JZ's Africa Expedition 2009 travel blog

Up at the crack of dawn...literally! It was 5am and my alarm went off! It was pitch black and I didn't want to get out of my warm cozy bed. Believe it or not those hot water bottles worked wonders!! Its freezing in my place when I got out of the bed, so I decided to forego my shower...way too cold. Who would have thought I would be putting on so many layers for a vacation...tank top, shirt, sweatshirt, jacket and scarf...plus I have a rain jacket and gloves for the hike! Ha! As many of you know, I am a morning person...the sunrise was beautiful on this crisp morning. The birds were chirping loudly along with cows mooing in the distance...another beautiful start to the day!!!

Today is a warm up for tomorrow as I will spend a couple hours going Golden Monkey trekking. They are a specific rare monkey only found in this area of Rwanda/Uganda. I should be back to my lodge by noon for a HOT shower! Its 6am and its off to breaky!

After breaky Abus took me to the center where everyone checks in for all the hikes. The guides meet and place people in different gorilla groups, however, I was doin the Golden Monkeys today. After about 8am I was given my guide and he explained the hike. We were driven to the drop off point and then I was given a hiking stick. It was sunny and had gotten much warmer so I was able to shed some layers. It was actually just me and my guide for the trek so it was nice. Andrew, the guide, was great as he gave me a lot of history as we were traveling. The guide also had his personal guide who was carrying a machetti to cut away the bush we would go through. We started walking through villages and then through their farms along with cows, sheep, and goats. I saw many of the women working in the field hoeing and planting Irish potatoes. (Evidently, in Rwanda the woman do ALL the hard labor work and the men stay at home and booze. I wouldn't survive here!!) I also passed through crops of beans, maize, and bamboo. Many of the kids were scattered along the fields too, so I of course had to talk with them and take pics. While hiking we were surrounded by fantastic views of the volcanoes.

Then, we reached the National park and our true hike began! Well, that's when I truly became one with nature!! It must have been quite a site to see me trek! They suggest hiking boots, however, many places do and I have always been fine with my sneakers. I was wrong this time!!! It rains daily here and the ground was not only wet, but SUPER muddy!!! I mean MUDDY! I would try to walk on the side of the path were leaves had fallen so I would take giant steps to the left and see a dry patch so then I would take giant steps to the right for a dry patch, but regardless of my precise steps I landed in big mud puddles...the kind where your foot goes down soo deep and its suctioned in the mud! Plus, I have my new big "tourist" camera around my neck and I'm not adjusted to walking with it. Then, we would have to duck and weave in between the bamboo trees that were low or close together...not your normal trek. I am sure I was a sight to see! Ha! Additionally, there were tons of flies biting me...I know I didn't take a shower, but I didn't smell to attract all those flies...really! It was only a 45 min trek until we reached 4 other guys who were trackers for the park. They track the animals daily to see where everyone needs to go on the next day. These trackers were initially poachers in the years back! When we see them we have arrived at our destination. We put down our packs and search for the golden monkeys in the top of the bamboo trees. We have one hour to be with them. They feed on the trees and jump from tree to tree, however, these trees are very close together and there is not a lot of open space. Also, many times when you try to get close to their tree, they jump to another tree with the sound. Thank god for my new zoom lens!! I did get a couple good facial shots, although, most are pics of their bottoms!! Then, the guide gestured for me to get closer underneath the tree of the monkey. Your heads are always looking straight up and you get a sore neck when its done...well, I was looking straight up right underneath the monkey about to take a pic when I noticed some drops coming down. He started peeing and it just missed me!!! Whew! I also saw a tiny baby that was so small that after it played on the branches it hopped into the moms pouch. I was able to video two younger monkeys playing in the branches...so very cute! Also, when they eat the bamboo they are loud!! All you here is bamboo being torn apart and the monkeys moving in the trees. On occassion a huge bamboo stalk will fall as one almost hit the tracker on the head. It was a very neat experience to see them in the wild.

After an hour was up, we headed back for our decent. When I ended the trek, I found out this was the easiest as the trek for the mountain gorillas can last from 35 min - 5 hours each way! And the Diane Fossey trek I will take is even muddier! My shoes were black along with the bottom of my pants and my entire body was full of mud stains, but worth it!

After the trek Abus picked me up to visit a couple local shops, however, the shops here are literally like two shelves with items on it. Nothing good, and everything is overpriced. I couldn't find post cards for the life of me and when I did, they were 2 dollars each!! So, Abus was a trooper and helped me with trying to get stamps...now, that was an excursion! Everyone we asked about the Post gave us different directions so we drove all around. Then, when we found it, I laughed out loud. I had never seen such a dumpy post office. It was a walk up window from the outside. After trying to explain what I wanted, I learned that post card stamps to the US were over a dollar each!!! ....guess my pre-printed mailing labels won't be used...don't expect a post card from Rwanda! ;-)

I made it back to the lodge just in time as a huge thunderstorm rolled in and it poured! Then, I ordered my diet coke at lunch. After I had it, I found out it was FIVE US dollars!! I can have all the local beer and soda I want for free here, yet the diet coke is 5 dollars...Ha! I have come to realize that in this small town they really jack up the prices for many things. Even the local markets are really expensive...necklaces are just as expensive as at home, and the quality is worse here. You also pay a premium for the hotels considering the quality of it. But, that's what you get when you travel...still worth every penny of it!

I didn't think a hot shower with low pressure would feel soo good!! I washed my pants in the sink and was going to let them air dry, but remembered this video my friend showed me and I got paranoid. I sure didn't want any type of Bott Flies laying eggs in my clothes!! Go to YouTube and google bott flies...it is the most disgusting video you will ever see. These flies in Africa lay their larva in clothes, and then hatch themselves in your body when you put the clothes on. Ugh!! No outside air drying for me!!!

I quickly got ready to have Abus take me to a traditional Rwandan community. You visit this place and they share all the old local traditions and customs that they practiced years back. I went into a replica of what used to be the king's palace. The local explained the traditions of each room of the hut: the meeting room with political people, the kings bedroom (he was busy with 4-5 women a night!), etc. Then, I was coming out of the hut and they started swarming me with these clothes they wrapped around my body and put a fur cape on along with I hat...I about freaked they when they put the dirty hat on my head! They said this is what the king wordrobe. Then they changed the headpiece and said this is what the queen wore. I just wanted to get that stuff off as it did not smell the best!! And I had imagined my jacket to risk of it just like in that Seinfeld episode where he can't get rid of the BO stench from the taxi! But, Of course I smiled for the pic! Then, I was greeted by traditional drummers and dancers. While I was there I met a traditional healer...he kept staring at my eyes...I swore he was trying to put a spell on me or reach me spiritually! Next was shooting the bow and arrow...I would have starved if I lived back then as none hit the target! I also learned their dance, how to play the drums, and crush maize into flour. Abus was my personal photographer during all of this...he's soo nice!! There were some pgymies there too who are the local Rwandan tribes (very short people). The funds go to help out the local people so it felt good to help them out.

By now I am wiped out! It takes a lot to tire me out as I am the energizer bunny and keep going, but on this trip I think I have met my match! ...or still have not adjusted to the new time. I fell asleep for an hour before dinner. There was another down pour this evening that it rained so hard and kicked off the power for a few minutes...I am a bit worried about the conditions for my big hike tomorrow. Its another freezing cold night, so its off to my bed of hot water bottles.

Just when I think I am getting comfortable with nature, it tests me! Tonight was the night of tons of bugs in my room. I constantly found hard shelled creatures crawling on the floor and kept swatting them with my flip flops. Then, I hear loud buzzing and its some random big flying bug that I am trying to swat in my curtains. Lastly, as I am typing away a bug crawls out of my covers...okay I lost it and stripped my bed...ugh! I think I'm done as there was a maze of dead bugs on my floor...Good Night!

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