Exploring the great pearl of Africa (Uganda) and cruising through the Iberian Peninsula
09.03.2013 - 30.04.2013
I know it has been awhile since you’ve seen an update and I’m sure you’ve been dying to read my long email of our condensed Spelke adventures. I apologize for the delay but once we hit Europe in April, life really sped up (in a good way) and limited my time to reflect on the past travels but now you get two updates in one…enjoy!
The Contents Highlights:
1) Mt. Sabinyo – hiking an inactive volcano that divides Rwanda, Uganda, & DRC
2) Lake Bunyonyi – wooden canoeing to an island sanctuary
3) White Water Rafting & Kayaking the Nile Headwaters
4) Global Livingston Institute – seeing the best and worst of compact Kampala
5) Uganda Wildlife Edu Center – spending the night in a zoo doing what the Keepers do
6) Start to Europe road trip – bringing spring to southern Europe with the girls
1) A great way to close out our wonderful month in Rwanda was to hike one of the mighty Virunga Mountains- separating the country from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our friend Christina, the person responsible for our delightful stay in Kigali drove us to our basecamp in Uganda. Crossing the border from Rwanda, we automatically felt how much more lax things were in Uganda—from the infrastructure, government influence/rules to the people and culture. We followed another CU Engineer Grad (Max) to the hostel he had made his extended home in the small town of Kisoro, Uganda (our basecamp for the next couple days). We left very early the next day to the base of the inactive volcano, Mt. Sabinyo. Our many guides and soldiers gave us a briefing that the only risk is wild animals. We started the hike at 7,754ft right as the sun broke the horizon. The hike made a gradual ascent through bamboo forest and swamplands until hitting thick rainforest. The trail became more and more steep as we made our way to the ridgeline. There were a series of wooden latters to climb the steepest parts of three challenging peaks standing in the way of summit. After 6hrs we reached the summit of Mt. Sabinyo Peak (11,920ft) and happy we did because an intense rainstorm rolled in right as we made our descent back down along the ridge (not too pleasant). With my difficulty coming down hill combined with slippery trails made the hike back a grueling 6hrs. The last bit was in the dark and good thing for our armed soldiers then because the African buffalo and elephant become more active during the night hence, greater risk of getting trampled. We took the next day to hang around the hostel and learn more about what Max was doing in Kisoro. It turns out that this area has a lot of pumice rock because of the millions of years of volcanic activity. The light volcanic stone is an amazing insulator and makes the commercial wood-burning stoves he designs and builds incredibly efficient compared to conventional stoves used heavily in developing countries. So much so that he has been able to obtain carbon-credits for the amount of CO2 not emitted with the ~80% less wood burned when cooking with his stoves- pretty cool stuff!
2) Another beautiful area in southern Uganda is the farms and hills rolling down into the many fingers of Lake Bunyoni. Pete and I had heard of this amazing little island you could stay on for cheap. The best part was getting there by a hollowed-out wooden canoe. We took down the directions and headed out with all our gear for the place called “Booya Amagara”. Our days of canoe camp came back to us and we managed to make it there without doing the infamous “muzungu circles” that locals like to joke about when travelers go around for hours not being able to manage the canoe or find where they need to go.
We parked our canoe on the island’s dock after an hour of paddling and were escorted to our very own “eco-dome” hut that was constructed with straw and bamboo triangles in a geodesic dome format. The place had great food served by candlelight at night and made for a relaxing atmosphere by day. We went in search of a good hike by canoe, looking for a trailhead on the mainland. We instead landed on a local farmer’s land who was kind enough to show us to the top of the peninsula. The bluff above his mud hut had great views of the lake and it’s many islands.
We left early the following day to catch our bus to Kampala but canoeing back before dawn made it difficult to navigate where we were going. As the light burned off the haze we got ourselves back on track but definitely tested our sense of direction for the first 45 minutes on the lake (pretty much I was right and Pete was wrong- ha).
3) Rafting the Nile Headwaters was up there for one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Shooting down 8 sets of class 4,5 & 6 rapids seems like a dangerous endeavor but rest assure it is very safe because it also happens to be some of the deepest white water on the planet with almost no risk of hitting rocks (that isn’t to say flipping in class 6 rapids doesn’t get your fight or flight senses going!)
The company we went with has never had any serious injuries in the 10 years of operation so relax mom. After the long day of amazing rafting we stayed on the river at a hostel next to a small local village. Pete and I made friends with the locals and fell in love with the cutest kid ever who couldn’t get enough of my leg…
We went a bit further down river to an island hostel oasis where we did white-water kayaking lessons and just relaxed. To get to this island a man comes over by canoe to take you across the large Nile River running around a secluded island- it was pretty cool. If anyone ever gets a chance to come to Africa in their lives, this place of the Nile headwaters, Jinja, Uganda is a must!
4) Before I left Denver I had the pleasure of connecting with Dr. Jamie Van Leeuwen (Deputy Chief of Staff Governors Office) who has done great work with poverty issues locally and I have come to see the great work he is doing internationally. He started the NGO Global Livingston Institute four years ago. It is an educational think tank for community leaders and university students focused on poverty issues in developing Africa. Pete and I were fortunate to be able to join an amazing group of individuals for the first part of this very special Community Leaders trip. Together we learned that people wanting to help this part of the world should first listen, learn, and then act. The first day took us to understand the many aspects to a successful, organically grown NGO called Come Let’s Dance. It started from a local boy coming up through extreme poverty in Kampala and later coming back to the slums to find orphan boys like himself and give him any and all that he had (i.e. simple shelter, sporadic food, safety). An incredible story that caught the attention of some Colorado kids who slowly morphed this mission into not just an orphanage but a new kind of school teaching reasoning vs. memorization, a clinic, a workshop teaching woman how to become self-sufficient, and a farm that teaches an organic way to grow while feeding & supporting the others facets of the organization.
The next day we went into a slum in Kampala to participate in doing a hygiene clinic for the children while small groups went on tours of the slum—a densely populated collection of huts and shops. My job in the clinic was making sure each child thoroughly washed their hands and Pete’s station was in charge of putting anti-fungi crème on heads of the children. It was tough walking through the slum, seeing how dirty it was with raw sewage running down the streets and people not having good clothing or even any shoes. I was surprised to see how well functioning the commercial node was with thriving shops selling things like fried ants and goat heads.
And many of the people seemed to not be depressed or sad but happy to see visitors but I wondered how relativity plays into that—not understanding how much better conditions can be for human beings. We ended the day with a visit to Kampala’s largest public hospital (comparable to Denver’s Denver Health). A doctor was kind enough to show us all around and answer our hundreds of questions. He sees an average of 50 patients per day because they are so overwhelmed (the average in the States is more like 20-30). The real shocking thing is that loved ones/friends are responsible for supplying everything outside of the actual medical care (i.e. clean clothes, blankets, food, feeding if required, etc.) and they can only come in at the visiting hours- crazy! The next day Pete and I went to check out the church service next to the slum and we felt very welcome. We actually had to go up to introduce ourselves and didn’t stick around for the whole service because they go around 4 hours. Each night the group had dinner together and had the opportunity to share their feelings, thoughts, and discuss about the experience/what to take from it all. It was a really intense but extremely valuable experience from start to finish and we were very happy to have been a part!
5) We closed out our time in Uganda with a day/night in Uganda’s only zoo, the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. You can actually sleep in this zoo and since we were there past regular opening hours we could participate in something very special, feeding all the cool animals! We had to tip the Keepers some but it was totally worth it to be able to see chimpanzees up close and personal, watch the Rhino’s run into their pens, and actually give raw meat to the baby lion cubs.
It was a great way to finish our time in Africa because we were able to see all the animals we had seen in the wild all together in one place. The next morning we flew out of Entebbe International Airport to have a fun little lay over in Dubai before flying to Lisbon, Portugal!
6) Wow what a whirlwind April has been! There is so much the first part of this European road trip has covered, I could write a short novel. But for the sake of your eyes reading a computer screen that long I will do my best giving the cliff notes… After a fun 12 hour layover in Dubai we touched down in Lisbon to find our band new rental car waiting for us- this Renault, Megane Coup would be our baby for the next 2.5 months with the drop off in Munich. It worked out that our friend Alicia just finished her Masters in Portugal and was ready to show us a good time in the city she knew all too well, Lisbon! The girls flew in a few days later and we all crammed in the Coup and headed for the southern coast of Portugal. After a day of sun bathing in the cobble stone lined beach town of Lagos, we headed east to meet our mutual friend in Sevilla, Spain! There we had to play the tourist and check out the 3rd largest gothic cathedral in Europe along with other beautiful attractions Sevilla affords.
One good night out there was all we needed to get ready for the weekend of incredible nightlife of Spain’s west coast cities, Valencia and Barcelona. We spend some good time in Barcelona to make sure the girls could take its many wonderful Gaudi treasures and old town exploring.
We said farewell to Alicia and headed north to France’s gorgeous Mediterranean coast for some long overdue romantic time with the girlfriends. After some wonderfully relaxing days in southern France we continued our quick moving road trip to Geneva but took the opportunity to do one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever done. From the French Rivera we dropped into the cliff encased country of Monoco then back under an elaborate set of tunnels to Italy. We stopped for a delicious lunch outside of Turin then made the climb back over the white-capped Alps that then dropped us into a waterfall soaked Swiss valley. In Geneva we met with another friend working on her masters who did a wonderful job playing tour guide the few beautiful spring days we were there. Our drive over to Zurich took us through Interlocken, a small traditional Swiss mountain town, and the romantic river city of Lucern.
We had our few last wonderful days with the girls exploring Zurich before we had to sadly put them on planes back to reality. Pete and I then drove north on the fun autobahn to the center of the Bavarian region of Germany to meet with a friend stationed with the Army there. We got our taste of delicious hefeweizen and weisswurst as we made our way northeast toward the alternative city of Desden. Wish we could have stayed longer because it had a funky underground music & art scene but we needed the full 5 days we planned for Berlin. Even in that amount of time it was hard to get in all the amazing museums, sites, historical tours, nightlife of Berlin and we were both surprised by the large Turkish influence and them still being stuck in the 90’s grunge scene!
From there we promised to meet some German friends we met in Uganda in their home University town of Bamberg. This lively city is where the Beatles got their start and most of the young crowd parties all night on Saturday so they can roll right to the Sunday morning fish market—nothing like a delicious fish sandwich at a beer garden with live music to keep things going into the sunlight! We hit a few more small German towns before crossing over the Denmark border and entering our Scandinavia portion of the trip but those tales will come with the next update….
What is still to come….
• May: Scandinavia, Easter Block, St. Petersburg Russia
• June: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, (fly out of Munich)
• Mid-June: Greece (with the mommy)
• July: Nepal (Everest Base Camp), Japan
• End July: Hawaii (a good friends wedding)
It’s officially spring and I hope home is as full of life as is Europe. Still fighting my homesickness but summer is just around the corner and I’ll be able to see you all again soon!
Isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be part of it? -Richard Dawkins