Serengetti & Bwindi

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Serengeti, Tanzania

Friday afternoon I left with 5 other volunteers for safari. In order to save time, we flew to the Serengeti. Once I saw the plane we were taking I went straight to the bar, I have never downed a glass of wine so fast. This plane sat maybe 9 people, you had to practically crawl in. The pilot, as we were going down the grass airstrip turned to us and said put on your seat belts if you wish. They are no seatbelt lights on this plane.

Once we were in the air the views were incredible. You can see Masaai villages dotted in the lush green landscape. We flew right over Olduvai Gorge where the Leakeys did most of their research. Once to the Serengeti we had to buzz or fly over the airstrip to scare off any animals before we landed. Our plane pulled right up to our hired jeep and we were off for a sunset drive in the Serengeti.

We saw a pride of lions gnawing away on a buffalo, with hyenas and vultures circling around the kill. The next day we did an all
day drive in the Serengeti – we saw so many animals, similar to what we saw on our last safari. The landscape here is incredible, huge open grassy fields to rolling hills to swamp lands…We stopped at a river packed with hippos – I stood at the edge and watched their big heads go in and out of the water. There was a baby hippo rolling over in the water, all you could see is a pink belly and stubby little legs. Across the river there were crocodiles sunning themselves. The other highlight is a bit gross, but we saw dozens of vultures circling and on the ground so we went in to investigate.
There was a young dead zebra. The vultures ripped open the belly and
had their entire head inside, other vultures were ripping off the leg skin to eat the meat. I will never forget the sounds of the vultures hissing at each other, the zebra skin ripping and the smell of death. We also drove back by the lion kill from the day before, there was nothing left but one buffalo horn. These animals are efficient.

Our jeep is cool, there is room on the back roof to sit. It’s my favorite spot, you sit on the roof, hang on to the luggage rack and enjoy a 360 view. The next day we left at 6 am for a sunrise drive. It rained the night before and the roads were muddy. Our jeep was sliding the whole way then finally the jeep went sideways and partially off the road. Luckily by this time the sun was up, unfortunately we were stuck in an area knowing for big cats.
We got out of the jeep, hoping that less weight would help. To be honest, we were all laughing so hard at this ridiculous situation, that we probably scared off any cheetahs or lions in the area.

The jeep was still stuck, so Ross and I pushed the front end to get traction on the road, it finally worked. I cannot describe to you how muddy we were. This mud is freaky, it sticks like glue. After this ordeal we headed to the Oldovai Gorge (on a dryer road).

I was so excited to visit the gorge. I visited the excavation site for some of the famous discoveries here of human origins. I wish I had my journal to tell you the exact names, there is no way my memory will produce an accurate spelling. I will tell you all about it when I return. This was one of my favorite spots. We drove home Sunday.

Monday afternoon I flew another damn small plane to the island of
Zanzibar. This place is gorgeous. I flew into Stone Town – it reminds me of Venice with cement buildings all attached, lines of buildings separated by a narrow path. The only scary thing here is that people drive on these narrow paths.

I watched a breathtaking sunset then headed to this bar overlooking the water. I made friends with the bartender who happened to be taking his motorbike north of the island where I was meeting my friends from volunteering. So I agreed to take his offer for a ride, only if he had a helmet. The next day he picked me up at my hotel, he has a scooter with one seat. I road on the luggage rack…He gave me his helmet, and to my amazement he put on an old orange construction hat. We puttered along, it should have taken an
hour, it took two. His scooter overheated 3 times. The construction helmet came in handy when we needed a pail of water to cool the engine. We arrived in Nungwi safely and I met up with my friends. I will be coming here again – white sand beaches, aqua blue waters, swaying palm trees – it’s dreamy.

We took an old wooden boat out to snorkel along the reef…it was a
perfect day.

Thursday I flew to Nairobi, Kenya with the intention of getting a
flight to Madagascar on Friday. Turns out flights are very limited….Nairobi really sucks (excuse my choice of words). It is the scariest place I have ever traveled too. I was there for just one night, it was the longest night of my life. I went to the restaurant in my dodgy hotel, turns out it’s a dodgy local hangout. This older guy, drunk, sat down at my table. He calls himself the scholar and that all white people are thieves and that he could kill me without me even knowing it.

There was no point in being scared here, there was nothing I could do. Police are rare. So I talked with him for a couple hours to see what the root of his aggravation was against white people. By the end we shook hands and he realized at least I was not part of his idea of what a white person was. Oh, and I forgot to mention
the first guy who sat at my table – he simply slid his fingers across his throat when he saw I was a single American white girl traveling. Got to love Nairobi…Well, I found the first bus out of here the next day.

I got an overnight bus to Kampala, Uganda – 15 hours down a dirt road.

Kampala is a great place, it reminds me of Arusha, Tanzania. I stayed here one night, then got a 6:30 am bus to Kabale, then got a scooter ride up to Lake Bunyoni (the deepest lake in East Africa). I got here around 4pm.

It is so beautiful and peaceful. They call this area the Switzerland of Africa…lush green hills rolling into each other forming valleys. I got some much needed rest and tranquility here. But the next day I was off again…I walked to the road to catch a public minibus (taxi). As I waited, I watched dozens of old, wooden, hand carved canoes filled with cabbage, beans, chickens, all heading to the bus stop for market day.

From Kabale I took a truck (taxi) to Bwindi. I did not know what I was getting myself into, before I knew it we had so many sacks of potatoes, cabbage in the back with at least 20 people piled on top. Luckily I had the front seat in the cab. The driver was going to fast up the mountain road with rocks and potholes and all the weight, we blew a tire. Thank goodness he had a spare and then drove a bit slower. 5 hours later I arrived in Bwindi.

It took 2 hours longer because we stopped so many times to drop people off, pick up more people, pick up more produce or eggs- we had 3 huge bunches of green bananas tied to the back of the truck – it was crazy!!

Bwindi is located in SW Uganda near the border of Rwanda and Congo. I was here to go mountain gorilla trekking. I stayed at the campsite within the gates of Bwindi park, in a hut. There were 2 other couples at the site, so it was nice to socialize and compare our crazy travel stories. I tried to sleep that night, but I couldn’t help think about the tragedy that took place here a few years ago. 8 tourists were taking in the night and killed. I knew we had armed guards at the gate, but so did they. I was probably more freaked out from the huge spider in my hut. For peace of mind I sprayed OFF bug spray around my bed, although I’m sure that would not have stopped this beast.

In the morning we went mountain gorilla trekking!!! I was so excited!! There was a group of 6 – 3 from UK and 2 huge Germans and me, our guide and 2 armed soldiers. We hiked up the jungle mountain and down, up a hill into a valley. Three hours later we were surrounded by 18 mountain gorillas (they share 98% of our genes). I watched a mother up in a tree with her 1 month old, a 4-year-old tumble down the hill playing with another, another mother with a 1 week old baby, and many more sitting around eating. Then the
silverback – he his huge!! Approx. 6′ tall and 460 pounds. The hike was incredibly challenging – the jungle is so dense, the vines want to surround you. I don’t know how many times I tripped because I had vines wrapped around my ankles, then you reach out to grab a tree so you don’t fall – the damn trees have thorns.

Oh, and I should mention the 6′ tall stinging nettle plants and biting ants.

But it was all worth it and I would do it again. We got back to camp before 4pm.

Part of my camp fee supports the local orphanage. At 5:30pm 70 orphans came to our camp and performed ritual songs and dance. They are just amazing and I felt honored to have such a performance just for a small group of us tourists.

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