This blog entry about the events of Thursday, December 08, 2011 was originally posted on December 13, 2011.
PROLOGUE: “This is going to sound like I’ve fallen for an Internet scam,” I told Nieve, the friendly branch banker at a Capital One Bank in Brooklyn, NY. “But I actually need to wire money to Africa.”
She began the money wire process, but not without some casual questions — none of which were about a Nigerian businessman looking for someone to receive his frozen monetary assets. “Are you buying goods there?” she asked me.
“No, I’m going on a gorilla safari,” I told her. “But you need to pay the government first to get a permit.”
IT WAS IN AFRICA that I first got bitten by the travel bug in 2000, on a two-week safari through Botswana. Since then I’ve been to Africa two more times, the next being on a four month, mostly overland journey during my big sixteen-month Global Trip. The last time I set foot on the continent in 2006 — in the western African nation of Mali (home of Timbuktu) — I left with a figurative bad taste in my mouth; I had been led in a series of excursions filled with mind games, with a network of particular locals that I eventually tired of. (In fact, I left two days earlier than planned.) That’s not to say I am denouncing trips to Africa; I did have many memorable and amazing adventures there and agree with the many people I know who’ve been there and have described its allure as “magical.”
Besides, Africa is a continent, a big one at that, filled with many different cultures and societies. I cringe when I hear people bunch all of the African nations into one homogenous “African” society; I’ve learned in my travels that every country is uniquely different with its own culture, food, and people. To simply say “I’m going to Africa” is like saying “I’m going to Asia,” when most people going to the latter usually differentiate the country (i.e. “I’m going to Japan” or “I’m going to India").
And so, for this upcoming two-and-a-half week trip, I’d fly to the African nation of Uganda and eventually make my way to nearby Rwanda, with a possible detour to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“East Africa is the country?” Nieve the banker asked me, ignorant of the country names in the continent. The phrase “East African nationals” was printed on the instructions I received to wire money, so her confusion was justified.
“What’s the city?”
“Kigali,” I answered. Granted, I would have been in her shoes too if I hadn’t done some pre-departure research about this trip. She continued to process the information in her computer.
Most people associate Rwanda with the horrific genocide in 1994, when an estimated 800,000 people — about 20% of the population — were killed in a mass killing spree lasting about 100 days. The true story was told by Hollywood in 2004’s Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle, who not many people realize also starred in the family friendly comedy, Hotel For Dogs. But I digress.
It’s been over fifteen years since those tragic events in Rwanda, and the country has been on the mend since then, reviving their individual tribal identities, modernizing their cities — so much that it has transformed itself into one of the model countries of the continent. Ecotourism flourishes with one prized animal trophy to be photographed: the mountain gorilla.
In all my previous travels to Africa, I’d experienced most of the other ecosystems: desert, marshland, savannah, and the coast. I hadn’t done the African rainforest yet — home of the mountain gorilla — and it has always been on my to-do list.
Meanwhile, during my cross-country trip across the USA, my Global Trip blog posts caught the attention of an editor at Discovery.com, who had offered me a contributing writer position for their relaunch with original web content. In her wish list of proposed articles, an opportunity arose: “Is Gorilla Trekking Safe?” was on the list — and I decided to kill two birds with one trip.
Sure you could just research about the safety of gorilla trekking on the Internet (just like you can research about most any article these days), but there’s nothing like getting a first-hand experience to gather authentic information.
As for the adjacent country of Uganda, it came as a second place to visit; the sizes of the two countries aren’t that big, nor are their combined outer borders that distant — sort of like like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I was toying with Uganda and its questioning its safety until Susannah (whom I met in Chile earlier this year), who had once lived there, assured me it was fine — in fact, a great place to at least warrant some exploration.
As for the DR Congo, I’m getting mixed reviews with all the mention of guerrillas (the other kind) and civil unrest. The United Nations has recently labeled it “the Rape Capital of the World.” Meanwhile, guidebooks and fellow travelers say it’s pretty safe if you stick near the border with the peacekeeping nations. Whether or not that detour will happen is something I’ll decide on a whim when I’m over there, just like on most of my other trips. (If you’ve read my travel blogs before, you know I like to be flexible and usually let an itinerary present itself.)
“OKAY YOU’RE ALL SET.” Nieve finished the wire transfer and wished me well. Later on, I confirmed with a guy at the Rwanda Development Board who I only know as “Norbert,” and he said everything was set with the gorilla permit. A trip to the pharmacy got me my malaria pills — the only disease preventative I need since I’m already full of travel vaccinations. Tickets acquired, reservations for my first couple of nights booked. Bug spray (100% DEET) is ready to pack. Everything else, I’ll wing it as per usual.
I’m excited for the upcoming trip — a new African ecosystem for me! — assuming of course, that I did not fall into an Internet money wire scam. There’s only one real way to find out…
THE TRIP BEGINS DECEMBER 29th.
Stay tuned for the live blog.
Don Cheadle, who starred as Paul Rusesabagina in 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, also starred in the 2009 family friendly comedy, Hotel For Dogs. And of course, with the power of the Internet, there’s a funny mashup on YouTube:
Next entry: Scumbags in Transit
Previous entry: Observing America
Have a great trip and thanks again for maintaining this blog. Glad to see it is still popular and getting you work. Uganda is great, I did a gorilla trek there last year during my month in the country.
I first commented at the start of my RTW on the “Group Fun In The Sun” post from when you were in Israel. I’m rereading some of your asian posts to hold me over till I fly up there from OZ next month. Been enjoying the stories from your other trips as well but usually don’t have the bandwidth for photos/videos.
Posted by on 12/14 at 12:52 AM
Safe travels Fuzz-E! I’ll look forward to your adventures, as usual!
Posted by on 12/14 at 04:13 PM
Great to read what you are doing!
Good luck on your travel!
I loved the “would you” video by the way! Very inspiring!
Posted by Henk on 12/17 at 04:52 AM
Rich told me about your site. What an amazing trip...and the intro to this post is a riot!
Posted by Hazel on 12/20 at 12:05 PM
Scumbags in Transit
THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year.