If not now – When?

Adventures around the world (with Beth and Chris)

Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest

It is before sunrise as we set off from the scenic Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge for the hour drive to the Rushaga Gate of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our goal is to find the critically endangered mountain gorillas. We are traveling on an unpaved and (according to Google Maps) an “unknown road”. This is not an uncommon occurrence for us; these are the roads where you see the real countryside – it is rough, it is raw, mountainous, and breathtakingly beautiful. Chris and I converse with the other woman in our trekking group, Kat, who is a chatty young Australian mother living in Kigale, Rwanda. The hour goes by quickly.

We meet the rest of our trekking group. Steven is the ranger who gives us a short briefing about the trek itself and the gorilla family we will be visiting – Mishaya Gorilla Group. He explains that  in order to safely allow human visitation, some of the fewer than 800 remaining gorillas in the world have been habituated – they have slowly been exposed to humans and have been deemed comfortable enough with our presence so as not to feel threatened and therefore become aggressive. Benson is our able porter who (thankfully) carries our backpack full of rain ponchos, bug spray, our lunch, and lots of water. Two trackers will precede us to locate our gorillas and communicate with Steven to guide us to the gorillas. Bringing up the rear is a UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Force) soldier armed with an AK-47 in case we encounter poachers…err, I mean elephants (either one is dangerous and conceivably will be scared off by a shot into the air).

I look down at my watch. I have heard that it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours to reach the gorillas (and an encounter is not even guaranteed). About an hour and a half into the trek, conversation becomes non-existent as we head up a steep (it might have even been vertical!) incline. The “path” is thickly vegetated and slippery. At times, we are walking on a dense mat of vines and freshly macheted branches and leaves, several inches off the forest floor. I am hoisting myself up using vines and if I falter at all, Benson grabs me by the wrist to boost me the rest of the way. I use a bamboo walking stick to give myself traction on the downward portions of the trail. We use stepping stones to keep our feet relatively dry from the small streams along the way, but occasionally our feet get suctioned into the mud anyway. It is often difficult to see the person who is hiking just a few feet in front of you. My glasses are steamy and wet with humid condensation, sweat, and rain; my ponytail is dripping. I ask for rest stops as my heart is pounding from exertion and altitude. We are deep in the aptly named Impenetrable Forest; Chris and I realize that this may be the most physically challenging experience of our lives.

Eventually we stop so Steven can get an update from the trackers; “they have found the gorillas, but they are still moving. We will take a “shortcut” (those are MY air quotes!) to try and intercept them. We should be there within an hour”. After trekking a total of 3 ½ hours, Steven tells us to leave our walking sticks and backpacks with our porters. We have reached the gorillas!

I follow a tracker down over some vines, as he is making soft grunting noises, and then get a glimpse of silver. I feel myself breathing hard and feel so excited that I literally get tears in my eyes. The massive Silverback patriarch is right there. Chris and Kat are right behind me as we try to avoid the hill of stinging ants. We follow the 400 pound Silverback down the hill with a hint of trepidation and respectful distance until he stops in a brushy area to munch on some leaves. As we swat the few vicious ants that have made it up our pant legs, we spot a young gorilla climbing a thin branch; he twirls toward us as if if he’s momentarily pole dancing. The branch bends under his weight; he jumps down and scampers off. We freeze in place when we suddenly hear a loud scream as a medium sized female several feet up the hill from us stands up and bolts past us. Eventually we settle in with the Silverback about 7 or 8 feet from us as he snaps twigs, chews leaves and occasionally, and somewhat disinterestedly, looks our way; after he has had his fill, he rolls onto the ground, closes his eyes and has his post-meal nap (we can hear an occasional snore). As he rests, the baby and baby momma gorillas are close to him. The baby climbs aboard his Silverback daddy to play, eat, groom, and pound his young chest.

In a short hour, it is time to leave the gorillas; I want to savor one last moment with these beautiful creatures that have a human quality to their faces, so I linger and feel grateful. We trek an hour back to our car wet, muddy, satisfied. The incredible Ugandan mountain gorillas have shared part of their day in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with these fortunate human beings.


We’ve Bridged the Gap!

Last week Beth and I flew back into the bush to put the finishing touches on the Mara Plains Bridge in Kenya, and to say our final goodbyes to everyone at the camp.

The gap……

has been bridged!

It’s been an incredible experience for both of us, and we’re proud to be part of the Bridging the Gap Africa team.

As a famous bridge builder we know often says, “Bridges are beautiful things!”

Living and Breathing this Bridge

Today marks the beginning of week seven on the bridge site. Seven Sundays ago, Chris and I got into Harmon’s rugged red four wheel drive truck, left Nairobi and drove across Kenya, through the Maasai Mara, to this corner of the Olare Orok Conservancy at Mara Plains Camp. We jiggled over bumpy clay colored Kenyan roads weaving around seemingly bottomless potholes, through wet and slippery river crossings – slowly and with gritted teeth, Chris white-knuckling the steering wheel – avoiding unseen protruding rocks. We dodged dried up gulches formed by the hard, heavy, and fast rains that we would come to experience. We passed by Maasai men wrapped in red, herding their cows and goats or, on occasion, jumping (literally for joy, I’m told), the incredible African wildlife and under the Kenyan white swirling clouds and dramatic cerulean sky.



We made this journey on unmarked, unpaved, and uninhabitated conservancy “roads” using two navigation apps, a hand drawn map, and using such landmarks as: “sign posts”, and “the fallen tree” (we added our own such landmarks on subsequent trips into the bush town, Talek to buy supplies : the “bad river crossing” – turns out it was the correct river crossing, the “anthill”, the “small bent tree”, and the “carcass” – we learned our way without this one well before it disappeared). There have been many many trips across the conservancy; each time a unique and awe-inspiring experience – the windows down, no radio, no seat belts – just us and the enticing Kenyan countryside.





We have developed a routine, and are becoming….seasoned….a bit; we are understanding the rhythms of the camp – especially guest schedules which dictate what work we can accomplish (how noisy and messy can we be?), when the guys working on the bridge come and go, the daily temperature and weather (when it rains it becomes cold and soggy; otherwise, by our early afternoon rest, it is so hot that we are searching for the refreshing coolness between and underneath the pillows). We are even aware of the wildlife patterns we see daily and hear nightly. There are lions and hyenas calling, elephants foraging just outside the tent, wildebeest and zebras grazing on the horizon, and the nocturnal and elusive genet cat that has appeared on our deck several times.






So…..seven weeks ago, we arrived, met our new friends Ben and Holly (They are British/Kenyan late thirties camp managers who have many pre-Mara-Plains-Camp stories to tell about Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and growing up in Kenya; they use words like “reckon” and “rubbish”).


After a tour of the camp, we started assessing the situation. The bridge spans 30 meters and is 600 mm wide; it was designed by a young American, son-of-African-missionaries Bobby Reese (we would come to call on Bobby for boots-on-the-ground-in Nairobi support, topping up our M-PESA account, bridge clarification and advice, along with some “engineering humor and banter”). Our work, here, has been to demolish the existing bridge (condemned due to damage caused by flash flooding and resulting river debris that tore the sagging Indiana Jones type bridge out of its usability), and then facilitate the build and assembly of the new Harmon Parker/Matthew Bowser/Bobby Reese/Chris Leibfried Tent 4 Bridge. The rest of the team are three skilled Bridging the Gap guys – Francis, Gordon, and Geoffrey – and 6 local workers – all hard working and agreeable guys (they all have taught me many Kiswahili words – numbers, animals, and bridge words like, well “daraja” or “bridge”; they laugh good-heartedly when I try to pronounce and use the words).


There is a sequence to building a bridge; Chris, as the coordinator, insists on precise and quality work (he is never far from his tape measure or Bobby’s bridge drawings Read more…

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