hot and dusty so if you can complete one with some decent leg room, without a kid puking on your back, without a chicken pecking on your feet and without having a whole village sit on your lap…well if you can do all that then that’s one successful African bus journey. We finally arrived in Nairobi in the late afternoon; we saw a hotel directly across the street from where the bus dropped us off and next to the office for the bus to Uganda so we elected to stay right here.

Good decision that was, the hotel was spotless and well run and we easily bought a bus ticket for the trip to Kampala, Uganda in the morning. We had thought of staying here a few nights but with a bus leaving tomorrow we didn’t want to pass it up. We walked around downtown Nairobi for the rest of the afternoon until the sunset and then had pizza next to our hotel. From what we saw the centre is actually the most pleasant African capital I’ve seen in a awhile. It’s green, has some nice colonial buildings and is bustling with activity during the day. Even at night the area we were in wasn’t deserted like some cities are. Safely back in our room we talked about how Nairobi didn’t seem so bad, we were only here a few hours but based on everything I’ve heard I expected it to look more menacing. Compared with Johannesburg there is much less security presence here and there is actually a nice downtown. I’m not sure if the lack of security is due to a lack of money but oddly enough it made me feel safer. For the short time we were here I’m perfectly happy referring to the city by its proper name of Nairobi and not Nairobbery.

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Lions, Rhinos and Butts…Oh My!

January 2nd, 2009

Day 277

Thanks to my bravery and my scaring off the buffalo we did manage to survive the night.  We were rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen.  To be honest I am not usually awake for sunrises so I don’t have much comparison.  There is something about the sun in Africa, always so fiery orange and today was no exception with red hues streaking the sky.  The green tree tops on the slopes of the crater poked through the morning mist to create a perfect sunrise for our final day of safari.

We piled into the truck for the last game drive of our safari.  The Ngorongoro crater promised to be a highlight.  Picture a volcanic crater that collapsed on itself and is 260 sq. km in size, creating a sort of natural enclosure for animals.  We passed through the control gate and began to wind our way down the steep road to the craters floor.  Below we could see animals but from this distance we couldn’t distinguish what they were.  Soon enough we reached the floor of the crater which is dry grassland at this time of year.  There were a few impala and zebras near the roadside but not far off we could see another turck was viewing something else.  Since they were stopped it must have been something good.  A cheetah, lying in the tall grass it was tough to spot but soon after we arrived the cheetah rose and began to walk around.  We asked the driver if we could just stay and watch for awhile, we thought maybe the cheetah would make a run at the nearby impala.  The cheetah didn’t do that, but it was incredible to watch this powerful looking animal walk around.  We eventually moved on from the cheetah and passed the usual zebra, impala and wildebeest.  At a waterhole we saw a group of hippos lazing in the water, hippos are actual a rare sight around here since there is little in the way of water in the region.  The scenery was beautiful which added to the drive.  The crater rose steeply all around us and seemed to be a perfect round shape.  It really did feel like the animals were trapped in here. 

Driving to the far side of the crater we saw 2 black rhinos in the distance.  The black rhino is very endangered and this is one of the only places in the world where you have a decent chance to spot one.  Just over a small hill from here we came across an incredible sight.  We’ve seen thousands of zebra and wildebeest over the last 3 days but we’ve never been in the midst of a heard.  As we drove down the slope we were surrounded by zebra and wildebeest, they were so close to the truck you could reach out and touch one.  The heard stretched on far into the distance and up another hillside.  At this close range we all discovered that zebras have very strange butts.  It seems to be a popular tourist shot while on safari to snap a shot of 3 or 4 zebras butts all walking side by side.  The swirls of the stripes do make for an interesting shot.  I guess you just have to be on safari to understand.  I’ll eventually upload some photos and you can see for yourselves. 

Further on we saw a bunch of trucks all stopped viewing something the same spot.  This was probably the most trucks we’ve seen stopped in one stop on the entire trip so far.  We moved in and saw 3 lions walking around.  On the opposite side of the road was a large buffalo that they had earlier killed, but strangely it didn’t look like they had eaten much of it.  Now it was being devoured by vultures.  Maybe they just didn’t like the taste of this guy or someone forgot the hot sauce?  We moved on slowly and not more than 500 meters away we yelled at the driver, “stop, another lion!”  This was the one thing I had hoped we’d see today that we still hadn’t.  A huge male lion with an enormous mane rose up out of the grass and walked toward the truck.  I couldn’t beleive the size of this lion, so tall and his mane was just massive.  I got a rush when he walked right up to the roadside, stood on a mound of dirt and just sniffed the air.  Then he walked down on the road, right beside our truck.  He continued on to the truck behind us and took a piss right there on the truck!  Damn, I wished our truck could have gotten pee’d on.  This sighting topped the safari, I was satisfied even if our driver was a complete fool. 

We were surprised when less than 1 km passed the lion we stopped next to a water hole for a picnic lunch.  With no fences we all couldn’t help but worry we’d see that lion one more time but this time we’d be out of the truck.  The biggest thing we had to centend with was these crazy kite birds swooping down from the tree above trying to snatch our food.  One came right down at me and I wasn’t really sure how close it was.  Then the same bird circled back and swooped in on Jordana.  It came so close she felt the feathers grazed her skin. 

After our lunch the highlight was some more black rhinos at a much closer range than before.  After that sighting I think we all were getting a bit blaise about the typical zebras and wildebeest sightings.  We all sat in the truck rather than hang out the top as we drove for the road out of the crater.  The exit road was just as winding as the entrance but it was through much denser forest.  The air grew cool and fresh as we rose.  Just as we thought we were near the top and at the end of the safari we were treated to one of the best things we’d seen all trip.  Another full gorwn male lion was walking on the road right at us.  As he approached we were all out snaping photos, we realzied with the incline of the road he was going to pass level with our open windows.  “Close the windows!”  We all shouted and rolled them up.  He walked right past and quickly he was around the corner.  We all talked about how close this was to our camp.  From this spot we arrived at our camp 5 minutes later.  I guess we now know how some animals get out of the crater, they use the road.

We returned to the camp where the cook had everything packed up and the truck was then loaded.  We started the drive back to Arusha and arrived in the late afternoon.  Jordan and I checked back into the Naz hotel and the first thing we did was shower.  I’ve never seen so much dirt come off me before.  4 dusty days without a shower, the water was dark brown.  I had to soap and wash my hair twice to feel clean again.  Doesn’t a shower feel that much better when you are ridiculously dirty?  After we were clean we met up with the group for one last dinner together.  Chinese food at a great place run by a Chinese guy.  Even with the very poor driver we all agreed it was a fantastic safari and we definitely got lucky having a group where we all got along well.  In the morning we were all off our seperate ways.  Vorn the Aussie was off to climb Kilimanjaro, the Swedes were headed west to Lake Victoria and Jordana and I were catching a bus north to Nairobi, Kenya.  We said our goodbyes and had a last toast to a great safari with some cold Tusker beers.   

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A Brush With Black Death

January 1st, 2009

Day 276

It’s surprisingly cool in camping out in the Serengeti, we had a clear night with a beautifully bright moon and that definitely kept the temperatures cooler than I expected.  I used my sleeping bag last night, something I didn’t think I’d need out here.  By the way, that’s not a complaint at all.  It was just about the perfect weather for camping and both Jordana and I had great sleeps.  I crawled out of our tent in the darkness of the early morning with my headlamp on and walked over to the stinky pit toilet and then brushed my teeth next to the tent.  I pulled over a sweater and grabbed my camera, it was time for a sunrise drive in the park.

We began the drive just as the light of the day was breaking, what a tremendous place to watch the first sunrise of 2009, something I will never forget.  The fiery orange sun rose behind an acacia tree providing just about the most idyllic image of Africa you can get.  We drove for about 20 minutes and didn’t see anything, not a single animal.  It’s so strange how you can not see a thing at times and others it’s just non-stop.  Well it quickly changed as we came across more large groups of wildebeest and zebras.  Just pased them we saw a few hyenas in the bush on the left.  We stopped to watch the scene when one of the hyenas started out after a baby wildebeest.  Hyenas usually only feast on the leftovers of animals but this one was chasing after a young wildebeest and it seemed the other wildebeest couldn’t care.  We watched them zig and zag and circle around, the wildebeest is pretty quick.  I couldn’t decide if I wanted the hyena to catch the wildebeest, I mean how cool would that be?  Then again do I want to see this animal get ripped apart?  It didn’t matter since the chase went on far in the distance, behind the large herd of animals and we could no longer see what was happening.  I wondered if the little guy got away?  Further along we saw a few more hyenas, who look pretty much like mangy dogs.  A few were so close to the truck we could really observe them.  Their mannerisms are so similar to a domestic dog it almost makes you want to jump down and pet one.  I wonder what would happen if I did that?  I nominated Vorn the Aussie to give it a go, but he was having none of it.  Just on from the hyenas was a small creek where the trees were covered by strange and ugly looking storks.  Huge black birds with nasty orange and black beaks.

Over an hour in and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a bit bored of zebras and wildebeests.  Maybe that makes me a safari snob but so be it.  Where were the lions?  They have a huge all you can eat buffet here!  Maybe Tanzania should sell some of these guys to zoo’s around the world to aid conservation efforts here?  Hey, that could be another NGO.  Anyone in for financing my efforts?  Joking, of course…I’m a vegetarian, I think it goes against our code to talk about animals negatively.  The zebras finally made some room for a few young giraffe to wander through, we watched 3 of them feed on trees.  Did I mention I love giraffes?  Never really thought about them before but seeing them in the wild, I could just watch them walk around feeding all day.  They are definitely the underdogs of the safari circuit but once I’ll bet you once you do a safari they’ll be right up there as one of your favourites.  As graceful and elegant as the giraffes are they couldn’t top what we saw next.

A few trucks were stopped ahead, looking at something on the roadside.  Anytime you see other trucks stopped you know it’s going to be good.  As we neared we saw what the commotion was all about, 2 full grown female lions and 3 very small cubs feeding on a downed zebra.  Call me insensitive but I didn’t feel sorry for the zebra.  All we could see what the rib cage and some zebra skin on the ground, the lions were ripping off chunks of meat.  One of the cubs had blood on his face.  We have said it many times so far but this was easily the most amazing thing I’ve seen on safari so far.  We sat and watched, a European tourist from another truck asked us to tell our driver to turn off the truck.  We all embarrassingly replied, “Sorry sir, can’t do it, it won’t start again unless you want to get out and push.”  Even the rumble of the diesel engine couldn’t ruin this moment.

We moved on and that’s when the real highlights started coming, fast and furious I swear it almost feels like someone places the animals for you to view sometimes.  5 minutes on from the lions we saw another lion hanging out of a tree.  The tree was about 2 meters off the roadside and the lion was maybe 3 meters high with her leg just dangling off.  We stopped beside the tree and I have to admit the thought of “Would this lion jump onto us?!” crossed my mind a few times.  She didn’t and we got some great photos before moving onto the next amazing sight.  A leopard, again in a tree.  Just hanging out, although we couldn’t get a good picture since it was far off in the distance.  We could only see the outline of it’s sleek body hanging in the tree.  This capped off an incredible morning as we headed back to the camp for breakfast.

After breakfast we began our drive out of the Serengeti and onto the Ngorongoro crater.  Along the we saw some large and interesting impala like animals, not sure what they are called.  They were reddish and powerful looking with some pretty cool looking twisted horns.  Of course we saw zebras and wildebeest, thousands more just making their way across the plains.  Amongst them were several ostriches just hanging out, looking dopey the way only an ostrich can.  As we drove across the plains I was enjoying the drive standing on the seat with my head popped out of roof.  Every so often I’d just look around and smile to myself and think how great this was.  It’s pretty tough to get bored of doing this, although I’d like another truck, preferably more comfy and fitted with a bar if I was going to do this daily.

We exited the Serengeti Park and entered a “buffer” zone that lies between the Serengeti park and the Ngorongoro crater.  In the zone the Masai are allowed to live their traditional lifestyle, in the park they no longer live.  That isn’t to say animals aren’t out here, Tanzania really is a wild country.  Just before we climbed into the highlands to the crater rim we stopped so our driver could rest of weary vehicle and check the fluid levels.  As we were stopped two young Masai boys walked over from a nearby village.  We couldn’t figure out what they were saying and thought they were begging.  They may have been but what they wanted was our empty plastic water bottles.  I wasn’t sure why they wanted them, maybe they ran a recycling program?  Not likely.  I remember reading an article about solar disinfection of water, although I’m not sure if that’s what they were doing.  If you fill a plastic bottle with contaminated water and leave it in the sun the solar radiation will reduce bacteria, an important thing in a place where something as simple as diarrhea is a killer.  Soon we were on our way again and as we climbed to the top of the rim the air turned cool and fresh.  The landscape changed to lush green, such a contrast from the parched plains below.  The campsite for tonight sits at just over 2000 meters.

We arrived at our camp on the edge of the craters rim, they saved the best camp for the last night.  We had a beautiful view of the crater below as we setup our tents on a grassy area.  Just as we finished setting up we heard a commotion behind us where a few trucks were parked.  An elephant was right beside the trucks!  Apparently she has been coming to the camp to drink from water tank.  We approached slowly and watched the elephant, I couldn’t beleive we were this close to a wild elephant and we were on foot.  Jordana and I stood there snaping photos when the elephant truppeted and charged foward.  We leaped beside the truck, I pushed Jordana and we jumped into the truck.  The elephant was just making sure nobody got close but still I was shaking.  For the record that’s the second elephant to charge us on this trip and 3rd in my life to come at me.  I was sort of wishing for those fences from Kruger since our tent was no more than 20 meters away from this elephant.  L:ater on I thought she was gone and I rounded the corner of the washroom block when I saw her just standing there.  She actually turned on the water tap and began to drink from it for 20 minutes or so before disappearing into the woods as the sunset.  What a welcome to our last night of camping.

After dinner we played cards with our group and shared travel stories about Africa.  The temperature up at this altitude was pretty chilly at night.  This was our latest night, we turned in at 10:30pm and the rest of the camp was asleep.  I wasn’t asleep for long though.  I’m not sure what time it was, around 1am I’d guess.  I heard some walking outside, first I thought someone from the camp but then it sounded like several people.  I now figured it was cattle, the Masai bring their cattle to graze all over this area and this was nice and grassy.  I couldn’t sleep now and my mind was running all over the place.  Yep, sounds like cattle.  I really have to pee, can I hold it?  What time is it anyway?  I hate peeing at night.  I can hold it.  I laid down and tried to sleep but the steps grew louder and the sounds of grass being ripped out of the ground grew very loud, when the grunting started I think I almost pissed myself.  OH man!  That’s not cattle, that’s buffalo!  Jordana…wake up, buffalo are outside our tent!  She told me to stop being a baby and go backto bed.  Jordana can sleep through anything.  Me on the other hand had to pee really bad and in case you didn’t know buffalo are one of the most aggresive animals in Africa, feared by huntersThey aren’t nicknamed “Black Death” for nothing.  When I began to hear their heads brushing against the sides of the tent I was pretty damn scared, I was thinking of what to do.  Really what do you do?  Call me a pussy but I’ll tell you what I did.  I curled up in my sleeping bag and held it against my ear so I couldn’t hear anything and tried to not think of how bad I had to pee.

I think I slept for an hour when I woke up and knew if I didn’t go to the toilet then I’d go in the tent, I thought about just peeing outside in the vestibule.  I didn’t hear anything outside for a few minutes so I popped on my head lamp, unzipped the tent and crawled outside.  I looked right and there was a huge buffalo lying down about 5 meters away, I quietly turned toward the toilets and walked quickly there.  I used the womans as it was closer.  On my return I tripped over the tent zipper crawling in and hit the ground, just then the heard of buffalo stampeded off.  Funny eh, as scared as I was of them it was ME who scared THEM away.

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