Friday, 29 May 2009

Finally - Our Mountain Gorillas Encounter!! (by Mands)

Before I begin, I need to apologise for the extreme tardiness of this blog . The combination of remote travel over the past 6 weeks which has presented very few opportunities for internet or electricity, plus an unaccountable inertia on my part, has meant a loooong delay in getting this piece written. My sincere apologies. But at last, here it is...

 

As if seeing the chimpanzees wasn’t enough good fortune. How do we continue to be so blessed on this trip? It had never occurred to me that we would get to see gorillas: the cost alone, at US$500 pp, is prohibitively expensive for most backpackers’ budget. In spite of the cost, however, the lure of seeing mountain gorillas (of which there are a mere 720 remaining in the world) still attracts plenty of tourists to Rwanda and Uganda. So much so, in fact, that there is a waiting list several months’ long for obtaining a permit. Not having booked months in advance, it didn’t enter our heads that a visit to the gorillas was even a viable thought. Not until we crossed the border from Uganda into Rwanda, that is...

 

Suddenly finding ourselves in a Host Country of these magnificent creatures, where every other hotel, motel and hostel is called Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Nest Inn or Silverback View Hotel did the thought enter our minds: how silly to be here, Right Here, in the heart of Gorilladom and not at least try to see them. So we decided to test Fate and enquire at the National Parks office. After all, it was low season and still technically the rainy season – a factor which severely reduces tourists’ chances of seeing the gorillas. We didn’t expect a positive answer, therefore we were not going to be disappointed. But at least we would have tried.

 

We stopped off at Ruhengeri and enquired. The office not only had available permits, but several of them, and for every day of the remaining week we were around. On hearing this news, for an instant I couldn’t breathe. Then my insides burnt hot with the desire to see the gorillas. I could not believe that it was possible, yet here we were, confronted with the decision Should We Go or Not. Suddenly, the $500 fee lost its importance, knowing that however much it is, it would be more than worth it. How can one weigh up the price of a Once in a Lifetime experience such as this? I waited to see what the others would decide, holding my breath with anticipation. But when Nicky asked me what I thought, I blurted out my answer. YES!! I really do want to go! Gus and Nicky have already seen mountain gorillas, so it was up to Robert and Big Max. Fortunately, they both ended up agreeing to seize this unique opportunity and so we bought 3 permits and prepared ourselves for a Once In a Lifetime treat!

 

Fast forward to Saturday 2nd May...The dawn sky shone brilliantly on the surrounding volcanoes, as if in apology for the glum, cloudy day we’d had the previous day. It was a good omen, I knew it! Robert, Max and I drove from the camp (to a chorus of farewells from the rest of the gang) to the National Parks HQ. We’d given a lift to three others: Seth from the States and Belgians Annike & Kris, who also ended up in our tracking group. We were ‘assigned’ the Amhora Group of gorillas (of which there are 16 family members). An aptly named group, given that they were the first gorilla family discovered in the forest after the Rwandan genocide: Amhora means Unity in the Kinyarwanda language. Our guide was a young and enthusiastic man named Oliver, who knew every single gorilla in all seven of the groups that have been habituated on this side of the volcanoes. My toes tingled in anticipation and I was impatient to get going. But we still had to drive out to the starting point, about 50 minutes away and then spend another 40 minutes walking through rural villages and fields, before finally arriving at the start of the forest. It began in wild bamboo, but changed shortly to thick forest undergrowth that climbed upwards, becoming increasingly steeper as we headed up the unrelenting volcano. This was no easy stroll, it was hard work as we fought entangling vines, long sharp grasses, giant stinging nettles I’ve never before encountered the size, or sting, of and the most hostile of all, the aggressive, biting Army ants. I didn’t mind any of it one bit, however, because I knew we would be richly rewarded. Which indeed we inevitably were.

 

After a hard hour’s climb, the trackers (men from the local community who spend every single day with this particular group of gorillas) called down to us that they had located the forest dwellers. My heart pounded as I scanned the mountainside, searching desperately to catch a glimpse of one of them. Before I knew what was happening, however, I walked into the backs of our group who had stopped abruptly, on account of the sudden appearance from seemingly nowhere of an adult silverback! Totally unperturbed by us, he nonchalantly loped in front of us and went ahead to find another bush where he could uproot a tasty bunch of the wild celery plant that grows abundantly on the mountainside. We were astounded! With mouths agape at our first and unexpectedly close encounter with this huge furry beast, some of us tried to suppress the nervous, incredulous giggle that welled up. We were told very strictly that no noise or sudden movement was allowed in their presence and as much as was possible, we had to maintain a 7m distance from the gorillas. This stipulation is less a security factor for us, rather more a health consideration for the gorillas, who are vulnerable to human germs.

 

As we continued our almost-vertical scramble up the mountain, we came to a natural clearing, where Lo and Behold! Our expectations were fully realised at the sight of the core members of the Amhora family of gorillas!! The bush was still incredibly thick in parts, so we continued to be surprised by sudden appearances of these huge creatures. I had my own special experience when – being at the back of the group – a mother gorilla had followed after us through the leafy tunnel into the clearing, without our knowing. Without warning or fuss, she simply carried on her way with baby on her back, right past me. I had no idea what to do other than put my head down in a submissive posture, making sure not to make eye contact (I’d learnt that from the Dian Fossey movie!), but the space in the thicket was tight and didn’t allow for space off the path and she brushed her strong body against my legs. A small part of me was terrified, but not because I thought she would turn on me, rather because I felt I had crossed a sacrilegious boundary by making physical contact with a wild gorilla, however unwittingly. Mostly, though, I bubbled with euphoria and the amazed awe of having been so close to one of these special, rare creatures. The best bit was seeing the 10 month old baby gorilla – as cutely clich├ęd as all the magazine photos portray – make eye contact with me as it passed by, turning its head to maintain its bewildered gaze upon this hairless creature that grinned so stupidly at it! It was so unutterably cute, it took an enormous amount of self-control not to put my hand out to touch it!

 

Once having located a gorilla family, the deal is you get to spend only one hour with them. For many obvious reasons, this is clearly a good stipulation for the gorillas’ sakes. As the observer, however, the frustration lay in the fact that 60 minutes of absorbed focus and awe whittled down to what felt more like 6 minutes! We stood up the mountain from them constantly amused and amazed by at the antics of the baby gorilla: playing tag with its young ‘toddler’ sister, rolling over, falling backwards down the slope, climbing over adult relatives who were too busy eating shoots to pay any attention, and hanging upside down from the branches of a small bush. The other gorillas, the adults and sub-adults, concentrated solely on eating; we were fortunate enough to have found the group stationary at snack time. Watching the way these massive, hairy beasts delicately stripped off the bark of stalks before eating them, the way they itched themselves, the way they communicated between themselves, as well as with us, was a constant source of wonder. In so many ways, gorillas appear to mimic us humans: the raise of an eyebrow, a sideways glance, the tender touch of affection, the selective appraisal of which shoot to eat for lunch. So uncannily human. And yet still intrinsically wild and beast-like. We were all fascinated.

 

I was also extremely conscious of the fact that what we were experiencing here was something so fragile, so tenuous. These mountain gorillas – blissful as they currently are – are incredibly vulnerable. Not only do they live in a habitat that happens to be a live volcano, but also within an area of extreme tension and human aggression, sandwiched between volatile DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. Their long-term future is not rosy. We were phenomenally privileged to have shared an hour in the lives of these wondrous animals. It was very hard to tear ourselves away from them. But the visions and memories of each of the Amhora family members are strong. May they always remain so. Most fortuitously for us, one of our group is a professional cameraman – our very own Rob Adams! I’d just like to end by saying a special Thank You to Robert for being the one to forgo a degree of intimacy with the gorillas, as his hour’s experience of them was witnessed largely through the lens of a camera – for the benefit of us all. You can see his stunning short video through our blog site connection............. Great job, Robert, thanks so much!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

out of the mountains and down to the sea...

Well, we're on the homeward stretch now. Or so it seems. We've
followed the shore of Lake Malawi down to Cape Maclear, turned east
to Lishinga, crossed the mountain and forest of Niassa province, and
arrived on the Indian Ocean coast at the exquisite Ilha da
Mocambique. Here, we've settled in for a few days at Casa Heinrich,
the beautifully restored house of a friend from Zimbabwe, eaten
prawns and Lula (calamari), swum in the clear sea, ridden a dhow out
to Goa island and climbed to the top of the hundred year-old lighthouse.

Ilha is an astonishing place, capital of Portugese Mozambique for
over four hundred years, full of decaying grandiose buildings in the
great Imperial Portugese style at one end of the island -the Stone
Town -, and tightly packed reed-roofed African houses at the other -
Reed Town. Today, Sunday, we were lucky enough to meet Franciso
Monteiro, a passionately committed young Portugese architect working
here for UNESCO on a project to rehabilitate the mighty fortress that
dominates the island's northern end. He gave up part of his weekend
to show us around the fort, and we stood on the battlements at the
end of the island, looking out over iron cannon at dhows sailing down
the sunset.

Many buildings in Stone Town are in ruins, the consequence of forty
years of decay, and the forty thousand war refugees who thronged onto
the island - only two kms long by a few hundred meters wide - in the
eighties. Some have been restored, others have survived the gruelling
past decades. There are a handful of delightful restaurants and
cafes, a good hotel, a Centro Nautico offering dhow trips, and not
much else. Ilha is a long way from becoming Mozambique's Zanzibar,
but the beginning of it's rebirth is perhaps apparent.

Over the next few days we'll head south, through central Mozambique,
passing, at Inchope, only a couple of hundred kilometers from the Zim
border, only 6 hours from home. Then south, to Inhassoro, where we
hope to finish our Mozambique time with some diving, and more prawns,
and another spectacular Indian Ocean sunset or two, doubtless
accompanied by a cold Manica (or two).

Malawi to Mozambique photos

Jangano goes boating on Lake Malawi.

Another busy border crossing - Malawi to Mozambique


Camping wild under an Inselberg in Niassa Province, northern Mozambique

The hundred and twenty year old lighthouse on Goa island, off Ilha da Mocambique

Sunset over the Indian ocean, from Casa Heinrich

Friday, 22 May 2009

East African Lakes - by Benedict

We have travelled a lot in East Africa and something we have seen a lot of are lakes. Some lakes we can even swim in, such as Lake Langano in Ethiopia, Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Tanganyika in Burundi and Tanzania. Otherwise, other lakes we’ve seen but not swum in, is Lake Nasser for the border of Sudan and Egypt, Lake Turkana in Kenya, the second biggest lake in the world which is Lake Victoria in Uganda and Lakes Albert, George and Edward also in Uganda. A few things I forgot to say about the lakes we swam in, was that Lake Tanganyika  is the second deepest in the world and the longest in Africa. Lake Kivu has big gas bubbles that are poisonous and Lake Langano has fluoride in it.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

moving on

We've had a lot of travel the past few weeks. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and now into Malawi. Much of it in the rain, on slippery roads. The tents have hardly had a chance to dry out, insect bites go septic fast...

But it's been an astonishing month of volcanos and tea estates, genocide memorials and gorillas, lakes and rivers and mountains, long days and rainy nights. Food's been a little short at times, though we enjoyed cheese from Goma in the DRC, and ripe avocados almost everywhere. 

And now we are firmly back in familiar territory, on Lake Malawi, heading south and east down the lake towards Mozambique in a few days time, then onto South Africa. In four weeks time we'll be dipping our toes in the southern ocean, and celebrating the southern-most point of our journey. 

Onwards and downwards!

R




New videos!

I've just uploaded two new videos to our youtube channel and the website. The easiest way to access them is to go to www.jangano2009.com and click on "videos - going down". Alternatively you can go to the jangano2009 youtube channel, or click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-aJypn-bgM to watch an account of our visit to the Hope Centre Burundi, where Val and Charles Carr from Scotland are helping build an orphanage outside Bujumbura; or to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsegommK0iot to watch a music vid of a tough day driving the muddy roads of western Tanzania.

I should apologise for the low quality of the videos uploaded - we are sending them from our satfone, and we're trying to keep the costs down. The better the quality, the more data there is, so the more it costs to upload. We think you would rather get regular updates in not-so-good quality. Once we have a good connection, and some time to spend on updating, I will try to upload higher quality versions. In the meantime, please bear with us!

R


Food, glorious food

Many of our devoted followers have commented on how skinny we are looking in our photos and video clips. Thank you! Before we left there was concern that we would all balloon in size because we would be sitting in our cars all day. As well as fears amongst our nearest and dearest that our brains would become addled without gainful employment or school to stimulate the grey cells. Well, as you will have seen there has been plenty of food for the mind on this trip. But perhaps we haven't demonstrated quite as clearly the variety of physical fodder we have consumed. Personally speaking, my culinary experiences have been an important aspect of the expedition, one to which my diary bears considerable testimony. Memories of specific places are accompanied by recollections of what we ate, who cooked it and even who washed up!

FOOD 1 is the key food box in Jambanja containing tins, carbs, condiments and the odd packet of popcorn that was evidently purchased in Zimbabwe circa 1999 because it still has a price label saying 10 dollars (zim) on it. Its looking a bit empty now as we are well into southern Africa and never more than a day away from a supermarket or seafood. We have another box, FOOD 2, which by contrast contains the malt whisky, several Rwandan baskets, and an old bottle of Angostura bitters which I fondly and erroneously imagined we would be mixing into our gin and tonics at the end of a hard day's bush bashing. Each car has several other ammo boxes full of utensils, cutlery, saucepans etc. as well as gas stoves.

Most of you will want to know who does most of the cooking. Well some of our resident chefs have made it easy for us both to recall their contribution and at the same time ensure they get off lightly on cooking duty thereafter. After trying out several recipes of his own device which put corned beef centre stage I think Gus realised that it was no coincidence that first Alexander and then he were violently sick a few hours later.

Here is the famous Le Breton chapati making team. This morning Gus decided he would make pancakes but at the sight of the gluey wholemeal gloop he had created, he convinced us that he was planning to make chapatis all along.
Bread is of course a staple, and when we can't buy it en route we have occasionally baked (burnt) our own loaves in the camping bread maker that was purchased from a 4x4 shop in Joburg last year. Of course its all in the kneading.....
What of the other chefs at the Jangano 5 star restaurant? Max and Jake have proven dab hands at fried eggs, popcorn and general tin opening duty. The three laatjies made a memorable and delicious meal in which they re-created kosheri, a favourite Egyptian dish of rice mixed with noodles. They did this by cunningly cooking some rice and yes, wait for it.... mixing it with 3 minute noodles. And Mands takes first prize for doing the most to ensure we don't go to bed feeling hungry every day. My speciality is a buffet supper which involves opening tins of humus, tuna, sweetcorn and anything else suitable, and artfully arranging it with some raw carrot and tomato. Decorated with herbs and spices it looks good and has become a favourite quick fix especially when firewood or gas or imagination are in short supply.

Fortunately sometimes we are staying with friends and enjoying the luxury of a fully equipped kitchen to play with....or else their long-suffering staff may even cook for us. Having breakfast with Kate Phillips in Cairo:


And other times we eat out. One of the cheapest and best meals we had in Egypt was at Mustapha's street cafe near the (rebuilt) library in Alexandria.

And one of our most upmarket meals was at the New Cactus restaurant in Kigali, Rwanda, when Robert treated us to excellent oven-baked pizzas!

Fashion Violations

The time, sadly, is drawing all too rapidly to a close. And with it we, inevitably, start to reflect. Sitting on a lakeshore in Malawi, watching the absolute disregard of my youngest son for anything remotely connected with fashion (inherited from where, I wonder?!), it occurred to me that none of us had escaped the last few months without occasionally straying from the bounds of what might be called Sound Fashion Sense. Some of these may have been circumstantial, but others were clearly premeditated. Here, for your enjoyment, is a cross-section of some of the more serious Fashion Violations of the trip to date......

The leading causes of Fashion Violations are, of course, climatic. Take, for example, the following item of rainwear recently modelled by Nicky on a back road in western Tanzania.

Ben and Mands were clearly struggling to cope with the unexpected chills in the Western Desert below.

But quite what was going through Mands' head as she adopted the following attire to keep warm at over 3,000 metres in Ethiopia remains a mystery!

The next most-common cause of Fashion Violations were our (sometimes desperate) attempts to blend in. Take, for example, Robert's ill-conceived attire as he tried to mingle in Egypt....



Or Xander and Ben's sorry efforts at local headgear (cunningly fashioned by a passerby from a rug he found on the floor)....



Big Max's attempts to pass off as a Hamer warrior in South Omo were laudable, and he even followed local custom by decorating his AK in appropriate style with a piece of goatskin wrapped delicately around the nozzle. Not everyone's idea of top fashion, but not bad!



Below is a genuine Hamer warrior who, for reasons known only to him, chose to abandon his rather fine traditional dress and instead don an ancient satin ball-gown, presumably appropriated from a passing Victorian explorer's wife. Not one of the Jangano team, but an outstanding Fashion Violation, nonetheless!


Not all Fashion Violations were circumstantial, and some were quite clearly premeditated. Take, for example, the bizarre decision of the entire Le B family to pluck purple flowers from the grounds of a hotel in Lalibela, put them behind their ears and then allow themselves to be photographed in such a pose. What WERE they thinking?!


If we were to award a prize for the most serious Fashion Violations of the trip, however, there's no doubt in anyone's mind who it would go to. For his persistent ability to mix and match the most unlikely combinations of clothes, and for the utter lack of self-consciousness with which he sports them, Little Max scoops all the prizes. Here, in one of his more imaginative ensembles (green sleeveless vest, blue boxers, long grey socks and charming cammo crocs), is Little Max, the undisputed King of Anti-Fashion in the Jangano team!

And as for me, well, I can only feel a sense of relief that the baton is now in the hands of someone else!

Happy Birthday to me!

It wasn't an auspicious start to my 44th birthday. We had been forced to camp in a gravel pit just off a dirt road that had taken us through some beautiful miombo forest, south of Kigoma in Western Tanzania but with no accessible camping spots off it, we had little choice but to take the first place that offered any space to set up camp. So on the 10th May we woke up in damp,smelly tents, amidst a swarm of bees that had been disturbed by our presence. For about a month since leaving Nairobi we had been subject to frequent downpours and our kit hadn't really had a chance to dry properly. The stink was compounded by the fact that the beautiful troupe of Colobus monkeys we saw near Fort Portal in Uganda (see Youtube clip), had peed liberally all over our flysheets. Its actually surprising the bees wanted to come anywhere near us. My lovely sons presented me, somewhat hurriedly, with beautiful handdrawn cards before dashing off to escape the stings and to pack up. Other celebrations were deferred in the interests of getting away with minimal damage.

So things could only get better. And indeed they did - hugely better. We spent the rest of the beautifully sunny day and the rather rainier night in Katavi National Park. This park is a well-kept secret, highly rated by afficionados of Tanzania who know this gem but which is usually overlooked by visitors in their headlong rush to see the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro crater in northern Tanzania. Rather than staying in the public campsite (empty) we opted to pay quite a lot for a 'special campsite' which basically meant we could camp anywhere in the park. We were only the fourth set of private vehicles to enter Katavi in 2009. En route to a suitable spot we saw lots of plains game and birds on the stunning open vlei area and then pitched our tents near the river - though not too near. See pics for why.


We also came across this dead elephant who had attracted the attentions of dozens of white-backed vultures - he had been detusked and had probably died of natural causes since he was very close to the ranger post.

In the late afternoon Robert and I enjoyed sundowners and a spot of birdwatching and then the balloons and an al fresco shower courtesy of the Le Bretons. More beautiful handdrawn cards from their boys and some lovely presents organised by Mands who puts my own family to shame.... I'm looking forward to reminding Robert of that when we get to South Africa. The moon was almost full and bathed the campsite in light, until the rain started and R and I hastily got up and put the flysheet on our tent.

And the final prize arrived the next morning as we set off up river to a lake in the eastern section of the park when I spotted a lioness sitting regally on the opposite riverbank. And if I say so myself it was a pretty remarkable sighting at quite a distance (hence the lack of photos). With binoculars we realised there was another lion lounging lazily on the branch above her, and then two more in a tree to the left. We had missed the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha in south-west Uganda: this pride more than made up for it.

And a heads up for all those godparents and doting relatives reading this blog entry. The next birthday celebrations on our expedition will take place in Cape Town on the 13th June: Max's 16th birthday coincides with our arrival party planned for that day (all welcome!), and we'll also be congratulating Max Le B who is turning 7 on June 11th.

Uganda photos


Volcano crater embroidered with terraced fields


Long horn Acholi cattle
 

Trying to work out why Mahali has punctured her fuel filter...
 
 
Jangano team cross the Equator - again!
 

 

Another great roadsign...



Another favourite roadsign, this one spotted in Murchison National Park in Uganda.

R


 


Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Rwanda landscapes

Tea estates near Kinihira

Tea fields under a heavy sky

Jambanja in the tea estates

Volcanos at dawn

The mighty silverback of the Amahoro group

The youngest of the Amahoro group


Nyaragongo volcano, smoking above Goma

Nicky, Mands and Jamilla yoga-ing on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Fishing boats at dawn on Lake Kivu



Our campsite at Jamilla's LaBella Lodge, on the shores of Lake Kivu, south of Gysenyi.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Gorillas in Rwanda!

Amazing! Mands, Max and Robert were able to track a family of mountain gorillas on the slopes of a volcano in Rwanda this week - one of the most extraordinary wildlife encounters we have ever had. We walked a long hour and a half up the side of a volcano in the Parc National des Volcans, north of Ruhengeri, with an excellent guide from the Rwanda national parks service, and found the Amahoro group, with their mighty 200 kg silverback and his extended family. We watched them for an hour - an extraordinary privilege.

Watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm3K4aQyjzg

- we will be writing about this experience very shortly, and uploading some photos too.

We're in Burundi now, in Bujumbura - and are crossing south into Tanzania tomorrow. More soon!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Volano Campsite, by Benedict

Carrying on from Ishasha (Uganda), we went to a campsite right next to three volcanoes. Muhavura was the biggest volcano; it was just like a normal volcano shape, like Kili. Not that interesting! The second biggest was called Sabinyo, which was pretty cool, because of its top; it was all jaggedy and it was interesting. The smallest had a cool name and it was the most interesting one of all, because you could see the crater and it had a flat top. It was called Gahinga.

Our campsite was called Mgahinga Community Campsite. It had chalets and dorms, so we didn’t put up our tents. Jake, little Max, Xander and I all slept in a dorm, while my mum and dad and Robert and Nicky slept in the chalets and Big Max slept on his own in one, because he had a cold. The important thing was that Mgahinga was a home to Mountain Gorillas. We didn’t get to see any, because most of them had gone into Rwanda over the top of the volcano. The feeling was still nice being close to them and their home. It was fantastic!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

new video...

A little late - we are camped beside Lake Kivu in Rwanda, and heading towards Bujumbura in Burundi in the next couple of days - I've cut and posted a new video, called "Another Day, Another Border", which gives an idea of a fairly typical day in the Jangano adventure. It follows us as we cross from Kenya to Uganda, on the rough road round the back of Mount Elgon.

R

Friday, 1 May 2009

11 years on by Nicky

When I came to Rwanda for the first time in 1998, I arrived in a country completely defined by its recent bloody past: the signs of the genocide of 1994 were everywhere, from the bullet holes riddling lampposts and the parliament building to often blank and traumatised expressions on the faces of those I saw walking the streets of Kigali. Not to mention the legions of NGOs busy setting up shop to support the rebuilding and rehabilitation process. I was working with a newly assembled team of young Rwandans to develop a radio soap opera that would deal with reproductive health issues and would be broadcast on the BBC. The workshop participants included men and women, Tutsis and Hutus, English-speakers and French-speakers, former exiles and those who had been in Rwanda throughout the genocide. It was my first assignment as a freelance consultant after leaving my cosy research position at Reading University.

 

To say it was challenging would be an understatement. Not only was I grappling with the intensity of running, solo, a three week participatory workshop on research methods for communication projects, and getting to know and understand my colleagues, but I was on an extremely steep learning curve with respect to Rwanda itself. I read in-depth and factual accounts of the history of animosity between the two tribes, as well as Feargal Keane's more personalised account of witnessing the end of the three month genocide, and the tragic 'We are sorry to inform that that tomorrow we will all be killed'. I saw a hard-hitting new play written by an up- and-coming young Rwandan playwright, in which she used the image of the three stone cooking fire to represent the three tribes of Rwanda - the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twa (forest-dwelling pygmies who make up about 1% of the population) - and to make the point that all three are needed to support and sustain the country as a whole. I also visited the genocide site at Ntarama that Gus has written about. But in 1998 the bodies had not yet been removed and interred or rearranged into neat rows of skulls and bones and clothes: they lay as they had fallen, still decomposing, scattered among the low benches of the church.

 

11 years on, it’s a sad but unsurprising fact that Rwanda is still defined largely by the big G - genocide - although to that has been added the other big G - gorrillas. But there are encouraging signs too. Kigali has been rebuilt and barely resembles the town I first saw. The radio soap opera, called Urunana (meaning 'hand in hand'), has been on air for more than 10 years and has won numerous awards. I have just had a cup of coffee with Narcisse Kalisa, now project manager, and one of the original workshop participants I trained. We talked of what has changed and what has remained unchanged. Of course things aren't perfect but Rwanda, of all the countries we have travelled through, seems determined to achieve a better and happier future for all its people.

 

The Magnetic Pull by Max A.

When we left Harare 4 months, 1 week and 3 days ago the trip was just
a trip. It didn't mean anything to us that we were going all the way
to the Mediterranean. But gradually as we got closer, the full meaning
of Jangano 2009 came to us and we realised just what we were
extracting from the 6 months. Then we turned around, came back through
an amazing time in the Western Desert, Luxor, Sudan, the Omo valley
and then the NFD.

But now in Central Africa the pull has caught me. At the moment we are
a week away from Harare if we drove straight there. But that will
become less and less. In southern Tanzania it will be two days drive.
Then in Beira it will be 9 hours drive to get home. And I have no
doubt that everybody will feel some sort of pull from Zim, and maybe
even the temptation to pop home for a bit to see everyone.

But that will have to wait as we head on south to Cape Town.

The Darker Side of Africa

Well, we’ve seen it. Yesterday afternoon we visited Ntarama church, the site of one of the bigger atrocities during the Rwandan genocide (5,000 people killed in one day). After that we went to the Genocide Museum in Kigali. Between the two, we can truthfully say that we’ve had our fill of sobering genocide memoria.

 

It’s not for the faint-hearted, and we weren’t sure how the kids would handle it. But they’ve seen so much already on this trip that we felt they’d probably take it in their stride.  And, for anyone living in Africa, the events of 1994 in Rwanda are an important lesson in what can happen when it all goes wrong.  So we agreed to go together and, with hindsight, it was a good decision.

 

The Ntarama church is stark. The church stands as it did when it was attacked. The grenade holes in the wall haven’t been patched up, and the scorch marks on the floors are still clearly visible. At the back of the church, rows of shelving hold hundreds and hundreds of human skulls, salvaged from the church when, eventually, it was cleaned up. Many of the skulls bear the marks of the machetes that killed their owners. Along the sides of the church hang the clothes of those whose families never came to reclaim them (most likely because they didn’t survive to do so). At the front, on top of the original altar, several large coffins hold the bones of the dead. Beside them are piles of shoes, belts and handbags, and beyond that a heap of plastic plates and mugs, water containers and tin cans. For three days before the attack, the 5,000 people had sheltered in the church in unimaginable conditions. Only ten escaped the slaughter, two of whom we met as guides around the church.

 

It’s not a conventional tourist experience. But it wasn’t a conventional political happening either. The least we can do is ensure that we and our children learn from it.

 

I think they did. They were subdued, of course (although Little Max’s ability to make irreverent remarks at inappropriate moments remained undiminished!). The display of children in the Genocide Museum had a particular impact. They showed life-size photos of some 20 kids, with a brief description of what their favourite foods were, which football teams they supported and what they wanted to be when they grew up. And then, at the bottom, was a one-line description of how they died. You couldn’t fail to be moved and the boys really empathised with this.

 

I’m glad we took them. They’ve seen so much of Africa’s beauty, and they have such a gloriously untainted perception of the continent and it’s people (you should see the uninhibited way in which they smile and wave at passers-by). An occasional glimpse into Africa’s darker side can’t be a bad thing. Whether they choose to live in Africa or not once they’ve grown-up, it will always be a part of them. And they’ll need to have a balanced perspective if they’re ever to do their part in trying to make it a better place. Hopefully, impressions like this will help.

 

Big Max and Jake Rafting the Nile, by Little Max

 

Twitcher tendencies

My trusty pair of binoculars, and my Christmas present from Robert of a guide to Birds of East Africa has been put to good use on our journey as we have passed through some of the most prolific regions of the continent in terms of birdlife. In Ethiopia, Kenya and most recently Uganda, we have viewed a huge variety and high concentrations of both familiar and more exotic species. After 10 years living in Zimbabwe my interest in the avian life of the parks we regularly visit there has developed into something of a passion: I am still very much an amateur, but birdwatching has added a colourful and, as we anxiously scour the pages of the guidebook to identify yet another bird, an investigative angle to our travels.

Alexander has always been a bird lover as those of you who have met our parrots will know.


He recently drew these lovely pictures, inspired by our trip up the Albert Nile to the Murchison Falls, in northern Uganda, of a red-throated bee-eater and a saddle-billed stork.




Whilst we didn't catch a glimpse of the famous but elusive shoebill stork in Murchison Falls national park, we saw many favourites: fish eagles by the dozen, pied kingfishers hovering over the water, their wings a blur; white, yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks, goliath, purple, black-headed and squacco herons.



In the park on a game drive earlier in the day we saw this eagle - is it a martial or a steppe eagle - one of our followers is bound to know!



And the extraordinary Abyssinian ground hornbill, who we first saw in Ethiopia of course.

And this ox-pecker looks so cheeky, daring to sit on this buffalo's back.