A Travellerspoint blog

Reminiscing Africa

Africa

sunny 28 °C

No Economic degree is necessary to determine what has happened here. In Africa the yardstick of economic measurement is usually the local taxi- known here as a 'mutatu'. The number of passengers says it all. Throughout Africa the taxis are the Toyota High Ace and the amount of passengers they are licensed to carry varies from 12 to 18 .Each country has its own legislation -which seems to be mostly ignored. Anybody who complains about economy class on an aircraft should try a trip on one of these taxis. Not only are there usually 18 passengers but all their belongings as well as livestock on the roof. Could you imagine the smell!

The trip for me has brought back many memories from my youth growing up in South Africa. As SA became more affluent many things have changed. Here in East Africa nothing has changed. As some of you may recall we used to get the sugar cane man come past when sugar cane was in season. His bicycle was a “Dik Wiel” (thick wheel) which probably carried 150kg of canes. We would buy a whole cane for 10 cents peel off the hard part and chew the soft juicy part in the middle. They still sell these canes like this everywhere and I could not resist buying a cane here only to be reminded that the juicy part in the middle was not as soft as I remembered- or rather my teeth had aged and were not as adept at chewing it and rather than risk loosing my teeth I, gave them away.
Melanie and I went through the market yesterday and they were selling items that I have not seen for a long time- some of these items I didnt believe were still manufactured. Enamel mugs, transistor radios, cassette tapes and long bars of soap.
I brought a GPS with us and bought all the East African maps for it. I had forgotten that you don't actually need maps or a GPS here in Africa. The first time I ever owned a map was in Australia, where on arriving, one of the first things I bought was a UBD map. Here in Africa you simply ask any person alongside the road (it does not matter where you are, or what time it is, there is always somebody to ask and they are willing to help). Directions would be something like this “go to the Mobile garage, turn left, go straight until you come to the house with two cows, then turn right” That was the exact directions we were given yesterday.Somehow you did get to your destination.
As they used to do in SA .We watched as a gang of some 500 workers dug a trench by hand that was some 2 km long. No mechanical help and at the end of the day they were collected by a tip truck and some 80 workers got on to the truck and were driven home -only in AFRICA.
Sorghum is grown everywhere and it is used to making home brew beer. In SA was commonly known as KAFFIR BEER. The beer had a distinctive smell and travelling along ,every now and then, you get a whiff of that familiar fermented smell.
The Dik Wiel bicycles- Humber or Raleigh- here probably weighs 35kg compared to my bike at 7kgs. They are commonly known as CAT's- 'Carry anything anywhere any time.' They are the same as the Zulus / mine workers used to have- thick tyres,heavy steel frames, mud flaps, 10 reflectors in the front and twenty at the back and most importantly, a carrier at the back.Our gardener, Johannes, had one of these bikes and I as a child was many a time taken to and from school in his front basket carrier. Here these bikes have a myriad of purposes- as a taxi and for transporting anything from passengers, 100kg sack of potatoes, a goat to a log of wood straddled between two bikes.
Nothing has changed here -a common sight is still the rural African elderly man dressed up with a jacket (albeit nearly thread bare) and a hat regardless of the temperature.
The fruit served and sold here is the type of fruit I remember as a child. All the bananas have bruise marks but taste sweet, the watermelon has thousands of pips and in the hotels when they serve it, the pips are all carefully removed, the oranges have skins you cannot remove and the only way to eat them is to cut them into four, granedillas (a bitter passion fruit)The bread is just as I remembered bread tasted-a wholesome, preservative free that goes stale in 2 days- thick, filling and tasteslike real bread should.
There has been nothing to purchase along the way and even Melanie has struggled to find things to purchase.. There are shops everywhere but with minimum,basic stock- just the bare essentials. The only shopping of any magnitude was at the Kampala market where you can buy absolutely anything. We were told that the market carries many of the genuine European designers second hand clothing as well as international ski gear. You need patience and determination to sift through those stalls carrying these items. The dirt ,smell and crowds was enough to make us leave sooner than later.

In Australia, our gardener arrives for work with a ute full of equipment, anything from a lawn mover to a hedge trimmer. Here a 3 hectare farm seems to be managed by one woman with a machete and a hoe.

Posted by melsch 05:04 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Gorillas in our midst

Gorillas

semi-overcast 26 °C

Friday, 11th June 2010

The day yesterday had been long, tedious and such a draining experience that I need to have slept on my ideas and thoughts to have internalised and expressed them, hence the blog this morning.

“The world would be a lesser place without gorillas- and so many other species. You may not benefit directly from their conservation, but you do benefit from the diversity of wonderful creatures on this planet. To take care of our planet we must take care of the earth and its species. We are all connected, humans with every species of flora and fauna- each is a part of the whole. A loss of one species is a tear in the fabric of human and natural life”Threatened Kingdom- the story of the mountain Gorilla

At 5.15 am a man knocked on our door as the wake -up call for the morning. Post breakfast we anxiously awaited the arrival of our driver Yves, who had experienced some car trouble and was delayed. I had read so many times, that reporting for the gorilla tracking to the park office was to be promptly at 7.00am or your permit could be revoked. At 7.15 he arrived and indeed outside his 'cheap' hotel- his words not mine- during the night he had 3 tyre punctures from nails on the parking lot. He was in another car, with a driver mate and we literally made the 20 minute journey in about 10! Despite my anxiety about which group we were to be assigned to, the 60 odd gorilla trackers for day were still not allocated into groups, and before we knew it we had been placed in the exact group I had wanted. This was to track the Susa gorillas, - the hardest to get to, but once there , the largest and most 'hospitable' My Lonely Planet Guide Book had mentioned this group as the ultimate one to visit, but also pointed out the guides select the most able bodied people to visit this gorilla family. I was relieved to hear that the famous Susa family is now divided into 2, and whilst it would be a much harder climb than other groups were going to do- about 2 hours to reach them- the other part of the family were about 5 hours away- so we seemed ok. There are 27 family members of which 3 are Silvebacks- the males over the age of 14 . Our guide, Di who has been taking groups through these mountains for 12 years, explained that the right to make 'jiga – jiga' with the females , is reserved for these 3 Silver-back males. He promptly introduced us to his family- via a family album, naming each gorilla in turn. Gorillas are identified by nose patterns, which are as unique as human fingerprints. He also informed us about some of the rules, the distance we need to maintain and the 'non-panic' way we should behave.

We had an interesting group of fellow trackers. Keiko, a Japanese woman journalist who had been to track the gorillas 32 times in the last 4 years, and together with Di, the guide and a professor from Kyoto University , the worlds leading expert on primates, and 5 camera crew, had produced a documentary for Japanese television. They climbed for 21 days to get the footage they needed. She will also be back in November to make a further documentary for Japanese National Geographic. She was so excited to be going back to re meet these gorillas and schlepped her massive camera and tripod- or should I say the porter did. When I saw both her and the guides' long Wellington- like boots ,it was obvious that they knew something I did not, and I had these visions of both David and I squishing and sloshing in knee high deep mud. Fortunately this wasn't the case. They had had a huge rainstorm a week ago which actually resulted in the death of 4 gorillas from pneumonia. The ground in parts was a little muddy, but other than the bottoms of our pants becoming damp and the boots needing a good clean we were ok- the staff at the hotel were expecting to clean our boots upon our return- its par for the course in these parts.

Anton Olivier, about 35, a civil engineer from Pretoria was also one of our fellow trackers. Not sure if David appreciated his comment about him- David that is – being the Silverback of the group- which he was!

Three English medical students, 2 guys and one girl, completed the group. They were on their way to Uganda to work in a mission hospital and then in a community hospital in Zanzibar- all part of their 5th year electives.
We were driven to the starting point of the tracking, along a 7 km dirt and extremely potholed and rocky road. Local people were everywhere and it didn't seem like any men worked , whilst we saw lots of women tending to kids, fields and cows.
We were given wooden walking sticks and were met by game rangers with machetes and an AK 47 machine gun. Porters were also available for hire- nothing that David would consider mind you! We walked about 2 ½ hours up 600m elevation stopping intermittently to catch our breadth and to drink. The climb was tough, a little muddy and for at least half of it , it was up through the planted fields of the local farmers. There doesn't seem to be one inch of land left unplanted in this very fertile soil of every hillside, be it corn, bananas, potatoes and sorghum- used in local beer manufacture. We also learned that beer in these parts is also made from bananas- not surprising at how much banana crops they grow. Just getting to tend to their fields, would be a daily major hike for these farmers and we saw local woman all along the way, drawing water from a mountain waterfall and even listening to BBC on a small radio!

About half way, the altitude set in and we were definitely short of breadth. At his point we entered the forest. It was like being in the Avatar movie set- a combination of jungle and rainforest, and for the most part we were walking on a forest floor of trees and plants, pushing through paths and past outlying trees and bushes. Di pointed out the 'pantry' of the gorillas who are vegetarian and whose adults can consume about 30 kgs of vegetation per day. Wild celery and bamboo shoots – which induce a drunken-like state – as well as a myriad of plants and bark feed these magnificent beasts. Despite the lack of insects and other forest animals , we were continually stung by a plant known as stinging nettles and when Di saw me wincing from pain and scratching like mad he produced a forest remedy which was soon rubbed on the affected parts, and to my amazement, totally effective. We also met 3 further rangers who are primarily employed to search out the gorillas position and to ensure their safety and health. They communicated between one another and after an exhausting trek, Di made some guttural throat murmurs to indicate to the gorillas our presence, and then there they were!!! How exciting and thrilling this was!!! To be so close to these gorillas ,at some points about 2 meters away, and just observe and watch this primate family. A mother breast-feeding her baby, 2 teenagers playing, a tiny 2 month old baby hanging on the back of its mother,gorillas in the trees and sunning themselves and the large, about 400 pound, Silver back alpha-male just there watching over his harem. We didn't know where to look first and at one point, someone said, don't be alarmed, and walk slowly – there was a teenage gorilla about 1 meter behind me. In the Volcanoes National Park there are 3 groups of Mountain Gorillas- wild ones, who have no human contact at all, research families- who are researched by local and international scientists, and then the habituated gorillas like the ones we were now watching. ( Low ground gorillas are the ones we might have seen in the zoos of the world and there are marked differences. These mountain gorillas only live here in these mountains and National Parks of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. When poached and sold illegally to zoos, these gorillas did not survive)They are relatively peaceful and look like your average cuddly toy and for the most part are unaggressive and harmful situations with these gorillas are scarce.

We followed the one Silverback for a while ,climbing higher yet again and watched her interaction with his children and 'girlfriends.' He even had the wound marks on his back to prove his fighting ability with another male over an illegal 'jiga-jiga' encounter with a female.

Just the fact that we could spend this magical hour with these almost extinct mammals, was surreal and a thrilling, out of body experience for me! There are about 400 left in the world and I can only hope and pray that with all the efforts in place to conserve these gorillas, that they will continue in their recent patterns and increase, remain healthy and flourish.

Down the mountain too was challenging and very rocky and once down we were, in a short ceremony , presented with certificates of having successfully tracked the Susa group.

A few comments- for the local populations living in and around the park, this gorilla tracking has brought income and revenue, there are trackers, guides, porters and even hawkers selling their wares. We were still an unusual appearance when some local children were heard calling “ abazungu- look the white people” and we stopped to give some kids the empty water bottles which they continuously ask for- a rare commodity around here. The local population has also affected the conservation of the gorillas, as they have continuously cleared parts of the forest hillside to plant their crops and utilise trees for making fires- their only source of energy and warmth. They are exceptionally poor with no power or running water, little clothing for this cold mountainous region and homes are as basic as anything and yet they are fully aware of the prices we paid for our one hour with the gorillas. This was an inequality that I found hard to internalise.

In complete contrast to this previous statement , we both warmly welcomed a hot bath and dinner and whist eating alone in the dining room, we were serenaded to by a local guitar playing ballad musician. It had been a physically challenging day, one which I felt privileged to have lived through and experienced.

Post breakfast we headed 1 hour away from Volcanoes to Gisenyi a city on Lake Kivu. It is also the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo- DRC, with the Congolese town of Goma is only 2 kms away. Guide books and even Yves all caution visits to this troubled country- we were so close. The water mass is huge and in any other country resorts with water sports, fishing and scenic boat cruises would have emerged. Not here and little in the commercialisation of such a pretty waterfront exists. The main brewery for the country is based here and we were also taken to a spot on the shore where the water emerges from an underground source at boiling temperature.

The 3 hour road journey back to Kigali was fascinating- where do all the people come from? As the Jewish comedian Jackie Mason has said” they're coming, they're going, shlepzacht, kumzacht, walk here , they walk there...” As this is a weekday we witnessed the goings and comings of the locals. The poverty of the people is evident by the simplicity of their lives- no electricity, no water , no t.v/computers and also very few cars. People on the road were either collecting water in yellow jerry cans from central government erected water taps, walking towards or cycling towards a market place where they were to sell their different crops, pots, wooden sticks or goats. We watched in awe as men on a bicycles carrying about 100 kgs of potatoes came speeding down the tarred road of the mountain at about 60kph. Not sure how he was planning to stop if he had to. Men were pushing bicycles up the hill loaded to the hilt with sugar cane- it was reminiscent of David's childhood where the sugar cane man would cycle past his home and sell him sticks. A lot of the pedestrians were seeing chewing on their sugar cane and the husks littered the streets. As larger towns appeared vendors selling clothing and shoes were everywhere. Amidst all of our road travels through thei country one sign appears most frequently and often above a brick wall of a hut. It is the MTN, South African cell phone companies yellow sign offering the recharge for mobile phones. Even the 'hiways' were filled with people moving between villages and small towns.

We drove into Kigali by about 3.00pm and checked into the Hotel Des Mille Collines. This fairly modern hotel is in the centre of Kigali and played a major role in the Genocide. It was in this hotel and with the assistance of the manager, Paul Rusesabagina, that hundreds of Tutsis were harboured and saved. The hotel was a focal point for all expats and the UN at the time, and looking now over the swimming pool , I recall the part this place played in all the horror that occurred here. This is the actual Hotel Rwanda as depicted in the movie of the same name. I am pleased to be here and experience a part of this cities history at its base level.

Posted by melsch 10:57 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

Gorillas here we come

9th June, 2010

sunny 21 °C

I write this blog in the car as we depart Kigali ,climbing the mountains on yet another winding track. The drive should take about 2 ½ hours to reach the Volcanoes National Park where tomorrow morning , bright and early we will spend the day with the gorillas. I was interested to hear whether Rwandan nationals were also expected to pay the hefty USD$500.00 a head. Yves informed us that Rwandans pay about USD$50.00 for the privilege most never having the money to do it, despite the heavily reduced fee. The whole gorilla experience is responsible for a USD$1.5 billion and is one of the countries major sources of income. Despite Dian Fossey, the famous primate scientist who almost single-handedly pioneered the conservation of these gorillas, not wanting the commercialism of her precious mammals, the tourism has enabled these gorillas to be studied, and protected. There are
only 42 permits issued a day and during high season are extremely difficult to obtain. So excited for this tomorrow.

2 further observations of Kigali- even the poorest homes along the roadside, whether they be in the city or countryside, have neat , tidy appearances. We have been amazed at the lack of street garbage and judging by the many hairdressers we have continuously passed, this self-pride is an integral part of the Rwandan psyche. We were also told that come a Sunday , as this nation goes to church, the people come out in their finery ready to pray and believe.

Despite what we knew about Kigali, it really seems like a peaceful well organised and corruption-free city. At no time did I feel threatened or insecure, and I have so enjoyed the warmth and openness of these people. I was in disbelief when told that it was safer than Johannesburg- I now agree ,certainly cleaner and the problems of crime, aids and racial tension do not stare you in the face.

Our day started with a tour, by hand held audio commentary, of the Kigali Memorial centre. It is a superb museum and is respectful and educative. Once again we were struck by the enormity of this tragedy and the mass graves outside the museum house the remains of 250,000 victims. There is a small section on other Genocides around the world, and the Holocaust is well explained and presented. Video footage of survivors is excellent and the children's section, moving and emotional.

We spent a short while at a craft market, but were hesitant to purchase any wood or skin items – really liked a skin-covered 1 meter long wooden knife case with the knife- would definitely have had a problem bringing that into Australia. I did stop to watch some shopkeepers playing this board game where seeds are passed between different holes- will have to find out how this is played!

As we weave our way closer up into the mountains we have passed village after village , hordes of people on bicycles, carrying sacks and water on their heads and kids playing and we have just stopped to photograph this magnificent scenery when 4 kids emerged out of the grass, literally. We gave them some coins and chewing gum- which they were delighted with. This is real poverty and rural life at its basest.

As we checked out of Solace Ministries the most melodic voices were heard. I made my way to find them and found, in the basement, a gospel choir practice of 5 people with their British keyboard player. What joy in these sounds and all 5 singers were loving every moment. It was a special and spiritual way to depart.

Our journey today has been so interesting and talking to Yves, our driver/ guide, we have shared philosophical ideas over religion, politics economy and of course the Genocide. I continue to be amazed at the power of the church in this country. Despite the disenchantment with the church during the Genocide, religion,and Christianity in particular, remains an extremely dominant and powerful force. As he says, 'where else was there to go after people suffered such terror and horror?'
His 2 brothers who were murdered in the Genocide, were only in Rwanda for one week staying with an uncle when the trouble began. These 2 boys, 14 and 16, were making their way to live with a relative in Uganda. That they were killed during their brief stay in Kigali, especially since their parents had left this hot spot in 1959, was so unbelievably sad.

Mountain Gorillas View Lodge is a heavenly place-, high up in these magnificent mountains. Its much cooler here and the clouds were floating over the tips of the volcanoes. This place reminds me so much of the Eastern Transvaal, and the fire place and hot water bottles in the room, which is actually a stand alone little hut, are for me the icing on the cake.

Heading for dinner in the lodge ahead of a very early night and early start to our gorilla tracking.

Posted by melsch 16:07 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

Rwanda a land of a thousnd hills

8 June, 2010
The Land of a Thousand Hills- Rwanda

Waking to a warm sunny day, I was anxious that both our driver/guide ,Yves and the tour coordinator, Lily, would not have received my emails and that the day as planned would be wasted.
Luckily, all was according to plan. Breakfast was very simple in a small canteen and it was so nice to finally meet Denise, the lady with whom I had booked the accommodation . She too had put me in touch with Yves.

At breakfast we me and spoke to John the founder and director of this place- seems like a very religious man who had a calling, post the Genocide, to begin a place of solace to the victims and others who needed support and care. There are about 20,000 people that they are involved with in 50 different locations throughout the country. What incredible work they are performing.

We took a walk around Solace whilst waiting for Yves, and found ourselves in a very local neighbourhood, of shacks and kids and tin shanty shops. Across the road , are 3 magnificent new and modern apartment buildings ,we are told the homes of Europeans. The road to get into Solace, and all these roads in fact, are dirt, potholed and have huge dongas in them, you really do need a 4x4 to negotiate them. The whole feel of Kigali so far is quite different from anywhere we've been, but has some definite similarities. It is very tropical, lush, and the city from what we've seen is built on a few hills, so you get these large valleys planted with palm or banana trees. The winding roads hug the contours of the hills and homes and shops are built on the sides . In some ways its like Phuket, and in very many ways its a lot like India. Architecture, for the most part, is dull, boring and functional , with tiled floors, florescent lights and that faded lighting feel that makes everything at night seem to be at half power- a lot like Cuba in this respect. All private homes are walled and secured with large gates and security guards. The French influence is huge, but fading as they change the schooling system from French to English as the second compulsory language. It is weird to find these very black people speaking French. On that point, I always believed we shared our homeland of South Africa with black people- this couldn't be further from the truth- black South Africans were in fact brown, these people are truly black. For many of them , their facial features are quite European- the Tutsis. Through the Genocide this physical difference between the Hutis and Tutsis was exploited and much sadness and tragedy followed.

Yves is a Tutsi, Rwandan 27year old man who was born in Burundi, where his parents had fled in the late 50's to escape the beginnings of the terror that was to unfold. He lost 2 brothers in the genocide and returned with his remaining family to Rwanda in late 1994 . Our conversations over the day were fascinating as he told us about different aspects of Rwandan society from education, economy, marriage(when he marries in the next years despite being a city guy he must pay for his bride in the traditional cows- and not the local breeds, but European ones that cost about USD$1200), his daily life and of course the Genocide. We heard how all people have learned to tolerate and forgive, learned to coexist and to plan for a future as a unified country.

Our fist stop about 40 minutes outside of Kigali was Nymatta, a village that was the stage for a horrific massacre of thousands of Tutsis – all haven taken refuge in a church. The memorial guide was informative and showed us through the church and 2 other buildings that have been preserved to 'prove' what happened here. Upon entering the church you are faced immediately with metal racks housing about 1000 skulls- most cracked - , thousands of leg and arm bones, clothing and belongings of the victims. It doesn't get more harrowing or spine-chilling than this! We stopped for a minutes silence . The one dwelling had been used to burn many people in and that too is as it was- with teeth and machetes and clubs and bones strewn amidst the grass floor .
A wall of names had been started , but plans to do an alternate name recording is under way, but we were told that actual collating of the dead has not been successful.

We then drove a further 5 kilometres to the next memorial, which like the first was in a church. Supposedly the church had always been a refuge for these religious Christian folk, but during the Genocide, many priests had welcomed the Tutsis in but had become spies and informants for the killing militia. This church was no more than 300 square meters and it is hard to imagine that 10,000 people were kept in it for one week prior to the arrival of the militia and to the final murdering of them all. The only survivors of this horrific event were 2 small children who had been hidden under the dead bodies. We were lead into 2 underground mass crypts where here as well, hundreds of skulls were on display.

There is also a grave of an Italian nun who was murdered because of her outburst and calling to the international press for recognition and assistance for these people.

As we left behind these unbelievable 2 sites we made our way , an hour later, to Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, www.agahozo-shalom.org overlooking Lake Magasora. A more spectacular location one could not find and the village sits atop a magnificent hill, surrounded by such fertile and lush foliage. We had come from the ashes of the Rwandan past to the life and future of its people.

ASYV as it is known was born out of a dire necessity to provide a safe and normal existence to victims of the Genocide. The brainchild and result of much hard work of an American Jewess, Ann Heyman, this village is based on the Israeli successful model still operational in Israel today. Children are taken from their terrible home situations- and here this included the absolute tragedy of the Genocide- and given stability, care, support, education and vocational training. The 250 young people here are aged 14-20 and are also from abusive, dysfunctional, drug- addictive parents and families and are sourced with the aid of local governments. These kids are at the bottom rung of a a very steep ladder, one that without the help of ASYV they would more than likely never get off.

Both David and I were astounded at what has been achieved and implemented here. There are 32 quite basic homes where 15 boys or girls live with a house mother, each house has a permanent councillor, a wonderful educational school with computers and good equipment, and 30 teachers, playing fields, an art and music centre and a dining hall/theatre . 350 meals are made 3 times a day in a functional kitchen that has a fridge not much bigger than mine at home. The producing and healthy farm had chickens, crops and cattle- all with the aim of making the entire village self sufficient. All the kids must work the farm 2 afternoons a week, and for many of them, when they return home after 4 years they will utilise the more advanced techniques learned here. A group of 11 American Jewish volunteers all spend one year here and it was Lily, from New Jersey whose task it is to guide visitors , that shared her time and knowledge to walk us through.

The Jewish philosophy of Tikun Haolam of giving back to your fellow man, is a driving force here and whilst there a group of kids were getting ready to go to the local village to assist with the building of homes and a clinic. We couldn't help but be so impressed at the astounding work done here, where children whose living conditions often didn't include power or running water , and whose emotional well being was so deficient of love and care, are shining and thriving and learning and becoming self-confident and proud – what success!

A new music, art room and clinic are being built, with so many jobs at ASYV given to the local village people proving a working and symbiotic relationship with their neighbours.

Funding and support is mainly Jewish American and Israeli, with teachers and councillors having been taken to Israel for training in how to teach children the Israeli way of learning by asking questions. What a credit to this formidable lady who founded this place, who really wanted to give these kids what her kids had.

This had been an emotional roller-coaster of a day!

Dinner was awful – an attempt to eat in a Rwandan restaurant, as the locals do. Inedible. We should have gone for the pizza.

Posted by melsch 20:41 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

Farewell Serengeti

sunny 32 °C

7th June, 2010
Farewell Serengeti

10.30am

Excitement and riveting adrenalin serenity doesn't come better than this!

After an entire night of lions roaring at what seemed like just outside our tent, we head off as the dawn was breaking, about 6.30am. The top prize was to find the pride of lion that had lullabeyed us to sleep. We had not even travelled 2 minutes from the camp when alongside the 'main road', in the pre-dawn light , all alone on this wonderful vast Serengeti plain, there they were- only 200 meters from our tent door. What excitement to see 3 lion, 2 lioness and 3 very cute cubs, about 4 months old. The lions were quite restful , but the lionesses and the clubs more playful. The Kings of the jungle had obviously had a very busy night and seemed quite irritated by their cubs get up and go attitude. We were at no time over the next hour more than 5 meters away from this magnificent family and we were so content to just sit and watch them and so lucky to have sighted them and to share an hour in their lives alongside them. Mike, our guide ,told us that the male lions were brothers and were probably part of a bigger pride. After about half an hour the 2 lionesses got up and made their way across the road towards our camp,with the cubs following. We were patient and as if an extra bonus was coming our way, a third lioness and her 3 cubs came running across the plain and immediately pounced on top of the one lion, who had had little interaction with the previous lionesses and cubs. This was obviously his mate and his cubs, mama and babies as the locals would have described it. We returned to this sight twice more over the day and found these 3 lazy male lions exactly where we had found them. What an existence this king of the jungle has!

The remainder of the game drive took us to another wonderful hippo pool, with the noise of the waterfalls between the pools so calming only to be broken by the grunting noises of about 25 hippos all enjoying the beautiful bush morning. We were able to get out of the car, a little too close for comfort for me as the crocodile were about 10 meters away sunning themselves on the banks of the river. We attempted to find the lionesses and cubs who had made their way towards the camp, but with the long grasses, and heat settling in they were not to be found.

We arrived back at camp in time for brunch- the food has not been wonderful here and after spying out into the bush kitchen I didn't want to look or think about it too closely. We rested as the midday heat settled in, and boiling it was .Departure for the air strip was at 2.00 and in the heat of the day we made our 17km drive back to catch the flight to Kigali.

Coastal Air, and Lisa the same American lady pilot, flying the same plane -Cessna Caravan, took us to Mwanze on Lake Victoria,where we cleared customs in this tiny airport and then flew the one hour journey to Rwanda. Again, despite some light rains I was really fine and again we were her only passengers. This time David sat alongside me as the co-pilot seat was really hot and he couldn't talk to her or I from there. When she collected us from Grumeti, she reported having seen the migration beginning- sadly for us we were not to experience it. We have promised ourselves however that we will return someday to witness it.

Flying over Rwanda, one can fully understand why this country is called the Land of a Thousand Hills. It is so lush,green and fertile, rolling Scottish-like hill after hill and water gushing from everywhere. The sky had progressively gotten darker as we flew over, and it was a typical African late afternoon, boiling hot clouds forming and just waiting for the rain. We waited for Lisa to to 'bed' the plane down- lock it up- and close every opening where animals might have nested or eaten, as only 2 weeks prior she told us that a bird had nested in the air intake of the engine. Thornbushes are also placed around the tyres as hyenas have a habit of biting into the rubber and popping them.
We carried our suitcases and walked 500 meters into the modern terminal building of Kigali airport. Customs wanted to know where our application was for a visa. Nowhere had I been informed of such a thing- I believed we arrived and purchased the USD$60.00 visa. With some sweet talking , and pleading innocence and producing the USD$ 120 , all was forgiven.

We drew some Rwandan Francs from the ATM and it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't have an address for the Guest House we were staying at. A taxi took us anyway and landed up putting a street stranger into his car to show him the way.

We were both quite taken aback at how clean the streets were and despite it being peak traffic time as people were making their way home from work, the traffic was pretty orderly and benign. We couldnt help but notice the Mutatas- taxi vans- and something else here so unique, a motorbike taxi- they looked pretty dangerous to me, and I for sure was not putting on the helmet that hung from every drivers handlebar!

The Solace Ministries is a church based organisation which provides solace and counselling for many orphans widows and raoe victims of the Genocide. The very basic guest house at USD$65 bed and breakfast is just that- very basic , but clean and manageable. Dinner was at an Indian restaurant in what appeared to be an expensive residential area, with home, high walls and security laced gates. Food was ok and the bed , although hard, was welcome.

Posted by melsch 20:02 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

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