Day 29 to Day 32 - June 25th–28th

I left the family behind at the lodge. They had had a transformational trip visiting the Nyurongora Crater and the Serengeti. The crater was spectacular; the Serengeti was a lot of driving and did not boast anywhere near the amount of animal life that we saw Botswana. They saw a migration of hundreds of wildebeests that was fascinating. I would have liked to have Coral and the boys spend more time with the children that we met along the road in the small villages. It would have given them an opportunity to learn what it is like to live in a subsistence environment with minimum education, with few opportunities and facing a bleak future. My sisters and I had the opportunity to spend two years in Istanbul as youngsters. It gave all four of us a profound appreciation for what we have that others do not – the enormous position of privilege to live in an extraordinary country at an extraordinary time. We realized the benefit of having an extraordinary education with remarkable and caring parents.

We will be staying at the same lodge for several days before the family leaves for their two-day trip home. The Ngare Sero Lodge is run by Tim Leach who “walks the walk” when it comes to green technology. He gets electric power for the lodge from a hydro power unit coupled to a stream running through his property. He has a motorcycle that runs on pure alcohol produced locally from fermented molasses.

He has a complete workshop filled with clever mechanics who helped me reshape my bent kickstand.

The bent kickstand was a by-product of changing the tire in the village – too much muscle. Before we fixed the kickstand, when I stopped I had to lean the motorcycle against a tree, prop it up on a rock, or lean it against a building or wall.

We left our bikes locked up at the lodge in Arusha. We took a plane from the Kilimanjaro airport to the huge and impressive Entebbe International Airport.

This was the airport in Uganda where the Israeli Special Forces pulled off a daring rescue of an El Al plane and its Israeli passengers that had been high jacked and were being ransomed for release of some prisoners being held in Israel. Idi Amin was the dictator of Uganda and killed more than 300,000 of his own citizens. From what I have heard, Idi Amin ate selected body parts from his most significant enemies. He was spirited away by the international community (to the relief of Uganda). He died peacefully in Saudi Arabia - it sounds like a good model for Syria. But times have changed in Uganda.

The city of Kampala is bustling with activity. Check out this row of cars that is waiting for the light to turn. When the light changes, it looks like the Indianapolis 500 – no one jaywalks here!

We were bumped out of our hotel reservation but ended up in an extremely snazzy hotel nestled on a 70-acre site with pools and beautiful gardens in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Here is the view from my balcony.

The next morning we were off to see the gorillas with Vincent and Linda. They have only been married for five months, so this is their honeymoon.

Helge and Karen were with us too. Karen works in education at the Seattle Zoo and was terrific about explaining nature to the Frontini kids through the Serengeti.

As we leave the airport we see a phenomenal number of fishing boats lining Lake Victoria.

We are on our way to Bwindi National Park in the southwest end of the country on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From Entebbe International to the park we fly over mountainous areas largely deforested and fairly densely populated with small farms punctuated with small patches of remaining jungle.

The country is the size of Oregon but has a population of 36 million people. The fertility rate of the nation is a frightening statistic. 6.65 children are estimated to be born by each woman – the second highest fertility rate in the world. It is largely an agricultural country with 80% of the employed working in farming, mostly subsistence farming. As the families expand, these small plots of land will be divided into even smaller sections.

The median age is 15 years old and only 2.1% of the population makes it to age 65. The country is more than 80% Christian with Roman Catholics making up one-half of the Christian population.

We land at a small and privately constructed airstrip intended to boost gorilla related eco-tourism.

On our way to the park we saw how bricks are made. They are excavated out of the ground and trimmed into crude rectangles.

See the bricks stacked in the foreground, one deep. After they have dried to a certain degree, they are stacked and covered with straw to dry further. The next step is that they are stacked in a truncated pyramid with a hole in the center and covered with mud. A fire is built in the hole creating intense heat, essentially “firing” the brick.

Clay seems to be everywhere, so often the bricks are produced at the location where a building is being constructed. The bricks are not perfect but according to our guide, a building made with bricks like this lasts for more than 100 years. The bricks sell for approximately 10 cents each vs. 35 cents in Canada, according to Linda.

There are both public and private schools for the children in neat uniforms.

A number of years ago coffee was cash crop but a blight wiped out the coffee and now it is tea. There are several tea processing houses in the gorilla reserve area.

Bicycles like this are plentiful. They come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is over the hill from our lodge less than one mile away. They are made almost entirely of wood. Note the rubber that provides the suspension in the front wheel. This bike is clearly an uptick from the heavy “piggish” GS Adventure bikes that my three comrades are riding.

Every few miles there is a village and in large villages there is a weekly market. These are women returning from a day at the market.

This photo shows the sharp line of demarcation in the national park and the farm land.

The growth in population over most of the country has crowded out the jungle. The key to keeping this gorilla habitat is making it more profitable than subsistence farming for the local populous.

We arrived at Bwindi Safari Lodge, met the staff and were shown to our rooms. I heard a rustling sound outside my bathroom window and to my amazement saw a female gorilla. We had been at the lodge for perhaps five minutes. I rushed outside to tell the others and saw the whole troop of gorillas eating their way up the hill between our cabins. It amazes me that they are constantly eating. They do not walk around like dogs exploring, they are constantly picking and chewing on leaves.

Then the silverback shows up.

Check out the belly on this one compared to Helge – they’re both on the Esselstyn diet./

There are two small babies.

One of the gorillas begins eating the bark on a tree. It surprises me how prominent their canine teeth are for vegetarians.

At the end of the day one of the big gorillas makes his nest in the top of a tree by my cabin.

That was the most impressive check-in ceremony of any lodge I have visited!

Arusha to Bwindi Imperial Forest, Uganda
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