A Travellerspoint blog

Island Daze

our first bit of Seychelles relaxation

Alright. To the good stuff. Salty breeze, crystal blue waters, and granite outcrops. The Seychelles are composed of 42 granitic islands (ok apparently there are a few coralline islands but you get it...) on our visit to the islands we are visiting the 2 largest islands (Mahé and Praslin) as well as one of the smaller islands (La Digue).

Monday night after arriving the rain did not give up. We ended up sharing a bottle of bubbles by candlelight on our patio after the power went out before enjoying a lovely meal with an ocean view in the hotel restaurant. The food was great, the wine was better and the company... Pretty wonderful too. There are about 10 other people staying at the hotel, so all in it is pretty quiet.

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L'Archipel is located on Cotê D'Or, one of the most popular beaches on Praslin. The hotel is on the far south end of the beach, making it ideal for quiet day time sun baking with no stray tourists disturbing the peace and quiet. The hotel photographs poorly- both of us were pleasantly surprised with it after what we had researched online.

Tuesday we had sun; I am not sure that my posts have reflected the weather all too much; but the weather has really only been sunny and hot once on the trip so far, and that was on our long day in Entebbe. We set off after a wonderful breakfast (hello cinnamon pancakes!) down the beach to see what this place was all about.

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The island is sleepy, the kind of place that not much is really happening and that's ok. Most tourists we run into (or past) are French, with a smattering of the typical German, Russian and South East Asia crowd. In any event nothing is too crowded right now, a mix of what I presume is the south monsoon season (hot, humid and more rain), as well as being outside of a holiday peak.

We downed Seybrews (local beers) for much cheaper than the hotel (SCR$90 at the hotel and SCR$60 on the street; exchange is ~10:1 SCR:CDN) and pigged out on a pretty decent pizza at the pizzeria at the Berjaya Hotel.

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We really lucked out in Uganda because all of our drinks (read beer and wine) were included. That isn't the case here in the Seychelles, and given my travelling partners ability to down a brew or three quite quickly- we could be in trouble. With this in mind we stopped in at a local shop to pick up a dozen Seybrew to stuff in the hotel minibar and a bottle of champagne for good measure (I felt left out).

The rest of this post goes something like this:
Hotel pool splashing and expensive cocktails (SCR$180)
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Average Creole buffet dinner on the beach

And then this...
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xoxo
L

Posted by ellie nicole 20:02 Archived in Seychelles Tagged praslin l'archipel cotê_d'or seybrew Comments (0)

Seychelles, Seychelles by the sey-shore

Arriving in the Seychelles is like switching a bike gear from an intense uphill climb to a slow moderate pedal. Uganda was exciting, early rising, sensory-overload and cultural feasting. The Seychelles is like Indian Ocean Jamaica (in attitude), Hawaii (in safety) and Gili Trawanagan (in commercial styling).

We arrived into Victoria (Mahé), the largest of the islands airports on Monday afternoon. Our tour company (follow along now...); Seychelles is not a popular destination for Canadians, so I found a tour operator out of Virginia, USA, who seemed reputable. From there, New Adventures (thanks Tava!!) created our 8 day itinerary including airport pick-ups & transfers, inter-island connections (by boat and air) as well as coordinate half board (breakfast & dinner packages) with our hotels. Although I consider myself reasonably advised as a traveller, I was uncertain of anything Seychelles related as I don't have any friends or family who have visited the Seychelles that I could rely upon for making our travel plans. The great news is that upon arrival to Victoria we were pleasantly greeted by a Creole Travel agent who quickly whisked us off to our connecting flight (gahhhhh one more flight.......!!!) to Praslin Island- and they had changed our tickets to the earlier departure because we had arrived from Addis early.

Air Seychelles services the islands and, by my opinion, makes a killing. Our 15 minute flight from Mahé to Praslin was almost full and passengers had paid ~USD$200 each for their seat. The downfall to flying is that you rely upon the weather- we were delayed about an hour because of the rain- however the 15 minute flight versus the hour boat ride for a somewhat comparable price (USD$85) is what makes it worth it.

So, after we hopped on the Twin Otter for a skip north east across the ocean to Praslin. After an air conditioned ride to our hotel (L'Archipel) we unpacked our damp and heavy packs for our 4 night stay at L'Archipel. Despite the rain- we were super excited to have a room within 20 steps to the ocean, A/C, and a mosquito-net free bed!

More soon...
xx
L

Posted by ellie nicole 22:23 Archived in Seychelles Tagged seychelles air_seychelles l'archipel Comments (0)

We'll Pay For That

a slight change in plans and someone else can foot the bill

When we arrived at the airport in Entebbe on Thursday we really had no idea what we were in store for. How long the commutes could be, how wonderful the lodge would be, how much we would actually love sleeping under bug nets and have sunrise wake up calls with dark rich coffee in clay mugs. When they (Aerolink) asked us Thursday to change our Sunday flight to 10am (from 2pm)- we thought that we were being helpful by obliging. By the time that extremely delayed flight took off and we finally arrived at Bwindi around 7pm; we knew that we had made the wrong choice.

After asking Aerolink and Volcanoes Safaris to keep our original flight plan it was clear that the entire flight schedule had been amended for this change we had agreed to. In return however, Aerolink agreed to forgive the overweight baggage fees (USD$3/kg), pay for a day room at the Boma in Entebbe for us (USD$145) and pick up our lunch tab (USD$40)- so all in not a bad deal for losing half a day exploring Buhoma village with Petrus.

So, post another (too big) breakfast, we set off on our 2 hour drive back to Kihihi airstrip to catch our flight... Legitimately we arrived, put our bags on the plane and then we were off down the runway to Kosoro for a quick pick up and then back to Entebbe.

We were greeted in Entebbe by Moses, who took us to the Boma, our resting place until our 1:45am flight to the Seychelles (via Kigali & Addis Ababa) Monday morning. The Boma (~10 minutes from the airport) is a beautiful restored 1940's home with 2 restaurants and a clean swimming pool with comfortable lounge chairs and friendly staff willing to bring a few cold Nile Specials when asked. The hotel offers day rates (check in at 11am and check out at 9pm) to accommodate travellers with odd schedules needing a place for a nap or a shower (USD$145 for the day). We spent a few hours I the sun before setting out into Entebbe to check out the Wildlife Conservation Centre (i.e. Zoo).

We strolled on the main road until we saw Anna's Cafe and hung a right down Station Road to the Conservation Centre (not without a few other wrong turns and a few squabbles). The Zoo is situated on the enormous Lake Victoria, which dominates the eastern edge of Uganda and the horizon as well. The zoo itself was better than expected (not comparable to the major zoos of the world, however I was pleasantly surprised at the size of both the facility and the pens (and as for the monkeys- the lack of pen) in which the animals were housed. Spent the better part of an hour at the zoo until a giant storm cloud appeared to the west- one of those "this isn't good" kind of clouds. I hurried the caveman out of the zoo and we did a hybrid slow yog/speed walk back to the Boma until locals started running by us- a bold indication that it was time for us to get a move on. We got back to the hotel gate just as the pea sized rain drops started pelting down- followed soon by thunder and lightning and even more rain.

After dinner, a mini nap and packing up again we made our way to the airport for our flight. It's been a long day- we are just now (12 hours later) on the last quarter of our flight fro Addis to Victoria (Seychelles). Upon arrival we have 1 last flight from Victoria (Mahė) to Praslin Island, where we will call home for the next 4 days.

So long, Africa. It was magical.

xx
L

Posted by ellie nicole 23:25 Archived in Uganda Tagged boma uganda entebbe addis_ababa ethiopian_airlines Comments (0)

Bush Whacking

Ruhija Uganda

I am not sure how you can really ever top seeing the gorillas for the first time. It was an intense experience and realizing how special it is to have been able to get that close to them is still even now sinking in.

Post gorillas yesterday we made the short descent back to Buhoma, it was downhill (easier) but a bit slippery at times as many of the rocks were covered in jungle moss. Two things I learned during the descent: 1. All those years of climbing rocks and subsequently falling down cliffs at the Shuswap has finally yielded me some good experience (no falls!!) and, 2. Ian will hold a boys hand all the way down a mountain because he is too damn polite to tell his porter he can do it on his own.

It absolutely down poured once we got back to the lodge, so we did what any logical couple would do- we got a couples massage. During our massage Gad came and took our boots to "clean" them for the next trek... When we returned post-massage our boots were returned- spotless. I actually think they came out of the box dirtier.

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Dinner was lovely as it was the night before; chicken satay, carrot soup and chocolate mousse. Ronald has been taking the best care of us here- breakfast, lunch, dinner, he has been top notch The only other couple staying at Bwindi with us was Beverly and Erik; a British/French couple residing in London. They were great company and we now have (another) place to stay in London next time we visit.

Now- to the good stuff (the preamble almost always is for my ever failing memory... A few good reminders a few years down the road when I can't remember where I was in January 2016... 😊)

This morning we had a 5am wake up call- coffee and cookies included. For a different experience, Petrus has decided that we will go to Ruhoja today. Ruhija is only 42 short kilometres away however, with Ugandan infrastructure this drive will take us 2 hours (hence the ungodly wake up call). Added to this mornings stress is the fact that our money is locked in the office safe and yesterday's downpour has left the red clay roads much less stable than desired for this drive.

Despite being dark most of the way to Ruhija, when the sun comes up we are surrounded by banana and tea plantations. Uganda is a lush country, we extremely fertile soil. Political instability has been the single cause of the poor economic conditions in the country; as the export business and domestic agriculture has all of the ingredients required to succeed. Watching the sun wake up the mountains is a sight to be seen- jungle mist gently lifting from the ground as the emerald green vegetation slowly sweats the nights humidity.

After finally arriving in Ruhija (after a few close calls with getting stuck on the side of an African "mountain" with no AMA to call) we were quickly introduced to today's guide- Steven. Steven was going to take us to find the Bitukura family- with 4 silverbacks and 12 other members- the family is much bigger than yesterday's. And so- we began- this time down instead of up.

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With the mud, getting down into the floor of the rainforest was difficult at times- more than one person slipping into the muck. Our porters were extra helpful guiding us today, on more than one occasion steering me from deep camouflaged swamp and helping me navigate through the month old elephant foot-prints that were filled a foot deep with stagnant water. Ian fared better in this environment than me... Those long legs (although not flexible) helped him get through the churned up pathways until we made our diversion.

Diversion it was. First up- the kind of up that I didn't know if I was stepping on tress which had been matted down to the forest floor or 4 feet from it. Using my walking stick to guide the stability we navigated upslope until we went undercover again. Once fully in the bush, the guides and trackers were merciless in hacking away vines and branches with machetes to get us closer to the gorillas. And then- what felt like a 45 degree angle, we were told again to put away our walking sticks and prepare to see the gorillas!! Only this time they were less than excited to see us.

At first we only caught a glimpse of a 2-3 year old playing in the treetops, much less visible than yesterday's. I thought to myself that it could be disappointing if this was all we got today, as it really seemed we had nowhere else to go. That was until Steve started swinging his machete to get us further into the forest, or a steeper downslope to catch a glimpse of the silverback and a female sitting on 10 square feet of plateau in the forest. The silverback was 36 year old Ndahura. He was noticeably bigger than Kanyonyi (yesterday's star), and very clear that he did not want us near. At one point he began grunting and began to make a ruckus as tho he was going to charge... I am proud to say I am definitely a flight-er and not a fighter... I have no idea where I thought I was going but I wasn't sticking around to watch him either A. Rip my arms from their sockets or B. Watch him get pumped full of bullets. (I am happy to report that neither occurred because I was sternly scolded to stay still so as to not create either of these situations).

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The guides then spotted a new member under the females arm; a baby, maybe a few months old which was the cause of the silverbacks reaction to our presence. Once this information was in our possession (and the silverback had seemingly moved on) we bush-whacked further into the jungle to watch a second silverback and several adolescents munching away on a suspended fallen tree.

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After our allotted hour- we had to get out, but fortunately the trackers took us on an abridged version of our entrance path- only this time half way through one of the, yelled "Faster! Ants!" Less than 15 seconds later Ian and I are taking turns swearing as fire ants managed their way into and onto our clothing, biting us at will. By the time we got to the clearing, we both stripped off our first few layers to rid ourselves of the ants- which as expected were clung nicely to all that luon and silverescent fabric I insisted on wearing for the trek (fashion over function you know...)

Ok ok ok. Too long of a post again. Just know it was awesome and here are more pictures!!!!!

xoxo
L

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Posted by ellie nicole 23:16 Archived in Uganda Tagged ruhija bitukura ndahura Comments (2)

Spotted

The jungle is a special place. I didn't always think so; when I was 14 with my parents in Iquitos (Peru), sleeping under a bug net and having sheets damp from the forest mist was met with nothing short of a mini meltdown. Now- a few short years later- those are gentle reminders of far away places and the trigger of excitement for what lay ahead in Bwindi.

Our wake up call was officially at 6:30 this morning however the rainforest had stirred us much earlier; the chirping, humming and squeeking setting a meditative tone to dawn. Gad (the happiest attendant at the hotel) cheerily met Ian with a pot of fresh coffee and we packed our day bags for today's trek: mountain gorillas!

Our lodge is nothing short of breathtaking (thank you Dave & Tonya); Jocelyn and Petrus met us at breakfast with more fresh coffee (fun fact: coffee is Uganda's number one export), fresh fruit, porridge, crepes, omelettes... We were well fuelled leaving for our trek for the day.

Gorilla tracking is highly regulated in Uganda; there are 8 permits granted per gorilla family per day. Permits can be secured through tour operators or at the Bwindi park gates (however we were told this is not the best way to go about it; as permits can sell out very far in advance). Upon arrival to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest we were all herded like sheep to listen to a brief overview about the gorillas- stay 7m away to avoid transmission of virus and illness (note: they can turn you away if you show signs of illness at this point), act submissive if the gorillas approach, leave a path between the silverback and the females- enter stage left large Ugandan men with AK's "just in case".

Uganda is home to half the worlds remaining mountain gorillas; 120 in 13 families (and I think this stat might be a bit old because some have quoted much higher numbers!!) Also within the bounds of protected space (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) and slightly beyond, live indigenous people, some of whom have been displaced for the preservation of our primate cousins. Because of the proximity to the forest, locals arrive daily to act as porters for the day for a small "tip" (recommended USD$15). The porters range from men with young families to students trying to pay for books. At first we both thought we wouldn't need a porter (all we had was a day pack with a packed lunch).... But I am glad we both elected to take one!

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Ian and I were placed in the group to track the Mubare family; trackers are sent out daily to find the gorillas and send coordinates back to the guides- thankfully. We set off on foot after a short drive to a starting point just outside of Buhoma. The hike at first was easy but quickly turned challenging with a narrow rocky incline into the forest. We hiked for about ninety minutes before we were told that the gorillas were close... And you could smell them and see the reminants of their previous snacks as we got nearer. Once with the gorillas you are not able to eat, drink or use flash photography, nor may you keep a walking stick with you (apparently gorillas recognize them as weapons). Discarding our extra pieces of clothing and taking a last slug of water we hiked another 10 metres to our first gorilla sighting.

We were visiting the Mubare family, one of the first gorilla families in Bwindi to be habituated to humans. The family is led by a young (20 year old) silverback named Kanyonyi. There are 11 other members of the family, including 2 babies (under 1 year). We were permitted to spend an hour with the family; watching as they stuffed themselves full of leaves and trees (the Silverback can eat up to 26kg of food a day), and then observe as they laze around digesting their latest feed.

It was nothing short of magnificent. This long winded post should just come to an end and show some pictures already...

xox
L

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Kanyonyi, the Silverback

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Posted by ellie nicole 06:45 Archived in Uganda Tagged tracking gorillas silverback uganda volcanoe_safari buhoma gorilla_tracking volcano_safari mubare kanyonyi Comments (3)

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