Oh My Freaking God I Want to Move to Africa.
I have been fortunate to travel a lot. These countries were my 51st, 52nd and 53rd but this was the best time of my life. This was my 7th small group trip. I have never felt more grateful in my life—and it is all owed to this wonderful staff, Gilbert (our guide), Stoney (our driver), Albert (our cook) and Charles (his helper). I moderately injured my low back while rafting in Jinja and was very worried that if it worsened (from camping or the bumpy dirt roads) I would not be able to do the Chimp or Gorilla treks. The staff did everything in their power to help me through this and I’m very thankful for that; the injury never worsened and I was able to do everything that the agenda entailed. The safari portion of our trip was extraordinary, particularly in the Mara and Lake Nakuru. The boat safari in Murchison was also amazing as we saw everything in such a different ecosystem. The highlights: five lionesses in a tree, two leopards, a monster of a crocodile, a wildebeest stampede, a hippo and a family of warthogs at our campsite in Murchison, hordes of playful baby baboons, a pack of zebras hilariously chasing an territory-invading jackal and virtually every other large African mammal except the cheetah. A few other animal experiences to mention:
—There are 1,388 species of birds in East Africa. I’m not a birder or anything but I was constantly in awe of the gorgeous, highly varied plumage patterns of these majestic creatures.
—The chimps in the Budongo Forest were outrageous. We hoped to just see a few eating in the treetops. We saw that and about twenty minutes into our viewing session a highly-orchestrated colobus monkey hunt began with screeching, screaming and yelling. Chimps rapidly descended all around us, ran across the forest floor and ascended other trees nearby. The rangers claimed they killed three colobus. While we collectively only had one picture of a chimp eating his prey, it was an exhilarating, albeit terrifying and somewhat sad, experience.
—I figured the chimps had stolen the show. But the gorillas responded. Extraordinary experience...we had no clue how close they were going to get. They say it’s a seven meter distance that we need to maintain, but not if the gorillas decide they want to play with you... One of the gorillas (an impish three year old boy) sprinted to me, stuck his head between my knees and patted the sides of my thighs in rapid succession. He then just lied there. No one got any of it on film because the silverback, Bweza, was waking right towards me as his son was pulling this stunt and everyone had to shuffle away quickly... Bweza was no more than two meters away from me before we could all pull back. It was terrifying but that early lesson taught us that these gorillas are extremely habituated and thus, totally harmless; I suspect Bweza was simply wanting to keep his playful toddler in check. Later on during the viewing hour, the same three yr old pirouetted three or four times right at our feet. It was adorable. That was followed by several minutes of wrestling with his same-aged cousin. One of the great memories of my life. Most importantly, our crew made the trip. Gilbert, our leader, was outstanding. Solid knowledge of the animals. He has degrees in tourism and social anthropology and it really shows. He not only has a good understanding of the countries we visited but the continent and the world as a whole. His education led to a bunch of really interesting conversations that I enjoyed. Very well organized, kind and funny as well. A great trip leader. Albert was our chef and did a damn good job prepping tasty meals for us. Most importantly though, he was ALWAYS in a good mood and lifted the spirits of our group constantly. I’ll never forget the guy. Stoney, our driver, was a great great guy. Sincere, kind and very hard working. He navigated some tough roads and kept us on time. I had several great conversations with him about all kinds of topics ... mostly his family, his childhood and Kenya’s hopes for the future. Another guy with a big heart I’ll never forget. Lastly, Charles, the helper, was just a damn hard worker. For a first timer, he really seemed to contribute a lot. Always dived in when he was needed. Again, what a great trip. I’m elated that I was able to do this with such a wonderful group of people. Thanks Exodus!