September 28, 2016

leaving rwanda

i leave Rwanda with an excitement to sleep in my own bed.  inside my fortress where i feel safe.  i have mixed feelings about Kigali and Rwanda.  they are positioning themselves [much to the laughter of other east africans] as THE HUB of east africa.  like many african countries i feel like it's a powder key just waiting for someone to toss in a match.  a few weeks after this trip i'm in a mixed social situation, some expats some visitors, when a 'well traveled american' visitor starts talking Rwanda, genocides, politics, etc.  it's obvious to me she has no clue about what is really going in the country but i can't be bothered to even comment.  plus, the constant stream of words coming out of her mouth without a pause between sentences doesn't allow anyone to really comment.  there's a south african in the group who has been in east africa for a long time and he catches my eye.  in a split second i can see thinks the same thing.  i just smile but a minute later he interrupts her and provides a more realistic view of the sociopolitical climate there.

i've been invited to return and there are certainly jobs for expats there but i can't really imagine living there.  another highlight of the trip is spending time with a polish expat i met when she was on a Tanzanian project.  that in combination with the fact that it was the french that orignially colonized Rwanda means that good wines are easily available.

the Australians i met in Kigali are also traveling onward to Jaro on the same flight for a climb on Kili and i meet up with them at the gate, exchange some data points on where they've been [climbing volcanos and other badass stuff] and in minutes they have me laughing again about the silly things that happened along the way.

it was a trip filled with new friends, old friends and unforgettable adventures!

September 27, 2016

things i did not expect to see in rwanda

the west sends billions of dollars in aid to africa and so when you see something like this and the people outside the parking area don't even have shoes to wear it makes you wonder where the money is going.

September 23, 2016

mountain gorillas, rwanda

first, i understand it is less expensive to visit the gorillas in Uganda or Congo [the gorillas are in a park that is inside all three countries] but my experience in Rwanda made me feel the money is probably being well spent on training and conservation for the parks, guides, trackers and park rangers.  the cost for one hour with the gorillas is currently $750 plus the cost of a porter [$10 + tip], tip for the guides and tip for the trackers plus accommodations and transfers.  see why i had to sell some fb stock?

the day starts at 6AM as you head off to a central point for paying fees and assignment to guides for specific gorilla families.  once the process is done [they nicely cater to the western crowd with coffee and wifi while you wait] you receive a briefing in detail about the family you will be visiting.  size, group dynamics, number of silverbacks, females, juveniles and babies.

they try to accommodate the capabilities of visitors as gorilla viewing in the wild is by no means an easy trip to the park.  there is no tram, gondola or conveyance to accommodate any incapacity.  in fact, there were multiple people in our group who where there on their second or third day and had left a partner behind because they had twisted an ankle or had some injury from the day before.

regardless of where you enter the actual park you will be met by and accompanied by a armed ranger.  it's not clear whether he is protecting you from animals or humans but he remains with the group the entire time you are in the park.

i'm in the group with two other people who are also returning to Kigali in the afternoon and a handful of older visitors.  i'm good with this because i'm thinking they've got me with a group that is going to have an easy, short hike in to the gorillas.  WRONG.  the gorilla family we are visiting had moved significantly overnight and we spent 2 hours instead of 30 minutes finding them.  that's 2 hours through the jungle, sometimes on a path but sometimes not.  regardless of whether you are on a path it's always on a slope of 45 degrees either up or down mostly in the mud.  this is where the porters earn their pay.  they are constantly grabbing you to avoid you sliding on your ass through the mud or pulling you up over some boulder.  based on the walk i'm pretty sure i earned an extra stamp or two in my passport.  the guides are in touch with the trackers who watch over the families so you always eventually get there.  at least it wasn't raining.

when you meet up with the trackers you forget about the sweat and cranky muscles and bruises from bouncing off boulders.  you have to leave the porters, walking sticks, food and backpacks behind and take only your cameras to join the gorillas.  it's excitement and nervous anticipation as the trackers take over to lead you to the family.  the first gorilla we encounter is a female sitting quietly munching on some bamboo shoots two feet off the path who remarkably ignores us completely.

we continue on the path and the gorillas are actively moving seeking the freshest bamboo shoots which is their food of choice.  in front of me i see a bamboo pole crashing to the ground and i whisper a warning to guy in front of me seconds before a 400 pound gorilla barely avoids landing on his head.

there are few words to explain what it was like to share one hour with the mountain gorillas.  it is a thrilling and humbling experience to be accepted and trusted as a member of their natural world.  you are completely dependent on them for safety and protected as if you were one of their own.

on a break during our epic jungle mud expedition to find the gorillas i asked the guides what the gorillas think of humans that come every day for an hour to visit them and the stories came quickly and with passion.  stories of gorillas protecting humans from snares laid out to trap the gorillas [yeah, that still happens] stories of mamas and babies hiding among the visitors when they were threatened by other gorilla families.  

the group we visited was 20 members with 2 silverbacks, a bunch of juveniles and one infant that was 6 weeks old.  the first time one of the gorillas brushes past you curl into a ball expecting a slash to the neck or a bone breaking blow but there is none of that.  the trackers are constant protectors of the gorillas and enjoy taking you by the and to lead you safely among the gorillas to have the best possible experience.  they speak the language of the gorillas - grunts that signify presence, welcome, peace and even danger.

in this way we sit in the forest with the family as they settle in for their mid morning nap and relax around us.  it is a joy beyond words to watch these amazing animals in the wild.  the hour goes much too quickly and we leave the family to enjoy the rest of the day on their own.  

i'm going to get a little preachy and judgmental here so indulge me or just skip to the next post.

after having stood among these wild gorillas and seeing how they protect their own i can not believe the gorilla shot in the ohio zoo a few months ago had the natural instinct to do anything but protect the child that entered it's cage.  please don't support the zoos - there are so many animal sanctuaries that need support and don't exploit animals.  it breaks my heart that we continue to breed animals into captivity when there are so many already that don't belong in cages and are abandoned by both illegal owners and zoos ending up [if they are fortunate] in a sanctuary.

September 20, 2016

a birthday in rwanda

happy birthday to me.  it's a big one and i feel much younger than i am but it's also hugely freeing to now say, 'well, i'm quite old now' for an excuse ABOUT ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.  seriously, i'm using it all the time, if it's raining, if the sun is out, if it's cold, if i'm late, if i'm early, if i want another glass or wine, if i want to go home early, if i want a different seat on the plane.  the only time it really doesn't seem to work is when i try it with someone older than me then they just laugh and say nice try.

i get a lovely package from home for my birthday and it's full of surprises.  my friends and family wrapped everything in beautiful packaging, so when i arrive to pick up my package, i get to stand at the counter as customes unwraps EVERY ONE of my gifts to be sure there is nothing taxable.  i think i made them feel really bad because i wiped away tears as i said pole [sorry] to everyone who was waiting in line behind me explaining it was special gifts from my family.

anyway it worked well because the custom guy remembers me and subsequent packages don't get opened.  

my girlfriend in Rwanda had a big party for me with cake and candles that shoot fireworks and friends from Kigali so it was way more than i expected.  thanks to everyone who shared some love with me.

September 19, 2016

new friends

after a less than uplifting few days in Kigali head out for another obscenely expensive wildlife experience. the mountain gorillas.  seriously, i had to see two shares of fb to fund this.

i'd arranged to visit the gorillas through an american expat in Tanzania who had tour connections in Rwanda so they were doing the best to accommodate me on the 'friend' rate so i'd expected to do some ride shares, etc.  the day before they pick me up they said i'd be a bit on my own.

so, after my visit to the memorial and reading the book, which detailed the UN extraction of expats, thoughts of that horrible time were lingering in my subconscious.  i'd already had detailed discussions with my friend living in Kigali about her exit strategies should the political situation deteriorate quickly in country [which people do believe could happen].  

then, the guide called to say he was delayed because of road blocks.  it's Africa and roadblocks [traffic delays] are common if there are dignitaries driving around so it didn't register as a problem.  it was when the guide was walking up the driveway with three white guys who looked like SEALs that mind starts to race.  roadblocks?  unexpected white guys?  what is going on?

fortunately, instead of an extraction team, i meet a very hard group of Australians who share a ride north from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park.  i was happy for the company and these guys reminded me why everyone loves Australians.  we stayed at the hotel and shared a few meals, lots of laughs and some world views.

i get asked all the time if it's difficult or lonely to travel solo and i laugh at this.  i meet so many interesting people when i'm my own and have developed friendships all over the world.  it turns out the Australians are in the mountains of Rwanda training for a climb on Kilimanjaro so they will be on my return flight to Tanzania and so I'll see them again.

September 15, 2016


i spent the last week in Rwanda since i still have no work permit and needed to do a visa run.  also, contacts there + market analysis for the company + mountain gorillas + my birthday = win/win.  don't check my math - not sure that my calculus professor will agree with that but i'm in Africa and the math is variable.

the difference between Rwanda and Tanzania is shockingly surreal. i probably mentioned from a post about Nairobi, but when there are paved roads, curbs, sidewalks and street lights (or even just electricity) it elevates a society to a different level.  it's clean and the drivers so polite you feel like you are in an alternative universe.  i'm constantly told it is safe to walk at night in the streets (and we do with no problem) or to sleep with your windows open (which I don't) and in general to wander freely without concerns about safety.  this seems absurd to me in a country where 1 million people were slaughtered by friends and neighbors while back in Tanzania where there has not been ethnic violence everyone is in lock down by dark.

i had been warned by a friend in Tanzania to not try to put on blinders about the genocide but i thought i'd give it a try anyway.  I remain physically ill and in tears whenever I bring to mind the killing places I visited in Cambodia, another genocide that happened in my lifetime.

When I arrived I was given the same advice by another expat there along with a book called 'Machete Season, the killers speak'.  So, off I trot to the Genocide Museum, watching as much as I can of the video testimony but averting my eyes from that which is most distasteful.  I avoid the room with the skeletons of those that were murdered.  I force myself to walk among the large concrete slabs that cover the bodies of over 250,000 people but i walk quickly.

people don't speak of it, other than to refer to the violence, or unstable time or 'before'.

i'm never going to be an expert on the happenings of the Rwanda genocide but there were some scary things i learned and i will share.  1) the genocide was not a surprise - the UN was briefed about it in advance  2) the catholic clergy in country were responsible for thousands of deaths and 3) the possibility of another similar event is highly likely.

much better stuff in the next post.

September 9, 2016

kili hike

we did a kili hike a couple of weekends ago.  just to the first hut which is about all you can do for a day hike.  it started as a good idea - a way for a bunch of friends to get together for the day.  the Marangu gate where we begin is about 45 minutes away so we start early 6:00am at 8:30 we are still in Moshi.  it turns out our 'guide' has been up all night drinking and can barely speak.  in the end we bail on the situation and walk away to have breakfast at one of cafes in town and call another guide to give it a go the next day.

everything goes according to plan which means a 45 minute wait at the gate for the office to process the paperwork before you can step foot onto the mountain.

we get impatient but i've been here before and i remember how slow it is.  in 10 years they haven't figured out a better way to do it?.  fortunately we are early and towards the front of the line so who knows how long it takes if you show up an hour later?  it's such a beautiful hike up through an environment much like a jungle and we stop to enjoy the flowers, moss hanging everywhere and even spot a few monkeys.

this is a popular path and being the first day for groups planning to summit the porters are weighed down to the maximum allowable weights.  still, they move quickly and we step aside we they move to pass us.

we have lunch at the huts and head back down to thicker and and warmer temperatures.  on the way out of marangu we stop at one of the hotels for cold drink and enjoy a relaxing hour in the garden there which is a throw back to colonial times.

September 5, 2016

kilimanjaro animal crew - awesome

the is where we took momma kitty for surgery.  they do amazing work and deserve recognition for the dedication they have put into wildlife preservation in tanzania.  the clinic/sanctuary/farm has deep roots here and the german vet and his partner has been here for a very long time.

so a visit to their place [arranged in advance] is quite an education on tanzanian wildlife.  i snap a quick photo of the rescued 3 legged cerval which is hissing at me because i'm too close to the enclosure and i try to respect the other animals by viewing from a distance while i'm there.

they don't have the large game animals but there is such a farmyard collection of animals all hanging out together that it's a happy place.

even if you don't understand german, the pictures tell the stories...

September 2, 2016

container store

container store 'western style'

African Container Store

go looking for a container store in tanzania and you'll not find a big shop that sells lots of boxes.  that idea would be ridiculous here.  a container store is a small shop built inside a shipping container.  they sell small items that the neighborhood would buy kind of like a 7-11 but no ventilation, no light and limited stock.

shipping containers are actually really valuable here has they are easy to secure.  we have two at the factory with one more expected.  one is storage but one is also work space which gets a little bit warm in the afternoon as you might expect.

the sky blue gate to the right of the container is my new house [pictures coming soon].