Africa February 2007
 

Back to home page

We are back, safe and sound, from our month in Eastern Africa. Here's a brief overview of where we went and what we saw.  We took about 4,000 photos (thank goodness for digital), and have now succeeded in culling that down to about 1,000.  A little too many to put on a web site, but hopefully the ones below will give you a feel for our trip!
 
Rwanda
 

Our first stop was Rwanda, where we went searching for endangered mountain gorillas.   Only about 650 still survive, some in Rwanda and some in Uganda.  Our group included a guide, two armed soldiers, a maximum of eight visitors and a couple of porters to carry packs for the visitors.  The gorillas we were looking for were an hour or so hike up into the mountains.  They are quite accustomed to people, and didnít seem to care as we studied them from 20 or 30 feet away.  Rob got even closer Ė as two playing youngsters almost knocked him off the trail. 

(click on a photo to see a larger version)

 

 

Rwanda was a fascinating country, which is struggling to move beyond the 1994 genocide.  With world aid, the government is trying hard to maximize employment.  Everywhere people were busy, sweeping streets, planting, hoeing fields, harvesting.  With almost 8 million people in a relatively small country,  there were people everywhere.  Here in Canada, we are used to wide-open and empty spaces, such a thing does not exist in Rwanda.  Small houses dot the hillsides and the roads are full of people walking, biking, carrying huge bundles on their heads or on the backs of their bikes.  In the countryside, there are few if any private cars and motorcycles serve as taxis.  Sky asked why we didnít see any dogs.  The answer was simple, you have to feed dogs.  Tourism is yet to be developed there, and between Kigali and where we went to see the gorillas (2 hours away) we didnít see any other tourists.  People seemed friendly and curious.  Children wave, and if you wave back, their wave becomes a hands up motion, asking for a handout.  Usually they are begging for pens or pencils, or empty plastic water bottles.  We developed an entourage of a dozen children who followed us around a local market.

 

 

Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
 
Our next stop was Arusha in Tanzania, where we met Ivars, a friend of ours, and prepared for our Mount Kilimanjaro climb.  We followed a seldom-used route (Rongai route) up the side of the mountain closest to Kenya. Our little group of three climbers had two guides, a cook (who tried to feed us way too much food and explained that he was a chef, not a cook!) and nine porters to carry our gear.  We learned the meaning of the Swahili word Ďpoleí.  'Poleí means slow.  And slow was the key to dealing with the air that got progressively thinner as we climbed.   
 

It took us 5 days of climbing (4 nights of camping) to get to Kibo hut at 4750 meters altitude.  After a few hours of rest there, we set out at midnight to see the dawn over Africa from Africaís highest point, Uhuru Peak at 5896 meters.  The last couple of hours were bitter cold, with an icy trail, high winds, blowing snow and white outs.  Just like home!  Returning to camp some 11 hours later, for one hour of sleep then started on the long way down. A total of 19 km of travel that day and then after one night sleep on the way down, another 19 km and we were done.  A shower never felt so good! 

 


Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)

 

This was not a trip for relaxing.  Noon the next saw us at an airstrip, taking off on a small charter plane for the Serengeti National Park, one of the worlds largest wildlife refuges.   An amazing place, where fields of grass seem to go on forever, rivers are alive with hippos and crocodiles, and leopards laze in trees.  A tented camp had been set up for us, in a small wooded area far off the beaten track.  One tent for Ivars, and one for Rob and I.  A dining tent, and a little further away, a cook tent and sleeping tents for the 5  staff who were looking after us.  Our tent had a king size bed, flush toilet, sink, and an attached shower where warm water was available with just a few minutes notice.  We had all the comforts of home (plus laundry service on request).  A generator provided power.  The food was amazing.  Probably the best we had anywhere on the entire trip, and to think it was all prepared in a rustic backwoods kitchen.    We were told not to leave our tent at night, and not to worry about night sounds like lions nearby or animals brushing against the tent.  We were warned that if we did hear animals around our tent at night, not to shine flashlights in their eyes.  No worries about that. 
 

       

The Serengeti treated us to lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, warthogs, millions of wildebeest (really), zebras, giraffes, ostriches, gazelles,  impalas, waterbucks,  buffalo, hyenas, jackals and of course, vultures, always waiting for the opportunity to clean up after a kill.  All were so accustomed to safari vehicles, that they often wandered almost within touching distance.   We saw lifeís sometimes sad balance, were the stronger live and the weaker die. 
 

 

After a couple of days, we said goodbye to Ivars, and Rob and I spent a day or so more in the Serengeti before driving on to the Ngorongoro Crater.  An old volcanic crater  forming a spectacular bowl of about 265 square kilometers with sides up to 600m deep, and home to one of the highest wildlife concentrations in the world.  We saw all of the before mentioned animals in a much more condensed area.  Lions rested in the shade of the safari vehicles and we watched hyenas and jackals hovering around a lion kill.  Our hotel was perched on the edge of the crater, with magnificent views.  Accommodation was private cabins scattered throughout the grounds.  On our way to dinner after dark, we had to call for an escort to walk us safely past the wild buffalo that grazed around the cabins.  Everything was included, including a private butler who sprinkled rose petals around our bath.  We could have stayed there longer.  
 

 

Lake Eyasi (Tanzania)

 

Next, on to Lake Eyasi, two hours down a back road that had been almost washed out by rains earlier in the year.  There we spent a morning with bushmen, who still live as they have for hundreds of years.  We accompanied them hunting for game with home made bows and arrows,  starting fires in the Ďoldí ways, digging for edible roots in the wild, and finding water in dry riverbeds.  Itís hard to imagine how they survive.  We wondered what use they have for money, but they were more than willing to accept a tip. In the afternoon, we visited a blacksmith shop that was just a fire with a few tools and hand worked bellows (no roof or walls).  We also stopped by a homestead, where an entire extended family, we counted 6 women of all ages, 5 or 6 children, and a corresponding number of men (who were out herding their livestock so we never met them) all live in a two room house, about 10 feet by 20 feet in size, built of mud, dung, sticks and grasses. The single women were elaborately dressed in cow skin dresses adorned with beads.  They were gorgeous!
 

 

Zanzibar

 

After a sometimes hectic schedule, we flew to Zanzibar, where we relaxed for a few days in beachfront bungalow on the Indian Ocean. We did some diving, wandered along the beach, and watched dhows bear fisherman out with the tide.  The locals gathered seaweed at low tide, which they dried and then sold to Estee Lauder for cosmetics.  We spent our last night in Stonetown, the principal city on Zanzibar.  Itís primarily Muslim, with many mosques, and itís suggested that female visitors donít show too much leg or arm.  Itís a city of narrow streets and lots of activity.   We got tired of people trying to sell us something, and knowing that no one was doing anything for you from the goodness of their heart.  Itís Ďtipí Ďtipí Ďtipí.  A teenager started walking with us and eventually accompanied us back to our hotel.  He wanted a tip for leading us back to the hotel (though we were never lost).  In the womenís bathroom at the airport, a woman turned on the tap for Sky and asked for a tip for doing so. 
 

 

It was a long trip home from Stonetown which included three different flights, and 35 hours of travel from the time we left our hotel in Stonetown, to the time we arrived on our doorstep at home.   Itís great to be home.

 

Sky Bicevskis