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At World’s End

Ushuaia (Argentina) boasts of being the southernmost city on the planet and it’s the most convenient launching pad to visit the continent of Antarctica. We had made reservations well in advance on the “Ocean Endeavor” with Quark Expeditions. (Not to make an ad of this post but they truly are the best at this kind of travel. In case you’re wondering: wholehearted recommendation from us.) We were lucky to get on the last expedition of the season before they shut down operations for their winter when ice becomes so thick and sunlight so scarce that it is impossible to visit Antarctica.

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We should have had half a day to visit Ushuaia but flying there, our small charter plane had to land to refuel mid-trip because the wind currents over the Patagonia were so strong we were burning more fuel than anticipated. This meant that we had only one hour to walk around Ushuaia before boarding.

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Ushuaia is a cute town and while we would have loved to spend some time there, we didn’t feel shortchanged. Maybe we were simply too excited about the upcoming journey and eager to set out.

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The Ocean Endeavor has a reinforced hull to be able to withstand the ice we would be traveling among. It has capacity for 199 guests plus crew which we thought would be way too big but turned out to be the perfect size for our 10 day adventure. I’ll make a parenthesis here to say that our boat was not at full capacity and my impression was that this is common; so for anyone with some time to spare it wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea to arrive in Ushuaia without a reservation and find a spot in a departing tour probably at a discount. We had a very specific window of time we could travel during so this was not an option for us but for any solo travelers out there my advice would be to take a chance.

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The crew hails from every corner of the planet and while all speak different languages, they have in common their solicitousness which made our time aboard truly enjoyable.

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Getting to Antarctica means having to cross the infamous Drake Passage.

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The Drake Passage is the bane of visitors to Antarctica because it is one of the roughest stretches of sea anywhere. It connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans carrying 600 times more water than the Amazon River. We were lucky even in this as during our navigation, the Drake Passage was as calm as a lake and we were able to make quick time getting to the South Shetland Islands. We even got to watch a pod of Orcas swim by.

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Several nations have laid claim to wedges of Antarctica, among them Argentina which maintains several outposts only occupied during the summer months. We visited Camara Station in Half Moon Island which had just been vacated for the season.

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Why would nations keep deserted outposts? Well, the Antarctic Treaty says, among other things, that any nation wanting to claim a bit of the Antarctic continent must operate a research station there. Hence, several countries keep stations here which they visit only during a few days every year technically complying with this requirement. Antarctica is the only continent without an indigenous human population and is governed under the Antarctic Treaty which is scheduled to expire in 2048, not too long now. For a quick read on the precarious military situation Antarctica is in, please visit this well-written article from the World Economic Forum.

Half Moon Island is home to Fur Seal

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and  Chinstrap Penguin colonies

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which happily coexist.

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As well as some Gentoo Penguins.

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At this time of the season, penguins are almost done molting which they do to get rid of old, damaged feathers. The new feathers will be pristine and protect them through the harsh winter. They do look miserable while it’s taking place though.

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We made the surprisingly fatiguing trek to the island’s peak to visit the rookery

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where our guides were eager to introduce us to Kevin, a confused Macaroni Penguin who has taken residence with the Chinstraps.

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While we were here they made a stunning discovery: Kevin engaging in a mating dance with a Chinstrap. Why is this stunning? Because different kinds of penguins don’t mate with each other!

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Of course more observation is required before coming to any conclusions and as our guides excitedly planned for it, we enjoyed having been lucky witnesses to the event. We were quite tired from the  trek and couldn’t help wonder how the penguins make it to the top all the way from the waters’ edge:

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No wonder they sometimes break for a quick nap.

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There are many other creatures living on the island. Look closely at the water in this picture, those aren’t penguins swimming in.

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They are Antarctic Shags.

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Like penguins, they feed on fish and are excellent swimmers but they have a leg up in that they can also fly.

While in Antarctica waters, we made off-boat excursions twice a day. We were all assigned a group and then called down to the common room when we were to disembark. All our winter gear stayed in this room where everyone was assigned a locker. Once geared up, we stood in line awaiting our turn out the “door”.

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Excursions were always an adventure.

Among the weird creatures in the water are these guys:

They form long columns by latching onto each other and float around pushed by the currents until somebody eats them. They’ve got the consistency of week-old Jello and seem just as appetizing but apparently are as yummy as dessert for Antarctica inhabitants.

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Being in a zodiac surrounded by ice can get extremely cold but there’s no other way to experience sights such as these:

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On every excursion, we would land for a few hours to observe the local wildlife.

Antarctic Gull:

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Albatross:

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Wedell Seal:

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South American Fur Seal:

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Chilean Skua:

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Crabeater Seal:

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Penguins were always a big hit. These are part of a Gentoo rookery:

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with a random Chinstrap among them.

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Upon returning to the boat,

we were required to scrub ourselves thoroughly to avoid carrying any organism (plant, bacteria, moss, spores, poop, etc) from one landing to the next.

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Even the soles of our boots were exhaustively inspected before being barcode-checked back on board. Many a passenger was sent back for a second scrubbing during these checks.

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With world temperatures climbing, invasive species are beginning to cause major damage in  Antarctica. While Polar Bears (in the northern regions of the globe) get most of the press, Antarctic species are also suffering. For instance, an interesting fact is that there are no mosquitoes in Antarctica so far which means no mosquito-transmitted diseases. However, with temperatures rising and tourism increasing, house flies are being introduced and this means indigenous species will soon come into contact with diseases they have no defenses against. Tourism in Antarctica is governed by IAATO but this is an entirely optional association. Tourists can help keep Antarctica safe by making sure their tour operator belongs to IAATO and by following all guidelines, such as thoroughly cleaning all their gear, camera cases included.

Back on board, meals were fantastic! Imagine dining al fresco

surrounded by this scenery:

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while these guys provide the entertainment:

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Most of our guides were scientists or naturalists with incredibly interesting lives. Lectures were given every day on different topics, from marine life to the history of polar expeditions. Lectures were so well attended that we had to get to the audiovisual room early in order to get a seat, that’s how engrossing they were. One of our guides was a Glaciologist, specializing in the study of ice on Mars. I know what you’re thinking: “How interesting can ice actually be?” Before this trip, I would have asked the same question. Well, let me tell you it was the most interesting lecture of them all! We were lucky to get him as our zodiac guide the next day where he continued to amaze us with his expertise. Here he is explaining how scientists can figure out the concentrations of elements which existed in Earth’s atmosphere millions of years ago by analyzing the air bubbles trapped in the Antarctic ice.

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Another awesome guide was Jimmy, whom we all baptized as the “whale whisperer”.

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I kid you not, whenever we were lucky enough to get him for our zodiac guide, whales would invariably come calling, both Humpback

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and Minke Whales.

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And of course you know what these guys eat, don’t you?

Antarctic Krill.

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Fernando says it tastes like shrimp and yes, he swallowed it raw, eyes and all.

There were lots of other creatures to look at as well.

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On these excursions, some guests opted for kayaking

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or even paddle-boarding.

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It looks awesome doesn’t it? To be honest, I think it’s one of those things that look great but maybe aren’t so much. Why am I pooh-poohing it? Most of the people who came back from those excursions didn’t look too happy. See, unless you’re super good at it already, you’ll probably fall off a few times and well, the water is a bit colder than fresh. I imagine having to continue with the group when you’re soaking wet and possibly beginning to frost all over might be just a tad inconvenient but I’m open to changing my mind so go try it and let me know how much you enjoyed it.

We landed at some historic sites where remains of early expeditions could be seen. History buffs will have to forgive me though, I didn’t pay much attention to those. I just was in it for the penguins.

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This is Primavera Station (Argentinian) in Ciervo Cove which at this time of the year seems to be run by penguins.

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Turns out penguins are super nosy!

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As soon as we landed, they would come over immediately to investigate us.

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Observing them in the water was astonishing:

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but very difficult since they are such fast swimmers. Observing them on land was much easier.

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Skuas and penguins, although coexist in the same areas, are enemies.

Skuas will steal food away from the penguins

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which isn’t taken lightly. A chase ensues which the skua often wins since it can simply fly away.

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Skuas will also steal penguin eggs and even new chicks if their parents are careless. They don’t turn their noses up at old bits either.

While penguins seem cuddly, they’re actually kind of vicious. This youngster

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relentlessly bullied this younger penguin for a full 10 minutes while we all powerlessly watched it go on.

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Some of the tourists were quite upset about it but intervening is huge no-no. As always with nature, there are some other upsetting sights

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as well as absorbing ones:

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Penguins are simply fascinating.

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Then again, in Antarctica, everything is!

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Leopard Seals are some of the fiercest predators in these waters. Like every other Antarctic inhabitant, they will feed on fish and krill but much prefer penguin if it can be had. We saw a Leopard seal take a penguin right from the shore while we all stood with mouths agape. We saw another one catch a gull in flight.

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Can you see the curiosity in its eyes as it looks at us?

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We didn’t dare come any closer. You can tell Leopard Seals apart from all the others because their faces are more elongated, the better to hunt with.

We crossed the Lemaire Channel which is knows as the “Kodak Gap” for its stunning scenery featuring enormous icebergs.

On our last day in Antarctic waters the crew decided a “Polar Plunge” would be the perfect way to end our trip. Fernando and Alejandro were insane brave enough to go for it.

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We then began our journey back and our luck ran out.

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The Drake Passage which had welcomed us so gently, woke up and attacked us. And yes, attacked is the word I’ll describe it with. The boat rocked from side to side with such force that we were thrown out of bed along with anything else that was not tied down. We could see the ocean come up to meet us through the porthole in our room and then disappear from sight until the next tilt. I was convinced we were going to capsize. None of the seasickness remedies I had carried with me worked and I spent the next two days struggling to hold down a sip of water. The boys fared just a tad better but not by much.  However, Fernando was entirely unaffected and able to enjoy the gourmet meals the crew was dishing out and attend lectures by those scientists aboard who weren’t likewise indisposed. The nerve of him!

Once we made it through the Drake Passage, we found ourselves rounding Cape Horn. This is allegedly one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world, even known as a “sailors graveyard”, but by the time we got here, after the ordeal that the Drake Passage had been, we simply enjoyed the view. We were able to take a peek at the lighthouse for a moment before the fog descended and covered it again.

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And just like that, a few short hours later, we were back in Ushuaia.

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Visiting Antarctica was an incredible experience and one we would gladly embark on again, seasickness and all. If there is one thing to take away from this trip it is that Antarctica is a magical, albeit horribly fragile place and we’re doing our children’s children irreparable harm by not taking better care of it. We need to begin by taking care of our little corners of the world and making every consumption decision fully conscious, remembering that everything that we use had to come from somewhere and that the health of every place, no matter how far away, ultimately effects all of us.

“We don’t have four years to sit around and wait for better management” Robert Swan,  the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles and founder of the 2041 Foundation, admonished us. Robert and his IAE16 group (over 50 people) were on the boat with us. His group, which included Mr. Jonathan Shackleton (descendant of the famous explorer Sir Ernest H. Shackleton), came from all corners of the world and were both female and male, of all possible ages and professions, but the one thing they all had in common was the focus of the work they do in their own communities towards fostering a better planet for all. I invite you to learn more about this admirable man and his foundation, and to do what we can from wherever we are. Let’s make our great-grand kids proud!

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Categories: Antarctica, Argentina, South America, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Colonia del Sacramento

Day trips to Uruguay are a common offering in Buenos Aires. You’ve got two options: Montevideo, which is the capital of Uruguay; or Colonia, a small town of about 30,000 people and a lot nearer (1hr). You can buy tickets for the Buquebus yourself or do as we did and simply walk into any of the many travel agencies located on Avenida Córdoba near Galerías Pacífico. Trying to drum up tourism, they offer packages designed exclusively for foreigners which end up being cheaper than buying tickets at the station; plus they give you a guided walking tour of Colonia’s historic downtown, a bus tour around the outskirts, and they even throw in a sandwich, not a good one but hey: free food.

Some tips about the ferry. Once you arrive at the Buquebus station, get thru security and into the waiting area immediately. Don’t be fooled by how few people are milling around pre-security. By the time we got in, the line to get on the ferry snaked around the station 3 times already. Why does this matter? Seats aren’t numbered, you simply get the one you can and it is a free-for-all once those doors open. Best is by the windows. Aisle rows are directly below the A/C vents and made us long for the heavy jackets we had left back at the hotel in Buenos Aires. A curious fact is that since this is an international trip, they’ve got duty-free shopping aboard the ferry. We wandered into the store and were shocked by what people were willing to pay for products they can’t get back home.

That’s US Dollars!

Items were flying off the shelves nevertheless.

Arriving in Colonia offers a pretty view of the lighthouse and the Uruguayan flag.

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Colonia del Sacramento was founded in 1680 by Portuguese settlers who built a fort around the city. Today you can still visit some vestiges of the old city wall

as well as the drawbridge.

On the outside of the drawbridge you will find a plaque commemorating José Gervasio Artigas who led Uruguay’s struggle for independence from the four nations which claimed it for themselves: Spain, Portugal, Brazil & Argentina, and the men who courageously followed him back in 1811.

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Downtown’s tallest building is the lighthouse. Buy tickets at the base and then climb the very narrow stairs all the way up to the lens.

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From this height you get unobstructed views of Colonia’s water treatment plant on one side,

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as well as the Rio de la Plata on the other. This is the widest river in the world and was named so for the silver the Guaraní tribes along its coast traded with the early European explorers.

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Sit a while and take it all in.

Colonia’s Historic Downtown Quarter has preserved the fusion of Spanish and Portuguese architectures and for this reason UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1995 .

It’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is never forgotten as evidenced by the exhibits in its tiny museum.

Once our walking tour ended, we rented a golf cart to drive out from the old downtown to visit one of Colonia’s most famous landmarks: the Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. It is famous for its Moorish architecture which came about simply because the Argentinian entrepreneur who built it, liked the style. The bullring was opened in 1910 and shut down just 2 years later when Uruguay banned bullfighting as cruel to animals.

The ring sits abandoned and could be visited up to a few years ago when a small earthquake caused some wall crumbling. The authorities fenced it in and closed it to the public for their own safety. It’s nice to look at but…

More interesting is the long road leading up to it which borders the river and has access to several beach spots. Although the water is a bit smelly, it is warm and people do swim here.

You will see a few people fishing from shore but actually Uruguay is an increasingly known destination for deep-water fishing for much bigger catch: the hyper-aggressive Dorado, or Mahi-Mahi. This is due to the country’s safety and relative affordability. I do say relative because we found things in Colonia to be shockingly expensive. One could go broke on ice cream here.

While cannabis is legal in Uruguay, don’t get any ideas as it is legal ONLY to citizens and they have to register with the government for it.

We spent the entire day in Colonia and to be honest it was half a day too long. Of course you could always just sit at one of their many, many downtown cafes and pass the time, food was pretty good every place we tried.

Or stroll through their beautiful old colonial streets. Just make sure you watch your step. Colonia takes its animal love to the extreme: dozens of dogs wander the city unaccompanied leaving their mark literally everywhere.

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I bet the humongous insects don’t mind.

This post concludes my interlude and now we get to the really awesome part. Why were we all the way here at the oddest time of the year? You see, the destination we were headed to can only be visited now because the ice engulfs and isolates it later. Have you guessed yet? Antarctica!! Which was absolutely incredible but you’ll have to wait until next time to read about it.

Categories: South America, UNESCO site, Uruguay | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Stone Town

Zanzibar City, the capital of Zanzibar, consists of the new area, simply called “the other side” and the old one: Stone Town. Stone Town was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.

Forget New York, Stone Town is the true definition of a melting pot. The Persians were the first to establish a trade base here back in the 3rd century amidst the local Bantu people. The first mosque in the Southern Hemisphere was built by these traders right here.

Trade attracted merchants from India, Indonesia and China and the local culture incorporated these new elements. The Indian culture is evident in the exquisite wooden balconies of many buildings.

In the 1500s, the Portuguese took over control of the island but with a very hands-off approach to its administration by putting in place Arab sultans and giving them wide latitude. In 1631, the Sultan of Mombasa killed off all the European settlers after which act the Portuguese decided to bring in European rulers to Zanzibar. The people of Stone Town grew dissatisfied with this development and invited the Sultan of Oman to help them overthrow the Europeans. The Sultan gladly did this and kept power for himself of course. Stone Town came to be ruled by the Sultanate of Oman until the death of Said bin Sultan in 1856 which caused his two heirs to quarrel. Britain saw the opportunity and stepped in to settle the dispute by dividing the area to be ruled among the two sons: Majid then became the Sultan of Zanzibar while his brother Thuwaini became the Sultan of Oman.

Majid bin Sultan made Stone Town one of the wealthiest cities in East Africa by promoting the trade of, unfortunately, slaves. These slaves were “bought” from their villages in East Africa for almost nothing and employed in carting ivory into Stone Town. Once the ivory had been sold off, the slaves were next. It was a no-losses business model. Stone Town had become the epicenter of the slave trade.

Slaves were sent from Stone Town into all corners of the world: Arabia, Oman, Persia, as well as the new continent. Both the slaves’ and the traders’ cultures came to shape Stone Town’s culture and made some merchants very wealthy. At this time, slave traders were proud of their trade and built their houses to reflect this. Look closely at the edges of this intricately carved door, notice the chain links? That meant the owner of the house was a slave trader.

Tipu Tip was one of the (if not THE) richest such slave trader, although as you can read from this sign and observe from the covered edges of his door, his history has been cleaned a bit.

In 1842, the British decided to end the slave trade and applied pressure on the Sultan to do this. While the trade towards the East was diminished, the British found it almost impossible to stop the slave trade to the Americas as France, Spain and the United States continued to engage in it. In 1873, the British threatened the Sultan of Zanzibar with a blockade if he didn’t stop the trade in slaves to these nations finally forcing the slave market in Zanzibar to close down for good. The Cathedral was built on the very site of the former Slave Market with the altar incorporating the base of the whipping post.

Zanzibar became a British protectorate in 1890 and remained so until 1963. In 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika came together to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Stone Town is rich in history and flavor. Unfortunately, they don’t have the means to invest in preserving it and most buildings seem to be crumbling. Houses in Stone Town were traditionally built from coral and this material does not weather well.

That white building in the background is “The Palace of Wonders” called thus because it was the first building in Stone Town to have electricity. It is the largest building here and one of their most important historical sites. It was built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash bin Said as a ceremonial palace and it is said that he kept wild animals chained in the front yard.

Sadly, while one can roam the front “yard”, the museum is permanently closed as Zanzibar simply doesn’t have the resources for the upkeep.

Even with the decay, Stone Town is a wondrous place full of twists and turns to lose oneself in.

It is very safe as far as crime goes, Muslim nations usually are. Traffic is a whole other story. Most of the streets in Stone Town are too narrow for cars and one must walk everywhere which is actually a delight. The locals though employ motorcycles to get around and you can imagine the fright one gets when turning around a corner puts you in the direct path of one of those speeding locals.

Freddie Mercury, lead singer for Queen, is the most famous son of Stone Town and our guide took us to see the school he attended

as well as the house he allegedly lived in. His fans might be disappointed as there really isn’t much to it but hey, taking a picture of his door is free.

On the day we were here, a street food fair was taking place on the square across from the Palace of Wonders. Families were out in droves and people were enjoying the pleasant weather.

Food smelled delicious and even though there was a cholera outbreak, we decided to risk it telling ourselves that no germ could survive frying.

The food was indeed delicious and no, we did not get sick. We only wish we had had more time to enjoy lovely Stone Town at leisure.

Categories: Africa, Tanzania, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Gorillas 

Bwindi Impenetrable Park was established in 1991 and is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority which is tasked with the conservation of the area. The park is home to about 340 critically endangered Eastern Mountain Gorillas, almost half the world’s population.

In order to visit the gorillas, one must buy a very expensive ($600USD) trekking permit from the UWA months in advance. The permit is good only for the date, gate, and person indicated on it, which means that if anything in your plans changes, you’re out of luck. Furthermore, no one feeling ill or visibly sick will be given entry either, permit notwithstanding. For these reasons, spending this huge amount of money gave us great pause but we took the plunge and bought permits for one day. At the time, our agent strongly suggested that we buy permits for two days but we refused. Her rationale was that if we didn’t get to see the gorillas one day, we had better chances of seeing them with two treks. For anyone thinking of buying permits, that reason is nonsense: you will see the gorillas almost guaranteed. We didn’t know that at the time of course and when we changed our minds a few days later, permits for the area were all gone! Our agent managed to get us permits to a different area of the park from where we were staying which meant a very early (4:30am) wake up and over two hour drive to get there but we took them anyway. We are not at all sorry we did and actually think it worked even better for us this way.

For our first (far away) trek into the Ruhija area, the wonderful people tending our lodge woke up early to outfit us with waterproof covers for our pants, walking sticks and boxed breakfast and lunch. Upon arriving at the meeting area, we were divided into groups of eight. Three gorilla families here are habituated to humans and thus able to be visited. Each group of 8 people visits one gorilla family for one hour of the day, that’s all that is permitted. Two trackers follow each of these three gorilla families all day, every day, from when they wake up to when they bed for the night. The trackers make a note of where the gorillas bedded down before leaving them for the night and must get back to this place before the gorillas begin their next day in order to not lose them. As the group of people is about to set out on their trek, the guide radios the trackers for their location and then guides the group to that place. This method makes seeing the gorillas an almost certainty. The group is also accompanied by an armed guard since in 1999, Congolese guerrilla fighters abducted a tourist group, killing with machetes and clubs over half of them before releasing the others. The armed guard is really just for show I think since he’s only one person, but better not to dwell on these facts as you’re about to set out.

Before starting on your trek, you are presented with the choice of hiring a porter to carry your stuff for you. We were carrying so much water (heavy packs) that they did come in handy but if you don’t carry as much, a porter isn’t really necessary. Most of the people in our group didn’t hire any. There is another way of looking at this though: jobs are hard to come by in this area of the country. Some of these porters walk a couple of hours every morning to be there when the tourist groups arrive. Those that are not hired are dismissed for the day as there will be no other tourists; dismissed without work. Paying for a porter is providing a source of income for that person if nothing else. Plus they are super nice and helpful when pulling an out-of-breath tourist up a mountain. However, once close to the gorilla family, porters must stay behind and allow for the group of tourists to continue the trek on their own so it happens that the toughest part of the hike is done without their help.

It is not called the Impenetrable Forest for nothing.

Walking in here was exhausting!

This might be the toughest hiking we’ve ever done. It is oppressively humid even though we visited during the “dry” season and the average elevation is over 6,000ft which makes it hard to breathe. There are no paths as the group is simply advancing toward the gorilla family wherever they might be. The advice is to bring a waterproof jacket (leave it), good walking shoes (make that heavy duty boots), gloves (absolute MUST), and 3 liters of water per person (half a liter is more than enough). The hardest part of the trek is that the ground isn’t really there. The ground seems solid until you step on it and fall thru to a stream below which you hadn’t even heard, that’s how thick the cover is. The trees have spikes, thorns would be too gentle a word, so grabbing hold is inadvisable. I literally clawed my way up and probably slowed our group down considerably

but we were well rewarded as suddenly there we were, right next to the family.

female gorilla just chilling

Silverback Gorilla, head of this family

yawning

yawns are contagious

Can you believe that these beautiful creatures have been killed to make their hands into ashtrays? Don’t you just want to reach out and touch it?

I do, but we didn’t. That would have been completely inadvisable, not to mention against the rules. Visitors are supposed to stay 7ft away from the gorillas at all times. That’s a truly difficult rule to follow though as finding a solid place to stand is almost impossible. The gorillas take up the best spots! Sometimes being able to stay put means being quite close to them. Plus they move around with no regard to the rule. The distance is meant to provide a safety zone for the gorillas. Since we share over 97% of their DNA, that makes them vulnerable to human diseases; particularly airborne ones, which is the reason for denying entry to ill persons. It has been determined that 20% of natural gorilla deaths which have occurred in the area are due to illnesses transmitted to them by humans. While tourists such as ourselves bring a much needed source of income for the villagers, we also bring diseases from all over the world which threaten their very livelihood from said tourism. The best we can do is abide by our guide’s directions.

Male young gorillas are called Blackbacks. This guy will become a Silverback soon and he will either have to challenge the patriarch of the family or most likely, leave in search of his own family.

Blackback gorilla

The Ruhija trek was very difficult and getting good pictures of the gorillas almost impossible with all the vegetation in the way.  It was so thick that we didn’t even notice the gorillas trekking alongside at times:

What our feet looked like after the trek.

The boys loved this trek as it was a rugged adventure, just up their ally. I loved it too but had to take a two hour nap once back at the lodge. It certainly was beautiful and as hard as it was, I would gladly do it again.

Our next morning, we didn’t have to set out as early and were able to have a good breakfast at the lodge since the Buhoma area was right next door. Once again, we hired a porter mainly to help me out. I was still exhausted from the previous day’s trek and seriously doubting my ability to follow the group on this second day. I was thoroughly surprised when this day’s trek was the easiest walk we’ve ever done! Turned out that this gorilla family had made their nests the night before quite close to the park’s entrance and we only had to jump over a small stream to get to them. When we arrived they were just lazying about in their nests, not ready to come down just yet.

Our guide instructed us to stand under the trees and wait for the gorillas to come down. After about half an hour of standing around, craning our necks out to look at the gorillas overhead, I asked the guide if it wouldn’t be better to stand aside as it seemed to me that we were the obstacle impeding the gorillas from coming down.

He told me to stay exactly where I was. I think he did it on purpose. Seconds later, I wondered how the rain could penetrate such a thick canopy until I realized that was no rain: I was being peed on by a gorilla! I chose to take it as a lucky omen. As soon as the shower stopped, they began descending.

Some stopped to pose for pictures. Isn’t he handsome?

Once they were all on the ground, they began walking toward the stream. The Silverback brought up the rear of the column as if to protect his family from this group of hairless paparazzi.

Once at the stream, they settled down to groom each other.

While the adults looked at us with boredom, the babies were very curious.

This guy is only weeks old but with a head of hair to envy.

There was a sense of peace and contentment in the group. The kids played and climbed then upon falling, would run back to their moms for comfort, which these ladies never failed to provide.

Can you feel the love in that gaze?

Everything happens under the watchful eye of the big guy.

Our group of tourists was so affected by the privilege of sharing the gorilla’s day that there were some tears shed and the boys declared that they will never again visit a zoo. While the benefits of a good zoo can be debated, one thing is an absolute certainty: free animals exude a sense of happiness that is not present in caged ones.

Going on two gorilla treks only intensified our desire to be able to enjoy such privilege again some day. May it be so!

Categories: Africa, Uganda, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Update

We haven’t posted recently because we have been very busy enjoying Africa. We also haven’t had good internet access. Who really expects wifi in the middle of the jungle, right?

We have thousands of amazing pictures to share with you and we will very soon. It’ll probably take me months to go thru all of them so expect posts to continue long after we get home.

We have said goodbye to Africa and are making our way home now. Although we were sad to leave, we miss home and can’t wait to be back. One thing is for sure, we have fallen in love with Africa and hope to be back one day.

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