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    Race to the Gorillas

    December 18th, 2006 by steve

    Only about 40 people a day are allowed to visit mountain gorillas, so getting permits ahead of time is a must. It turned out that ours were issued for earlier than we had anticipated, so we had been rushing since Aswan. Now we needed to race through Kenya, Uganda and into Rwanda to meet our date. Northern Kenya has historically had trouble with local and Somalian guerillas preying on vehicles crossing the vast empty expanse from Isiolo to the Ethiopian border. We took two armed soldiers onboard for a couple days as we made our journey to central Kenya. Along the way, we picked up a hitchiking Imbili tribesman to complete our collection of soldiers and warriors. Along this treacherous stretch of soft dirt ‘road’, our driver finally met his match. Within two seconds, we went from bumpy bumpy road to being pitched at 30 degrees from vertical and stuck in over a foot of mud. We spent an hour and a half digging out the wheels and laying in steel tracks to drive on. None of that was enough by itself, and we were saved only by a passing truck who was willing to give us an extra little tug for $80USD. That’s all good, except once we were pulled free, he slammed on his brakes and we crashed into him bending our stairway into the truck into a disfigured mess.
    The rest of Kenya was a blur. We raced through towns and national parks on our way to the Ugandan border. We did see a group of three giant giraffes right on the side of the road, a herd of zebras and several herds of impalas and various gazelle-like animals that we agreed to call ‘deer’ for simplicity’s sake. Uganda and Rwanda are strikingly lush and covered in farms. Rwanda, in particular is remarkably beautiful with hills and valleys covered in a patchwork of fields. We were quite surprised to find mile after mile of tea planted there, as well.The people in Uganda and Rwanda are great. The children wave and jump up and down yelling “mzungu mzungu mzungu!!!” (means ‘white people’ in Swahili) as we drive by. I hate to say it, but there isn’t much funnier than watching a pudgy little kid with a huge smile jumping around and waving so violently that they fall down. And that happened more than once. Maybe this isn’t so different from Kenya on the surface, but there was a sincerity in Uganda and Rwanda that I don’t feel in the more heavily touristed Kenya and impoverished Ethiopia.

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