Istanbul Airport

September 17, 2018

Istanbul Airport

We have just completed our first experience on Turkish Airlines and it was an excellent experience.   Our seats were side by side with plenty of room for our legs and stuff.  The meal was a 4-course affair complete with a white clad chef serving us.  The appetizer course came with several selections on a cart and we chose whatever we wanted.  All very appetizing and tasty.  Then came the individually plated entre.  Mark had raviolis and I had salmon.  Last came a cart filled with dessert selections.  Dinner took about 2 hours and was quite lovely.  Then we slid our seats into the flat position, made our beds with pillows and blankets, turned out the lights and went to sleep.  We both slept well.  Mark actually slept for 6 hours, the most he has ever slept in a plane and I slept about 7 hours.  About an hour out of Istanbul we had a fruit and yogurt breakfast, brushed our teeth and were ready for the day.  Wow! Travel should always be that good.

Istanbul Airport scene

Istanbul Airport scene

Now we are in the crowded Istanbul International Airport, waiting for our flight to Kigali and Entebbe.  There are so many people, it is hard to keep from being jostled and not lose sight of each other.

 

September 18, 2018

Protea Hotel, Entebbe

The flight from Istanbul to Entebbe was pretty exciting as we witnessed a huge lightning storm out our windows for about 20 minutes over Juba, Ethiopia. Just like July 4 fireworks.  Our arrival into Entebbe went more smoothly than we have ever experienced.  We were first in the immigration line to get our visas. Papers were in order thanks to Mark’s efforts and no stressful questions were asked.  Just “welcome to Uganda”.   All our bags appeared as soon as the carousel started. In the final checkout at customs, the agent wanted to see what I had in the 2 heavy bags.  I opened one and took out one of the 250 recorders we were carrying. I demonstrated it for him and he got excited, tried it and wanted one.  I told him they were for poor children in the countryside and he graciously let me go.  Close call. I thought he was going to insist.  We were out of the building before our hotel driver expected us.  Not knowing if or when he would appear, we took a cab to the hotel. The hotel was only a mile away, but we were charged $10 anyway.  The front desk very nicely reimbursed us.

Once in the room we were wide awake (6pm at home), but went to bed anyway as it was 4am here.   When we got up at 9:30am, we saw Lake Victoria out the window, got dressed and went to breakfast on the patio.  The air is warm and humid, but pleasant in the shade. The experience is a bit like being on Lake Tahoe, except this lake is many times larger and looks more like the ocean than a lake.  Unlike Tahoe, the landscape is flat and the far sides are out of sight.  Although the water is much warmer, there are no tourists motoring around or swimming.   Most people staying here are attending meetings or conventions.

Lake Victoria in front of Protea Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda

Lake Victoria in front of Protea Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda

Our program for the day was to find Distilled water for one of our guests and repack our bags so Scott can take some of our weight in the vehicle he will be driving tomorrow.  Jean, Mark and I will take a domestic flight to Mweye with a reduced baggage allowance. Both Scott and Jean arrive this afternoon and we want to save them some trouble and time.

Deo, the driver assigned to help us find the water, drove us all over Entebbe stopping at every pharmacy and grocery store, with no luck.  Finally, Mark suggested we try the hospital.  Lucky idea.  The stuff is called De-mineralized water here and comes in 5-gallon containers.  The nurse had a container with only 3 gallons in it, so we bought the can and water both.  It was pretty expensive, but we were pleased to have found what we needed. Back at the hotel, we repacked and relaxed.

Protea Hotel pool with Lake Victoria beyond

Protea Hotel pool with Lake Victoria beyond. Mark is under the red awning.  We have the place to ourselves.

Late afternoon we heard from Scott and Jean that they had arrived in Entebbe.  We will meet them for breakfast in the morning.  Halima, the operations manager for Uganda Safari Co. will join us to review the details of the itinerary we have been planning for over a year.  Our 8 guests will arrive at different times tomorrow and begin their adventure on the 20th.  Meanwhile, the 4 of us will travel to Mweye Lodge where we will collect our thoughts, plans and energy to be ready to greet the group on the 21st when they arrive by charter flight at the Mweye air strip.

Mark just went lights out.  Guess I will too.

We end in Paris

Here are 2 photos I missed from our time in Stuttgart.  Sent the post prematurely.  Sorry.

The park and public buildings behind our hotel in Stuttgart. It was the first warm Friday afternoon and everyone wanted to be outdoors.

A pretty garden in the Stuttgart park. Reminded me that our garden at home must be blooming too.

 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

We wake up to a free morning with no planned activity. Yahoo!! I get to work on the blog right up until 2pm, when we check out and retrace our steps to the train station.

The entrance to the Stuttgart train station.

We have now learned a thing or two and easily find our 2:54pm train to Paris on track 9, car 12, seats 83 and 84 and have time to kill.

We sit in the Stuttgart station in front of the Paris train. Soon we will board.

 

Waiting to board the train to Paris.

The French train to Paris was very smooth and much faster than the German train to Stuttgart. Mark clocked our fastest speed at 319 kilometers. Rather like flying low. Much faster than we went in the helicopter, which cruises at 120 knots. THe countryside literally flew by. There was spotty wifi however, so I looked at the scenery and did some writing.

Paris made Stuttgart seem slow. So many people traveling at top speed in every direction. We quickly left the station and hired a cab to take us to our hotel, the Relais Christine, near the left bank of the Seine. We arrived about 6:30pm and checked into room 51 on the third floor. We are in a small B&B suggested by our agent, Martina. The 2 rooms make a small, cozy compartment that affords a quiet view of a birch tree with song birds. We can have the windows open and not hear street noise.

 

The street entrance to Relais Christine, our B&B on a tiny street in the Left Bank.

The garden between the wall and the front door to our B&B, Relais Christine

There is a “Honesty Bar” in the B&B living room. We happily helped ourselves to a couple of scotch whiskeys. For dinner we ate at a small French restaurant, Le Caveau du Palais, 4-5 blocks from the hotel. We both went for escargot for starters. For mains, I had scallops with artichoke and Mark had shrimp and calamari risotto. Both dishes were just right. Bed was an easy choice for our next stop.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

We slept in this morning and had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel. Then we walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral for 10am Mass. It was a very traditional service, with strong organ music that sounded like Bach and Gregorian chanting by high pitched young voices. Incense was used excessively, but it was absorbed by the huge building before reaching the congregation.

Inside Notre Dam Cathedral looking out a rose window.

The long nave of Notre Dame Cathedral, during Mass.  Mark took this shot then walked outside, leaving me behind.

There were at least 200 people attending the Mass, and thousands of tourists parading around the interior sides of the building. I was in the congregation, while Mark was one of the tourists. We met at the end of the service and began walking.

A view of Notre Dame Cathedral

An unusual view of Notre Dame with buttresses all around.

We walked and walked. I had on sandals and was not really prepared for a hike. Also, the day was getting warmer and I was over dressed for the warming day. After making it up to the Louve, we walked back to the hotel so I could change shoes and tops. Much better. Mark, meanwhile, had come up with a plan.

Mark at the Arch de Triumph.

A selfie in front of the icon of Paris

Now we headed for the Eiffel Tower, with the idea of seeing the Arch of Triumph along the way, I wanted to walk on the Champs Elysees and see Tuileries Gardens. After walking many blocks, we realized the tower was still a long way, so we hailed a guy driving a golf cart “limo” and he drove us up the Champs Elysees, around the Arch of Triumph and stopped for a photo of it. Then he took us to the Eiffel Tower viewing point where we got a good photo, but were still not under the tower. I remembered being able to drive around the tower and walk under it. None of that was possible now. Between construction and police roadblocks, the scene is not appealing at all. I was very disappointed. Back down the Champs Elysees we went toward Tuileries Gardens. Before getting there we had the driver stop at a restaurant that looked appealing. We paid him and went to have a late lunch at L’Alsace on the Champs Elysees.  How uptown is that! Again we ordered a dozen escargot, then a bowl of mussels and finished off the meal with a pork dish that included a meaty ham hock, 3 different sausages, thick bacon, a slice of ham, potatoes and sauerkraut. It was way too much food, but we stuffed ourselves and decided to call it dinner too.

The permanent ferris wheel at Tuileries Gardens. We enjoyed a ride along with many others.

Now we were needing to walk off the meal. We continued back toward Tuileries Gardens and took a turn on the huge, slow moving, ferris wheel. It was a pleasant ride. Our short term cabin mates were a couple from Massachusetts.

A nice view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine as seen from the ferris wheel.

Twice around and back on the ground, we continued through the gardens and along the Seine to the pedestrian bridge, Port des Arts. We stopped to sit on a bench for a few minutes and started talking to a young man from Mumbai. He was writing love notes on small locks he intended to attach to hundreds of others already adorning the light standards on the bridge.

Sheehan, an Indian from Mumbai, enjoying the moment with us about buying love locks for the bridge.  He took the diagonal photo.  New photo tips.

 

Our love lock on the pedestrian bridge, Pont des Arts, connected to Sheehan, our new Indian friend’s lock

I offered to take his photo as he attached the lock and before you know it, I am taking videos of him attaching each lock and talking about the love of his life as he does. We got to having a lot of laughs and he insisted on buying a lock for Mark and me to do the same. So, what the hay, we did, and have a video of us writing on a lock, installing it to the same light standard and tossing the keys into the river. With hugs all around, we sent him home to Mumbai happy.  Mark bought me a bunch of tulips from a bridge vendor and we have enjoyed watching the open in our rooms.

Yellow tulips we bought on the pedestrian bridge. The look nice in our compartment and remind us of home.

Back in our compartment, we relax, sip on another whiskey and settle in for the evening.

Mark relaxing in the tiny living room of our compartment.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tuileries Garden with the trees in spring foliage.

Our last day in Paris.  We have another leisurely breakfast and walk through Tuileries Gardens to Musee Orangerie to see Monet’s lilies. I remembered them from years ago and wanted to see them again.  This was our only museum stop and it was not a large one.

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies in the Musee Orangerie in Tuileries Gardens.

The lilies were as wonderful as I remembered.  The 2 oval halls, which contain the 8 panels, have been built to Monet’s  specifications, including a vestibule to create a space between the noisy world outdoors and the peace the Lilies evoke.

Monet’s lilies are presented in 2 oval settings. This is the first.

 

Close up of the water lilies. The brush strokes can be seen.

There is no horizon, no sky, no people, no ground. The elements seem to merge in a composition without perspective.

Weeping willows with clouds

A close up in the willow oval.

The flowers create a rhythm, an image of nature evoking infinity, peace and harmony.  The First oval contains only lilies and water.  In the second oval room, Monet has included weeping willow trees.   Together the 2 rooms evoke a sense of the different times of the day-from sunrise in the east to sunset in the west.   Monet first conceived the work in 1909 and worked on the panels fro 1914 until his death in 1926.  He considered his Water Lilies the culmination of his life’s work and wrote: “Nerves strained by work would relax in its presence, following the restful example of of its stagnant waters, and, for he who would live in it, these rooms would offer a refuge for peaceful meditation in the midst of a flowering aquarium.”

We arrived early and had few people interrupting our view.  It is a sublime experience I encourage you to visit if/when you come to Paris.   THe museum has a lower level that house works by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Derain and others.  It is a small museum, comfortable to visit without being overwhelming.

Having no other plan, we wandered about the city in the rain.  Each with our own umbrella, we were fine for some time.  Found a lovely outdoor restaurant with heaters and shared a French Onion Soup and Duck liver with chutney and toast.   Not too much food.  After lunch, the rain increased and we decided to go back to our compartment in the Relais Christine.   We enjoyed the cozy space with the cheerful yellow tulips we purchased the day before and settled in.  Mark read and napped and I worked on the blog.  Birds sang in the willow tree outside our third floor windows.

At 7pm, we went out and wandered around the neighborhood in the rain looking for Italian food.  We found a place that had what we each wanted on the menu and went in.  We were the first customers of the day, and had a fun conversation with the waiter, who understood only a little English.  We settled on a rocket and artichoke salad, pizza for Mark and spaghetti a’rabiatta for me.   Just what our stomachs wanted, comfort food.

Back in our rooms, we packed for our 7:30am departure and went to bed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018  My birthday

The yellow tulips Mark bought me.

Mark remembered and even gave me a card.  Very sweet of him.  I took the yellow tulips down stairs and left them at the front counter for other guests to enjoy.  We had breakfast and met our airport driver.  We enjoyed the  one hour drive through and out of the city to Charles de Gaulle Airport and checked in at British Airways for our flights to London and then San Francisco.   I will have a long, but mostly uninteresting birthday and arrive in SFO at 9pm still on the 10th.

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam and Stuttgart

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Back in the first world at 6:30am, we stop for a quick coffee in the airport as we have a few minutes to kill before our driver arrives to takes us to our hotel, the Pulitzer, on one of the canals near the old part of Amsterdam. We have just enough time to clean up before meeting our guide for the day, Tricia Robbins, at 9am. It was a good thing we had slept on the plane as she kept up a running commentary about the history of Amsterdam that made my head spin.

One of 2 remaining wooden houses in Amsterdam from 1550.

Small entrance to a hidden Catholic Church, near the wooden house above. During the Protestant era from 1578 until 1848, Catholics were not allowed to worship in public.

Interior of a hidden Catholic Church. Still in use today, although no longer hidden.

I take lots of notes to help keep up, but there is way more to Dutch history than either of us really wants to remember.
Tricia was delightful, never the less, and we enjoyed her company very much.

A row of bent houses. Some lean forward to allow easier access for furnishing to the upper floors. Hooks protrude from the tops of the buildings to allow pulleys to provide assistance. Some lean sideways as the wooden
pilings under them have shifter.

We walked all through the old city looking at different buildings and neighborhoods in a light, but cold, rain during the morning.

The skinniest house we saw. Only about 6 feet wide and three stories high. Can’t imagine who could live in it. It exists because people pay taxes according to the number of meters that front on the street.

We learned there are 850,000 people in Amsterdam and 880,000 bicycles. She, for example has three. One for going for groceries and errands, one for carrying her child and one for pleasure riding. Most people do not own a car. People have become very creative in finding ways to keep their bikes from being stolen. One of which is to have a really old, rusty-looking bike. We see hundreds like that.
The water in the canals is very clear these days due to stringent sanitation, however it is still brown due to silt in the water and bikes. Apparently, people toss their old bikes into the canals as the easiest way to dispose of them. The city fishes out about 15,000 each year.

The Dutch were and still are merchants first and foremost. The 13th century city was founded by the Spanish and was Catholic until the 16th century, when Martin Luther and others began to protest the excessive wealth of the Church, while its members were largely very poor. The protests eventually led to Amsterdam becoming a Protestant city in 1578. Catholic churches were banned in the city and were turned into Protestant churches. The remaining Catholics were not allowed to practice their religion in public places. Thus began the formation of hidden churches, several of which still remain today. Tricia took us into a couple of them and walked us through residential neighborhoods where nuns had once lived and now were lived in by single women. In 1848 a new constitution was approved that allowed freedom of public religion. Catholics immediately began building huge churches, of which there are now several.

To warm up we stopped at a coffee house for some tea. That sure helped as my fingers were very cold. She suggested we try a traditional Dutch dish of raw herring. It was served with chopped onion and tangy sliced dill pickles at a fish vendor stand. It was delicious. If we lived in Amsterdam, I’m sure we would eat it often.

The Royal Palace on Dam Square. Until 1806 it had been the Town Hall. It became the palace when Louis Bonaparte and his wife Hortense move in. It is still used for state affaires.

Tricia told us much more about the history of the monarchy and how a French Prince, William of Orange, became the popular Dutch leader or Stadtholder and helped the Dutch fight against the over controlling Spanish King, Charles V. When Napoleon Bonaparte absorbed the Netherlands in the early 1800’s, he installed his brother, Louis Napoleon, as king in 1806. Louis became very popular and in 1810, Napoleon jealously replaced Louis with himself and was king until the Battle of Waterloo in 1915. At that point, the stadholder position was permanently replaced with a king, starting with William I. By then, we were standing next to the Royal Palace on Dam Square, where Louis and Hortense Bonaparte lived during his 5 year reign. It had been the Town Hall until the Kingdom was instituted and is now used for royal banquets and social affairs. The statue in the triangle above the building is the Amsterdam City Maiden.

In front of the house Anne Frank hid in for 2 years before her family was betrayed.

We walked by Anne Frank’s house where very long lines of people waited to see the inside. I was glad I had seen it years ago and Mark was happy with a photo by the front door. We also stepped into a small store called the Mouse Mansion. It contained multiple, large hand made constructions of imagined dwellings for mice, primarily a couple named Sam and Julia. It was very charming to see the various “mansions”, meet the daughter of the creator and see copies of the 11 or so mainly children’s books about the mouse characters, Sam and Julia, that have been written.

Then Tricia took us to a place to get some lunch. We selected a couple of hot cheese dishes she recommended. OK to try, but not our cup of tea. After eating, we walked several blocks through a heavy downpour to the trolly and rode it to the Van Gogh Museum.

Self-Portrait 1887. Very colorful with the paint colors laid side by side, but not mixed.

Purple Irises 1889. Although still lovely, the purple has faded to blue. Vincent was not always able to afford expensive paints that would not fade.

Gaugain’s Chair 1888. Vincent found elegant furnishings for the visit of Paul Gauguin to his house in Arles. Painting this chair with a nocturnal atmosphere in mysterious reds and greens was like painting the artist. In contrast he painted his own simple chair in yellows and blues. After 2 months of being together, they fought and parted for good.

1889. While in an asylum, having admitted himself, Vincent creates a scene that evokes the madness of patients with the contrasting red and green colors and inserting a tiny figure in the overwhelming landscape, reinforcing the sense of dread.

Symphony of Yellows. This is the only piece where Vincent painted the frame to go with the art.

Close up of Symphony in Yellow. Many other colors are visible close up.

Flowering Trees 1888.
This is one of my favorites. It does have a Japanese sense to it.

Close up of Flowering Trees

1890. Vincent’s final painting. Unfinished, especially in the lower left. The unrecognizable forms, powerful lines and vivid colors suggest he was a forerunner of abstract art.

It is quite a well laid out exhibition. Tricia kept me moving through the most important works and kept Mark entertained so, we ended up finishing at the same time. That is a first. Tricia was an excellent docent. She told us Vincent, born in 1853, used his 40 self portraits as ways to improve his skill as a portrait artist and to practice experimentation. He had no money to hire models and painting himself was free. His brother, Theo, born in 1857, managed to give Vincent an allowance for several years, which allowed him to continue his experimentation. From the age of 27 for 10 years, he painted over 900 pieces. It was Theo’s son, also named Vincent, who started the Van Gogh Foundation with most of Vincent’s art and all his letters and notes, which had been left to Theo. The Foundation now operates the Museum and manages the display of paintings and Vincent’s writings and letters. Vincent was shot and died two days later in 1890. It remains unclear how he became shot. Theo died of syphilis only 6 months later in 1891. According to Tricia, Vincent painted what he saw. He did not paint from imagination as his friend Gauguin did. This was at least part of the difference between the two contemporaries. Following are photos of several of Vincent’s paintings. Hope you like them as I do. We took a taxi back to the Pulitzer and bid Tricia farewell. If only every guide could be as interesting, educated and fun as she is.

We had dinner in the hotel and were happy to dive into bed after a long day with not so much sleep on the plane the night before. Good thing we are not yet old. Hmmmm.

 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Waiting for the 8:02 train to Stuttgart. It was freezing cold and windy. We wondered why the train doors would not open so we could go inside. Brrr.

Up and our early again. We catch the 8:02 train from Amsterdam to Stuttgart. Mark clocks our top speed at 178mph between Cologne and Stuttgart. The ride was quiet and smooth and the train very clean. We skillfully negotiated a train change in Mannheim. Then, off the train and out of the Stuttgart station at 12:30, a taxi driver tells us we should walk the short distance, even though it is raining. We do. However, it is several hundred yards and I am feeling bedraggled when we walk into what is billed as a 5 star hotel, the Am Schlossgarten, looking like drenched vagabonds.

The entrance to the Mercedes Benz Museum. The sight of the place filled us with anticipation.

After checking in we took a taxi to the Mercedes Benz Museum and spent 2 full hours walking down and around and through the well laid out exhibition in a very futuristic building.  We managed to stay together most of the time as we had audio guides that kept us in sync. I was fascinated by the overall presentation and enjoyed the walk.  Here are a few of our favorite cars.

1902 Mercedes-Simplex 40PS is the oldest Mercedes still in existence. Called Simplex because it was relatively easy to handle for the period.

 

1939 Mercedes-Benz 320 Stromlinien-Limousine was a streamlined sedan. They were the most stylish means of travel for comfort and safety.

The rear compartment opening of the MB 320 sedan.

 

 

One of several showroom floors in the MB Museum.

 

1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K Spezial-Roadster was the car of the rich and beautiful. It was the brand’s show piece of the 30’s and its most expensive, at $28,000 Reichsmark (roughly $98,000 Euro in todays currency.)

 

1907 Milner-Daimler Doppeldeckerbus.  The bus was used in London from 1904 on. By 1907, here were 400 in use including this one.

 

1954 Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet A was launched as an exclusive top-of-the-range model with a sporty touch and a more powerful engine.

 

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR “Uhlenhaut-Coupe” was to have been a racing car, but the company stopped its motorsport activities and instead, the car was used by the head of the Test Department, Rudilf Uhlenhaut, as a company car.

Later, for dinner, we stayed in our 5 star hotel, provided courtesy of Mercedes-Benz for buying a car from their factory, and dined in their Michelin Star restaurant, called Die Zirbelstube.  We called it our joint birthday celebration.   We are between our 2 birthdates, the trip has been an incredibly successful adventure and we are about to take delivery of a new car.   The restaurant was elegant with knotty pine walls and starched white linens on the tables along with crystal glassware and sterling flatware. We chose the 3 course meal rather than the typical 7 course dinner, similar to the one we had enjoyed in Croatia when we were there. We were not very hungry and we did not want to spend three hours having dinner. Our first course consisted of two kinds of raw Hamachi that were beautifully presented in two ways. Our main course was boneless pigeon served with mango wrapped around a soft filing we could not name and a delicious sauce. Dessert was fig served with goose liver pate, served three ways. It all tasted delicious and was quite enough for us.

Friday, April 6, 2018

At 8am we leave the hotel for our date at the Mercedes Sindelfingen Factory to pick up our new car. Everything goes smoothly and by 9am, we have seen the car and accepted it per our specifications.

The delivery area where 300 cars a day are handed over to their new owners. Mine is in the left foreground and looks splendid.

 

My new SL 550. Ain’t she a beauty! I hate to touch her and just walk around staring.

It is quite a beauty sitting in the large room where all the cars to be delivered this day are parked waiting for their new owners to claim them. After all the paper work is done, we wait for the Factory tour to begin at 10:30 and share the experience with way too many people, 40 at least. We get the most out of it that we can and I do pick a few factoids from the guide. In 2017, 310,000 of the E and S class model cars were made in this 3 square kilometer factory, along with a few other models such as the Maybach. The factory opened in 1915 and was bombed to bits in 1945 by allied forces before being rebuilt. 250-300 cars are handed over to people like us on a daily basis. Our car was brought here from a different factory where the model SL’s are made. It had 20 miles on it.

There are 35,000 employees in addition to 5000 robots, which do many different tasks. 28% of the work force is foreign, 33% are women, 5.4% are disabled and hired per German law. Mercedes has a training Center where 750 students study for 3.5 years to become employees of the company. They have over 3000 applications per year for the 250 annual openings. Employees do not leave, but can be repositioned within the company.

10% of the cars are right-hand drive, 10% are manual shift. Each car travels 45 kilometers within the factory from start to finish. 90 train cars and 1200 truck loads of parts arrive per day for a “just on time” delivery system. 80% of the 8-10,000 parts per car are produced in Germany. 30% are produced by Mercedes Benz and 70% by 1200 suppliers. The guide would not tell us the exact number of cars produced per day, but we calculated between 14 and 1700, based on other details he did share.

After the 1.5 hour tour we drove the car to the shipping handler about a kilometer away from the factory. We managed to get disoriented and put 5 miles on the car before finding the place. Am sure glad we did not choose to drive the car around the country.

The shipper ordered up a taxi. We took one last look at the car and headed for the Porsche Museum on the other side of Stuttgart. It was in a very futuristic looking building too. Inside, we had a nice lunch and a pleasant walk through the exhibition. There were a lot of racing cars that neither of us had any interest in and a number of 911’s from every year they have been made. That history was mildly interesting, but neither of us took any photos. We went through the museum in less than an hour and grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, arriving mid afternoon.

The futuristic Porsche Museum.

 

The only Porsche photo I took was this one out side next to the building.

Our hotel, it turned out, is very centrally located. Not only is it close to the train station, it is next to a city park, and a major shopping district along a main pedestrian street called, Konigstrassa. We started wandering toward the park and ended up walking to the end of Konigstrassa. Just to have a goal, we looked for the local Escada clothing store, but were distracted by a quality bedding store, learned that Escada had closed its Stuttgart location and purchased comforters and covers for them instead. Why bother you ask? Well we have found that we like having our own individual comforter, but have not been able to buy them in the states. We purchased our first set in Prague after appreciating separate comforters in Iceland and wanted a second set for our lake house. Here was our opportunity. Once we had made that purchase we had to buy a suitcase. So we found the local luggage store and bought a lightweight bag. We squished everything into it and rolled it back to the hotel, pleased with our purchases. Aside from a single strand of beads I bought at the street market in Chad, we have not purchased another souvenir or piece of art. We will make good use of these comforters and have a new suitcase
too.

For dinner, we walked back through the park to a very popular watering hole, called Carl’s Brauhaus and had German food and beer amid the crush and bedlam of so many people intent on having a loud, as well as good, time. To be seated timely, we agreed to share a table with 2 other couples. The food was just ok, but the beer was really good.

 

The last of our DRC adventures

Continuation of Monday, April 2,  2018 

The public space at Mikena Lodge

Back at Mikena Lodge, we cleaned up and had breakfast and free time until 11am.  The neighborhood Blue and Colobus monkeys were very busy dropping fruit and shit from the trees overhead.  Our table was the recipient of the latter during breakfast.

A Blue monkey with full cheeks.

A Colobus monkey. They have long white tails that would make good dusters.

Our plan for the day was to fly north up the western Rift Valley to Lake Edward and go for a game drive.  We lift off at 11am and enjoy a fun fight up the valley. 

A lovely white water spring creek.

A clear spring water course with a small rapid.

Hamish flies low, banking tightly over small crooked rivers of fresh water from numerous springs and between the trees giving us close up views of crystal clear cascading waterfalls. 

We weaved our way along the water course.

Following the water below the tree tops.

We cannot wipe the smiles of delight off our faces.  Watching closely, we spot the odd hippo with just its nose and eyes breaking the surface.  The spring water gives way to a brown river and soon we are flying up the eastern side of Lake Edward. 

A parade of elephant leaving the lake shore.

A herd of buffalo.

Midway up lake we spot elephant and buffalo from the air and land in the far northern part of Virunga National Park, where we have now been since we left Goma.   

A male Cobb standing proud, curious and unafraid.

A female Cobb with three large wart hogs.

Eric, our  guide with a Land Rover picks us up and off we go looking for birds and game and a place to have the lunch we brought from Mikena Lodge.  

A fairly common Spur Lap Wing.

We spot water buck,

A male Water Buck

Spur Lap Wing birds and, a new one for me,  the little pale-brown shore bird with an orange head and bright, white eye stripes, called Burchell’s courser. 

A Burchell’s courser.

It is very warm in the valley and the spot we had planned for lunch had been taken over by a swarm of bees so the only other shade the guide would consider for a lunch sight is the Kyangoro Ranger Station, where 22 rangers live while they protect Virunga Park from poachers. 

A ranger guard keeping an eye on our truck.

Conditions are not very comfortable, but the rangers don’t seem to mind.  We eat a delicious lunch of medium-rare, beef tenderloin, potato salad, fresh greens and beer in a round, wooden dining structure.  Once outside the station enclosure, our guide drives off road looking for animals in the flat, open grassland.   

Topi. We have never seen so many in one place.

The most unexpected and prolific animal we see is a large, coffee colored antelope called Topi.  We have seen a few of them in our travels through African game parks, but never in large numbers.   Here we saw several herds of them with many babies.  They are a very pretty animal. 

Saddle Billed Stork. Good looking birds that are easy to spot.

We spotted a large saddle-billed stork standing in a small water hole, large herds of buffalo, several families of wart hog; groups of small, tan colored Cobb antelope and a few elephant in the distance. 

Cape buffalo keeping an eye on us.

We are surprised that the animals were not very disturbed by our vehicle. 

A baby surrounded by a protective family.

They did not run way from us the way they had in Zakouma National Park in Chad.  Gradually we make it to the Ishasha River, near the edge of the lake, in search of hippo.  We see well over a hundred of them lounging in small pods in the shallow water.  We get the hoped for grunts and groans from them and a few move about and pose for us.   

A hippo giving us the evil eye.

Wow! A hippo and a buffalo keeping company.

But not for long. This is the hippo’s domain.

Although we are told there are cats and other predators in the park, we see none.   The park is in a slow recovery after years of uninterrupted poaching during the war years. It is clearly a super place for Savannah animals and everyone hopes the game will return.  Back in the helicopter we return to Mikena Lodge with more up close and personal flying.  At one point Hamish flies us close, up the flank of an extinct volcano only to drop back down the side with a whoosh.  We all giggle in delight.  

We have been in Virunga National Park for five days and four nights with Hamish and the helicopter, 5Y CCP.  Our center of activity has been Mikena Lodge, from which all the park’s tourist accommodations are managed by a capable woman named Julie.  We stayed at the lodge 2 of the 4 nights.  Tchegera Island is also in the park and managed by Julie.  It is the only part of Lake Kivu in the park.  The shelters at the top of Nyiragongo Volcano are also under her management.  Based on our report of conditions there, she immediately sent a man up the volcano to make repairs.   

The four of us, Hamish, Noriko, Mark and I, share one last meal together and comment on how much we have enjoyed all our experiences and, most especially, our Congo adventures with Hamish and the helicopter.  Hamish tells us we will have about 20 flights for almost 12 hours of air time by the time we get back to Entebbe and that there is room for one additional flight, if we want.  We can either sleep in in the morning or go for a sunrise flight back over the active volcanos.  Silly question!  

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

We meet at 6am for our last fly about to the active volcanoes. 

Early morning mountains in the mist.

Unfortunately, the weather does not cooperate and we are unable to get to Nyiragongo at all. 

Nyrigongo Volcano still in the mist, but sending up steam.

Hamish flies us over some old volcanos and then over the moonscaped Nyamulagira.  It started erupting in 1882 and has erupted 34 times since then.  The last big eruption was in 1994.  In 2001 there was a flank eruption.  No more top eruptions are expected.   From there, we headed for the tallest volcano, Mt. Makina.  We had flown around it once, but not made it to the top due to cloud cover. 

THe top of Mt Mikena opens to us.

This morning the flanks are clouded up, but the top is clear and Hamish gets us up close and over the top for some wonderful images. 

We can see bits of snow clinging to the steep hillsides of Mt Mikena.

There are even patches of snow near the top of the 14,000 foot peak, where the temperature was 39 degrees.  Back down the mountain, we fly over lava fields and fertile countryside and spend 45 minutes in the air.  Back at Mikena Lodge, we have breakfast and pack for our last flight out of Mikena to Entebbe.

Good bye to our nice cottage at Mikena Lodge.

We have all taken turns being in the front seat and this time it is Noriko’s turn to be front.  We arrive at Goma at 11:45am.  Hamish leaves us at the helicopter while he negotiates the Congo departure procedures.  That took an hour.  Then we headed toward Bwindi.  We had hoped to fly low over Scott Kellermann at the Bwindi Community Hospital and wave to him, but the sky over the Impenetrable Forest was in total clouds and rain.  So instead, we flew 30 miles out of our way through heavy rain just to avoid the worst of the weather.  Then it was direct to Entebbe.  

After 2 hours we made our last landing and were met by Hassan, the friendly Entebbe Airport handler who had helped us on our arrival days earlier.  We took his information so we can use his services again when we come back in September.  We said our good byes to Noriko, who was headed for the lounge to wait for her flights back to Japan.  Hamish joined us at the Protea Hotel, 5 minutes from the airport.  We were assigned a day room in which to relax until 9pm.  Hamish was next door and staying overnight.  He planned to fly back to Kenya early the next morning.  We said good bye to him and thanked him profusely for providing us with such a wonderful experience and such masterful flying.   Then we showered and ordered room service.  Mark had a big fat hamburger and I had pasta and a salad.  Comfort food for both of us.  I finally had good wifi, uploaded several photos into the last Cameroon post and sent it off, as well as the Congo information post I had written weeks prior.  That felt good.  At 9pm, we headed back to the airport and our nonstop KLM flight to Amsterdam.  We slept nearly all the way and woke up in time for breakfast and landing.

More in Virunga National Park, DRC

Hopefully, this map will help you get oriented with our Congo travels.

The area of our DRC adventures. Lake Kivu and Goma are near the bottom.  The ink dot on the lake just left of Goma represents Tchegera Island.  Mikena Lodge is in Rumangabe, north of Goma on the red road.  Just left of that is Nyamulagira Volcano at 3299 meters.  To the right of the road, at 4437 meters with no name listed, is Nyiragongo Volcano.  We also flew up valley to the right shore of Lake Edward for our game drive, still in Virunga National Park.

Sunday April 1, 2018   Easter

Happy Easter.  Here on this tiny tropical island in Lake Kivu in the Congo, it does not feel much like our most religious event of the year, but I spend some time gratefully contemplating the Risen Lord anyway.  

Our tent on Tchegera Island with the helicopter in the background.

Then we are off for an early morning flight along the western side of  the very placid Lake Kivu, which is 80 miles long and 20 miles wide. 

A small fishing village with the three boat catamarans.

The land around the lake is very fertile, with small fishing villages doting the shoreline.  Home made, three hulled, catamaran style fishing boats provide stability and extra room for fish. 

An old Belgian estate home.

Here and there along the shore, are aging, once stately and grand, homes that belonged to rich Belgians when the country was a Belgium colony before independence in 1960.  

Another one of many fishing villages on Lake Kivu.

After awhile we turn away from the lake and fly over huge lava fields, both raw and recent (2011 and 2014) and older (2001 and earlier), where vegetation is pushing through the lava. 

Lava flows from different eruptions. Easy to see which is new and which is old.

Hamish gently lands on an active shield volcano named Nyamulagira that is 10,033 feet high. 

The moonlike landscape on Nyamulagira Volcano.

It feels like we are aliens who have landed on Mars in our space ship.  No footprints anywhere, except ours. 

Us in a field of dead tree trunks.  And yes, we are cold in this high, windy scene.

Burnt remains of trees, black pumice and jagged rocks cover miles of undulating surface interrupted by small steam vents that warm us as we pass near them, until we reach the edge and peer into the abyss.  The crater walls are multicolored from different exposed minerals. 

Steam vents through the pumice and jumbled rock surface.

A rocky outcrop.

Up close the cold lava folded into interesting shapes.

 

We three musketeers, still together after 2 1/2 weeks of awfully wonderful adventures.

Steam rises from many large vents that interrupt our view.  We each head out in different directions to see what we can find, while, back at our space ship,

Coffee and biscuits on the moon.

Hamish sets out biscuits and hot, French press coffee on a small table. Together we share the other worldly experience.  

Our ship lifts off and we make one last circle around the edge of the crater so we can see the bottom.  There is no red lava, but many large steam vents.   Hamish turns us toward Nyiragongo, the 11,385 foot high starts volcano for a look at its awesome lava lake from every side and angle and the 12 cliff hanging A frame shelters where we will be spending the night. 

Approaching the rim of Nyiragongo Volcano.

Getting closer to the rim.

 

The “helicopter pad” landing sight. The shelters are high on the right corner.

It is pretty daunting to see how steep and jagged the climb will be even from the short distance to the top the helicopter pad will provide.  Soon we are back to the island for breakfast and time to relax and contemplate the coming adventure.  

After a large lunch of lamb chops with mashed eggplant, carrots and another dense chocolate mouse,  Mark and I went for a swim in the lake and prepared a small pack for our overnight adventure on Nyiragongo.  We can see the volcano from the island and watch for a cloud free window to open.  From the time we lift off the island at 4:10pm until we land on the volcano, berely 10 minutes pass. 

Coming in for our landing on the volcano.  Porters wait to help with our gear.

We climb from 5,200 feet to 11,000 feet and the temperature drops from a balmy 80 degrees to 50.  The landing sight had been painstakingly carved out of the jagged volcanic rock wall and is just large enough for Hamish to find a perch.  He admits to an adrenaline rush and heightened attention.  He is, for certain, an expert with the helicopter and makes his effort look natural and easy.  

We finally make it to the rim. It took two men and all their strength to get me up toe steep, rocky slope.

Once firmly in place we begin the short, but difficult hike up the rest of the mountain to the peak.  It took two porters more than 20 minutes to help me up the short, but steep rocky mountain wall to the jagged top. 

We enjoy piping hot mugs of soup in the canteen, in spite of the rain.  The wood is too wet for a fire.

After a brief look at the lava lake, we set up our sleeping bags in the shelters, one for Hamish and Mark and one for Noriko and me.  We were the last of the 23 people staying overnight to arrive.  Everyone else had made the 5 and a half hour hike up the mountain and already taken the good shelters, each of which was 6 by 9 feet with a small door at one end.  The door to ours was broken, so we swapped shelters with the boys. 

Me at the rim in the rain. The view is still incredible.

 

The world’s largest lava lake shows us its grandeur.

Back up at the peak, we enjoyed the view of the world’s largest lava lake, heard the pops and rumbles it makes and felt a bit of the tremendous heat it puts out.  Mark learned that there are 282 million cubic feet of lava in this crater.   For a brief time, the experience was sublime.

As we watched it began to rain.  We hoped it would be short lived, but it was not.  Hamish fetched ponchos he had brought and we put them on, although we were already wet.  There are 12 shelters on 3 levels, with the canteen being in the top row next to the ridge.  We carefully walked over the jagged rocks to it and received a large mug of very hot squash soup from the white-coated chef – a nice touch in spite of the outlandish location.   We, along with several others, huddled under the overhang of the shelter next to the canteen and tried, unsuccessfully, to stay dry.  Dinner was to come later, but only Hamish stayed up for it.  The rest of us went back to the ridge to watch the lake glow red in the dimming light.  We watched until it was totally dark and we were all soaked and getting cold.   We had our torches with us and Mark helped me down to our shelter on the 3rd and lowest level.  It was only 7:30, but there was nothing to do but get out of our wet clothes and go to bed. 

Noriko takes a photo of me in our small, leaky shelter. It was a long night.

Noriko and I considered the long night ahead on thin mattresses in strange sleeping bags in the cold, pitch black A frame shelter at 11,000 feet and accepted our fate.  Quickly, we peed near the shelter with our ponchos still on and used our torches to organize ourselves in the tiny space.  Once in bed, it took awhile to find a comfortable position and warm up.  Soon, I heard Noriko’s soft breathing and knew she was asleep.  I laid there listening to the rain.  Finally, there was a lull and I quickly put on my shoes and stepped out into the dark to find a place to pee again.  When I got back inside, it was 9pm.  Back in the bag, I settled onto my good ear and was soon asleep myself.  About 1am, Noriko was up and moving all around the space and finally woke me up to tell me the shelter was leaking and her bed was all wet.  She did not know what to do and I could only offer my extra pair of dry socks, which I had brought jus in case I needed them.  I, luckily, was not in the path of the leak and was snug as a bug in a rug.   As I drifted back to sleep, she was sitting up and trying to stay dry, though not warm or comfortable.  Eventually, she moved her mattress next to mine and curled up in the top half of her bag, which was not wet.  At 5:30, someone banged on our door and said breakfast was ready. 

We wasted no time in getting dressed in our still wet clothing and getting out of the shelter.  Gratefully, the rain had stopped.  

 

Monday, April 2, 2018  

 I hiked back up to the ledge and looked down into the lava lake one last time. 

Looking over the shoulder of a hiker. We share the experience one last time.

It was still reddish in the early morning light.  Then back at the canteen, I had a coffee and some toast with a piece of cheese.  Having gone all night with only a cup of soup, I was hungry.  Everyone was packing up to head down the hill. 

Bosco, the porter who helped me up the hill, showed up to help me down. Noriko’s porters have already started helping her.

Apparently others had also had unpleasant, wet nights and wanted to get to hot showers and clean, dry clothing as soon as possible. 

The hikers begin their long journey down the volcano. The helicopter looks far away.

As we negotiated the cliff face back to the helicopter, several folks wished they could fly away with us.  I could not blame them.  Once Hamish lifted us off our perch, we floated down the mountain and back to Mikena Lodge for hot showers, clean clothes and breakfast, all before the hikers were barely an hour from the top with 4 more hours to go.  Having a helicopter at our disposal is an incredible treat we will never forget.  

Mark makes it to our bird first.  The tail hangs off the edge.

We begin our awesome visit in the DRC

Friday, March 30, 2018 Good Friday

Hamish Rendall, our pilot, Julia, Mark and Noriko, our companion since the beginning in Chad.

We make it into the Pretoria Hotel in Entebbe at 2:30am and fall into bed. Up again at 7:15 and look out our window at Lake Victoria. It would be lovely to relax by the pool and enjoy the view for a day, but we have a breakfast meeting with our pilot at 8am. As tired as we all are, we are also exited to be traveling by helicopter for the next 5 days. Our pilot is a young man named Hamish Rendall, who is from New Zealand and very experienced as a helicopter pilot.

In position for our first flight in 5YCCP.

The plan for the day is to fly to Goma, and immigrate into the DRCongo, the fly to Mikena Lodge where we have accommodations in Virunga National Park.

Flying over islands of papyrus in Lake Victoria as we fly south along its NE shoreline

The fertile Ugandan countryside.

The dense Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is aptly named. This scene is of the eastern edge.

This is typical landscape near Buhoma and Bwindi where the Kellermann Foundation has its facilities.

All goes well. We fly at 4500 feet most of the way until we need to climb to 10,500 to get over the volcanic hills near Goma. Unlike Cameroon, nearly every foot of the landscape below us is fertile, until we reach national forest preserves.

Approaching the international airport in Goma, DRC

At Goma, we receive visas and are stamped into DRCongo in about an hour. We do not even go into the building. Hamish takes care of the details and then flys us on to Mikena Lodge.

Close up of a street in Goma.

 

We land on a grass clearing near the lodge in time for lunch. The temperature is very comfortable, even though we receive an afternoon shower while eating.

In front of our cottage at Mikena Lodge

Mark and I have a large private bungalow with its own fireplace and sitting area.

Inside our cottage at Mikena lodge.

A large deck provides a view of the forest along with blue and colobus monkeys munching on fruit in the nearby trees. In the afternoon we walk to the orphan gorilla sanctuary near the lodge and are saddened at the conditions and lack of freedom the 4 current orphans experience. However, they would not survive if they were returned to the wild. Then we finally have time to rest. We all needed it. The shower is glorious with plenty of hot water and big towels. The food at the lodge is reasonably good, even if unremarkable. The bed wonderful.

Saturday, March 31, 2018 Holy Saturday

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for our helicopter adventures. First up was a fly by of an extinct volcano called Mikeno.

Midway up Mt Mikena. The top is in the clouds.

At 14,547 feet high it is the second highest of the 8 volcanos in the region and the highest in the Congo. We spiraled our way around and up near the top, which was shrouded in a cloud, and saw stands of giant heather and lobelia at the higher elevations.

Then we continued to our date with the gorillas. Landed at the entry point called Jumba (which had been the M23 Headquarters during the Congo war), at the edge of the forest,

Landing spot at Jumba. Children watching us arrive to go gorilla trekking.

Noriko and I being briefed by he head gorilla tracker, Innocent.

got a briefing about how to behave around gorillas, then hiked only about 20 minutes to where the gorillas were hanging out for the day. Could not have asked for a better situation.

We were supposed to have only an hour with the 18 member Voiyukura Group, but they were so relaxed and so were we that the ranger allowed us to stay with them for an hour and a half. The trackers hacked away at the greenery around the animals and we were able to get some pretty nice photos.  Here is a gallery of several,  as I like them all.

The 500+ pound silverback strikes a pose.

There was one dominant silverback, several females, 2 small babies and several young and playful children. Several times we had to back away as they came very close to us. One even ran between my legs before I realized he was behind me. It was a delightful time for all of us. Even Hamish found the experience unusually pleasant.

Some of the children at Jumba station. These were the girls.

Back at Jumba, we found ourselves surrounded by children who had come to see the helicopter. Several photos later, we lifted off and headed back to Mikena Lodge, lunch and a couple hours of free time.

View from the air of the lave lake inside Nyiragongo Crater

In the late afternoon we flew to Nyiragongo volcano to have a look at the lava lake from the air and check out the landing and shelter situation.

Our first look at the shelters clinging to the cliff of the volcano.

I was not very comforted by seeing what is to come. However, I said nothing and on we flew to the tiny, crescent moon shaped, Tchegera Island near the NW end of Lake Kivu. There we spent the rest of the day and night in what felt like a rustic luxury resort. Very peaceful.

Tchegera Island in Lake Kivu. We land on the tiny grassy patch in the upper right of the image, where the halves of the island meet.

Our spacious tent is just a few feet from the lake’s edge, has a fully functioning bathroom and comfortable beds. That evening we watch the full moon rise over the lake while sitting next to a fire on the small black sand beach and sipping on a scotch. After lamb chops for dinner and a very dense chocolate moose, we happily trundle off to our cozy tent and a good night’s sleep.

The steaming Nyiragongo volcano as seen from our island retreat only 10 minutes away by helicopter.

 

About the Democratic Republic of the Congo

It is now April 3rd.  Mark and I are at the Protea Hotel in Entebbe, betting ready to leave Africa and head for Amsterdam.  I have nearly finished writing about our time in the Congo and hope to have it completed within a few days.  Meanwhile, here is the chapter about the country that will give you some background.  We are both well and sorry to be leaving Africa.  We have loved our experiences in these three countries in spite of the various difficulties encountered.  Hopefully, you are enjoying reading about them too.

 

About the Democratic Republic of the Congo

There is a lot to say about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I will try to be concise. The country is located in south central Africa with a narrow connection to the Atlantic Ocean via the Congo River, which runs through the entire country and provided the country with its name. It is 1.59 times the size of Alaska and is the second largest country in Africa and the 11th largest in the world. It is bordered by nine countries: the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia to the south; Angola to the southwest and the Republic of the Congo and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. With a population over 78 million, it is the most populated officially francophone country, the fourth most-populated nation in Africa and the 17th most populated country in the world.

It was first settled by humans about 90,000 years ago, as proven by found artifacts. Bantu people settled in the region in the 5th and 10th centuries. The Kingdom of the Kongo ruled from the 14th to the 19th centuries. In the 1870s, Henry Morton Stanley led the way for European exploration of the Congo under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. Somehow Leopold acquired rights to the Congo in 1885 and made the land his private property. How rude was that? He named it the Congo Free State and allowed, or maybe hired, the colonial military Unit, Force Publique, to force the local population into producing rubber from 1885 to 1908. Millions of Congolese died from disease and exploitation. Finally, Belgium was embarrassed into annexing the Free State, which then became the Belgium Congo. In 1960 the Begium Congo achieved independence under the name Republic of the Congo.  The Belgians fled the country, leaving their large estates behind.

The first elected president and prime minister did not last long as the Army Chief of Staff, one Joseph-Desire Mobutu, gained de facto control through a coup d’etat the same year. In 1965, Mobutu officially took power through a second coup. He changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko and, in 1971, changed the name of the country to Zaire. He ran the country as a one party dictatorship and received considerable support from the USA due to his anti-communist stance during the cold war. In the early 90s, his government began to weaken. Destabilization in eastern Zaire resulting from the Rwandan genocide and disenfranchisement among the eastern Congolese Tutsi population led to a 1996 invasion by Tutsi ruled Rwanda, which began the First Congo War. The war led to the end of Mobutu’s 32 year rule.

In May 1997, Laurent-Desire Kabila, a Tutsi leader, became President. He immediately changed the name back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tensions between Kabila and the Rwandan and Tutsi presence in the country led to the Second Congo War from 1998 to 2003. Ultimately nine African countries and 20 armed groups became involved in the war, resulting in the deaths of 5.4 million people. Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and a week later his son, Joseph Kabila, succeeded him as President. He called for multilateral peace talks. UN peacekeepers arrived and negotiations finally resulted in a peace accord in 2003. By mid year all foreign armies except those of Rwanda, had left the Congo. A transitional government was set up, a constitution was approved and multi-party elections were held in July 2006. The election was disputed and fighting broke out in the capital, Kinshasa. The UN took control of the city. A new election took place in October. Kabila won and was sworn in as President in December, 2006. He set up a commission to reduce corruption and began implementing economic reforms. In spite of his efforts, very little improved for the people.

Conflicts and uprisings continued to take place. In 2009, The New York Times reported that people in the Congo continued to die at a rate of 45,000 per month, due mainly to widespread disease and famine. Reports indicated that almost half of the deaths were children under the age of 5. One study found that more than 400,000 women were raped every year in the DRC. The two wars devastated the country. Together they are considered the bloodiest war since WWII. By 2015, major protests broke out across the country and protestors demanded that Kabila step down. However, he did not step down at the end of his term, as promised, and insists on staying on until elections are held. The date for elections has changed and dragged on. Protests continue. Currently the election is scheduled for December 2018.  No one is optimistic that the election will actually occur or that the results will be satisfying, if it does occur.

Located on the equator, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a tropical climate that produced the Congo River system which dominates the region topographically along with the rainforest it flows through. The river basin occupies nearly the entire country and forms the backbone of Congolese economics and transportation. The river has the second largest flow and the second longest watershed of any river in the world, trailing the Amazon in both respects. The river and a 23 mile wide strip of coastline on its north bank provide the country’s only access to the Atlantic. The volcanically active Albertine Rift passes through the very mountainous northeaster section of the country. Geologic activity created the Great Rift Valley and the chain of African Great Lakes (Albert, Kivu, Edward and Tanganyika). The Rift valley has exposed an enormous amount of mineral wealth throughout the south and east of the Congo, making it accessible to mining. Cobalt, copper, cadmium, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore and coal are all found in in plentiful supply. The Congo is considered the most biodiverse African country and one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources. You can begin to imagine the wealth this country possesses in natural resources that are mostly untapped and not providing jobs or infrastructure or health or education or anything else for the people of the region, whose per capita GDP is nearly the lowest in the world. Such a shame. Its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth 24 trillion, according to Wikipedia.

More of Cameroon

Monday, March 26, 2018, Mark’s 65th birthday.

We woke about 4am to the sound of barking dogs, of which there are 4 in this community. When they finally stopped, the rooster started in. We laid in bed until it was light enough to see. As we wanted to get back to our vehicle before the heat of the day kicked in, we packed up and ate a hurried breakfast of stale bread and hot water with Nescafe. Then we hit the trail without saying good bye to the Dupa, who were still in bed. We left the tents and bedding behind for the porters to pick up and made our way the 4 miles back to our bus. Mark and I checked the clock and noted that we did the walk in 1 hour and 15 minutes with others close behind. Don and Leslie, who both had walking problems, were brought out by motor scooter and arrived almost exactly when we did. By 7:45am we were back in the air conditioned bus and happily on our way back to the village of Poli to pick up fresh ice before heading south on the main road.

While driving we learn from Wandji that the Dupa were originally from Nubia in millennia BC. They moved south and into the hills to avoid Muslim missionaries. They did not want to submit to the Muslim belief system. They wanted to stick to their natural ways and continue with their own beliefs. As animists, they are ancestor worshipers. To them, God is the first ancestor and others have followed. To become an ancestor one must live a long life, have many children and die of natural causes. Women and men can become ancestors.

A road block on the way to Ngaoundere. This machine is cutting and picking up the old pavement to make way for new asphalt. We did not have to wait long, fortunately.

As we drive south we are still in hot dry desert sahel with occasional low hills, scattered trees and scrub. We pass many villages along the roadside. Most have no power. Bore holes with water are a good distance from many people.

Roadside vendors are in front of every village selling everything from tires to tooth paste, watermelon to batteries. Although we did not see any starving people, life in this desolate country does not offer much more than existence, no matter how hard one works to make a bit of money. During the heat of the day, most people can only sit in the shade.

Locally grown cotton waiting to be picked up. It is dirty and full of seeds.

We pass many small to medium sized fields of spent cotton and sorghum. Before the rains come in June, there will be a frantic effort to plant seeds for the next crops, and get the houses re-thatched. Already there is thatch leaning against most huts waiting for the time. As we are still in the northern half of the country, the people are still mostly Muslim.

We stop at the entrance to a National Park that has no animals — they have all been eaten — and share a watermelon and pineapple purchased from a roadside vendor. As we pull away, leaving what we did not eat on a concrete wall, we see boys racing to be the first to get to our dregs. Our empty water bottles are a treasure as well as the fruit. I wished we had left them more.

After days of being in the flats at about 1400 feet elevation, we suddenly begin to climb an escarpment and reach 4000+ feet quickly. Before starting down the other side, we stop to see the view and feel the air. There is no view, sadly, as the haze and smoke from multiple fires block the entire scene, however, the air is a bit cooler. South of the escarpment, we descend only to 3650 feet and level off there. Although we are still in the north, the scenery is beginning to change as we see palm trees, flowering jacaranda trees and other flowering plants.

The town of Ngaoundere, where we had showers in a local hotel, lunch at a place called the “Coffee Shop” and then boarded the train for the overnight trip to the capital city, Younde.

We enter the district and gradually the town of 1 million called Ngaoundere (pronounced Gan de re). The town has nothing of note to offer us, except for the hotel we stop at to take showers. The water was plentiful and hot and the towels were adequate. We all felt much better. Back in the bus we drove to a restaurant called Coffee Shop and had an excellent meal of the local fish called Capitain served in a mushroom sauce. Sounds bad, but tasted really good.

A street vendor peddling cell phones. Everyone is trying to make a buck.

 

.A street scene in Ngaundere with tired looking buildings everywhere.

Took a few pix in the area near the restaurant and then headed for the train station. Although we have First Class Cabins, there is nothing first class about the train. It is filthy everywhere, including the station. Fortunately, we can get into our cabin and shut the door. At least the sheets were clean and we did not have to share our 4 person cabin with anyone.

Walking to the train at dusk.

Unfortunately, there is no AC and we swelter until the train moves. It is packed. There are 2 toilets per car, but only one in our car has water. The good news is we sweat so much we don’t need to use the toilet until the middle of the night, when there is no line.

Muslims praying before boarding the train. We are still in the northern half of the country.

It takes hours before we cool down enough to be comfortable. So much for our nice showers. The train departs exactly on time, 7:15pm, and the ride is 15 hours to our destination, the capital city of Yaounde (pronounced Ya un de), thoroughly in the south. Somehow we got through the night. It was now our third night in a row with less than pleasant conditions and the wear and tear is starting to show.
Mark’s birthday started in a tent on the ground in a Dupa village and ended in a dirty train rumbling toward the capital city.  An unusual 65th birthday for sure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

When we looked out the window in the early morning light, everything was green and lush. What a contrast. The temperature was not as high as in the north, but the humidity was most unpleasant. Hard to say which was worse; very hot, dry air or medium hot, wet air.

At 7:15am we are served a hot omelet, bread and tea or coffee in our cabin. This was a nice touch that had been arranged by Abdul. It was not part of the regular train service. The timing was perfect as we were just beginning to feel hungry. At 9:30 the train stopped at Yaounde.

A crazy taxi lot in Younde, where the population is 3 million and there are more cars than the roads can handle.

The change from country to city was a bit shocking. There were taxis everywhere serving the population of 3 million.

A typical hilly street in Younde.

The city, with 7 hills, was very reminiscent of San Francisco. With many churches and the largest Basilica in Cameroon, the city was 75% Christian and most of that is Catholic.

A panorama of the inside of the Catholic Basilica.

We have a similar, if different bus that takes us on a city tour. First stop is a monastery high on a hill to see the view. However, the haze is still very bad and the view unnoticeable. We walk passed an outdoor set of the Stations of the Cross, with a few people praying. Then we visit the Basilica which was built in 1955 and is not only large, but quite lovely and clean. There is a lovely contemporary statue of the Black Madonna and a photo of JPII on the wall near the altar. He visited Cameroon in 1985.

The Reunification Monument acknowledges the reunification of British and French parts of Cameroon on May 20, 1972

From there we stopped at the Reunification Monument and climbed to the top. Nice to be acting like a tourist for a little bit. The monument was built to honor the reunification of the British and French parts of the country on May 20, 1972. After independence in 1960, the French and British had ruled the country as a Federation between 1960 and 1972. Political positions are very traditionally religious. Paul Biya, is the Catholic President, Yan Philemon is the Catholic Prime Minister, the head of the National Assembly is a Muslim, and the Leader of the Senate is a Protestant, all by tradition.

A typical store in the Craft market.

Abdul, our logistics handler, takes a break while waiting for us to shop. He had a fun personality, even if he couldn’t speak English.

We stopped at a craft market, but the salesman were so pushy, that I got fed up and went back to the bus. There was a mask or two I was interested in considering, but the hassle was not worth the effort.

The craft vendors were relentless, even after I shut the bus door.

Next stop was lunch. We were all ready for something familiar and ordered pizzas and beer. They tasted pretty good, especially with cold beer.

Street vendors are prolific and accommodating. Choose your lazy boy as you drive by. Part of the city is in the background.

A street vendor peddling cell phones. Everyone is trying to make a buck and the streets can get pretty clogged.

It took some negotiating to get us out of the traffic in the city, but finally, around 3pm, we were on National Highway Number 3 headed for Douala, where the port is located. It is the largest and most commercial city in the country. The landscape along the way is lush green forest and even jungle in some areas. The temperature is warm, but bearable.

Along the way, National Route #3, we chatted among ourselves about travel operators and which ones are good for particular purposes. I made a good list to check out for future adventures. Brian, with 176 countries under his belt and an excellent memory, is a real wealth of information. He has been many places I had never heard of – tiny islands especially. Generally, the group is pretty companionable, in spite of the heat and exhaustion we have experienced.  We all noticed the intense 18 wheeler traffic on the road and soon realized we were on the main artery that connects  the port at Douala on the South Atlantic Ocean with the capital and interior of the country.  It is an endless line of trucks with huge tires.

Before getting to Douala, we stop at a hotel called Hostellerie de la Sanaga on the Sanaga River. Our room has a view of the river, is deliciously cold, mostly clean, has a good firm bed, clean sheets, good pillows, plenty of hot water and good pressure and even a box of condoms in the bathroom much to our amusement. We have dinner next door. It was a fish stir-fry that sounded good, but was not what my, stomach wanted and I could not eat it all. Oh well. We were all happy to slip into the first decent bed we had had in 4 nights.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Out before breakfast, we went for a bit of a walk around the property. The river is very wide and large with greenery right up to the bank. The breakfast buffet was not much. Made due with a sweet roll and coffee.

On the way to visit the chimps, we pass a rubber plantation with every mature tree being tapped for its latex.

Waited for box lunches to be packed and finally drove off about 8:20 heading for a orphan Chimpanzee Sanctuary. We drove 1.5 hours over a poor dirt and mud road to get to the river boat that will motor us to the sanctuary. Along the road we passed many houses, all occupied, in various states of dilapidation. Then we came to a check point and entered private property owned by SAFECAM, a French Company that operates large rubber and palm tree plantations. We passed through several miles of palm and rubber trees. Stopped and took a few pix and learned that the Palm trees have 3 products; oil, wine and seed oil used for cosmetics. The rubber trees were being worked by several employees, who looked like colored shadows in the twilight of the vast numbers of trees.

A chimp went up to Mark and raised his hands to be held. Mark could not resist.

Finally we reached the boat launch. Just a small motor boat, but we did not go far up river before we arrived at the sanctuary. We were greeted by a handful of people who were mostly volunteers, who come for 2 week stints to help with spending time with the chimps and managing the facility. There are 9 young chimps currently in the sanctuary ranging in age from 1 to 4 years. At the landing where the volunteers sleep and hang out were two little chimps who hang out there all day.

I delight in a young chimp, named Tomat, hugging me and chewing on my chin.

The slightly older chimps are taken to a clearing in the forest a short distance from the river landing every day from 9am to 6pm. Then they return to the clearing where they are housed during the night.

Don, a member of our group, watches as a chimp methodically unbuttoned and rebutted his shirt.

After removing anything that might be grabbed by a chimp, including our glasses, we walked to the clearing where the chimps were and hung out with them for about 45 minutes. Does not seem like a long time, but it was more than enough for all of us. We had chimps crawling all over. They seemed to delight in unbuttoning our shirts and digging into our pockets to see what they might find. It was fun for awhile, especially hugging them when they came up to you wanting to be held. Very much like holding a furry baby.

Mark gets a surprised 65th BD cake while at the gorilla sanctuary. We all had a bite and left the rest for the chimp staff.

Back at the landing area, we had our box lunches: wonderfully simple ham and cheese sandwiches and fruit. Then, Wandji called me aside to show me the cake they had had made for Mark’s birthday, even though the day had passed. It was a nice touch, even with candles that made 65. We all sang the birthday song to Mark and he proceeded to cut the cake into pieces. We each had one bite and left the rest for the volunteer team. Sure hope they liked it.

Then we were back on the boat, and shortly back in the bus and longly driving to Douala. The highway is full of huge 18 wheelers in both directions 24/7. Several trucks are carrying huge old growth logs. We see log yards with huge piles of same and I realize that the harvesting of timber is happening at a great rate. Sure does not look sustainable to me. The government requires sustainable logging, but no one regulates the business.

Old growth logs being hauled to the port for shipment to foreign markets. Even I, a member of a timber family was saddened to see what appeared to be unsustainable harvesting.

We got stuck near the city and very slowly got around a truck stopped in the middle of the road. Finally, we arrived at the Hotel Sawa, our last Cameroonian home for the night. It is ok, but not as nice as the Sanaga, the night before, although it does have a swimming pool and pleasant grounds. We get to our room, put on our suits and head for the pool. It did feel good to cool off. Then we went back to the room and had a dirty clothes stomp in the bathtub. The place looked like a Chinese laundry when we had everything hanging around to dry. To speed up the process, we had snagged beach towels from the pool area so we could wring things out more.

While our clean things dried, we put on our only dry clothes and went to our farewell dinner with our head guide Willy, whom we had not seen for several days. He took us to a fun restaurant over the river and looking out toward the ocean, Le Dernier Comptoir Colonial. There was a lovely constant breeze. With his help we all ordered a really good meal of a fish called Bar. It was served grilled with plantains. I ate it like I would trout. Delicious. That and a scotch and I was set for a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, March 29, 2018 Holy Thursday

Even though this is our last day and all I want to do is relax and write, we meet Willy at 9am for a city tour and one last lunch.

Original German buildings from the years they were in power in the Congo before WWI.

We drove around the oldest part of the city where we say original German buildings and

Paintings of Heroes of the Resistance, both from the Germans and later from the French.

monuments to Heroes of the Resistances, both German and, later, French. Then we stopped at another craft market. At least we were not pushed around so much at this one, but still had no interest in buying anything.  Finally, we stopped at a restaurant Willy wanted us to try.

Our final meal of a traditional spinach, finely ground nuts and onion concoction served with plantains that Willy wanted us to try. I was not up to it, but others said it was good.

The lunch place was outdoors and unpleasantly warm. Willy planned a traditional Cameroonian meal for us. It consisted of a spinach-like green, with a mild taste, finely chopped, ground nuts and sautéed onions mixed and cooked together. Very tiny Camerones shrimp, which are found in the rivers around the city and from which the name, Cameroon, comes, were served on top of the dish. Mark and I did not stay to eat it, as my tummy was not inclined. Very unlike me. Later, Noriko told us it tasted good and she enjoyed the dish. Oh well.

Back at the hotel we packed up our dry laundry and relaxed in our cool room until time for Noriko and the 2 of us to head for the airport. We leave Douala at 4:30pm for a long, late and tiring trip to Entebbe, with a 3+ hour layover in Kigali. We get into Entebbe about 1:50am.

First Days in Cameroon

Friday, March 23, 2018

After a lovely afternoon and evening at the Hilton Hotel in N’Djamena with internet and wifi and a delightfully clean, cool swimming pool, I was up late on the 21st getting my Chad post out as well as the information post on Cameroon. Shortly after going to bed the cramps hit me and I spent most of the rest of the night in the bathroom. Some anti-diarrheal meds finally curbed the situation, but I was completely exhausted the entire next day.

The drive from N’Djamena to Bangor was long, very hot and bumpy. The bus we were in had no suspension and our driver felt obliged to nearly stop for every bump in the potholed asphalt road. On top of that the AC quit after a short time and we all struggled with the heat. Our new guide, a Spanish native named Willie who has lived in Cameroon for 20 years, wanted to please us with sightseeing stops. All I wanted to do was get to the next hotel and go to bed. However, we stopped for a cluster of Musgum tribal houses, that looked like tall bee hives with stucco finish inside and out. A little later on we stopped for a good sized road side market. I stayed in the bus. Just too hot for me to manage. While in the bus, many people passed by and I got a few photos without having to move. I saw one boy pouring a small portion of what looked like moonshine for an old lady, who drank it right down. Once he saw me watching him he walked away. Wonder how brisk his old lady sales are.

Back on the road it felt like the bumps got deeper and bigger and the bus went slower the further we got from the city. Around 2:45 the driver stopped so he and the other muslims traveling with us could pray. That was only a 10 minute stop. I noticed that no one asked about lunch or for a bathroom stop until 4pm. In spite of drinking lots of water the heat was dehydrating us and we had no appetite. About 4:30 we pulled into the Hotel Moderne of Bongor. Modern it was not. Every one had problems with their room. We had a major hole in the bathtub and had to carefully watch where to stand not to fall into it while taking a shower that had one temperature – tepid. Meanwhile, the water in the sink went directly through the sink onto the floor. Our AC worked when the power was on, but that was intermittent. Dinner, the first of many identical meals provided for us in Chad, consisted of fried chicken cut in strange pieces, fish in a tomato and onion stew, rice, french fries, green salad, dried bread and fresh fruit for dessert. None of us touched the salad, even though we agreed that it looked good. I ate some rice and fruit and went to bed.
Even though the whole hotel was dirty and even the sheets on our bed were not clean, I was too tired to care. I dropped off about 8pm and woke up around 2 when I got hot because the AC was off. Fortunately the power was on, I got the AC going again and dropped off again. Then at 4am the power went off for good. Fortunately the night had cooled down some and we were able to continue sleeping.

This morning, Friday, the 23rd we were all up and at breakfast at 7. Everyone had a tale to tell about their night at the Moderne. I felt grateful to have had a good night’s sleep and be functioning again. Back on the same bus, we pass through Bangor, which was not much of a town, got to the TChad immigration station on the banks of the Logon River and spent a hour waiting for the police to stamp our passports. While waiting, Willie told us the tall statuesque people we were seeing belong to the Massa Tribe, which dominates this part of Chad and Cameroon and are largely fishermen. The women wear skirts and tops made from colorful fabrics that look similar to styles we remembered seeing in Dakar years ago. Once those formalities were over we walked to the edge of the river and climbed into a long, thin motorized pirogue to cross the placid quarter mile wide, but shallow river. At the top of the river bank, we went through another 45 minutes of waiting for the Cameroon immigration police to review and stamp our passports. We were each asked what we did before we declared ourselves retired. We all contemplated fantastical occupations but settled for something plausible when our turn came.

Shortly after 10am, we climbed into a new bus. Wow!   Great AC, good suspension and, even better, a good, dirt road. We passed by many small farms where people were tending vegetable gardens before the day gets too hot. Suddenly we stopped at a new cluster of Musgum Tribal houses. This tribe is made up mostly of farmers and they seem to get on fine with the Massa people. The clothing on the Massa ladies tending these houses, was equally colorful and dressy. One handsome woman gave us a tour of the houses, which are on display for tourists and not inhabited. Current houses are larger and more contemporary.

Toupouri women doing a traditional tribal dance at the culture center near the Chad border.

Not long after that stop we arrived at a small museum and Cultural Center where local dancers from a third tribe, Toupouis, were expecting us and had several performances planned. There were three groups of women dancers and one group of men.

One of the happy dancers and her baby

The women wore costumes and danced to bongo drumming and gourd rattling music. the small male group each played a different antler horn. The sound was quite musical and it was interesting to watch the men play. A small museum of old and not so old artifacts had a few interesting pieces: shields that also function as doors to dwellings and nicely carved iron bracelets caught my eye.

Our next stop was to visit a Sultan,(chief) who was also expecting us and invited us into his home for drinks and sesame seed balls, made with sticky water to hold them together in a ball. Tasty. The Sultan, has been appointed the Administrator of the area and oversees civil disputes. He had several young boys demonstrate their horsemanship to us and showed us a building the Germans built in the 1850’s that he says he will remodel into a nice new palace..…one day. Wishful thinking.

Then lunch at a restaurant near the Sultan’s home. The meal was a copy of dinner the night before, with an avocado and tomato salad we all felt safe eating. Then we hit the road about 2:30 for a long 4+ hour drive to Garoua. At first the road was good and the roadside was free of plastic and trash, but after an hour, as we entered the Moudang tribal area, the road deteriorated and the trash increased until it was nearly everywhere. Am not sure there is any relationship.

About 2 hours into the ride, a sand storm from the south, called a harmatanm, came up that nearly blocked out the light. When it passed, rain began and continued intermittently for over an hour. When it was done the temperature had dropped considerably and we actually turned down the AC. The landscape is still nearly flat with occasional ancient volcanic hills popping up above the terrain. Much of the land has been farmed and the many cotton and millet fields are fallow as the locals wait for planting season, which begins in May, just before the big rains come in June. The same with large bundles of thatch, which are leaning against nearly every building we pass. Everyone gathers the thatch and waits to put it on their roofs until just before the rains. Everyone pitches in and helps each other get the work done. Sure a lot to do just before the rains hit.

After dark we pull into Garoua and make it to the Hotel La Tour D’Argent just in time for dinner, which was…yep…the same as lunch and dinner the night before. I ate some rice and fruit. At this rate I will loose a bunch of weight. Mark is not eating much either. The room is small, but much cleaner that the Modern Hotel the night before and the power and AC work. The bathroom is a trip. When the hotel was built, showers must not have been included in the plans. All the rooms now have exposed plumbing with a hot water heater perched above the shower head. When you are using the shower, the toilet next to it gets wet along with you and the floor. On request we thankfully received a second towel. The double bed we had to share was very firm, so we did not roll into each other. The pillow was equally solid and firm. We were both glad we had our blow up pillows. Except for actually getting too cold, we were comfortable and slept reasonably well.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

By 7:30 I was hungry and glad to have freshly cooked scrambled eggs, bread and coffee. Our new guide, Wandji, arrived in time to tell us what our next plans include. First we will drive 3.5 hours to the village of Poli in the Faro Valley south of Garoua. About 2 hours on potholed asphalt and 1.5 hours over very rough dirt roads to the village. Then we will spend time visiting the Saturday market in the village, before continuing the short drive to Camp Bukaru, where we have lunch and check out our individual round, brick and thatched roof abode, home for the night.

It all came to pass as Wandji said. Along the way to Poli, we bought 6 mangoes for 300 francs (about 75 cents) and passed a couple of police check points with no problems. Abdoul had made sure our papers were in good order. Wandji talked about Cameroon as we drove along. It takes about 1000 francs to buy a good meal, but most people earn only 500 francs a day. In the country people grow their own food to get by. City dwellers are dependent on food coming from rural areas and need a good job to pay for necessities. He thinks that 200,000 francs per month is what it takes to have a home and a comfortable life and believes 40% of the population is able to manage this. Mark and I both question the percentage. Fuel is expensive. Even though Cameroon exports oil, and the government subsidizes it, the cost at the pump is 650 francs per liter, a little over $1.00. In Liberia it is only 200 francs. Primary school is free and compulsory and supposedly 80% of the population is literate. Secondary school is not free, but affordable by many families. The government will provide high school scholarships for students who demonstrate superior ability. What we saw were many empty looking schools and lots of school age kids on the streets and wondered if the problem is lack of teachers and supplies. Meanwhile, health care is not free. Only people with AIDS and pregnant women and small children with malaria receive free medical treatment. Doctors and hospitals are expensive for everyone.

18 wheeler enroute to Poli with soft drinks. Very bad road.

As we neared Poli, the dirt track was a rollercoaster of continuous potholes, that made our ranch roads seem like a superhighway. The only other traffic was an 18 wheeler headed for Poli with a load of soft drinks. Very slowly we followed it until there was just enough room to squeeze around it.

A Mbororo woman at the market in Poli. Notice the tattoos and scarification on her head.

The Poli market was colorful, if not large, and was clearly a place for young people to make contact with each other. It is also a tribe of people that use facial tattoos as a beautification technique.

One of several pretty women at the weekly Poli market, where young people come to socialize.

French is spoken by most as well as tribal languages. Although the country is officially bilingual, we have not encountered any English speakers so far.

Another colorful lady who kept everyone laughing.

We managed to get a few good photos before the heat got to us and we climbed back in the bus, wishing we could spend the night in it. Wandji tells us that 75% of the population in Cameroon is Christian, 25% is Muslim and 100% is Animist.

The camp has 11 cottages and we are the only guests. After a wonderful lunch of hot pasta with meat sauce and fresh watermelon and mango, I finally felt pleasantly full, with no queasiness in my tummy. Now it is nap time until 5pm.

Mark showing a Mbororo boy his photo.

From camp, Abdoul took us for a walking visit to several nomad huts. The people we meet are part of the Mbororo Tribe.

A Mbororo village scene. THe woman is cooking Mealy pop, their version of grits. A typical hut is behind.

Each couple of huts is home to a family and a hundred feet or so from the next family. In each case a woman was busy preparing the evening meal, while kids stared at us and tried to sell us beaded jewelry and the men posed for photos.

A young Mbororo girl and her sibling.

The women are much more reticent about us taking photos even after they see what it looks like.

A teenage girl shows us her tattoos and her scarification that marks her as a Mbororo woman.

The women all have tribal scarification along their hair line as well as facial tattoos. For them it is a mark of beauty. The young women are indeed quite pretty.

A Mbororo mother feeding her baby. I got a photo with a mixed signal.

Mbororo wealth posing in the setting light

Back at camp, our dinner was a spinach and beef concoction that looked OK, but did not sit well with me. I had watched the lady preparing it and cleaning the greens in local water and should have know better. However, I was the only one who had a GI reaction. Back on anti-diarrheal pills. Am sure glad we remembered to bring them. It was a long, hot night. At 5am I was happy to have a cold shower.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Stale bread, jelly and hot water with Nescafe was breakfast. At 7am we gladly departed Camp Bukara. We were in the air conditioned bus only a half hour, but it felt good. Then we began a 4 mile hike to spend the day and night with the Dupa Tribe who live in the hills off the beaten path. We have come a long way for this experience and hope it will be worth the trouble.

Our first encounter with Dupa people. The women are shelling ground nuts and the man is spinning cotton yarn.

After about 3 miles we crest a hill and find three people sitting under a tree. The man is wearing a loose top and shorts and is spinning cotton into yarn. The two women are naked, except for green leaves gathered in front and back at the waist. They sit shucking ground nuts into a large bowl made from a gourd. They seemed unperturbed by our presence and continued their work. We were surprised, but tried to act as if nothing was amiss and waited for the rest of our group and our guide to catch up. Wandji informed us that these were 3 Dupa people who were waiting for us and we were welcome to take photos.

The approach to the Dupa Village

After spending some time with them, we continued our walk to their village, arriving about 10am just ahead of the heat. There we met 20 or so other tribe members and were shown the shady place they had prepared for us to use as a camp site. It turns out Abdul, our logistics guy, knew the tribe and was able to communicate with them and get us invited to spend time with them.

The Dupa VIllage Elder, who claims to be 104, welcomes us to his village.

Although we felt awkward, we were invited to watch the village elder counsel a couple village members, who each paid him with a chicken for his service as a healer. Then he offered to counsel each of us.

The Elder accepting a chicken in exchange for counseling the man about his health.

He showed us one of the tools of his trade; a bowl with water, a few rocks, a sea shell, a piece of cactus and a small ball that floated. He stirred the water and the contents with his finger, pulled out 2 items and handed them to each of us in turn. We held them in our closed palm for a minute and handed them back to him. He returned them to the bowl and swirled it with his finger again and then smiled and motioned to each of us that we were welcome and shook our hands. Silly, but serious to him and his tribe. While he was “counseling” each of us, we were told that he is 104 years old and that he remembered being a porter for the Germans when Cameroon was under their control. We all thought he looked to be a very strong and healthy 50-70 year old at best. No where near 104.

The Dupa Elder, his 15 year old son and the flute player.

He proudly introduced us to his son, who is about 15, also strong and healthy, but still without facial hair. Once he has face hair he will be considered an adult and must leave his parent’s home and form his own family unit, although he does not need to move far away.

Our camp next to the Dupa Village. Took this photo in the early morning.

There being nothing else happening, we organized our lunch of rice and canned vegetables and tuna. Not exciting, but edible. Then we set up our campsite with tents, bed rolls and supplies that had been carried in by people Abdul had hired. We wiled away the day watching the Dupa go about their day.

The process of making Sorgum beer.

One woman, who seemed to be in charge, went about the process of making sorghum beer with jugs of water carried from the nearby creek drainage and sorghum. She poured the mixture into a cloth sieve and squeezed the liquid through the cloth, then added another mixture and did it again, the squeezed the cloth very tightly and emptied the remaining contents into another bowl. She repeated the process over and over until she had make a at least 2 gallons of the beer. Then the beer was heated over an open fire and something I could not identify was added. She stuck her whole arm into the pot to stir the contents thoroughly. It could not have been too warm as it had not cooked very long. Then she scooped a large portion into a bowl for the elder, who slurped it down with gusto. He offered us some, but got no takers. Wandji told us the beer should be left to ferment for several days to give it more kick. Apparently, the family did not want to wait.

It was then mid-afternoon and the village grew quiet as people napped, so we did too. After awhile, I wandered around the village and encountered 3-4 individual family compounds, clustered near the communal space we occupied. The houses, or huts, were each about 12 feet in diameter and made of mud and bricks with pitched straw roofs and a door opening. One such hut was clearly for women and children only. Here there was more activity. The women sat around chatting as they did chores and prepared the evening meal. Everyone appeared to be healthy. Some were even plump. All of them had lovely, lustrous skin, strong muscles and great posture. They were comfortable within themselves and seemed happy with their life style. We learned that they are animist and believe in living in tune with nature, which means that they wear as little covering as possible and live a simple existence using very few things from the modern world. The only store bought items I saw were bullion cubes for flavoring, oil to cook with and cigarettes. They live a day’s walk from the nearest market and can sell and buy goods there.

Fetching water at the nearby creek. They have lined the area with rocks and sand to keep it clean.

There were corrals for their cattle and for fields for raising their vegetables. I wandered all around looking for their source of water, but did not find it until a couple of ladies headed out with empty pots on their heads. So I followed them and sure enough, just where I had not looked, was a small, but clean, clear. cool source of creek water. Each of their gourds looked like it could hold a couple of gallons of water.

Two young ladies returning with water.  We were told that the one woman’s breasts were badly damaged from a fire when she was little.  She is lucky to be alive.

Once they had filled them, using smaller gourds as scoops, the stronger one helped the other lift her gourd onto her head, then hoisted her own gourd and off they walked back to the village, about a hundred yards away.

I watched and smiled as they sautéed onions and bullion cubes in some oil and then boiled water to make mealy pop, the African version of cooked grits we have seen in many countries on this continent. I was very sorry not to be able to communicate with the women. It was clearly a lost opportunity. I can only imagine the stories they could have shared. From our guide we were able to learn that there are 12 families in this small area and 52 Dupa communities like this one with around 1000 people living in the Poli Valley. Infant mortality is high, so the population does not increase much. Their only source of medical treatment comes from the village elder, who offers advice only. There are no school education and no conveniences. They truly live in and with nature.

The Dupa men sharing dinner.

The Dupa ate their meal before dark. The men ate separately from the women and children. Each group ate with their hands from one bowl.

The women and children sharing their evening meal.

After the meal, they brought out their musical instruments and prepared to dance. While they made preparations, we had our dinner of spaghetti with a stewed chicken sauce that was prepared by one of our porters. It was one of the chickens that had been given to the elder by one of the men he counseled. We had been suspicious when we saw a plate of feathers being carried out of the camp area. They certainly killed it quietly as we did not hear a peep from the bird.

The ladies lined up ready to dance.  The one with the green cloth is carrying her baby.

Then the music and dancing began. Their instruments included a drum, a cow bell like gong, a home made flute and their voices. They could make about 4 different sounds or tones. They were not dancing for us, as I originally thought, but for them selves as this is their ceremony for the start of the seed planting season. We were clearly incidental to their activity and they payed almost no attention to us.

The women led the singing and seemed to choose which song and dance would come next.

Dancing the Dupa way.

It was all a bit monotonous to my ear, but the dance steps changed subtly and the songs varied as well. They continued until well after dark with only a small fire for light. Before they were done, we had all retired to our tents at 7:30 and were contemplating how we would get through the night on the hard ground with little water and only nature for our needs. After the music and dancing stopped, about 8:30, the women seemed to get into a row with each other and there was a lot of shouting among them. One of the children broke into tears and the place was a racket for about 30 minutes. Finally, the whole place grew quiet and we settled in for the long night. I took pills to help sleep and actually felt rested in the morning. This was the only day we did not travel and proved to be our most interesting experience in Cameroon.

 

About Cameroon

March 21, 2018

We are off to Cameroon tomorrow and I wanted you to have this background before we leave TChad.  I realize the last post was very long and this one is not short either.   Do take your time reading it and enjoy the process, without having to get hot and sticky.

A rare photo of both of us AND an Elle.  Had to share this image.

Now, About Cameroon

This country is considerably better off than Chad. Primarily the country has been governed better with focus on improved infrastructure, reduction of debt and economics.

First the basics. The Republic of Cameroon is in South Central Africa with access to the Atlantic coast on the Bight (bend in a coast forming a bay) of Biafra on the southwest. Country borders include: Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south. It is about 12% larger than California with a population in 2016 of approximately 23,440,000, compared with California’s 2016 population of 39,250,000.

It is referred to as “Africa in miniature” for its geological and cultural diversity. The natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests and savannas. The highest peak is Mount Cameroon at 13,500 feet. There are hot and steaming plains and rainforest near the ocean to temperate grassy plateaus at 3,500 feet and very hot and dry desert in the north. There are more than 250 languages spoken in the country, providing cultural diversity and making it one of the most linguistically diverse in the world. Cameroon is also known for its native styles of music, particularly Makossa and Bikutsi and for its successful national football team.

Its early known people include the Baka (Pygmies) who were the longest continuous inhabitants. They were hunter gatherers in the southeastern rainforest. Bantu migrants are believed to have originated here about 2000 years ago. The Sao civilization arose in the north around Lake Chad about 500AD and gave way to the Karen Empire as in Chad. Portuguese explorers arrived in the 15th century and named the coastal river Rio dos Camaroes (Shrimp River), which became Cameroon in English.

Cameroon, like Chad, became a German colony in 1884. Like in Chad the German government was pretty laid back, but unlike Chad, the German government granted concessions to commercial companies to regulate local administrations. Sadly, the concessions used forced labor to make a profit on their banana, rubber, palm oil, and cocoa plantations. The good thing is that they initiated projects to improve the colony’s infrastructure.

After WWI, the territory was divided between France and England. Eventually, the French part of the territory became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. The English part eventually became part of Nigeria. France integrated the economy of Cameroon with that of France and improved the infrastructure with capital investments and skilled labor, modifying the system of forced labor. Then the new Nigerian migrants flocked back to southern Cameroon, which ended forced labor all together.

Under Ahidjo, the country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and set up his capital in Yaounde. He pursued an economic policy of planned liberalism, prioritizing cash crops and Petroleum development. The government used oil to create a national cash reserve, pay farmers and finance major development projects. Unfortunately many projects failed because Ahidjo appointed unqualified allies to direct them. After 22 years in power, he stepped down in 1982. His successor was Paul Biya, who began his administration with a move toward a more democratic government, but a failed coup d’etat convinced him to follow a similar leadership style as his predecessor.

An economic crisis affected Cameroon from the mid-80s to the late 90s as a result of international economic conditions, drought, falling petroleum prices and years of corruption, mismanagement and cronyism. Cameroon turned to foreign aid, cut government spending and privatized industries.
In 2008, the country experienced its worst violence in 15 years when a transport union strike in Douala escalated into violent protests in 31 municipal areas. I

In 2014, in the wake of the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping, Presidents Paul Biya of Cameroon and Idriss Deby of Chad announced they were waging war on Boko Haram and deployed troops to the Nigerian border. In July 2017, Amnesty International alleged that Cameroonian security forces tortured and killed dozens of suspected members of the islamist extremest group. On February 19, 2018, another abduction of 110 school girls occurred in Nigeria. Boko Haram claims that all western education is sinful. “Boko” means education and “Haram” means forbidden.

Since 2016, Cameroon has suffered from protests from the English speaking regions of the country – the Northwest and the Southwest – because of the imposition of French in the anglophone regions, where people perceive they are being marginalized. The military was deployed against the protestors. Some people were killed, hundreds jailed and thousands fled the country. In 2017, Biya shut down the internet in English speaking regions for 94 days, at the cost of hampering 5 million people. Although both English and French are official languages, French is by far the most understood.

On the other hand, many refugees have been hosted by Cameroon. In 2007, 49,300 came from the Central African Republic, having been driven west by war. 41,600 came from Chad and 2,900 from Nigeria. In early 2014, 90,000 more, fleeing the violence in the Central African Republic, arrived in Cameroon, according to the UN. Many of these refugees were women and children who were suffering from starvation by the time they reached the Cameroon border after weeks and months of being on the road and foraging for food.

Today, Cameroon is viewed as filled with corruption at all levels of government. Human rights groups accuse police and military forces of mistreating and torturing criminal suspects, ethnic minorities, homosexuals and political activist. Prisons are overcrowded.

Biya and his party, the only legal one, have maintained control in elections, which rivals contend are unfair. Freedom House ranks Cameroon as “not free” in terms of political rights and civil liberties. The last parliamentary elections were held in September, 2013. To me this is another leader that started out wanting to help the people, then became power hungry and corrupt and stayed around far too long. Our government was wise when it limited our leaders to 2 terms. Thankfully, we the people have held them to that rule.

As for education, the adult literacy rate in Cameroon was estimated at 71.3% in 2013. Among youth aged 15-24 the rate was 85.4 for males and 76.4 for females. Unlike Chad, where there are rural areas with no schools, most children have access to state-run schools Much higher than Chad. Cameroon has one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa. In 2013 the school enrollment was 93.5%. Unfortunately, more than half the children from 7 to 14 combine work and school. The Bureau of International Labor Affairs reported that Cameroon resorted to child labor in the production of cocoa.

Health care is generally of low quality. Life expectancy was 56 in 2012. Fertility is high with 4.8 births per woman and an average mother’s age at first birth of 19.7 years. There is only one doctor for every 5000 people, with only 4.1% of GDP spent on healthcare. Payment is low even though work load is high. Some qualified but unemployed nurses work for free so they will not loose their skills. How sad and frustrating is that? The top three deadly diseases are HIV/AIDS, Lower Respiratory Infection and Diarrheal Diseases. 46,000 children under 14 were estimated to be living with HIV in 2016. Although 58% of people living with HIV know their status, just 37% receive ARV treatment. 29,000 died of AIDS that year.

Another traditional, and horrible, Cameroonian practice I learned about is called Breast Ironing. In an attempt to keep young girls from getting raped, mothers try to make their daughters breasts look flat and undesirable by massaging them with hot spatulas, spoons and rocks to make them smaller and ugly so they will be less attractive to men. It is done at home to prepubescent girls of 8 and 9. Hard to imagine a mother doing that to her daughter. All I can think is that they must feel helpless and desperate. Female genital mutilation is also practice, but only among certain populations. It is less wide spread here than in Chad.

The per capita GDP in Cameroon was $3,100 in 2015, the latest figures Mark could find. That compares quite favorable with Chad at $2,600. In the DTCongo, the third country we will visit on this trip, the per capita GDP is only $800. Chad and Cameroon may seem luxurious by comparison. Mark checked out our per capita GDP and it was $56,100. No wonder people want to come to the USA. As for world rankings of GDP, the US is 19, Cameroon is 189, Chad is 196 and DRCongo is 226 out of a total of 229, making DRCongo the 4th poorest country in the world.

During the last decade Cameroon has grown by 4% per year. Public debt was reduced from over 60% to 10% between 2004 and 2008 and official reserves quadrupled to over 3 billion USD. Unemployment was estimated at 4.4% in 2014. Since the late 80s, Cameroon has been following programs advised by the World Bank and the IMF to reduce poverty, privates industries and increase economic growth.

Cameroons natural resources are well suited to agriculture. An estimated 70% of the population farms, with most doing subsistence farming. A few have commercial farms. The urban areas depend on the these farmers to provide them with foodstuffs. Commercial products for export from coastal areas include: bananas, cocoa, oil palms, rubber and tea. From the plateau comes coffee, sugar, and tobacco and from the north comes cotton, groundnuts and rice. Fishing employees 5000 people and provides over 100,000 tons of seafood each year. Livestock is raised throughout the country.

There are vast timber reserves covering 37% of Cameroons land mass. Foreign owned firms harvest the timber with very little regulation in spite of laws that mandate safe and sustainable logging. There are substantial mineral resources, but they are not extensively mined with the exception of petroleum, the price of which has a strong effect on the economy. Rapids and waterfalls provide the country with hydroelectric power. However, much of the country remains without reliable power.

Transportation can be difficult. There are several relatively good toll roads connecting the major cities, but all of them are one lane. It will be interesting to see how that works. Only 10% are reputed to be paved and road banditry is common, especially at roadblocks that serve as opportunities to collect bribes. Our road experiences could prove interesting for sure. There is rail service called Camrail. To avoid some of the road stresses and save time, we will be taking an overnight train from a city in central Cameroon, Ngaoundere, to the capital city, Yaounde. That could be an interesting experience too.

The major TV and radio stations are state-run and land based telephones are under government control. There is some freedom of the press, but corruption keeps it from being honest and newspapers self-censor to avoid government reprisals. Cell phone networks have increased dramatically and are largely unregulated.

One good thing about Cameroon is the high level of religious freedom and diversity. About two-thirds of the population is Christian, 20% is Islam and the rest follow a variety of traditional animist beliefs. Muslims are concentrated in the north, while Christians and animists are concentrated mainly in the south and west. Large cities have significant populations of all faiths. Muslims are divided into Sufis, Shias and non-denominational groups. Many Christians in the Northwest and Southwest are of English descent and predominantly Protestant. The French-speaking people in the southern and western regions are largely Catholic. Meanwhile, in rural areas witchcraft is widely believed in by ethnic groups that follow traditional African animist beliefs and suspected witches are often subject to mob violence.

Cameroon, from my reading, is a mix of good, bad and ugly. The people are generally better off than those in Chad. It is time to go and see what we can learn for ourselves.

Our week in TChad

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Yesterday was a travel day. We flew on Air France from London to Paris, waited a few hours, then caught a 5+ hour flight to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, which is called TChad by the locals. The airport was small and dated, but functional. The immigration agent was very pleasant and understood a fair amount of English. He was curious about why we wanted to come to Chad and accepted our explanation about coming to visit Zakouma National Park. We had no trouble getting our bags; however, we ended up waiting a hour for the Hilton Hotel driver to find us and collect the rest of our group. Once we got outdoors, we were pleased to notice that the temperature was a comfortable 80 or so degrees. We were all tired and kept to ourselves for the 45 minute ride into town.
The capital is basically a large town, with mostly low rise buildings in various states of disrepair. There were very few lights along the way and very few people on the streets. The road to town was divided with only one half paved. It felt like a country village rather than a capital city. Arriving at the Hilton was a real treat. It was brightly lit and looked like a Hilton in any US city. Our room was

Arrival at Camp Nomad in Zakouma National Park.

large, clean, comfortable and, best of all, had great AC. For some reason I had prepared myself for a third rate hotel and was surprised to find a first rate experience.

We did not get to enjoy it very long, however, as we had to be up at 4:30 and out by 5:15 to catch our charter flight to the park. With 8 guests and 2 guides, we filled the plane. Weight was an issue and there was too much. The guides graciously gave up some of their baggage so none of us had to.
This was the reason we were told to keep our luggage soft sided and less than 33 pounds including carry ons. Neither one if us made it, but we were close. We flew 2 hours southeast of N’Djamena over scrub and desert and arrived at Zakouma at 9am. Watched the plane be unloaded, refueled and depart with the group whose place we took. Then we climbed into stadium seating Toyota Land Cruisers and began our first game drive.

Black, Crowned Crane roost here by the thousands. Very pretty on the ground and in flight.

By now the temp was heating up and I would have preferred to go directly to camp, but the drive proved to very exciting in spite of the heat. We saw a great number of birds and small animals in the three hours of the drive.

Kordofan Giraffe. They are unique to this Park.

We drove through scrub and wetland planes seeing the expected African animals: wart hog, Lewelle’s hartebeest, roan antelope, Bohrhor reedbock, water buck, baboons and, of all things, 2 ostrich. Unique to this park were: Kordofan giraffe, Buffon cobb, tiang antelope, tsessebe antelope and savannah buffalo.

Savannah Buffalo. Another species uniques to this park.

The bird life is remarkable in its diversity and quantity. Most especially were the millions of red-billed quelea, multitudes of spur winged geese and black crowned cranes. We saw many Goliath heron, cattle egrets and yellow-billed kites, In small numbers were Green beeeaters, Yellow-billed storks, Sacred Ibis, Tawny eagles, Abissinian Rollers, red-billed hornbill, Pied Crows, Spoon-billed storks, Long crested eagle, black headed heron, a Lappett-faced vulture, a Fish eagle, and others I can’t recall.

Lunch in the community tent.

Finally, we pulled into Camp Nomad, washed our hands at a stand next to the dining area and went directly to lunch. Although I really wanted to get to the room, clean up and try to get cool, I went to lunch as requested. The camp was in a shady spot and very charmingly laid out with all tents facing a lush wetland full of birds and small animals. The public area was arranged with mats, lounge seating and a dining table and chairs under a thatched roof. No walls. 10 tents were arranged in a row with half on either side of the public area. By the time lunch was finished, I was boiling and had a headache.

 

Our tent at Camp Nomad. Quite spacious and comfortable, except during the afternoon heat.  The bathroom was through the screened wall on the left.

The temperature had climbed to 107 degrees. Although the tent consists of woven carpets on the floor and mosquito netting for walls and roof, there is nothing cool about the place. I laid down to try to rest, but the bed was hot. Eventually we both fell asleep for awhile and woke up sweating profusely. So we got up and sat outside in chairs on our front porch. Thankfully my headache was gone. Both of us drank copious amounts of water.

At 4pm we gathered again for another game drive. The air was starting to cool and we felt less miserable. By sunset and sundowners we were comfortable, and enjoyed the comradery among the group members, all of whom are very well traveled, especially in Africa. We continued the drive until 7pm – well after dark, spotting gannets and bush babies along the way.

A reedbuck, nursing her baby.

Back at camp, Mark and I made a beeline to our tent for a shower. We were allotted one bucket per person, but neither of us wanted to wait so we shared the one bucket and took turns standing under it. It sure felt good to get clean and feel almost cool. With clean clothes on, we felt human again and ready for dinner at 7:30. Now it is bed time and I am ready for a good night, listening to animal sounds in the dark before dropping off to sleep. 5am will come too soon.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

We were all up and out by 5:30 for coffee and on the road at 6am. It was cool enough to wear a fleece. The view from our camp site is so full of bird and small animal life that one hardly needs to venture away. Fortunately we did and not long after leaving camp, we spotted 3 lions: a female walking alone followed by 2 brothers drinking at a watering hole. They all looked very healthy and comfortable. The 2 males, small maned as an adaptation to the heat, walked right by us as we clicked away on our cameras, before they plopped down in the shade and went to sleep. We saw many of the same creatures as yesterday and found ourselves mesmerized by a quelea show that did not stop. Millions of the small brownish birds fly in waves around and among the trees and bushes. We could hear the sound of the birds calling each other and the beating sound of their many wings. Experiences like this are what draw us back to Africa over and over.

Back at camp, we had a light breakfast and headed for the Park Headquarters about 30 minutes drive away. We met the Jerome, the park’s operation manager, and his staff. He ushered us into the “Command center” where African Parks keep track of the movements of the elephants in the park, control for poachers and monitor fires, most of which, sadly, are set by arsonists. African Parks is a non profit organization that has been awarded the the sole mandate to manage Zakouma National Park, along with 13 other equally threatened parks on the continent. It provides a glimmer of hope in the darkness.

Gerome is an unusual person of French descent, who has lived mostly in Australia and came to Chad 18 months ago with his wife to do the difficult job of increasing the number of animals in the park, especially elephant; eliminating poaching as much as possible; and training the local people to learn and do the work themselves. He showed us a map that indicates where the elephant are currently located. 40 of them have collars and are easy to track. For the last 4 years all the elephant have stayed in the park, which indicates that they are less stressed. Their numbers have increased from 443 in 2010 to 510 in 2017. A new census will be done in a few weeks. He expects the numbers to increase by at least 5%. The last poaching occurred in 2016. They are doing a good job, but do not stop every poacher. In the 60’s, elephant numbers were estimated to be above 300,000. Poaching gradually became an epidemic. There was so much poaching that 900 animals were killed every year until 2010. Finally the Chadian government wanted the poaching stopped and thus began the effort, whereby African Parks and the Chadian government embarked upon an ambitious conservation project to save the park from extinction. In addition to the command center staff, there are 3 mamba (sniper) teams of 10 each, who take turns patrolling the park; and 6 horse teams that take turns being with the elephants at all times. It costs 3 million a year to operate the park and much of the funds come from tourists like us. All their supplies come from South Africa.

On the 3rd of May 2018, the park will receive 6 black rhino from South Africa with a plan to bring in an additional 14 next year. They are each tagged and will have their horns removed in hope that they will not be killed. This is a new attempt to grow the park. There will be new people hired to monitor these new animals and Gerome hopes to get a drone to assist in keeping an eye on them. He was pleased to report that 2 female muslim employees are on staff. After spending a hour with us, it was clear that he needed us to leave so he could get back to work.

We drove back to camp for a late lunch and then had the afternoon free. Mark relaxed and I wrote. At 5:30 we drove a short distance away from camp to have sundowners.

A sundowner around a campfire. Kingsley red from his notes for the day. He is very poetic.

The sun had already set, but the staff built a camp fire and set out chairs for all of us. Kingsley read his written thoughts for the day, as he did the first day and says he will do every day. He is pretty philosophical and serious about Africa and how to make it a better place for the people who call Africa home. I made a video of his comments this evening and will share them with whoever is interested.

Back at camp, the staff had set up dinner out under the stars and we had a lovely time eating and visiting. Slowly, everyone is getting acquainted. I now have everyone’s first names and a bit about most of them. What I have learned is that everyone in the group has traveled extensively around the world as well as in Africa. Mark and I are fit somewhere in the middle of the pack. Several are like us in not having children or spouses to slow us down. Mark and I are the only couple. Everyone else is traveling alone, although at least one is married. I will share more about them as I get better acquainted. We both took showers before going to bed. I did not mind that the water was cool, except I could not wash my hair and get it rinsed properly. So I went to bed with a dirty head. At least most of me was clean. I woke up a few times during the night to the sound of a lion calling. Each time the sound seemed closer. I hoped I might see the animal, but then I went back to sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2018

This morning was leisurely. We did not get up until day light at 5:30am. Thank goodness we did. The quelea put on a spectacular show right in front of the rising sun, directly outside our tent. It is like watching a huge school of sardines swim in waves and be circled by dolphins who swim up through them to capture their filI. With the quelea, it is kites who fly through the center of the quelea waves and pick off birds as they go. I don’t know how better to explain it. This morning, there were no kites. Just the little birds paying homage to the new day.

Clarisse, a secondary school student with her elephant art work. Most had never done any art before.

Today, after breakfast, we drove to the nearest village, called GozD’jarat, to do an art project with secondary school children in the school built by African Parks, called the Elephant School. A brain child of our guide, Kingsley Holgate, this project is to teach the children about the plight of elephants, what has happened to them ,and how conservation of elephants is important to the children’s own survival. Each child is given a black and white outline of a mother and baby elephant with a lot of white space around them, a list of facts about elephants and lessons about what they can do to help. We handed out crayons and colored pens and asked the kids to color them however they wanted, add other art as they thought appropriate and write a sentence about what conserving elephants meant to them. We helped them with the project as none of them had used crayons or colored pens or done any kind of art. It was an education for everyone. The students all spoke French, so sign language was required to communicate. Eventually most of them got the drift and completed the project. Kingsley had us select the 2 best “art works” and we each added one more so 12 students received prizes for their work. The prizes consisted of a small notebook, a package of biscuits, a piece of candy, and a drink. The first place winners also received soccer balls. Then everyone assembled outside for a large group photo and Kingsley collected all the art works for use in conservation efforts by African Parks and the Holgate Foundation, started by Kingsley’s family to help and improve lives through adventure and a strong focus on wildlife conservation.

Children who are not attending school are curious about us.

We were all wilted when we climbed back into the vehicles and headed back to camp. The school children and teachers, meanwhile, did not seem the slightest bit uncomfortable. We think it is somewhere around 110F, about as it has been during the middle of each day since we arrived in the park. As no one has a thermometer, we can only say that it is African Hot. New sightings on this outing included a Patas monkey and a Black-headed Gonolek.

Lunch, as with other days, was a selection of salads. The food is reasonable, if not exciting or memorable. Mark and I both took a shower. It felt good, even if the benefit did not last long.

The Lion strikes a peaceful pose.  Later we heard him roar.

We sat by our tent during the hottest 2 hours of the day and tried to think cool. We both considered passing on the afternoon game drive, but knowing we might miss something and be sorry, we mustered and joined the group. We enjoyed the many birds, the huge buffalo herd and several giraffe and baboons. Then we spotted the male lion in the distance and drove to where it was laying with the sun setting behind him. He graced us with a deep call to his friends, who returned the call. By the time he called again, I was ready with the video and recorded his call. Hope it will sound good when i play it back. We stayed with the boy until it was dark than drove back to camp. As luck would have it, we saw his friend laying near the road and got a photo of him too. Then camp called and we returned.

A quick shower, a vodka tonic and we are ready for dinner. The other people in the group include:

Don, a retired gerontologist who spent his career working with elderly people in outpatient clinics doing health screenings and counseling. He is a gentle soul who has an easy going disposition. In addition to traveling extensively, he does volunteer work at the local YMCA and spends a good deal of time with his 16 year old god-daughter, whom he has had a major hand in raising. He lives in Topanga, CA.

The third man, besides Don and Mark, is Brian, who had a long career in the pharmaceutical business, running his own company for a number of years. He was born in Michigan and moved to Tokyo when he was 23. He has lived there ever since with his Japanese wife of 45 years, who, unfortunately, has diabetes and could not travel to Africa and have no access to medicine and hospitals. He is our most extensive traveler, having been to 176 countries, including 36 in Africa. He has us beat by quite a bit.

There are 5 women, all traveling alone, except me. They are Noriko, who is 75, Japanese and lives half her time in Tokyo and the other half in Seattle. Her husband was Fed Ex pilot and the flew around the world visiting 172 countries in a turbo prop bonanza. He died a few years ago and she has kept traveling. She is very gutsy and is the only other member of the group who is going to the DRC with us after Cameroon.

Lois, who is 77 and lives in Utah now that she is retired. She was a college professor at the University of Virginia, for 24 years in the field of applied math. She is really into birding, especially cranes. Her focus on this trip is the Black-crowned Crane. As we have seen the same thousand or more of them every day, she is a happy camper.

Leslie, who is 75, worked for JP Morgan in the banking industry for 17 years before retiring in 2011. Before that she had a very interesting career working for David Rockefeller helping develop his philanthropic ideas and those of his children. She was married twice. Left the first one and lost the second one, who died in 2001, too soon. She lives in New York.

Laurie, who, at 58, is the youngest member in our group. Her career was in Landscape Architecture and she worked in the field for a number of years until her 23 year old son was killed in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago. Fortunately, she has another son, Spencer, who is doing well. She went through a long depression and now is a volunteer board member for an organization called Pease Park Conservancy in Austin, Texas, where she lives. Her grandfather was in the newspaper business and owned the Austin American Statesman and the Waco Tribune Harold among other papers. He sold the business when she was 12 and she has had trust funds ever since, although she chose to make her own way. She loves to travel, but is currently hampered by needing to watch her mother who is 83 and has debilitating Parkinson’s Disease. I certainly understand that situation and the need to buy travel insurance before each trip. At the moment, Mark and I are skipping the insurance, but know we will need to buy it again, as his mother ages.

It is a very interesting group of people in addition to the common bond of travel for all of us. After 3 days, we are getting more deeply acquainted. I hope to learn more about each person.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

At last, a wonderful night’s sleep. All night under the covers with not a single wake up. We are at last on African time. The whole group is very punctual. Everyone is on time for coffee and a light breakfast. At 8:30 we head out on a game drive while enroute to the Saturday market at a place called Kach-Kacha. On the way we saw 5 very full lions lounging under some trees, with the remains of last night’s antelope feast nearby. The group consisted of 2 adults and 3 sub adults. We also saw a Long Crested Eagle, a Red-fronted Gazelle, and a few Abysinian Ground Hornbill as well as a few old male buffalo, who are referred to as Digger Boys. They tend to be solitary, irritable and worth giving a wide birth. The landscape, I have forgotten to mention, is perfectly flat in this center part of Chad. All the way from N’Djamena, it has been so. The altitude is 1,400 feet and the terrain consists of shrinking wetlands, woodlands and scrub. At the moment we are near the end of the dry season and everywhere the ground is dried up and cracked, like a jigsaw puzzle. The only water ways are in the middle of the wetlands and all the birds and animals are congregating near them for sustenance, which is why our camp is located there as well.

We leave the park and drive to Kach-Kacha on the highway, which is a less bumpy one lane gravel road, for half an hour. As we get closer we see people bringing goats, camels and cattle to the market, as well as bags of sorghum and rice and other products. We pass through the market to the protected car park and agree on a plan to visit the market for about an hour and a half. By now it was African Hot and some of us were wilting before we started. At one point my phone quite and flashed a message that it was too hot and needed to cool off before I could continue using it. This was the first time I have seen this screen.

The market at Kach-Kacha

The open air market was packed with literally thousands of people, none of whom seemed to be bothered by the temperature. It was possibly the largest market I have ever visited. Where did all these people come from? Apparently, this is the only market for many miles in any direction, so everyone comes here once a week to do their business. Unfortunately for us, most people here do not like having their photo taken and we were told to enjoy the market without taking photos unless given permission. I did my best and did get a few photos, but nothing like I would have liked. We were absolutely the only tourists and rubber necking was happening in both directions. Although it was hugely crowded with many stalls and vendors, it was not especially colorful. Even the ladies were not as colorfully dressed as we have experienced in other parts of Africa. At one stall, I purchased a string of beads that, I was told, were old and came from Yemen. Sure hope so. They were different from other beads I have purchased and will make an interesting necklace if I can get them strung nicely. I did not plan to buy anything, but it seemed like it would be nice to have a souvenir from Central Africa, even if it is from Yemen. Don’t laugh.

Then, as we were about to leave the market, Kingsley and Brad suggested we eat some goat meat in a local lunch stall. Mark and I were game, as long as we could see the cooked meat. It was served in little pieces with an oil and salt sauce. It was very tasty and not too chewy. We ate several pieces and went back for more. Only Dan, Mark and I joined Brad and Kingsley. No one else wanted to try it. Back at the vehicle, everyone was ready to get back to camp. The driver took a short cut, but it still took us 45 minutes. Once there, we washed and had lunch before heading for the shower. It sure felt good, even if we were hot again in a few minutes.

We sat in our “patio” watching the afternoon Quelea show. I took some video of it to show people as it is very hard to imagine without seeing it in person. It lasts about an hour before the birds dissolve into thin air. We know they roost in shrubs and trees at night, packed so tightly they nearly drag the branches to the ground. When a show starts, they come by the thousands from everywhere. We can hear their wings as they fly overhead. It is an amazing sight. As quickly as it comes, it is gone.

Looking out at the wetland in the late afternoon light, I hear the cacophony of bird calls on the wing, see a few buffalo and many bird still feeding in the wetland and feel the joy of this awesome sight. The heat is starting to abate and I am grateful to be alive and joyful in this place.

Dinner was again served at a lovely table set under the stars. Although the food is nothing to write home about, the conversation is very interesting. Both Kingsley and Brad are great story tellers and all the guests have had experiences everyone enjoys hearing. After we left the table, some of us retired to the fire pit and continued chatting. Mark and I went to bed shortly after 10pm.

Sunday, March 18, 2018.

This morning, another dry sunshiny day with some high cirrus, we went for a walk rather than a drive. I thought it would be rather boring, but was surprised to find myself immediately engaged in Brads commentary about termite mounds and how they work, barely after we left camp. Turns out a queen can live 50 years, laying 30,000 eggs every day. 5% of the termites are soldiers, who are fed by worker termites and are always out patrolling. The rest are made for one particular task or another. There may be as many as 11 kilometers of tunnels the workers build and maintain in order to keep the mound at a constant 30 degrees celsius.

Along the road Brad identified a number of animal prints, their ages, whether it was a right of left foot and other details.

He talked about the gestation of different animals and why they are of different durations. There are basically two kinds of births: altripical births, which require a lot of parental care, such as people, most birds, lions and dogs; and precocial births, where the animal is relatively self-sufficient shortly after birth, such as horses and rhinoceroses.

Then, we walked off road crossing the jigsaw puzzle of broken dried ground. Real ankle breaker walking, which forced me to watch every step. No wonder animals stay on the road, if they can. We took cover behind a downed tree where we could watch a 1000+ herd of savannah buffalo cross the wetland undetected. They were quite lovely with clean, dust free bodies from crossing through the water. Their skin glistening is varying shades of brown, black and caramel. Once across the pan, the lead animal spotted a lion, as did we, and started to turn around. As he did, so did the others around him. It looked like there would be a mass stampede. Then he changed his mind, turned back and purposefully walked toward the lion, picking up his pace as he grew closer. The lion moved off and the herd relaxed. It was a very nice experience we would have missed if we were in the vehicles. Just as we turned away from the buffalo, masses of quelea flew into the area. We witnessed another beautiful and mesmerizing display. It was nice to see it from a different perspective than our camp.
A short walk on and we came upon our staff setting up breakfast for us under a large shady acacia tree. We took our time eating breakfast and enjoying the setting. We had walked about 2 miles in the cooler morning air and, with the increasing heat, were happy to take the vehicles back to camp.

Mark and I took another shower and let the air dry us. Sitting in front of our tent, we listened to the multitude of bird calls. Such a pleasure.

Our “fly” camp on the banks of a croc infested pond. What a loud guttural belch they make!

Lunch was at 12:30 followed by our departure south to another camp for 2 nights, where we hope to see elephant. A long cry hot drive through dense bush with just a few interesting sightings: a giraffe bent over drinking carefully from a stream; a pond full of crocks; our first lone elephant deep in the bush; acacia sahel trees that have red bark, which people burn to extract the sap, which is used as chewing gum; large numbers of buffon cobb antelope that are similar to, but larger than, reedbuck antelope, which we saw in smaller numbers; and a lion stalking a pair of worthogs. We crossed the Salamat River over a dry bed. After a long, hot afternoon, we arrived at our”fly” camp on the banks of a crocodile infested pond in the southern half of Zakouma Park. Our Nyumbani (Swahili for home) for the next two nights.

A bank of Carmine Bee Eaters tending their nests or holes. They were on the bank opposite our “fly” camp.

In addition to the crocks, we were entertained by hundreds of Carmine bee eaters flying in and out of their mud homes in the river bed on the opposite side of the pond, by Egyptian Plovers, red throated bee eaters, and a Pied Kingfisher, trying to swallow a fish whole. Eventually it succeeded after banging the fish on a tree limb for a good ten minutes.

We all took turns taking showers in a grass walled, one bucket shower, ate goat stew in the dark by the campfire and listened to the crocks make a guttural burping sound we had never heard before. By 8:30 we were all ready to turn in. Our open air tent had two bedrolls on the floor and we were soon asleep after watching the stars for about….a minute. I heard there were lion calls in the night, but I slept through it all.

Monday, March 19, 2018

 

Frightened, the babies turn toward Mom as the mothers hesitate. We are surprised too.

A breeding herd charges up the river bank toward us, babies in tow.

Up at 5:30 and in the vehicles at 6:30. This is our big day to try to find elephants. As luck would have it, we found a herd of breeding elephants with at least a dozen babies only 20 minutes from camp. They heard us coming before we saw them and they were moving rapidly across the Salamat River and up the bank where we stopped. Many had passed before we were in position with our cameras. They came flying through the area stirring up loads of dust. Some of the mothers stopped and trumpeted at us, a couple actually did a mock charge. We just kept clicking away. It was an awesome sight, for which we are grateful, because these were the only elephants we saw the whole day. We drove all over the southern half of the park in another African Hot day. Several times our drivers had to stop and take a machete to a tree limb that had been pushed over by an elephant and blocked the road. We knew they were around, but we could not find them. We even encountered one of the Mamba groups who protect the elephants from poachers. They had no idea when or where the elephants would appear again.

So, on the edge of a busy pan near the southern boundary of the park, we met up with our staff, who brought a prepared lunch and set it up for us. If it were not for the heat, we would all have enjoyed the afternoon. As it was, we took naps after eating and began the long drive back to the “fly” camp. Apart from a family of banded mongooses and a few wort hogs the park was unusually quiet. We pulled into camp shortly after 4pm and headed for the open bar. No point in rushing for a shower as you will only get hot again and need another one. So we waited until twilight and were more comfortable and less sticky for having held back. By the time we ate dinner, we were sitting in the dark. I think we had stewed chicken with sweep potatoes and rice and cabbage salad. Similar to other meals we have had, but hard to tell in the dark. The conversation was lively as everyone talked about their travels and Kingsley and Brad regaled us with stories of their adventures. The group is very compatible, considering we are all from very different paths in life. Again we turned in by 8:30. I think the heat is wearing us all down.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

The night was so warm that we did not use our blankets. This is certainly the warmest night we have experienced. We heard crocodiles, hyenas, lions and baboons carrying on in the dark, but felt safe and secure inside our mosquito net tents. Although we were told we could sleep in, everyone was up by 5:30. By 7am everyone had had breakfast and was in the vehicles ready to had out. Off we went. Too hot to linger. We did stop to watch a herd of buffalo walk to the river’s edge and take long drinks. We’d all have loved to get in the water with them. After 2 hours we arrived at the Park headquarters, where there were three male elephant being watered by the camp staff. We sat in the shade of the park manager’s veranda and leisurely took photos of the elephants sucking up water from a hose. One more lone elephant crossed our path as we left HQ and headed for Camp Nomad. Given that I had been told we would see a large concentration of elephants, I could have been disappointed in our overall elephant experience. However, elephants are so wonderful to watch, we just enjoyed the ones we saw.

Finally, we drove into Camp Nomad about 11am, went straight to our tent and took a shower, undoubtedly not our only one for the day. Our Camp home feels down right luxurious after the “fly” tent experience.  Nevertheless, within minutes we were hot and sticky again. In spite of the heat, everyone gathered for lunch and enjoyed a lively conversation about Kingsley Holgate’s eye glass project called “Right to Sight”. So far his foundation has provided 142,000 readers to people all over the continent. He believes that 90% of the population that have eyesight problems, could be helped significantly just with readers. He hopes to continue delivering reading glasses to every village he passes through. While he was at first a South African adventurer who planed and executed expeditions for fun and exploration, he gradually incorporated humanitarianism into his projects. Today, all his expeditions have a humanitarian purpose. Adventure is a happy by product.

Kingsley Holgate and Brad Hansen, our charming and wonderful leaders.

I, as well as many others, am captivated by his personality, his behavior and his dreams and goals. It is no wonder he has become a household name in Africa. Early in our week together, he told us a story about 7 pebbles. He heard a fifty year old man questioning what to do with his life. So, he picked up 7 pebbles and showed them to the man. He threw 5 of them away, because they represented years already spent. Then he threw the seventh one away, as it represented the uncertain future of old age. Finally, he handed the man the last pebble and told him to use it wisely as it is the only pebble he will have.

Brad Hansen, our safari guide, is, on the other hand, the man of the hour. He is the keeper of the program, the master of coordination and timing. He manages to make people believe they are happy and having a wonderful time, even when they are super hot and don’t quite sure how they feel. He is knowledgeable about all the animals, birds and plants and why things do what they do. Highly educated in guiding, he is also excellent at people management. And to top it off, he has a super sense of humor, not unlike Kingsley’s.

Now we are sitting one last afternoon in front of our Camp Nomad tent in Zakouma National Park. Even has hot as it is, we have thoroughly enjoyed the experience: especially the quelea displays every morning and afternoon, the stampeding elephants with their babies in tow; the multitudes of Black, crowned Cranes flying overhead; the savannah buffalo marching through the wet pan with the leader chasing a lion away; gatherings, called Towers, of Kordofan giraffe posing for our cameras; and the many beautiful birds such as the Carmine Bee-eater, the Abyssinian Roller, the Little Bee-eater, the Grey-headed Kingfisher and many more. We have been the only tourists in the park this whole week and have really loved having the place to ourselves.

Another quelea show. So beautiful and so hard to capture.

Another spectacular quell display with what seems like millions of the little birds.

There is one last game drive this afternoon and we have decided to pass it up. Instead we relaxed and watched another Quelea show from our patio and listened to the cacophony of birds in the late afternoon sun. With the setting sun, their tune changed. The squawks grew louder. They lifted off and flew toward night time roosts. Shortly the sky was dark and quiet.

Our starlit evening dinner was a farewell BBQ of lamb, beef and chicken. It was the best meal of the week. We lingered a long while taking in the night sounds of lions, baboons and hyenas and listening to Brad tell us about all of Orion’s stars, including those in his Belt. With a laser pointer, we did not have to guess which star he was waxing on about. Soon we were getting quiet and sleep beckoned. The breathless air was still very warm. We laid on top with no covers and hoped for blissful sleep…….which came in fits and spurts as we took turns visiting the bathroom.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Our TChad group: Standing are: Brian, Mark, Julia, Don and Kingsley. Sitting are: Lois, Laurie, Leslie an Noriko. Brad is taking the photo.

Up early, packed and ready to go. The heat has finally gotten the better of us all. Breakfast and a group photo over, we said goodbye to the staff and drove to the Park HQ to wait in the shade for the plane to arrive. Then we said our final goodbyes to Brad and Kingsley, climbed aboard and flew east. Thankfully, Peptol Bismal got us through the morning and the flight back to N’Djamena (pronounced N Jam een a).

We are now in the lovely air conditioned Hilton Hotel, have had a good lunch and a swim in the cool pool. Now I am hoping to get this post off and some photos with it.  Am sorry not to be able to add more photos.  It takes a very long time to download each image and i am now too tired to think clearly.  So here it is, ready or not.

Next post will come from somewhere in Cameroon, I hope.  If not, it will come when I have decent wifi.   Good night.

London

March 13, 2018

It is 8:30am in London and we are sitting at the airport waiting for our flights to Paris and N’Djamena with a long layover in Paris.  Our visit to London was just what we needed.  A quiet rest.   Although it would have been nice to have sunshine, the overcast and rainy weather made us content to spend most of our time in our room at the Cafe Royal in Piccadilly Circus.

Buckingham Palace in the background.

 

We did go for a couple of walk abouts around the neighborhood and to Buckingham Palace and, last night, we went to see The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre.  The play lived up to our remembrances of the first time we saw it a few years ago.  The cast was at least as good and funny as the first.

 

 

Prince of Wales Theatre advertising The Book of Mormon

Dining was a non event for us as all the meals we had were mediocre.  We did no shopping, except to buy batteries in a drug store.  So there, you have our London experience in a nut shell.

Tonight we will be in N’Djamena.  I am both excited and nervous.  Wish us well.

Julia and Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picadilly Square after the play.

About Chad

Dinner together at 37,000 feet enroute to London

March 10, 2018

At long last, a British Airways 747 is lofting us over the polar route from San Francisco to London. Mark and I had a delightful dinner sitting opposite each other at a table in his seat.  The meal was mediocre, but desert was wonderful – sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce. I polished it off with a shot of Johnny Walker Blue. Two sins I “never” let myself indulge in on long flights. What a delicious disgrace!

I am finally celebrating after months of intense distress and effort expended on my Hurricane Harvey flooded Texas property, which is now completely recovered and very possibly, just as the airplane door closed and I lost communication, about to become fully leased – a happening I hope to have confirmed when we get to London and have internet again; other pesky business issues about which I won’t bore you, but never seem to go away; and many hours, weeks and months spent creating, organizing, planning, detailing and marketing a special trip to Uganda, Rwanda and, most particularly, the Kellernann Foundation facilities in SW Uganda in support of Scott Kellermann and his 16 years of work with the pygmies. Happily, a small group of intrepid travelers are fully booked for the adventure, which Mark and I will accompany in September. As I was saying, I am finally celebrating.

Now about this adventure Mark and I are embarked upon. We will start slowly by spending a couple of days in London to adjust to the time change and take in a play and some good food before flying south on March 13 to N’Djamena, Chad.

The plan there is to stay overnight at the Hilton Hotel in the capital, a large town of approximately 960,000, which we may not visit for safety reasons. Here we meet our fellow travelers. All we know is far is there are 8 Americans, including 5 women and 3 men. Mark and I seem to be the only couple. Should I be surprised there are more women than men? We will also meet our two guides who, from their description and photos, look like they will keep us enthralled with tales of past adventures, even if we saw and did nothing but listen to them talk.

The next day we fly SE to Zakouma National Park, where we will camp and hang out with our two guides, wild animals and birds for 8 days. We may be safer with them in the wild than with the town folk. At the end of the week there, we fly back to the capital and stay another night in the Hilton.
Before the activity starts and I have less time, I’d like to share some of what I have learned about Chad to give those of you who are unfamiliar a sense of the place. For starters, it is a landlocked country in Central Africa that is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest and Niger to the west. It is the 5th largest country in Africa and more than twice the size of Texas or 3 times the size of California, with an estimated population between 13 and 14 million. More than 47% of the population is under 15 and life expectancy is 48-52 years.

It is divided into zones: a desert zone in the north where many archeological sites have been found that indicate a large population dating back to before 2000 BC; an arid Sahelian zone in the middle of the country which supported the first and longest lasting regional empire, the Kanem Empire, and was a crossroads of trans Saharan trade routes during the first millennium AD; and a fertile Sudanian sevanna zone in the south where the majority of the current population lives.

Lake Chad, after which the country is named, is the remains of an immense lake north of N’Djamena, that once occupied 130,000 sq mi 7000 years ago. Today it has shrunk to about 6,800 sq mi and fluctuates seasonally. Even so, it is Africa’s second largest wetland.

French colonial expansion led to France becoming a military protectorate of Chad in 1900. By 1920, France was in full control of the colony. French rule was characterized by an absence of policies to unify the territory and by sluggish modernization. The French viewed Chad as a source of untrained labor and raw cotton, introducing large scale production in 1929. The administration in Chad was understaffed and lax. The French presence in the Islamic north and east was nominal. The education system suffered from neglect. Nevertheless, 15,000 Chadians fought in WWII to help free France.

After the war, Chad became an oversees territory. Chadians were granted the right to elect representatives to the national Assembly and form a Chadian assembly. Political parties formed, with the largest being the Chadian Progressive Party (PPT), based in the Christian/Animist southern half of the colony. Chad was granted independence August 11,1960. The leader of the PPT, Sara Francois Tombalbaye, became the first president. Within 2 years he banned opposition parties and became an autocratic ruler who’s insensitive mismanagement exacerbated inter ethnic tensions. Civil war broke out in 1965 and he was finally overthrown and killed in 1975. 10 years of war for no good reason.

In 1979 a rebel leader, Hissene Habre took over and consolidated his dictatorship with a power system that relied on corruption and violence. Thousands were killed under his rule. He was also hated for favoring his own ethnic group and discriminating against former allies. In 1990 Habre was overthrown by his general, Idriss Deby. Hebre was eventually arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for crimes against humanity, rape, sexual slavery and ordering the death of 40,000 people. Another nice guy.

At first Debby attempted to reconcile the rebel groups and reform the multiparty system. Chadians approved a constitution by referendum and in 1996 Debby easily won the competitive presidential election. Then he won a second five year term. Oil exploitation began in 2003 and people hoped the country would have some peace and prosperity. Instead tensions worsened and civil war broke out again. Deby unilaterally changed the constitution and eliminated the 2-term limit. He was not popular any more. In 2006, he won a mandated election with the opposition groups boycotting the poles. Coups were attempted and failed. Fighting continued until 2010 when an agreement was made between Chad and Sudan that marked the end of the war and Chadian rebels went back to Sudan. Deby continues to rule Chad even as the country continues to deteriorate. He, like his predecessors, has not helped improve life for the people.

Chad’s official languages are Arabic and French, with Arabic becoming the lingua franca due to the importance of itinerant Arab traders and settled merchants in local communities.

The country is very diverse regarding religion. The 1993 census found that 54% were Muslim, of which 48% were Sunni, 21% Shia, 4% Ahmadi and 23% just Muslim. 20% were Roman Catholic, 14% Protestant, 10% animist and the rest nothing. I was surprised to learn that 55% of the Chadian Muslims practiced Sufism, a moderate branch of mystical Islam. Christianity arrived with French and American missionaries. Muslims were largely concentrated in the north and east of Chad, with Christians and animists living primarily in the southern Chad. Saudi Arabian funds support social and educational projects and mosque construction.

There are more than 200 distinct ethnic groups in Chad. Next to the immediate family, the local or regional society is the most important influence. Efforts by colonial (1900-1960) and independent (1960-present) governments to impose a national society have not faired well. The nation’s main ethnic group, the Sara, are sedentary and live in the south. In the Sahel sedentary people live along side nomadic people, such as the Arabs, the country’s second major ethnic group. Nomads, mostly a tribe called Toubous, live in the north.

According to the UN, Chad has been affected by a humanitarian crisis since at least 2001. As of 2008 the country hosted over 280,000 refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region, over 55,000 from the Central African Republic, as well as over 170,000 internally displaced people. All this disruption has generated increased tensions throughout the region.

Another issue that I find bothersome and disruptive is the treatment of women throughout the country. For starters, polygamy is common. I read that 39% of women live in such unions, which are sanctioned by law. Although female genital mutilation is forbidden by law, the practice is wide spread and rooted in tradition – 45% of Chadian women undergo the procedure. Women lack equal opportunities in education and training, making it hard to get jobs. Although the French based laws do not discriminate against women, local leaders decide inheritance cases in favor of men “according to tradition”.

Education is a really sad situation. Although attendance is compulsory in primary school, only 68% of boys attend. A percentage for girls was not even mentioned. Many parents are reluctant to send their kids to school. More than half the population is illiterate. At 33%, Chad has one of the lowest literacy rates of Sub-Saharan Africa. Child labor in Chad is really high. In 2013, the US Dept of labor Findings on Child Labor reported 53% of Chadian children aged 5 to 14 were working. A more recent report listed cattle herding as a major agricultural activity that employed underage children.

Infrastructure has not fared well either. Although we have not seen the roads yet, I understand that the network is limited and often unusable several months of the year with not many miles paved. The country has no rail of its own and depends on Cameroon’s rail system for the transport of imports and exports to and from the Atlantic seaport in Douala. There are 59 airports, of which 9 have paved runways. Due to years of mismanagement only about 15% of people in N’Djamena have power and only 1.5% of the nations population have it. Most Chadians depend on wood and dung for fuel. 14,000 fixed telephone lines, provided by the state owned phone company, SotelTchad, serve all of Chad. This is one of the lowest telephone density rates in the world. Chad’s Ministry of Posts, Information & Communication Technologies announced in 2013 that they were looking for a fiber optic partner. Don’t know what has happened with that. There is only one TV station, state owned by Tele Tchad, and it is only available to N’Djamena audiences. Radio has a far greater reach with 13 private radio stations.

Corruption is rampant at all levels. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index named Chad as the most corrupt country in the world, along with Bangladesh, in 2005. As of 2013 it ranked 5th. Critics of Chad’s President, Idriss Deby, have accused him of cronyism and tribalism. The Fund for Peace lists Chad as a failed state.

The UN Human Development Index ranked Chad as the 7th poorest country in the world, with 80% living below the poverty line. At one point in the 60’s, the mining industry produced sodium carbonate, or natron. There were reports of gold bearing quartz. Then years of civil war scared away foreign investors. In 2000 major direct foreign investment in the oil sector began and now there is a pipeline that takes oil from the oil fields, through Chad and Cameroon to the port at Douala, hopefully boosting economic prospects. Nevertheless, more than 80% of Chad’s population relies on subsistence farming and livestock raising for a livelihood. If Chad could maintain a semblance of stability, foreign investors might eventually return, but after 28 years since the last successful coup that brought President Idriss Deby to power, investors are still wary.   It is no wonder that the people of Chad are distresses, frustrated and angry.  They, like the people we have seen and met in most countries in Africa, deserve better governance than they have received.

That’s enough sad and bad news for now. Much of what I have written comes from Wikipedia and is not necessarily current. I hope to fill in the gaps as we travel and learn first hand.

Several of you wonder how and when I manage to do this blog. Well, this time it has happened in flight after dinner. I just start reading and writing and several hours later, Mark is asleep along with the rest of the passengers, and I am still at it. Now, I am finally tired too. This was not so easy going as I wanted to provide you with some information about this little known country without being boring or too long winded. I am not sure I succeeded. Hopefully, you have enjoyed learning a bit about Chad. Our story will become more personal as we spend time in the country. I am somewhat concerned about having free time, electricity and a comfortable environment in which to write.

Whatever we experience will be part of our story.
So for now, good night,
Julia

Next up – Central Africa

March 7, 2018

Inspite of some trepidation when we first booked this adventure a few months ago, Mark and I are excited to be going and have read enough to feel safe in the capable hands of our GeoEx staff and guides.  We will be in Central Africa visiting Chad, Cameroon, SW of Chad, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, south of the Central African Republic, and commonly referred to as DRCongo. Here is an area map to get you oriented.

Map of Central Africa including Chad, Cameroon, DRC and Uganda

It all started when an advertising email from GeoEx appeared in my email.  I took one look and immediately forwarded the brochure to Mark.  Almost instantly he yelled up to my office, “Yes, let’s go.”  We immediately picked up the phone and called GeoEx.  Even though we had wasted no time, we still got the last 2 places on the trip, which included a total of 8 guests and 2 guides.   Then we learned that a couple of extensions were being offered and we jumped on both of them, which is how the trip came to include Cameroon and DRCongo.  All together the 3 legs add up to 21 days, with 11 days in Chad, 6 in Cameroon and 4 in DRCongo.

Once the plan was set, we added a couple of days in London at the beginning and a week at the end in Amsterdam, Stuttgart and Paris.   These stops should reduce the jet lag affects and make the trip more relaxed, if traveling in Central Africa can be called relaxing.

The good news, is that there should be enough electricity to keep the camera and computer batteries charged.  The bad news is that there will be very little, if any, WiFi in most places in the African countries and not enough power to down load photos even if there is WiFi.  So it will not be as pictorial as our last trips.  Hopefully, I will get to catch up when we are back in Europe.   If you do not hear from us for many days, don’t worry.  We will be back in touch as soon as possible.

So to get a head start on the adventure I am sending maps and some info before we depart.   Here is a Map of Chad, which is more than twice the size of Texas.  It is land locked and vast with the north mostly hot, dry, sandy desert and rugged mountains.   We will be in the more populated southern part of the country, visiting the capital city of N’Djamena in the South West and Zakouma National Park in the South East.

Map of Chad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cameroon is on Chad’s southwestern border, which is delineated by the Chari River.  N’Djamena, Chads capital, sits on the eastern banks of the river.  For reasons I don’t quite understand yet, we will drive south along the Chad side of the river to the town of Bongor before crossing into Cameroon.  We will learn more about all that when we get there.   Once in Cameroon we zig zag the length of the country until we get to the capital, Yaounde, and finally the port city of Douala.  After 6 days in Cameroon we will fly east from Douala across the DRCongo to Entebbe, Uganda for a night before heading into the DRCongo.

Map of Cameroon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uganda is the African country Mark and I have visited more than any other.  We have enjoyed many of its sights, made friends with a few people who live there and  spent time at the Kellermann Foundation facilities near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the SW corner of the country.  This trip, however, we will be in Entebbe only one night and then travel on to the DRCongo for a 4 day adventure in the mountainous regions of eastern DRCongo.   We land first in Goma, a border town near Rwanda, then fly north into the mountains of Nord Kivu.  Among other activities, we will be visiting gorillas and chimpanzees and climbing a volcano.  More on all that later.

For the moment I would like to talk a bit about the Republic of Chad and what I learned about this very poor, landlocked country that is the fifth largest in Africa.  The population is approximately 11.8M with both French and English being spoken as well as many dialects.  The French took control of Chad in 1900 and converted the country into a colony.  It finally gained independence in 1960 just as many other African countries did.  Unfortunately, Chad’s post independence history has been marked by instability and violence, stemming mostly from tensions between the mainly Arab-Muslim north and the predominately Christian and animist south.  The country’s leaders since that time have also been self-serving, power hungry and corrupt.  The current president, Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990 and gained a fifth term in April 2016.  He is credited with delivering on a promise to create a multi-party “democracy” in the mid 90’s, which has enabled him to stay in power through the electoral system he set up.  In September 2017  Amnesty International accused the government of a brutal and growing crackdown on its critics.

The strife I read about did not inspire confidence.  However, between trusting our tour company, GeoEx, with whom we have traveled before, reading about our 2 highly experienced guides and knowing the tight program that is planned, I feel confident we will have an exciting, extraordinary AND safe adventure.   We will keep a low profile and avoid public conversation about the goverment.  We also plan to spend nearly all of our Chadian time in Zakouma National Park enjoying animals and birds instead of people.  We hope you will join us for the ride.   And say a prayer for our safe and healthy return.

Map of DRC

 

Eastern DRCongo showing the Nord Kivu area we will visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Space available for 2-3 people on Uganda/Rwanda trip in September 2018

Dear Followers,

I sent a message a few weeks ago letting you know a couple of friends and I had created a first class trip to Uganda and Rwanda with the central purpose of visiting the Batwa (pigmies) in SW Uganda and experiencing what has been done to help them learn to live, since they were expelled from the Bwindi Impenetrable forest in 1992.  It is an incredible story of 15 years of intense time, talent and treasure by Scott and Carol Kellermann in creating medical clinics, primary schools, homes,  craft centers and eventually, with the help of many donors, a hospital, a nursing school and more.

You will visit the confluence of the Nile River with Lake Victoria and stay in a lodge hanging over a cataract on the river.  You will take a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, which is home to the greatest biodiversity of wildlife on the planet.  You will take a game drive through Queen Elizabeth Park and search for tree climbing lions.  In Bwindi, next to the Impenetrable Forest you will meet Scott Kellermann and tour the award wining hospital and nursing school as well as hike the Batwa Experience to learn how the Batwa lived in the forest.  You will go gorilla trekking in the Forest.  On leaving Bwindi you will hike through the forest and stay in the luxurious and intimate Clouds Lodge, where you will enjoy great views, local villagers and the pure joy of helping a Batwa village build a house (as in mudding the bamboo walls).  You will drive through the Switzerland of Uganda to the Rwanda border and on to Kigali, the capital, where you will stay in the lovely Serena Hotel, tour the city and visit the Genocide Museum, which is both sad and uplifting.   There is much more to experience, if you join the group.

There was space for 11 people and we now have 8 signed up.  Here is your opportunity to complete the group.  If you have any interest, please send me a comment including your email address and I will send you the complete itinerary.

Thank you,

Julia

 

 

A trip for you to Uganda and Rwanda–September 19-October 21, 2018

November 10,2017

Dear Adventures With Julia followers,

Many of you have commented that you really enjoyed our recent adventure to Central and Eastern Europe and I want to thank you sincerely for your heartwarming comments.  Sometimes, when it is late, I am tired and Mark wants me to turn off the lights and go to bed, I wonder why I keep on writing.  Your comments motivate me to stick with it.

We are home and recovered now and getting back into the swing of our regular life.  I am sending you the following information and invitation because it relates to travel and may tantalize you to come along for an exciting adventure of your own.

 

A couple of friends and I have put together this exciting 13-day adventure in Uganda and Rwanda.  The trip dates are September 19 through October 1, 2018 and will include such highlights as: see, hear and feel the wild departure of Lake Victoria into the Nile River; go boating on the Kazinga Channel, which hosts the greatest biodiversity of wildlife on the planet;  safari search for tree-climbing lions and herds of elephant; track gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; meet and interact with the Batwa (Pygmies); experience what has been and is being done to help the Batwa adapt to life outside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest they were expelled from in 1992; help build a house for a Batwa family; see how the Rwandans have recovered from the 1994 Genocide and more.

This adventure is also a fund raiser for one of our favorite charities, the Kellermann Foundation.  The foundation was started by our family physician, Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann, who went to Uganda 15 years ago to study the condition of the pygmies.  What they learned, motivated them to move to SW Uganda where they could help the people directly.  You will not believe what they have accomplished there in such a short time, unless you visit the place.  Their mission says it all. “To provide resources for health, education, spiritual outreach, and economic empowerment for the benefit of the Batwa pygmies and adjacent communities.”

If you have any interest in learning more about this adventure or know you want to join us, please send me you mailing address and phone number and I will send you a brochure that provides all the details.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy travels, Happy life,

Julia

 

 

Ljubljana and home

 

October 23, 2017

We laid in bed a bit longer than usual this morning and chatted about the trip, going home and what to expect when we return.  It is definitely time even though we have enjoyed every bit of our experience.

However, let me focus on the last day in Slovenia first.  The sky had cleared and the fog was gone, but the air was still cold.  Our plan was to leave the Vila Istra at 10am and be early for our 11am meeting with Mateja in Ljubljana.  About a minute after leaving the hotel, the road made a right turn and we could see the mountains behind Bled covered in the first snow of winter.  It took our breath away and Mark stopped so I could take some photos.  The elevation at Lake Bled is only 1500 feet, but the mountains nearby are over 9000.   The snow-dusted mountain range followed us as we drove east and was still visible when we entered Ljubljana.

Bled Castle on a clear morning.

The surprise view of the hills behind Bled as we left the hotel on the morning of the 23rd. It was so nice to see sunshine and mountains. The snow was a bonus October 23, 2017

Karavanka Peak near Bled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met Mateja and our driver, Luca; dropped the car we had been self-driving and started our last city tour.   Luca let us off at the Old Town square for a walking tour.  I was almost instantly sorry I did not have more clothing.  Anyway, Mateja told us all about the buildings in and around the square.  At the far end of the square is the Academia Philharmonicorun built in 1701.  One of its most famous performers was Gustav Mahler who worked there for two years.

The town square in Ljubljana. The 1701 Academia Philharmonicorum at the back was performed in by Gustav Mahler for 2 years.

Also fronting the square was a several centuries old Catholic school and monastery that had been remodeled in the Art Nouveau style in the early 1900’s.  If you look closely you will see a group of young students in front of the building.  When these ancient buildings are remodeled they have a whole new life and energy to them.

A Catholic school and monastery front on the main square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is the University building dating from 1902, but established as Ljubljana University in 1919.  45,000 students attend, studying in different faculties all over the city.   For a town of only 280,000, that is a sizable student body.  Near the University is the Library, which was designed by architect, Joze Plecnik (1872-1957), who was born and raised in Ljubljana and made major contributions to the appearance and function of the city.  In this case he designed the bronze entrance to be plain and the interior walls to be black marble, so those entering the building would make students aware that they start with DARKness and study books to come out enLIGHTened.

The University Building, established as a school in 1919. Currently there are 45K students studying in different faculties throughout the city.

The University Library was designed by Joze Plecnik (1872-1957) with plain bronze doors and black marble interiors walls to remind students that their minds were dark until they entered the library and received light from learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the corner is St Nickolas Cathedral, built between 1701 and 1706 by Italians in Baroque style to resemble a Latin cross.  Inside is a distinctive Bishop’s chair and a side chapel designed by Joze Plecnik in the 50’s.   I could see that the frescoes and statues were in excellent condition, but have run out of energy and desire to look closely.  The main entrance has very impressive bronze doors that were made in 1996, in honor of Pope JPII’s visit to Slovenia.  I cannot remember all the details Mateja talked about, except that the bust of JPII is at the top.  Another pair of bronze doors at the side entrance was also impressive and included the heads of six Ljubljana bishops looking down at the dead Jesus.  In the upper right corner is a delicately carved freeze of the Virgin Mother and baby Jesus.

The bronze doors on St Nickolas cathedral were created in 1996 by Tone Demsar, a Slovenian sculptor.  The head at the top is Pope JPII looking down out of a window.

The interior of St Nickolas Cathedral

THe famous Pletnik Bishop’s chair.

The bronze side door with Mary and baby in upper right corner and dead Christ under the bishops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much of the city has been remodeled over the years and no longer looks old.  City Hall, for instance, was built in 1480, remodeled in1718 and again in1928.  The popular style at the turn of the century was art nouveau and many buildings, including City Hall, reflect that look.  Standing near City Hall is the Fountain of the Three Rivers, created by the famous Italian sculptor, Francesco Robba in the late 18th century.

 

 

 

 

Modernized City Hall in the Old Town of Ljubljana and the Fountain of Three Rivers.

Joze Plecnik, was and actually still is, a really important figure in Ljubljana, as you may have already noticed.  In addition to the above works, he helped transform Ljubljana into a pedestrian friendly city.  He designed bridges and the waterfront to make access across the River Ljubljana easier and walking along the river a pleasant experience.  He had willow trees planted along the river banks to connect people to the water and nature. Although he practiced in Vienna, Belgrade, and Prague, Plecnik loved Ljubljana and lived and worked there until his death in 1957.

Mateja and Mark taking a tea break on a very cold morning.

At one point I got so cold, I insisted we stop in a warm place for a hot tea.  We did and I think we all felt better for the warmth.

The three bridges designed by Plecnik.

A view of the river front crossing through the center of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After walking all over the Old City, we took a funicular to Ljubljana Castle at the top of the hill.  It was the most contemporary old castle I have ever seen.  It has been so completely redone in modern concrete and steel that I had to look hard for the old castle.  Now I am sorry I did not take photos of the new, as well as the old structure.  The place is perfect for weddings, parties, musical events, anything you want.  Wish we had such a facility in Grass Valley.  Anyway, we walked up over a hundred carved steel steps to get to the top of the clock tower to see the city below and the nationally famous Julian Mountains in the distance.  We got a few photos and climbed back down the circular stairway to the ground level of the castle, where Luca had driven to pick us up.  The funicular, it turns out, is for fun rather than necessity.

The city center from the top of the Ljubljana Castle Clock Tower. The square and Cathedral are front and center.

Part of the castle from the Clock tower.

THe view of the mountain whose 3 peaks are on the country flag. Only partly visible, but better than nothing.

Matejja took this nice photo of us overlooking Ljubljana. A nice photo on which to end our trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In just a few minutes we were back in town and said good bye to Mateja.   Luca took us to the airport where we said good bye to him.  Finally, we were really done sightseeing and headed home.

Ljubljana to Vienna for 2 hours there, then on to Heathrow for an overnight stay in a countryside place called Coworth Park.  It was very quiet and we slept well.  Then in the afternoon we departed Heathrow for SFO.

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Mark wrote some of his thoughts during the last few days. Hear they are……

It’s been a long 7 weeks with, perhaps, too heavy of a schedule.   We have had a great time, seen many wonderful places and met some great people but almost every day we have had a full day of sightseeing on our schedule. We wanted to do everything in every one of our destinations but at the same time we had to fight our own plan to get time off to relax and just to “be” as I like to say.

Julia and I have joked all of these years that we were saving our European travel until we were old and our nurse could push a wheelchair through the streets of Europe and until then we were going to “do” the hard places. I’m not willing to be old yet but I have seen the error of our thinking. There is no way my nurse could push my wheelchair over the miles of cobblestone streets, through the narrow passageways and up the hills we have climbed these many weeks.

I  enjoyed  this foray into European travel.  One benefit I never thought about before was being able to drink the water.   I can’t recall the last time on a trip that we weren’t worried about opening our mouths in the shower and accidentally drinking some water.   Drinking from the tap has always been out of the question.  We were always challenged trying to stockpile enough bottled water to get us through the night.

While driving ourselves has presented some challenges and a few coarse verbal exchanges between us, all in all I have really enjoyed driving here. While we have not seen a road wider than two lanes in each direction, I believe Julia commented earlier about how these drivers do not camp out in the passing lane and you better not either unless you want the car behind you to put his hood ornament’s brand into your trunk lid.

So while I thoroughly enjoy the benefits of first world travel here in Europe, I look forward to our next trip back to the hard places where you have to be careful in the shower and you can’t drive faster than 5 mph because the road probably won’t allow it.

The important thing to remember whether you want first world experiences or want to spend some time in the less developed world, get off your butt and get going. There is not a better education available anywhere than the knowledge you will gain by leaving home and meeting new and exciting world neighbors.

Travel safe. 🌎🌍🌏re

 

Julia’s thoughts and reniniscenses.

I really like Marks comments and can only add a few things.

The roads throughout our travels were better than I expected, some considerably better than our roads.   There are many more and much longer tunnels and bridges.  Many elevated roads have no water under them.  They are there to make travel time shorter and easier.  It concerns me that our infrastructure is not being kept up or improved.

We hit the jack pot when it comes to beds.  Only our last place, the Vila Istra Hotel, had a bed that was too soft.  Everywhere we had a firm, king bed and three pillows each.  That sure made sleeping easier even when we had 2 or 3 one night stands.  I am sure that sleeping well helped us carry on with a positive attitude.  Our only problem was when one of us was sick.  After we passed that hurdle we were fine.

As for guides and drivers, they were almost all really good.  Everyone spoke good English, thankfully, and we had lots of fun and laughter with several of them. The things we did not like are not worth remembering.

The food.  Now there is a topic.  We each had our share of really bad meals, most meals were just ok, and a few, too few, were wonderfully memorable.  Obviously, our Michelin dinner at Monte was way over the top.  I had a few really excellent fish dinners in Croatia and a few other good meals I can no longer recall.  Thankfully, fine dining was not our objective.

We have already been asked which place we liked best and what was our favorite experience.   What can we say?  We enjoyed each place while we were there for the unique place that it is.  Neither of us is inclined to have favorites.  We will probably not return to any of these countries, although there are still things I would like to have seen in several of them including the Czech Repubic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia.   Croatia holds the most appeal to me for several reasons. – small, colorful villages, many beaches on the Adriatic Sea, great seafood and a mostly Catholic population.  However, as Mark says, it is not on the way to anywhere.  I would happily have swam in Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast on a warm sunny day.  It was too cold to go swimming anywhere.  The highest the temperature got was 76 degrees and that was when we were not near water.

Did I learn anything new?  Yes.    Plan ahead better for the weather.  I thought I packed ok, but was way off the mark.  Too many light tops and not enough warm ones.  Pack less.  I do a little better each trip, but still need to improve in that department.

I learned a lot of European history and was fascinated by the similarities and the differences in each country’s experience.  I fear I  will not remember much of it for long.   Thank goodness for the blog.

I do not want to do another 7-week dog and pony show.  If we go for a long time, I want to plan on seeing fewer places and experiencing them in greater depth.  If we want to breeze through a few places, keep it to 4 weeks or less.

We definitely liked our Michelin experience.  Will start researching where they are located and try to book one far enough in advance to get a reservation.  We lucked out in Rovinj because it was the end of the season.

Mark and I got along fine.  Even while traveling, we had to handle business concerns.  Not easy when your mind is not on work.  And, of course we worried about friends caught in the fire areas as well as the hurricanes and flooding in eastern states and Puerto Rico.   Even our guides worried with us.

Attending Mass at the Mother of Peace pilgrimage site, Medjugorje, was a special treat.  I did not know much about the place and wish I had scheduled more time to experience the people and activities there.

I thank the Lord for a safe and fun experience for both of us and pray for all of you too.

Happy travels, however you go,

Julia

 

 

 

 

Slovenia

Map of Slovenia, Our 13th and final country of this adventure.

October 21, 2017

the only sign I could find as we entered Slovenia. Easy entry because of EU status, but the long line took 25 minutes.

Yeah!  We have a day to ourselves. We are leaving Rovinj and driving ourselves to Bled, Slovenia.

Predjama Castle.

If we drive nonstop, we should get to Bled in a little over 4 hours, which sounds rather nice to us as the day is clear and warm and tomorrow is expected to be cold and rainy.  If we get to Bled early enough we can walk around Bled Lake and see Bled Castle and the Baroque Church of the Assumption that stands on an island in the middle of the lake.

Vila Istra Hotel. We had the First floor rooms facing the lake.

Our plan, however, is to drive half way and see two highly recommended Slovenian sights – the Predjama Castle and the Postojna Caves, which are only a few kilometers apart.

When Mark went to put our money in the safe box at Vila Istra, he found that it was as easy to steel as the money itself. Why bother using it?

We agreed that we would not take time to go into the castle, but just see it from the outside and spend our time in the caves.  So far so good.

View from our room at Vila Istra. Visible is the island, the only island in all of Slovenia, and a traditional Pletna boat.

The drive there is very pleasant as the trees are in full autumn color.  We get to the castle and it is very appealing and not very crowded.  I would like to go inside, but we had agreed not to, so, I took some photos and we left.  Soon we were at the caves.  A whole other story.  There are huge parking lots full of cars and buses and people everywhere.  We knew the tour was 90 minutes and had prepared for that, but we did not know about the timed tour departures.

A nicer view of Lake Bled’s island, with the Church of the Assumption.

We arrive shortly after the 12 pm tour departed and learned that the next tour was not until 2pm.  Bummer.  This is a case where having a guide would have spared us from making a mistake.

Bled Castle.

Anyway, we considered our options and finally agree to give the caves a pass and drive on to Bled.  So, the bad news is we missed both of those sights.  The good news is we got to our large, comfortable and charming B&B, the Vila Istra, at 2pm with time to walk around the lake, see the mountain scenery, the castle, the church on the island,  which is just a couple hundred yards from our lake front room, AND relax in our room.

An aerial copy of Bled Castle.

We did not boat over to the church or go up to the castle as we know our guide tomorrow will take us and the cost is prepaid.  It was a lovely afternoon and evening.  We walked a short distance along the lakeside to a restaurant called Sova.  I had very good pork ribs and Mark enjoyed a seafood risotto.  We are doing better with our food choices lately.  Shortly after we went to bed, the wind and rain kicked in and it was stormy all night long.   We were both glad we had done the lake walk in the clear warm day.

It really is raining, cold and foggy on the castle square..

October 22, 2017

It was cold and rainy all day.   Our guide for the next two days, Mateja, arrived at 10am and we discussed what to do.

A working printing press from the Guttenberg era being demonstrated in a shop in the castle.

 

Finally, we agreed to drive up to Bled Castle and visit it, then drive to Bohinj Lake, a few miles away in a National Park, take a boat ride across that lake and visit an old gothic church in a nearby traditional village.

The printer showing off the image he had just made. It is an image of Bled Castle.

 

 

 

Johannes Gutenberg (1397-1468) next to Primoz Trubar (1508-1586). Two important figures in printing and the creation of books.

Then drive back to Lake Bled and take an ore powered boat ride to the island to visit the church and have a pastry in the café.

 

We did all those things in spite of the rain and cold.

A large room in the castle. The bishops did alright for themselves.

While driving up to Bled Castle we saw the distant alpine hill tops dusted with fresh snow.  No wonder I was cold.  We walked all around the castle, staying indoors most of the time.

The German-Roman Emperor, Henry II and his wife, holding the castle.

This castle was built by the Austrian Bishop Albuin of Brixen, who was given the land in 1004 by the German-Roman Emperor, Henry II, who wanted to be in good graces with the Pope.  It was a political maneuver that pleased the Pope, the Emperor and the Bishop.  The Bishop built the castle in 1011.

A print of the extraordinary crown worn by the German-Roman Emperors, who were above other emperors per instructions from the Pope.

After 800+ years in the hands of the Brixen Bishops, it was sold to an aristocratic family in the 1800’s.  Later, it was nationalized by the Austrians and in 1918 it became part of the city of Bled.

There is a printing shop in the castle that has a functioning version of the Guttenberg Press.

The 17th century indoor privy.

The printmaker was there and gave us a demonstration and told us about Primoz Trubar (1508-1586), a Slovenian, protestant priest who went to Germany to escape the counter-reformation.  He wrote the first book in Slavonian.  It was about how to read and write in the Slavonian language.

A scene of Bled Castle on the rainy day we were there.

He visited the castle briefly in 1561 and later died in Germany.

 

We saw a photo of the German-Roman Emperors crown that was first used in 962.  It was embellished in the 11th and 18th centuries and was last used by Emperor Frank II in 1804.  He resigned from being Emperor in 1896 after a battle with Napoleon.  It is a very impressive crown.

A small village near Lake Bohinj.

 

As we drove to Lake Bohinj, we learned several things from Mateja.

An example of a hay drying rack still used in the area. Grass takes about a month to dry on the racks. Then it gets stored on the flat upper level.

The population of the country is 2 million.  The capital, Ljubljana, has 280 thousand people.  Most people prefer to live in villages in the countryside rather than the city.

The 61 year old boat we road around the lake. There were only 6 on that passage from one end of the lake to the other.

Her family is a good example.  They have a 3-story house about 12 kilometers outside of Ljubljana.  Her mother lives on the ground floor, her brother and his family on the middle floor and she has the third floor.   They collectively maintain a large edible garden and are almost self sustaining.

 

A rustic summer home on Lake Bohinj.

Slovenia is 40% Karst land, which means it is made up of limestone, red soil and caves, which together make up the composition of Karst.  Karst land is in many places in the world, but the science of Karst and the name, originate in Slovenia.

A sample of a Karst wall on Lake Bohinj.

Melania Trump was born in Slovenia and did not leave home until she was about 20.  Trump came to Bled to meet Melania’s parents in 2002.  Now the parents live in Trump Tower.

 

The scenery around Lake Bohinj.

The tax structure in Slovania is more complicated than many countries we visited.

The 15th century St. John the Baptist Church in Upper Bohinj Valley.

If you earn up to 8K Euro, you pay 16%; between 8 and 20K you pay 27%; between 20 and 48K you pay 34% over 20K earned; between 48 and 70K you pay 39% above 48K earned; above 70K in earnings you are taxed at 50% on amount over 70K.   That is more than we pay in the US.

Inside St John’s Church. displaying its well preserved frescos.

In addition they pay a 9% or 22% VAT tax depending on the product.  For that they do get free education through university, basic health care and retirement.  Everyone pays a small additional amount per month to have premium insurance, that covers everything medical.

The graphic beheadding of St John the Baptist.

It is raining and foggy when we reach Lake Bohinj, but we get on the boat anyway.  Thankfully, it is enclosed.  We can open a few windows to look out, but there is not much to see in the fog.  The lake is 4 km long x 1.2 km wide, and 45 meters deep.  I wondered why we bothered, but we follow the program.  The view, we are told, is spectacular…..when you can see it.

Angels with teeth singing in the choir.

The boat itself is interesting as it is 61 years old and has always been electric.  Afterward, we drove through some farming villages and saw how they dry their grass on unusual and locally very traditional, hay racks.

The exterior of St John the Baptist Church, with a fresco of St Christopher.

The villages are quite pretty with the houses in each village clustered close together on irregular pathways rather than streets.   We stopped at St John the Baptist Church dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.  There were some interesting frescos of angels singing with their teeth showing and two different frescos showing John’s head on a plate and his decapitated body on the ground.   Outside was a fresco of St Christopher with 6 toes.  Rather strange and even weird, I thought.

A close look at Christopher’s feet shows six toes on each foot.

 

When we got back to Lake Bled it was raining only lightly and we decided to go for a PLetna boat ride with an oar powered boatman.

A pretty view of Lake Bohinj in spite of the fog.

Pletna boats have a rounded sun shade across the top and carry 18-20 people at a time.  They are powered only by one man rowing in a particular manner.

A Pletna boat passing by Tito’s summer tea house while being rowed to the island

He collects money and waits until the boat fills before he sets out.  There are 22 boats with the same number of families who have the tradition to row people to the island and back for a fee.  It has become a bit of a concession.

The Pletna boat man rowing us to the island. He was all business.

Our young ore man said his family has been doing this work for 300 years.  He has a brother and they take shifts to spell each other.  The trip to the island takes 15-20 minutes each way and he waits 40 minutes for people to see the island and get back to the boat.

 

Once on the island, our task is to climb 99 steps to get to the church and the café.  At the top, the 15th century church is pretty uninteresting, except for the wishing bell in the middle of the nave that everyone has to try.

Ringing the wishing bell inside the Church of the assumption.

Make a wish and pull on the bell rope.  We did.    The cakes in the café are where the action is.  Called “Potica”, they are a cake that is made with dough filled traditionally with walnuts and honey or other sweets, then rolled and placed in a bunt pan and cooked a long time.

The waitress serving the traditional Potica cake in the coffee house next to the Assumption Church.

There were several varieties and we each picked one.  They are not hugely sweet and yet very likeable.  Unfortunately they are a local tradition and not readily available outside Bled.  Not much time to linger, we finish the cake and head back down 99 steps to the boat.  He was waiting on us and started out as soon as we arrived. In short order, we were back at the Pletna boat dock, said good bye to Mateja and agreed to meet her the next day in Ljubljana at 11am.

A group of teen boys at the cafe, alone together.

I was happy to get back to our room, where we had a fireplace; and get it going so we could sit by it, warm up and relax.  This was the first fireplace we have had on this trip and the perfect time and place to have one.

THe 99 steps between the lake and the church. Our Pletna waits at the bottom.

For our last night in Slovenia, we decided to drive to a place overlooking the lake called the Hotel Triglav.

Our boat man readies his craft for the next group of passengers.

It was full of diners, but not very noisy.  The food was pretty good, but not great.  The big thig here was the dessert.  We were told that we had to try the traditional Bled dessert, Cream Cake.  We had it, but were not crazy about it.

The cream cake, Mateja insisted we try and pre-ordered for us at the Hotel Triglav Restaurant. We felt obliged to eat it, but would have preferred to have only one bite, or the poached pear everyone else was having.

From top to bottom it consisted of a 4” square of; powdered sugar, a filo dough top, ½ inch layer of whipped cream, 1 ½ inch layer of vanilla pudding and a filo dough bottom.   Way too much for me, I managed about half of it.  Stuffed again, we went back to our room and the cozy fireplace.  We have only one last day, tomorrow, the 23rd, to complete this adventure before we start the journey home.  I will have to send the final chapter from there as there is not time to finish before then.