Phinda Private Game Reserve

We arrived in Phinda at the beautiful Mountain Lodge.  We are in northern KwaZulu-Natal not far from the Indian Ocean coastline and the famous iSimangaliso/Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park.  The lodge has a lovely view of the surrounding area, covered in trees and vegetation. Thanks to its coastal rainfall pattern, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve enjoys a lush green environment that contains seven distinct ecosystems. The grounds here are full of warthog families, Nyala antelope, and water-bucks as well as monkeys looking to steal food and goodies left laying around!

The game drives have been good – beautiful weather and we have a fun and engaging guide. Today, we were fortunate to catch a baby giraffe a week or two old!  We are still searching for the mama leopard with her 2 young cubs that has been seen in the area so will let you know what we find!

Tomorrow we move to the Phinda Forest Lodge which is about an hours drive.  The forest lodge is one of the worlds first eco-designed luxury lodges with floor to ceiling windows surrounding the villas, giving you a breathtaking view of the beautiful sand forest and its own unique ecosystem!

Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking is something I have always wanted to do and today was the day. I started with a Ugandan coffee, watching the sun come up prior to breakfast. After, we would walk to the park gate to be assigned a gorilla group or family. I was assigned the Rushegura Group which consisted of 16 members plus 3 little ones. The trek started out easy for the first hour and then we turned into the think jungle of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Our Guide would be in contact with the trackers as they were sent ahead to track the gorillas and communicate back to the ranger for us to find them. We trekked for another hour before getting the sign from our ranger that we were close. Walking down a steep hill, we saw a female and her little one under the tree. After snapping several photos, the guide shouted for us to follow him to even more gorillas. I stayed back as I had a feeling this mother and her little one were going to do something exciting. Eventually they got up and walked right by me with the little one doing a somersault down the hill. As they left I started walking to catch up to the group but looked up to see the “Black Back” which is the male, second in command. I started taking photos and saw him start moving towards me. I stood still, petrified, not knowing what he was going to do. He came closer at a good speed and as he trekked by, he threw his butt into me as if he were body checking me. I was thrown into the bush and the gorilla continued on to the rest of his family. I was fine and brushed myself off before catching up to the rest of my group.

Here we were lucky enough to see the baby gorillas who were very playful. They were wrestling around and pounding on their chests which made for a great time. Near the end, 3 of the babies got curious and started approaching one of the guests. It started curiously with a little lick and a one finger poke. The other babies saw this and decided to wrestle right in front of us, which I related to wrestling with my brother when I was boy. We would end our time with the guide saying “believe it or not the hour is up”. It was one of the quickest hours I have ever enjoyed and can suggest this experience to everyone!

Chimp Trekking

I started the day with a 5:30am wakeup call as I was ready and excited to go trekking with chimps today. At the park gate of Kibale National Park, I was assigned to a ranger who would assist the group during the trek. The Kibale National Park known as one of best places to see primates, is 795 square km with several species of primates including over 450 chimps. There are a total of 3 chimp communities that are habituated here but only one is used for tourism. Each community consists of roughly 120 chimps.

After about 45 mins of trekking into the forest, we heard this drum like sound and then distinctive call of the chimps. Our guide told us that males will drum on tree roots, which stand 4 -5 tall and 3 feet wide, to show their dominance. As we got closer to the sound, we could see them high up in the trees. After several minutes of watching, a couple of them decided to come down the tree and the trekking part of the day was on. We followed our guide through think forest trying to keep up with the chimps. Eventually we followed the chimps to a much bigger group where some were feeding in the trees and others were grooming each other. We would spend an hour with the chimps watching them as they went along with their day as if we weren’t even there. Seeing the little ones playing in the tree was my favorite part of the experience but all of it was an adventure. After the trek, I would return to the lodge were I had some time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Tomorrow, I fly to Bwindi where I will be trekking with the Gorillas, something I have been wanting to do for a long time.


Welcome to Uganda

Today I say good bye to Zanzibar and my driver Michano. On route to the airport, we made a quick stop at our operators’ office to meet all their staff, its always nice to put a face to the name. After a quick visit I was off to the airport for my flight to Entebbe. On arrival, I waited in line patiently as there were few boarder officials to issue visas, the other 6 or 7 agents were watching a soccer match very intensely in the back room. Once through customs, I was greeted by Ya-Ha-Ya, a driver from our local operations who transferred me to the Boma Hotel, with its comfortable country feel.

My time here was short as we left at 6am for my flight to Kasese, where you can go chimpanzee trekking. The flight was very scenic as I flew over Lake Victoria, one of the world’s largest lakes, and mountainous areas covered by lush forest. Closer to Bwindi, you could see the mountains and hills cultivated for farming: mainly corn, coffee, bananas and cotton. Upon landing I met my guide Nelson, who would be with me for the next couple of days. We drove through several smalls towns along the way to Adali Lodge near the Kibale Forest. The drive to was very scenic as we passed through the many villages and farms. One of the cool things I saw was their cows, which have enormous horns. The lodge itself is set on a hill with views of a beautiful lake on one side and the working farm on the other where they produce coffee and cocoa for chocolate. The food here is spectacular and the people are so welcoming. This afternoon, I’ll enjoy the property as I await tomorrow’s chimpanzee trekking so stay tuned!

During my stay I visited the Kyainga Lodge,  another lodge in the area, which was just as nice and set up on a hill looking onto the Ugandan mountains. The owner Steve, originally from the UK, invited me for a sundowner drink where we enjoyed a stunning African sunset. After the sun had gone down, he invited me to the local golf club to meet a few of his friends and see the club (one of the oldest in Uganda). We had dinner at the club and I had a very tasty local chicken stew with fries, which only cost 6000 Ugandan Shilling, about $2 CAD.

Final Day in Zanzibar

My last day on Zanzibar included some down time after seeing and inspecting 21 different hotels in the past 6 days. It was a beautiful day to relax by the pool and enjoy the sun. I would spend my last night in Stone Town, where I made one final stop at the African House Hotel, known for having the best spot to catch the sunset and enjoy sundowners. As the sun was setting in the distance 4 or 5 dolphins came in the bay and performed for us…jumping several times right in front of the hotel. After a beautiful sunset, I went for dinner at this new restaurant, set right on the beach. They had fabulous thin crust pizza and ice-cold beer, a great end to my last night in Zanzibar.

Snorkeling the Reef

Today, Michano (my driver) picked me up early from my hotel and we headed to a town just South of Stone Town for a full day snorkeling trip, with seafood lunch on an secluded Island. The tour started off as we were assigned a captain and dhow. We walked half a km in knee deep water before climbing aboard our dhow called “The Lydia”.

On our way out to the reef, we got to enjoy fresh coconut water and pineapple which was one of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. As we go to this beautiful reef we jumped in and explored it, surrounded by colorful tropical fish. The water was warm and clear with almost no current, the perfect place for snorkeling. We stopped at 2 different spots as we headed to a private island where staff had prepared a beautiful seafood lunch with lobster and other local dishes. There was a local band that performed African song and dance while we were spoiled with this delicious meal and fresh island fruit for dessert. We were served pineapple, watermelon, oranges (they are green here), mangoes, passion fruit, bananas and my favorite red banana, which is sweeter than the regular yellow kind. After trying all this delicious fruit, we departed to the island lagoon for a swim. It was like stepping into bath water of calm clear turquoise blue. Very picturesque. With the wind in our sail, we continued back to the drop off point where I met Michano and transferred to Essque Zalu, located on the northern tip of Zanzibar.

Jazani Forest

Today we drove to the Jazani Forest, home to several animals including the Red Colobus monkey which is only found in Zanzibar. We walked through the jungle seeing holes which were home to crabs and Speik Monkeys. After half an hour of trekking, the Colobus monkey showed itself, jumping from tree to tree. They didn’t look like what I had in my mind as I was expecting long, hairy monkeys like the Black and White Colobus you find on mainland Tanzania. After watching the monkeys for a while we decided to move on as the guide said they are known for urinating on people who hang around too long.

We continued to the Southeast Coast to visit The Residence Resort, White Sand Villas, Kisiwa and Breezes, where I would spend the night. All were beautiful accommodations with stunning white powder beaches. This time of year is kite surfing season and people come from around the world to master the sport.


Stone Town

Continuing through Stone Town we visited the Old Slave market, one of the world’s last slave markets. Though the history of the trade was interesting, it is sad to think how people were treated. We left to visit to the Fish market, though a little smelly, it was buzzing with life as the day’s fresh catch was auctioned off. The bigger catches and more sought after fish were left until last, bids were going back and forth on a 6 foot meaty marlin. We continued on to the produce and meat market where the stalls were so close together you could hardly fit your shoulders between. The chicken market was something completely unreal to me as there were prepared chickens hanging in the front window and live ones in behind. Those customers looking for a live chicken would take their pick, grab them by the feet and walk out as if they were grocery bags, hanging upside down by their ankles.

The rest of the day was spend walking through old Stone Town, down streets with no names, where you would get lost without a guide. Something I found very interesting was the old doors along each block and their meaning. If the door had a square top, Arabic people lived there while if they had a rounded top Indian people lived there. Each of the doors were symbolically carved specific to the family living inside. Carvings of fish meant they were fishermen or a pineapple meant they were farmers. Many doors were build with heavy, strong materials and had large metal spikes. This idea was brought from India where elephants would knock down doors. Though elephants are not a problem in Zanzibar the spikes were still used.

To finish up the day, I boarded a traditional dhow for a sunset cruise along the coastline with a Kilimanjaro Beer. A nice way to end the day!

Arrival in Zanzibar & the Spice Market

24 hours after departing, I landed in hot and humid Zanzibar (even at 2am), a nice change from what I left in Calgary. I stayed overnight here at an old Sultan’s Palace (a Heritage Site) located right on the Ocean and awoke to the sound of crashing waves, what a great way to start my day!

This morning I met my guide Joseph and we were on our way out of town towards the spice plantations. The drive was beautiful and we stopped at the Maruhubi Palace, which dated back to the late 1800s. The Palace once belonged to the 3rd Arab Sultan of Zanzibar and was the home of his secondary wives and where he hosted visitors from far away lands.

We continued on to the highest plantation in all of Zanzibar (120m above sea level). We tried a number of local spices including nutmeg, cloves (Zanzibar was once the largest clove producer in the world), cinnamon, turmeric and ginger, as well as many different types of tropical fruit. The herbs are grown for cooking but each also has their own medicinal use. Did you know cinnamon root is used in products like Vick’s Vapour Rub?