Monkey business...

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Food for thought: "How should we relate to beings who look into mirrors and see themselves as individuals, who mourn companions and may die of grief, who have a consciousness of 'self?' Don't they deserve to be treated with the same sort of consideration we accord to other highly sensitive beings: ourselves?" - Jane Goodall

Abstract: Left Kampala for Murchison Falls NP. hippos and crocs amazing waterfall... Then down to Kibale NP from Chimp walk, amazing, then relaxing at Bunyonyi crater lakes before crossing into Rwanda to Kigali.

Nitty Gritty:
From Kampala we travelled north west to Masindi, the gateway town to Murchison Falls National Park. The bus from Kampala took 2.5hours to fill up with passengers and leave! K visited the toilets at the bus park and was asked whether he wanted a short or long call as the toilet was priced accordingly! The bus stopped at a roadside stop where the bus was besieged by vendors waving kebabs, bananas, bread, drinks etc at the passengers and deals were struck through the windows. We tucked into tasty goat kebabs and bread.

The last 40km to Masindi was a dirt road along which we saw heards of cattle with HUGE horns looking like tusks sprouting from their heads.R later asked our taxi driver what the cows were called and in his laid back way he said 'we call them cows'!!!

At Masindi we were approached by Elias, a lovely young chap who we arranged to take us the 90km to our accommodation in the park.In Africa, the taxi drivers run around with their fuel tanks empty in case the car is stolen, so we had to pay half the fare in advance so Elias could put some fuel in the car. The road was a dirt track with potholes and corrugations and in no time we had a puncture and the spare was not the right size, so after various mobile conversations we limped back to town where one of his colleagues would drive us instead - he was bitterly disappointed at having lost the fare. We met his colleague a few Kms towards town - his friend kindly lean't him his spare and we continued.What a kind man.It was late afternoon and we were able to see baboons, various types of deer, warthogs and a huge ground hornbill from the car.

Our accomodation for the next 3 nights was a banda (thatched cottage) for the 3 of us which was great. We awoke to the snufflings of 3 mummy and 11 baby warthogs which were beautifully ugly. The hoglets were really sweet and the males had little mohekans and were practicing butting each other and every now and then they all got really skittish and jumped in the air - they were about the size of a shoebox and when they were snuffling their tails were down and when they took off, their tails were hyrolically lifted straight up as if they were radio controlled. Maribou stalks were strutting around the camp and a vibrant electic blue and orange lizard played a game of avoiding the camera. The temp was like a furnace and we enjoyed a lazy day reading.

Without our own vehicle it was impossible for us to go for a game drive, but with the Serengeti coming up, we were not concerned about this, but we did take a boat trip up the Nile to Murchison Falls where the Nile squeezes through a narrow gap.The trip lasted 3 hours in the late afternoon and K likened the temperature to being in a fan assisted oven.The trip was wonderful and from the deck we saw thousands of hippos in and out of the water - two fighting, and a baby with a lame leg who had attracted the attention of many crocs; hundreds of huge crocs, African elephants - one with no trunk ? the result of a croc attack; deer, warthogs, baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, fish eagles, bee eaters, pied kingfishers, electric blue coloured kingfishers. The falls were impressive - the water churning through a gap in the rock - more of a huge shute rather than a falls.

Elias collected us for our return trip to Masindi and en route took us to the top of the falls where the power of the water was even more impressive and from where you could get covered in a fine cool mist on one of the viewing platforms. We took a hot walk along a track that lead to impressive views from the base of the falls before continuing to Masinidi.

The vibrant market was still in full swing when we got there and R bought a huge pineapple from a very sweet old man who peeled it for us, but the pineapple was about half the size of the original by the time he'd finished much to the amusement of 2 ladies on a neighbouring stall. G's hair was a shaggy mop and he elected to have an African all off, which consisted of a number 3 all over and he looked scalped at the end of it.

It was time for a beer and to watch the world go by from a small bar. Just as we were deciding we needed some food to soak up the alcohol, an obliging stall set up outside the bar - a charcoal burner preparing chips with coleslaw and a BBQ for roast chicken. We scoffed several plated of each followed by pineapple. K & G nearly caued a riot by checking out the wares at a nearby BBQ stall.G had room spin that night - a combination of reduced alcohol tolerance as we haven't been drinking very often and dehydration and yep you've guessed we had to be on a bus at 7am the following morning and all felt terrible!

From Masindi we headed south to Fort Portal with 90% of the day's journey being on dirt roads which didn't help the hangovers.Arriving in FP covered in dust, we squeezed into a matatu for the 30km journey to Kibale Forest National Park.G was told 'in Africa we sit 4 to a seat' so you get some idea as to how crammed in we were - one man had to get in through a window and lie across the seated passengers. The minibus hurtled along, the suspension bottoming out at every pothole, but eventually we arrived in paradise.The forest was green, quiet and wonderful. We were made to feel very welcome by JB (the head ranger who bore a uncany resemblence to Iddy Armin)and the rest of the rangers.We were shown to our gorgeous bandas, butterfly and eagle where we showered off the dust (barrels on the roof were filled by hand each day and a small fire was lit under one for hot water - bliss. The noises of the forest were really relaxing.A small cafe was run by a local women's group from a nearby village that bordered the park and we stuffed ourselves on a huge spag bol.

That night we became accustomed to rustlings in the roof which involved what ever it was scuttling about making pitter patter noises similar to drumming your fingers on a table with the creshendo being it jumping on a pile of dried leaves which made us jump and caused dried leaf bits to scatter down on to our heads.

We were here to see chimps and chimps we saw!The 3 of us set off with our guide for a long walk through the forest to where the chimps had been feeding the day before. As we got close to them the air was filled with their hoots and calls to each other. The first chimp we came across was a male feeding half way up a tree - he then effortlessly swung up to the top where he pretty much disappeared from view. They are so much larger than we imagined and so powerful and muscular.Closeby were 2 others and we got our first glimpse of the lovely chimp face, when another male, Tatu, went racing by in a false charge. The guide explained that the rest of the group were closeby, but on the ground and therefore able to cover much greater distances more quickly than us. Saw 2 more females feeding high up in a tree their pink swollen genitals indicating that they were in oestrus.

We could hear calls and whoops in the distance so the guide suggested seeing if we could find some on the ground before heading back to HQ. We hadn't gone far when we came across a group of male chimps on the path about 10m in front of us. There were 6 in full view and others in the bushes.With a hoot and a scuffle, the alpha male, Mbutu arrived (he is alpha male to the group of approx 80 habitulated chimps) and one of the males started grooming him. We could hear chimps behind us and it felt as if we were surrounded. By this time all 4 of us were sat on the path thrilled at the sight ahead of us, when Mbutu got up and started walking towards us as if to charge and the guide told us to get up. Now that we were taller than him, he lay on the ground about 5 metres from us and went to sleep. The other chimps were just relaxing as by this time it was too hot in the tree tops. It was an unforgetable experience.Suddenly there were some females behind us and a lot of noise and all 6 males came charging towards us veering off and thumping the butress roots of a nearby tree - what a noise, like a gun going off - we left them too it, what a wonderful experience.Back at our banda, we were visited by a lovely red tailed monkey that was pottering around our cottage in the trees.

Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is close to Kibale and a protected area of swamp rich with birdlife, although it was pretty much dry when we visited. We were guided by Hosei, a young lad from the village, a mad keen birdwatcher with eagle eyes. The forest we skirted was cool and damp but this was surrounded by farmland which was parched and dry and very hot - the contrast underlining the fact that trees help to keep the climate cool. For those birdwatchers reading this, we saw black & white casquered hornbills, the rare great blue touracoe, open billed stalk, speckled mousebirds, black crowned waxbills and 5 species of monkeys - red tailed, b&w colobus, red colobus, the rare L'Hoerst and grey cheeked mangabey who were in the process of raiding the farmers felds when we approached. It was another fan assisted oven of a day.

In all, we spent 5 wonderful nights at Kibale NP before getting a lift back to Fort Portal and a bus further south to Kabale. This bus journey was eventful for the fact that no sooner had we got on board, 2 young kids in front of Kish peed on his foot and G managed to put his hand in 2 seperate globs of phlegm - thank heavens for wetones - he was banned from doing anything with his hands except keeping them in his lap!

The journey was very scenic passing cotton fields being harvested with bushes covered with cotton wool balls, the foothills of the Ruwenzori mountains (the peaks were covered in cloud)and passing through Queen Elizabeth National Park where the road turned to dust and the bus filled with dust and we were surrounded by parched African savannah. Impala could be seen from the bus.

Unfortunately the bus broke down with gearbox trouble for the second half of the journey and we crawled to Kabale in first gear going so slowly that we were overtaken by boda boda (bicycle taxis). The slow speed did offer batter views of the villages and surrounding plantations of bananas and plantains.Luckily we had enough power to cope with the undulating terain.

At Kabale we took a taxi to Lake Bunyonyi a huge crater lake which was a lovely relaxing place to stop for 3 nights. The air was cool and it rained - the first we'd seen in months, which was an ideal excuse to read a book and do nothing much else. From the restaurant we watched yellow and black weaver birds feeding from the bird table and building lovely round hanging nests in nearby trees. We also watched a pair of otters through the binoculars catching crayfish in the lake.Like the otters, we stuffed ourselves on freshwater caryfish for dinner - crayfish masala.yum!

A short walk provided extensive views of the lake and the many islands that dotted it - the local children were very inquisitive and were playing football with a ball made from many knotted plastic bags.

Kish is Indian and it caused much amusement when a local women passed us and greeted us in her local language "aghandi" she said and we thought she was refering to Kish being a ghandi (indian)!!!!

Back in Kabale we took a shared taxi to Gatuna/Katuna, the border with Rwanda. The shared taxi consisted of 4 in the back and 3 in the front, one of the passengers sharing a seat with the driver!!!

G and I had got our visas in Delhi and went ahead of K who had no visa - he was stamped in, with no probs, think of all the time and rickshaw fares we could have saved had we got ours on the border - ce la vie!

The border was fairly sleepy with lots of trucks parked up on the Rwandan side. It didn't take long for us to find a minibus to Kigali - the driver came running towards us looking like a gazelle whilst the competition reved it's engine and burned its clutch trying to get us to jump ship and hop into his vehicle. Might not have been a bad idea as once we were full and took off, the minibus filled with exhaust fumes. It was a real difference to cross the border and now have to communicate in French.

The road to Kigali was in pretty good shape except for a few huge potholes. There were very few people about and the surrounding slopes were heavily cultivated, but not terraced as they would have been in Asia. We passed a tea plantation that was thankfully a co-op rather than being owned by James Finlay as were the plantations in Sri Lanka, Kenya & Uganda.

We stopped frequently to pile on more passengers until we were stuffed full - we were squashed at the back and had to keep drinking fresh air from the window so as not to pass out from the exhaust fumes. People were shy but friendly especially when we greeted them. At one point a mother needed to get on and her young son was screaming mama, mama, and as soon as he saw us he froze for about 10 secs, wide brown eyes staring at us and when no one else reacted to the sight of us, he started wailing agian. He had to ge given to a relative to take away screaming and kicking.

At the same stop another mother and young son (about 2years old) got on - the kid was an amazingly happy chappy and when he'd seen us he'd started singing and dancing and spent the journey looking out the window and pointing at things.

Several poilice checks later and we arrived in Kigali at the minibus park at the bottom of the hill. Not entirely sure where we were, R asked an NGO (of which there are many in Rwanda - it's as if everyone did nothing whilst the genocide was going on and then poured in after the event - after the horse has bolted....)the way which was a 2km struggle up hill. Passed pink clothed prisioners working on a building site to our hotel.

Managed to get a couple of rooms - took some time in R's best french and set off to check out Kigali. Bank wanted 8 UK pounds to cash a travellers cheque and no ATMs so found a good fores bureau to get some funds. After lunch - we were charged extra for the lunchtime buffet as we'd had too much meat, we set off to pay for our Gorilla permits only to find they had no knowledge of our booking, even though we had a email confirming the booking and we'd phoned - bumped by tour operators. Luckily there was still space - not pleased as R's mum was flying in from UK the following day for the purpose of gorilla tracking.

Got back to hotel to find a power cut and a flood in Kish's room. Lean't the chap who cleaned it up a head torch as he was trying to sweep water with one had and hold a candle with the other. Later that evening he came to spray our rooms with mossie spray and R blinded him by opening the door to our room with a head torch on - we all had a giggle. It wasn't easy sorting things out in a pitch black room with a torch and seeing as the water in the taps was electrically pumped to the second floor, we had no water, so decided to move to a more expensive hotel with a generator, the following night when R's mum would be with us. Was fun trying to find our way back to our hotel after dinner by the light of a small headtorch - at least we had that, as there were some sewers without covers and we could have been lost forever down them.

The french (belgium) influence lives on in Kigali and it was great to be able to get fab bagettes filled with cheese or proper ham and not the sweet bread we'd been surviving on in Asia and Africa so far.
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Ravi on

Hilariouus! Such good read. The funniest was being charged extra because you ate several pieces of meat....seriously who does that? anyway can't stop laughing about it

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