Monday, May 10, 2010

Paradise with the Parentals

(I hope you have some time. It's a long one.)

(Also, please excuse the crazy formatting of the post.  Google Chrome and Blogger have decided to gang up on me the past few days and my internet is about as fast as Philium when I ask him to help me wash the dogs - basically moving backwards)

Soon after our Easter escape to Sipi, my parents arrived in Uganda.  Their welcome dinner was a medley of fresh baked pizzas in our very own pizza oven, but let me save that for a different post.

We went to the market to buy fabric so Mom could have a kitenge and some skirts made and Dad a shirt.  I showed them the amazing mess that is the taxi park.

I never got a picture of my mom in her kitenge, but this woman is modeling the pattern and she also is the owner of this little shop where Mom bought her fabric
Dad being measured
The taxi park - Peter, Dad, Ann, & Mom
Their first weekend here, we made the journey to the far west of Uganda to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the Mountain Gorillas roam.  The drive, although beautiful, was somewhat tortuous - over 12 hours, the last four of which were on very rocky roads that only permitted us to travel at about 10 miles per hour.  Phil had a meeting in Entebbe the morning we were to leave, so he was able to dodge the bullet that was the long car journey.  He flew himself to Kayonza where we picked him up and he only had endure the pot holes for an hour.  I might be bitter about this if it didn't benefit me a few days later.

Phi flying over us on our drive to Bwindi.  He's so cheeky.
Just some cute kids

When we first booked our gorilla permits about a month before we took the trip, the group of gorillas we booked to track had been hanging out around the area where the lodges are located.  Then when went to collect the permits about 2 weeks later, that group of gorillas had traveled miles, literally.  We feared we would be hiking for hours.  Some of the people visiting during that time weren't returning from their treks until 7pm after having left at 7am!

The morning before our hike we got our packed lunches and bought plenty of water for the trek.  We set out, walking and walking, searching and hunting, trying to find those dern gorillas.  I thought we'll never find them!  Just kidding.  Actually we only walked for 5 minutes and the gorillas were hanging out in a neighboring lodge site.  We were so lucky.  We had lots of nice light for pictures since they weren't deep in the forest.  It was truly a special experience and it was amazing to share it with our parents.

To get our exercise in and take advantage of our time in Bwindi, we used the afternoon to go on a waterfall hike.
Guards (Mrs Holley, I think they're required because of the Bwindi Massacre in 1999)
Mom & Dad on the waterfall hike

More treacherous driving from Bwindi to Lake Bunyonyi followed while Felix Chill took the easy route, flying once again, but only after we cleared all the cattle off the overgrown runway.

Phil and I were only able to spend one night at Bushara in Lake Bunyonyi as we had to get back to Kampala and do some work, but we lucked out with incredible weather and had a very relaxing time.  Our parents went on to spend another night at Bushara and then drove on to Lake Mburo for two memorable days and nights at Mihingo Lodge.

Since Phil had the plane, I was able to avoid a long bus ride back (we left the parents with the car).  We flew from Kisoro - a very unique air strip.  One of the main roads in the area passes through the middle of the runway.  When a plane is about to take off or land two barricades are lowered, one on each side, just like a railroad crossing.  The flight was so fun and gorgeous views were to be seen the entire journey.

just before take off

this is my awesome map hat - it gets pretty sunny and steamy in that little plane


The parents returned from Mihingo on a Thursday and the Gill duo was to fly the following day, back to the UK.  However, this volcano erupted and they were stuck with us another week.  Fortunately they didn't have any pressing appointments and the extra time we got to spend together was very welcome.

Over the weekend, we went to Jinja with my parents.  When originally outlining the itinerary for my parent's visit, I thought we would take a weekend to see the source of the Nile and enjoy a few lazy days in the sun, but my mom then informed me that we would be rafting.  Phil and I had rafted previously during Latasha's visit.  At that point we had lived in Uganda over 2 years and had the opportunity to hear plenty of horror stories and see many bruises and even a broken nose from those who had dared conquer the Nile.  So needless to say, we were a little nervous and slightly scared of what a day on the rapids would hold.  However, we survived with not even a scratch.  I thought certainly my parents would share the trepidation Phil and I had experienced, but they never even flinched or hesitated.  The rapids were rough and we had to paddle hard, but again, there was not even a scrap to be seen at the end of the day.  We only flipped our boat once.  We are basically pros.

The following day we enjoyed brunch with monkeys and hours next to the pool.

We stopped for dinner in Mabira Forest at the Rainforest Lodge

For years I've been obsessed with the idea of going to Ethiopia.  I'd seen pictures, heard stories and watched documentaries on the place and I was sold.  But Mr Chill basically refuses to take African vacations for more than a long weekend.  He says if we're taking some real time off, we should get off the dark continent and go somewhere with McDonald's or least have to pass through an airport that has McDonald's (proof: Phil has NEVER been through the Amsterdam airport without eating a Big Mac Meal. Not EVER).

So when I was suggesting interesting routes and itineraries to Constance Elaine, my momma, I thought I would throw in Ethiopia in hopes that I could take some time off work and join them, which is exactly what I did.  Ethiopia did not let me down, not even a little.  This place is unforgettable, absolutely fascinating, and so much fun.  Book your flights now!

Our first stop was Bahar Dar, a city on the edge of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile.  Our first activity was hiking to a waterfall, Tis Abay, which I must admit, I wasn't too siked about.  The waterfall is down to less than one fourth it's natural size due to the installation of a hydo-electric plant, so I thought why in the world would we drive 45 minutes to see some measly drizzle over the edge of some rock in sweltering heat?  Tell me, does that sound like fun to you?  But there's not loads to do in Bahar Dar, so we went any way.  And it turned out to be my favorite part of Bahar Dar.  Several of the turbines on the dam were broken so we got to see the waterfall at a slightly larger flow than what is normal, and it was quite a spectacular sight.  The hike also allowed us to see some beautiful countryside. There is talk of turning the waterfalls on to full flow during the high peak of tourist season in October.  I may have to go back.

Our second day was spent boating around Lake Tana, visiting several monasteries, most of which were founded in the 14th century.  The inside of the monasteries were painting from floor to ceiling with some Biblical illustrations along with some illustrations of important stories in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church such as St George slaying the dragon and another about some fatty who ate all the people who wronged him.

We also took our boat to the part of Lake Tana where it flows into the Blue Nile.  The boat driver was talking to one of the Ethiopian tourist on our boat.  The tourist translated that the driver was worried because Egypt has said they will start a war with Ethiopia if too much of the Nile is diverted and does not reach Egypt.  The driver said many farmers have started irrigation systems off the river to water their crops, significantly decreasing the volume of the Nile.

The next stop on our tour was Lalibela, home of the famous monolithic rock-hewn churches.  Some of the churches there are thought to be as old as 1,400 years, but they're impossible to date because they are made of a non-organic material.  The church's history of the churches differs from that of historians.  The church believes all the churches were built in the 16th century under the instruction of Lalibela, very quickly because the people worked at digging and chiseling them in the day, while the angels worked twice as fast each night.  Historians believe they were built over nearly 1,000 years.  There is also discord in what order the churches were built and their original purposes.  Historians think some were forts and prisons while the church states that all were built as and used only as churches.  However, in one excavation, shackles were found and the "fort" does have a very convincing moat, and small windows perfect for canons.  

We were lucky to learn all these details from our most educated guide, Fikru.  He has worked with Professor Philipson of Cambridge University, one of the world's foremost experts on the churches of Lalibela.  He also grew up in Lalibela in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  When he was a child, there were no tourists or historians interested in Lalibela.  UNESCO had not declared it a World Heritage Site and there were no hotels in the entire town.  Fikru and his friends used to run around the maze of churches which are all connected by paths and tunnels, playing hide and go seek.  What a fun childhood.  I can't imagine a better place to play.  Fikru has also been the guide to prestigious visitors such as President and Chelsea Clinton, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and now he can also add the Inglishes.  Fikru is even featured in a History Channel documentary about subterranean cities.

Other highlights of my parents time in Uganda include, but are not limited to:

Dinner with Olivia, Uganda's newest and most popular children's book author.  Here she is featured with How the Crane Got Its Crown and with her mother Claire aka our previous landlady and dear friend.

A visit to CoRSU.  I used to work for them when they were at different location (Mengo not Mango), helping with the Smile Train project.  Here's a little cleft baby after surgery in the new ward.

Both had private flying lessons with Felix Chill (who looks like a Nordic viking in this pic)

which included a bird's eye tour of Kampala 

We ate an entire fish with our bare hands on the shore of Lake Victoria and throughout the visit we had about a million shandies

Had some fabulous Thai food with our wonderful and soon-moving-to-Brazil :( friend, Beth

Got to see Ann & Noah arm wrestle

Hang out in the hammock

cross the equator twice

And even meet Elsie before she moved back to Belgium

Basically, my parents hate Uganda and Ethiopia, they hate my planning and they're never coming back.  It was a bunk deal and I'm sorry I subjected them to this hell hole.

I think they may put up with it once more, but just to see me and love on my darling doggies.


  1. A good thing about being unemployed is that you have time to read *amazing* blog posts all the way to the end... Love it!

  2. Great to hear about the trip. Looks like you guys had a good time. The nile float looked really exciting and I'm glad you all made it through O.K. My favorite picture this morning as I went through had to be the map hate, it looked very good on your bright smiling face!!!
    love ya, Aunt Vicky

  3. Fabulous! THanks so much for all the details! Sonds like a wonderful time.

  4. Great pics! Love reading your blog. Take care.