So I went to Uganda and all I brought back were fleas!

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This post was originally written on February 13, 2018

February 12

It’s now Monday and it’s the very last day of camping. One more night of unzipping the tent to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and one more tent take-down … I can’t believe I’m saying this but it’s kind of bitter sweet. Although I much prefer the luxuries of having a roof, sleeping in a tent in the middle of Africa is pretty damn cool.

It’s also been super interesting driving across Kenya and Uganda. You see so much more of the ‘real Africa’ during the long drives through different countries. People walk everywhere – so many women with heavy loads on their heads walking among traffic on dusty roads in the middle of the heat of the day. Men with so many bunches of bananas strapped to a basic bicycle that he could probably get a gig in the circus because it looks so precarious. Straw huts, crumbling brick structures and shanty tin shacks lining the roads are home to so many. Goats and donkeys are everywhere, and the minute you pass by a child you see a great big grin and waves for everyone. It’s so simple here but like I always say when I come to Africa, the people have very little to nothing in terms of materials goods but yet they have so much joy and happiness. Very different from us in the West where we have so much in material things but are we ever happy enough? I think that’s one reason I love coming back here. It’s a reminder of what is important in life and how we really should appreciate what we have. Because in the big picture we have so much!

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The long hours of driving have led to many ‘bushy bushy’ stops. These are road side pee breaks when we can’t hold it any longer. To be honest bushy bushy is usually a lot cleaner and far less smelly than most toilets we have come across. The most entertaining bushy bushy came when I drank too much Diet Coke and was in dire straights. It seemed like forever that I had to wait because the road was village and hut after village and hut. My eyes were turning yellow because I was so full of urine and every bump that we drove over was absolute torture. Eventually the only place we could stop was right in the midst of a group of children. They got so excited when I got out of the vehicle, but little did they know I was only stopping to pee.  I made Ash come with me so she could be my barrier while I did my thing. I bet they’ve never seen an ass so white! Definitely left my mark there!

February 13

And now a day later we have driven back to Nairobi and bid farewell to our group. I’ve met some really amazing people on this trip and I know that I’ve definitely made a few life long friends.

Over the last few days a bunch of us have had these random itchy bites all over our bodies. It’s funny because at first it was a patch here and a patch there, but it turns out we’ve all got the itch! Pretty sure we all have flea bites! A few campsites ago (the one where I got my massages) there was this common area with pillows and benches. At one point we all were laying on them either napping or reading. (Let me not fail to mention that it was also a common area for the resident dogs to hang out.) Let’s hope it was fleas and not bed bugs. We’ve been doing an awful lot of googling and we’ve diagnosed ourselves with the flea sort! Look Ma – I went to Uganda and all I brought back were fleas!

Anyway remember when I told you how I adopted a baby elephant? Well we booked a private session with our baby this evening at 5. We left our hotel at 3:45 and what usually takes about 45 minutes (for 30km) away, took us 2 hours and 15 minutes. The traffic was insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was pretty disappointing because by the time we got to the orphanage my little Maktao was sound asleep. So sad. Ash and I did a quick walk-thru of the pens where the tiny ones sleep and begrudgingly made our way back through traffic once more.

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This is where Maktao sleeps until he grows to be a bigger elephant. His keeper sleeps in the bunk right above him to tend to him 24 hours a day.

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Maktao’s keeper

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Usually you’d see dogs just lurking about, but not in Africa…it’s warthogs!

Tomorrow is the start of a new adventure as Ash and I are flying to the island of Zanzibar. Looking forward to beaches and the ocean!

Until next time…

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Kenya & Uganda Gorilla Adventure

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Jinja, Uganda ~ I’m not in denial, I’m on da Nile!!!

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This post was originally from February 11, 2018

February 10

As the tour portion of my trip is coming to an end we are now driving back through the places that we originally drove through on the way. Last night we stayed at a campsite just outside Uganda’s capital of Kampala. Ash and I caved and upgraded our tent to a room. She didn’t even have to finish her sentence of ‘what would you think of upgrading…’ before I yelled out HELLZ YES! I’d say I’ve done really well seeing that I have slept in a tent for over a week! I love being in nature but having a place to sleep is so much more enjoyable for me. Having a bed, shower and toilet attached was absolutely glorious! Oh the little things!!!  It put the HEAT right back into Heather and I feel like a whole new person!

Speaking of a whole new person…today I got a full body massage. More on that in a second. We made our way to Jinja, which is a town that happens to sit right on the Nile River. Did you know that the Nile River is about 6670 km long and is the longest river in the world. It runs north from Burundi and flows through Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and finally Egypt.

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Jinja is full of extreme activities like white water rafting, kayaking and bungee jumping. A bunch of the group went white water rafting today and they said it was fantastic. I opted out of this one because it’s just so damn expensive. Instead I got a 1 hour full body massage and that worked out to about $25 CAD. It was glorious. It was outside in a half hut that opened and looked out onto the Nile. Talk about picturesque! The only shitty thing is that I fell asleep half way through so I basically missed out on half the massage.

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February 11

Today was another scorcher so a bunch of us went tubing on the Nile. We were dropped off 8km upstream and floated all the way back. These kinds of activities make me so happy. Sun, water and barely any physical exertion! Haha. Kidding…sort of. After the river float I took a nap and finally to top off the lack of physical activity why not end the day with another massage! Boom! This time I managed to stay awake the entire time so at least I was able to savor every second.

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Those specs are us in the tubes.

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Matt photo bombing all of us nappers.

Funny thing…after spending a few hours in the river I came across this sign.

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My favorite line in this poster is ‘MANY OF OUR RIVER GUIDES AND KAYAKERS HAVE NEVER CONTRACTED THE PARASITE’ (clearly some have, hahaha)

This is a parasite that you contract from fresh water and they enter through your pores!!!!!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Kenya & Uganda Gorilla Adventure

If you like this post and want to share it to Pinterest, feel free to Pin here!

 

 

Kigali and the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

This post was originally written on February 9, 2018

The last 3 nights we have stayed at the most gorgeous campsite called Bunyoni Overland Camp Resort. It is situated right on Lake Bunyoni and is nestled among lush green mountains and hills. It is utterly picturesque and if you ever decide to go to Uganda I highly recommend coming here.

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It seems like every morning we have to get up before the crack of dawn while it’s still dark. Today was no exception. A bunch of us hired a van that would take us across the border and into Rwanda. I’ve had an obsession with this country ever since I watched the movie Hotel Rwanda about 15 years ago. Learning about the 1994 genocide and reading books from the survivors has given me so much appreciation for those who live through tragedy and adversity. Today we went to the capital city of Kigali so that we could experience first hand what the Rwandans went through during that time. Kigali is actually the cleanest city in all of Africa. Rwanda was the first to ban plastic bags and the city streets are pristine. Not only is the city clean, but it’s situated among stunning hill after hill. Rwanda is actually called the country of a thousand hills and this is for obvious reasons.

Crossing the border was rather interesting. It was a lot less chaotic than our crossing from Kenya into Uganda, but this time the hold up was the plastic bag situation. Everyone had to go through a bag check and if they found any plastic it was confiscated. I saw one lady get her loaf of bread pulled out of a plastic bag and then put into a paper bag so she could take it with her. Of course because I tend to get car sick I always have a spare bag on hand. I didn’t want them to take it away from me, so I sneakily slid it into my pocket and brought the contraband across the border.

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The pristine streets of Kigali.

Once we arrived in Kigali our first stop was the Nyamata Genocide Memorial. Located on the outskirts of the city, this was a Catholic Church that became a death trap back in April 1994. Prior to 1994, whenever there was any unrest people would seek refuge in a church and know that they’d be safe. When the killings began this time around it was an obvious place for so many to go. Thousands crowded into the church that fateful day and when the government-run Interhamwe Militia came, it just made it easier to kill so many people at once. Throwing grenades, shooting guns and of course machetes were used and not a soul survived. The roof and walls are still littered with bullet holes and inside the church are rows upon rows of benches piled with blood stained clothes left from the victims. It was utterly haunting to walk in there knowing what had happened so few years ago. It absolutely blows my mind that humans can cause so much pain to each other. Down a flight of stairs in the church are hundreds of coffins where each one is filled to the brim with skulls and bones. Some are open so you can see just how full they are. We were told of stories of how certain people were killed and because it’s so disturbing I can’t even write about it. Outside the church were mass graves and a beautiful garden, and yet right beside this ominous place was a school where little kids yelled at us and waved with great big smiles on their faces. Such a stark contrast. When you see the concrete evidence of what was left in the wake of the killings it truly leaves you speechless.

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The black gated door is the original door that had a grenade thrown through. You can see the cement has been damaged as well from the shrapnel.

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Inside the church, this was just a glimpse of the rows, upon rows of soiled clothes from the victims.

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Some of the personal belongings (ID cards, jewelry, and money)  left behind that sits at the pulpit.

The next stop was the Kigali Memorial Centre. This was built and officially opened 10 years after the genocide. Here we listened to stories and watched videos from the survivors. It took us from the colonization to the present day showing us all the events that lead to that tragic year. The world turned a blind eye and this country was basically obliterated.  Not only did the world  do nothing to save these innocent people, but it’s sickening to learn that France gave the militia all the weapons and helped provide a route out of the country when the killings ended. There are  flowers on the graves with signs that say “Never again “, but what is happening in Burma right now is probably very similar!

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Lastly we stopped at the Hotel Milles Collines. This is the hotel that the movie Hotel Rwanda was based on. Here we walked through the gates, made our way to the terrace and had lunch in the very spot that so many came for safety. Although the hotel has clearly been renovated it still felt so twisted in some way to be there enjoying a nice meal. Back in 1994 the pool was drained until it was empty, as this was the only drinking water at the time. Now it is filled back up with guests swimming in it…just like nothing every happened. So bizarre.

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Although it was an emotionally draining day I feel privileged to be able to come to Kigali and witness both the devastation and the rebuilding of this beautiful country. Rwandans have put their country back together peacefully and with pride. Just the fact that they have the cleanest city in all of Africa shows that they are working together as one to heal and move forward.

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Kenya & Uganda Gorilla Adventure

If you like this post and want to share it to Pinterest, feel free to Pin here!

Gorillas in the Mist ~ My Experience Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

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This post was originally from February 7, 2018.

Today was a day like no other. Today was the MAIN EVENT.  The reason I chose to travel to these countries. TODAY WAS THE GORILLA TREK!

It started off early where we were picked up at 5:30am from our campsite. It then took two hours to drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They say that when you are trekking in this National Park you are truly penetrating into the impenetrable! (and f*&@ they were not joking! – excuse the foul language but I want you to get the point). From there we were grouped into 7 and briefed about the trek. There is no guarantee that you’ll see the gorillas and there’s no guarantee how long the trek will take. To be honest I was still sore and exhausted from yesterday’s chimpanzee trek so I knew this was going to be quite the challenge. Looking back it was even more difficult than I even imagined. This was definitely the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in my entire life! (Maybe minus the gymnastics training – but at least back then I wasn’t pushing daisies! )

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some of the stunning views while climbing

There are said to be only 786 mountain gorillas left in the world and approximately half of them live in Bwindi (Uganda). The remaining are found in both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have heard that the terrain in Rwanda is flatter and an easier climb, and of course visiting the parks in the DRC is not advised because of the rebel activity. Interestingly mountain gorillas can not survive captivity and thus are never found in zoos. This is truly a once in a life time event and because people come from so far and pay so much for the park permit, the guides have a Plan B in case you physically can’t make the trek the entire way. If you tap out during the hike you can opt to pay an extra $300US and have 3 local trackers come up and take you the rest of the way on a gurney!!! I have to admit that the thought crossed my mind, but pride and lack of funds stood in the way. I can’t imagine how ridiculous I’d feel being carried up by three people!!! Speaking of park permits, the cost of a one day park permit in Uganda is $600US, whereas in Rwanda it was recently increased to a whopping $1500US! Gorilla tourism is heavily monitored, which is obviously a good thing.  In a single day a habituated gorilla family will only come in contact with one human group, and that group is only allowed to stay with the gorillas for one hour.

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notice how dense the bush is…literally hacking through with a machete

Anyway, back to the trek…

It started with an uphill dirt climb for over an hour so that we could reach the actual bush. We passed through small villages with homes and farmland. It blows my mind that locals have to navigate this area to get back down for farming supplies, etc. I guess one would get used to the altitude, but nevertheless this was no easy climb. Once we got into the bush and jungle, the terrain was ever changing –  up then down and then right back up again! With the altitude being 2500 meters above sea level, this uphill climb was even more intense. I decided to hire a porter because this way she could carry all my water and at the same time I could help support a local community member. Thank god I did that! We were going at a pretty fast pace but it took about 2.5 hours to get to the point where we found our gorilla family. To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve clearly watched too many YouTube videos because I thought that once we got to the gorillas they would be in a clearing where we could have a clear view of the entire family playing (like a Disney movie perhaps). Nope I couldn’t be more wrong. We were literally following the guide precariously on the edge of the mountain. He was chopping down bush and trees with his machete so we could get through and see the gorillas. There were leaves that were poisonous and branches with thorns. He would say ‘don’t touch that it’s poisonous’ but WTF, you had to grab it or else you’d risk falling down the embankment. At the same time we had no real footing because it was this loose dirt that crumbled down the mountain when you stepped in the wrong place! Needless to say I had my share of falls but I’m still here to tell the story.

The Gorillas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The first gorilla that I saw was the biggest of them all – THE SILVERBACK. Coming face to face with a silverback is like NOTHING ELSE! Males are two times the size of females and the strength of a male gorilla is said to be 10 times stronger than the strongest boxer even taking steroids (not sure how they got this fact-hahaha). They are absolutely massive with arms reaching 7 feet!!!!!  Our trackers told us that this silverback is known to be the biggest  in the entire National Park with the largest family, and here he was maybe two meters away. In two instances we clearly came too close and he jumped to all fours and let out a huge growl.  I nearly shat my pants right there as he lunged at us baring his menacing teeth, but we were told not to worry as he was just showing his dominance and protecting his family – yep it worked , you definitely dominate Mr King Kong! His hands were massive, but the longer I stared at them the more in awe I became as they truly look so human. He was enormous and his back was definitely white! I broke down into tears at one point because while he was staring right at me I started winking my eyes slowly and I’m pretty sure he closed his eyes and winked back. I truly was in utter glory … until I tried to fix my footing and tumbled backwards (thankfully I fell into one of the people in our group and he stopped me from careening further downwards).

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There were so many gorillas near us. Mothers, adolescents and little babies. It truly was like a scene from the movies and my words truly can’t do the experience justice. When the gorillas retreated, our guides would machete through the thick bush so that we would have a ‘pathway’ to follow (and I’m using the word pathway loosely!).  We followed them for an hour and when our hour was up, it was time for us to leave these amazing creatures alone. It was like our group of gorillas choreographed their exit perfectly – when our trackers said our time was up the one mother pulled her baby from the tree and he rode on her back as she climbed through the thick foliage. At this point we were deep in the bush and literally the only way out was with a machete. I was following right behind the guide at that time, and when he swung through the bush to get us out he hit a wasps nest. Again, just like a movie a cloud of wasps came straight out at us and the only thing we could do was try to turn our heads … we couldn’t run because we were all clinging to the cliff. Thankfully the wasps skipped over me and went for my poor friend Lucy who was behind me.

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Now the trek back…

Once we got to a more stable ground we were all starving so it was time to eat our packed lunch. Sitting on the jungle floor eating a warm, wet sandwich was an absolute luxury. That was the best damn sandwich I had ever had and that ground was the most comfortable place I think I have ever sat!  Sadly we had to get off our asses and get back to the starting point. I was 1 million percent knackered which made the trek back freaking horrendous.  My hips were beyond being in pain and my legs felt like they were on fire! I honestly didn’t know how I’d make it back. (It also didn’t help that I felt like I was going to poop in my drawers!) I would have to stop and sit for breaks so often because I felt like I couldn’t even take one more step. One foot in front of the other and eventually we were back to level ground. That toilet was like the holy grail and sitting down in the hut after was heaven. We were given certificates for completing the trek and a bunch of ladies sang and danced. I literally was in tears because of the exhaustion and the utter elation of seeing the gorillas.

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I have wanted to do this for  so long! Was the pain and agony of the trek worth it? YES, it was DAMN WORTH IT!

Just a side note; the gorilla family that I was able to come in contact with was called the Bikyingi Group.

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Fun gorilla facts:

  • Gorillas and humans share 98% of their genetic composition.
  • A gorillas life span is between 40 and 50 years.
  • An adult gorilla consumes approximately 75lbs of leaves, flowers, fruit, roots and bamboo per day.
  • Mountain gorillas exist in groups which differ in size from 2-40 (most commonly in groups of 10).
  • Males begin breeding at around 15 years and females start giving birth between 10-12.
  • Females can give birth every 2-3 years, giving birth to 4-6 offspring in their lifetime.
  • Males leave their group at about 11 years, while only half of the females will leave their group.
  • Mountain gorillas communicate through sounds like roars, grunts and shouts (25 sounds currently have been documented by researchers).
  • Gorilla tourism has increased the gorilla population due to such strict rules and guidelines around the National Parks…poaching has thus decreased.IMG_2581

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Kenya & Uganda Gorilla Adventure

If you like this post and want to share it to Pinterest, feel free to Pin here!

 

 

Uganda Be Kidding Me!

This post was originally written on February 6, 2018

February 5

The last few days have been a bit of a blur. There have been three really long driving days where I’d often find myself slipping into oblivion while watching the countryside pass me by. (I’m going to credit my narcoleptic moments to the anti-nausea pills I pop as soon as my arse hits the seat…  if I could stay awake, I definitely would because only in Africa do you get to see things like a zebra on the side of the road!)

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literally a zebra on the side of the road

Now let me tell you about the roads … driving in Kenya has been quite frustrating because THE major highway (which is one lane either way) runs through village after village. Every time there’s a crossing in the village, the highway has a massive speed bump. This basically averages to once every kilometer having to slow down in order to go over the bumps. Obviously this is great for the village but it makes a long journey even longer and more bumpy!

Crossing the border into Uganda was another feat in itself. It’s crazy because there is literally ONE road that runs from the major port of Mombasa (Kenya) to several other African countries – Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo. ONE ROAD!!!!! And on this ONE road is the ONE border crossing. It was a complete zoo! At least because we weren’t cargo goods we could skip past the line of trucks that went on for at least 10 km down the road. To be honest I don’t think the cargo trucks would have made it through the border crossing within 24 hours! It probably didn’t help that the computers were down and they were having trouble processing the Visas. It was actually quite comical because at one point one of the guys in my group was behind the Visa counter trying to help them fix their computer troubles…only in Africa!

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The bumper to bumper traffic in Kampala, Uganda.

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Never be surprised at what you see on the roads…this guy is hitching a ride on the back of the semi!

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At one point on the journey we crossed over the equator…prime photo opp!

Anyway, once we finally crossed into Uganda I immediately felt that this country was amazing. It’s so lush and green. The people are friendly and the children light up and wave as soon as they see a mzungu (Mzungu is what they call us Western tourists).

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Setting up camp is always rather comical for Ash and I. She is great, but I am just not a natural at the whole wilderness, camping stuff. After setting up our tent we realized that we pitched it right behind the biggest pile of animal shit. Now the challenge will be waking up in the middle of the night to pee and having to avoid the massive pile of dung. Oh mother nature, how I love thee!

After we set up camp a few of us walked into the village. It was absolutely uplifting because all the kids (and many adults) came out of their houses to greet us. The kids are utterly adorable and anything we seem to do makes them laugh. You could probably hear their laughter from miles away. One older girl thought it was absolutely hysterical to say ‘cheeeeeese’ when we took a photo. I tried to hula hoop with a tire and pretended I was a ferocious animal … the laughter truly makes me feel so full.

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February 6

Today was the day of the chimpanzee trek. I honestly thought that the gorilla trek was the only physically taxing thing I’d have to do on this trip but boy was I wrong. We started the trek through the dense jungle at 6:30 am and didn’t emerge until noon. When we started it was still dark so navigating the terrain was a bit of a challenge. Good thing I have my trusty head torch on me! I kept thinking that maybe it was a good thing that it was dark though, because that way I couldn’t see all the bug infested bushes that I was climbing through. Chimps are difficult to track because they are more likely high in the trees and they are always on the move. The pace was fast and it took quite a while until we actually came across a group of chimps …  let me tell you we did some bad ass trekking! This was no ordinary hike – we were climbing embankments and jumping over streams. The dense growth that we were fighting our way through was intense. I felt like a proper Tarzan! I only rolled my ankles twice so that is pretty unscathed in my books!

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You could probably carry a watermelon in the bags under my eyes!

Now the CHIMPS!!! How can I describe this to do it justice? In total we saw approximately 15 chimps, from the big alpha male to little babies. The screeching they’d make was insane and at one point we saw two mating. They literally fly through the treetops and as we looked up from below them, fruits and leaves would fall from high above us. Honestly it was like being in a dream … well maybe not a dream because my dreams aren’t this physically challenging! But seeing these primates in their natural habitat is pretty unreal. They share so many similar human qualities that watching them is truly bizarre … let’s just be thankful that we don’t share similar bums. Their asses are quite grotesque!

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the alpha male

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Mama and her baby – notice the bum!

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I am absolutely fascinated with how human their hands and feet look!

Eventually the trek was over and as I felt like my legs couldn’t take me one step further we emerged onto this large tea plantation. It was so beautiful and green and reminded me a lot of Sri Lanka actually. However let me tell you that after a 5+ hour intense trek I was in no mood to listen to how they make tea! I sat there in a sweaty haze while the locals taught us about tea. All I wanted to do was rip off my clothes and drink water in the shade. Eventually I got to do just that… what a day!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Kenya & Uganda Gorilla Adventure

If you like this post and want to share it to Pinterest, feel free to Pin here!

Me Tarzan You Jane

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This post was originally written on January 29, 2018

Hey Everyone!

So there is this little ballad that some of you may have heard of that is running through my brain and its called ‘Born to Be Wild’. Hypothetically  it’s playing during the opening credits to my next movie called Me Tarzan you Jane. hahaha.

Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Lookin for adventure

And whatever comes my way…

As the guitar solo comes to an end, the camera zooms in on me getting off the airplane in Nairobi. Yup, this is the beginning of my next adventure and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Tomorrow I am heading off to East Africa and I couldn’t be more excited. I know that some of you have said my past trips have been a little wild, but I think this one might take the cake. For someone who isn’t a wilderness guru nor a camping buff, this just might knock the socks off me. The first half of the trip will be straight camping. I’ve been able to ‘handle’ the camping with relative ease in the past because there has always been a one day buffer – camp one day and the next a hotel…this time however is hardcore. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily outright choose to camp for nearly two weeks straight, but the main reason I am traveling this time is to go trekking to see the Mountain Gorillas. This was the only way I could afford to do it…so here I go!

 

So my trip starts in Nairobi where I will be meeting up with a friend that I met last year in Sri Lanka. Her name is Aisling (Ash) and she is from London. Together we will meet up with a G Adventures group and travel through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and back. Once back in Kenya, Ash and I will fly to Zanzibar (Tanzania) and spend a few weeks doing our own thing. Back in 2008 when I volunteered in Tanzania I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Zanzibar. Honestly it was the picture perfect example of paradise. It had the whitest beaches and the most turquoise waters. This was the place where I was able to swim with dolphins naturally in the ocean!!! So I figured that since I will be so close, I knew I wanted to come back to paradise and explore more of what this island has to offer!!!

 

Anyway, tomorrow is when it all begins and I am excited that my first stop over will be in Montreal. I have a really good friend that lives there (whom I met on another trip a few years back in Turkey) and she is coming to the airport so we can have a visit. After Montreal, I will fly to Istanbul and then finally on to Nairobi.

 

See you on the flip side…let the adventure begin!

Africa - just me and a cow

The G Adventures tour that I will be taking is called Kenya & Uganda Gorilla Adventure