Wednesday, January 16, 2008

African Adventure Part II

Sunday, 6 January2008, Gorillas Mountain Nest, Rwanda. The shower on Saturday morning was fairly warm. Surprisingly so. We left the island around 8:15 and arrived at the dock met by our driver. We unloaded the boat without mishap and continued to Rwanda. The road from the dock to the main road was narrow, twisty and dusty. The scenery was spectacular. The hills are high but rolling and are covered with vegetation. Garden plots are everywhere. I’m not sure what the crops are, but each plot had a different shade of green and a different texture. We made it to the main road, which turned out to be a broad, graded dirt road. It was at least faster than the road we had been on. At Kisoro, we stopped at Traveler’s Rest for a bit of a rest. Dian Fosse stayed at the hotel when she was in the area.

From there, it was a short drive to the border. Border formalities were mercifully short. We presented our passports to be recorded by hand in a book and then went to another office where our passports were stamped. We then walked a very short distance to Rwanda and filled out an entry form and then had our passport stamped. It was quite a contrast to the hour-long ordeal that crossing into Uzbekistan had been last summer. On the other hand, for some reason our driver was delayed. We waited about an hour for him to complete his formalities. As soon as we crossed the border, he pointed out a memorial to the genocide. It was a site of a mass grave. We passed several more in only a few miles. The road was filled with people walking. As I watched people moved in long lines I wondered what it had looked like in the time of the genocide. I know that Rwandans sought refuge in Uganda. I wondered if the road we were on had been packed with people fleeing for their lives. As I am now cut off from all news, I wonder if the same thing is happening in Kenya with the Luo and the Kikuyo. Several years ago, when I first heard of the Congolese fighters who would cut off the hands of villagers I was horrified. That, to my mind, was worse than death. It left a farmer helpless, unable to work his land. It meant that someone had to use his/her time caring for that helpless person. It was doubling crippling to the life of the village. I couldn’t imagine the inhumanity of that. And then I learned that cutting off the hands of opponents was a favorite weapon of the Belgians in the Congo. The Congolese had learned it from the Belgians. I don’t know how much brutality there was in Africa before the colonists arrived. I wonder how much of the brutality was learned from the colonists. I was musing about all of these and mentioned to TC that there was of course the Mau-Mau uprising. He told me that only nine Europeans were killed in the uprising. I was amazed. I have heard so much of the horror of the uprising, but only nine people killed? Is white life so much more valuable than the lives of Blacks and other people of color?

We soon arrived at Gorillas Rest. We were exhausted. We had lunch, a fairly decent buffet with lots of vegetables and then we napped. I don’t think either of us has fully adjusted to the time difference (nine hours in Uganda, eight in Rwanda, for me).
I awoke to the sounds of shouting. I thought that our room must be close to the road. The shouting continued and then drumming. There was a performance of African dances and drumming. TC and I had some wine in the bar and chatted with our driver. Dinner was again a buffet with good vegetables.

This morning we awoke at 5:15. Breakfast was at 6 and we left for national park headquarters to begin our gorilla trek at 6:30. We found ourselves in a group of four Londoners and two more Americans. The American male wanted to visit the Susa group which has the largest silverback in the park. This gorilla weighs 450 kg. An Italian woman and a French man who live in Madagascar joined us. I was the oldest person in the group by at least ten years. After a briefing, we drove a short bit and then began the trek up the mountainside. We first passed through some gardens. Farmers were growing Irish potatoes, peas and daisies. The daisies are dried and then exported to the US where they are used in insect repellant. After the gardens we walked through land that had small long humps. I don’t know if these were man-made or the result of geological action. We then arrived at a stone wall which encircles the park from the DR Congo to Uganda. It serves to keep the animals inside the park (the farmers really don’t like it when the gorillas eat their crops or the elephants destroy them). We then began the hard upward trek. The ground was soft, often covered in eucalyptus leaves or other litter. I definitely suffered from hypoxia. (On the way down, we followed a steep cliff for about 20 minutes; I had no recollection of it from the way up.) The guide kept asking me if I wanted a rest stop. I usually answered yes. I felt bad about holding the group up, but TC told me that he heard one of the young women say that she thought she could manage at this pace. We reached a place where the guide said we were about 20 minutes from the gorillas (this was about 75 minutes into the trek). Of course, he said, that was for someone with long legs. We arrived there about 40 minutes later. The guide had told us that we would leave our packs and just take our cameras to the site of the gorillas. As the guide introduced us to the trackers, there was the sound of shattering bamboo. The silverback walked right up to us. The guide pushed me down, so that I was sitting. I was about six feet from the animal. Amazing. I had been putting my camera gear together and so didn’t really get much of a chance to photograph him. The guide then took us over to the nest. A porter hacked away at the brush and we found seats about 15 feet from the family. The silverback returned. With him was a mother and her six month old and a two year old who belonged to a different mother. We had one hour watching these huge animals. The silverback mostly slept, though he did eat occasionally, even grabbing a bit of fruit from his two year old son. The mother tried to keep her baby from bothering the silverback. The two year old climbed branches and vines, practiced beating his chest, and wrestled with the baby. Towards the end of our hour, another mother came with two more little ones in tow. At the end of the hour, we rested a bit and then began the trek downhill. We made it without stopping until we came to the park border. The guide then gave a sales pitch for the other trekking possibilities in the park both to see other gorilla families and to see the golden monkeys as well as the other national parks. We stopped at the park headquarters to pick up our certificate and talked with a couple who were going on the trek tomorrow. From there lunch, downloading the pictures, watching the video and napping.


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