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Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Eight

Wait…what happened to chapter seven? Well folks, chapter 7 will be all about the actual visit to the gorillas. I am making you wait for it because I had to wait for it for such a long time. At least you are not bouncing around in a lumber truck. Do this math…16×24=384. 384 hours, most of them in less t han comfortable conditions for ONE hour with the gorillas. Yes, a once in a lifetime trip. Been there, done that and I have the t-shirt. You only have to read one more post to get the photos.

After the gorillas, we are on the road again.  If this is traveling, I am glad I am a tourist.

This was my view for a minimum of five hours a day, up to eleven. Imagine being on a long flight. Now imagine no toilet aboard the plane. Now imagine the seat being made by a masochist. Now imagine that for 80% of the flight you were in extreme turbulence. That is what truck touring in Africa is like.

Here we are passing another group of  lucky truckers. These so called “Safari Trucks” are running all over east Africa.

I paid Uganda another fifty dollars to pass through their country today.

Another no man’s land between immigration offices at a border. They are the same everywhere. Money changers are a common theme. Long lines of cargo trucks waiting for inspection is another.

The most interesting thing I saw all morning was a refugee camp of Congoese. The best I can figure is that the ranchers are fighting the sodbusters for control of the land.

A refugee camp by definition cannot be a pleasant place. But from this distance it seems as if the UN is doing its job.

We stayed a night at Lake Mburo. Nice campground, no up grades were available so I slept on the ground again. The campsite is crawling with Warthogs. The lake is pretty.

Nothing cuter than a warthog with your morning coffee.

This is Pesh our guide and mother for trip. She did an excellent job, as did all the Intrepid crew.

This is John. Not only did he drive for hours over very rough roads, he replaced a drive shaft bushing in the middle of nowhere. He had a great sense of humor and I enjoyed his company.

The rest of the of the folks went off on a hike through the bush to see what we have already seen, I stayed in camp to help break down the tents and write.
The bird sounds are incredible in the quiet of an abandoned camp. The Warthogs were all over the place grazing and making their grunting sounds as if to say “time to leave”.
This was a beautiful blue morning and I am quite glad I had it to myself.
I saw the southern cross  over Lake Mburo. It was as beautiful as ever, now my trip is truly complete.  We were to spend the next two days at the source of the Nile.
Safari comes from the Arab word Safar which means a long journey. I wonder if there is a word that means too long.

Having a Nile beer at the source of the River Nile.

 It is almost bed time. I spent most of the day staring at the Nile and nursing one beer. In short, I am bored to tears.
I skipped all three Intrepid meals today, because they would only have bored me more. The food on this trip has been really good and we were never hungry. But it was just the idea of sitting in  uncomfortable camp chairs to eat and then going through the process of washing the dishes afterwards that bored me. Again, let me say that Intrepid made sure that everything was washed and sanitized after every meal, and not one person got sick the whole trip. I opted for bar food this day and had maybe the best Hawaiian Pizza I have ever had, here in Uganda on the source of the Nile!
 I joined the dinner group for the obligatory briefing about the next day’s events. I could have given the briefing, here is what it sounds like:
Get up at the crack of dawn, break down your tent, lug the heavy thing back to the truck, have a breakfast of cold omelets and crappy coffee. Then wash dishes. Then crawl onto the fucking truck and get your ass bounced around for a few hours until we get to yet another border, where yet another officious asshole will put another stamp in your passport acting as if he is doing you a favor by letting you out of his country. Then walk across no mans land to the next border crossing, stand in line again so another officious asshole can grant you entry into his country. Then get back on the bus and have your ass pounded for a few more hours until we get somewhere in the middle of nowhere and have another lunch, and clean dishes again, then get back on the bus to have your ass bounced for a few more hours just to get somewhere we were two weeks ago so we can set up tents again, have dinner and wash dishes.
Real life adventures, yeah right.
This type of travel appeals to three types of people. First is people who do not know any better. Second, people who consider discomfort adventure and thirdly people who do not give a shit.

 There is no adventure in travel like this. Everything is planned out ahead of time and there is no chance of altering the agenda on a whim. I have done much more adventurous travel in my life, and far less expensively.
All that said, Intrepid does an excellent job of delivering what they say they will deliver. This was their BASIX level of travel. Plus we WERE in Africa. One person on our trip had traveled in Egypt at a superior level with Intrepid  only a month after the revolution ended. She told me that Intrepid went well beyond the published  agenda to secure the travelers safety and comfort. I believe they would.
Thank you Intrepid for a  novel trip. Thank you also to Oliver Gradwell and Travel Bloggers Unite for sponsoring the contest.
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222 × 222 pixels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Four

Our leader from Intrepid is named Pesh. She is a Kikuyu. Pesh has been a tour leader for a really long time, and I am just a minor annoyance compared to some of her guests in the past. Oh well, I try to be the most annoying, but I seldom reach that status!
The issue of the US$100 bill minted in ’96 has been on my mind and my lips for days now. I cannot get anyone to give me a definitive reason why older bills are not accepted. It is almost as easy to counterfeit a new bill as an old one. Anyway, just for principle of the argument, it bugs me.
The truck pulled into a strip mall in Rampala where people could get souvenirs or a cup of coffee.
Pesh told me she would get my bill exchanged here. So I am sitting in a UAE exchange waiting for  her.  I am desperately trying to go with the flow on this trip, but the flow is not in my favor, it seems. As planned as our itinerary is, I keep wondering what will happen next. When Pesh arrived, she took the bill and went up to the window. I was ready to accompany her but she told me to just sit down. UAE Exchanges are all over the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In fact I had gotten this bill at another branch of UAEX.  I watched from a distance as they put the bill through a counterfeit detection device and gave Pesh a new one. She  handed me the new hundred with a look that said hakuna mutata white boy.
We had a hour to kill in this strip mall. I had a wonderful banana milkshake in a place that supposedly had wifi, nope, broken. WIFI, even when working in Africa is never fast, and it usually is not working at all.
Then we trucked another six hours directly east across Uaganda. If you want to map it, we drove from Kampala to Port Fortal. I figured out what Uganda does with the fifty dollar visa fee. They build speed bumps. You cannot travel a mile in Uganda without crossing a set of speed bumps. The truck did not take them well at all. Shake, rattle and roll.
We are camping again, In a beautiful campground where supposedly we will see multitudes of chimpanzees. We overlook lake Navi Keri, which means noisy frogs. Other than the lake all we can see are  tea plantations. There are a lot of tea plantations in Uganda, I wonder what the tea is like. The local Beer is called Nile Special. 5.6% and quite good.

A beautiful location. You can see the tents, and in the background the lake.

This is another opportunity to get to know my fellow Intrepid travelers. The oldest person on the trip is a U professor from NZ. She is quite smart and has traveled all over Africa.
The cooks made another  wonderful dinner. On this trip at least, Intrepid feds you very well. Then I bought the crew drinks. I came back to my tent, fell down. And it caved in on me. Thankfully one of the crew came by and saved me.
 In the morning I “explored” a library owned by the Brit who owns this lodge. He was a history professor in Britain and collected quite a few seminal books on the white man’s experiences here in east Africa.

This book was published in like the 1880’s. I perused it a bit and found out a lot of interesting facts about where I was that you do not get from Lonely Planet!

 I was surprised that I was allowed to paw through them. The engravings, photos and maps helped me understand where I am and what it was like back then, 120 years ago. When I took time to read about the early explorers travels, I learned to quit bitching about the truck we were in or the roads we were on. (almost)
This two day stop was arranged by Intrepid to see a forest full of Chimpanzees.  I will quote here from the itinerary
“…an amazing opportunity to watch the way chimps feed…play…and care for their young ones.”
It was nothing like that.
The chimps were all in the tops of the trees and they were not about to come down for the tourists. It was hot and humid on the floor of this impenetrable jungle, they were all up top of tall trees, snoozing in the breeze.

Look very hard andyou might see the outline of a chimp up there, somewhere. At least that is what the tour guide told me, so I took this photo.

Just about the time I wrote this visit off, we found this guy.

Finally one came down from his nice breezy treetop abode, just long enough to get to another tree and climb back up.

OK, so it was sorta cool, but not something I would recommend.
Then we were off for Queenn Elizabeth National Park.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for the gorillas. Tell a friend, share on Facebook and if you will, please make a comment.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Three

This was my wedding anniversary and I missed my wife.
Today we spent nine hours in the truck.  The highlight of the nine hours was crossing the bridge over the source of the Nile. Another unwritten Bucket List  item. This is the White Nile. The other source is at the top of the Blue Nile. The bridge we were crossing was at the northern end of Lake Victoria. This spot is further south than the source of the Blue Nile and it is generally granted that it is the true source. However, about ten years ago a few truly intrepid explorers went up a river that feeds Lake Victoria and claim to have found a little spring that is THE true source. More power to them, I’ll go with my belief to have seen the source of the River Nile, because it makes me feel special I guess.
I also want to think that Lake Victoria is the lake that was in The African Queen, so I’ll just think it is.

I can empathize with Mr Allnut here, after nine hours on the truck. I also missed my wife all day. I was also probably as filthy.

We made our first border crossing, into Uganda. Uganda requires US$50 for a visa. I tried paying with my pre 2003 $100 bill, but they would not take it. We passed  through Rampala which does not resemble a garden spot.
Intrepid Travel again had it right when they chose a campsite. This time we had real toilets and warm water for showers. There was a bar there where I was introduced to a liqueur called Amarula.

This is really good stuff. Amarula is a fruit in South Africa, favored by Elephants, and used as a flavor for this otherwise Baileys type of liqueur. It is a bit stronger at 16.5%, goes down deceptively smooth, and puts a nice end to a long trucking day.

Once again I thank Intrepid travel for helping cross-off an item I did not even know existed on my bucket list. Come to think about it, two items. Source of the Nile and a new booze.

Thanks for reading, share with a friend. Make a comment, please.

Egypt, Cairo, The Pyramids and My Buddy the Sphinx

I’ll start this post at the Pyramids. In the words of Alexander the Great, Marc Anthony, Napoleon, General Montgomery and Jerry Garcia, “oh maaan”. Mary Ann, who has been here before, warned me that I would be overwhelmed and might cry.  I was so overwhelmed I had to get into an ambulance, but more on that later.

The paramedic made me comfortable but he was dissapointed I turned down a ride to the hospital. I just could not imagine the hospital.

Let us start with the midnight flight from Sharjah to Alexandria. I have learned to really like Air Arabia. This flight took us over the holy city of Mecca, over Mount Sinai and over the Red Sea, although it was too dark to see any of it.  We got into Alexandria at 3 a.m.  I had the fantasy that a flight to Egypt leaving at midnight would be nice and quiet. Wrong. The plane was full of crying babies, make that screaming and crying babies. One thing I have learned to not like about the culture here is that they do not shut their kids up when they scream. I have never been on a flight with so many kids.  Taking a baby or even a toddler on a midnight flight is just cruel so I cannot blame the kids, but I was ready to crack a few parents heads. But like all flights do, it eventually ended. 3 a.m. in Egypt, and sure enough we were met by the tour company, In Arabic, the word for thank you is Shakran. They even spelled Nash correctly. We have grown used to seeing such a simple name mangled, (Mash, Gash, Rash, and Cash) that it is good sign when they get it right. Plus it meant we had our ride to Cairo, two hours away. It was just us in a Cushy Town Car, no crying kids. Things were looking up.

As an aside here, the rep from the tour company who met us at the airport was named Mohammed. It is the most common name in the Moslem world, so it was easy to remember. At the hotel, we were approached by a cab driver who would take us anywhere we wanted…his name, I swear was Obama. The guy who led the tour the next day was named Osama, “Just call me Sam” he said. But I digress.

We are staying at a hotel called Barcelo Pyramids in Giza.  We stayed at a Barcelo before, in Mexico, and they deserve the four stars. We crashed, got up at noon, and went to the roof top pool to have an Egyptian beer.

The beer of Egypt is called Stella. A light pilsner, tasty. Hotel price maybe $3

I got my first view of the Pyramids from there, across a smoggy, unpleasant stretch of Giza. This is not a beautiful city.

That night we went to the Pyramids Sound and Light show. (This is done in the same outdoor theatre where in 1978 The Grateful Dead did a two night stand for Dead Heads who invaded Cairo in tie-dies. I missed it and have always regretted it.) The show borders on cheesy, the sphinx talks, laser beams blast across the Pyramids and anyone with any historical knowledge is not going to learn much. But seeing the Pyramids and sphinx for the first time, all lit up like Las Vegas is mighty impressive. You get an idea of the size of them, even in the dark. Supposedly the footprint of the Great Pyramid of Cheops could contain most of the Vatican, with Rhode Island thrown in just for kicks.

I am the Sphinx. I guard the tombs of the Pharaohs. Ain't I cute?

Our first “tour day” was today. We started at the Egyptian Museum.

Main Entrance to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

My Grateful Dead ball cap almost fit the Sphinx. This one is outside the Museum.

This is of course where they keep the King Tut stuff. His was the only tomb found in the Valley of the Kings that had not been cleared out by grave robbers. Consequently there is a whole wing just to house his treasures. Amazing because he was a minor pharaoh who died young after ruling less time than Nixon.   It leaves you wondering what must have been in the tombs of Pharaohs who ruled as long as FDR. In size, this museum (built in1901 or so) is not as big as any of the Smithsonian museums in DC. But it is so crammed full of everything from mummified crocodiles to King Tut’s death mask that it boggles the mind.

There are important items, statues and such, from all over Egypt that the guides make sure you see. There are guides speaking most of the major languages to tourists from Japan, China, all over Europe and even America.  The worldwide drop in tourism due to a combination of the economy and manufactured fear has not hit Cairo. The joint is jumping. Everywhere you go is jam packed with groups of geese being led by mother hens chattering away like ducks. (How is THAT for mixing metaphors!)

The guides race from the old Kingdom to the middle Kingdom to the third, stopping long enough to quack about a statue or a burial crypt.  They move fast to not hold up the other groups behind them, and to keep the tourists from breaking off in search of Tut.  They cover the important stuff, but crammed in this corner and that cubbyhole, down some dark hallway, and behind the sign to the men’s room is more STUFF. Thousands of things, large and small. The collection is all over the place. Items that would be the proud possession of the LA County Museum, are just gathering dust with nary a word describing what it is and therefore ignored by the masses. I got the feeling I could walk out with something like a cat statue, and no one would ever miss it.   Word is that in 2012, they are opening a new museum behind the pyramids to better display these things, and, believe it or not, empty out the BASEMENT of this museum of STUFF gathering cobwebs since 1901.

Well, Mary Ann and I did break away from our group and headed for the Tut wing. There is enough gold in this collection to pay off some national debts. Impressive, awe inspiring, breathtaking are all insufficient to describe the feeling you get as you wander the length of this wing of the museum. Then, finally you get to the special room where the iconic Tut Death mask is displayed. No photos are allowed anywhere in this entire museum, (unless you are Japanese I guess) and I must say that no pro photo I have ever seen of the Tut mask comes close to the beauty of this treasure. Astounding.

The museum has an excellent gift shop. The only thing I bought was a King Tut baseball. Too bizarre to pass up!

We found our group and headed off for lunch. We found ourselves sitting in a restaurant called the Cleopatra, in Giza, in the shadow of the pyramids, and listening to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung by the Chimp Monks. Way too weird.

From there they took us to a papyrus museum. The word museum is a stretch. They did show us how papyrus is made.

Papyrus is a rush. They cut it, peal it soak it "unwrap" it then press it. No glue or artificial sweeteners are used

But the main purpose of this “museum” is to sell you paintings on papyrus. Some were gorgeous, some, well most, were truly expensive. Our group bought a bunch of them, which is good for the tour guide who gets a cut. He could have taken  us to any of a dozen such “museums”, so they take care of him. Me?  Well I found a drawing that was on the Grateful Dead poster back in ’78, so  I had the artist write, in hieroglyphics, Grateful  Dead Cairo 1978. Another useless souvenir.

Now it was bucket list scratch off time. We headed for the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the first and largest of the three. Actually there are nine here, six for queens.

The sun God Ra behind the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Egyptiains pronounce it "KAY-OPS"

Mary Ann and I either travel by ourselves, or we hire a private guide, usually option 2 so we do not need to deal with Taxis or –gasp-  public transportation. This time we booked the entire trip through Air Arabia and we are in a group with a dozen Americans who all work in the UAE.  They are good pleasant people. But, you know me well enough to know that I am not one to accept arbitrary limits on my fun. When the guide said, “OK, we are here for20 minutes”  I growled “bullshit”. I have been waiting all my life to stand here, and no bozo with a stop watch is going to tell me when it is time to  leave.

I was simply not prepared to take in the scope of this edifice, this monument, this tomb, this pile of 10 ton rocks. I could not set my eyeballs on wide angle enough to take it all in at once. My head was spinning back and forth and my neck was bent out of shape from looking up up up. Of course my cheap camera (Have I mentioned I hate my camera?) could not capture any of the grandeur. One could walk a half mile back and take a shot, but are you kidding me? I walked right up to the first layer of stones, taller than I am, petted one and said “You ROCK.”

Then, for some reason beyond all reason, my nose started shooting out blood like I had a severed artery.  Nothing like this has ever happened to me. Here I am bleeding on the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world like a stuck pig. A world heritage site now is stained with my type B+. (if you ever visit Cheops tomb, my contribution is on  the second stone in from the NE corner).

Mary Ann was wondering what the hell she could do for me. I almost suggested she should put a tourniquet around my neck, but I was afraid she might take me up on it. Then an Egyptian man came running up. I thought maybe he was upset about me defacing his source of income. But he pulled out a pocket sized pack of Kleenex, which I immediately stuffed up my nostrils and turned them bright crimson. He led me away from the royal tomb, which was a good thing on its own, but then he walked me to an ambulance.  The paramedic did what he could do. He then told me he wanted to take me to the hospital. I understood him but politely declined. He was not sure I understood him so he waved his finger in a circular motion over his head and went “Whoowhoowhoo.” Maybe laughing was all I needed because the hemorrhaging stopped.  I had a larger problem than blood loss to deal with, I was late for the bus.

Our time at the pyramids was not over. Osama took us out into the desert where there was a herd of camels and their owners. Osama told us to beware of most of the guys, but that he knew one who would give us “good price”. I’m sure he got a cut here too, big deal.

Even though 20 minutes earlier my nose was a gusher, I knew Mary Ann really wanted to ride a camel, so I joined her.

Forrest and Mary Ann of Arabia. The camels name was Mickey Mouse.

We were led by a 12 year old named Adam, who is a hustler in training, but great kid. He had a well developed sense of humor, spoke English to us, shamelessly flirted with Mary Ann, and spoke Hindu to some people from India in our caravan. As long as the pyramids do not fall down, he will make a comfortable living.

Adam and Mary Ann. He told her "dump the old man and take me back to America."

From here we went to the Sphinx. As someone might say after they meet a movie star, I thought he was bigger. But he (she some say) was beautiful, even without a nose. Some say the French soldiers shot his/her nose off, some say it was an Egyptian Queen, jealous of how good looking she/he was. This is a very impressive antiquity. Built to protect the tombs, it has stood guard for thousands of years. I think this will remain my favorite memory of Egypt.

This always meant Egypt to me. I am so happy I got up close and personal with this beauty.`

Our day was not over. We took a dinner cruise on the Nile with whirling dervishes (one of them a dwarf) and a belly dancer. The belly dancer dragged me onto the dance floor and  I did my best to imitate her moves.

Of all people, she pulled me away from my dinner and made me Sheik my Booty. Belly Dancing is not my forte, but I got a nice round of applause.

As Whirling Dervishes go, I have nothing to compare him to, but it was fun anyway.

Full moon over Cairo from the Nile. Not somethig we do every day.

And now, my favorite foto of the trip.

Sunset on the plateau of Giza. A view awed over for thousands of years.

Stay tuned for day 2 where we visit a Citadel buil to defend against Crusaders. I will take you to  the church where Jesus, Joseph and Mary hid from Herod. 100 yards away from this church is a synagogue where baby Moses was found in the rushes of the Nile by  the  daughter of a Pharaoh. Amazing as all that sounds, we also visited a Coptic church carved out of the mountain that was the quarry for the rocks that built the pyramids. AND I will take you to a place called garbage city.

Thanks for reading, tell a friend and please  make a comment.

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