Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the mist

Well, not so much really. Last week I went to the northern
town of Ruhengheri to see the mountain gorillas and hike a
volcano. This is where Dian Fossey of `Gorillas in the Mist'
fame did her work. (I didn't know this but she was at Cornell
from `81 to `83 before she was killed in `85.) At this time of
year the weather is supposed to be lousy, rainy and overcast.
We had two great days. You get to the park and then because
our group was far away we drove about an hour and a half on
very bad roads to the hike. At first we went through this

amazing bamboo forest. The stalks were 30 feet and taller.
I've never seen anything like it. We started at around 8000
feet and hiked up to over 9000. The guide was in contact with
trackers. It took longer than usual to find the group (about 40
gorillas), a total of 3.5 hours of hiking on trails and
bushwhacking when necessary. The guides had machetes and cut down
bamboo when we went off trail.

This is Magilla.

If you don't get the reference you are too old, too young, or
my age and you frittered away your youth by not watching
enough cartoons on TV. So you get to the group and they go over
the etiquette. No pointing as the gorillas think you are throwing
something at them. Eye contact is fine. Don't go closer than 7
meters, though if the gorillas approach slowly, then back up slowly.
If they charge (they do this as a feint, for fun), crouch down.
You get one hour with them. In the first 5 minutes we got a
couple of vigorous chest beatings and one charge. We all backed
away rather than crouch! This shows you how close we got them.

The big males, silverbacks because the hair on their backs turns
silver, can go over 450 pounds. The boss of the group, who saw
us arrive and then went off was massive. His head was the size
of my torso (ok, in my case that isn't saying much). Here are a
few more pictures.

For the record, Dian Fossey disapproved of this sort of tourism.
In her day poaching was the issue and she organized antipoaching
patrols. Now that isn't a problem and they have the one hour limit.
The gorillas don't seem to mind us at all, but there is the health
risk that humans bring to gorillas and the question of whether
having their day upset for an hour is a bad for them. On the flip
side this brings HUGE amounts of money into an impoverished country.
It costs $500 to go on this trip and that does not count hotel,
transport etc. You only hope the money is not lining bureaucrats'

I need to go do math - volcanoes will come later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Last weekend

This is Roger.

I met Roger at a pub in Nyamirambo, the neighborhood next to
KIST. It's more accurate to say he met me. He had noticed I
had been there a few times (mzungu stick out) and started
chatting. It turns out he owns a mine for coltan (or is it coaltan?)
a couple hours out of Kigali. It's a pretty small affair, but
that's because to separate the coltan from the rock they need to
wash the rock. And the nearest water source is 2 kilometers away,
and down a hill 100 meters or so. People carry the water up in jugs
on their heads. Roger is planning to set up a pump system in the
next 4 months. Then he hopes to produce 100 kg per day. Coltan
sells for $25-30 per kg, so this is real money. He hopes to employ
200 people. Anyway he took me and the young German couple in the guest
house to visit his mine. The pictures are from the mine and what we
saw along the way. The wooden bike is pretty cool! Those are coffee beans
at the top. We had to drive at least 20 km on dirt roads in the middle of
nowhere to get to the mine. What looks like a hole in the ground (ok, it
is a hole in the ground) is one of the sources of coltan. The earth there is
30% coltan or so. When we parked in the village (maybe 20 small houses)
we immediately attracted an audience of small boys. They followed us
up the hill and to the mines, for a few hours. They seemed to have a good
time watching the mzungu.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More pictures

Not much new to report - electricity was out
in the math building for a week. Now that it
and a fast internet connection are back I thought
I'd upload more pictures. They are mostly of Akagera
and Gisenyi/Goma.

In the 2nd pic if you enlarge it you can see all the banana trees.
Cooking bananas and potatoes are staples here. Rice and bread are
too expensive for most people.

The guy in the dugout canoe was fishing and selling his catch.
He seemed to go between Rwanda and Congo along the lake with impunity.

The little boy was up in the woods above Gisenyi, in the banana farming
community. I tried to get him to look at his picture (something that
everyone here loves) but he ran away.

The last 3 pics are of Akegera. It's a special place.

Off to hike a volcano and see gorillas later this week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gisenyi and Goma

Last week I went to Gisenyi, a town at the north end of Lake Kivu.
It's adjacent to the town of Goma in the Congo. I did go into Goma
and spent a night there. First things first - you want to be very
careful about going into Congo. The seurity situation changes and
it's no joke. I spoke with a number of people and got good information
about the current situation, and it was safe. I did not go outside of
Goma at all.

It was certainly worth going. At the border they told me the one
day visa was $25. I only had a twenty and a ten. I had a little
Rwandan money so I gave them a note worth about $9. She gave me
about $3 back in Congolese money. So I ask for my $10 back and
was told `no, no $10'. So I got ripped off on that. When she put
the money away I saw she had a $5. Great.

It didn't stop there - they insisted on having a friend who worked
at a hotel pick me up and I could stay there. It was a good cheap
place they said. I said I would walk, but they said there was no need,
their friend would pick me up. I figured you don't argue long with
Congolese border authorities who are holding your passport so I
eventually agreed to this. The guy came with the car and in 2
kilometers he had run out of gas. So he gets out his car and starts
shouting. Yeah, I'm thinking, this'll bring gas. Turns out it
does! The picture of the yellow cans above is a Goma gas station.
You see them every 500 meters or so. The guys run up to you and pour
a liter or so into your car, because everyone only keeps a few liters
at a time in the vehicle. As Deepak said, they use the Shashi method.

The hotel itself was ok - not a dump but not nice. I now know
enough to check if the water works in the room. It didn't so I got
one where it did. I forgot to check for hot water in the shower
of the 2nd room, so I got a cold shower the next morning!

The town is both richer and poorer than Kigali. Poorer for
obvious reasons, it's a refugee camp, was buried during an
eruption 7 years ago (check out the volcanic rock next to the gas
station). It's richer because of the huge UN presence. This brings
in people with money so restaurants and hotels are expensive.
Probably comparable to a city in the U.S. or a bit worse. The town is
also just flat out dirty. There's an enormous amount of smog from diesel
trucks. To be indelicate, after about 12 hours there your snot turns black.

Deepak, the picture of the mountains was taken from
the restaurant at the Ihusi hotel - I called you from there.

The next day I went back into Gisenyi. Like all Rwandan towns
there are no touristy things to do. So I walked around town,
took a road up a hill and wandered off onto a trail where people
grow bananas. The picture with the sticks is, I think, a replanting
project for banana trees. People live up there in huts with no
electricity or running water. They certainly don't see many mzungu.
They have to carry their produce into town, generally one bunch of
bananas at a time. Maybe 4 or more kilometers. And you can buy a bunch
for 1000 francs, less than $2.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Akagera National park

The $#!@!! editor is giving problems so all the pictures
are at the top. I had wanted them to be at the bottom,

A couple musings: The other day, while walking in
the downtown area, as usual a guy came up to me trying to
sell me a newspaper. It was one I didn't know - English
Language but claiming to be independent. I tried to check
if it was old - they try to sell you old papers, but the
guy pointed at the price and obscured the date, and there
was a crowd so I bought it. Turns out it was from July
... of 2005. Mom, Dad, all that money you put into my
education - maybe it could have been better spent.

I am on a mission. From my office in Malott I can walk
over to the cafe in Mann and get a very fine cup of
Rwandan coffee for about a buck and a half. So far I have
not been able to find a cup of coffee in a pleasant cafe
for less than that. It seems to me that I should be able
to buy Rwandan coffee for LESS MONEY in Rwanda than in
Ithaca. I have 3 months to accomplish this.

So yesterday I went to Akegera National Park at the
eastern border with Tanzania. I saw hippos, baboons, monkeys,
at least 4 different `deer type' animals, giraffes and any
number of birds. Including an African swallow. Monty Python
fans - this African swallow was not big enough to carry a
coconut. The giraffes are amazing and not too scared of
people. I got to within 30 meters of them before they moved
away. When they walk it looks like slow motion.

A very fun day!