Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas.

May you enjoy a blessed day with loved ones!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord and this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:10-12



Friday, December 23, 2011

Buhoma to Lake Bunyonyi through the Mountains

Two days ago we left Buhoma situated in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and drove south with Lake Bunyonyi as our intended destination.  From Buhoma we travelled north for a short distance to Kanyantorogo and then turned in a southern direction to Kanugu.  That's were  the real adventure began as we
bumbled up steep hillsides and wound our way through the mountains reaching a maximum height of 7250 feet (2009 metres).  The scenery was breathtaking.  The one side of the the track dropped hundreds of feet down to small villages, terraced farms and people going about their daily lives in the fields and around their homes. We crossed over streams and drove through the Mafuga Forest Reserve, a plantain forest of pine trees.  The road was at times a little tricky to negotiate but with patience, expertise and a Land Rover it was possible.

During one portion of the journey we passed many people on the road all travelling in the same direction.  A few kilometres on we found out where they were headed.  A remote village was having a market day, the vendors had their goods spread out on either side of the road and eager shoppers were spilling out onto the narrow road.  We had to pass through the buzzing crowd, many of whom had travelled great distances on foot to get there extremely slowly not to hit anyone or anything.  Even in the remote hills of Uganda, Christmas was in the air!

Naturally we started to descend and wound our way down to the main highway.  We didn't stay on that for long before turning onto a lakeside road at the northern tip of Lake Bunyonyi.  The road was extremely narrow and we wondered what we would do if we met another car somewhere along the 21km journey, thankfully we never did.

Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Buyonyi is Uganda's deepest lake at 2950+ feet (900+ metres) deep and the landscape around the lake is indicative of it's depth with steep slopes protruding from the water. We reached the Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort and set up our camp right on the waters edge.  It is a peaceful location to relax and watch the world go by and is abundant with bird life and local fisherman paddling around in their dugout canoes.  The lake is home to freshwater crayfish, so last night we feasted on the local fare...delicious!  Lake Bunyonyi is a stunning place indeed.  It is our last night here and we both wish we could stay longer but tomorrow a new adventure begins as we cross the border into Rwanda.

Monday, December 19, 2011

An Epic Road Trip Begins!

A little over 18 months ago I sat down in front of my computer with my steaming cup of freshly brewed Ugandan coffee in my kung fu grip and began to read through my Facebook news feed.  I came across something interesting posted by The Far Horizons.  A census of mountain gorilla's was taking place in the Virunga range and they were offering 2 permits to trek the mountain gorilla's in Rwanda to the person who could estimate the census results to the nearest number.  As a result, my morning became all about finding out the breeding habits, gestation period and life expectancy of mountain gorillas.  The previous census to the one conducted in 2010 was in 2003, so there were a lot of factors to consider to estimate the population.  After extensive reading, I submitted the estimate of 454.  After this several months passed and I completely forgot that I had ever even entered a competition.

On the morning of December 8, 2010 I sat down at my computer with the ritual cup of morning coffee.  I opened up my emails and began reading, ugh, more spam, more software updates to do, and then my eyes fell on the subject line:

The Far Horizons Competition for 2 Gorilla Permits in Rwanda - Winner!

I couldn't open the mail fast enough.  I proceeded to read the following:

Dear Michelle

I am delighted to inform you, that you are the winner of our competition to win 2 gorilla tracking permits for Rwanda worth $1,000 - congratulations!


The results of the census are now in and revealed a total population of 480 mountain gorillas in the Virunga chain. This brings the total world population to 786 individuals - an encouraging increase indeed. Your estimate of 454 was the closest we received to this result.



I nearly spat the delicious dark roast from my mouth.  I screamed with excitement, could it be true?!  It was, and what has entailed is months of planning a road trip centred around mountain gorilla tracking in Rwanda.


So today, with great excitement, the journey to explore another country in Africa and come face to face with gorilla's begins.  The most exciting part is the anticipation of travelling to new places, not knowing what to expect and experiencing it all unfold.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Furry Little Love Story

When we're not out exploring what's around us, we're at home in Kampala and naturally we need company.  As both of us are big dog lovers, a year ago we decided to add to our pedigree pack.  Stray dogs are pretty much ubiquitous on the streets of Kampala, so we opted to go and check out the local animal shelter to see if we could make a connection with a little soul in need of a good home.

We had agreed upon arrival that we were just there to take a look and may not necessarily leave with a dog in tow, although we had brought blankets and a few other necessary items just in case.  I clearly was not prepared for what I was walking into.  The shelter was housing a lot of needy dogs and cats.  Looking into their eyes and knowing that I couldn't save them ALL made me want to leave, but instead I wandered around.


Since our current situation was most conducive to getting a puppy, we focussed on the areas which housed several puppies all around 3 months old.  We had come in the late afternoon and it was feeding time.  As I approached the fence, one little puppy left her food bowl and came running over to me immediately.  Perhaps she thought that I had more food to offer her.  She began to nibble on my fingers and seemed to be very free spirited focussing only on me and not giving any notice to the other dogs or the food.
I gently pulled my fingers from her tiny mouth full of sharp little teeth and continued my exploration around the compound.  I found my husband and suggested that he come and see her as she really seemed to be interested in getting to know me.  As we neared the fence together, once again she came running over and greeted me again with the same hand licks and nibbles as before.  We were told by the shelter staff that her name was Mirembe meaning "peace", she had been rescued from the
Getting into the Christmas spirit
streets and brought to the shelter.  I felt like fate was taking it's course, she was after all choosing us!  How could we walk out of here and sleep tonight knowing that she was sleeping there.  So with that, we filled out the paperwork, covered the cost of her medical expenses to date and got in the car.  I was filled with a certain degree of anxiety as I was unsure as to how the other dogs would react to the new member of the family and was pleased that it all went off without a hitch.  It was as if we all agreed that Mirembe needed us and we would give her a place to feel comfortable and loved.  We decided to give her a second name and she is now affectionately known as Molly Mirembe.  Not a day passes that I don't think about where she was when first met her and where she is today and how happy I am for her.  In return, she fills our time together with excitement, her free spirit and unconditional love.

For more information on adopting a dog or cat in Kampala visit https://www.facebook.com/USPCA

Monday, December 12, 2011

Luxury in Harmony with Nature - Kyambura Gorge Lodge

Perched on the hillside above Kyambura Gorge is a new gem in Uganda.  Volcanoes Kyambura Gorge Lodge offers astounding views over the Kyambura gorge, the plains of the Albertine Rift Valley, Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains as the backdrop.  Whether you are going to Queen Elizabeth Park for a safari or to get away from the city, the lodge offers a quiet comfortable retreat abundant with natural beauty.

Main Lodge Building
We set off from Kampala early on a wet Saturday morning headed for Kyambura Gorge Lodge.  We drove via Masaka and Mbarara, although road construction was underway we experienced only short delays and a fantastic new road.  It didn’t stay cold and damp for long and by the time that we reached the equator, we were peeling off our sweaters.  The equator is always an enjoyable stop no matter how many times you have crossed over.  Uganda being one of less than 13 countries in the world that the equator passes through makes it an experience not to be missed.  As we drive past Lake Mburo National Park,
we see several zebra grazing near the road as well as many crested cranes.  The scenery through Bushyenyi is beautiful, the road meanders back and forth through tea plantations and more banana trees than you can imagine.  Soon we reach the top of the escarpment and stop at a viewpoint for a breathtaking view over the Albertine Rift Valley.  As we descend into the valley we turn off the main road and after a short distance arrive at our destination.

We are welcomed to Kyambura Gorge Lodge with big smiles and handshakes from a few of the people who we will see and interact with throughout our stay.  As our bags are unloaded we are drawn into the reception area and our eyes take in the creative African d├ęcor.  A woman offers us fresh juice and we are invited outside onto a large platform with views across the
plains.  As we marvel at the view we are given an introduction to the lodge, its facilities and history.   This contemporary eco-lodge is built on what was originally a coffee plantation.  Several buildings were carefully restored while others were newly constructed in keeping with the same style and feel as those restored.

The reception area gives us a small taste of what awaits us but now we are eager to see more.  We are led down a stone pathway that winds through the natural bush to our accommodation, an elevated wooden banda.  Each banda has its own unique name; we stayed in Emiti which means “tree”.  It is aptly named as it is built next to a very large old fig tree.  Just a few steps down off the main pathway we enter our banda onto a large covered area with a porch swing facing the views.  We step inside though a large sliding
Emiti
door.  Each banda embraces a different color theme and Emiti is yellow with splashes of it in various forms throughout the completely wooden room.  Inside there is a sitting area, a large built in window seat, 2 generous sized single beds with mosquitoes nets and a set of double doors that lead to a partially covered porch with a couple of appropriately colored chairs.  Through another wooden sliding door is a walk in closet with a built in wooden bench to sit on or store your bags on with a row of pegs and hangers above for clothes.  Inside the bench is a digital safe for keeping your valuables.  The closet is the bridge between the sleeping area and the bathroom. Everything about the bathroom is pure luxury. There is lots of space in between the double sinks, toilet, shower and another large built in window seat.  There is plenty of hot water for both of us to have showers at night and in the morning and the water pressure is excellent. Overall, the banda is spacious and filled with natural light.  It is obvious that a lot of thought has been put into the design unlike any place we’ve seen before.  Its luxury and comfort in harmony with nature.

Dining Room
The main lodge building was the original coffee store and processing plant and has been restored to a spacious oasis.  The large open space is divided into separate areas with unique room dividers which create different areas without losing the feeling of openness.  There are plenty of different chairs, sofa’s and seats to choose from, there is something for everyone.  If sitting inside isn’t for you, there is a large covered verandah. At the end of the day, we convene with our friends in the dining area of the main lodge. The large dining table is surrounding by an eclectic variety of dining chairs.  Around the table we talk about the day, discuss in length what we should do the next day, share stories of past safaris, laugh, cherish the joys of being in good company and enjoy a three course meal.  We are offered choices for the starter and the main course including vegetarian options.   My husband and I selected different options so that we could try everything.  We weren’t disappointed with any of our choices; the food was plentiful and delicious.  My pork chop was one of the best I’ve ever had and the meat was falling off the bone, served with creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly crunchy beans and carrots.  My husband’s coq au vin was tender and full of flavor served with roast potatoes and vegetables.  A very sticky rich toffee pudding was the final course served.  After a hot cup of tea we retired to our banda to fall asleep to the sound of the Kyambura River rushing below in the gorge.

The day starts before the crack of dawn with a knock on the door and a tray of hot coffee and fresh orange cake.  We relish in the warmth of the coffee before setting out into the cool crisp misty morning.  Before leaving on our morning drive we sit down to a cooked breakfast made to order served with fresh juice and toast while watching the darkness turn into daylight.  After a great breakfast we drive into the Queen Elizabeth National Park.   We’re not disappointed for the early start as we lay eyes on a lioness and
shortly thereafter a hyena.  After a successful and beautiful drive in Queen Elizabeth enjoying the wildlife and the African landscape we return to the lodge.  This gives us some time to relax on the verandah of the main lodge with a cold drink and see what we can find looking through the large spotting scope.  It’s not long before the staff beckons us to a set table to enjoy a light two course lunch of salad and vegetable couscous.  In the afternoon we take the boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and are treated with seeing a leopard, elephants, buffalo, hippo, crocodiles and numerous species of birds.  The day ends on a high since after nine years and dozens of game drives this is our first opportunity to see leopard.  With the sun starting to lower in the sky, we make it back to the lodge in time to see a beautiful sunset. The mood around the dining table tonight is exuberant.  Over a glass of wine and more delicious food we recall the highlights of the day.  We opted for game viewing in the park during our stay, however other activities nearby include trekking Chimpanzee’s, bird watching, walking and exploring the surrounding communities.

The next morning we are again woken with a knock and a tray of coffee and cake, only this time we are getting ready for a trip back to Kampala.  We feel like we have to tear ourselves away.  We don’t want to leave the comfort and quiet of this stunning lodge.  The hospitality that we have experienced over the last couple of days is second to none and with a heavy heart we climb into the car.  As we look out the window we see the entire staff of Kyambura Gorge Lodge including the kitchen staff smiling, waving and wishing us a safe journey.  As we drive away we hear lot’s of voices chiming “see you next time”.  It is without doubt they will be seeing us again!

At present there are four banda’s with a further four under construction and due to open in 2012.  When we visited the pool, changing rooms and massage room was still under construction but nearing completion and scheduled to open soon.

Booking Information
salesug@volcanoessafaris.com
+256 414 346464

Originally published in The Eye Magazine December-January 2012

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bye Mzungu Bye

"Bye Mzungu Bye" is a term we've heard countless times mostly from the mouths of children who usually jump and wave madly while singing the words with huge smiles on their faces eager in anticipation for us to respond.  Mzungu is a swahili word that means white person.  It is not derogatory in nature and is used simply to describe a a white person either male or female.  We can't quite work out why the children say "bye" and not "hi", maybe one day we'll figure that one out!

Today as we made our way across town battling the pre Christmas traffic and the heat of the midday sun, our eyes fell upon some graffiti that made us laugh.


We'd be interested to know what the artist was thinking when he painted this and if he truly thinks this is representative of mzungus in general.  One can hope it depicts only the one's he's met!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Kikoi - Never Travel without One!

As I'm compiling a list of things to take on our upcoming road trip, I realize there is one item that I never travel without, a kikoi.  A kikoi is a rectangular shaped piece of woven cotton which comes in an array of colors and is generally accented with stripes.  The history of the kikoi dates back to the early 20th century when they were worn by men in Swahili culture, wrapped around their waist and hanging down to their knees.  Now kikoi's are worn all over the East African coast by men and women.

The fascination with the kikoi comes not only in it's beauty but in it's purpose or shall I say multi purpose.  A kikoi can be used as a wrap, a skirt, a towel, a scarf, a tablecloth, a curtain, a bed sheet, a lightweight blanket, a beach or picnic mat and the list goes on.  Use your imagination and you'll easily see why you should never  travel without at least one kikoi.  Due to their lightweight nature they are easy to wash and they dry quickly, great for the traveller on the move.  I think it's safe to say I'm kikoi crazy and I never travel without them.