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    Inspire  --  Message From Cyprus Lockdown

    My Fab Fifties Life on Cyprus Under Quarantine

    Location: Argaka Cyprus

    Message from Cyprus Edition One

    As I post this blog we have been self-quarantined on Cyprus for a week. Every day brings a new development. We are currently comfortable and healthy but unsure of how or if our world journey will continue. So for today I thought I would tell you a bit about life on Cyprus under quarantine.

    Some Background

    Some of you who follow my personal Facebook page might remember this post I made on January 23rd. I said “when people ask me if travel scares me it’s things like this (Corona) that scare me more than terrorism or crime. Luckily we aren’t flying for three more weeks but still its the kind of thing that can explode so quickly…”

    That was on January 23rd two months ago and we were in Mauritius. As soon as I read the first story about Wuhan I felt a strong foreboding. But also thought to myself that we had two months in Africa and it would possibly be gone by the time we headed towards Europe.

    Covid-19
    Wearing a mask on our flight out of Mauritius

    But the nagging in the back of my mind made me go to the pharmacy in Mauritius and buy some face masks. The pharmacists asked me if we were going to China? Even he wasn’t thinking about it spreading outside of Asia.

    It was late January when the first case was diagnosed in Washington State USA. But the US government did not react.

    Covid-19
    Carefree in Victoria Falls

    Fast Forward Late February

    We were carefree in Victoria Falls and in Uganda too as we continued with our planned itinerary. It wasn’t until our arrival in Rwanda on February 27th that we began to see significant changes in airports and hotels (as a matter of fact, Rwanda had the coolest hi-tech system in place for screening). This is when I began taking very strong measures such as washing hands more frequently, not touching railings or elevator buttons and scrubbing things in our room like remote controls and door knobs. I’ve always washed down my airplane space and now we began using a bleach product everywhere we go.

    Covid-19
    Still touching people in Rwanda

    In Kigali Rwanda we bought hand-sanitizer and more face masks, despite now hearing that face masks weren’t helpful. I still wanted to have some.

    By this point the virus was spreading in the USA and becoming epidemic in my home state of Washington but Trump continued to deny that it was a legitimate issue or take measures to protect his citizens or the US economy. He was not listening to Advisor’s and making statements like this one – “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”. As we watched from afar the virus take over entire countries we were flabbergasted at the lack of concern from the US President.

    Worries about family back home

    People I know back home were split over the issue and not surprisingly along party lines. One faction thinking it was all getting blown out of proportion (and actually blaming Democrats for causing the outbreak to take the focus away from the election) while the other faction was beginning to hoard food, toilet paper and scream that something needed to be done.

    Because of the malaria meds we took all through Africa I was suffering with some tummy issues and I was really worried about being flagged on the arrival in Israel since I wasn’t feeling 100%.

    Israel

    We touched down in Israel on March 4th and absolutely breezed through the airport. We were totally shocked that Israel’s entry was easier than Rwanda or Botswana and Israel seemed to not be doing ANYTHING to check visitors arriving in Tel Aviv. It sounded just like what was happening in the USA. Head in the sand. I was a bit disconcerted.

    Covid-19
    Unknowingly, this was our final dinner in Israel after only five days

    We enjoyed our first few days in Israel but on day four we began hearing that they may close the border to tourists and our planned day trip with a local tour company to Palestine was cancelled when Palestine closed its borders.

    We assumed we would be fine since we had arrived in Israel before the border closed, but when we woke up on day six (March 10), regular alerts we receive from the US State Department told us anyone who had arrived in the past week would be quarantined for at least two weeks from date of entry. Spot checks were going to be made and we would need to prove we had a place to stay for a 14-day quarantine. Since our planned itinerary in Israel did not include us staying in one place for 14 days we did not have lodging secured. We made a spur of the moment decision that it would be in our best interest to leave the country while the airport was open and we still could. We made this decision at 8:45 am and were on a flight to Cyprus at 1:45 pm. Never in our nearly four years of travel have we changed our plans so drastically. It was a stressful and heartbreaking decision but in hindsight the right one.

    Cyprus

    Before leaving Israel we had contacted the Airbnb in Cyprus to see if it might be available early. It was and they welcomed us 15 days early on March 10th. It’s a beautiful spot and perfect for a long stay. We currently have it booked until April 7th.

    Covid-19
    Cooking Class in Cyprus

    When we arrived in Cyprus ten days ago there were only three cases of Covid-19. We went to the grocery store, the pharmacy and stopped at a sporting goods store to buy sweatshirts. We had coffee in a coffee shop and visited the butcher. Our Airbnb host stopped by with cookies and citrus. Everything seemed normal and no one was panicking. We even did a cooking class and a winery tour and spent one day hiking.

    Covid-19
    Hiking in Cyprus

    But on the evening of March 15th we learned that Cyprus was limiting inbound flights and incoming tourists until April 10th. Schools were closing too and two of the island’s large hotels were closing. The island now had a total of 20 cases, all but one related to incoming visitors. Cyprus is a popular direct flight from London and many British expats live here.

    Covid-19
    Sunset in Cyprus

    This news also included the mandate that any visitor already on the island should self-quarantine for 14 days from the time of entry. So on March 15th we began a self-quarantine. We will stay quarantined until March 24th. For us that means we will still do our morning run, where we have no contact with other people, but spend the rest of the day at our villa.

    BUT THEN, on the morning of the 16th it was announced the island was closing all restaurants, hotels, malls, museums, archeology sights until April 30th. Even one hospital was closed for 48 hours for sanitizing. Cases now up to 39.

    We now realized that at the end of our 14-day quarantine, we still might not be able to enjoy the the sites of Cyprus because everything will be closed. But, it’s out of our hands.

    On March 17th they began turning away people, even residents, arriving on flights unless they had a medical statement of their wellness. And those who were allowed in, are going into a mandatory GOVERNMENT LOCATION quarantine. That’s big…we did not want to be in a government location quarantine.

    Today, March 20 th a big announcement. ALL FLIGHTS are to be terminated in and out of Cyprus beginning Sunday. All flights. Wowza. Even flights for Cypriots trying to return home. There is rumor of a possible curfew. Meanwhile today the US government declared a Level 4 Travel Advisory. Better late than never I guess. Hopefully the idiots partying in the Florida beaches aren’t carriers.

    Cyprus has very quickly, without a lot of politicizing, created a comprehensive economic assistance plan to help it’s citizens get through this. It’s impressive and quit thorough including such things as unemployment, childcare and elder care. I am impressed with their foresight and lack of political bickering.

    As of March 20th, Cyprus now has 81 cases of Covid-19. In the ten days we have been here it’s gone from 3 to 81, an exponential growth.

    Grocery stores remain open, but only a dozen people allowed in at a time. We went yesterday and were presented with hand sanitizer and rubber gloves before entering the store.

    So every day something new and foreboding.

    So Now What?

    So now what? I have no idea. Our next flight booked was to Ukraine on April 7th. But even if Cyprus reopens its airport by then, Ukraine’s borders are closed. Beyond that we are supposed to be in Malta in late April and May. As of today Malta’s borders remain open but anyone entering must self-quarantine for 14 days. No doubt that too will change shortly.

    Covid-19
    Quarantined breakfast in Cyprus

    We were planning to attend a wedding in France in late June and then head to the USA for a six month visit. Even if we forego France we are currently unable to get a flight home. We have a lot of money at stake, with little help from airlines or lodgings as far as refunds so far. We did get a refund from Airbnb for our place in Jerusalem, but lost the money for the other hotels and flight changes in Israel. We also got a full refund from our Kiev hotel after we contacted them with a personal email. We are currently waiting to hear from Ukraine airlines.

    Of course our health is more important than the money, but we actually might be safer staying put than going to the USA. And we honestly might not be able to get a flight for an indefinite amount of time. We just don’t know.

    Our world tour

    We feel we can’t make a decision now until the end of March at the earliest, when several countries who closed their borders on March 14th will make a decision as to what’s next. If borders and airports remain closed we may be able to get flight refunds or at least credit. Or we may have to cough up (no pun intended) the money to get back to the USA. Currently a flight from Cyprus through London to the USA will cost us nearly $2000 per person – that is if the Cyprus airport reopens…and if any flights to the USA are running.

    My Biggest Fears

    My biggest fear is not about coming down with the virus; although we are in our sixties we are healthy and strong. My biggest fear is the economy and how this might effect jobs and lives of people I care about back home. Already my friends and family who own small businesses and restaurants are in dire straits. Even since I began writing this blog several days ago the changing economic impact to the USA seems catastrophic. Frightening.

    Covid-19
    This is where we are

    My biggest fear is that my father (age 87 Alzheimer patient), my mom (age 81) and step-day (age 90 with many medical complications) and my mother-in-law (healthy but age 86) will get the virus. And of course I’m very fearful for my adult sons.

    My biggest fear is this thing will go on for months…years? And we may get trapped indefinitely.

    I am in no way a “sky is falling” kind of person. I am definitely “look at the bright side” girl. In fact I have been criticized in my life as a “Pollyanna” by people with a less positive outlook.

    HOWEVER I am also a realist and see this as a long-term scenario. And that is why the things I listed above scare me.

    Meanwhile

    Meanwhile we have no choice really but to wait and watch at least until mid April. Hopefully by then we will be armed with enough information to move forward in one way or another. There are few other options. The only silver lining is the weather here in Cyprus is finally beginning to warm up a bit.

    I’d love your comments on the blog about your situation wherever you are. I am genuinely concerned for each of you and I am thinking of all of you and sending love and best wishes. God speed.

    Not in my wildest dreams. Wow.

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

    Book Review The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

    What a surprise this book was.  A book about a book.  I loved it.

    Set in post-war era where the USA (CIA) is trying to infiltrate the USSR, this book is based on real events and a real plot to bring the classic Russian novel Dr. Zhivago, first out of the USSR to be printed and then back to the people of the USSR to read.

    Instead of propaganda, the CIA used Pasternak’s magnum opus against the USSR government. What you say?  Crazy right?  I had no idea that magnificent book by Pasternak was banned in the USSR and thanks to a net work of primarily female spies, the book was infiltrated into the USSR during the Cold War 1960’s.

    The story takes the reader from the height of the Cold War in the Washington DC region to the streets of Moscow and the the Soviet Union prison of Galug.  Pasternak and his real life mistress and muse Olga Ivinskaya dedicate their lives to get Dr. Zhivago published.  But without the “secretaries” turned spies from the CIA, this classical and epic novel would never have seen print.

    The book touches eloquently on so many societal issue of the day from lack of females in prominent roles in offices, to mysogenistic work places.  It touches on male dominance of females in the work place as well as the societal norms that women should be home with the children.

    I enjoyed this book, learning about the personal life of Pasternak, as well as some of the horribly brutal consequences of going against the government in the Soviet Union.  I also thought the author did a great job with the descriptive narrative bringing the reader back to the 1950’s with details about clothing and cars, decor and dining and a variety of other historical detail making the book come to life.  This is one book I would love to see as a movie.  I’m already thinking about who should play the leads.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

    Read last week’s review of Say Nothing

    My current read The Ambassadors Daughter

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    Africa 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.

    Genocide

    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

    Umuganda

    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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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe.

    I wish I had read this book before my visit to Belfast in 2016.  I would have seen the city and the events that took place here in a clear light.  This well researched non-fiction book truly opened my eyes to the thirty year “Troubles” in Northern Island and dives right to the heart of the bitter and deadly conflict that gripped the people of Northern Ireland for decades.

    But this conflict goes back further.  Generations and generations of people on both sides have faced off.  In fact I have just finished reading Ken Follett’s Column of Fire, where the Catholics and the Protestants were killing each other in the 1500’s.  Well, from 1972 to the late 1990’s they continued to kill each other in Northern Ireland.

    Although the Irish Republic Army (IRA) claimed to always be fighting for a unified Ireland and the exit of the British, in reality the horrific conflict comes down to faith and years of family indoctrination.

    This is not an easy book to read. Both for its graphic nature but also for the minutia of detail laid out in the chronological telling.  Some readers might throw in the towel.  I stuck it out because I found the nature of what happened in Ireland interesting for it’s similarity to every other conflict around the world, both past and present.  Always at the core of every conflict is one group who believes they are better than another.  It comes always down to this.

    I was taken by a quote I just read that I think applies to this topic – 

    God made so many kinds of people. Why would he allow only one way to serve him?” – Martin Buber

    I learned a lot from this book.  A story that needed to be told.  A story of a still unresolved issues.  A story of unsolved murders with known murderers still walking free.  A story with little justice or gratifying closure for thousands of people who lost loved ones, who lost property, who still today live in fear of retribution.  

    You should read this story to understand what happened here.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for Say Nothing

    Read last weeks’s review of Love Thy Neighbor.

    My current read – The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.


    Adventure Travel  --  Africa 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.

    Expensive

    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

    Mud

    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.

    Mud

    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.

    Farewell.

    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
    Lunchtime

    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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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Love Thy Neighbor by Ayaz Virji

    Reading Wednesday

    Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America.

    I actually cried reading this book. People can be so cruel. And ignorant. It broke my heart. This is a true story.

    In 2013 with an open heart to serve, Ayaz Virji moves to rural Minnesota to serve at a country hospital, where American doctors don’t want to be. He brings his family and looks forward to building a life in this community with his wife and children.

    But then Donald Trump was elected and out of the woodwork of rural America emerged the racism. Virji’s family was faced with anti-Muslim remarks and his patients began to question whether he should be in the country.

    Just as he was about to flee for the safety of his family, a local Christian pastor invited him to speak at her church about the misconceptions of Muslim practice and belief.

    You want to hope that this open dialogue would make everyone realize we should all just love each other and get along. But it doesn’t. In fact it gets very rough and difficult as Virji finds himself speaking to churches around the state.

    My heart goes out to this author and the trials he faced. This book might open some eyes to tolerance, but unfortunately I doubt it will. Rascism is deep and embedded and heartbreaking.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for Love Thy Neighbor by Ayaz Virji. Read last week’s review of My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry.

    My current read – The Giver of Stars

    Adventure Travel  --  Africa Travel

    FALLING FOR VICTORIA FALLS – Mosi oa-Tunya

    Location: Victoria Falls, Zambia - Zimbabwe

    I am admittedly a bit of a waterfall geek.  There is something about the free fall of water that literally takes my breath away.  I always find myself trying to watch a single drop…and thinking about how far that drop has traveled.  One drop of precious water, suddenly falling, falling, falling…SPLASH.

    Be still my heart.

    Rainbow over Victoria Falls
    My first breathtaking view

    Breath. Taking.

    Last year I was enchanted with Iguazu Falls in Brazil…a stunning waterfall that at the time I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful.  Oh but wait…there is.  Bigger, badder and more beautiful…the wondrous Victoria Falls.

    We came here just to see it.  It’s a tall order, particularly with all the travel we have done, it’s hard to impress us anymore.  But impressed we were.  We could hear it long before we could see it…and then there it was.  My first look…breathtaking.

    Victoria Falls
    Cascade

    Locals know it as Mosi oa-Tunya, meaning smoke and thunder. The name Victoria Falls was given by David Livingstone, the first European to lay eyes on it, in 1855. The falls straddle the border of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) in South/Central Africa.  The falls are generated from the Zambezi River, flowing some 2700 km (1700 miles) from the headwaters in North Zambia. The Zambezi is joined by several tributaries such as the Luena, Chifumage and the Chobe before reaching the falls where the vast amount of water plummets 100 metres (360 feet), creating the biggest curtain of water in the world. The river then flows on, eventually reaching the Indian Ocean. On this journey the Zambezi flows through six countries; Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola.

    Victoria Falls
    From Livingstone Island

    See. It. All.

    The falls were formed over thousands of years as the basalt plateau eroded from the pounding water.  Today the thing that makes the falls so magnificent  is the width.  Spanning 1700 meters (5604 feet – about mile and a quarter), you can view the spectacle from the Mosi oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side and the Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side.  We did both. And a whole lot more.

    We were told by many people that the view is better on the Zimbabwe side.  I wouldn’t say better…but I would say there is more variety of viewing on the Zimbabwe side. It’s easy to see both sides in one day.

    On the edge of Victoria Falls
    A sheet of water from the Zimbabwe side

    It’s also quit easy to see both sides without a guide.  Unless you are looking for someone to provide you with wildlife, birdlife or geological details, a guide is not necessary.  

    We started our Victoria Falls day taking a taxi from our hotel in Livingstone, about ten minutes to the entrance of the Mosi oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side.  It’s $20 per person to enter the National Park.  Consider bringing a poncho or raincoat but make sure it’s not one of those cheap plastic throw-away kind – because those are not allowed.  One small effort the park is making to eliminate plastic.  If you don’t have a poncho there are plenty of vendors willing to “rent” you one and to sell you all kinds of other things as well.  

    Victoria Falls

    Our visit in February had the falls running pretty high and that means the mist was high too.  Low season is August to December and high water is March to June.

    We purchased our tickets at the entrance and did an easy self guided tour on the Zambia side.  We walked all the paths and stopped at all the viewpoints and marveled over and over again at the majesty of it.  We also did a hike down to “Boiling Pot”, more difficult going down than going up, but worth the view of the “boiling” river just below the falls.

    Victoria Falls Bridge
    Victoria Bridge from Boiling Pot

    Border. Run.

    We had planned to go to the Zimbabwe side on a different day, but after thoroughly seeing the Zambia side it wasn’t even noon yet so we decided to walk across the border.  There are lots of taxis and rickshaw drivers who want your money to take you across the bridge, but as walkers, we wanted to do the walk.  From one park entrance to the next it’s about 2.3km (1.4 miles).  First you exit Zambia and there is border control there.  We had purchased the KAZA Visa before arriving in Zambia, a special visa that allows visitors to this region to easily cross the borders of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.  After exiting Zambia we marveled at the hundreds of big rig trucks filled with copper waiting to be cleared to cross the border.  As we walked we had to ignore all the men aggressively trying to sell us carved wooden figures, copper bracelets and drinks.  Arne calls it running the gauntlet.

    Victoria Falls
    Looking up the river from the Zambia side

    Eventually we arrived at the Victoria Falls Bridge which provides another beautiful view of the falls on the right hand side and down river on the left hand side.  This bridge also is home to both a zipline and bungee jumping operation.  No thanks.

    On the opposite side of the bridge we had to clear Immigration to enter Zimbabwe.  This included a medical check and having our temperature taken.  Moving on to the entrance to the park the fee was $30 per person.  Wow expensive.  I was surprised that the two countries can’t come up with some way to do a combined ticket.  Currently Zimbabwe has a worthless currency and they are using USD as their currency.  But we used our credit card to buy tickets on both sides of the falls.

    Poncho style at Victoria Falls
    Bucketlist

    Once we were in the park we realized it was much bigger and the views offered are really lovely.  We had shed our ponchos because they made me sweat so much I was getting wet anyway, so we just let the mist cover us.  The temperature was warm so it felt good. An interesting fact about the Victoria Falls Rainforest is that it is the only place on earth that it rains 24 hours a day.

    There seemed to be more visitors on this side, but overall we enjoyed a very sparsely populated park.  Comparing to our visit to Iguazu the week of New Years 2019 where we could barely move because of the crowds, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of tourists.  

    As we walked we encountered a film-crew from ABC News doing a live shot for Good Morning America.  We learned later that the story is a combined nature series with National Geographic.  

    Walking to Zimbabwe

    The Zimbabwe side offers some pretty amazing up close and personal moments with the falls – nothing like feeling like you are on the edge of the abyss.  The massive flow of water made my fantasy of following one drop of water pretty difficult….but I tried.  But later we got even closer to the edge, actually a little too close for me.  

    Just. Plain. Crazy.

    Before arriving we had booked a tour through Victoria Falls Guides to do what it called the Angels Swim.  OMG.  I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  First of all let me say that there are two separate pools that visitors can “swim” in on the very edge of the falls.  Devil’s Pool is only safe during the dry season and requires a walk/swim across the river holding on to rope.  Say what?  Angel’s Pool is accessed via Livingstone Island, a small island in the middle of the river on the Zambia side.  It is only available for swimming during medium water flow because when the water is at its highest level, Livingstone Island disappears underwater.

    Angels Pool Victoria Falls
    Balancing on the edge

    So we signed up to do the Angel’s Pool swim.  I knew the pool was close to the edge of the falls because I had seen photos but holy cow.  We were right on the ledge.  This activity is not for someone faint of heart, afraid of heights, afraid of water, or sane.  Seriously this was crazy.  At first I told my husband I didn’t think I could do it when I saw how close we were getting…. but of course I ended up doing it.  Absolutely heart stopping.  I don’t think you could ever get a permit to operate something like this back home in the USA. Too many lawyers.

    Angles Pool Victoria Falls
    Angels Pool

    But now I can add it to the list of crazy, fun exhilarating travel stories…one for the record books. Worth the $230 price for two people. 

    And by the way, the water was surprisingly warm.

    Angles Pool Victoria Falls
    Angels Pool

    Most visitors come here on full-tours but we rarely do  group tours and had no problem enjoying the area on our own.  We made all our own arrangements.  We stayed at Ngoma Zanga Lodge, a lovely oasis in Livingstone with a full restaurant.  From Ngoma Zanga we were able to easily take a taxi ($6) to the falls.  

    Much. More. Fun.

    In addition to swimming at the edge of the falls the region offers a wide variety of other activities for both the thrill-seeker and the more subdued.  There is bungee jumping, ziplining, ultralight and helicopter rides.  You can also go to a crocodile park, have a candlelight dinner on the edge of the falls, walk with rhinos or have breakfast with elephants.  There are jet boat rides, canoe trips and whitewater rafting.

    Chobe National Park Botswana
    Magnificent. My favorite animal in the world.

    We didn’t do any of those, but we did choose to do the following;

    Chobe National Park – Using Victoria Falls Guides, we booked a full day tour in Chobe National Park in Botswana.  Door to door service provided us an amazing opportunity to cross the border to Botswana, spend the entire day in Chobe on a morning river cruise and an afternoon land safari drive with lunch in between.  We saw amazing animals including hippopotamus, crocodile, water buffalo, antelope, giraffe and hundreds and hundreds of elephants.  This full day was worth the $340 price for two people. I would certainly do it again.

    Chobe National Park Botswana

    Sunset Boat Cruise – Our hotel booked an evening sunset cruise for us on our final night in Zambia. The boat could probably hold 100 people but there was only about 30 people on board so it was not crowded. Live African music, snacks and open bar was included in the $150 price for two people. The cruise also included a naturalist guide who pointed out hippopotamus, giraffes and so many birds along the shore. And of course we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

    Hippopotamus
    Hippo in the Zambezi

    Seeing Victoria Falls checks another item from my never ending bucket list.  It was worth the effort to get here.  I continue to love this continent chock-full of surprises  – the never ending wonders of Africa.  I know there are still a lot of people who fear traveling in Africa.  We found these tourist areas of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all safe, welcoming, and beautiful. And though the days are long gone where animals roam freely and abundantly, conservation efforts and National Parks offer the most astonishing opportunities for visitors.  The natural beauty, lovely people, and incredible history (we all came from here) makes Africa one of the most fascinating places in the world.  Our three months enjoying the African continent continues…watch for more adventures coming to a blog near you.

    Zambezi Sunset
    Sunset on the Zambezi

    I’m so glad we came. 

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