“This makes perfectly sense to follow something that can kill you”

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Water? Packed! Food? Packed! Camera? Ready! Sense of adventure? Packed! Reaching the Ruschaga station early morning after 2 hours driving through a mystic and thick mist, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. Our group of 7 enthusiastic gorillas trekkers was simply happy to be here, able to get a chance to face a silverback we all had once dreamt about. We only knew that our day could be very long as gorillas can be on the move once they have eaten all the fruits in the area. We were given a short briefing to make sure we were informed about security and behavior to adopt around those beautiful animals.

After being assigned a ranger, Amos, we were asked to jump back on the van to drive to Nyabaremura where we met our two security guards, Isaac and Winzi, and started hiking. The guns were a necessity, we were told, as the jungle where we would hike was the home of savanna elephants. Years ago, the road between Queen Elisabeth and Bwindi got cut and the savanna elephants found themselves stranded in the forest. Unable to adjust, they can be quite agressive and for our safety, we needed those two armed guards. We were also teamed up with two trackers who were already in the forest, trying to send us updates on the whereabouts of the family we were to track.

After hiking for two hours, on a very steep trail, through a beautiful forest, with short water breaks, our hearts started to race when we were heard those three words: “they are close”. We left the trail, followed our guards off road and entered the gorilla family territory. We were by then literally walking in the air, our floor being a simple entanglement of vines. It could have been the excitement but none us considered even questioning this non-sense. We were following professionals after all. What could possibly happen? Adrienne, our lovely New Zealander fellow traveler, made a point to wait for me as I was slower than slow and soon, Amos, Adrienne, Marco and I were separated from our group. We could hear the sound of a gorilla, we felt it was close, very close. I can confidently say now that we had no idea how close it was. Suddenly, a giant silverback stormed out of a bush, determined to take one of us down. Amos grabbed Adrienne and Marco and I froze, trying to stay as still as possible, leaving a corridor between us 4 for the gorilla to go through. So hard to describe what I felt at this exact moment when I realized a 250 kg beast was charging at us. Fascination, fear, respect and excitement submerged me all at once. I’m grateful Luigi (this name was given to him as he is in charge of closing after his group and Luigi means door in Rukiga language) only passed through, trying his best to scare us away.

It could have worked, I guess but our fascination was too big, we had gone too far to see the gorillas and we were too close to turn around. We had taken the warning seriously but we were not about to give up. Only Shane, our Australian tripmate, commented out loud on the irony of the situation with a point of sarcasm: “This makes perfectly sense to follow something that can kill you”. He was right, of course but full of adrenalin, we all rushed behind our trackers that were running through the dense vines and suddenly the area cleared up and we saw at least 3 silverbacks, several young gorillas and a female. Grateful and admirative, I stood there, looking at them, playing together, eating, hiding from us when we were too invasive for their liking. I missed a lot of shots while standing there simply watching but these instants will remain forever with me and for them, I’m grateful.

After an hour observing Ruziika (means stubborn in Rukiga language) and its family, it was time for us to leave. Greedy and foolhardy, some of us got closer to Ruziika. We were quickly reminded that this was HIS territory and we were bound to follow his rules. He stormed out of his bush and charged at us, beating his chest, clearly annoyed by our audacity. We all stood still while he passed through our group, screaming loudly. Luckily, Ruziika was merciful and meant no harm but we had to leave. At once, our group gathered. We said goodbye (or Kali kali) to “our” gorillas and after one last look, we started hiking back. 6 hours, 16 km, countless happy memories, 2 massive shocks and a graduation (we even received a diploma for being an official gorilla trekker!), we were back in the village we had started from. We were welcomed by a group of women who performed traditional dances. A perfect way to end a perfect day! Thanks Amos and Uganda for giving us the opportunity to spend an hour with those beautiful animals!

Next stop: Kampala.

Happy tails and remember: Carpe Diem!

C for Central America

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After so many years of daydreaming about Central America, it is finally happening! What to say about Central America? Well, for a start, Mexico is not part of it. Not trying to be a smart ass but Mexico belongs to NAFTA for a reason… Just saying… It is composed of the following countries: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama and those countries are going to be ‘home’ for the next 10 to 12 weeks. Since back in Europe the authorities have declared Central America (from not so safe to very) unsafe, it wasn’t an easy decision to go through with our project but I’m happy we did. We felt so scared yet extremely excited. You can therefore imagine our state of mind while crossing the border to Belize. We almost expected to be robbed and / or murdered for a quarter as soon as we arrived in Belize. 

After arguing with the Mexican authorities in broken Spanish for the 25 dollars departure fee to exit Mexico, we entered Belize where we were welcomed 1) in English (say whaaat?) 2) by nice and helpful customs officers 3) a friendly taxi driver and 4) we saw a lady walking around with a Michael Kors purse. MICHAEL KORS. Are you serious? She. Broke. My. Heart. We obviously hadn’t realized that Belize’s official national language was English but it definitely made our first step in Central America easier! Adios Mexico, good morning Belize! We were immediately hit by the Caribbean atmosphere that surrounded us. From the music playing loudly on the bus to the unexpected language spoken on the streets (I discovered later was Creole), everything gave us a Caribbean vibe and it felt great. 

For our first night in Belize, M & I had decided to go to Placencia, in the Stann Creek Distric. We had done some research and our itinerary was quite clear. After many hours on the bus, we had enough. My butt (bless him) couldn’t handle 3 more hours and we (read: my delicate butt) needed a break (the awkward moment when you realize hat you aren’t that young anymore) and our little oasis was called Hopkins. Our lonely planet told us that it was cheaper, smaller AND less touristy than Placencia. Say no more! To Hopkins! The only (which can be called major) problem was that we had to get off at ‘the Hopkins junction’ and some passengers started to comment on that decision ‘ya ain’t geddin’ off ther, it wood be too dangerous! People get murdered’. Alright… Point taken… Trying to stay alive (together with eating shit loads of street food. What? It is all about priorities, right?) being our main priority, we did question our spontaneous decision. To junction or not to junction, this is the question. Luckily, some passengers confirmed that we would not get murdered, merely raped or mugged. Just kidding, mom! They couldn’t understand the non-sense of the junction being dangerous. Junction, it was then! 

And this was a great decision. We found a lovely hostel Funky Dodo with comfortable bunks (no plank incident to report this time. After Chetumal, and a fallen plank from the upper bunk that nearly broke my knee, it was a relief), clean showers and cool guests. We didn’t know how long we would stay so we only paid for one night. We met an awesome American dude, Cory (hoping I got his name right after calling him Court a whole evening) who told us about a waterfall hike. At first, it was too expensive and we unfortunately couldn’t afford it, the hostel wanted 20 US$ (per person!) to drop and pick us up at / from the park. Arghhhh! Luckily, Cory did his homework and found a local bus, departing at 7 am the next day from Hopkins for US$ 1.5. Yes please! But there was one tiny problem: the bus would drop us off 4 miles from the beginning of the trail. Ah… For US$ 1.5, we can’t have it all, right? 

This morning, we jumped on the bus and headed to the Mayflower Bocawina National Park. From the bus stop, we got a lift from locals (ride at the back of a pick up truck? Check!) to the entrance. We hiked the Bocawina (flat and easy) and the Antelope trails that took us through the jungle. The latter was steep and fun to hike up, the reward being a dip in a nice cool natural pool at the top of the waterfall. Bliss! 

After another night in Hopkins, tomorrow it is time to move on. Next stop: Caye Caulker. 


Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

You gotta love those days…

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… when you blissfully get reminded that you live in a beautiful place.

Yesterday was one of those lovely days. You wake up early to go up to the mountains and a wave of happiness fills your heart. Priceless! I fell in love with the Swiss mountains 8 yeas ago and even though I haven travelling the world, they are still one of my favourite places in the whole world, the one place where I feel complete. Up there I am free. I am out of reach, spending hours surrounded by a peaceful beauty, soaking up the positive energy!

My wanderlust strongly dictates (in a good way of course) the paths my life should follow but somehow when I am in the mountains, it is quiet… So quiet, you could think it is gone… But no, I know it is not, it is simply approving, approving another way for me to be happy. Because my wanderlust is clever: it knows that the inner peace the mountains give me will be needed on the road soon, very soon.

It is such a blessing to be able to travel a lot but still have a place that you call home and that you are happy to come back to. And you? Where do you call home?

If you have a few hours to dedicate to Mount Pilatus:

  • From Luzern main station, take the bus # 1 to Linde-Pilatus and walk to the gondola station (maybe a 5 min ish walk)
  • From there follow the yellow signs to Krienseregg – when you come to a fork on the road, go left – both go to Krienseregg. 1h10 versus 55 minutes, it is be a bit longer but I like this way better
  • Once you made this turn, follow Pilatus / Fräggmüntegg
  • You should reach Fräggmüntegg within 3 to 4 hours. The trail alternates between flat and steep; sunny and shady; forest, meadow and roads.
  • Along the way, there are many picnic areas where you can also grill (Talking about integration, do you have your mandatory Swiss cervelas?!)
  • At Fräggmüntegg jump on the brand new gondola to reach Pilatus Kulm – alternatively you could hike up but then make sure to plan enough time
  • Yeah you made it to the top, 2132 meters above sea level! Breathtaking view, isn’t it?! Enjoy a cold beer or a delicious hot chocolate! If you are lucky, you might even have some Swiss mountain dwellers playing alphorn!
  • Once you have walked up to the top observatory, took the mandatory pictures, checked the paragliders out (those guys are really amazing!) and well rested, it is time for you to make your way down to the valley.
  • Please please please DO. NOT. TAKE the cogwheel train right away otherwise you will miss a fantastic trail! You could spot some mountain goats! The trail down to Alpnachstadt is steep and rocky so make sure you only go down that way if you have proper hiking boots, I would NOT recommend sneakers on that trail.
  • You can either walk to Ämsigen (about an hour from Kulm) and take the cogwheel train or hike all the way down to Alpnachstadt. I just love the train journey, this cogwheel train is the steepest in the world and it is seriously an experience on its own! (CAREFUL: at the Ämsigen station, you can only pay cash and you might need to stand if the trains are busy)
  • Congratulations, you have conquered Pilatus! You have walked a bit less than 15 km in 4 to 5 hours. I hope you enjoyed!

View from the trail, hiking up to Fräggmüntegg

View from Pilatus Kulm, 2132 meters above sea level

Hiking down to Alpnachstadt

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!