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On the way to the starting place, the 2 guides said it would never happen after I told them my dream was to kiss a baby.  Then she said neutral colored clothing was the only color allowed in the forest.  I then asked her what would happen if I wore a color. She said I would not be allowed to participate wearing a bright vivid color because it attracts the eye.

We finished our discussion right at the time we arrived at the starting point and waiting for me was the basket in which I would ride to the mountain top to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. And I would ride lying on my back on a foam mattress in the basket since I cannot climb a mountain because of lung problems from birth and because osteoporosis has been bad for years and falls and broken bones occur, year after year. Other than that, I am in good condition. So, off I went with 8 strong men carrying me, 4 at a time.DSC_0187

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This good-looking young man carried my walker for me on the entire trek and he did an excellent job.

First, we went through a neighborhood and it was so much fun like I was on a float in a parade waving to the people who had come from their homes or stopped chopping weeds in the potato fields to wave to me. I told every person “Hello” and waved to them from my basket. DSC_0485The people didn’t seem surprised to see me being carried because the men carry handicapped people all the time to see them, enabling the handicapped to fulfill a lifetime dream of seeing the mountain gorillas.DSC_0211.JPGd

DSC_0203After greeting the village people as we proceeded through the potato fields, we headed straight to the forest. DSC_0448But before we could start the climb, the men had to lift me and the basket over a 5-foot-high fence of stacked rocks. The four men grunted as they lifted me up high on one end with all their strength while the men on the other end then lifted me over the stack of rocks.DSC_0447

Once they had me up in the air, the men on the front lowered me and the men carrying me at the feet then lowered me. I was about a 20-30-degree angle going over the fence, first with my head and then my feet. I figured the purpose of the rock wall was to separate the national park from the potato fields.  But why, I wondered, didn’t a gate get included in the rock wall so then the men carrying the basket could get through easily.DSC_0233

Now it was time to go deep into the forest so we proceeded up to the gorillas . The brush and vines were about 2-3 feet high and very thick and it was a challenge to find the ground below them. Vines covered the trees in many places and hung down so far one could barely see.  So, one of the guides led the way with a machete cutting the vines and brush so we could pass. DSC_0222

Following us were seven other trekking men and women and the cleared path helped them navigate the newly created forest trail.  We continued the climb up 10-25 degree angles for about an hour. And the smell of the newly cut vines in the pristine forest was beginning to make me sick at my stomach. But I wasn’t that sick that I had to stop.  Nothing would prevent me from seeing those gorillas.

DSC_0242We entered an area about half way up that was heavy brush and we couldn’t see around it.  It made me think of our soldiers who had to fight in many of the jungles of the world and what they went through to make it.  But as soon as we could see around all the vines and other thick greenery there was a huge black-back male gorilla just waiting for us. It was a total surprise and I was ecstatic and oh so happy that I was so close to him and we weren’t even where the Umubano gorilla family was yet.DSC_0248.JPG

We stopped for a short time and why I didn’t know.  We could have continued up the mountain and passed right by the gorilla but we didn’t. The gorilla wanted to check us out. The dominant silverback master of the family then arrived to observe but he remained calm while the black-back checked me out. So, the black-back calmly and slowly came toward my head and shoulder area as I laid in the basket.  And he stuck out his right hand and examined the blanket on my basket mattress by lifting a section of it up and rubbing and looking closely at it.DSC_0238

I watched him rub those huge black leather-like fingers back and forth as he studied it with his big eyes and brain, analyzing every thread. And in that process, he touched my shoulder. Well, I was in dreamland and it was so surreal because a wild gorilla had touched me. I didn’t get to kiss a baby but I was touched by a gorgeous black-back in a close encounter.DSC_0267

I began to celebrate with no sound because we had just been told at the rock wall that no sounds were allowed in the forest.  So, when he came up to my head area to check out the blanket by rubbing it between his huge big leather-like fingers, I decided it was time to celebrate because my dream had come true. So, I opened my mouth to show I was estatic and raised both arms up to the sky with my thumbs sticking up from my fists. And the gorilla was still beside me and watched me do it. DSC_0245

My guides then began gorilla talk. They research and study gorillas all the time and know the gorilla language, they had told me. So, several of the guides spoke the “everything is ok” sound over and over and over. And the guides even said it at the same time, In a cool, calm and collected manner. And then the gorilla backed up and sat down about 6 feet from my basket/head and crossed his arms tightly over his chest. The incident only took few seconds, but to me, it seemed like an hour of total enjoyment.DSC_0238

I didn’t know if this gesture indicated he was finished with the examination, or if he was satisfied all was ok and we could pass or if he was mad because he had been corrected. Maybe he sensed there was a problem that I was being carried when the other people were walking. He didn’t act threatened and neither did I. And what was the thing that attracted that black-back to come check me out as we were only half way up? We didn’t do anything unusual as the park rangers regularly carry handicapped customers who have difficulty walking or climbing.

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These are the wonderful guides who carried me to see the gorillas for 1 hour and 40 minutes until they reached them, and then helped me for the hour were with them. And it only took 40 minutes to reach the finish area because the gorillas had moved so much down the mountain. It was priceless.

The only thing I could figure out was the blanket.  The blanket caused the big black- back gorilla to come meet us as we were half way up because the blanket was bright and vivid orange. And the guide told me on the way to the starting point that bright colors were forbidden because they attract the baby gorillas.DSC_0441

And I wondered why, of all the colors possible, did they select the orange blanket to cover the foam mattress in the basket. That orange stood out to that gorilla who was eating green leaves. And all of a sudden, he must have looked up and saw an orange thing coming up the mountain. So, I guess he was in charge of seeing what was entering their mountain kingdom.

There he sat looking at us as we passed to continue our trek up to the top.  And at the top, we found the gorillas had moved down the mountain to eat new leaves. So, then I got out of the basket and begin walking down which I did handicapped. But two of the guides helped me walk all the way so I wouldn’t fall and one of them brought my walker with me so I could sit if I became tired. After taking a few steps, I wasn‘t sure. Now I had to navigate through 2+-feet-high thick vines to where those precious gorillas were and most were eating separately in trees or on the ground. And I was determined to see them, no matter what.DSC_0256

Oh, they were so cute and fat and fun to watch.  My dream had come true again on my fourth gorilla trek. My first and second trek was in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and the trek was just a little walking on flat land and my third gorilla trek was in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and I just walked a few feet and stood watching them live their precious lives.DSC_0314

All guides were excellent as was my guide, Emmy Maseruka, of Afrikan Wildlife Safaris. I learned it doesn’t matter which country is selected because each trek is different even in the same park. Every trek is awesome and one of a kind.

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My guide, Emmy Maseruka, on the left, has been my guide on four gorilla treks so far. I have trekked Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda all 4 times handicapped. He provided this team of guides and others to help me perfectly. His email is afrikanwildlife@gmail.com and he can tailor a gorilla trekking trip for one or more persons. The best time to trek is the dry season of July to December. All 4 times I went in August because it is one of the most popular months with no bugs and it is cool. Government permits must be obtained 6-12 months in advance because only 8-10 trekkers are allowed per day per gorilla family. And if handicapped service is needed, it must be requested from your guide.

Our gorilla group was called Umubano, meaning togetherness and cooperation. The family has 15 members, three of which are silverbacks, but only one is the dominant leader. Two females have produced several offspring.  Currently they have three babies.  I didn’t get to see one but I did see the rest of the family members.DSC_0277

As we proceeded to each member of the family, we saw a silverback about 50 feet high in the top of a tree eating leaves. He was huge and at one time, he was totally spread eagle with each of his limbs on a tree limb so we could see him in all his glory.  Then, he decided to come down to the ground on one branch, and when he did, the branch broke and he fell about 45 feet to the ground.  I thought it would be the end of him, but a short time later, we saw him walking around like nothing happened.DSC_0350

Preceding on with 2 guides helping me walk through the thick vines, we saw 2 male teenagers, each declaring he was the strongest and the king of the mountain and fighting and biting to prove it.  And they were making such a commotion that the dominant silverback male made a flying dash to break them up and to referee the fight.  But he didn’t do it until he pounded his chest while sprinting straight to the fighting boys, right beside me. He succeeded by his presence. And we got a great demonstration on how he rules his kingdom.

As we continued down, a female and a young gorilla were peacefully playing and bonding with the young gorilla ending up on his back with his right leg up in the air and his big hands playing with the foot.  It was just like young children do and it reminded me that gorillas are 98% DNA of humans. They are like us and even look and act human except they are in a gorilla suit.Image-1 second edit of holding foot 2019

We continued our trek down and observing gorilla after gorilla up close and personal. I was tired from every step trying to find the ground without those vines and the smell of the cut vines was making me sicker. I sat down on my walker and just as I did, the lead guide said our hour was up with the gorillas and we must go. I was proud that I was able to make the entire trek handicapped and successfully. While I was trekking, I felt no sickness or pain until the last minute. It’s amazing when your mind is on something else, you don’t feel a pain. DSC_0313

We were told we could not touch a gorilla but a gorilla could touch us. When I was touched, my trip was made and I was in dreamland it was so surreal. In my world, I had hit the top of the mountain, and from then on, it was downhill all the way, literally and figuratively.

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Following me on the trek were these ladies and gentlemen, and the guides helped us all.

  Photo Copy © 2019 carolyntravels.com 

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It costs $300. USD to be carried in the basket plus tips for each guide in Rwanda. It was money well spent for me to realize my dream.

 

 

 

 

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When we began watching at 5 a.m., our ship was already moving slow and easy. It was windy and cold and that woke us up to see the event we had never experienced. Lights were bright and beautiful on both sides in the dark.

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This area was the first thing we saw as we began our watch at 5 a.m.

 

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Our ship, the Seabourn Ovation, as it slowly moved into the wide Suez Canal.

But, thirty minutes later, we couldn’t see a thing. It was total white out.DSC_0311 The white out continued for several hours and we didn’t think it would ever end or we would ever get to enjoy the experience we had wanted to do for a lifetime.

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We were able to see this marker in the Canal but that was all.

The white out was fog/smog/pollution and we watched our ship sail right into it as the white out covered the entire area. It was scary going into total white out because we couldn’t see where we were or get any idea of what was going on around us. We didn’t know where we were but Capitan Betten and that Suez Canal pilot on board did. Several times the Seabourn Ovation had to blow it’s horn to warn other ships of it’s position so others wouldn’t hit us during this total white out.DSC_0304

Then the white out started to slowly disappear and a sliver of our dream we thought could come true. Finally, 2 hours later, there was a beautiful blue sky, bright sun and the water appeared.DSC_0271DSC_0266

We could see our dream come true as we were transiting the Suez Canal that goes through Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea with Captain Stig Betten of Norway at the helm. But it looked like a river it was so wide (673 feet wide/205 meters).

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Capitan Sig Betten has been a captain most of his life. The glass window below shows him what is going on in the water below.

The sights and sounds of the Canal were enjoyable for the entire 120 miles through Egypt like: the call to prayer for the Muslims, a train moving down its track, a pickup truck full of workers waving and hollering at us as they passed, military outposts along the Canal, lights shining brightly through the windows of the houses in the villages,DSC_0360

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DSC_0279.JPGchildren playing, fishermen fishing from their tiny boat close to us, a ferry carrying vehicles across the canal, and a crane worker moving sand from the Sinai Desert into a dump truck.DSC_0343DSC_0340

Due to the design of the Canal, the Seabourn Ovation had to arrive at the entrance in the Mediterranean Sea by 11p.m.the night before our transit. “When we arrived, the Suez Canal Authority told us where we could anchor and wait with all the other vessels scheduled to transit southbound with us. A group at a time goes through the Canal in convoy northbound or southbound as the Canal has one lane, then 2 lanes, then one lane and the Canal traffic cannot meet when there is only one lane,” Captain Betten explained.

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Seabourn Ovation could only go 8.6 knots speed limit for the entire 120 mile length of the Canal or be fined a hefty fee because vessels cannot meet at the one-lane sections of the Canal. And for the right to transit the Suez, ships must pay depending on the size and number of guests on board,” Captain Betten said.

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Watching our every move through the Canal was Capitan Betten and several of his first offices and the Suez Canal pilots when on board.

In 2014, a second lane was added over the central 45 mile section of the Canal. “It was severely challenging with only one lane,” the Captain complained. As a result, wider vessels can transit and the number of ships increased from 49 to 97. The expansion also reduces the transit time. It used to take the Seabourn Ovation 16-18 hours. Now, with the new improvements, it takes only 12 hours.

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We followed this container ship through the Canal and there were at least 5 ships a head of us in convoy going southbound. We saw mostly container and cargo ships in our transit.

When the Seabourn Ovation began the transit through the Canal, Captain Betten was in the bridge almost 24 hours supervising all the procedures and formalities necessary to go through the Canal. “Correct documents had to be presented and approved and if they were not, the transit would be delayed until all had met the Egyptian rules and regulations, many of which are still performed the same way as many years ago,” the captain explained.

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We are going southbound and the container ship is going northbound on the new 2-way 45-mile section of the Suez in the sand.

Seabourn Ovation took 3 Suez pilots onboard who knew the route through the Canal. “These pilots may and may not take control of the ship but the Captain is always responsible, and has absolute authority on the ship every minute. They advised our officers at the helm how to con (drive) the ship through the Canal,” Captain Bitten pointed out.

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The ship in front of us is turning left into one of the 8 major bends in the Canal. The Suez goes through 4 lakes.

The first pilot came from outside the Canal about 3:30 a.m. When he left, another pilot took the ship through Port Said and into the Canal until 10 p.m., and when he finished, a third pilot took the ship from 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. when it exited the Suez Canal. And when the pilot left, the Seabourn Ovation was then free to proceed on.

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Sharon took this photo of me as the container ship passed in the other lane going north while our Seabourn Ovation was going south.

Built in 1869, the Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway running north-south across the Isthmus of Suez. It is an open-cut, and, through extensive straight lengths occur, there are eight major bends. The Canal connects 4 lakes to make the Canal: Lake Manzala, Lake Timsah, Great Bitter Lake, and Little Bitter Lake. It is 79 feet deep/24 meters and 120 miles long/193.30 km.

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When we exited the Suez Canal, we counted 7 different ships waiting to transit north.

Comparing the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal is like two opposites. The Panama is controlled with locks, is organized, has tug boats to help guide each ship, has “mule” machines that pull a ship through the canal, and has pilots who take absolute control of the ship by conning the ship through the Canal. It is 48 miles long (77.1km) and locks are 110 feet wide and 1050 feet long in the original Canal. When through the last lock, the pilot releases the ship to proceed on its own. Both Canals collect billions of US dollars each year and the revenue has increased since the addition of the second Canal built parallel to the original Canal.

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Sharon and I were invited to the bridge to meet and interview Capitan Betten after we had exited the Suez Canal.

When we began watching the Seabourn Ovation at 5 a.m. go through the Suez Canal, we only could see for 30 minutes and then it was solid white and the ship was blowing its horn to show its location. But a few hours later, we were blowing our horn in total celebration of finally getting to transit it, for the experience was another outstanding one for us and our travels in this magnificent world. DSC_0306Photo Copy © 2018 carolyntravels.com Photo Copy © 2018 carolyntravels.com DSC_0252 (more…)

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