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Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Visiting Israel – We Finally Made It Back

    In case you are new to this blog, or in a Covid fog, let me tell you our story about Israel. March 2020 we had a 17 day itinerary to explore a bucket list country for me – Israel. Our itinerary had us seeing north, south, east and west and taking our time to enjoy. But, of course March 2020 turned the entire world upside down and after only four days in Israel we had to skedaddle or go into lockdown. So we abandoned our itinerary and flew to Cyprus. It took 26 months but here we are – visiting Israel – We Finally Made it Back.

    Jerusalem Old Town

    Visiting Israel – We Finally Made it Back

    Unfortunately our return trip to Israel in June 2022 was significantly shorter than our originally planned itinerary. Before we left Israel so hurriedly in 2020, we had spent two days in Tel Aviv, one day seeing the sights on a leisurely drive to Haifa and another day seeing ancient ruins on our way to Nazareth. But we didn’t see Nazareth or any of the rest of our itinerary. We packed up and got out with only a couple hours notice.

    For the purposes of this blog post, I am only going to talk about what we did on this recent visit in June 2022. Even though we only had one week, we made the most of it and had an amazing visit.


    Not making it to Jerusalem on our first visit was devastating to me. I cried on the way to the airport the day we realized we had to get out. Jerusalem….how could I come to Israel and NOT see Jerusalem? It was heartbreaking. So planning for visiting Israel we knew we had to base ourselves this time in Jerusalem.

    Jerusalem is this remarkable, fragile, diverse, ancient, disputed, beautiful city. It also is controversial and home to Muslims, Christians and Jews. But more than anything, it is fascinating. Sometimes violent but we saw only peace. And it is very expensive. You’ll find a place where families and friends stroll outdoors in the evenings. Musicians play and people seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and their beautiful city.


    Day One Arrival and Old Town

    Our flight landed at the ridiculous hour of 3:30am in Tel Aviv. We took a Gett cab (like Uber) to Jerusalem and the 45 minute drive cost $140. Get ready because this country is expensive.

    Because of our early arrival we had rented our Airbnb for the night before, to be able to check in on our arrival. We self checked in by 5:15 am and after a very long red-eye we needed some shut eye, so went straight to bed.

    Around 10am we stumbled for the coffee pot, a shower and then went right across the street to one of the highest rated bagel shops in all of Jerusalem. So convenient. It was great and I recommend a visit to Sam’s Bagels on Ben Yehuda Street. I should mention, it was also my husband’s birthday so a little bagel birthday breakfast was a special treat.

    Sam’s Bagels

    Next we made the 12 minute walk to the Old City. We entered through the beautiful Jaffa Gate and here we were. Visiting Jerusalem – visiting Israel – we finally made it back. Over the next several hours we explored the old city on our own, using the GPS My City App. Although we got lost a few times, it was helpful to get our bearings. We saw the Wailing Wall and part of the Temple Mount, although we couldn’t figure out how to get up to the Dome of the Rock (more later). Along the way we found the Via Dolorosa and just enjoyed people watching and taking it all in.

    Jaffa Gate

    Still feeling pretty jet lagged we wandered back out of the old city to a hummus restaurant I had read about for a simple birthday dinner for the hubs. Hummus Ben-Sira is highly rated for its hummus and it was fantastic and not too expensive. I loved the falafel too! Afterwards we dashed into a tiny market to pick up a few items for breakfast and then back to our Airbnb and crashed.


    Day Two Such an Amazing Day

    We woke early to walk two blocks to a pick up location for a half day group tour we had signed up to do of the Old Town. It was a surprisingly large group and I was a little worried it would be difficult with such a big group (about 40) but it worked out well and our guide was great. The tour began at Mount of Olives to have a spectacular view back looking at Jerusalem old and new.

    Mount of Olives looking back to all of Jerusalem Old and New

    We proceeded back to the Old Town where we left the bus and continued on foot. This time entering through the Dung Gate and went directly to the Wailing Wall. It was helpful to have some interpretation from the guide about the rituals we were watching and also to get a better understanding of the Temple Mount. Jews use the western wall for prayers because it is the closest they can get to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is where the Jewish Temple used to stand but today is home to the Dome of the Rock Mosque. It is not open to non-Muslims. This iconic gold domed Mosque is built over the “Foundation Stone”, one of the most sacred places in the world to both Jews and Muslims, revered as the place where the earth began. We did not visit the Dome of the Rock on this day but would later.

    Western Wall (Wailing Wall)

    Our tour continued through the maze of streets of the old town with some stops to taste treats and also discuss the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took carrying the cross. Each station of the cross is marked along the route which runs through old Jerusalem.

    Via Dolorosa

    Finally we ended at the remarkable Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for Christians the most sacred place in the world. It is said this is where the crucifixion took place, on a hill before the church was here. This is also the place where the body of Jesus was lain on a stone. Today the stone remains and Christians pray at the stone. And finally and most importantly, it is the place where according to the Christian faith, Jesus’ body is laid in a tomb. The tomb of Jesus, though fairly ornate on the exterior was rather small and simple on the inside.

    Site of the Crucifixion
    The tomb of Jesus

    It had been a great tour and I am glad we did it, learning a lot. We headed back to the Airbnb for a rest because the day had more in store.


    It’s Friday night in Jerusalem and the streets are quiet. The sun is down and Shabat has begun. All will be quiet through out the city until sun down on Saturday. We were intrigued to learn more about Shabat so we signed up through Eat With to share a spirtual Shabat dinner with a local Jewish family, Osnat and Shaul, in their home. What a great decision that was.

    Shabat meal (Canva)

    I don’t have any photos from our Shabat dinner, because by Jewish law there is no modern conveniences during Shabat…including cameras and cell phones. No cooking or working. From sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. So all the food that was served to us and the other guests had been prepared prior to sundown. Technically you can’t even turn on a light switch…but they have ways around some of these things by putting things on timers. The dinner included our host family of seven, us and five more tourists and 15 young men from the Hebrew University. We shared in their prayers, their songs, their traditions and their foods. It was one of the most remarkable things I have ever done. I recommend it highly.

    It was nearly 1:00am before we hit the pillow that night.

    Day Three Shabat Silence

    Saturday we wake up to an eerily quiet city. This bustling metropolis has become essentially a ghost town. Shops closed. Restaurants closed. Transit not running. You can literally walk down the middle of the street for lack of cars. Shabat is the Jewish weekly day of worship and thanks when families gather together at home and nowhere is it so faithfully observed as in Jerusalem.

    Running in the park and we were all alone

    We took advantage and did a long walk/run in a quiet and deserted (and beautiful) park near our apartment, enjoyed a room picnic in our apartment, did laundry and worked on the laptop. As the sun set the city slowly came back to life with shops and restaurants opening around 9pm and people returning to the streets.

    Day Four Crossing the Border to the West Bank (Palestine)

    I did a lot of research on making the border crossing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem that marks the disputed border of the West Bank (Palestine). I did not want to do this tour with a large group, and so instead we decided to spend a little more money and hire a private guide. I am so glad we did. Michael Tours was who we chose.


    The border that separates Jerusalem and Bethlehem is an unsightly 18 meter high concrete monstrosity guarded by Israeli military. We took a city bus direct to the border. The bus leaves every fifteen minutes and costs about two dollars. Many people cross the border back and forth to work but a permit is required to do so. As a tourist coming from Jerusalem you cross over on foot and no one even looks at you. Returning to the Jerusalem side there is passport control and security scanners. Once across to the West Bank taxi drivers are abundant. When we explained we were meeting a guide, the drivers were still very pleasant and very helpful and kind. We always seem to meet people who want to tell us their brother lives in Miami, my son is in the Bay Area, my nephew is at Michigan State.

    On the Palestine side the wall is covered in messages of peace

    Michael Tours

    Michael from Michael Tours met us promptly and escorted us to his comfortable vehicle. His fiancee Georgette joined us. She is studying to also be a tour guide. We spent the next eight hours with Michael and Georgette. First we explored the barren countryside to visit two beautiful monasteries of the Orthodox Church. We enjoyed mountaintop views looking back to Jerusalem and out towards Jordan. The landscape is stark and dry and mostly brown with green interspersed here and there. In it’s simplicity it is beautiful. As we drove Michael and Georgette talked about life in Palestine, what it’s like to live with this disputed border, and the hardships Palestinians endure as an unrecognized country. It was fascinating and also astonishing to hear some of their stories.

    One of the beautiful monasteries we visited of the Orthodox Church


    Next we made the drive back to the city of Bethlehem. Our first stop was Shepherds’ Field where Christians believe Gabriel spoke to the shepherds and told them of the birth of Jesus. A small church marks this spot today. At this same site is an underground Chapel in a cave. Here Michael explained how this is what the space would have looked like where Jesus was born. A manger in those times was always a cave and not a wooden structure so often depicted in Christmas Nativity scenes.

    Sheperd’s Field

    We made a quick stop to see one of two Banksy graffiti art pieces in this city. Banksy’s work is always focused on peace and both these subtly hidden masterpieces were a special treat to see.

    Banksy message of Peace

    Next we stopped at a very traditional and family owned restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed our favorites; amazing hummus, falafel and beer.


    Our final stop was the Church of the Nativity. Simple on the outside, the inside of this church and the underground area which is believed to be where the manger was, are beautiful. The church was preparing for a wedding but we had lots of time to enjoy the artwork and ancient mosaics. We went down the steps to the lower area. This is the cave where, long before a church stood here, a baby was born who would be named Jesus.


    In two different lands, we saw one day where Christ was crucified and then another day where he was born.

    We are incredibly grateful to Michael Tours for our fantastic day, and highly recommend Michael and hope you will use him when you visit Palestine.

    Palestine in 1948
    The area that is now Israel with the West Bank (Palestine)

    Day Five Mountains and Tunnels

    We got up early again, having finally gotten the lay of the land and understood that to visit Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock we had to do it in the morning.

    On Top of the Mount

    The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, believed to be where God’s divine presence was manifested. Jews believe the rock is where Adam was created from dust and Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac. The first temple built here was in 1000 BC and destroyed 400 years later by the Babylonians. A second temple was built and King Herod expanded it. In 70 AD the second temple was destroyed by the Romans. Today Jews are not allowed to pray on Temple Mount, and this is why they pray at the Western Wall, the base of the Mount.

    Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock

    In the Islamic faith it is believed this is the site where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the divine presence on a winged horse. Only Muslims are allowed inside the Dome of the Rock Mosque. Inside this beautiful gold topped mosque is the “Foundation Stone”, believed by Jews and Muslims to be where it all began.

    This is also the place Christians believe Jesus lashed out at the money changers (Gospel of John) and was later crucified only 500 meters away.

    Deep Below

    When we arrived in Jerusalem we didn’t know about the tunnel tours. We learned about them from the guide we had on Day 2. The Western Wall Tunnel Tours are operated by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. There are several tours, each giving the visitor a fantastic history with a local guide while walking deep below the Western Wall and seeing first hand the 2000 plus year history here. Our guide was outstanding and I learned so much not just about Jerusalem but religion, architecture, and ancient history. A must when in Jerusalem.

    Western Wall Tunnel Tour

    Day Six Masada and Traffic

    Day Six we rented a car first thing in the morning. We walked to the pick up site about 15 minutes. Then we drove about two hours to the amazing holy site of Masada. Along the route you pass through the West Bank on an Israeli constructed highway with walls on both sides. Then you drive for an hour along the beautiful blue Dead Sea. We swam in the Dead Sea when we visited Jordan a few years ago, so that was not something we were taking time to do this trip.


    Masada is an ancient fortress on a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert. The fortress was the final holdout for Jews during the Roman siege.

    The fortress was built by King Herod between 37 and 31 BCE. This National Park includes ruins from this fortress including bath houses, great hall and two palaces. In 73 and 74 CE Jewish rebels secured the site while fleeing the Roman-Jewish War. Those rebels held the fort until the Roman siege penetrated the great walls at which time it is speculated all the Jews committed suicide rather than be taken as slaves. Although many scholars dispute this idea.


    It was a wonderful visit and an absolutely must see when in Israel. By the way one of my all time favorite books from the last few years The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman tells the remarkable story of Masada. I highly recommend it.

    Unfortunately our drive back to the rental car agency in Jerusalem took nearly four hours due to horrible traffic and we did not get there before they closed. We ended up paying $50 to park the car overnight. Oi! If you don’t want to deal with a car, you can take a tour to Masada or even a city bus.

    Day Seven Laundry and Pack and Wander

    Our last day in Jerusalem was spent doing laundry, packing, working on the laptop and wandering around the Ben Yehuda pedestrian area as well as visiting the Machaneh Yehuda Market near our Airbnb. This market is one of the nicest I have ever been in. We bought some gifts, some fruit for breakfast, had some beers and people watched. Don’t miss this market.

    Machaneh Yehuda Market

    Day Eight Tel Aviv Airport Chaos

    We pre-ordered a Gett car for the 40 minute ride back to the Tel Aviv airport. Our car picked us up at 4:00am. Which should have been plenty of time for our 8:00am flight. But the Ben Gurion Tel Aviv Airport was one of the most disorganized I have ever seen and we spent more than 2 and a half hours in various lines. It was very stressful. But we made our flight…barely.

    Grateful for a Remarkable Week

    This country had long been on my bucket list. There are a few places we still didn’t see, like Nazareth and Eilat, but we saw the highlights and I am grateful. It is a really remarkable place, unlike anywhere else in the world. If you can, you should visit.

    Thanks for reading my post Visiting Israel – We Finally Made it Back. See our post about Marvelous Malta here. See this week’s top performing pin Senegal What I Experienced in My Short Visit. Next week be sure to check out our post about Cyprus.

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    Dome of the Rock
    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit

    Why Senegal? I’m not exactly sure why, except I had heard it was one of the more progressive nations on the African continent. Having visited Burkina Faso in West Africa as well as several other nations in North, South and East Africa, I was curious about Senegal. It was an easy hop from Morocco where we had been to attend a wedding, so why not? We spent five days. Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit.


    The country of Senegal is home to 16 million people, and more than three million live in Dakar. Dakar, though more cosmopolitan than many African cities, is fraught with traffic and air pollution. Although a brand new international airport opened last year, other infrastructure is lacking and traffic is a mess. An incredible amount of construction of apartments and condominiums is going on. Our guide told us these are all privately funded and very expensive so not intended for the local people, who on average earn about $600 a month.

    Presidential House Dakar
    Dakar Beach

    I don’t pretend to understand the government in Senegal (see Wikipedia on Senegal here), but from my brief observations there seems to be a disconnect between leadership and the people. Of course this is not uncommon in many nations, and especially developing countries. Although Senegal has never had a civil war or a coup, it’s not hard to imagine a ticking time bomb. During our visit teachers were on strike and had been on strike for several months. School children have nothing to occupy their days and…trouble ensues. Bored teenagers with no focus are the same around the world. Unemployment is 40%. Young men out of work wander aimlessly looking for fun and trouble.

    How will this end? It was something on my mind as I pondered Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit.

    Goree Island

    We hired a guide from Senegal Odyssey Tours to help us explore the area. On our second day, Omour met us at our hotel and we spent a couple hours in the morning touring the city of Dakar, seeing colonial sites (Senegal was a French colony until 1960), and learning some history.

    Next we headed to Goree Island via ferry, the most significant site in Dakar as far as history. The Portuguese arrived in the 1400’s to Goree and quickly secured it due to it’s strategic location for protection.

    Goree Island Cell
    The door of no return where slaves loaded ships
    Slave block where slaves were bought and sold
    Goree Island

    But in 1536 the Portuguese launched the slave trade, realizing the immense profitability awaiting them by trading human beings rather than goods. For the next 312 years, more than 20 million African people – men, women and children – were brutally captured, detained, raped, beaten, imprisoned and THEN loaded by the hundreds on tiny ships and sailed off to points west. Many would die before arriving. Many would survive but never see their families or children again.


    Goree Island tells this story for the visitor by allowing visitors to see and feel the tiny prisons. Goree Island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Learn more here.


    We took a day off between tours and just relaxed and did some catch up work on the computer, as well as a short walk around our neighborhood of Almadies near our hotel called La Residence. This neighborhood is “upscale” and home to several embassies including the US Embassy.

    But then the next day bright and early Omour was there to pick us up again as we began the nearly two hour drive to the fishing village of Kayar. The drive was long and slow and Senegal was experiencing a significant desert dust storm and I was wondering if this would be worth it. Oh yes it was.


    Kayar was an astonishing site, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This is the most important fishing village in Senegal and we luckily arrived at the height of the morning catch frenzy. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Hundreds of boats. Thousands of people. Millions of fish. Highly competitive, a bit frantic and a bit frightening. The catch of the day included tuna, snapper, herring and barracuda. Fish were being pulled out of the boats by the thousands, no bad smell as they were completely fresh. Some of the fish is used in payment to the workers, some goes to local regional restaurants while much of it is frozen for the Asian market.



    Lac Rose

    I had heard about the Pink Lake, but Omour didn’t want me to be disappointed so he made sure I understood the lake was not always pink. In fact the pink/rose color, which is created by algae, is most prominent on clear sunny days. And honestly due to the air pollution and sand pollution a clear sunny day is rare.

    On arrival we found more of a dirty brown lake, in some places a blood red color. We took a small boat out to see the salt being collected. Salt mining in the lake is what most the local people do for a living in this region. We learned that only men do the salt collecting because it was determined a few years ago that women were having miscarriages from the salt.

    Lac Rose
    Salt harvest Lac Rose

    The men cover themselves in Shea butter and only spend four hours in the four foot deep water. Here they scoop the salt from the bottom with a shovel, into a basket they hold down with their feet. Then they dump the heavy load into a boat. The salt can be a grey color, but once exposed to the sun it turns white.

    Dune Buggy Lac Rose

    Until 1978 this spot was the culmination point of the Paris to Dakar car rally. We took a dune buggy ride to see some of what remains of that route, and to see the crashing Atlantic ocean as it breaks onto Senegal’s western shores.

    Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit

    Senegal is one of the most developed African nations and I hope for the people here who need jobs and education to help catapult them forward. There is so much untapped human potential. I hope the government and the people can make it happen. I am glad I came. Thank you for reading my post Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit.

    Read last week’s post Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez

    Next week I’ll share about Malta.

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    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez

    Amazing Morocco

    It’s my second visit to the amazing country of Morocco, one of my favorite countries in the world. When I visited five years ago (pre-pandamit) we did a five day guided tour with desert camel night from Fez to Marrakesh. We loved it. This time, we only had three days available but we found a wonderful company Marrakesh Camel Trips who created an amazing Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez.


    Our quick visit to Marrakesh was really fun, especially the Marrakesh Food Tour we did on our second night. I love this city, and wished for more time, but alas our tour began early in the morning. Our guide Lhoucine came all the way to our hidden Riad and met us right at the door, assisting with our luggage and taking us to his vehicle.


    Day One

    Because we only had three days (instead of the five for the same route when we did this before), we spent a lot of time in the car. But it’s a beautiful country and there is a lot of area between sites. The car we were in was comfortable and had plenty of space for the four of us and our luggage. We stopped multiple times to enjoy the remarkable views and scenery before arriving at the ancient city of Ksar Ait Ben Haddou.

    Scenic views
    Ancient Villages

    Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

    This amazing and ancient Moroccan village is one of my favorite things in all of Morocco. I highly recommend you visit here, even if you aren’t on a tour. It’s astonishing. Ksar Aït Benhaddou is a historic ksar (loosely translates to castle) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh in Morocco. It is considered a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Morocco is home to nine UNESCO sites…Ait Ben Haddou is one of the amazing ones.

    Ait Ben Haddou
    Our guide who was raised in Ait Ben Haddou
    Our family at Ait Ben Haddou


    This beautiful region of the Berber people is both ancient and modern. We made a brief stop to learn about the industry here of rose agriculture and rose oil and other rose products. During the rose season (now) people stand on the side of the road and give visitors wreaths of roses.

    Rose wreath
    Making Rose Oil

    It had been a long day of driving and we headed to our hotel called the Sultan Dades near Ourazazate where we had very comfortable rooms with a beautiful view and a great meal too.

    Sultan Dades
    Chicken and lemon tajine

    Day Two

    This day will end with a sunset camel ride into a desert camp. But first we have a whole lot to see and do as our guide Lhoucine expertly takes us through this region. First, he has a special surprise for us. We go off road looking for nomads who live in caves. Not something I’ve ever done. Unfortunately nobody was home…LOL. Seriously, their campfire was still warm. Out tending the goats I guess. It was fun to see where they live during certain times of the year.

    Nomad Cave
    Nomad cave

    Todras Canyon

    This amazing long narrow canyon is a must stop on your Morocco tour. I was here five years ago in the winter and it was chilly. But on this day my family and I had a lovely walk in the warm morning. You can stop and have a Moroccan tea and just sit enjoying the beauty of this unique geography.

    Todras Canyon
    Women with donkeys, Todras Canyon
    Todras Canyon

    Lhoucine took us on a little hike up the side of the Todras Canyon to see some more nomad caves and the view was great. Moving on we stopped at a Fossil museum and shop where we learned about how this entire region used to be under the ocean.

    Hiking up to caves
    Hard to imagine Morocco under water…

    Erg Chebbi

    After a few hours drive, stop for lunch and a few other sites, we ended up in the area known as Erg Chebbi. We are now near the place we will ride the camels, Merzouga, but first we will visit an amazing market. I love it when I can go to a local market, with a local. There was nothing touristy about this market. And this is the hometown of our guide Lhoucine. He knew everyone. It was a wonderful way to experience an authentic Moroccan Market.

    Amazing Moroccan spices
    Goats for sale


    When I did the overnight camel ride before, I thought it was never going to happen again. I was a little worried I would be disappointed on my second trip. No need to worry. The second time was even better than the first. It was a beautiful evening, I was with my family AND our camp was outstanding.

    First, Lhoucine made sure we stopped to get our Berber scarfs for the camel ride, before meeting our camels.

    The family in our Berber scarfs. This is the Berber flag.
    Meeting my camel. Hello.

    Luxury Desert Camp

    The camel ride takes about two hours, which includes a stop to watch the sunset. It’s a remarkable experience, stunning scenery in it’s simplicity. A bit magical. I think the photos describe it best.

    That’s the Lund Family. Looks like our next Christmas card perhaps?
    That’s me – the hubs took this photo from a top an adjacent dune
    Off we go
    A lucky shot – took this over my shoulder while I was on my camel moving. Beautiful.

    Arriving in camp I was overjoyed at how much nicer it was than the rough camp we stayed in before. The accommodations were comfortable, there was electricity and wifi and both breakfast and dinner were great. The evening was spent with music around the campfire before we all retired for a good night’s sleep.

    Our beautiful tent with bathroom!
    Lamb and prune tajine
    Welcome cuppa first thing

    Day Three

    We had the option of either riding the camels back or having Lhoucine come out in the 4WD and pick us up in the morning. We chose to do the 4WD because we wanted to arrive in Fez in time to meet our friends for dinner. So after breakfast and lots of good Moroccan coffee, we began our final day, a very long drive to Fez.

    Lhoucine made sure we stopped to enjoy as many panoramic views as possible, to break up the long day in the car. As a very special treat, we stopped in the Atlas Mountains at a beautiful pine tree park where Lhoucine made us Berber tea over an open fire and we enjoyed Berber Pizza. Lhoucine had bought the pizza in the morning and like a magician pulled it out at lunch to enjoy with the hot mint tea. What a nice way to end our amazing tour with our amazing guide.

    Lhoucine making hot tea in the woods
    A local speciality Berber Pizza

    Marrakesh Camel Trips

    A special thank you to our guide Lhoucine and to Marrakesh Camel Trips for taking such good care of us and helping my family experience both the tourist and the hidden sites of Morocco on our journey.

    Our pine tree picnic in the mountains

    Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez

    If you have the time to do this trip in four or five days it would mean not such long days in the car. But it is doable in three days and we enjoyed it so very much. We highly recommend this tour company, who have many different tours, and I hope you too can enjoy Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez someday soon.

    Read last week’s post about our Marrakesh Food Tour here.

    Next week we will share about our visit to Senegal. Meanwhile, we love it when you pin and share our blog posts. Thank you for reading.

    Africa & The Middle East Travel  --  Food & Drink

    Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh

    Don’t Miss This Tour in Marrakesh

    It was our second visit to the amazing country of Morocco, and I looked forward to sharing this trip with our two adult sons. There is so much to love about Morocco, and I suspect this won’t be my last time there. Marrakesh is my favorite city in Morocco, and we hit the ground running on arrival, with an Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh.

    Marrakesh Markets

    Arriving Late in Marrakesh

    Our flight out of Dulles/Washington DC left more than five hours late due to bad weather. So of course we landed in Casablanca more than five hours late. We were very grateful to find our hired driver waiting for us, despite the delay. Jet lagged and exhausted we immediately started the two hour drive to Marrakesh.

    It was our plan to have two full days in Marrakesh, but our travel delays took away most of the first day. We were extremely grateful that our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour we had booked with One Life Trips through Viator allowed us to move the tour to our second night. Otherwise we would have missed the tour and been out nearly $200 ($48 per person).

    My family enjoying the food at Jemaa el Fna

    So instead of the food tour on our first night, we walked to the amazing and famous Marrakesh market square called Jemaa el Fna and wandered around the vast and various food stalls there. Be prepared to have everyone trying to get you to eat at their stall…it’s part of the fun. We ended up enjoying a colorful meal with kebabs, lots of veg and of course Moroccan tea.

    Tea all day long

    Tip: The food in the market square , though authentic, is more expensive than places outside the market square. It is also all about the tourists. Although it’s very fun and should be experienced, hopefully you can also visit some restaurants outside of the square.

    One Life Trips

    Through Viator we found One Life Trips and our amazing guide Yahya. Again we were so grateful this company and our guide was willing to move our tour by one day due to our travel issues. On our second day in Marrakesh we walked all over the Medina and by dinner time we were very excited to embark on our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh.

    Touring beautiful Marrakesh

    Yahya introduced himself and told us a little bit about Moroccan food and Marrakesh. And then he said he hoped we were hungry, and we told him we definitely were. So off we went. For the next three hours we enjoyed one of the best food tours I have ever been on. And that is saying a lot. Here is what we ate on our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh;

    My family with our wonderful guide Yahya

    Nuts & Dried Fruits

    My previous travels in Africa and the Middle East have turned me into a date lover, and Morocco has some amazing dates. Dried fruits and nuts are a popular snack as well as used in many of the authentic foods of the country. Yahya told us that when he was a child eating a bag of fruits and nuts like the one shown here was something he did often. Delicious, nutritious and local. The market area has many vendors selling dried fruits and nuts prepackaged or by the bag.

    Nuts and Dried Fruits

    Small Pastries and Cookies

    Moroccans love their sweets and their is a decidedly French influence in many of the small bite sized sweets. Many small sweets are filled with dried fruits and nuts, and honey is frequently used too. Some of the bite size confections are made from a flaky phyllo-type dough, while others are hand formed dough wrapped around a filling much like a pirogi. Yahya took us to a stall where a man has been making and selling these sweets for fifty years.

    Small Pastries and Cookies


    Like so many North Africa and Middle East countries, olives are present at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both as a snack, and also featured heavily in tajines, we enjoyed olives throughout Morocco. Yahya took us to an area in the market with many olive dealers. Their stalls displaying the colorful variety of olives as well as preserved lemons and other Moroccan delights. We sampled spicy, garlic, lemon, dill and many more flavors of olives.

    Olives breakfast lunch and dinner


    One of the best reasons to go on a tour with a local is because you will have a very authentic experience. This sweet old lady selling homemade Moroccan Macaroons is not someone I would have stopped at on my own. But Yahya knew what an amazing, delicate and delicious cookie she had. It was light and sweet with a hint of cinnamon. Just perfect.



    Morocco has several different kinds of pancakes as well as flat breads. Msemmen is one of the most popular. On our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh we visited two different vendors hand making Msemmen right in front of us. The first one was a savory version with some cheese and herbs. Our second stop was a sweet version with butter and honey. The flat pancake is folded over several times and eaten by hand. Amazing. I’m gonna try this one at home.

    Savory Msemmen
    Sweet Msemmen


    One of my favorite foods of Morocco, the pastilla is actually from the city of Fes, but it is found many places around the country. We enjoyed it multiple times. It is a round pastry filled traditionally with pigeon but today usually chicken as well as dried fruits and nuts. We had pastilla that were nearly bite size up to 8 inches across. Sometimes it’s a very large pastry, cut pizza-style. I really loved pastilla.


    Moroccan Hamburger

    I’m sure this local favorite has a local name, but Yahya called it a Moroccan Hamburger. We knew we were in for a treat at this tiny take away stall when we saw the long line of locals vying for this local fav. The bread was incredible, and the beef was served a bit like a sloppy joe…minced and cooked with a delicious variety of spices and sauce. Wow. I loved it. Snack Bachar is a hidden gem in Marrakesh.

    Moroccan Hamburger


    Back in the market square of Jemma el Fna, Yahya took us to one of several vendors selling nothing but snails by the bowl full in a rich broth. I’ve had snails in France of course, and also in Asia, but the Moroccan version was sweet and earthy at the same time. Very good.



    Lentils are served in many Moroccan dishes, including in soups or just on their own. I love lentils and make dhal or lentil soup often at home. The tiny bowl of lentils we enjoyed clearly had been slow cooked and made with loving hands. Delicious.



    Definitely my favorite thing we had on this incredible food journey was the Marrakesh favorite known as tanjia. This was the first time I had enjoyed this slow cooked beef dish flavored with preserved lemons and olives. The meat literally falling off the bone with a tender yet citrusy flavor. Served with rice and a small salad, I was so full but I couldn’t stop eating. I need to learn to make this one at home.



    Despite all the sweets around, yogurt is a favorite after dinner treat. I am a big fan of homemade yogurt. We make yogurt at home nearly every day and the version we had on our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh was outstanding.


    Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh

    Come to Morocco. Come to Marrakesh. And come hungry. The people are friendly and happy to have visitors back in their beautiful, historic and interesting country. The culture is unique and most definitely delicious. I highly recommend One Life Trips and our guide Yahya.


    I hope you will embark on your own journey soon. Watch for another Morocco blog next week about our Three Day Tour from Marrakesh to Fez.

    We love it when you pin and share our blog posts. Shukran.

    See last week’s post about The Royal West Indies Hotel in Turks and Caicos.

    See our Moroccan Food post from our visit to Morocco five years ago, Eat Morocco.

    Africa & The Middle East Travel  --  Europe Travel  --  Inspire  --  Island Life  --  North America Travel

    And The Grand Adventure Continues

    Travel is Back for My Fab Fifties Life

    When we went to Iceland in June 2021 I thought travel was back. But then the Greek alphabet started to wreak havoc on our travel life. First Delta hit in the summer and then Omicron almost shut us down when we were in Mexico. That Pandamit refused to loose it’s grip. Now, more than two years since it started, we once again are cautiously dipping our toes into travel with a ten week tour. We are ready and The Grand Adventure Continues.

    And the Grand Adventure Continues (Canva)

    My word of the year for 2022 is caution. And although we always travel with caution, navigating a travel life today requires a great deal more preparation and caution than in the past. Changing rules for testing and entry requirements require constant monitoring. It requires patience. It requires time. And it also requires being a bit of a gambler.

    Off We Go

    So with all that in mind, we have spent the past several months planning, studying the CDC information and reading the US State Department guidelines. We have put hundreds of hours into our preparation to embark on this tour. The destinations listed below each are chosen for a specific reason – personal and cautionary…and the Grand Adventure continues.

    New York City

    New York City (Canva)

    Twice we have canceled a week long winter visit to NYC due to the Pandamit. When we decided to try again for a spring visit, it was because we were headed to Boston for a college reunion. But alas, the college reunion was canceled (sigh). So we added the days we were going to be in Boston to the days we had already booked for New York…giving us a nice long stay of eleven days.

    We have been to New York at least a half a dozen times, but each time has always been only 2-3 days. Having eleven days gives us time to slowly see the city and all it’s fabulous museums, restaurants, neighborhoods and history. We have a full itinerary and are really looking forward to it. April 21-May 2.


    Antigua (Canva)

    When we first decided to head to the Caribbean after New York the other countries on our itinerary (see below) hadn’t totally opened up. So we decided to head to the turquoise waters of two islands we had never been to before. It’s been a long time since we spent time in the Caribbean and we are looking forward to ten days in Antigua (in an Airbnb with a car) and ten days in Turks & Caicos (a resort with no car). For us it’s incredibly rare that we stay in a resort, so this should be interesting. It’s not a super fancy all-inclusive, but it is nice and we expect it to be very relaxing and within our budget. May 2-May 21


    Morocco (Canva)

    From the Caribbean we fly to Washington DC for a one night stay, where we will also do a Covid test for entry into Morocco. This is also where we will rendezvous with our two adult sons, who are joining us for the Morocco portion of this itinerary. We are off to Morocco to attend a wedding reception of a friend of our family…a party that has been canceled three previous times since the Pandamit hit. Before the wedding in Fes, our family will spend a week touring Morocco. This is my second visit to Morocco and I am really looking forward to seeing this beautiful country again, sharing it with my two adult children and attending a traditional Moroccan wedding. It should be an incredible experience. May 23-May 31.


    Senegal (Canva)

    The West Africa nation of Senegal has been on my list for a long time due to it’s fascinating history, but we have never been able to squeeze it in. But it’s a short flight from Casablanca to Dakar so we will check Senegal off the bucket list. We have a brief visit (five days) and have hired a tour guide for two days to take us to some of the major sites. May 31 – June 5.


    Paris France
    Paris (Canva)

    From Senegal we are headed to the island of Malta, but to get to Malta requires a flight and an overnight in Paris. Well Paris is always a good idea, right? Fingers crossed for good weather to spend one full day strolling around my favorite arrondissements of the city of lights and eating everything I can. June 5-6


    Malta (Canva)

    The next three stops on this tour are three places Covid shut us down in, and we have been counting the days until we could return. So we begin with Malta.

    We were supposed to spend three weeks on Malta in May of 2020…of course that didn’t happen. It’s a destination I have wanted to visit for years. Full of beauty and history and fascinating geography…if you don’t know much about Malta you would probably recognize it from the role it plays in many movies and TV shows including Game of Thrones. We are staying in the historic town of Valletta in an Airbnb and we will not have a car except for one day when we have a car to see the ancient city of M’dina. I’ve booked a food tour and a one day tour to the island of Gozo. The rest of the time we will explore on foot. June 6-15th


    Israel (Canva)

    In March of 2020 after only five days of our 17 day itinerary in Israel we fled the country to avoid being put into a two week quarantine. We fled to Cyprus (more on that below) and I cried in the car as we drove to the airport. We had seen some amazing sites in Israel, but no where near all, including Jerusalem and Masada. I had waited to visit Israel since I was a child and learned about it from a Girl Scout leader. My heart was broken.

    So let’s try it again. This time we will spend our entire 7 day visit in Jerusalem in an Airbnb. We have a Jerusalem tour one day, another tour to Bethlehem in Palestine one day, and we will rent a car and drive to Masada one day. We also have booked a Shabat dinner with a local family. These are all high on my wishlist. I love the food of this region too, and I can’t wait to eat all of it! June 15 – 22


    Cyprus (Canva)

    Dear sweet Cyprus. It holds such a special place in my heart, after we spent two months in lockdown on this gorgeous island. But during that two months we did not see any of the amazing historic sites, enjoy any of it’s stunning beaches or eat in any of it’s amazing restaurants. Covid had everything shut down. We have vowed to return and now we will.

    Unfortunately we only have seven days, but we know exactly what we want to see and do, and we can make it happen. Looking forward to staying in the same Airbnb we were trapped in for two months and we can’t wait to see our hosts who were so kind to us. We also hope to see our friend Leza who we met and spent a day with in a cooking class – the only thing we got to do before we went into lockdown.

    Cyprus is a fascinating tiny country with a disputed border, fantastic food, ancient history (supposedly the birthplace of Aphrodite), mountains and beaches and so much more. Dear sweet Cyprus. We are coming. June 23-30

    Ten Weeks and The Grand Adventure Continues

    This itinerary is busy…much busier than we usually pursue. But we are taking a deep breath and tackling it, because life is short and due to the Pandamit we have some catching up to do! We will arrive back in the USA June 30th for the summer months before we go again.

    We hope you will follow along on this blog and all of our social media sites (Facebook Group, Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram) and of course here on the blog where I hope to have a post almost every Friday.

    Be brave and get out there! Travel is back! And the Grand Adventure continues. Away we go.

    We love it when you pin and share our blog posts.

    See last week’s post Travel Wardrobe for Multiple Climates.

    See this week’s top performing pin here My Favorite Things Ogunquit Maine

    All photos in this post by CANVA

    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Rwandan Renaissance

    Remember – Rebuild – Rebirth

    Location: Rwanda

    Rebirth of Rwanda – a renaissance story.

    Like many people, I knew very little about Rwanda, other than the terrible events that happened here in 1994.

    It’s interesting to me how many people still believe Rwanda is a dangerous place…26 years after the genocide. The Rwandan genocide, though devastating in the loss of lives (an estimated one-million Tutsis), lasted only 100 days.

    African textiles
    Colorful Rwanda fabrics

    In the 26 years since, Rwanda has had a renaissance. It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been perfect. Following the brutal civil unrest that began on April 7, 1994 and ended three months later, Rwanda struggled to put itself back together.

    Government was in disarray (both the President and Prime Minister had been murdered), infrastructure was not in place to handle the hundreds of thousands of children and adults misplaced, orphaned, and suffering both physical and mental trauma. I can only imagine the chaos.

    Kigali Genocide Museum
    A handful of the genocide victims at the Kigali Genocide Museum

    Today Rwanda shows few immediate scars from the horrible events of that spring in 1994, and tourism is on the uptick. It’s inexpensive and friendly and fascinating. Many people come to see the gorillas but we came to just see a wee bit of Rwanda as our final stop in our three-month tour of East Africa.


    A brief history lesson. It’s complicated but here is a simple synopsis (learn more here);

    The Belgians began issuing ID cards to all Rwandans over the age of 10 in 1932-1933. These ID cards, the first Rwandans ever had, showed which tribe they belonged to, Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, or Naturalist. In 1962 Rwanda gained independence but class structure continued to cause conflict. In 1994 President Juvénal Habyarimana was Hutu but he was a moderate Hutu, and class system favoring the Tutsis remained. A faction of Hutu was quietly rising up and this faction was extreme. For months they planned a type of coup.

    Rwandan Genocide
    Belgium Peacekeepers Memorial

    On the evening of April 6th, a plane carrying the President and several of his advisors as well as the President of Burundi was shot down on approach to Kigali airport. It is still unknown who shot the plane down with a surface to air missile. Scenarios speculate it was shot down by the Hutu extremists who then blamed the Tutsis in an effort to incite the genocide. Another scenario is that the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame was responsible in an effort to eliminate the old regime.

    Hotel Rwanda
    Hotel made famous in the movie Hotel Rwanda

    On the morning of April 7th the killing began. Hutus began massacring men, women and children, using the tribal identity cards to choose who lived and who died. Hutus also killed moderate Hutus and forced moderate Hutus to murder their own Tutsi neighbors or they would be killed. Belgium had a peacekeepers force in place, who tried to protect the Prime Minister, but all 12 of the Belgian peacekeepers were killed along with the Prime Minister and her husband. The United Nations was totally unprepared for the magnitude of the killing spree and no other country came forward to assist.

    Meanwhile one million people were killed before the insurgent RFP army led by Tutsi Paul Kagame (who later went on to become President in 2000) took control of the bloody war.

    Today in Kigali

    Today President Kagame is leading the country forward with a focus on technology and tourism as well as other industries. There is construction everywhere, even though the majority of the Rwandan population remains agrarian.

    Kigali Genocide Museum
    Kigali Genocide Museum

    A visit to Kigali is a must to see the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial. Both are worth a visit and give a truthful albeit painful chronology of what happened to the beautiful people of Rwanda during the genocide. You can also stop by the Hotel des Mille Collines, also known as Hotel Rwanda.

    There is another museum, newly opened that we did not visit called the Campaign Against Genocide. This museum explains how the insurgents took the country back. We are sorry we did not get to see this one.

    Lake Kivu

    Seeing gorillas (and chimpanzees) is the biggest tourist draw in Rwanda, but since we had already done that we chose to spend four days on Lake Kivu, about a four hour drive from Kigali. The town of Gisenyi sits right on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo is a country currently in turmoil and we had no interest going there. But the people of Gisenyi and its Congolese sister town of Gomo pass back and forth over the border with ease.

    Lake Kivu Rwanda
    Beautiful Lake Kivu Gicenyi Rwanda

    During our short visit we enjoyed a lovely boat tour of the lake to see the many islands in this gigantic lake ( maximum depth of 475 m (1,558 ft) and is 90km long (56 miles) and 50km wide (31 miles)) as well as to see the fishing industry, hot springs, busy market place and to get a good look at the DRC from the water side. Lake Kivu has methane gas from surrounding volcanoes that Rwanda is attempting to harness for electricity.

    Lake Kivu
    Touring Lake Kivu and a bridal party in the background

    On our second day we had a wonderful 18 km day hike (one way with a return by boat) with a guide along the Congo Nile Trail. The trail goes 227 km along the east side of Lake Kivu, which marks the divide between the Congo drainage basin and the Nile drainage basin. This is probably our favorite thing we did in Rwanda. It’s a tough hike, even just doing the 18 km (you can walk the entire 227 km) but it provides beautiful views of the lake, lots of bird watching and opportunities to learn about agriculture of Rwanda (particularly the coffee). But our favorite thing was all the kids we met along the route, most going to and from school from their rural mountain villages. We passed a primary school and all the kids were out in the courtyard and they ran out into the dusty dirt road to hug us. They call us muzunga (pale skin) and are genuinely happy to see us.

    So many children are the hope of Rwanda
    One of hundreds of kids we saw on the Congo Nile Trail

    Both of our tours in the Lake Kivu region we did with Ames Tours. I highly recommend them.

    Coffee Plants Rwanda
    The flower, green berry and red berry of the healthy coffee plant Rwanda


    One of the most astonishing things we learned about the people of Rwanda is regarding the monthly celebration of Umuganda, which roughly translates to community day.

    Rwanda people
    The hard working people of Rwanda

    On the last Saturday of EVERY month, from 8am – 11am in the morning, all adult citizens are required to participate in Umuganda. We had not been made aware of Umuganda, and stepped outside at 9am on Saturday morning to an absolute ghost town – no cars, no taxis, no motos, no people, no shops open…not even a dog or cat. It was eerie. We then learned about Umuganda. Police patrol the main streets because no one is supposed to be driving. Everyone should be in their village and neighborhood helping each other.

    Kids of RWanda
    We met so many wonderful kids, ready to bring Rwanda forward in peace

    Community projects are undertaken through out the entire country on Umuganda. It might be helping someone whose home is in need of repair. It might be clearing a field or repairing a bridge. It might be just families working together to build or harvest. It might be adding a room onto the school or building an entire road. It’s an age-old tradition in this country, fully supported by the people, mandated by the government and a bit shocking for an unprepared visitor.

    In the 110 countries I have been to, I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t begin to imagine something like this in my home country of the United States. Selfless, productive, loving and revered. Wow.

    Final Thoughts

    Rwanda is tiny, about the size of the state of Maryland. It has endured a great deal. Our short visit to Rwanda was very eye-opening. We met some wonderfully kind and proud people. The population has few elderly, both due to the genocide and the difficult agrarian lifestyle. But I am convinced I have never met a harder working population than Rwanda. Everyone is working – man, woman, and child. The Tutsi are in charge of the government now, and big efforts continue for all people whether Tutsi or Hutu to live together as Rwandans. Rwandan proud. Rebirth of Rwanda, a renaissance story.

    People of Rwanda
    The youth of Rwanda

    We wish them continued success.

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    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Uganda Gorilla Trek

    A Dream Come True

    Location: Uganda

    Do you remember the 1988 movie Gorillas in the Mist based on the life of Dian Fossey? The film takes us to Congo, Uganda and Rwanda where Fossey studied and tried to protect the magnificent mountain gorilla. She gave her life doing so. But to her credit there is no disputing that her work saved the mountain gorilla from extinction and opened the doors for gorilla tourism. Thanks to Fossey, I marked my 60th birthday on a exhilarating Uganda Gorilla Trek.

    Uganda Mountain Gorillas
    Juvenile mountain gorilla

    Most of us have seen lowland gorillas in zoos. But the mountain gorilla has not been able to survive in captivity. Biologists are not sure why they don’t survive. So the only way to see these animals is to go to them.

    And so, for one blessed hour, I sat in the jungle of Uganda and observed up close and personal one of earth’s most noble, splendid and humanlike creatures.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Can be mean, but just playing here.


    Unfortunately doing a Uganda gorilla trek is expensive. The cost is mostly due to the permit fees required by the government. The money of course is helping continue to save these magnificent beasts, but at $600 per person for the permit alone, it’s beyond reach for many people. Rwanda’s permit is more than twice as much. You can trek in Congo for less, but you would also be putting you life in danger going to Congo. And so, for us, as a celebratory birthday event, we chose to do our Uganda Gorilla Trek with Achieve Global Safari of Uganda.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Two year hanging out

    How it Works

    Through Achieve you can sign up for three day, five day, ten day or however long you want. Achieve can take you beyond the Uganda Gorilla Trek and also show you many of the other wonderful animals and sights of Uganda. But having already done a couple of safaris, our focus was just the gorillas.

    With our guide John

    We arrived at Entebbe Uganda in the afternoon and were met by our guide John. We were so glad to have been assigned John, he turned out to be an amazing guide. John took us from Entebbe about an hour to our Marriott hotel in Kampala for a first night. Very nice hotel. Bright and early the next morning John picked us up for the ten hour drive from Kampala to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.

    The Drive

    It was a very long drive, but we saw some interesting sights along the way, including a stop to have our photo taken as we crossed the equator. This was our first time crossing the equator on land.

    On the equator

    We also enjoyed seeing many beautiful birds, zebras grazing alongside cows, and the famous Ankole longhorn cows praised for the beef and milk. We enjoyed seeing mile and miles of agriculture. Uganda’s mild climate and long days provide a stable growing environment year around for everything from sweet potatoes to bananas, onions to avocado, rice to pineapple. We passed dozens and dozens of villages large and small and slowly ascended into the mountains. At the highest point we were at 7800 feet (2400 meters) but came down to about 6500 feet on arrival at our lodge.

    Ankole Cow

    Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge

    Verandah for our room in the jungle

    If you decide to make this trek we highly recommend using Achieve, asking for John to be your guide, and requesting to stay at the beautiful Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge. Small, lovely, comfortable and possibly the best service of anywhere we have stayed in all of Africa. I wished we had the time to stay longer and linger…enjoying the misty mountain views and relaxing on the verandah. The food was also exceptional. A very nice touch was a hot water bottle placed in our bed every evening to keep us warm as the mountain temps dropped.

    Hot water bottle for a good night’s sleep

    Uganda Gorilla Trek Day

    Overnight I woke up with a frightful headache, and I knew I was suffering from altitude sickness. At breakfast I began to feel very queasy and I was unable to eat anything. Damn. I was not going to miss this! I put on my happy face and we headed to the trek site.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Three year old

    In 1981 it’s estimated there were only 250 mountain gorillas left in the world. Thanks to conservation efforts the population is healthy and growing in all three countries where they live. There are 36 gorilla families in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, with a total of about 650 gorillas, half the world’s population. Of these about 13 families are currently habituated for the tourist trekkers. Habituation began in 1991 and the first trekkers came in 1993.

    The time of our lives

    After a briefing by the ranger and some local entertainment, we were split into groups of eight and assigned to trek to one of the families. The families stay within a general area that is their home, so using advance tracking ranger teams, the guides know approximately where the gorillas are hanging out today.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    The eldest female of the family

    Our trek group consisted of a German/Dutch family of four, two women from Estonia and me and my husband. Our lead ranger was Phillip and we were accompanied by two armed guards, one forward and one aft. In addition local porters could be hired ($15 US minimum) to assist trekkers with their packs or to help them through the mud. We were the only ones who hadn’t hired a porter and we probably should have, if only to provide a good day’s employment to a local person.

    Mama Gorilla

    Nshongi Family

    Despite my upset stomach I was feeling pretty lucky when we were assigned to the Nshongi Family. This currently is the biggest habituated gorilla family in Uganda with 25 members but more than 10 have left to form another family called the Mishaya Group. The Nshongi group also was in a area we could hike to from the orientation site, instead of driving a distance to start the hike. I started to feel better once we started moving and after the first few kilometers I was no longer suffering the upset stomach. Instead I was focused on what was turning out to be a very difficult Uganda gorilla trek. (read more about all the habituated families here.)

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    The kids at play


    Our name was mud. Wow. So much mud. It sucked at your shoes and oozed into your socks. It had rained a lot the day before, and we were counting our blessings for a clear morning, but the weather the previous day left its calling card and it was named mud. There was no chance of staying out of the mud and so we didn’t try. I was very glad to have my hiking poles with me as we trekked along, slurping through the muck.


    It took us about two and half hours before our guide was on the radio conversing with the advance trackers. We were feeling lucky since we had heard that sometimes it takes 7-8 hours to find them. The trackers had the gorillas in sight. But the gorillas wait for no tourists and they were on the move. At this point we left what was somewhat of a trail and went headlong into the dense bush. Our guide Phillip had a machete and he hacked as much of a trail as possible for us as we stumbled through the vines and bushes and up the mountain side. The sweat was pouring off of me.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    One of the females

    And Then There They Were

    My heart stopped as the first gorilla, a small juvenile, came bounding across the path right in front of me. But he was gone in a flash. We continued, hacking with the machete through the bush. Suddenly there were four gorillas, two females and two two-year olds. The kids were playing and the mamas were resting after their lunch. I was taking photos and switched to video just in time to have this little fella get up on a branch and pound his chest. Chest pounding in a large gorilla can mean an attack, but this little guy was just acting tough and I was smitten.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Baby playing

    Our guide led us down a little incline into a clearing where two more juveniles (a three year old and a two year old) were wrestling. This is both a form of exercise and play, but also a way for the older gorilla to teach the baby. We were watching this playtime and our guide had me step a little to the right and pointed ahead about twenty yards. And there I saw him. A resplendent silverback gorilla.

    The Silverback

    King Kong comes to mind. This beautiful creature is twenty-four years old (they live as much as forty) and weighs nearly 500 lbs. We never saw this beast stand up but mountain gorillas can grow as tall as 2.25 metres (7.5 feet). The mature male sports a crest of fur on his head and the magnificent silver fur on his back.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Just chilling

    Our new friend seemed quit content as he laid there snoozing, then grazing, then watching the littles play. Unlike many in the animal kingdom, the patriarch of the family is intricately involved in the lives of the young. The little gorillas crawled all over him, banged on him and cuddled up to him as he lay. He rolled over into a half sitting position (he seemed to be posing for a centerfold) and watched us watch him. He addressed the kids with a gorilla grunt, which sounds more like a pig grunting than what you think a gorilla would sound like.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Papa and little one

    Slowly, slowly, my heart returned to it’s normal rhythm as our hour with the Uganda Mountain Gorillas came to an end. Phillip said it was time for us to take our final photos, as our hour was nearly up. As if he understood, the Silverback sat up, looked us in the eye and we snapped our final shots.


    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Watching us

    Final Thoughts

    On our trek back we had to ford a couple of high running streams. We were soaked, muddy and exhilarated. I don’t think anybody was thinking about how hard the trek had been…only thinking about how rewarding.

    Once in a lifetime. I feel so grateful.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Wrestling for fun and learning

    I should point out again that the hike was very difficult. Occasionally there are trekkers who just can’t go on. The porters provide another service, but for a price. An additional $300 USD and they will literally carry you in a kind of rickshaw up the mountain. They call this the gorilla helicopter.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla

    On our return ten-hour drive back to Entebbe for one final night before our flight out of Uganda, John took the time to really share his gratitude to us for choosing to visit Uganda. He elaborated on how many jobs are created through gorilla tourism – not just the guides, the rangers and the porters, but all the staff at hotels, restaurants, shops and gas stations. This on top of the money we invested into the conservation of the gorilla through the work done by the African Wildlife Foundation.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Silverback sleeping while toddler waits

    Our five day tour included four nights lodging, all our meals, a personal vehicle and our guide John, park entrance permits and all the staff it took to get us up the mountain to the gorillas. We tipped everyone generously. Total for all of this was $3100.

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    What a day

    We were sorry our visit to Uganda was so short. It’s such a green, friendly country with UNESCO recognizing it’s biodiversity. Certainly Uganda still has political challenges, and the Entebbe airport is in need of signifcant upgrades. But as a visitor, there are so many exciting options for wildlife viewing, Uganda is poised to be the next big safari destination, although currently still flying under the radar. Your dollars help both the people and the animals, and help save the habitat of these incredible creatures. Just like in Borneo when we visited the Orangutans, loss of habitat is the greatest threat.

    If you can afford it I highly recommend a Uganda Gorilla Trek. Come now…before the secret gets out. Come for the gorillas. Come for the beauty. Come for the people of Uganda. Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.

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