A Travellerspoint blog

Cling To Life

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Hold on for dear life, it’s a term that can mean a great many things. Sometimes it means just keep trucking, things will get better. At other times, as you actually grasp the roof of a truck, it can be quite literal.

For some souls, both animal and human, the term has a far greater relevance, a desperation that transcends the semi permanence that ‘holding on’ implies. Somewhere between holding on and hopelessness there is a place where you fight tooth and nail for each second of existence. For the mountain gorillas of central Africa they live every moment in this precarious state.

They cling to life.


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Eight hundred and eighty, when you write it non-numeric it takes a while. Pondered as a monetary sum it’s middling at best. If you consider it as lives lost it would certainly be a tragedy. When it is all that remains of something, it is infinitely sad.

Eight hundred and eighty is the amount of mountain gorillas left in the world.

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As a species mountain gorillas have it rough. They lose the battle for existence in so many ways it is freakish. Poaching and habitat loss are the standard calling cards of extinction, but for gorillas there is more. They only live in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, some of the tougher countries in Africa, all of which have spent decades beset by bush wars. Landmines from these wars have killed and maimed countless gorillas.

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Gorillas are also still killed for human consumption, just eight words, but all I can write on that topic without feeling ill. Gorillas share 98.4% of their DNA with humans.

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We are in plague times! As so many of you kindly informed us Ebola is on the rise around the planet. Actually the most common line was “Don’t comeback if you get Ebola” thanks guys.

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Little known fact, Ebola kills gorillas. In 2003 in the Congo only 40 gorillas from a population of 380 survived an Ebola outbreak. Should Ebola become the greatest plague that ever existed it won’t wipe humans off the planet. However, should it make it a few thousand kilometres from Liberia to the Congo can we say the same for the gorillas? The Congo outbreak had a 10.5% survival rate. If the current population of mountain gorillas were struck down the same way, there would be 92 left in the world.

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There is a Turkish proverb. Man is harder than iron, stronger than stone and more fragile than a rose. After spending a day with the mighty mountain gorillas of Africa I couldn’t help but feel that this proverb should be about them. For all their fantastic strength they are among the most vulnerable species on the planet. We their close cousins bear the blame for that. I believe that if gorillas had a proverb about us it would be a lot shorter. Man is cruel.

To see a mountain gorilla be prepared to pay for the privilege. Most people book their permit to see the gorilla months in advance to avoid disappointment. The price for that permit is US$600 dollars. It’s expensive, that can’t be argued, in the end you have to ask yourself a question about regret. What price can you place on seeing mountain gorillas before they slip from the earth forever?

The answer then becomes simple.

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Here is some of our journey to see the mountains gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

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Most of our guards carried AK47’s. Since I’m not on the critically endangered list I figured they were to use on me if I threatened the gorillas, so I behaved.

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After walking for half an hour we found a freaking huge Puff Adder right in our path. Seriously I was like forget the gorillas I’ll pay another six hundred for someone to get me the hell out of this jungle.

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Mountain gorillas are shy and elusive quarry. At times you have to walk for seven hours through the mountainous jungle to find them. Take it from me if you are going to literally wade through dense jungle for seven hours it’s a lot better not to find a puff adder in the first few minutes.

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It seemed wise to let everyone go first and pretend to take photos. I had no desire to go on point with the puffs.

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Jenny’s sock fashion statement is to prevent leeches getting into her pants. This would be a bit like ants in your pants… but maybe a little worse.

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If you wondered why mountain gorillas are so big when they are 99% human its really quite simple. They love escargot. The snails in Bwindi are so pumped full of roids it turned the gorillas into the man beasts we know and love today.

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Be prepared! Risking snakebites is for tourists.

At one stage I asked our guide Sam if he would take my brand new Nike trainers in a permanent trade for his shitty old snake proof gumboots. He laughed and then firmly refused. This did not help.

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Stumped.... where the hell are they?

Some men are born for the hunt. With an innate sense of nature and its wild ways I felt sure that I would be first to find the mighty mountain gorillas. Despite my tracking skills somehow the elusive and wily apes were always one step behind me.

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Nothing to fear here…

Interesting fun fact. The AK 47’s are actually not to stop me from injuring gorillas. They are really to protect us from extremely grouchy and dangerous pigmy bush elephants. I was very surprised, and somewhat sceptical, that such a beast exists! So I decided not to mention to Sam the strange eyeball thing I had noticed in the bush we were passing…. It’s possible that the malicious side of me was enjoying the prospect of seeing Sam struggle to flee a rampaging elephant in his snake gumboots. Vindictively I spent quite some time imagining witty one-liners to call out to him as I jogged past in my trainers.

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Eventually we found the elusive mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Park. I was a little surprised it wasn’t me that found them.

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This is what seeing your first mountain gorilla feels like.

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Surprisingly they aren’t scary at all. They just hang around eating bark.

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Some eat more bark than others.

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Some look cute eating bark.

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But they are basically all ringbarking bark connoisseur.

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We were taught not to move under any circumstances should the gorillas approach us. Unfortunately the cheeky bastards know this. This one used my leg as toilet paper! As I gritted my teeth, and took the gorillas shit, I couldn’t help but think, if this is how they make friends, no wonder the buggers are almost extinct!

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Hanging out with the gorillas was an incredible and humbling experience. One neither of us will ever forget, even if you only get a short hour with them. The shear adventure and wildness of getting to Bwindi and then hunting down our mighty cousins is something that if it all possible everyone should experience.

Just a note, photographing gorillas is perhaps the hardest thing you can imagine trying to shoot. The light is terrible, your focus goes up the wazoo and there are bushes everywhere. We are stoked with the pictures that we got when the photo stars aligned (Particularly the top ones in the story). But its always nice to see them moving so here is a video of our gorilla experience, which shows what it is like in a different way.

Posted by 19jenny79 05:24 Archived in Uganda Comments (5)

The Journey is the Destination

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Living in the now, it’s a cliché, hell it’s a cliché world we live in. It’s also a world where happiness is always an object over the horizon. It strikes me as slightly farcical that we could ever lose track of happiness. Especially when major corporations are nice enough to remind us everyday of what it takes to be happy.

Nike – Just do it

Vodafone – Make the most of now

McDonalds – I’m loving it

Adidas – Impossible is nothing


With all these friendly reminders how did we go wrong? Why is depression becoming endemic rather than an epidemic in the developed world? I suspect that those same corporations could have something to do with it.

Nike – Just do it – With $200 sneakers made by children.

Vodafone – Make the most of now - Txt someone!

McDonalds – I’m loving it – But it’s barely edible.

Adidas – Impossible is nothing – If you can afford it.

I prefer Coca Cola’s approach “Open Happiness”. It cuts through the BS and really gets straight to the point. We have become an open happiness society where daily we are trained that happiness is a product that can be bought. Perhaps what we all need is to buy a day in Africa and rediscover that happiness is a cliché. It is never over the horizon, it is right here on this day’s journey.

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Africa and the West. Different ways of looking at things.

My introduction into this theory started when I woke up at 7am. I strapped on my Nike trainers, slapped on an Adidas hat and with several dozen Big Mac’s stored about my waist decided to take on Africa, old school style.

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Africa, its about getting to know your travel companions intimately.

The ute stops and you get out. Naively you check to make sure you have everything (That ute ain’t coming back with your laptop). Then you survey your options. You are in Africa; this is the journey.

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Typical African roadside scenery.

Like most African towns, if finding copious amounts of dust is your objective, then it will be easy. Anything else, well that could be a little harder. Our goal was fairly simple, we had to make it 140km in one day. No excuses, no second chances.

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The most immediate form of transport I noticed was an under laden bicycle with a few bananas on it. Whilst I was fairly sure, by African standards, there was room for Jen, our luggage and I to get on. I was less confident in my ability to motivate the bike in any form of forward motion. I considered attempting to harness the power of the local livestock but good sense and caution won the day.

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If anyone asks you to run with the bulls in Africa… tell em to fuck off!

Help arrived in the form of two motorbike taxis known as Boda Boda’s that promised to take us through 16km of potholes to a bus stop for $5.

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Clenching your butt cheeks is an integral part of any African seat retention scheme.

Given we were carrying two backpacks and 23 kilos each, a motorcycle, may seem like a poor option. However, as someone wise probably once said, in the absence of choice, all decisions are easy.

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Like two sumo wrestlers we waddled onto the bikes and with a roar we were off. Off was almost an apt description, my driver floored it and the inertia of my heavy backpack almost pulled me right off the back of the bike.

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It was bumpy, but we made it.

When we arrived, and our skulls stopped rattling, I was surprised to see the bus station to Ishasha was both a little less and a little more than I was expecting. It was less, mostly in the sense that there wasn’t a bus station. It was more, mostly in the sense that there were a lot more goats than I expect at transport facilities.

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Never trust a goat that’s got its lean on.

However, the boda boda drivers insisted we were in the right place and then left us. The absence of choice made things easy, we sat in the dirt and waited.

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Jen in the bus station with the bus.

When the bus eventually pulled up it was more or less better than I expected. Back home we like to classify a Toyota Corolla as a small to mid size car. In Africa they classify a Toyota Corolla as small to mid size bus. The laws of physics clearly state that only so much mass can be put into so much area. There’s actually a calculation for it (pA= m/a). On this day I was about to discover something very important.

Africans are smarter than physics.

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There is a technique to it obviously. The four largest men squeeze their legs down between the folded down back seat and the front seats. They are the dam that holds back the flood of Ugandans from swamping the driver. Then five woman are draped over each other in such a way that all space between the baggage and the man dam is filled. Forcing the doors shut is a challenge, this can take more than one man to achieve and I was called upon to assist. Once the doors are shut you very carefully wind down the windows and squeeze babies and small children into any under utilized space. For maximum results you just keep jamming babies and children in until no more will fit. Then off you go.

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Pieces of the puzzle.

The number is fifteen. That is, in my opinion, the amount of people you can fit into a Corolla. Admittedly at fifteen I just flat out refused to squeeze any more babies through the window. So the real number is probably much higher. After tearing through a good chunk of the gearbox we were off, we drove up the road and round the corner and then stopped. A full figured girl stepped out of the bushes.

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Earlier she had been debating the price of the bus Corolla. A phone call was made, seven men showed up on motorcycles, there was a vigorous and ribald round of haggling. She got on a motorcycle and drove off. Fifteen minutes later we picked her up from the bushes and she paid the driver. I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions. I only knew one thing; I wasn’t jamming Trixie in through the window. No problem, Trixie jumps in the drivers seat, squeezes up next to Jen and then the driver gets in. He pushes her legs out of the way of the pedals, slams it in first by reaching over her body, and off we go.

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Yes you can

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It is possible.

The number is now sixteen by the way. That is the most amount of people you can fit in a Corolla.

Inevitably we broke down. But in some ways it was pleasant to sit beside the road for half an hour as the driver fixed the car. He was obviously a Mr Fixit because in no time at all we were off on our way to Ishasha.

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Everybody out.

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Our African Princess.

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Sardines taking a break from the tin.

Our arrival in Ishasha was chaos! A crowd of around twenty people were all grabbing our bags and trying to make us do this or that. I yelled out our destination and a man said up here and so up we went … onto a truck.

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Forty kilometres to go.

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All fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Our initial perch sitting on a bar above the cab got too dangerous because the driver kept slamming on the brakes. So it was into the back for us along with the other forty or so people back there. Almost immediately I was getting yelled at for sitting on someone’s bananas. Looking around all I could see was more bananas so, in the interest of being politic, I sat on someone else’s bananas.

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Mum made me promise not to go to Congo. We got close but kept the promise.

What started as an exciting and dangerous blast slowly became a relentless grind. The truck was a door to door service and what this meant was that literally we would drive 500 metres then stop. There would be a huge argument over whose bunch of bananas was whose (No one seemed to want the one I was sitting on). Finally a bunch would be selected then we would drive a 100 metres and go through it all again. It was painful; there just isn’t any other way to describe it.

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Every good debate needs corn.

Jammed into the back of a truck was a chance to see the Ugandan people in there normal everyday life. They argued, breastfed, laughed and shared food. Two or three where obviously very ill and in a country where more than 7% of the population have HIV its hard not to think about being jammed up next to someone with Aids. One cheeky guy came up to me and said, “I have the AIDS do you want to give me money?” I couldn’t help but think “I won’t give you anything, if you don’t give me anything!” It is humbling to see those afflicted with HIV struggle on through their lives, despite being so terribly ill. It’s an African trait I have noticed, they are never uncomfortable and they never complain they just do what they have to do.

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You tell me how to avoid the bananas!

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Eventually, one hour became three with little progress. The sun was beating down on us and we were turning beet red. I was beginning to believe my ass would have a permanent banana imprinted in it. Eventually I cracked and decided that tumbling to our death was preferable to any more discomfort.

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Butt luxury, there is no other way to put it.

So we tied my t-shirt around Jens head to keep the sun off her and developed a new technique of sitting flat on the roof of the cab. When we hit potholes at speed it was dicey, but it was such relief to be out of the back.

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For a while we were rock stars. In every village the kids would chase us laughing and yelling “Muzungu, Muzungu” which means white people, white people. Some kids would hide their faces. Some would laugh; some just didn’t know what to do.

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Then it decided to pour down. There was a mad scramble to get under a tarpaulin and cover our bags. Huddled under the tarp we ground out the final few miles.

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Forty kilometres took a little over four and a half hours. We left at 7am in the morning and eleven and a half hours later we had successfully negotiated 140kms of wild Africa. As darkness fell I gazed into the mountain forests that surrounded me. For a second I thought I spotted something amongst the foliage. Was it possible that somewhere out there in the gloom was our goal?

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We had “Made the most of now” proved that “Nothing is impossible” and “Just did it” lo and behold we “Loved it”. Those slogans where absolutely right! Though perhaps the kindness and help of the Ugandan people had more to do with the success of our day. Each moment of the journey was its own adventure; surely life can have no greater goal.

What is our objective you may ask? Well that is another story, perhaps it should be titled the destination is the destination.

Posted by 19jenny79 06:56 Archived in Uganda Comments (10)

We are not lost...we think!

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Well it’s been four months, 15 countries and a total of 37,353 km’s since we left Aoteroa's sunny shores. A few things happened on the way so it seemed appropriate to write a little something down about the places we have been.

It’s been the strangest few months in some ways. When we arrived in Sri Lanka after two years of intense DIY mania if was almost like someone put a pin to a balloon. We just flopped onto a beach and could hardly move for a month.

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In a prolonged stretch of intense lethargy our bodies slowly came back to the land of the living post DIY. In some ways it has been cathartic to leave home and our house behind and just wallow in a totally different world.

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It’s difficult to quarrel with starch free electronics. They don’t need to be rooted before you buy them.

As we have stumbled our way from disaster to adventure and then back to disaster the stresses of home have slowly drifted away. I realized a few days back that I hadn’t even thought about our house at all for a month.

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I just worry about how to say Ojitawranga properly so I don’t inadvertently end up in Ouchawranga, trust me in Africa poor pronunciation or directions can have dire consequences.

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This trip has been an incredible change of focus. Unfortunately this change in focus has not really led to a change of pace.

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This is a pic of us happy and healthy after deciding not to take any internal flights in Africa at all.

Since we flew out of Sri Lanka it has been flat out! The most intense period of sustained and tough travel we have ever done. From motorbikes to tuk tuk’s to truck ferry’s and dhow’s we have been on every form of transport imaginable as we grinded our way inexorably through the wilds of Africa. It has been exhausting!

We have gone from potholes, to wild rivers, to long endless plains all the way from the Equator to the Tropic of Capricorn to the Cape of Good Hope. My ass tells me daily that it is a long way.

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At times the road has been dangerous

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Sometimes difficult

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But at least in Africa it’s easy to tell what’s dangerous and what’s not!

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I thought that when you come to Africa it’s mandatory to go hunting in some shape or form, I was surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was, they even let me into the game park for free. That’s when shit got messed up!

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I’ve been amazed that no matter where I go in the world I keep finding critters that remind me of people I know.

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But to be fair to the “special” people in my life that these animals reminded me of, this little guy, reminded me of my last month before leaving New Zealand.

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My personal grooming and sleep both took a back step to DIY necessities.

It’s important to note that traveling has not improved my personal grooming.

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But I am at least trying.

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This baboon sparked my interest when he couldn’t decide between touching the electric wire or crapping himself. In the end it chose to do both. Hell of a way to complete a circuit.

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I would show you what happened next but shit got a bit charged!

It’s been a long road and staring at this vista a week back I felt like a Kiwi very far from his Whanau. I’ve been thinking about you guys heaps even if I haven’t turned that into emails. I sent out a few bongo drum messages but never heard back… no one uses analog anymore!

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So overall if I could wrap up our adventures in one word so far it would be ‘tough’. The best adventures must be paid for. But you can't always choose the currency. We are tired but we are very very happy and most important of all we still love each other.

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We remind each other daily to live life with monkey like passion.

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For the animal lovers out there the electrified baboon survived! He became super smart and retired to a life of distinguished affluence by the seaside.

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Posted by 19jenny79 09:16 Comments (11)

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