Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Chasing Lava On Mt Nyiragongo.

I dreamed of climbing Nyiragongo Mountain since I first heard of it five years ago. I was always up for a great challenge, but unfortunately something always came up or there was some kind of insecurity in the area. When a friend asked me if I was interested in joining them, I was excited! Why not? My friends though didn’t share my enthusiasm. All they wished was for me to be safe and “don’t come back with ebola.” I knew though this was going to be great and I would learn so much personally and professionally.

Nyiragongo Lava Lake.

I got a bus to Kigali and from there traveled with my friend to Gisenyi, a nice town located to the north of Rwanda and about a kilometer from the Congolese boarder. We arranged for our climb with our guide one day later. The whole day was spent in Gisenyi relaxing and contemplating our climb ahead.

Lake Kivu.

Beauty in Gisenyi.

Our guide picked us at 1 pm as promised to cross with us into the Congo. Everything was very smooth. We waited a few minutes while he was getting our visas. From the moment I crossed borders, there was serious check points to prevent the spread of Ebola. We had to wash our hands and our temperatures were checked. At least this made me feel safer. I remembered a few months back I had said I would not enter Congo because of the EBOLA virus. But none of those thoughts came to mind because I was excited to enter a new country. Within a few minutes of waiting, we obtained our visas and climbing permits.

Happy faces after getting into DRC.

After some delicious lunch at our hotel, our guide said we would have a walk in the city. You know everyone thinks Congo is very unsafe but I was comfortable walking in Goma. It’s a very busy city which kind of reminded me of Kampala. The city is full of volcano rocks because of the eruption that occurred there and the resulting relocation of the population. The whole city was destroyed during the catastrophe. However, these rocks have been put to use for construction.
Dry magma monument in Goma city.

Kids on one of the famous wooden bikes.
We were picked up in the morning after breakfast to go start the hike. First we had to report to the Virunga rangers who checked our identities and escorted us to our beginning point. Since the kidnap of tourists, security was vigilant. Our rangers were by our side at all times and were very good to us. We had about 5 rest stops before we made it to the stop, and were fed on every stop which kept our energy levels high. The theme of the climb was ‘pole pole’ which means “ slowly slowly”. They made sure we did not get worn out. The ranger told me not to worry because the pace was consistent with the slowest walker. It started getting harder where we found many volcanic stones where you could easily slide and fall but we had sticks and we were extremely cautious. Although we had some minor rain, the cooler temps was refreshing.

Excitement before the  climb

Overlooking down on Goma.

The hike became increasingly more challenging but my resolve was undeterred. We got a few breaks in between before we made it to the top. The visibility was cloudy but the view became more glorious the closer we got to the sky!
My favorite ranger who gave me all the attention.
Wild plants seen during the climb.

At three thousand, four hundred, and 70 meters, we reached the peak. It was awesome! Two years prior there was an eruption at the volcano where we stood. I reflected on that, on the destruction it caused below, but also on the beauty of mother nature. Every challenge, difficulty, and cuss I spoke along the way was worth it. A full six hours of exercise was required (an average hike). The volcano was so huge compared to the one I witnessed in Ethiopia. This is the largest lava crater lake in the world with 2km each way.

It was raining when we got there but later it stopped and everything was well defined. We could see Lake Kivu, the mountains, Goma and Gisenyi. We were above the clouds! 

When we arrived, the view was a bit smoky.

The Congolese flag says it all.

Above the clouds.

We took some tea to warm ourselves up because it was so cold! You need all the winter gear available to you! As we took in the sights we enjoyed a delicious dinner gazing upon city lights from Gisenyi and Goma. After dinner we went over the volcano and sat by it for a while because it was so amazing, and we could not get over it! At some point we had the full moon and the fire below us-- how cool is that? I was glad to have seen this and tick it off my bucket list.

Off I went to bed with all the memories and the sound of the volcano though it took me some time to sleep because it was so cold! We got up so early to catch the sunrise and watch the volcano again. So beautiful! I felt like every time I glanced at the volcano, it looked more beautiful. We saw everything surrounding us so clearly!
Full moon and red smoke.

I couldn't take my eyes off. 

After breakfast it was time to descend. This was not as easy but we still got some breaks along the way. We made it in four hours. 

Morning View of the lake.

On a clear morning you can Lake Kivu.

Going down on the volcanic rocks and stones was a bit much for me but I have no regrets. We were driven back to the boarder and soon said goodbye. I wish I could have spent a few days in Goma.You have to climb Nyiragongo if you can. It is such an amazing experience you’ll forever remember! To be literally on top of the world is a feeling like no other. 

Let me know if you would like to do this adventure sometime.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Top 6 things to do in Uganda when on budget.

Uganda is known as one of Africa's affordable destinations. However, when it comes to some activities which involve national parks where you have to pay some hefty fees, it becomes a challenge for backpackers and budget travelers. Fear not though, that doesn't mean it’s the end of it all. There is a lot you can do in Uganda without having to go see animals or paying daily entrance fees in a National park.

Here are the top six things you can do in Uganda while on a budget.
1- Take a walking tour in Kampala.
When you arrive in a country, the first thing you need to get well versed with is the history of the country, the city and culture. A walking tour will illuminate the everyday way of life. It will also orient you to the surroundings and enable you to be a savvy tourist with insights that’s not apparent when you’re on a tour bus. You’ll also be on your way to exploring independently. Be sure to enjoy Kampala’s night life, one of the most renowned in all of East Africa.
Tourists on  Walking Tour.

2- Take a trip to Sipi Falls.

This is a three day voyage. Sipi Falls is located in Eastern Uganda about 5 hours from Kampala. On your way to Sipi you get to see the great eastern rift valley. The views in this area are very spectacular with lush emerald scenery. There’s some hiking involved which will take you to the waterfalls. Don’t worry we can shape it according to your fitness level. The highest waterfall in Uganda is located here at a height of 100 meters. If you love java, don’t miss out on a coffee tour as the region is known for it. Get to witness how the beans are cared for right until they reach your cup. How does a fresh roasted cup of coffee sound? Other activities includes a sunset walk which is breathtaking and various cultural tours.

Sipi Falls.

3- Do not miss exploring Fortportal's crater lakes.

This is one pf the coolest places you will visit in Uganda and if you really love nature. Fortportal is located in western Uganda , approximately a 5-6 hour drive depending on your transport means. It is full of a beautiful green landscape and a gorgeous backdrop of Mountain Rwenzori and locally famous crater lakes. Walking tours to the lakes are available according to your fitness. You also have an option to cover a bigger area with a motorbike tour. There are some hidden hot springs in the region which are not crowded by tourists and you can reach them with a good hike. There are various campsites and budget accommodation in the vicinity of the crater Lakes. If your pockets are able to support you, make sure to go Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale forest because it is way cheaper than Gorilla trekking.

One of the craters in Fortportal.

Views during the hikes.

4- Choose from the various excursions in Jinja.
Jinja is a popular tourist hot spot. There are a number of activities located in this town found in Eastern Uganda, It takes about a two hour drive but again this depends on traffic. Depending on your time and money, Jinja can be doable in one day. You can make several stops along the way at Sezibwa falls, Mabira forest and can wrap it up with a boat ride on the source of the world's longest river, the Nile. However, it would be nice to spend a couple of days in this town. The highlight would be white water rafting in the Nile River with the best recommended companies. This is a serious adrenaline rush! But that is not all, there are other activities in this area like tubing on the Nile, kayaking on the Nile, horseback riding, quad biking, cycling and bird watching for the bird lovers.
Cruising on the River Nile.

5- Canoeing on Lake Bunyonyi.
Kabale is a beautiful town known as the Switzerland of Uganda. It shouldn’t  be missed! Although it takes about a 7 to 8 hour drive, don't worry about this, all good things are worth the journey. The sacrifice is worth the effort. The most spectacular lake to see here is Lake Bunyonyi and the very many beautifully terraced hills. Lake Bunyonyi is  the freshest Lake in Uganda to swim and it is bilharzia free. Make sure to get on canoe to visit the various islands on this lake. Take some hikes on the hills to get the best views of the islands on this lake, or you can simply take some guided walking tours in around some of the villages. 

If you have time, you can also visit the Batwa tribe living in the hilly areas of this region.
Some of the many islands in Lake Bunyonyi.

6- Taking it easy in Entebbe.
Entebbe is a chill town located on the shores of Lake Victoria. Most people spend some days here when they are about to take a fight back home or when the city gets too crazy and hectic for them. You can go cycling in Entebbe  which is easier because it is less crowded. Don’t forget to soak up in the sun in picturesque beaches and make sure to enjoy some good deep fried tilapia with chips. If you want to explore the world's second biggest lake, here’s your chance with a boat cruise on Lake Victoria.
We do find Mabamba swamp in Lake Victoria which is known for many bird species and one special one known as the shoebill. If you are a birdwatcher, do not miss this little wonder! 

Fishing on Lake Victoria,

Uganda has so much to offer! Drop us a line for more info!

Friday, 17 May 2019

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in a short time.

When I left Cambodia, my next country on the list was Vietnam. I had to fly to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) this time because I did not have time to cross over land and luckily enough the flights in this region are cheaper than those offered in Africa.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived were the bikes! I have never seen so many motorbikes in one place, but luckily enough I made it to my hostel on an uber bike which is actually the cheapest mode of transport. It was wonderful to be in a new place. I was ready for sightseeing.
Traffic jam in Ho Chi Minh City.

My uber bike.

First off I experienced the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. This historical institution enables you to see what Vietnam was like during colonial times, the big war with the Americans and the aftermath. It was extremely powerful and emotional, and quite refreshing to hear a perspective that you don’t see in Hollywood movies. However, between the enormous loss of life it was also sad and heavy to process everything. After about two hours in the museum, I moved on to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city's cathedral in the old town. It was beautiful and serene.

The sad truth.

One of the fighter tanks used in the war.

Saigon Notra- Dame Basilica 

Don't forget to visit the Ho Chi Minh City post office which was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the late 19th century. The architecture is beautiful and so is the decor of this building. You will get good deals or small gifts like fridge magnets, postcards, key rings etc. My first day in Vietnam was the last day on the calendar. It was fun although New Year’s Eve is not a big deal in this part of the world but the party happened on Bui Vien street, party central in Saigon. Make sure to check it out if you enjoy the night life. It’s full of bars and live shows.

The City Post Office.

Having some drinks on Bui Vien street.

The next morning I left the city and commuted one hour to see the Cu Chi  tunnels which are extensive underground passageways used by Viet Congs during warfare. Numbering in thousands of miles, these hidden roads were multipurpose. They housed troops, transported communications and supplies, served as a means for executing booby traps, and gave the Viet Cong the ability to mount surprise attacks. This is quite a popular tourist attraction and should not be missed by those looking for history. If you’re not claustrophobic and are a petite size, check it out. Make your way through them. It’s unimaginable what these soldiers experienced. The passageways are dark and dank, but should not be missed regardless if you choose to go underground or not.

On the way to the tunnel
Getting out a tunnel.

Disguised tunnel used as a trap.

I enjoyed the night markets in Asia and the ones in Ho Chi Minh City are not to pass up! Stroll around for some cheap street food and shop for clothes and gifts. I recommend the Ben Thanh market in District One, one of the earliest surviving structures of Ho Chi Minh City and a popular tourist spot for those searching for local handcrafts, textile souvenirs and local cuisine.
Variety of fruits on the street.

Coloured street rice.
Stalls  in Beh Thanh market.

I wanted to leave the south of Vietnam at once, so I decided  to go to visit the Cai Be floating markets on the Tien river. This a hub for transporting agricultural goods and sea food from the Mekong river to the rest of Vietnam. We got on a boat very early in the morning and that proved to be the best time to see the floating boats carrying out business. We later got off to a small village where we learned real Asian cuisine by making rice noodles from scratch.

Right after our floating market tour.

A boat with potatoes on Tien river.

Home made rice noodles.
Because of my limited time in the country, I had to take a flight the next day to Da Nang. This will be another blog for next time. 

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Karamajong, Uganda's Nomadic Warriors.

I remember when I was growing up, we heard stories about the Karamojong. I heard they lived a simple life, drank cow blood and had few possessions-- not even clothes. It was really interesting to hear all about this. When I saw them on TV I was intrigued.

A leader of a tribe. Photo by Paul. 

My client and two Karamajong warriors. 

The Karamojong have survived years of insecurity in north-east Ugan
da where they lived. There were disputes with cattle and herders owning guns to protect their livestock. I remember my teacher telling us the Karamajong believe all the cows
in the world belong to them. The disputes led to violence which led to loss of life. Some left the region out of fear for their safety. It was not until 2005 when the government outlawed guns that peace returned.

There are tons of cows in this region. 

Early this year I had the chance to visit the region with a client and it was unforgettable. We broke our journey in two by stopping over Sipi Falls and then continued to Moroto. It is not advisable to travel all this journey in one day. Moroto is a district in Northern Uganda about 405 km from Kampala going via Mbale.

Upon arriving we noticed the style of huts (manyatas) are different. They are small and the entrance is very tiny for security purposes. The Karimojong are naturally tall and skinny so entering their homes isn't an issue.

The tiny entrance into the Manyatta. 

A big food storage pot. 

A young boy milking a goat. 

The new generation of Karamojongs are clothed. Women wear hand- made woven skirts made from a blanket known as “Nakatukok” with unique jewelry. The men usually tie a blanket around their waistline topped with a vest or nothing above the waist if they feel like it. Their blankets are used to cover themselves overnight when they go grazing and spend the night in the kraal. They also have a special kind of a tiny wooden sitting stool they travel with used as a pillow or sitting.

Animals are very important when you live a nomadic life. There were tons of goats in the compound and the cows were out grazing. Usually livestock is used for transaction purposes. For example, if I want my child to go to school, I might as well hand in some goats instead of cash. The more cows you have, the more your wealth. You may also have more wives hence becoming a chief of the village.
A Karamojong diet includes milk, meat, cow blood and sorghum. Nothing sweet. No oils for cooking. You can't notice but wonder when you see seniors with strong teeth how much food consumption plays a part in their health.

The men tie a blanket around their waists.

Woven skirts by the Karamajong women. 

We were lucky when we arrived, it was the community get to together and dance. The dancing movement required lots of energy with high jumps! It’s kind of similar to how the Masai dance themselves. After 30 minutes we were exhausted!

Community games. 

The dance. 

The Cheerleader. 

We were taken to a Kraal where we had to spend a night with some nomadic warriors along with kids aged 4 to 10 grazing cows, sheep and goats. It’s believed teaching these skills to the youth prepare them to be responsible men. With our camp fire lit, we listened to stories while we stared at the sky, the stars were very bright with refreshing air. The next morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise behind Moroto Mountain! You cannot miss this. Be sure to be up by 6:20 am at the latest.

Our camp Fire. 

A kid having raw milk and fresh blood from a cow. 

Sunrise over Mt Moroto. 

We rode our bicycles to some other communities with Mount Moroto in the distance. I, myself, am not a good cyclist but we had a wonderful team of leaders who led us through the trails and were very concerned about our safety. It was a great work out for the day.

Having a rest after cycling. 

At the end of the trail. 

If you have more time, there are trails that you can hike on Mount Moroto where you can immerse yourself into the daily life of the Tepeth community who are believed to be the indigenous owners of the Karamoja savanna. How they’ve built their huts on top of the toppling rocks along Nadukon valley is a marvel.

 This Northern part of Uganda is rich in nature inhabited by a people who have not forgotten their humble roots. There is so much to do and experience! You’ll love it!