Monday, July 12, 2010

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We left our village early in anticipation of a long day of travel ahead. The roads were full as usual. In the morning water for the day is collected by women and children from rivers, community pumps and dams that are often a long walk from their homes. Later in the day the traffic changes to people and vehicles loaded up with things for or from the markets. Heavy loads, large bags of potatoes on the head & multiple bags on bicycles. Most people walk, bicycles for those that have them & minivans and motorbikes for those with money or have further to go. We visit a market that is filled with stalls. Vegetables, spices, shoes, charcoal, cloth, clothing, ornaments every thing that the villagers need for their day to day lives. The Grey Crowned Crane had been on my wish list of birds to see. Our lunch stop provided my first and totally unexpected opportunity to get some photographs. A glance over my shoulder had me reaching for the camera. A family group was resident in the restaurants courtyard. A disappointing backdrop but you get your reference whenever and where ever it presents its self.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ibi Iwacu Village:

The village was at a situated on the border of the Volcanoes National Park. I shared a kings hut, on the left with Regan. The magnificent woven interior, warmed by the central fire and beds to either side. We spent another night singing, dancing & story telling in the main building.

Betty (center) our lovely, attentive host not only prepared the meals but made sure everything was just right during our stay.

I had anticipated the story telling sessions and reread the Killer Koala - by Kenneth Cook. I began by showing photos of my painting of a koala and as all who know me would expect, the story was accompanied by demonstrations and appropriate expressions. My choice of stories was well received by those assembled. The universal appeal of story describing a man having his genitals attacked prompted wide smiles from all those assembled. The delays created by the amusement of our translator just added to the enjoyment.

I was introduced to a group of artists: Nshmiyimana, Twaramwise & Harerimana who were drawing gorillas. They generously gave me some of their images. I offered to give a demonstration of my sketching technique the next day. I emerged from my hut to discovered them assembled 1/2 an hour early. They were very enthusiastic! Unfortunately we were leaving later that day so a single lesson was all I could offer but I am arranging for some materials and reference photos to be sent. Can now add international to my tutor credits!

The village healer and his son showed us a selection of the local medicinal herbs. Health services are limited in Rwanda and the local healers are often option for villagers. The herbs and potions they create have been in use for many generations and have untapped potential. The healer and his son are working with university staff to identify, test & document their medical potential.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Gorilla Visit - Sabyinyo Group:
We left the village for our audience with the gorillas. At the assembly point for the gorilla treks people from all over the world assembled for allocation of groups to visit. Ours was the small Sabyinyo group. 8 individuals with the largest of Rwanda's silver backs as it leader and protector. Our guide was to be the legendary Francois Bigirimana. Who had regular and close contact with Dian Fossey. His enthusiastic and graphic demonstrations of gorilla calls and munching on the various plants that the gorillas consume added greatly to our trek. Yes that is a gum tree that he's munching on. Apparently gorillas have adapted to the gums near the forest by striping their bark and eating the layer between bark and wood. What remains of Rwanda's forests is surrounded by Australian gum trees. Every village across the country has plantations which are used for building, fences and for cooking as charcoal. Whilst concerns about eucalyptus invading the pockets of remaining forests are justified With out this fast growing alternative to native trees whats left of the forests and the gorillas they support may have already been cleared.

We were
briefed about our group and driven to the point closest to the last sighting. Our trek was relatively short, 2 hours form briefing to first contact. Some groups require a strenuous 5 hour walk. We made contact with the trackers and accompanied by two guides, 8 porters and 2 armed guards we climbed the rock wall that surrounds the park. We made our way through bogs & creeks surrounded by a dense bamboo forest, vines and prickly plants. Then there they were! We were directed to moved quietly forward. Our distance from the gorillas 'strictly' controlled by our guides - forward, back as circumstances evolved. the gorillas however had no such restrictions. During our audience with these wonderfully creatures I had individuals wander close enough to touch. The gorillas didn't appear threatened by our presence but did occasionally hide their faces behind their hands.
Photography was again difficult in the closed canopy with shutter speeds of 1/20 sec or slower at 1600 ISO. Any movement resulted n a blurred shot. However the memories of being in the presence of these wild and wonderful creatures will stay with me forever.

Village stay at Ibi Iwacu Village - Ruhengeri
The whole village turned out for the dancing. Kids lined the fences and every laughed and clapped. The volume and technique of my two fingered whistle of appreciation grabbed every ones attention. They beamed every time I let loose and the kids fell about laughing. Later I noticed that some of the kids had perfected the technique, this prompted some concern from me about encouraging them to put their fingers in their mouths.
We were encouraged to join in! Regan joined the band and got some air with the locals. Karen, a soon to be geography teacher, in between efforts to photograph every school and teach every kid in Rwanda got in the groove.
Then there was me proving white men can't dance and that taking of your shirt in the middle of a group of young fit black men invites the obvious comparisons. We all had the greatest of fun!

My passion for Gorillas lead me to Africa. I read 'In the Kingdom of Gorilla's and how the gorillas survival lies in balance between the needs of people and wildlife in this country. I chose Rwanda because I wanted to acknowledge and support the efforts that the Rwandans are making to shape a peaceful and happy future out of the dark days of genocide.
So those were my motives. I chose the tour from the Intrepid catalogue and I arrived with hopes that my interactions with Rwandans would be a positive experience. The out come was so much more! In the hands of the wonderful people at Eco Tours it emerged as an experience of a life time. The village stay was stunning! We were swept up into the welcoming embrace of this caring community. The dancing & story telling was the greatest of fun. They looked after us in a manner that radiated friendship and concern for our every need. I hope we managed to respond in a manner that reflected our overwhelming level of enjoyment and our appreciation of their efforts.

The tour was professionally run extremely well directed and guided by Edwin & Martha. The friendly manner, selfless motives and obvious warmth and concern for their staff and the Rwandan people was a pleasure to observe. Personally I very much enjoyed our short time together and am honored to have met them.

The village in Ruhengeri had been set up as a community based tourism enterprises. It offers an alternative source of income and food for families that relied on the forest that are now part of the ‘Parc Natonal des Volcans’. The ex poachers from a mix of tribal groups were now our hosts. We were unaware that we were to be the first group to stay in the village since its construction. The excitement an interest we generated was exhilarating. Our visits represented the culmination of planning and hard work and the first step to fulfillment of the hopes and ambitions of this community and were received as honoured guests. Our group of 5 down to earth travelers from UK, Canada, Australian and New Zealand were a bit overwhelmed by our new status. We all set about the activities and interactions with the people determined to reflected their efforts and the warmth of the welcome.

These images were taken on our first night in the village. We were seated at on end of the large central hut for a night of food, story telling, music and dancing. The food was prepared on a charcoal fire in the center of the room and lit by lanterns. Thats me in the flanked by the real dancers with Regan from NZ at the back. Kirsty a seasoned and adventurous traveler from the UK was grooving with another of our hosts. She threw her self into every second of the trip and was great fun to travel with. Some of our hosts meantime were going off at the other side of the room.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jo burg to Rwanda:
Colleen & I leave our Botswana n tour companions behind and grab a flight Maun
- Jo burg. My direct flight from Jo burg to Rwanda had been canceled by the airline whilst I was in South Africa. My travel agent had been right on the ball and I was 'painlessly' rerouted through Uganda. I had checked with SA Airline about my flight before heading for Botswana so I was happy. Or so the theory goes! Unfortunately my plan of being able to accompany Colleen through the trials and tribulations of Jo burg airport was scuttled as my new flight was scheduled before hers. So she followed me to the check in counter for my flight.

Computer says no
It took nearly an hour to get my seat confirmed. The stress was building! I had a connecting flight in Uganda and on to my tour group in Rwanda. Given a boarding pass I ran thought he airport to the gate 24, listed on the pass. Wrong! Gate empty, display gate on the electronic board 5, other end of airport. More running but managed to get aboard after a hasty good by to Colleen.

The ticket issues was to follow me to Entebbe - Uganda and Kigali and return to Jo burg. Whilst paid and showed confirmed on my travel agents screen in Melbourne in Africa heavy negotiations and unraveling of airway screens took nearly an hour before each boarding.

The planned leisurely withdrawal of cash I needed for Rwanda on he way through Jo burg did not happen. So I subsequently arrived in Kigali with no cash. Needing US$50 to get a visa to leave the airport. No ATM's in arrival area or any other part of the airport for that matter. The immigration officers graciously and unexpectedly allowed me to enter Rwanda but would need to return for my passport with US$50 cash. Now with no cash I get a taxi in an unsuccessful search of an ATM! Plan B: Take me to my hotel. Long negotiation with the skeptical hotel staff and they payed the taxi. Cut a long and stressful saga short. There are no ATM's in Rwanda for foreign cards. The only bank in Kigali where I could get cash would not be open for 4 days because: closed for week end, monthly public service day and Genocide day. Tour operator trusted me to pay up US$650 for gorilla permits and I continued my travels through the trust and generosity of my fellow travelers, beginning with US$50 to get my passport. I will be forever grateful for their support.

More of the 19th in Moremi.
Just some random sightings. You spot one giraffe and others just magically appear. Heads pop up or your eyes just separate them from the undergrowth.

Hippos with their gatherings of Oxpeckers display their full bulk when out of the water. This one amused me by just testing the air for our scent. The mouth and teeth a reminder of the danger of getting in their way.

As with all three leopards I saw on this trip light was failing Camera at 1600ISO shutter speed 1/40 sec & zoom at max 400. Images not first class but the experience magic.

And one more close encounter with an elephant.

19th June Moremi Game Reserve:

Lioness and cubs


Lion cubs climb on lioness

Close up of lion cub
Sitting close to a pride of lions and with various size cubs clambering randomly over lionesses. Cubs feeding or attempting to as they moved amongst the prospective mums and aunties. Pleading cries and nuzzling prompting snarls and bared teeth. But persistence had its reward in a tangle of bodies. Just another day in the life of a wildlife artist!

18th June Moremi Game Reserve:

Moremi served up more species that were new to me and non stop passing parade of creatures now familiar but just as exciting. The Saddle-billed stork never ceased to impress. Red-billed Francolin, Kori Bustard, Crested Barbet, Green Wood-Hoopoe just some of the birds observed. Lions were not always ambivalent to our attentions!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

17 th June Moremi Game Reserve
This is the Roller shot that I nearly nailed, lost by a beak- next time! Immature Great white Pelican, Grey Heron, African Darter, Yellow-billed Stork, Pink-backed Pelican & Wattled Crane. How close are the animals when I photograph them? Some too fare away to get great shots but are great for reminders of what I saw. The lions mouth gives some indication of just how close some animals do get. Some too close to focus <1.5mt. Some close enough to check mouth hygiene!!!