JZ's Africa Expedition 2009 travel blog

Sometimes on vacations one has their up and down days..well, I just went to hell and back!! Let me tell you my story...it's more than your typical JZ adventure.

It started like the typical morning... Well, I can officially say I am done with hot water bottles! The water bottle ended up leaking all over the bed and ME in the middle of the night...not a great feeling!

Had a hearty last breakfast at the lodge with Abus. We headed to the trekking center again...I felt like Bill Murray in that movie where everything happens the same all over again. Ha! Tons of hikers there this morning and ran into an interesting group. There was a group of 20 people from all different counties that worked for an event marketing company called Ignition who is sponsored via Coke for the FIFA world cup. (Melissa you should look into this!) They are traveling to every country in Africa promoting the World Cup since its being held in South Africa in 2010. They also promote the Olympics, etc...what a great job!!

So, it was off to hike and see Diane Fosseys grave. She is buried in the mountain along side Digit, the mountain gorilla that was killed by poachers. Now, they say it's about a 2 hour hike there and 2 hours back, but I have heard that it is really muddy. (As a side note, I was to be back by 1ish to shower and head to our next destination because it would be a 6 hour drive.) I was prepared for a good trek! There were 3 other Germans that were hiking with me. First, the hike entailed having Abus drop us off at the starting point. Once again, it was one of the worst roads ever...stone and rock protruding so high that it took Abus forever. He tends to drive MUCH slower on rocky conditions than any other driver. There was tons of head bobbing and shaking as we went down the road...about half hour. We then took our packs and were off. We started trekking down an even bumpier road (no driving could be done there cuz it was so stoney). It went down the village and then we hiked up the hills through the villagers plantations and crops. It was a bit steep but it was fairly grassy (at the time) so it was not a bad hike. I was thankful I was not the lagging person as the entire group of Germans, specifically the guy, was always several feet behind and we were always waiting for them. I knew it was going to be a longer hike because of it and didn't have that type of time since the schedule was tight. Once we got into the park the conditions started changing...it was all up hill on mud inclines, but not extremely wet. Then, it was the German girl (hey, not me) that constantly wanted to rest every 5 min because she was feeling sick. Evidently, Kigali and parts of Rwanda have a very high altitude...I did not know! That explains why I have been so tired as I was adjusting to the altitude and jet lag...whew! About 45 min into our trek she got really sick and started hurling...we probably waited 15 minutes for her and then had to call up a porter to get her to walk her down. While we waited, it started drizzling...I knew this was a very bad, bad start...It was at that time where I almost decided to head back with her...wish I did!!

The rest of the group forged ahead. At this time it started raining harder and I put my very thin rain jacket on...the trail got extremely muddy at that time and I found myself not knowing where to step and taking giant leaps to avoid big mud puddles. Then, it started pouring!! That was when it got bad...I put my rain jacket on OVER my pack pack as it was getting drenched and I didn't want my new camera to get wet and ruined. There were times when my foot squished so deep that it was covered in mud and I could not pull up my feet...this happened often! It got to the point where I would have to take my walking stick and test the area to see where the least amount of squish would be...sometimes the stick would go down 2 inches deep in mud!

Then, it started hailing...and big pieces! This is not normal in Rwanda! We still had to trek thru it. It was taking forever and we weren't even halfway there. I was drenched from head to toe and miserable...but it got worse...the mud got soo thick that you had to step in it, and sometimes mud would cover up to my ankles. I almost pulled my shoe off because of the suction, and sometimes I couldn't pull my stick out of the mud cuz it was soo deep, sometimes in a foot of mud! I would be trekking with my stick, switching it from my left to right hand and pushing my self out...it took tons of tricep strength...ugh! At times it would be hard to keep your balance and I slipped a couple times! I had to put my gloves on because I found myself touching those stinging needles and they HURT!! I so wanted to just go back and his 45 min left was always double the time. Then, the German guy hurt his hip and wanted to rest every 10 min...we were getting poured on, I was drenched and cold and just wanted to get the hike done yet we had to wait for him! The last leg of the trip involved a swamp...literally there was grass (at least easier to walk) and tons of water and mud. So, at that point I didn't care, and just had to walk in ankle deep water of course seeping in my gym shoes...squish, squish. We finally made it to the center where Diane Fossey worked, the Kirioske Center, FOUR hours into our trek. I couldn't even take a picture of it because all my cameras where buried deep into my bags and it was pouring rain. There was a hut there that we regrouped for 5 minutes. We still had an additional 20 minutes as the guide said (which meant 40 min) to get to Diane Fossey and Digit's grave!!! We were all miserable and decided to head back and not even see the graves. All of that work and we didn't even make it up to the grave!!! I took a pick of the info in the hut and called it a day. I did not know how I was going to make it back in those conditions when it takes even longer to go down hill. Well, we forged ahead in the pouring rain and that guy kept having to stop to rest his hip...he was 10 years younger than me!!! My fingers were so cold and wet that they started turning white and were also prunes from the wet gloves. Finally, adrenaline kicked in and I just wanted to be back so I started stomping through everything....the swamp water, the mud piles, etc...it didn't matter how deep it was. All of a sudden, a BUFFALO appeared literally 10 feet from us...or at least me and the guide as the others were way behind!! I freaked! It stared at us for what seemed eternity, and. then walked away. The guide used that as an excuse to get the guy from taking breaks and stick with the group. Yet, another buffalo came through our path! The guide did not have a gun, so if it would have charged us, we would have been in trouble. I will forever have the image of him staring us down with his big face and and horns in clear view. Evidently they were coming down the mountain due to the heavy rains. Our guide tried to take us through more off the path trails with tons of trees and bush because the path was soo muddy and slippery it was impossible to go down it. There were actual rivers of water flowing down our initial path. Little did I know, this is when I would suffer the most...my adrenaline running high, and thinking the faster the better, I stomped through the forested bushes with the stinging needles pricking me everywhere and leaving me in pain because my hiking pants were thin. The colder and wetter I got the less pain the sting I felt. It was much quicker coming down this way. Making this long story a bit shorter, we finally get to the bottom, I barely had steam to make it across the stoney driveway (hadn't eaten since 6am and it was 4 pm!)!! I finally made it to Abus and rejoiced! It ended up being a SEVEN hour hike! But my misery wasn't over...I was soo cold I was shivering and my teeth chattering. I had no dry clothes and no heat in the car as Abus even had the window down. The half hour ride over the stones seemed like eternity! My legs and one hand had excruciating pins and needle pain from the stinging needles and it would not go away. I even had splinters on my pants from the bush, not to mention a splitting headache..

When I got back to the hotel to take off my shoes and socks, chunks of mud came out of them! My socks were black and I had to trash them. The warm shower felt like heaven, however, I was so far gone, it didn't help much. I tried to wash the pants and shoes a bit in the tub as I would have to use them in a day, but couldn't get dirty water to stop coming off them.

We now had another problem...we were soo late to get on the road that Abus didn't think we would be able to pass over to the Uganda border because it would be closed! This would be a nightmare!! So, we packed up, and Abus drove like a bat out of hell on those bumpy dirt roads. Now, villagers are walking on both sides of the road taking up space and Abus would honk and speed by them...we had to have been going twice the normal speed limit!! During this time my head was pounding and my legs and hand were still in severe pain.

Whew! We made it to the border in time with 15 min to spare!!! It was a shanty immigration office! We still had another 5 hrs of winding roads to go! The path we had to take was a winding, bumpy road that went up A VERY high hill. He was speeding the entire time during the dark and getting soo close to the edges, I just closed my eyes..now, that would be a mom thing to do! Ha! I couldn't see much as the entire path had NO lights and it was just his high beams, however, on one side there was supposed to be a beautiful huge valley as we got in the mountains, but I missed it. I was told it was some of the best scenery I had missed. ;-( Then, there was a double truck who was stuck on the mountain...I don't know how we got through that turn with the bus blocking us...thank god Abus is an awesome driver as there were only inches to spare. but the the other tourist bus was going to have to wait hours before it could go by! Finally, we both arrived safely to the lodge at 11pm! They had shut down, gone to bed and shut their generators off too! It took forever to get them up, once they did they were so accommodating. We stayed in Ruhija at Ruhija Gorilla Lodge. It was a 4 month old lodge that was beautiful! The service was impeccable as they woke up, checked me in, turned on the generators, took my luggage down, and started a fire for me in my room. The rooms were fantastic. They were like log cabins in colorado with a fireplace and bare skin rugs and nice new blankets! I was exhausted and ready for bed!!!

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