Weirdo Looks For Baby Moses

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I have no idea how Cleopatra found a baby in a basket on this wide, rushing expanse of water. That’s how the story goes, right?

I spent my last few dreamy African days on the banks of the Nile River. After returning to Kampala following my Troop to the Gorillas, a couple of guests at my Kampala hostel strongly recommended a little island about two hours away in Jinja with a most unappealing name of Hairy Lemon (I’m terrible with accents so at first I thought they kept saying Holy Lemon, which, having been brought up in a Christian home, I thought was fitting for a Nile River island, but alas…). 

The first thing I read about this place was: to get to the island, you must stand on the banks of the Nile and strike a gong, after which a boatman will collect you. I was sold.

My ride

 
 
The Island was a purely tranquil delight. There was only one other guest during my stay so it was the perfect way for me to relax, unwind, and happily reminisce the adventures of the past 18 days. 

   
 
I stayed in the Kigelia Kabin, which had room for four people (full board with meals included for $42 USD/night), but seeing as I was only one of two guests, I had the whole banda to myself. It overlooked the Nile, where I sat, read, drank endless cups of coffee and watched chickens, monkeys, lizards and various other small wildlife putter around next to me.

    
When it was hot, or I heard the gleeful screeches if white water rafting tours floating down the river, I’d wander to the riverbank, read, tan, and amusingly observe.

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#omgsunset


Next up, I go home after a short layover in Amsterdam and a trip to a “coffee” shop.

Weirdo Goes Tarzan In The Jungle

I literally swung off trees. Mostly to catch myself from slipping down the muddy slopes of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or to frantically leap from beehives, but whatevs. Me, Jane.

I spent my first six days in Uganda on a Topdeck “Troop to the Gorillas” Tour run by Acacia Africa and I can’t recommend these guys enough. I’m not much of a tour person and this was my first (more than three-day) tour, but it was full of awesome people, an incredible tour leader (Elton) and driver (Marc), delicious food, and great ease in knowing what, when and where you’re going next. We covered so much ground from Kampala to Lake Bunyoni, including a visit to Queen Elizabeth Park, chimpanzee trek, gorilla trek, optional day trips to Kigali and we still had plenty of time for some downtime at the lake to catch up on postcards, journals, reading, sleeping, cleaning your belly button, or whatever the hell you wanna do. It’s vacation, after all. TIA.

Mountain Gorilla 1

The biggest reason I was there was to see this guy and about 19 of his family members and the experience was so surreal that it’s been four days and I still can’t properly put my emotions into words. My camera handling was shit that day – whether due to my overwhelming excitement or damp jungle conditions, I don’t know – but most of my photos are blurry. After awhile, I stopped taking photos and just watched in awe, fear and respect.

Bro's not havin' it

Bro’s not havin’ it

Out of the family of 20 that we saw, there were three silverbacks, one of which was notorious for charging. During debriefing, we were reminded more than thrice how to react if a gorilla charges you:

  1. Don’t yell
  2. Don’t look him in the eye
  3. Don’t run away

About two minutes into our first sighting, notorious Rumanza was just chillin’ out by his tree and I guess he wasn’t cool with eight people interrupting his “me” time, so he charged and I did the exact opposite of all of the above. Hey man, all logic goes out the window when a 400 pound silverback rushes at you. I may have peed a little but I blamed it on the rain.

Bring it on, Rumz

Bring it on, Rumz

I like this tree. This is my favourite tree. Leave me alone under this tree.

I like this tree. This is my favourite tree.

I'm shy

I’m shy

Next up, I relax in Jinja in denial by The Nile.

Weirdo Gets Serious

  
I wanted to quickly pen this before I head to Uganda. Throughout my experiences thus far, nothing was as terribly haunting as my visit to the Kigali Genocide Museum. Note that there are no pictures of the site as I couldn’t bring myself to take any.

I arrived admittedly flippant with whatever knowledge I could gather from the infamous movie and some quick Wiki searching the night before. I’ve been to various war museums and memorials, but nothing could prepare me for what I learned and saw here. No matter what history has proven, I still cannot comprehend the cruelty us humans are capable of.

I won’t attempt to accurately outline the events that led to those fateful days in 1994, and I won’t risk trivializing it with some clever remark. There is a plethora of information on this recent and horrific genocide available at your fingertips.

1,000,000 deaths. 100 days.

If you get a day, or even half a day in Kigali, please visit this memorial, if not even just to witness the beautiful country Rwanda is successfully striving to become.

Weirdo Spews In A Treehouse


There’s something magical about living in a tree. That is, until you get really drunk one night and nearly kill yourself falling out of said tree trying to get to the communal toilet before you start projectile vomiting both your dinner and what little is left of your 31-year-old integrity.

I spent the last four days on the coast of Kenya, flying into Mombasa and riding out to the pristine sands of Diani Beach. I was meant to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa by night train, but my train was cancelled due to it “running two days late”. Strange, considering it only runs every two days and the train two days following mine was cancelled as well. TIA!

The Treehouse

I stayed at a small backpackers sanctuary across the beach called Stilts Backpackers. I have mixed feelings about this place for reasons apart from the spewing incident. The staff, manager and owner were extremely friendly and helpful, but my first impression was skewed by the fact that they didn’t receive the change in my reservation and didn’t seem overly concerned about it. To be fair, I booked my stay through Hostelworld so the mix-up wasn’t entirely Stilts’ fault.

The location was superb; it’s right across the road from 40 Thieves Bar and thus only a 5-7 minute walk to the beach.

While my own stay at the hostel was great, on my last night, two incidents occurred that did not involve me but were concerning to say the least:

  1. One guy’s treehouse was broken into while he was out and half of his belongings, including passport, were stolen (passport was found tossed aside on the property later the next morning).
  2. One cottage of four girls’ was broken into while they were sleeping. The locked door was kicked open, but one of the girls was quick-thinking and got him in the face with pepper spray before he ran away.

I left the morning after these incidents and am unsure of who the perpetrator(s) was/were and how they got past the guards on the property, but even more concerning is that the owner, while helpful in advising the affected guests of alternative hotel options, appeared unapologetic and unconcerned. Regardless of whether or not this type of thing happens often in Kenya or anywhere else in the world, I wasn’t impressed with the response from the staff.

The Beach

Anyway, on to the reason I endured planes, cancelled trains, automobiles and even boats to get here…


Diani Beach is nothing short of spectacular. I won’t post too many pictures of it because it’s pretty much the default background on everyone’s computer and/or tablet monitors throughout the winter months: sun, turquoise waters and fine, white sand.

Things of note:

  • It’s virtually impossible to get five minutes alone, especially as a lone female traveller. I love conversing with locals, but being approached every few minutes for a sales pitch or even just a little chat was – and I’m embarrassed to say – irritating after awhile. Just let me tan, dammit.
  • Souvenirs and knick-knacks on the beach are expensive so if you come down here, don’t be afraid to a). find out the asking price, b). slash it by at least 70%. This is something else I have mixed feelings about: what’s two extra bucks to me, really? But it’s all part of the game.

I used up an entire bottle of bug spray here (the insects on the coast are really gross and really fucking weird looking) and by the time I finally got enough alone time to try and take hot-dog legs pictures, the clouds were building up for a flash storm. No matter, the rains were warm and I was in paradise.

Hot dog legs are so 2013 anyway, so here are my toes.

Weirdo Loses Her Shit Over Baby Elephants

Elephant

I’m not sure where my love for elephants came from. It might’ve been Dumbo, it might’ve been the first picture I saw of their long luscious eyelashes, it might’ve been the self-comparison of the size of our noses…whatever it was, it continues to this day and, although I saw several herds in the Masai Mara, visiting the elephant orphanage in Nairobi was a dream come true.

Elephant Eyes

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity dedicated to rescuing and nurturing young elephants and rhinos that have been separated from their mothers at a young age and still rely on their mother’s guidance and milk. There are Keepers on the orphan sites that feed the babies and help prepare them to be released back into the wild when they are ready.

Baby Elephant Herd

Bro in the back can’t be confined. He be like “Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride. Nobody gonna hold me downnn, oh no.”


Most people know that elephants and rhinos are often poached for their tusks and this is a common reason that their babies get abandoned. There are other reasons, of course: the mothers die of natural causes; babies get stuck in human wells, water holes or traps; herds are attacked by predators, etc…but the point is, these animals’ tusks provide no value to human life whatsoever so there is absolutely no point in them being on the market.
Elephant Orphanage Viewing TimeThere are 29 babies at the orphanage and public viewing times are between 11am-12pm daily with a $5USD or 500KSh entrance/donation fee. While it appears to a be a theatrical event with crowds of spectators surrounding the rope-enclosed ring, it’s actually quite organic as you watch the elephants feed, splash around in the water and play with one another. Some of them will come right up to you, curiously nudging your hands or face and playfully spraying you with mud and dirt.

It’s glorious.

Get outta my way, bro

Get outta my way, bro

I can feed myself, dammit

I can feed myself, dammit

Lemme buy you a draaaank

Lemme buy you a draaaank

Ostrich bomb

Ostrich bomb

For $50USD a year, you can foster an elephant and the funds go to the whole conservation. And, if I’m ever back in Nairobi (which I intend to be), I can drop by in the evenings and watch them prepare and put my foster elephant to bed.

I picked this little guy, Kauro, because he came right up to me, lifted the rope fence with his trunk, and started chasing after me for what I can only assume was a snuggle. And I love snuggles so he feels me, bro.

Kauro Snuggle Bunz

Kauro Snuggle Bunz

Weirdo Excessively Uses Lion King References

Masai Mara

I keep saying I visited the Pride Lands but it turns out not as many people as I’d hoped understand my references to The Lion King. My group kind of thought I was a weirdo yelling out “PUUMBA!” every time I saw a warthog. No matter; my trip to the Masai Mara was still amazing.

I saw three of the Big Five animals: lions, elephants (!), and buffalo. Missing and rare were the leopard and rhino, the latter of which there are apparently only 20 in the 1,510 km2  park (citation: my tour guide, Joshua).

Coming up from a morning cap

Coming up from a morning cap

Wee one, can I take you home?

Wee one, can I take you home?

Dude's just not having it

Dude’s just not having it

I have about 700 more pictures (about 400 of which were just me trying to figure out the settings to my sister’s camera) but as you can see, my shutter speed, ISO, white balance (I’m just throwing words out there, I don’t know wtf I’m talking about) are all a bit off so I’d like to edit them a bit before posting larger versions.

Safari VanThe whole safari itself was pretty incredible and I’d definitely recommend three days/two nights as the perfect amount of time for it. Two days is too short considering the 12 hour round trip (3 hours of which are on a jarring dirt road) from Nairobi, and four days may have been too long as each morning started between 6-7am and ended about 10 hours later. I’d say from the full day game drive, I saw animals about 70% of the time, but otherwise it’s a lot of driving on dirt roads. That being said, there would likely be a lot more animals around during migration. I booked the Masai Mara Camping Safari with Explorer Kenya and they were great, but these guys, along with many other tour companies, sort of all function under the same umbrella. They all depart daily and spread out their guests amongst each other depending on traveler budget and pick-up areas in Nairobi.

We camped (glamped) in some pretty fancy schmancy tents at Lenchada Tourist Camp that included full beds with mattress and clean bedding, mosquito nets and ensuite bathrooms with flushing Western toilets and hot showers. Wish I’d remembered to take a picture of the campground but after 12 hour days on the road and on game drives, my brain was a bit mush.

Cheetah ChasingOne thing that bothered me a bit was watching all the safari vans and trucks chase down the animals, especially the big cats, each time they emerged. I respect the Reserve and the protection against poaching, though, so I suppose privacy is a small price to pay for their lives. Still, it makes me wonder if they’re really able to live in a natural environment with so much human interruption going on around them. I’m not educated enough in the matter to form a strong opinion, but it does make me pity them a bit when they seem to just want to be left alone.

We may have chased these honeymooners out of some yada-yada time

We may have chased these honeymooners out of some yada-yada time

Anyway, the whole experience was nothing short of phenomenal and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I may try out the Serengeti National Park and take my little guy along with me next time.

Little side note on bringing kids on a safariGreat idea and I’m not being sarcastic (my high school math teacher once told me to stop using sarcasm as a defence mechanism and I’m still struggling with it 15 years later). However, I’d strongly recommend waiting until they’re at least 6-7 years old. This doesn’t come from my own experience, but from conversations with other travellers with children. We also had a one-year-old on the first day of our safari and, while I fully condone starting kids out young, it’s really fucking hard to have a baby on a trip like that (6 hour car ride, 2.5 hour game drive, tenting, etc). I can’t imagine the parents enjoying it all that much as most of their time was spent trying to get the munchkin to stop crying.

Some unedited highlights:

I don't really get zebras. Like, why aren't they brown or grey like the other prey animals. I CAN SEE YOU, ZEBRA

I don’t really get zebras. Like, why aren’t they brown or grey like the other prey animals. I CAN SEE YOU, ZEBRA

Momma Cheetah and her cub cats trying to cool down

Momma Cheetah and her cub cats trying to cool down

This one time when my son was 4 he almost choked on one of those balls from the Hungry Hungry Hippos game and I've hated hippos ever since

This one time when my son was 4 he almost choked on one of those balls from the Hungry Hungry Hippos game and I’ve hated hippos ever since

Everybody's got a water buffalo / Yours is fast but mine is slow / Oh, where we'd get them, I don't know / But everybody's got a water buffalo-ooooooo

Everybody’s got a water buffalo / Yours is fast but mine is slow / Oh, where we’d get them, I don’t know / But everybody’s got a water buffalo-ooooooo

The King after a kill. That's a wildebeest and this is like Simba's revenge for the wildebeest stampede killing Mufasa even though it was Scar who let him go, the wildebeest technically killed him, those bastards

The King after a kill. That’s a wildebeest and this is like Simba’s revenge for the wildebeest stampede killing Mufasa even though it was Scar who let him go, the wildebeest technically killed him, those bastards

Vultures and jackals finishing off a wildebeest. Circle of Life, am I right

Vultures and jackals finishing off a wildebeest. Circle of Life, am I right

You can pretty much find these guys everywhere but they're not easy to chase down. They're also easy to miss 'cause they're eating all the damn time

You can pretty much find these guys everywhere but they’re not easy to chase down. They’re also easy to miss ’cause they’ve got their heads down eating all the damn time

Nice butts

Nice butts, ellies

Masai women and children selling goods on the way into the Reserve

Masai women and children selling goods on the way into the Reserve

I just want to point out that I’m still uncertain of how Masai/Maasai is spelled as I’ve seen it both ways on both the internet and around the Reserve. If anyone knows and can confirm with a non-Wiki reference, that’d give me some piece of mind.

Next up, I’m flying to Mombasa and staying at Diani Beach for a few days and work on my much needed tan.

Weirdo Makes It On Time To The Airport

I don’t really believe in a world governed by time (damn you, Sir Isaac Newton) but my bestie convinced me to leave earlier than I usually would. This means leave my house no less than 3 hours prior to my flight for the 25 minute train ride to YVR. I was close and left 2.5 hours prior only to breeze through security in five minutes thanks to my Nexus. I genuinely waited four times as long for my lunch Combo B at Hanami Express (really shitty food, by the way) than I did in the security lineup. I’m currently sitting at my gate, watching people that have been standing in line to board for the past half hour, even though we didn’t technically start boarding until about 10 minutes ago. Maybe if you stand closer to the doors they’ll let you on sooner, guys.

I kind of want to show off my planning skills as this is the most prepared I’ve been for any trip. Excel is my life now. I’ve had to carefully budget, plan for the hottest climate I’ve ever been to (I’m a fainter), and schedule sitters, pick-ups and school/soccer drop-offs for my son.

I’m actually a major geek and love Excel-ing (see what I did there), but about 85% of this template came from these fellas. It’s helped me budget, have an idea of what to expect to spend, and know how much money to exchange and tuck away. I love it. It’s also pretty. I’m a nerd.

In a non-spreadsheet nutshell, I’ll be in East Africa from October 9th – 27th, looking for good eats, interesting people, tremendous adventure, and a lot of weird stories to experience, live, see and tell. So if you or someone you know or someone you don’t know will be in the vicinity, and wanna get weird…

Come at me, bro.

Weirdo Prepares to Travel to East Africa

Recipe for Misadventure

  • Ingredients: ~47
  • Prep Time: 3 weeks
  • Cost: Priceless (just kidding, this is running me like five grand right now and I haven’t even left yet)

Ingredients [Essentials]:

I’m a notorious over-packer (and over-spender, and over-thinker–that-I-have-time-er), so take some of this with a grain of salt. However, I’ve been packed for about a week – not because I’m in any way particularly prudent, but because I lost half of my travel gear after my trip last year (RIP, Trevor).

1. Backpack

Firenze

Since the untimely departure of Trusty Trevor the Travel Trundle, I’ve been on the hunt for a new and reliable friend and I found him in this slick, compact and durable package: the Farpoint Osprey 55 [aka: Firenze]. This comes in all sorts of lovely colours, has a detachable day-pack, great back support, lockable zippers, LightWire frame…but mostly, it makes me look really fucking cool. Check that sleek material and tight straps and sturdy handles and majestic logo.

For real though, if you don’t believe me, check the reviews (I mean regarding the specs and features and shit).

2. Packing Cubes

eBags

I kept reading about these things and back in my day, we just threw things in hat boxes and owl cages and off we went. But with my over-zealous packing, these were life savers. They forced me to actually think about what I needed rather than shove whatever could fit into any random [beautifully crafted mesh Farpoint Osprey] pocket. I purchased the eBags Slim Packing Cubes – Assorted 3PC Set with the only wish that I’d gotten the Slim Packing Cubes 3PC Set so that I had bigger cubes (I had to forgo taking my poncho and woolly scarf; the horror). Nonetheless, this is a picture of all cubes containing: 10 pairs of knickers, 7 pairs of socks, 2 sports bras, 2 bathing suits, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of trackies, 1 pair of jeans and 2 pairs of leggings.

Let’s face it, though: I’ll probably only wear two items of clothing this whole trip ’cause I’m gross like that, but I really do recommend giving these a go if not for the satisfaction of cramming half your wardrobe into three tiny compartments.

3. Trousers

Please don’t ask me why I’m using British terms for clothing. Trousers, knickers, jumpers…whatever, eh? Aside from my super sexy new pal, Firenze, this is my new favourite purchase. I previously scoffed in the face of friends that searched tirelessly for travel convertible and/or cargo pants until I feasted my eyes on these North Face Paramount II Convertible Pants (I only found them because I was drunk and reading reviews online). Yes, they meet the sexy requirement (especially when rolled up as cargos), but they’re also lightweight, convert to not-too-short tween shorts and not-too-long grandma shorts; plus, they’re super thin to pack.

4. Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Bag Liner

Last thing, I promise. As part of my trip, I will be spending 10 days in hostels, homestays, treehouses, etc in Kenya before I spend 6 days camping in Uganda to meet some of my gorilla friends. This meant lugging around a sleeping bag I wasn’t likely to use for the first half of my trip. Lo and behold the Outdoor Vitals OV-Light Mummy Sleeping Bag (3 Season, Lightweight, Ultra Compactable) that compresses so small it’s pretty much the size of my super cool NY Giants hat (included in picture for size comparison. Also included in picture for excuse to post a picture of my super cool NY Giants hat.)

Now because I was (again) drunk and reading sleeping bag reviews, because that is what my life has come to, I decided it would be a good idea to get a liner. Sober-me is thankful for drunk-me’s brilliance, as not only do I run cold, but I wouldn’t mind that extra layer between me and the hostel/treehouse/camper van sheets. This TETON Sports Sleeping Bag Liner‘s really lightweight, and so teeny tiny that I’m tempted to carry it around in my pocket just because I can.

Prep Time [Visas]:

I made most purchases (other than my flight and tour) around a month in advance, trying to catch deals, drunkenly online shopping, selling off parts of my soul to pay for Firenze, etc, but if there is one thing you make sure you have time for: get your Visa done and sorted. Rules and fees for Kenya visa-on-arrival are constantly changing in Fall 2015 so keep an ear on the ground.

FYI, I sent in for my East Africa Tourist Visa and received it back from the embassy in Ottawa in just over a week.

Cost [Budget/Mid-Range]:

I’m going to goddamn Africa so PRICELESS with all capitals and bolds and stars and all that CSS shit I don’t know how to do. But if you’re wondering, with all transportation, accommodation, tours, trains, planes and automobiles (they have Uber in Nairobi!), I’m currently running at just under $4,800 on a budget.

Next up, maybe I’ll actually tell you exactly where the hell I’m going. Or maybe I’ll forget I even started this blog like how I forgot to pick up toilet paper again yesterday; thank goodness Dominos always ignores my “eco-friendly” request.

***Disclosure: I’m not making money off any of these links. I wish I was though. If you are a CSS or know of a CSS or have a CSS and can tell me how, I’ll give you the other half of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Weirdo Explains Why She’s Blogging Again

It’s Been A Minute…

It’s been about half a decade since I’ve blogged (I once even vlogged; half a Ben & Jerry’s to whomever can find that atrocity of a video), so excuse me while I slowly get my bearings. I have no idea what CSS is and/or HTML5 (was there ever even an HTML1? Check my Wiki/hyperlinking skills, though) but I know how to type and I [almost] know how to take cool pictures.

Oh, The Places I’ll Go

BarcelonaIMG_7671

Last year was my first big trip since 2010 (Barcelona and Morocco, but more on that another time) and this year I decided I wanted to experience a different kind of Africa. I loved Morocco, but I felt it to be more of a Middle Eastern country (plus, I really want to see some elephants). Let’s be facetious and say I’m going to “do” East Africa. Coming up on October 9th, I’ll be heading to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. But more on my itinerary later because I want to vent (and brag) about the goddamn headache it is it pack for a trip like this when I’m normally Pack a Fanny Pack and Run With It.

Next up…my vent/brag/lack of brevity.