Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Take two

This entry is called 'take two', because, well, its the second time i wrote it. Trust me, the first time (before the power went out and I lost all my work) it was so absolutely hilarious and eloquent. This time, you're just going to have to settle for this:

Its tuesday evening and I'm about to leave work. I have a really bad cold, so i'm feeling kind of draggy and I'm looking forward to getting home. I know, I know - a cold in Africa. ha ha.

Gorilla tracking was great - i'm going to post some pictures on here soon. It was a gorgeous hike, and not nearly as hard as everyone made it sound. Because wild gorillas don't exactly stick to the trails, a lot of the hiking was off-trail, and it was quite a lesson in what the 'Impenetrable' in "Bwindi Impenetrable Forest" means - as soon as we left the path, we ended walking over the forest rather than through it. The vegetation was so dense that our guides were just hacking or trampling the vines and branches ahead of us, so that sometimes we were walking probably about 2 feet above the actual ground, stepping on layer upon layer of dense plant life instead. We were lucky in our tracking and viewing experience - it took us only about two hours to find the gorillas, and when we did, we had amazingly clear views of them, including the silverback (the leader of the group, and absolutely huge) as well as a couple of baby gorillas. We were really close to the gorillas - at times only about 2 meters (6 feet). I would have thought this would be a little scary, considering the warning we got of "If a gorilla charges you, don't run or move, just stay still and avert your eyes" before heading out. Instead, it was just amazing and awe inspiring. It was fascinating to watch them - peeling away the outer layers of plants to eat the tender stalk, feeding the babies; despite the hairyness and knuckle-dragging, it seemed wholly beleivable that we share 97% of our DNA with them!
It rained while we were actually watching the gorillas, so the walk down was pretty muddy and slippery! I actually prefered the walk up, beleive it or not - not so much fear that a slip would send me careening down a mountain! By mid afternoon, we were back on the outskirts of the forest, where we went to our banda to change out of our muddy clothes and reward our hard work with a beer and some trail mix :-) (By the way, if you're interested in gorilla trekking, you can read another account i really enjoyed, by a weblogger with much better writing and web-design skills then me, at Vagabonding)

The whole gorilla trip was good - the group of girls was great, we were all a lot more 'on the same page' as far as what we wanted to do and our travelling style. On the way back to Kampala, we broke the drive up over two days (its about a 12 hour trip, three hours of which you are circling up down and around really sheer hillsides, half a foot from the edge of the road), so we were able to stop at interesting places along the side of the road as we went. We stopped and bought some sugar cane to chew on at a crazy busy roadside market, where apparently there was no shyness about cirlcing our truck and staring at us, unwaveringly, for a good 15 minutes, while our driver bought some matoke; we tested the 'water swirls down the toilet in opposite directions in the north and south hemispheres' theory at the 'Equator' marker, and sampled some unidentified fruit at a roadside stand. (The woman there told us it was called 'tomato', but since it was, well, definitely not a tomato, it's still a bit of mystery.)

This past weekend, Easter, was fun too. I had the opportunity to go on another trip to the western part of the country, but decided that i just didn't want to go on another long car ride so soon after the gorilla tracking trip. So instead, on friday night I went to a Sean Paul concert, which is quite weird - what he was doing in Africa i'll never know!! It was a lot of fun, and I even managed to get all the way up the front, right by the stage (Sean Paul gets pretty sweaty, by the way.) On saturday morning i drove to Jinja with two friends - Sara and Kristen - to hang out during the day by the pool at Jinja Nile Resort (although it was too cloudy to really suntan or want to swim), and then go to a 'full moon party' at Adrift, the rafting company that hosted the last party i went to in jinja. That night (saturday), we went to the pre-opening of a fancy-shmancy new restaurant for dinner, where it POURED for a couple of hours, effectively stranding us there, and then Kristen's car broke down - for apparently the millionth time this month, so we had to get a ride squished into the trunk of someone else's SUV back to the party location, where we were also camping for that night.

The next day, i went on a trial run of this 'village walk' a couple of kilometers out of Jinja. (Sara works for the Ministry of Gender and Youth, and is helping a local youth group there develop this village walk as a way of encouraging business skills and local tourism, and needed people to test the walk out on.) It was really interesting - we walked around the village and learned about all the different different local crops (i saw things like coffee and vanilla growing, which i hadn't seen here before), visited the local medicine man and learned some local practices (I now know which leaf to squish around in a cup of water to 'cure' malaria, and which one improves male potency - although our guide made a big deal of insisting that he had no idea which leaf this would be), and had a story told to us by an old woman - translated by the guide. Getting the chance to interact with an older Ugandan is quite a unique experience - with an average lifespan in the late 40's, the elderly are quite rare and respected. My favourite aspect of the walk though were all the kids - a group of about a dozen kids followed us the whole way, at first hanging back, sort of nervous and scared, and then smiling at us, and holding our hands while we walked. It was really cute! At the end, we ended up having to huddle in a hut while we waited for rain to end, and all the kids sang us songs they learned in school. After the walk, we returned to the Adrift campsite and stayed an extra night, which was relaxing as most people had left at that point.

When i got back to kampala on monday, i ended up going to bed at noon and not waking up until 7- i am so definitely sick!! But when you have a cold here, you just have to be glad that its not malaria or dysentery, or one of the mysterious viral infections, like a few other people i know!!

On an entirely different note, I am pretty certain that i will be staying here until july - working until June, and then travelling in July. U**** has extended my contract, and I don't have any pressing need to go home, so I'm going to stay - it will make my work experience that much more substantial. It also means that I either have to pay rent in toronto while I'm not there, so try to find someone to sublet my room for those extra three months - So if you're in toronto, and need somewhere to stay from May to July, let me know! (But my roommates have to like you!!)