Category Archives: postaday

GORILLAS IN THE MIST

The level of doubt increased as the eyes scanned upwards. Up…up…up…up. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, seemed just that, impenetrable. The rain had stopped, the humidity had taken a strangle-hold on the forest, and now it looked like it was smoking as the mist seeped out of the trees. It really was going to be gorillas in the mist.

img_20161105_135412

The view from the Lodge at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The seeds of doubt had been getting stronger each day as we got closer to our destination, Bwindi Uganda. Had I done enough training? Was the training up Mt Lofty steep enough to prepare me? What if we have come all this way and we don’t get to see the gorillas, after all there is only a 98% chance that we will see them? What if we are the 2%? Why is it that everyone else in our small group appears to not have done any training whatsoever? Maybe I shouldn’t have the desert – ok, just a little piece, I’ll walk it off in Bwindi?

The main purpose of this trip was to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda. Everyone’s focus was on “the gorillas”, so there was a feeling that all the travel days and experiences prior, as good as they were, were just filler for the main event. There are only approximately 850 mountain gorillas left and as there arent any in zoos, the only place to see them are in the jungles of the African “corner” where the countries of  Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda meet. This was going to be a rare experience.

After a fun-filled few days in and around Queen Elizabeth National Park and Ishasha Wilderness Camp seeking out, and spotting game such as elephants, tree-resting lions, the elusive leopards (not to blow my own trumpet, but I spotted 2 in one day…ok, I’m blowing my own trumpet), baboons, the strangely cute warthogs, chimpanzees, hippos, buffalo and lots and lots of kopi we headed towards Bwindi.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The drive wasn’t too far, but it took a few hours due to the rain and the muddy, pot-holed road conditions, as well as a few toilet stops. Even though this was the rainy season, we hadn’t had a lot of rain, and when we had, it generally cleared by the morning. Today was different as the rain had been persistent for most of the day and it was steadily coming down as we arrived into Bwindi.

Bwindi as a town was unusual in that it was our first encounter with “crass tourism” in Uganda. It was only a small town with a main street full of a few little ramshackle bars and tourist shops selling gorilla trinkets, gorilla carvings, gorilla t-shirts, gorilla statues, gorilla keyrings, but strangely no gorilla fridge magnets. I was later informed by our guide Steffi, that most Ugandan homes do not have a fridge, so the concept of a fridge magnet was foreign to them. The town also had a school and a hospital, the latter being somewhat of a comfort in case something happens on the gorilla trek.

The view of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from our hotel, Buhoma Lodge, was breathtaking, beautiful and daunting, all at the same time. Breathtaking, because the elevation of dscn3505Bwindi is approx. 1900m above sea level, whereas the average altitude in Adelaide is 50m and flat. You could feel that your lungs were working harder to get enough oxygen. This did not bode well for tomorrow’s trek when the altitude would be even higher. Daunting, because our hotel rooms were located clinging to the side of the hill. My room was located at the top and by the third steep set of stairs my left knee was telling me “enough!”. This did not bode well for tomorrows trek when we would climb even higher through rugged terrain. Beautiful, because the rain and humidity caused the mist to billow from the jungle making it appear mysterious and forbidding. This did not bode well for tomorrows trek as the humidity in Adelaide is almost zero and the body isn’t used to it. At this point I just hope that it doesn’t rain as the trek is going to be difficult enough as it is, I can’t imagine what it would be like all muddy and slippery.  Actually, yes I can….It wouldn’t be good.

The afternoon was spent acclimatising by going for a walk and resting. Before dinner we had a briefing on what to take, wear and the procedures for the trek. Dinner was a fairly sombre affair as everyone was trying to suppress their excitement, or their nerves.

The now customary coffee wakeup call was on time at 6am. Having a hot pot of fresh coffee delivered to your door is the perfect way to start the day. After a 2 cups of coffee, a shower and a nervous wee, I was ready to meet the others for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of some more coffee, toast and another nervous wee. We collected our pre-packed lunch and had another nervous wee before the short walk to the Ranger Station.

There was a hive of activity at the Ranger Station as other groups arrived, porters and guides also turned up. We were escorted into a room that had the feel of a small classroom, and told to sit in chairs that were placed along the wall in a semi-circle facing an old tv. Maybe this room doubled up as the school? A video was played about how the gorillas help the community and how we help the community by paying money to see the gorillas. So flying half way around the world to see the gorillas was less about me, but about being philanthropic and noble. I was doing my bit for conservation and the preservation of these endangered primates.

After the video, we were taken outside and split into 4 groups of six with each group assigned a gorilla family. This is when we met Medi, our head guide, who explained the make up of our gorilla family and answered many of our questions… such as “bush toilets”. It was explained to us that they had sent trackers out in the morning to discover where the families had camped overnight so that we knew where to start the trek. We were told that we might be trekking anywhere from 1 hour up to 6 hours in the jungle.

Reminiscent of a school-yard pick, we got to choose our porters.  I chose one, but he got reassigned to the tallest member of our group and I ended up with the smallest porter whose name was Justice. The hiring of porters was encouraged as the USD$20 helped to feed families, bring dollars into the community, help pay for schooling etc. While the others may have got a porter for altruistic purposes, I know I was going to need one to not only carry my day pack, but to help me get up the mountain.

Briefing finished, another nervous wee finished, and we all piled into the Jeep to drive to the starting point. We were only in the car for about 5 minutes as our trek would begin on the edge of town at the base of the mountain. I got out of the car and came face to face with a wall of a mountain. My eyes scanned up, up, up, up. Oh fuck! It looked even more intimidating being this close. I started muttering under my breath…”Please don’t let this be the 6 hour group”.

With walking poles in both hands, and Justice by my side, we took off in single file along a trail. The first 10 minutes was about trying to get some rhythm to my breathing and walking. Ok, this isn’t too bad. And, then the trail starts to steepen. It’s a this point that Justice takes one of walking poles and grabs my hand and starts to lead me up the mountain. After about 20 minutes I experience the “majestic push” for the first time. Through a particularly difficult section, with Justice pulling me along with a vice-like grip, I feel a hand on each of my butt cheeks pushing me up the mountain.

After we had been walking for about 40 minutes and the rest stops are becoming more frequent, the breathing is becoming more laboured and the terrain is getting steeper again. It was now so steep that if you stood fully upright, you were in danger of overbalance and tumbling down the mountain. We had now been told that our group was going to see the cldscn3521osest gorilla family. I knew that I wasn’t going to have to endure this for another 5 hours, but I was still questioning how long I was going to be able to keep up with everyone.

The next 15 minutes was a blurry cycle of sweat, climbing, huffing, puffing, scrambling, resting…repeat. Then a mood of anticipation takes over the group as we come upon the advance party trekker guides which mean that the gorillas are close. Just we pass through a tea plantation (what! someone makes this climb every day for work??) the porters stayed back, as they are not allowed to be near the gorillas, and we are called forward. There in the bushes is a gorilla. The undergrowth is so thick that I can’t see anything and all I can hear is the clicking of cameras.  Surely I haven’t just trekked for an hour to see the backs of people’s heads and moving green foliage? And then the gorilla was on the move, and so were we. It’s amazing how adrenalin takes away all the pain. We were now scrambling and climbing in pursuit with agility not seen since the first minute of the trek.

Soon we meet up with the same gorilla again, and sitting a little higher up the mountain is the Silverback. He is sitting upright in a clearing, watching the action; the sunlight behind him is making him appear ethereal. We get to watch them for a few minutes before they are on the move again.  Thankfully this time they are traversing around the mountain, but the jungle is getting thicker.  In my mind, like the videos online, we were going to sit in one place for an hour and watch a family of gorillas frolicking happily in front of us in an open clearing. In my mind there was also going to be a beach ball bouncing back and forth, but I can see now that won’t be the case.  Now we are hacking our way through thick forest trying to keep up with them.

I never felt threatened as they appeared to be quite docile, but you could sense their awesome power, except for the time I ended up on the path in front of a gorilla. As it was heading my way, I’m staring at it as I’m struggling to remember what they said at the briefing. Then I remembered they said not to look threatening, avert your eyes downwards coyly and keep a distance of 6 metres from them. Problem was, as it was coming closer I couldn’t take my eyes of her, and I had nowhere to go. She may have ignored me, but I couldn’t ignore her. And then the unthinkable happened….she grazed my leg as she lumbered past me. She touched me.

Let that sink in…I. HAD. BEEN. TOUCHED. BY. A. MOUNTAIN. GORILLA!

Not only do very few people on this planet get to see a Mountain Gorilla, I had been one of the very few, of the very few that has actually touched a mountain gorilla. I assume I am now a member of an exclusive club. I wonder when and where they hold the meetings.

The next hour or so was spent climbing, traversing, sliding, scrambling, crawling, slipping and tumbling through the dense jungle as we followed these imposing beasts. You don’t really notice how difficult the terrain is when you are “on the hunt”. The energy levels are high, the adrenalin is still surging, all the senses are on hyper, and the anticipation is extreme. When the gorillas stopped, we had time to sit quietly and observe (once we stopped taking photos, of course). We watched them play, climb trees, fall off trees, rest, eat, but mainly we watched them crawl on all fours then sit, crawl then sit, crawl then sit (actually that might have been us). Our family seemed to be spread out as we never really saw more than two together at the one time. They didn’t make much noise, except the Silverback let out a huge fart as he readied himself for a nap. Well we assumed it was the Silverback. It could have been any one of us as our diet on the trip had consisted of many 3-course meals of very rich food!

As the gorilla family had their mid-morning nap we were led away and started our descent. Due to the steepness, I found it less strainful on the knees, and less chance of falling, to slide down the mountain on my butt. And, it was a hell a lot of fun as well. Halfway down, on a particularly steep part of the mountain, we stopped to eat our pre-packed lunch. Overlooking Bwindi and the valley, still buzzing with excitement, we chowed down on sandwiches and fruit as we delighted in our collective experiences. It was a great moment.dscn3566

Surprisingly, it took us a while to make our way off the mountain. Bwindi didn’t look too far away, but even as we (I) slid down the mountain; it never seemed to get any closer. I think it was the mountain’s version of a desert mirage. The view was spectacular, but I think we were all ready to get back to the lodge to clean up.

Once down off the mountain we said our good byes to our porters, paid them their well-earned money (seriously if they had cost US$40 each they would still be worth it) It was at this time that I noticed that one of the female porters was pregnant (not just pregnant, but looked like she was ready to give birth at any moment). I can’t believe that I hadn’t noticed before, but more importantly, I can’t believe that she did this trek a few times a week! I now felt really inadequate and stupid with my huffing and puffing, my walking sticks, my hiking boots, and my appropriate moisture-wicking and breathable trekking clothing.

We were met at the bottom of the mountain by a beaming Steffi, who we couldn’t wait to tell him our experiences. We were like little kids wanting to get the attention, and approval from our parents. There was a lot of chatter in the car as we drove back to the Ranger’s Office. I was very excited to receive my “Gorilla Trekking Certificate”. If I had a Pool Room, it woul20161204_113049d go straight into it and hung with pride.

The afternoon was all about the “come down”. After a champagne celebration back at the lodge, the group did their own things to process the morning’s experience with either therapeutic massages, resting and napping, sorting and sharing photographs, writing social media posts, but nothing could wipe the smiles off our faces and the warm glow of achievement.

It was an experience of a lifetime.

We all had seeing the gorillas as a bucket list item. Sometimes you build these items up to such a level that the reality is a disappointment. This was not one of those times.

www.dontforgettravel.com.au

Advertisements

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

“From the four walls that currently surround you to the infinite potential of space, this week we’d like you to show us your take on room, rooms, or a room.”

Not one for being obvious, I didn’t want to fill this challenge with lots of photos of great hotel rooms. Instead I chose a few of my favourite “rooms”.

Athens

Athens

Ok I just said I wasn’t going to fill up on hotel rooms, but this is the view from my favourite hotel room overlooking my favourite city in my favourite overseas country. Whenever I can see the Parthenon sitting proudly atop the Acropolis, I feel happy….and very much at home. I’m sure I must have been Greek in a former life!

 

 

 

 

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class

One of the biggest gripes that travellers have is the lack of room offered by airlines. Maybe one of reason why this is so is because Singapore Airline’s stole everyone’s extra space and added it to Business Class on their A380. There is so much room it can fit 2 champagne drinking passengers.

Moet et Chandon Cellars

Moet et Chandon Cellars

Speaking of champagne…..(nice segue) this stairway leads into the room that I discovered that I actually do like champagne, when you drink it at the source. This stairway leads to the Moet et Chandon tasting room which is at the end of a labyrinthine network of underground tunnels and cellars. After a tour of the cellars the corks were popped, the bubbles fizzed and my tastebuds did a hallelujah dance. The French sure know how to make champagne. Up to this moment I had only given a polite smile through gritted teeth whenever I had to have a glass.

Belvedere Ice Room Whistler

Belvedere Ice Room Whistler

Speaking of drinking… (another nice segue) one of the strangest rooms I have ever been in is one made completely of ice. The walls, the bar, the shelves, the seats were made of ice. It was called the Belvedere Ice Room and served ice-cold vodka.  On a trip to Whistler I found myself in this room tasting vodka after being kitted out in a heavy fur-lined jacket. It was great fun. The downside was that due to the freezing temperature, you can’t stay all night in the room, even though the cold spirit is warming you on the inside.

Bayon Temple Campodia

Bayon Temple Campodia

There are many different type of spirits (yep, another segue), some alcoholic and some spiritual. On a recent trip to Cambodia, while exploring Bayon Temple’s many rooms I was surprised to come across this buddha . Despite believing that the temples of Siem Reap were abandoned, it was obvious that I was wrong. The Buddha had been cloaked in a bright saffron-coloured sash and surrounding the seated figure were many offering. Some of them were recent offerings proving that this was still an active place of worship.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In their day, the temples of Siem Reap would have been considered opulent, (here comes another segue) but nothing like the opulence experienced at an exclusive dinner in the Hall of Battles, one of the majestic rooms in the Palace of Versailles.  Believed to be the first dinner staged at the Palace since Napoleonic times, it was a privilege to feel like a privilege member of French Royalty.

Speaking of privilege (ok enough with the gratuitous segues), I have had the privilege and pleasure to have this as my view from my Santorini room.  Really don’t think there is anything more to say…just open a bottle of ouzo, nibble on some grilled octopus and just enjoy.

Santorini Greece

Santorini Greece

The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the weekly photo challenge, but with the added twist that every photo has to have a travel element to it. Enjoy! #postaday

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: ON THE MOVE

It is quite mesmerizing watching all types of vessels passing by my waterfront accommodation: big tankers filled with shipping containers, long transporters full of so much sand that the boat sits precariously low in the water, small wooden fishing boats that look as though they have been plying these waters for generations, modern speed boats ferrying expats from the safety of their gated communities into the hustle and bustle of the city, sight-seeing cruisers with camera snapping tourists, even large paddle-steamer style (sans paddlewheel!!) karaoke dinner cruises. While staying in Ho Chi Minh City, what has really captured my imagination, and is fitting for this week’s photo challenge, is “life on the Saigon River”. While the vessel may vary, the one thing they all have in common is that they are all ON THE MOVE.

The last few days have all been about ON THE MOVE, so this week’s photo challenge was quite easy. Over the course of 3 days I have flown from Australia to Malaysia then onto Vietnam.

The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the weekly photo challenge, but with the added twist that every photo has to have a travel element to it. Enjoy! #postaday

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

Put letters together to make words. Put words together to form sentences. Put sentences together to produce chapters. Put chapters together to tell stories.

There is an order to letters and to keep the letters in order there is the alphabet. To bring each letter to life is a picture that represents that letter, either physically, metaphorically or graphically.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words here is my 26,000 word essay!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the weekly photo challenge, but with the added twist that every photo has to have a travel element to it. Enjoy! #postaday

THE COLD FACE OF GALLIPOLI

THE COLD FACE OF GALLIPOLI

The Gallipoli campaign was brutal and not for the fainthearted. I went in believing I knew what I was in for and somehow came out the other side as the face of Anzac Day 2006.

Sitting at the stage area overlooking Anzac Cove

Sitting at the stage area overlooking Anzac Cove

Anzac Day is all about reflection, so let’s we reflect…

I had been prepared for the emotion of the occasion, but I wasn’t prepared for the coldness of the occasion. It was freezing with an onshore wind blowing off Anzac Cove. The day had been a sunny autumnal day, but this was just a tease. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the temperature didn’t drop, it plummeted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a 5 hour bus trip from Istanbul (which they showed Mel Gibson’s “Gallipoli” on-board to get everyone into the mood) we arrived at Anzac Cove around 6pm on 24th April. Being on one of the first buses (as there isn’t public transport everyone has to belong to a tour group to gain access) to arrive we had options – lie on the grassed area behind the VIPs which would give you a limited view, but with the chance of getting some sleep, or sit in the stand where you would be guaranteed a great view, but very little chance of any sleep. I chose the latter as I thought “seeing” was whole point of being here.

Despite wearing a t-shirt, shirt, polar fleece jumper, windproof jacket, two pairs of Explorer socks, jeans, a beanie (purchased during the night from a local Turk) and all snuggled inside a sleeping bag it was not enough to ward off the cold that had now seeped its way into the core of my bones. I remember thinking I may be uncomfortably cold, but imagine also being wet and coming ashore under the cover of darkness, to a future that probably wasn’t going to end well.

To relieve boredom, every hour, on the hour throughout the night, either a Military band played, or a 15 minute documentary of the conflict, or a detailed description of where the troops were at that specific time back in 1915, or images beamed up on the big screen of the crowd from the closed circuit cameras. It was both entertaining and informative. A constant stream of buses depositing more people added to the carnival-like atmosphere. By 5.30am there was about 10,000 people squashed into Anzac Cove. I am pretty sure there was not one Australian backpacker left in London!

Amongst the crowd were AFL and NRL football jumpers, Wallaby tops, hats with

Crowd building with the Sphinx in background

Crowd building with the Sphinx in background

the Oz flag, the canary yellow of the Fanatics etc and the closest thing to nationalistic I had was an Austereo polar fleece with a capital A on the front. During the night I was feeling so unpatriotic I haggled with a local Turk selling flags – eventually getting a bargain for 4 Turkish Lira (approx. $4.00). I had got a great deal and I felt good. Back at my seat, with chest swelling with pride, I unfurled the flag to discover that it was only printed on one side. Damn you Turks, you got the better of us Aussies again. The reverse side was completely white!

It was at that moment when a camera on the end of a massive boom, swung around zooming in on me. I could see myself on the screens scattered around the amphitheatre. Luckily the wind changed direction so that the Australian flag side was visible; otherwise it would have looked as though I was surrendering by waving the white flag. I remember thinking “look solemn and pensive and resist the urge to make a face or wave maniacally”.

The service itself was quite stage-managed with many speeches by dignitaries. It

Last Post being played at Dawn Service at Anzac Cove

Last Post being played at Dawn Service at Anzac Cove

felt more like a celebration than a memorial service, so it wasn’t as emotional as I thought it was going to be – that was until the lone bugler played the Last Post and the Reveille – spine chilling stuff.

A few days later I discovered that it hadn’t been a closed circuit tv. The footage was beamed back to Australia and Channel 9 used my image as the opening and closing scenes of their national news bulletin! My cold, but solemn face had been on television every hour throughout the day all over Australia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had turned up to pay my respects and walked away from Gallipoli as the face of Anzac Day.

The Don’t Forget Travel Group

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

I love getting high!

Never one to suffer from vertigo, I love being high….whether it be on top of a mountain after trekking for a few days, or from the Observation Deck of a skyscraper where the effort was no more strenuous than pushing the elevator button. I have always enjoyed sweeping views, particularly vistas from being “On Top” of things.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the Weekly Photo Challenge with the added edge of each challenge is to have a “travel twist”.

#Postaday

CATTLE BATTLE

TITLE“Who has the best Economy Class?”

This a question we receive daily. It is also a question that is hard to answer because it is so subjective. Its time to go out on a limb and rank the Cattle Classes of Adelaide’s international airlines. The exception to this is the inclusion of Qantas, despite not flying internationally from Adelaide, because so many travellers are Qantas Frequent Flyers and desire to stay loyal to the airline and begrudgingly will fly interstate to catch an international flight.

The airlines have been ranked from highest to lowest in the following categories: price, frequency, seat width, seat pitch, seat configuration, number of passengers and convenience.

Table

The winner of the Cattle Battle is……..Singapore Airlines, Organic Cow2

earning them the status of “Organic Hand Reared Cattle”.

 

 

Singapore Airlines (50 points)sq logo

Flight: SQ279 Adelaide to Singapore

Plane: Airbus A330-300

Configuration: 2-4-2, Seat Pitch: 32, Seat Width: 19in (48.3cm)

Number of seats: 255

Departs daily at 11.55am and SQ277 departs M, Th, F, Sa, Su at 7.15pm

 

free rangeThe next category is the “Free Range Cattle”

 

 

 

Malaysia Airlines (44 points)mh logo

Flight: MH139 Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur

Plane: Airbus A330-300

Configuration: 2-4-2, Seat Pitch: 34, Seat Width: 17in (43.2cm)

Number of seats: 250

Departs Tu, W, F, Su at 10.00am and M, Th, Sa at 2.30pm

 

Cathay Pacific (42 points)cx logo

Flight: CX105 Adelaide to Hong Kong

Plane: Airbus A330-300

Configuration: 2-4-2, Seat Pitch: 32, Seat Width: 18.45in (46.9cm)

Number of seats: 175

Departs daily at 12.20pm

 

barn raisedThe third category is the “Barn Raised Cattle” status

 

 

 

Air New Zealand (39 points)nz logo

Flight: NZ791 Adelaide to Auckland

Plane: Airbus A320

Configuration: 3-3, Seat Pitch: 30, Seat Width: 17in (43.2cm)

Number of seats: 168

Departs daily at 11.40am

 

Virgin Australia (37 points)va logo

Flight: VA4194 Adelaide to Denpasar

Plane: Boeing B737

Configuration: 3-3, Seat Pitch: 30, Seat Width: 17in (43.2cm)

Number of seats: 144

Departs M, W, F, Su at 9.50am and VA4193 departs Sa 2.50pm

 

Jetstar (34 points)jq logo

Flight: JQ118 Adelaide to Denpasar

Plane: Airbus A320

Configuration: 3-3, Seat Pitch: 29, Seat Width: 17in (43.2cm)

Number of seats: 180

Departs M, W, Sa at 7.30am

Flight: JQ195 Adelaide to Auckland

Plane: Airbus A320

Configuration: 3-3, Seat Pitch: 29, Seat Width: 17in (43.2cm)

Number of seats: 180

Departs M, W, Sa at 4.25pm

 

Caged CowsThe final category is the “Caged Cattle” status and will surprise many which airlines fell into this group.

 

 

Emirates (31 points)ek logo

Flight: EK441 Adelaide to Dubai

Plane: Boeing 777-300ER

Configuration: 3-4-3,  Seat Pitch: 32, Seat Width: 17in (43.2cm)

Number of seats: 304

Departs daily at 10.35pm

 

Air Asia X (22 points)air asia logo

Flight: D7 246 Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur

Plane: Airbus A333

Configuration: 3-3-3, Seat Pitch: 32, Seat Width: 16.5in (41.9cm)

Number of seats: 365

Departs M, T, Th, Sa, Su at 11.00am

 

Qantas (out of Melbourne) (17 points)QF logo

Flight: QF93 Melbourne to LA

Plane: Airbus A380

Configuration: 3-4-3, Seat Pitch: 31, Seat Width: 17.5in (44.5cm)

Number of seats: 371

Departs daily at 11.20am

 

The argument has now been settled…..or has it?