Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for December, 2009

BWG Christmas Luncheon

December 13, 2009 10:13 am

Singing for my lunch is not one of the things you ever want to hear, especially as I can’t carry a tune.  But in good faith that is what I did to celebrate Christmas Lunch with friends at the British Womens Group Christmas Luncheon. BWG xmas lunch 100

The Luncheon was prepared by a Nigerian cook and served at the British Kingfisher Club.  We feasted on Potato and Sweet Pepper Soup, Roast Turkey slices, stuffing balls, roast potoaotes and Christmas Pudding with Brandy Sauce.  We ate traditional Mince Pies with our coffee. Welcome to one of the Christmas celebrations in Lagos.

BWG xmas lunch 101

A Bash at Bob’s Bar

10:06 am

Tale is Bob arrived several years ago to Lagos and turned the spare room into Bob’s Bar and went onto host quite a few famous gahterings.  Bob has since moved on but the Christmas tradition of a bash at Bob’s Bar is carried on.  This year’s party got started with a serving of burger and chips or burger and chips with egg (all very British and cooked to order) followed by a rousing good drinks and a lively band!…all in the space of a small 3 bedroom flat!

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DSC00318 Cadwell Bash

Gift Giving

9:59 am

During the holiday season one not only supports the local charities but the Awerican Women’s Club (AWC) also support the staff at the local charities by providing each staff member with a Christmas bag.  So we met and assembled 100 bags for 14 charities.  Our gift bag included airline toiletry bags, rice, beans, garri, tomato paste, sugar, flour, tea, milk, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, pens, tablets of paper, and a wide range of other things that had been donated to us to dispense.  All items went into “go to Ghana” bags (the plaid bags on the table). Merry Christmas!

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Bagging Rice and Beans

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Stuffing the Bags

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Ready to GO

In Search of the Mountain Gorilla: Part 2 – The Gorillas

9:45 am

We arose to the mist rising from the rainforest in the morning sun as we had a lovely breakfast overlooking the valley.  We collected our day’s box lunches and traveled through the small local village of Bwindi to the entrance to the park, “The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest”, (which was only 500 meters away.)  Here, we met our fellow adventurers, 15 of us in all, as we watched a brief video introducing the local gorilla families to us.

There are 8-12 families that range near the parks entrance within a 3-4 hour hike, and the park limits the number of visitors to a maximum of 16 people per day, divided into two groups, each group to see one gorilla family for 1 hour only.  They try to rotate which gorilla families to visit each day, but whether or not one actually gets to see the gorillas depends on where they move to and which families are accepting and accessible.  Our group included us four, a retired widower from San Francisco, and two young adult women from Toronto on a 3-month Africa backpacking adventure.  We met our guide, Styven, who briefed us on the dos and don’ts of visiting gorillas in the wild.  Although the family that we would visit, “The Rushegura Family”, was known for being accepting of visitors, there were people in the past that were charged and/or attacked, and we would have armed guard rangers with us for our protection.  Meanwhile 4 Trackers had traveled out earlier in the day to the GPS marked site the gorilla family had been at the day before, as they would track the gorillas to today’s location and radio our route through the jungle ahead to our guide.  We were told that our gorilla family had only been about 1 hour away the day before, and so we had high hopes of a successful encounter.

We began our hike down a mountain trail into the ravine and across a small river, then up the jungle mountain on the other side.  However, after only 20 minutes of hiking, our guide received a radio call telling him that the trackers had followed the gorilla’s trail back towards the village closer to our starting location, and in fact, we were almost upon them.  We cut our way through the over-brush to a small semi-open canopied area where we encountered the Rushegura gorilla family, lead by the 800 pound Silverback “Murima”, who was napping on the ground.  Meanwhile the other family members were scattered about the immediate vicinity, both in the trees above, and about the area.  We took up positions about 30 feet upslope of the Silverback and quietly watched and took pictures as our one hour observation limit began.  We observed a mature female on the ground with a new born infant, (born only 3 months earlier on August 9th) and another female on a tree limb breastfeeding a young toddler.  Also roaming about was a large male, a blackback, 11-14 years old, who was not old enough to turn silver yet, and apparently was satisfied with being second-in-command.  Various other males and females were in the trees and came cautiously by to observe us.

 Uganda 105a Julie & Juvenile

Julie & Juvenile Gorilla

Uganda 110 Momma in Tree

Momma in Tree

Uganda 110b Mom

Momma

Uganda 113a Blackback

Blackback

Uganda 113c Blackback

After we arrived, the toddler decided to quench his curiosity by coming to inspect us.  He climbed out of his mothers lap, down the tree, and naughtily came up to us.  The biggest threats to the gorillas are human diseases.  No person who is sick is allowed to visit the park, and no one is allowed physical contact with the gorillas.  However, the toddler came up and pulled on Rocky’s pant leg and touched Julie’s boots before being “shushed away” by the guide.  The Silverback sat up and kept an eye on us and his family as he casually ate leaves and stems.  All was quiet as the family went about its daily business for about 20 minutes until we heard the “bark” of a far-off baboon.  At this occurrence, the Silverback took notice, suddenly got up, took a few steps, called and beat on his chest, to bring his family together!  It was the classic myth scene acted out for our enjoyment!  Immediately, leaves and debris started falling from the trees above us, as other members of the gorilla family gathered.  After this, the Silverback kept on alert status, and many of the family accompanied him closely on the ground.  They were alert but not interrupted in their feeding and grooming routine.  Over the next 20 minutes, the baboons’ barks slowly circled clockwise upslope of us, until the Silverback shouted out a number of times to warn them away, and then he collected his family and moved ~100 meters away into a more open area.  We cut our way through the foliage for one last look before our hour was up and then we hiked back.  Upon returning to park headquarters, we received our certificate of authenticity for having visited the Mountain Gorillas, and were free to walk back through the village for a little local shopping and to return to our resort lodge for lunch.

 Uganda 114 Julie & Gorillas Best

Julie & Gorillas

Uganda 119 Silverback at Home

Silverback at Home

Uganda 121a Gorilla Family

Uganda 121c Gorilla Family in Tree

Uganda 124a Silverback

Uganda 130 Guide & Gorilla Best

Once we finished lunch and realized we had the afternoon free, we walked back to the park and arranged a hike up the other side of the ravine to an advertised set of waterfalls.  The hike would be about 2 hours each way, and we took a guide and 2 armed rangers (in the park armed escorts are required).  The first half hour of our hike was in a typical rain forest shower, but it did not dampen our spirits.  The waterfalls were 3 in number, about 10 minutes apart from each other with each more beautiful than the last. Along the way we saw forest antelope, Columbus monkeys and the largest palm trees that we have ever seen, (Russian Palms), with fronds 50 feet long and 15 feet wide!  The trail was muddy, slippery and steamy hot, but worth the investment.  We got back to the resort camp about 5:30pm, and had time for hot showers and a few drinks at the bar, before a hot dinner featuring beef stroganoff.  We made a final toast to the day and then trundled off to bed for an early rise the next morning.

 Uganda 150a Up the Falls Best

On Sunday, we arose to breakfast, met our driver, and set off back through Queen Elizabeth National Park, and back to Kampala through a more northern route through Port Royale.  This time we were held up by morning elephant herds crossing the road that were not happy to be rushed along upon hearing our horn.  We acquiesced to their casualness, and resumed our journey when they finally allowed.  The road back was not under construction and our progress was faster than planned.  Along the way, families and villages in best dress were heading to and from Sunday church.  We returned to the Shangri-La Hotel in Kampala, where our journey began, in the mid-afternoon, and had time for a quiet book in the garden, followed by dinner overlooking the city and a ponded tea garden on  a lovely Chinese restaurant balcony.

 

The next morning, we returned to the airport in Entebbe, flew to Nairobi and back to Lagos, our whirlwind adventure complete.

Uganda 156a Elephants on Road

In Search of the Mountain Gorilla: Part 1 – Getting There

December 12, 2009 2:23 am

One of the truths of embarking on any quest in Africa is that uncertainty and adventure are always a viable outcome – even when unsought!  Travel in Africa brings one face-to-face with the realization that the social fabric that keeps many nations on this continent operating on a day-to-day basis, is held together by very thin threads, and that entire nations are operating balanced on a razor’s edge above chaos and anarchy.  Thus one should not be surprised when a country that was racked by war and military coup only a few year’s ago, can now emerge as a stable place for a Western tourist to visit.  Likewise, one misplaced step by the leaders of many of these countries, and they would fall off their precarious perches and quickly fall back into chaos.

 

It is with this backdrop that we decided to embark on a quest to see the remaining endangered Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat.  Today, there are only ~700 gorillas left in the world, located in two areas in the far southwest corner of Uganda.  The one area is completely encompassed in Uganda in an area named the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and is home to about 350 gorillas in about 32 different family groups that roam the mountains and ravines of the local rainforest.  The other group is located on the Uganda border at the intersection with Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.  This group lives on the rainforest that covers an ancient volcano’s slopes, and they move freely between the countries.  We chose to visit Bwindi.  The Mountain Gorilla population was decimated last century by trophy hunting, family killing to secure juveniles as pets, and habitat conflicts.  Today, the local residents dedicatedly guard this resource and the Gorilla population is slowly beginning to increase.

 Uganda 161 Welcome Billboard

Originally, we, (Julie and Rocky), planned the trip for ourselves, extending invitations to any other adventurous souls that we knew.  The trip would be a “whirlwind” excursion, taking advantage of a 4-day weekend as a result of the Id-el-Kabir holiday.  At the last minute, our Shell neighbors, Guy and Sue Kent, decided to join us.  Our choices to get to Bwindi began with flying from Lagos, Nigeria to Nairobi, Kenya, and on to Entebbe, Uganda.  From there, we either had to fly a 12-seat “bush” airplane for 3 hours to a grass runway on the edge of the rainforest, or embark on a longer, (10-hour), but safer, route via safari vehicle.  We chose to travel overland as this also gave us the opportunity to see the local people and landscape, traverse a number of Uganda’s parks and wildlife preserves, and cross the equator more than once.  We began our trip by traveling to Lagos International Airport on Thursday morning, November 26th – Happy Thanksgiving!  After a proper English breakfast of beans, eggs, toast, and sausages we began our flights.

 

We arrived at Entebbe Airport in the evening and were immediately impressed with the clean and modern airport there.  We efficiently received our Visas and exited to meet our guide and driver for the long weekend, Silver.  Silver lives with his wife and children outside of Kampala, and has been taking visitors on these trips for 11 years.  We proceeded on the 1-hour drive north to the city of Kampala, where we checked in to the Shangri La Hotel, tired from our day’s journey, and recognizing that tomorrow would be a long day.  We awoke on Friday morning, took breakfast in the Hotel Garden, reviewed our agenda with Silver, and set off for Bwindi via the southern route, through the towns of Masaka and Mbarara.

 Uganda 005 Breakfast in Kompala

Uganda was not quite what we expected!  The roads, for the most part, were in very good shape (where they were paved), unless they were under construction.  The country’s infrastructure, including access to water and a working electrical grid, are in good shape.  People were clearly well fed, and we saw very few destitute or homeless people or beggars.  The countryside was lush and green with an abundance of bananas, pineapples, mangos, papayas, watermelons and jackfruit growing in small orchards and in large farms everywhere we looked.  The southern route through Masaka skirts along the shores of Lake Victoria, and so some of the area is swamp, where vast areas are growing with papyrus and reeds.

 Uganda 016 Uganda Banana Mart

Banana Market

Uganda 017 Uganda Meat Mart

Meat Market

Uganda 025 Jack Fruit Tree

Jack Fruit Tree

Uganda 031 Colorful Market

Fruit Market

Uganda 037 Papyrus in Bloom

Papyrus in Bloom

Being in Nigeria, we are familiar with the Okada, or the motorbike taxi.  In Nigeria, they dominate the roads, weaving in and out of traffic, blowing their horns continuously, and stacking as many people astride the bike as possible.  However, in Uganda, the motorbike taxi has a different incarnation.  It and the bicycle are the dominant forms of transportation for locals, and the motorbikes here are law-abiding and courteous, and their passenger sits on the back of the seat in a very proper British sidesaddle! 

Uganda 173 Ride Sidesaddle

 As we crossed the Equator into the southern hemisphere, we recognized the familiar “disguised” charcoal stands on the side of the road.  Currently, Ugandan’s are permitted to fell trees and make charcoal, but only if they “plant a tree to cut a tree”.  Of course, there is no enforcement, and this is one of the reasons that the rainforest habitat is under environmental pressure.

Uganda 022 Rocky & Julie at Equator

 Uganda 051 Charcoal for Sale

Charcoal for Sale

The people of Uganda are a mix of Islamic and Catholic, but apparently with respect for each other’s beliefs and customs.  We observed a very large cattle industry in the country, with herds numbering from a few head to thousands.  The preference in this area is for Longhorn cattle, (very long horns!), and they are valuable enough that all herds are tended by herders that stay with them full time. 

Uganda 030 Grazing Longhorn

Along the way, we saw zebra, antelope and a huge number of Marin storks, (5-6 ft tall!).  At lunch, and at every stop, we took occasion to sample the local beers, including our favorite, the “Nile Special”.  Although we were not novelties, we clearly were the only Muzugus, (white skin people), around.  As we moved away from Lake Victoria into the Great Rift Basin and nearer the headwaters of the Nile, the landscape became more agricultural with huge plantations of bananas and miles of tea crops as far as the eye could see, all harvested by hand – of course – three leaves at a time.  Tea is Uganda’s number one export.

Uganda 050 Banana Plantation

Banana Plantation

Uganda 064 Hill of Tea

Hillside of Tea

Uganda 163 Tea Picking Best

Hand Picking the Tea

We spent the afternoon entering the hills and mountains of western Uganda, home to Lake Edwards and the great Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we encountered elephants, Kobe, impalas, waterbucks, baboons, and velvet monkeys. 

Uganda 076 Beatiful Lake edwards

Lake Edward

Uganda 075 Forest Elephant

Uganda 084 Baboons in Road 4

Baboons

Uganda 088 Monkey in Tree

Velvet Monkeys

We had hoped to spot lions basking in the local trees, which is unique to this area of Africa, but were not so lucky.  By this time, the roads had turned to dirt, the sun was setting over the hills, and we were forced to traverse the final leg of the journey to Bwindi in the dark over washed out roads.  We were met at our “hotel”, The Gorilla Resort, by uniformed staff, hot towels and cold juice.  The hotel is a rustic by very nice permanent tented camp perched on the side of the Ravine valley facing the Gorilla rainforest on the other side. 

Uganda 139 Gorilla Resort Best

Uganda 095 Julie at Tent

Uganda 95a Rainforest View

 

We had a hot meal of tilapia from the nearby lake, a bottle of wine, and headed off to bath and bed.  We were pleasantly surprised that each “tent” had a veranda overlooking the forest, two double beds, a complete en suite bath including a Victorian claw-footed tub, and hot water bottles under the covers of the bed to ready it for our well-deserved night’s rest.  Tomorrow we would search for the Mountain Gorillas.