Quarantine Chronicles – Above Water Adventures vol. 18

Well, here we find ourselves on day 112 of quarantine on Maui.  Honestly trying to keep track of what the latest status may be in other states or countries is like watching a tennis match at warp speed.  I can’t keep heads or tails without a flow chart and I feel confident by the time I had it halfway done it’d have completely changed anyway.

The Governor held a press conference yesterday regarding the ongoing plans to open our doors to tourists as of August 1st and from the sounds of it they are moving right along with putting testing guidelines and procedures in place to both allow visitors to return and also to keep it as safe as can be expected.  There seem to be more fine details to be ironed out, but atleast there seems to be progress.

A lot of local businesses have opened so traveling through the quaint local towns isn’t nearly as depressing as it was for a while.  The boards have been removed from the windows and they’re once again bright with light and waiting patiently for customers to browse, buy and enjoy.  Iconic Front Street in Lahaina is for the most part still unfortunately closed and the sidewalks are eerily empty. I think it’s safe to say that we all hold hope the local restaurants and shops can survive through the next few months until foot traffic and spending are on a sustainable path.

The holiday weekend came and went without incident here.  Fireworks shows were cancelled much to the animals delight, and locals crowded the sandy stretches of beach to surf, grill, camp and enjoy time with the ohana.  We received our first large South Swell of the season a few days prior so excitement was in the air swirling around all the favorite south facing beach spots.  I went down to Makena State Park to catch both sunset and sunrise with my camera in tow.  Large shorebreak and I decided we weren’t friends years ago so now I’m equally excited to shoot in the sand just out of reach and try to catch the sunlight as it filters through the barrels.

For anyone who’s spent time down in Makena you’ll be able to appreciate the size, force and beauty of the water from this recent swell.  Mother nature always has been the best artist, the rest of us are just trying to keep up.


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Quarantine Chronicles – vol. 17 Uganda

Here we are on day 103 of the ongoing Hawaii quarantine tally log.  Finally it was announced after much anticipation that the state will allow visitors to enter and bypass the 14 day quarantine IF they have taken a COVID test within 72 hours of flying out and have acquired a negative test result.

This is very similar to the procedure that Alaska already implemented except that Hawaii is not offering any voluntary testing at the airport upon arrival as an alternative to pre-testing, nor do they require a follow-up test 7-14 days after arrival.  To be expected, this has been met with mixed levels of enthusiasm from (or a complete lack of). Hopefully it’s a step in the right direction to help local residents and businesses get back up and running and be able to support their families as well as re-activate employer sponsored health care benefits which is so important in any circumstance, but especially now.

Our Governor says that Hawaii is still in communications with Australia, New Zealand and Japan who are looking at making a “travel bubble” where residents are able to travel freely between destinations without a mandatory quarantine because they all have a very low level of the virus, if any. This would be really great considering the EU is now threatening to ban US Citizens from entering due to recent covid spikes in several states.  All fingers and paws crossed that things settle down quickly.

Speaking of traveling, I really want to finish up the final recap of my trip to Rwanda and Uganda with Kajie Safaris.  Last I left off we had just finished our final gorilla hike in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and were quite glad to be on the road and headed into more dry arid climates to begin the safari portion of our time there.

Upon leaving Bwindi we drove several hours to Queen Elizabeth National Park.  We entered through the Ishasha Section first in search of tree climbing lions.  I’ve seen photos and the lions are really quite beautiful and can often be found lounging in the trees during the warmer parts of the day in this very specific part of the National Park.  Unlike the rainforests, it gets very hot in Queen Elizabeth.  It did cool down at night to something more bearable, but there was still definitely no need for my jacket and sweatshirt like we had been used to  Try as we might, unfortunately the lions were not to be found that day so onward we went until we arrived at The Bush Lodge which was to be home for the next 2 nights.

This lodge is in the midst of the park so you cannot walk around after dark without an armed guard because hippos come up from the river and amble all over camp.  If you missed the memo, hippos are mean and very fast on land so it’s not an animal you should ever try to tangle with. They also are now being poached for their teeth (ivory) which is just unimaginable, but with the decline in population of elephants, and lack of armed guard protection for the hippos they have now become a new target for poachers.

We were so lucky to get an amazing location for our tent which was situated on the very edge of a deep gulch with a watering hole just beneath us.  The hippos made quite a ruckus at night and we had a little family of warthogs that had their residency in the dense brush next to us.  They were a talkative bunch every night!  We also had a hyena talking up a storm the first night on our walkway and found it’s pugmarks the next morning in the dust.  Our meals are served outside in a small open area circling a fire pit under the stars each night and the air is filled with sounds of wildlife.

The tent itself is small but doable and there is an outdoor compost toilet and shower just behind you, elevated on a cement slab to keep the critters at bay a bit I’m guessing.  The location of this camp itself is perfect for accessing the rest of the park to do game drives and we were lucky enough to find several elephants to photograph.  We didn’t see any herds, mostly loan bachelors and once we did see two males traveling together and browsing on acacia trees.  There are tons of ungulates around and we also heard a male lion calling for quite some time just across the gulch on the second night’s stay.

For the remainder of our second day in Queen Elizabeth we went on a private boat ride along the Kazinga channel.  There are absolutely loads of hippos here that we loved being able to view at a close distance from water level.  There are also lots of spotted kingfishers and the smallest kingfisher in the world the Uganda Dwarf kingfisher.   A brilliantly colored little chap. (see below)

We were nearing the end of the stretch of river normally toured when one of our guides spotted an elephant at the very top of an embankment nearly concealed by trees.  He quickly cut the engine while we sat quietly and waited.  After several minutes, and much smelling and scouting by the elephant on the hill, the rest of his family appeared from virtually out of nowhere and snaked down a narrow muddy trail in a single file line to the water’s edge to drink.  Although I took as many images as humanly possible, I don’t think they’ll ever truly do justice to how beautiful and peaceful the scene was to witness in person.

Ever since leaving Rwanda my health had been in a “bit of a decline” until finally on the last night at the Bush Lodge after our boat excursion I was probably the sickest I’ve ever been in my adult life.  Hence why I know lions were roaring all night long – because I was wide awake to hear it.  In hindsight I now realize the importance of having an emergency plan on future trips so we always have a way to contact either our guide or hotel staff just in case.  As it was, there’s no power or phone or staff working anywhere at night there and since you can’t leave the tent it’s irrelevant anyway.  At first light I was up and borderline coherent enough to atleast pack my bags and make an attempt at washing my hair while my friend was desperately looking everywhere to find our guide.

So as an added bonus I got an impromptu visit to a local hospital facility on the way to Kibale Forest to photograph the wild chimps. The doctor there drew blood and set me up with a bunch of meds to get me on the mend in short order which I was very grateful for and against all odds we managed to still make it to Kibale just a hair before the check-in time for the start of our chimp trek.  Still to this day  I can’t believe I was physically able to do hike through that forest with the chimps, but I did.

I was very nervous about seeing the chimpanzees versus the gorillas because the chimps just seem like they have a tendency to be far more naughty and they also eat other monkeys so there is that.  Gorillas eat leaves.  That’s much more my style.

I was so pleased to find that these habituated chimpanzees were very calm and tolerant.  They were resting on the ground when we arrived and would just lazily sit and gaze around before getting up and wandering another 100-200 yards away to sit back down and contemplate the meaning of life some more.  It was very sweet.  Not only were the chimps so expressive, but the leaves and light in the forest was absolutely stunning for photographs.  These images ended up being some of my favorites from the whole trip which I definitely didn’t see coming.

The rustic jungle resort that we stayed at for this final night was absolutely stunning!  Again we were in tents, but these tents were huge with very modern gorgeous bathrooms en-suite with super hot water.  After the previous nights little escapades that might have been one of the best showers I’ve ever had!

The property was very beautifully manicured and backed up into the forest so the canopy trees shaded everything and the “front desk and restaurant” was a huge open air tree house.  Really lovely!  Several reviews on Trip Advisor say that the Kibale Forest Camp has local primates that cross through the property each day and hopefully this will be something I’ll see next time I’m there.

All in all it was a really amazing trip and I loved the itinerary I was able to customize with Ronald at Kajie Safaris.  It was a perfect combination of primates and safari and let us see a little of both Rwanda and Uganda.  There were some good lessons learned along the way but I’m very much looking forward to returning to Uganda hopefully soon to have a little reunion with both the gorillas and the chimpanzees and the wonderful people there.  It’s such a lovely country with stunning countryside and a warm, welcoming culture that I just can’t believe that I’ve never heard more about it from a tourism industry standpoint, I would definitely recommend a trip there to any of my friends who are up for an adventure.


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Quarantine Chronicles – vol. 16 Alaska

Quarantine Day 99 has officially elapsed. Whoa. I can’t even believe I just typed that. Ninety NINE. This is the longest groundation in modern history.

Nothing super exciting to report in terms of developments here in Hawaii. Pretty much everything is open now aside from any major resorts/hotels and people have started traveling interisland since the mandatory 14 day quarantine is waived for Hawaii residents going between islands. I’m still waiting on pins and needles to see when they plan on releasing information regarding testing options for incoming visitors or returning residents in order to bypass the 14 days in solitary confinement. That’ll be a darned good day.

Since I can’t think of anything that I absolutely MUST share Maui-related I’ll take this little session back to a trip I went on a couple years ago to Alaska. This particular adventure just came up the other when I was chatting with a neighbor and so I figure it’s been long enough that I’m no longer sworn to secrecy and share freely.

For quite a few years now I’ve been traveling up to Alaska to photograph bears, orcas and humpback whales when they can be found. But my trips are mostly bear oriented. This particular trip was a camping trip to Katmai National Park and more specifically Brooks Falls. Since I’ve been here a few times I’ve been lucky to make friends with some of the staff which can definitely have its benefits. One of those benefits is being able to beg for favors. Like dropping you off in an otherwise complicated location to reach so you can take pictures of pretty bears away from the rest of the masses.

So I’d been eyeing this stretch of beach that wasn’t actually accessible by an open trail and wasn’t easily seen by camp or the rest of the area frequented by campers and fishermen. Then one day around quitting time a guide friend of ours came and asked if me and my friends wanted him to take us over there in the boat since it would be WAY easier than navigating around a dodgy corner on the beach that was usually filled with bears and tall grass.

After what later was clearly a low level of contemplation me and my partner in crime travel buddy hopped in and sped off and around the bend. I will say for the record that in all of my years of experience making rash vacation decisions, atleast I do always also have an escape strategy (or two) fully developed and ready to deploy as well.

As we were hopping out of the boat I atleast had enough foresight to ask if we got stuck out there and couldn’t make our way back on the beach because of bears was there another exit point anywhere? He said yes, further down the beach (away from camp) a closed trail would cut through the forest and take us to the main path. By the sounds of it, the closed trail would be relatively easy and quick so I was good with that.

The first backup plan I had in my head was to hop up onto this huge barge that was docked a half mile away with a short ladder hanging off. We decided to walk down to inspect it and make sure we could reach the ladder and much to our dismay it must have just been removed that day or the day before. So that plan was definitely a no go.

We started heading further away from the developed areas and I saw a very black, fast moving squall coming in along the edge of the lake. No exaggeration that squall hit us in about 15 minutes, but in those 15 minutes it gave us time to see that there was a mom with yearling cubs in the bushes and also a really large, red male not too far away from her. We continued past both of them, putting the bears between us and home base essentially.

We quickly sped up to try to find the second exit strategy trail as the squall rolled in and ended up hunkered down under a bushy little tree as we absolutely got pounded by rain. We did under some branches with our backs to each other so I was watching for bears in one direction and she was watching for bears in the other.

I guess I should pause here to elaborate. This camp is remote. Very remote. Like a 5 seater float plane drops you off and leaves you there remote. You have no cell or internet or contact with the outside world. You sleep in a tent – which you pack in with you.

Katmai National Park has the densest population of Brown Bears in the world but there’s only been one fatal incident as far as I know which was the Timmothy Tredwell “incident.” At Brooks Falls there’s never been a fatality to date and I don’t believe there’s even been a mauling. The bears there are very tolerant because they’re used to humans flying in and out fishing or taking photographs and there are more salmon than they know what to do with. So we aren’t a threat for food, we aren’t a threat to their safety ,we’re basically just a moving object to them that they care very little about. But it’s always in the back of my mind that I don’t want to be the “first incident” by any means.

I should also mention that they discourage people from carrying bear spray. Because let’s face it, lots of humans are idiots and the last thing they need is a bunch of idiots gassing bears because they can’t control themselves. The humans, not the bears. So at the time of this blog story there was no bear spray on either me or my friend and we were hiding under a bushy tree thing trying to wait out a massive storm.

After 20 minutes of hiding under a tree the squall finally blew by and we emerged slowly while peeking around the corner of the bushes to make sure the coast was clear. So this is where it gets good. 50 feet behind us is an empty, topless cage. I’m guessing it was for storing construction materials or supplies or both, but it’s currently empty. It has one small swinging door which is closed with one of those u-shaped latches you lift up and down to secure but no padlock. There is a similar door on the other side of the cage maybe 100 feet further. We choose to lock ourselves in the cage temporarily to bring our gear out of our backpack so a bear doesn’t sneak up on us which seemed the best option.

Once we were set up I exited the cage first and approached the beach where I just about ran smack dab into a yearling cub closely followed by his sister and mom. I’ve never retreated so fast in my life. My friend was just about to come out of the cage and I sternly tell her “get back in, get back IN!” So here we go rushing back behind the chain link fence as the bear family rounds the corner. Mom immediately stops at our hiding spot along with the female cub they begin tearing the trunk to absolute shreds where we had been standing a few moments before. Meanwhile the male cub has his head down and is slowly approaching us taking his time to sniff each and every footprint we left in the sand. (see below)

I get the bright idea to crouch really low with my camera and crack the gate so that me and my friend can stick our lenses out and take pics of the naughty male cub. Well he finds this interesting and keeps

getting closer and closer and closer until he’s now 10 feet away and I quickly lock us in our cage. At that he turns and starts walking off – so I open the gate to take my photos. Hahaha I know, I know but I couldn’t help it! Needless to say he turns and pretends to be sniffing something while walking straight up to us again and again I quickly close the gate. Meanwhile mom and sister are still tearing that tree to shreds.

It was all find and dandy until the 300 pound cub decided that he wanted to walk right upto the gate so he was all of 2 feet away from us and raised his paw to try to raise the latch on the gate. What a smart little bastard! Every alarm bell and whistle started going off in my and in an effort to avoid another Tredwell incident we started walking quickly to the opposite side of the cage to try to access the closed trail and eventually make our way to the main trail leading back to the camp. The whole time we were crossing the cage the male cub kept trying to open the latch and even tried to scale the chain link once or twice. (see below)

The closed trail was WAY longer than either of us had anticipated and was flanked on either side by ponds and dense woods. The trail itself was so heavily traveled by bears that you could barely take a step without landing smack dab in a pile of scat. It would have been really gross if it wasn’t so terrifying! I was moving as fast as my little legs could take me, meanwhile my friend is maybe 30 feet behind me yelling at me to “stop running!” while I’m yelling back “walk faster!” We finally made it to the main trail and meandered our way towards camp where we were stopped at a bridge which was temporarily closed because of bear activity within 50 yards.

In an effort to play it cool and let our nerves calm down a little we both squatted at the water’s edge to start photographing a bear in the mouth of the river eating a salmon nearby. We’d only been here 10 minutes at best when another camper on the platform just behind us started screaming “bear, BEAR!” We turned to look over our shoulder the way we had come and sure enough here comes the bear family with that male in the lead 25 feet away at best. We immediately hightailed it up the stairs and onto the platform where the cub just stopped and stood there and stared us down sniffing in the air.

They finally moved on and the bridge opened so we scampered across and took the direct route to the bar without delay. The boys were surprised to see us return so early and I start screeching about them almost getting us killed and how we locked ourselves in a cage and was cut off with a bunch of “shoooshing” and immediately sworn to secrecy.

So there you have it. That one time at bear camp where we thought our best option was to actually hide in a see though, topless cage to be safe from bears. Hahaha Probably not the smartest move, but atleast it was a good story to tell the granddogs.

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Quarantine Chronicles – Above Water Adventures vol. 15

Quarantine Day 88 and counting here on the Valley Isle.

On Wednesday our Governor basically blew everyone’s hopes to smithereens when it comes to opening up our tourism or hospitality industries by announcing the 14 day quarantine will be extended through July 31st. It was also announced that although inter-island travel is opened up on June 16th, unless you’re staying with a friend or in a hotel you’ll be SOL because individual vacation rentals still are legally required to remain closed.  As far as I know rental car companies and UBER are not permitted to operate either with the idea that they would allow incoming visitors a mode of transportation which I guess they’re not supposed to have if they’re sequestered to their room for 14 days straight.

Needless to say there’s been quite a lot of negative feedback voiced within the community regarding the continued shutdown of all vacation rentals (ie: individually owned units) whereas hotels (ie: large corporations) have been allowed to operate the whole time.  A lawsuit was filed in Federal Court on Wednesday seeking an injunction against the State to put an end to the Governor’s proclamation regarding shutdowns.  Also of controversy, the Governor announced this week new thermal screening at each airport gate and prior to entering TSA checkpoints (which is fine, but just wait for it….) and on top of the thermal screening, Hawaii will be installing facial recognition devices as well.  Facial recognition?!?

Moving on….. Out of the blue yesterday Maui County announced that our Vacation Rental industry here on the island has been given the green light to accommodate guests as of June 16th as long as those guests aren’t subject to the mandatory 14 day quarantine.  So realistically only Hawaii residents can rent an individually owned condo/house for inter-island travel or a stay-cation.  But atleast it’s a start.  I’m sure everyone is excited to take a win right now no matter how minor it may be.

I’ve had to stay out of the water for a little while, but in keeping with my goal of staying busy and making of the most of the island during all these newfound days off, I’m trying to motivate myself to try different hikes.  The Waihee Ridge trail can be found outside of Wailuku following the Kakekili Highway on the northwest”ish” side of the island directly across from the Mendes Ranch.  I’m terrified of heights so up until recently I haven’t dared go tromping up the side of the mountain. However, considering the entire east side of Maui is sealed off by the National Guard and all Haleakala trails are also closed remaining options for exploring land based activities have been drastically limited.

The Ridge Trail is about 5 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 1,500 feet.  In comparison if you’ve done the Pipiwai trail in Hana that is 4 miles round trip and only has an elevation gain of 650 feet to put it in perspective.  There is a small dirt parking lot at the end of the road which is your access point for the trailhead.  I try to avoid it on weekends unless it’s very, very early because otherwise it fills up quickly and there’s no other alternative for parking that’s close.

The beginning of the trail is a steep grade in the blazing sun (unless it’s raining in which case just turn back now and save yourself the drama later).  Once you make it up the steep paved part it levels off a bit and winds through a really beautiful shaded forest that’s really enjoyable.  I even heard my first owl screeching in here the other day. 14 years living on one little rock and I finally hear an owl! About a mile up there’s a small bench overlooking a valley and a pretty little two tiered waterfall in the distance.

After relatively flat, shady stretch it’s up the mountain you go around more switchbacks with little or no protection from the sun (or pouring rain) but you’ll find mind-blowingly coastal views on one side and deep crevasses running into the valleys of the West Maui Mountains on the other.  The weather changes quickly as you gain altitude and before you know what happened you’ll likely be surrounded in clouds blowing by on either side of the narrow trail.  There are deep ruts carved into the ground from water runoff that occurs fairly regularly and if you’re not careful it can get really slick both going up and coming back down.

I’m not even going to sugar coat it, every single time I hike here I’m internally (and sometimes externally) cursing myself and the hike and everything within eyesight and swearing I’ll never do it again because the drastic drop-offs, ruts in trail, mud and general potential for disaster. But then 10 minutes later I’m through all that doom and gloom and able to enjoy arguably some of the best views found on the island.  Going up is worse as far as I’m concerned than going down, but I have the novelty of atleast using the excuse that I want to stop and take a picture so it’s not nearly as challenging as it would be if you just bolt straight up and straight back down.

Another added bonus to this particular spot is the fabulous horse that hangs out on the ranchland relatively close to the parking area.  I’m a horse fan even on the worst of days, but this is an especially funny horse.  I’m guessing she is probably around 10 years old and is always absolutely spotless and well-groomed – clearly her human also thinks she is a fabulous horse.

She’ll come trotting like a dog if you go to say hello to her, but is very dramatic about her displeasure if you show up without treats.  She’ll blow air and huff at you and show you her teeth then simmer down, sniff your hands again to make sure she didn’t miss any goodies, followed by another round of stink eye.  The next time I head over there I’ll take her a couple carrots so that she likes me a fraction of how much I like her, but to date I’ve been pretty disappointing every time I walk over with nothing more to offer than a good scratch or kiss on her nose.


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Quarantine Chronicles – vol. 14 Uganda

Quarantine Day 84.

I had mildly high hopes that they’d follow through with their promise to release more travel-related details of Hawaii’s plan for re-opening to tourists (and resident’s travel off island) but no such luck.  Perhaps later in the week we’ll be blessed with some good news.

Since I don’t have any fun underwater adventures to share I’ll back it up to where I last left off with my Africa trip.  We’d just finished back to back gorilla treks in Uganda at Mgahinga National Park which was absolutely amazing.  Amazing people, amazing park services, amazing scenery and epic gorilla experiences.  We couldn’t have had a better time and now only one gorilla trek in Bwindi National Park remained which by all accounts was to be the most difficult of the trip.  I was naively optimistic about all the other hikes, but basically every review I’d read about Bwindi said that it was VERY difficult and VERY long so we were both scared little travelers just praying it would be slightly less terrifying than expected.

After leaving Mgahinga we drove a while through more beautiful sprawling countryside and a couple of roadside mineral mines to arrive at the Rushaga Gorilla camp for lunch overlooking Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.  This property was absolutely breathtaking.  There truly are no photos being used online that do it justice.  It’s a very large property spread out over the sloping hills and offering guests a “glamping” experience in large canvas tents with wooden walkways and large covered porches each perched out on a little platform looking over the top of the forest.  The bathrooms were gorgeous and very modern with nice warm showers. (our room pictured below)

Also on the property there is a huge lap pool, human sized chess game, and the restaurant also is just mind blowing with walls of windows on all sides opening into the forest.  There are so many beautiful tropical birds here in hindsight I should have spent more time trying to photograph them, but I was too busy just staring at the views, enjoying a nice hot shower and enjoying their delicious food.  Rushaga would actually be my favorite to date of all of the lodges/hotels I’ve stayed in.  Good vibes, super peaceful, and epic beauty.

The next morning we had breakfast overlooking the forest as the sun slowly rose and the clouds which wove amongst the trees slowly began to burn off.  Then it was a quick 10 minute drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to meet the last of our gorilla families.  This was my least favorite gorilla experience for a number of reasons.

The hike itself wasn’t as difficult as some previous hikes, except for in one spot.  It was the most dangerous thing I’ve done to date and in hindsight I’d never do it again.  Ever. Most of the hike is pretty flat and winds around a nice flat path through the forest which itself is gorgeous.  However, our guide unfortunately had very little patience and was on a mission to get to and from the gorillas as fast as humanly possible so taking a moment to photograph the beautiful area around you was not an option.

We eventually reached one area where the trail was maybe 3 feet wide and on one side you had a drastic hillside climbing about 30-40 feet upwards and on the other side was a sheer 100 foot drop off into the forest.  It was muddy and narrow and if you fell you’re getting airlifted out at best.  If you know me at all you’ll know me and heights are not friends. Not one bit.  So this scenario is basically my equivalent of hell.

So we find ourselves on this narrow muddy trail with a massive dropoff and then we get to the end of the flat part and the only way to continue is to climb straight up the side of the very steep hill where there’s muddy ruts carved from water running down during heavy rains.  There is no rope to hold onto, no branches, no bamboo, nothing.  If you slipped on this muddy slip and slide hill off the side of the cliff you go.  It was absolutely awful.  It’s clear that they take this route all the time so it’s beyond me why they don’t at a minimum tie a rope to the trees at the top so people have something to hold onto to pull themselves up and prevent a disaster coming back down.

Again our guide had zero patience and we were met with impatient sighs as he stood glaring at the top of the hill of death expecting you to hurry up.  He seemed to particularly hate me and my travel partner (me more so) and was constantly yelling at me for something. I have no clue why.  I think I got chastised 3-4 times for taking my rain jacket off because I was so hot I thought I was going to pass out and he’d start yelling at me that I MUST have my jacket on at all times.  Why you ask?  Hell if I know.  Last I checked the ferns we were walking past weren’t deadly.  That cliff on the other hand…..

Once we reached the gorillas it was more crawling on all fours so you didn’t fall down the mountain while trying to traverse over bushes and weeds.  The family of gorillas was in an extremely dense area on the side of the hill and there were so many white flies around them it looked like snow.

The camera lens wouldn’t focus half of the time for all of the bugs but that didn’t matter really because the guide kept yelling at me that I had to move to another location (where it was impossible to see or shoot the gorillas) because other guests should be where I was.  This would have been sort of reasonable except that I was sitting on the ground in a tiny ball not blocking anyone whatsoever.  All of us were in a tight group and everyone had a view, for some reason I guess this guide just decided that today was the day he was going to make my life as miserable as possible.

So after only 45 minutes we were told we had to leave.  You pay $600usd for this permit to spend 60 minutes with the gorillas.  So to lose 25% of the time you paid for is ridiculous.  In reviewing other TripAdvisor reviews I see now that this seems to be common for Bwindi.  I’m guessing that the guides just want to be done for the day and the earlier the better for them – at the expense of the tourists.

The trek back to the starting point was worse than the one going in.  Me and my friend were at the end of the line of hikers and our guide was walking so fast we would have had to literally jog to keep up.  And I’m one of the fastest walkers I know.  So he gave us zero chance to rest or take a drink or anything.  He was just being a jerk intentionally.  Still to this day I have no idea why.

All I’ll say is I’m SO glad this wasn’t my first (or only) experience or I would have been crushed.  As it was we were both just glad it was over and I never need to set foot in that park again.  Nor would I in good conscious recommend it to anyone else who is going for photography.  The guides are awful (the porters were too for that matter), the white flies prevent you from getting clean shots (I’ve now noticed this in lots of other Instagram photos from that park on social media) and they seem to often cut your already limited time with the gorillas to even shorter.

After Bwindi we proceeded on to our next hotel – Arcadia Cottages – which overlooked Lake Bunyoni.  This lake is absolutely jaw dropping!  The cottages all sit up on the top of small rolling green hills overlooking an expansive lake with gorgeous sunset views.  Going into the trip this was the location I was honestly most excited to see.  Our cottage was in the perfect location for unparalleled views and our living room and deck were to die for (see our cabin deck pictured below).  The cottages were modern inside and very pretty.  We had a door on one wall that opened into the adjoining cottage as well.  Little did we know what a problem this was going to be.

We were notified on arrival that the property was being used to host a rave that night and so a gigantic stage was being constructed in front of the dining area and they brought in massive speakers and started blasting techno music by 6pm.  We were promised at check-in that the music would stop by 11pm and that they would ensure it had as little impact on our stay as possible.  What an absolute crock.

The party raged on with a bunch of highly intoxicated ex-pats sprinkled with a few locals drinking mass quantities of booze and walking around snorting god knows what until all hours.  We were a bit freaked out to even leave the main building to walk to our cabin because it was really dark and we saw someone come flying out of the rave following us at one point.

We reached our cottage unscathed and immediately locked everything up, put in ear plugs and tried desperately to get some sleep.  Come midnight all of the sudden the adjoining cabin erupts with 10-15 male voices and one female who were yelling and arguing and clearly very drunk.  I banged on the wall to get them to shut up which was a bad decision because then they started to break into our cottage.  For 20 minutes they slammed into our adjoining door, rattling the door handle while we screamed at them to stop.

I called security.  I called the front desk.  I called the hotel manager.  No one would answer.  I called for atleast 30 minutes.  I left numerous voice messages. No one called back.  Finally the people next door decided to go back to the party and we saw their shadows file by a few feet in front of our bedroom window.  Needless to say we barely slept because we had no idea when or if they would come back and if they’d try to break into our cabin again.

The next morning we complained to the manager about it who didn’t care one bit.  He said that there was no one staying in the room next to us and the only person who would have had access was the owner’s son who was there partying with friends.  He also acknowledged that all services were shut down (front desk, security, his office) because they were afraid for their personal safety.  Just to clarify, the staff was afraid for THEIR personal safety so they left their guests alone in a foreign country in the absolute middle of nowhere to fend for themselves?!?

Meanwhile we also complained to the manager that the night before our waitress overcharged my friends credit card by $100usd when she paid for our drinks.  We were charged for food that the waitress refused to bring to our table and also charged for bottled water we ordered and kept asking for which she never brought.  After returning to the states it’s probably no coincidence that this same credit card was turned off for fraudulent charges – along with my friend’s second credit card she had with her at this hotel.

I can say with absolute confidence this was the scariest experience I’ve had traveling anywhere to date.  I have zero question what would have happened to us had that group of men been able to break through that flimsy door and none of it is good.  Even more appalling is we were still charged full price for our stay. I left a detailed review on TripAdvisor in hopes that it will save others the same experience.  The view was beautiful, but no view is pretty enough to die for.

Needless to say we couldn’t get out of there fast enough and set off early in the morning to start the safari portion of our trip far, far away.

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Quarantine Chronicles – Above Water Adventures vol. 13

Day 80.  Yup, feels like a day 80 too.  I remember the good old days when we were told we’d just be closing up for 2 weeks and everyone believed it.  It’s like one of those “when I was your age I had to walk uphill, in the snow, BOTH ways” stories except this one is true.

Yesterday it was announced that the Hawaii Tourism Authority President resigned and will be moving to the mainland at the end of August.  That’s unfortunate for a lot of reasons and probably not a good sign of things to come for local economies here in Hawaii.  Especially considering our Governor has zero experience in managing or working in the tourism industry himself.

Interisland travel has opened up without a mandatory 14 day quarantine on June 16th for Hawaii residents.  Vacation rentals are still not permitted to operate even for locals.  Restaurants are allowed to open for dine in as of today.  Commercial water activities like boating and kayak tours are allowed to operate effective immediately with capacity restrictions of 10 people total allowed on the vessel or in the tour. And the Road to Hana is closed for the foreseeable future – who knew east Maui would be the next gated community.  They’ve also opened the beaches up for commercial photography use, but it’s limited to groups of 10 total or less so basically small family groups or elopements.  The rumors are that major hotels will not be reopening until October 3rd.  That may or may not be accurate, hopefully it’s not.

In other breaking news Hawaii was granted an additional $67 million dollars today as part of the CARES Act which our Mayor say will go to help with donating food to Maui Food Bank, Feed My Sheep and other community organizations that work to feed the needy.  The Laulima Program that has been helping to pay portions of utility bills for those who remain unemployed should also receive a portion of these funds per Victorino.

We had a decent south swell hit this week which means no ocean time for this girl.  I’ve had a couple arguments with the shore break in the past that ended with cracked ribs from getting hit just right by my board so now I just stick to photographing the big swells instead of trying to paddle out in them.  On days I haven’t been able to get on the water I’ve really been enjoying taking the opportunity to get out and hike on some beautiful trails instead.

Makawao Forest Reserve is one of my favorite trails and I started hiking it regularly last fall when I wanted to get in shape before heading to Africa to see the gorillas.  The main trail is a 6.5 mile loop that has a million switchbacks and a gradual slope up and down through eucalyptus, cook pines, ferns and ginger.  Contrary to popular recent local folklore it is not easy to get lost there.  The trail is wide in most places and very easily identifiable and just in case you can’t follow the path in front of you there are colored discs on the trees with little arrows showing you what direction to go and indicating what trail you’re on.

Under normal circumstances when I’m busy with work I like getting to the start of the trailhead around 7:30am or 8am and it’s definitely chilly up there and you’ll find the parking lot empty.  Under the current circumstances I’ve been altering my schedule and hiking randomly throughout the day and I’ve found it’s definitely far more busy the later in the you go. To the point that both the main parking lot AND the overflow parking lot are filled with cars.   With all the kiddos out of school there’s lots of little ones on their mountain enjoying one of the courses at the start of the trail where there are wooden ramps and jumps to learn on.

It’s been particularly pleasant hiking here during the quarantine because not only is it a good workout and a pretty hike, but the people up there have been totally normal.  No face masks, no suspicious looks or glares as you try to pass them on the trails.  People just keep on their merry way, say hi, crack a joke or two and carry on with life.  And there’s dogs.  Loads of dogs. Totally underrated.

I finally took my real camera with me instead of just my cell phone to snap a couple shots and need to make a point to keep doing this on my other little adventures as well.  I’m sure it’ll be nice to look back on someday and try to remember exactly what an early involuntary forced retirement consisted of. 😉

Next week there is supposed to be a news release of when visitors may once again be allowed to enter the state, from where and under what conditions so keeping fingers crossed for some positive forward movement on that…..

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Quarantine Chronicals vol. 12 Uganda

Day 77.  Feels basically as long as it sounds.   Let’s see, not a lot new here on Maui this week.  Restaurants are allowed to open on June 5th but I think it’s only at 50% of capacity and everyone has to wear protective gear to dinner.  Public pools are opening and you have to make a reservation in advance to swim laps, take a soapy shower when you arrive and don’t procrastinate.  Get in and get out.  Our Mayor formally submitted a proposal to the Governor to allow interisland travel for residents without a 14 day quarantine as of June 15.  Memorial day saw loads of folks out enjoying the beach parks and so far there’s been no new cases here as a result.  It was announced that the Governor will be extending the 14 day mandatory quarantine through June 30th and to expect well past that.

In other better news Alaska announced that on June 5th if you enter the state with a negative COVID test result within 72 hours of arrival you will not be required to undergo the 14 day quarantine.  They also are hoping to offer COVID tests at the airport, however they cannot guarantee that there will be sufficient tests for all passengers so you’re encouraged to take care of it before you depart.  Holy wow!  I’m so excited!!! This may seem like a weird thing to be excited about if you’re reading this and don’t actually know me, but for several years now I’ve been heading up to Alaska in the fall with friends to enjoy some time boating and looking for sea otters and orca, and lots of quality time with brown bears.  Sometimes we’ll camp remotely for a week or so, other times we’ll stay on the peninsula and do fly outs each day instead.  Both have their advantages.

So this fall a couple of us planned to fly into the remote park where we camp and stay a little longer – 10 or 11 days to really make the most of the location and the hassle involving getting in and out.  Permits are very difficult to get ahold of every year and this year they were sold out within literally 7 minutes of the system releasing them.  I was fortunate to be able to grab enough for me and my friends so we were all set – and then the world hit pause and I basically thought there was about a .01% chance that we’d be able to go all things considered.  Until Friday.  It’s absolutely unbelievable.  I had spoken to the Park Superintendent at length the day before to see if he had any idea when it would be decided if overnight guests were allowed and he shared that as of one week before our scheduled arrival the park had decided to indeed allow camping.  Finally a stroke of luck of the good kind!

Also worth noting I continue waking up basically at dawn, but I’m excited to report it’s not because of the resident rooster.  He remains MIA and I’m guessing either got in a fight with a car or ended up as someone’s dinner (yes they do that around these parts).  Sorry not sorry rooster.  The hens I welcome with open arms in hopes eat any bugs they can find until their little chicken hearts are content.

Lastly while on the topic of good stuff, there’s been some progress with the shit list neighbors that doused my house in water and mold.  My sheetrock was all ripped out and so I had gaping walls for like a week which is less than desirable but now that’s all closed up and looks like new and my bathrooms are about 90% put back together. It’s another 3 weeks to go before the kitchen cabinets arrive and then my happy little house will finally be all put back together again.

Okay, so I’m backing it up to where I stopped last time with my trip to Africa.  I had just crossed the border from Rwanda to Uganda, on foot, to start the second half of my trip trekking with gorillas, chimpanzees and spending a few more days in a combined land and water safari experience.

Shortly before the start of our trip I reached out to Ronald at Kajie Safaris to see if it was possible for a very last minute schedule change.  As it stood, we were spending the first day trekking with gorillas in Mgahinga National Park, then the second day in the park trekking with the Golden Monkeys.  I stumbled upon very recent photos on Instagram showing one of the gorilla groups in Mgahinga had a brand new baby which would be about a month old when we arrived.  Baby gorillas always trump golden monkeys hands, it was just a matter of wrapping my mind around the difference in the cost of the permit and seeing if there were any available.  As luck would have it there were still permits and although both days in Mgahinga were outstanding, but the second day ended up being the highlight of the trip.

We stayed in the Traveler’s Rest hotel in Kisoro while trekking in Mgahinga.  It was a quaint little hotel with a cozy common area with comfortable couches and chairs, a bar and a fireplace.  The food was pretty good here, but the power was spotty.  I had read this was a problem before arriving having something to do with the power grid in town, so atleast the routine stop and start of light or power wasn’t a total shocker.  We just make it a point to charge camera batteries first, everything else later.  Ronald also had a charging strip in the car we could use during road trips which was a great idea!

Mgahinga National Park doesn’t have near the level of advertising that the other gorilla parks do, but it could be because until recently the one gorilla group who lived here would sometimes cross the border into another park so they weren’t reliable to locate.  At the time of my trip two families now called the park home and our first trek was to the Nyakagezi Family.   There are 8 members and the dominant silverback’s name is Mark.  (I can’t even type this without laughing)  This group was absolutely HILARIOUS with several youngsters that were so interactive and would play little games with and around us, posing and smiling and peeking out behind leaves.  They’d roll around on their back and stare up straight at you while we snapped away.

The hike was relatively long  and all in all I’d say it was actually harder than the Volcanoes experience the day before.  The porters here were AWESOME and made it so much more pleasant and once again prevented us from sliding down the hill or sliding onto a gorilla.  I was able to shoot several little videos in addition to my photos and I’m so thankful for the video clips in particular because it just captures their whole personality and expression so well.

The second day in Mgahinga we trekked to the Hirwa group which used to be found in Rwanda, but recently migrated over the border and now has been living in Uganda instead.  The dominant silverback came from the Susa group originally and is named Munyinya.  There is also a second much larger silverback who has been making a run for the thrown so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in time.

Munyinya captured all of our hearts because only 3 days before 4 members, including the infant, had been unexpectedly killed during a huge lightning storm.  Munyinya was visibly upset while we were there and looked absolutely heartbroken.  He had a large deep slash in his right bicep that he kept giving attention to and it looked like it must be quite painful.  His lead lady stayed dutifully by his side grooming him and taking care of him which was so very sweet.

Although you are only supposed to have an hour with each group, I’m pretty sure that our guide and rangers gave us a nice little extension to this because I swear they told us we only had 5 more minutes 10 times.  Haha  The walk in to see this family was SO easy and only took a half hour tops walking at a snails pace.  The gorillas were spread out in a wide open meadow which allowed part of our group to  spread out with the youngsters while me and my friend stayed with the silverback the whole time.  The permits aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination but moments like this make it absolutely invaluable.

We got back to the main parking area ahead of schedule so I didn’t waste even one second looking for Jackson chameleons to play with and found a couple smaller females and one large one.  I also got sidetracked following some squirrel looking rabbit type rodent that appeared out of a bush.  It kind of reminded me of an overgrown pika that moved like a rabbit.  It disappeared about the time I found the first chameleon but then one of the guides showed up and pointed out a second one sleeping in a low tree branch!  I guess they are called Tree Hyrax.  And are hardly ever seen.  I’d never heard of it before, but the guide was very excited so it got it’s own little photo shoot before we reluctantly headed away from the park to venture to our next accommodation overlooking Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and trek with gorillas there the following day…



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Quarantine Chronicles vol. 11 Rwanda

Welcome to Day 70 of quarantine Maui style.  Yesterday marked the celebration of Memorial Day and fortunately atleast on Maui beaches are once again open to relax on if it’s a group of 10 or less and there’s no camping or grilling.  Beaches everywhere were stockpiled full of families out enjoying the beautiful weather and water which was really heartwarming to see.

In other news, Hawaii News Now aired a live broadcast today with several local sources included a representative from the Department of Labor.  He said that Hawaii’s unemployed numbers total 242,000 and the majority of those are tied to the visitor industry.  The Department of Labor anticipates that less than half of these numbers will be able to return to work due to job loss or business shutdown.  Further they stated that “if we are lucky” we’ll be able to bring back 35% of workers by the end of the year.  Using their figures that means that as 2020 nears an end 157,300 people will still be without a job.  Hawaii currently stands at having the second highest unemployment rates in the nation and the state is anticipating that it will be 5 years before the number of visitors entering the islands returns to normal.

Meanwhile it’s the third day in a row with no new cases, over 90% of our total cases have recovered and the government is still unwilling to commit to a date when interisland travel will be permitted.  Perhaps mid-June they say.  As to travelers entering the state it is being proposed that Japan, New Zealand and Australia residents be permitted to travel to Hawaii first after we enter into treaties with those countries.  Our Lt. Governor said it’s much harder to coordinate when travel from the mainland will be allowed without the mandatory 14 day quarantine and that visitor arrivals aren’t anticipated to open up at all until the end of September.

Moving on from that doom and gloom, I figure now is as good of a time as any to continue on with talk of that one time when I could easily leave my rock to hop on a plane to Africa.  The last time I ventured over to Africa it was to take a trip to South Africa to do a wee bit of sightseeing and spend 2 weeks volunteering at a very large privately owned game reserve focused heavily on conservation.  Right up my alley.  The flights getting there and back were fairly dreadful and it took me a couple years to wrap my mind around over 30 hours of travel again.  Lucky for me this time it actually wasn’t horrible and I just used the 2 layovers as an excuse to pace in circles and give my poor legs a break from sitting 8-10 hours per flight in those cramped planes.  The flights did have an usually good movie selection this time around.  It’s the little things.

We flew into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda at 7pm on a Saturday night and had splurged for a really nice hotel for 3 nights not knowing what the other accommodations would be like.  The hotel sent a driver to pick us up and he was right on time, but asked if we could wait at the car because he was also picking up another guest.  No problem right?  Well he returned shortly with the other guest who apparently went back and forth from France a lot on some sort of business I didn’t quite understand.  His English was exceptional. So much so that within the 15 minutes from the airport to the hotel somehow the conversation got diverted to hookers and some sort of African bugs they have in Rwanda that burrow into your skin without you realizing it.  I guess he took one home.  The bug, not the hooker.  We were very excited to hit the eject button as soon as we reached the hotel!

The first day was a “do nothing on purpose” day so we could get our wits about us and eat a lot.  Those Rwandans eat well I’ll tell you that.  The food there was absolutely amazing.  Fresh vegetables, very healthy options and delicious coffee and desert.  Just stay away from their cucumber smoothies – it basically tasted like firewater and made you question your will to live.

Day 2 in Rwanda we had set up a full day safari using Go Kigali Tours to visit Akagera National Park and try to find some lions and elephants ideally.  You have to leave the city at 5am and estimated return time is around 6:00pm but we didn’t end up getting home until 8:30pm because of an elephant delay then a major traffic snafu.  Our guide was honestly the nicest person we met while in the city.  He was born in Rwanda, but then had to flee to Uganda during the genocide with his family only to return years later.  Akagera Park was expansive and had tons of ungulates throughout and a troop of baboons not far from the visitor center.  The herd of elephants we had our heart set on was at the opposite side of a very marshy plain, but our guide talked two other tour operators into traversing it together so if any of the vehicles got stuck there would be enough people to rock it back and forth until it was freed.  I wasn’t super keen on pushing Land Rovers in the bush so fortunately it never came to that.

Day 3 in Rwanda began our departure from the city with Ronald and Kajie Safaris.  We spent the morning in the genocide memorial which although it was quite a lot to process I’m very glad I did.  It took nearly 3 hours to get through all of the information they offered and all I will say is that not only is it incomprehensible what transpired, it’s even more disturbing that this information was never broadcast in full to the outside world.  In layman’s terms it’s really not okay.  After finishing the morning at the memorial and having a nice lunch we started the drive north to Volcanoes National Park and had one night at the Hotel Muhabura which is famous for housing Dian Fossey over several years.  A word to the wise – watch what you eat in their restaurant…. I’ll just leave it at that.  (And you’re welcome!)

Volcanoes National Park is very beautiful and is home to both the Mountain Gorilla and the Golden Monkey.  Your trek experience will vary greatly depending on what group you are assigned to and that is dependent on 1) luck 2) age 3) physical endurance and 4) any special requests you may have.  I had been hiking here very regularly to get in shape before the trip so I was in hindsight overly optimistic about the lack of physical exertion really required.  That all went out the window as I’m sweating crisscrossing through crops and wheezing scaling up the side of a mountain.  Rule #1 = bamboo is your friend.  I would grab and hold onto the stocks of that stuff for dear life more than once knowing it’s nearly impossible to uproot it and it was really helpful for not falling down a mountain or falling into a gorilla.

Everyone starts the morning at one general meeting area where they have free coffee and beverages and try to make you feel very welcome.  They also have western toilets which you should take advantage of because you’re definitely not going to see one the rest of the day.  This meeting spot is where the guides haggle over what guests get to see which group of gorillas and groups are limited to 8 humans per family of gorillas for a maximum of 1 hour.  We got herded around and matched up with our guide who was very exuberant and excited to tell us all about the family of 23 gorillas we were about to journey to find.

The first alarm bells should have gone off when I noticed we were paired with a professional athlete and his equally in shape wife.  I mean I’m an active girl and all, but there’s realistic measurements to everything and I’m not about to meet the pro athlete meter any time soon.  The only reassuring part of this was that he was gassed going up that damn mountain too.  So ha!  It wasn’t just me.

You have a guide who is on the phone with trackers to guide us to where the gorillas are that day.  The trackers basically stay with the gorillas 24×7 to ensure their safety from poachers, alert veterinarians in case of emergency and to help tourists reach the gorillas in the most seamless manner possible.  You also have the option of hiring a porter to carry your lunch, your camera gear and quite frankly YOU up and down the mountain in one piece.  Best $15USD ever spent. Once you get to within a few minutes of where the gorillas are everyone stops and takes out their cameras and prepares to leave our porter (otherwise known as our new bff) to traverse up and over bushes, bamboo and mud to where the gorillas are having breakfast.

I had two cameras on me with different focal length lenses which I wouldn’t recommend doing and I gave up the second camera after the second gorilla trek and just used my 100-400mm lens which I thought was perfect.  I also had a handheld Sony camera for shooting video clips.  Listen, at $1,500 per permit for all of 60 minutes time with the gorillas I was going to record every last second I could.  For such large animals, the gorillas cram themselves in some small spaces!  You are pretty limited to where you can stand without sliding down the hill to someplace you don’t want to be so be prepared to bend and turn in some really weird positions and be happy about it.

We trekked with the Amahoro group which means Peace and was named after the dominant silverback because he has such a peaceful demeanor.  I was taking photos of him tucked away in the bamboo all of 10 feet away when the trackers insisted that we move up and around the corner.  Reluctantly we followed to then be shown a brand spanking new 2020 model little gorilla asleep on it’s mother’s chest in a beautiful nest overlooking the valley.  It had just been born the night before and the rangers only stumbled upon it once we had arrived.  So just like that the family of 23 grew to 24.

The rangers and guides in Volcanoes National Park were very friendly and very laid back compared to other parks we later visited.  We had young gorillas bumping into us while moseying up the trail, poking at our pant legs and coming to play with each other just a few feet away.  We were allowed to record and photograph all of this without any issue whereas in other parks it was strictly forbidden to document close encounters such as when a silverback came within a foot or two of my head.  There are strict laws that you are not allowed to come within 15 feet of the gorillas, but just as with whales, often the animals have other ideas.

I really loved the time in this park, but I personally won’t go back because the cost of the permit is over double what is charged at the other parks and honestly I just am far more partial to Uganda than Rwanda.  I am so grateful though that it all worked out, and especially to be able to have such the lovely surprise of finding the brand new baby.  The jungle backdrop with clouds blowing in and out and the experience of being touched and poked by gorillas will likely be burned into my brain for a very, very long time.

The remainder of day 4 was spent crossing the border from Rwanda to Uganda which has to be done on foot.  No joke.  You have to get out of the car, walk over to a little shed with a person to fill out a bunch of paperwork on the Rwanda side, then they give you the nod to walk past a guardrail to the other side of the dirt street where there were 3 more little stations on the Uganda side to fill out more paperwork and answer lots of the same questions over and over again.  You also had to pass through a plastic quarantine tent where you must wash your hands for 30 seconds (no soap available) then have your temperature taken and report any recent travel or sicknesses.  I would have taken photos but that was forbidden and I really wasn’t trying to test my luck.  We arrived in no time at the next hotel (the Travelers Rest Hotel) where we had a cold (because it wasn’t an option) shower and I started wrapping myself in KT Tape like I was a little mummy.  If you don’t know what it is google it – it’ll save your life some day!

For day 5 it was another pre-dawn start to eat breakfast, pack a lunch and go find more gorillas……

To be continued.

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Quarantine Chronicles vol. 10 Africa

Day 68 of quarantine has come and nearly gone.  I can’t lie, every time I write one of these little “dear diary” welcome to quarantine in Maui blogs I just shake my head at how many days have passed.  And with that I can’t believe it’s ONLY been 60+ days because it kind of feels like half a life.  But I digress.

Long story short beaches were opened for a trial period of 2 weeks and we’ve been told that we must behave or the privilege will be revoked.  Tourists are being posted all over the news and social media for violating quarantine so the police can go round them up and ship them home.  It was announced that the FAA has approved we can require COVID testing as a condition to enter the state (unless they want to be locked in a room for 14 days upon entry) and Hertz filed for bankruptcy.  Some small businesses have opened, but mostly Front Street in Lahaina remains a boarded up ghost town.  I hear restaurants are opening to dine in on June 5th, but you must wear a mask at all times except when you’re actually eating.  That’s it in a nutshell.

I did talk to a neighbor today who works for the airline industry and they said that all the outbound flights leaving Maui are at capacity.  That meaning the new capacity standards set forth to accommodate social distancing and a large portion of those people flying out are people who are moving off the island.  Super sad.  This has been a rough experience on everyone in some way or another.

Speaking of experiences, I’m so thankful that I was able to travel to Rwanda and Uganda before the world hit the pause button!  I began researching a trip to photograph gorillas several years ago and had originally been planning to go to Virunga National Park in the DRC.  It’s a dangerous place to travel to, but I was able to communicate extensively with the park to plan the safest route to enter the country then be escorted by armed guards into the Virunga Mountains.  Unfortunately before I could make that happen there was a kidnapping of several tourists and although they were released, rangers were killed in the ambush and the park was closed for a year.  It then opened again, but only briefly before 12 more rangers were killed by rebel groups about a month ago.  It’s a really volatile and sad situation that hopefully will calm down sooner rather than later.

So instead of visiting the DRC I spent several months planning a trip to visit both Rwanda and Uganda.  I wanted my experience to be diverse in that it involved safaris and gorillas trekking in the three national parks – Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. I wasn’t entirely sure how the itinerary would realistically look, but I had a vague idea so I set out to find a tour company that offered a similar schedule that didn’t make me have to take out a second mortgage.  I submitted inquiries to a few companies and the one that came closest to having what I was looking for was Kajie Safaris in Uganda.

Ronald, the owner, was fabulous from the very beginning and we traded literally hundreds of emails along the way making changes here and there, adding things, deleting things and shaping it into a vacation I was so excited about!  I went with a fellow photographer and great friend of mine who lives in Montana and we were able to arrange our flights so we met in Seattle and traveled the rest of the way together.  Super fun!

When we arrived in Rwanda there was a quarantine station set up by the WHO screening all arrivals before you even got to customs.  I was so tired it barely registered, but now it sure does!  I can’t even count the times we were interrogated at both the Rwanda and Uganda custom stations on where we’d recently traveled, if we’d been sick, etc. etc. etc.  I remember asking Ronald near the end of our trip if people were still talking about “that COVID thing” because I hadn’t been on the internet or seen a TV in two weeks and I honestly thought it’d all surely be old news by then.

The gorillas were incredible, and actually the chimps were too even if I was slightly terrified of them going into it.  I thought that perhaps the reviews on TripAdvisor were being a bit overdramatic when talking about how strenuous the climb up the mountain was to see gorillas, including people slipping, rolling and falling down the slope after walking for hours.  I can now officially verify that they weren’t lying.  The hike we did in Rwanda we were told was a 3,000 foot elevation gain in a mile.  Mind you part of it was pulling yourself up the side of the hill where there was no trail and you were counting on bamboo to be your savior.  That and your porter.  Man, I need a porter for everyday life I tell you – they rock.

The gorilla family we visited in Rwanda had a brand spanking new 2020 model baby gorilla that the rangers just found while our group was there taking photos of the silverback.  So crazy!  Such a little wrinkly, hairy, sleepy itsy bitsy gorilla.  The juveniles of this group were also really fun because they were quite cheeky and kept walking right up and grabbing our pant legs and bumping into us on the trail as they went by like they thought it was funny. The chimps are much more stoic and will sit peacefully, but mostly avoid direct eye contact whereas the gorillas are very interactive and seem to play funny games to get your attention like hiding in foliage and peeking out, or rolling around on the ground and grinning at you.  It makes me laugh every time I try to describe it and I’m sure I don’t do it justice.

My favorite park was Mgahinga Park in Uganda.  I had read so much about Rwanda prior to visiting so I was very much looking forward to learning more.  It is promoted as the safest country in Africa and also the cleanest.  It was exceptionally clean, especially for the mindboggling amount of people who live there.  Their structure of community involvement and personal responsibility for your own community and country was really cool as well as a lot of the environmentally friendly regulations put in place after the genocide.  However, on the down side, although the people were polite and soft-spoken I can’t say I ever felt welcomed.  There seemed to be an undercurrent of resentment for whatever reason and I definitely would not have felt safe venturing out and about on foot by myself.  Which is saying something because I’m one to pretty much go explore anywhere without too much concern.

Uganda however was amazing.  It’s a much more rural country and the rolling hillsides are covered in a wide variety crops.  There are many beautiful lakes there also and the accommodations were some of the most stunningly rustic I’ve ever personally been too.  Traveling within the country is very affordable and the people were quite sweet.  We loved it.  It was a night and day difference having just come from Rwanda. I would not even attempt it without a guide though because the roads are rural more often than not and have no sign posts or stoplights and sometimes are prone to flooding  so if you were trying to venture any kind of distance on your own I really don’t know how you’d find your way.

We trekked with gorillas all in all 4 times in 3 different national parks and also spent a day on safari in Akagera National Park in Rwanda and also 2 days on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.  Ronald highly recommended taking a boat ride down the Kazinga Channel which was a fabulous tip.  We were able to secure a private boat which allowed for extra time photographing the hippos and kingfishers and even a resident herd of elephants that came down to the water’s edge for a later afternoon drink.

I’ll write detailed accounts of each gorilla trek and experience in blogs to come, but this will have to do for a summary in the meantime.  It’s seriously mind blowing to me that I was just able to travel freely and explore these wonderful other parts of the world as little as 3 months ago because it seriously feels like a lifetime.  I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that humans can sort out their “stuff” in short order so I can get back to taking pretty pictures of remote places and being able to document some truly remarkable wildlife.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Environmental Solutions, Life, Photography Fun, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 9

Hard to believe it, but here I am still writing about quarantine (kind of) on big day SIX OH.  Why does time always seem to go at its own speed? Sometimes a day fees like an hour and sometimes 60 days feels like 10 years.  My brain has completely failed to process that only 90 days ago I was on a plane returning from Uganda with boots covered in the same mud gorillas sat in just 10 feet away.  And then the world closed down the hatch.  How quickly things can change.  I guess it’s good to always keep that tucked in the back of one’s mind somewhere.

Here on Maui our Mayor decided that we’d be granted the extra provisionary privilege of being able to sit still on beaches during the day AND for sunset.  I think people were ready to start dancing in the streets!  Of course that’s definitely not allowed yet so it didn’t actually happen, but hypothetically it could have.  Meanwhile day 1 of being allowed out of the house lead to countless car accidents along our small two lane roadways.  There are a lot of wonderful things I can say about living in South Maui but the quality of driving skills isn’t one of them.  Let’s just keep all fingers and paws crossed that the population doesn’t get grounded again because people still can’t figure out how to stay in their lane.

Since I stayed home to work on making a video, refining my website and dealing with insurance stuff for the water intrusion issue this story will be of a time not long ago.

Rays.  The Manta Rays and I kind of have this special thing going on.  Probably 7 years ago I saw my first ray while paddling.  It sort of scared the crap out of me and fascinated me at the same time.  Their wings look so strong and when they get aggravated they’ll whack with them – very hard – and I’m pretty sure if you got hit (or your board got hit) it could do some damage.  For as graceful as they are, they’re heavy, powerful creatures.

I’ve always had an above average appreciation for both the pelagic and reef rays because they’re difficult.  I feel like getting to know them is like trying to date.  You really have to move slow, kind of feel each other out, maintain appropriate distances and let the ray figure out you mean no harm.  Then you have to watch and see what their pattern of feeding is so that instead of chasing them around you can just hold tight and wait in the middle of their area and let them come to you instead.  They like this.  If you try to move in too quickly or get too excitable they run away.  Just like when pushy people try to date.  haha It never works out well.

It took me a very long time to try to understand the reef mantas.  I tried so hard to get them to like me and be able to interact in the water with them.  On the board it was a piece of cake, but off the board it was an entirely different story.  Fast forward to 5 years ago and I lost a dear friend very unexpectedly the night before and all I could think to do was go to the water.  He and I had talked loads about the sea creatures and a lot about rays – he’d never seen them either and thought they were such beautiful creatures.  So after a night of basically no sleep I drug myself down to my favorite launching spot and started paddling.

It didn’t take long before very unexpectedly two rays showed up seemingly out of nowhere.  I didn’t bring my underwater gear that day so I was just sitting on my board watching them when a random stranger showed up in a kayak and asked if I wanted to borrow his mask.  I jumped at the chance and hopped in the water and sure enough this was the very first time in all of my attempts that the rays finally swam with and around me and didn’t swim away.  I was literally bawling (which by the way isn’t overly productive when you’re underwater in a mask!).

So ever since that day the rays have been really special to me and as time goes on and we get to spend more time together it’s easy to start recognizing the same ones via their markings, behaviors and/or broken tails or fins.  And over time I’ve had a few that have become so comfortable they’ll regularly come within a foot or two away, even brushing their fins on my arms as they swim past eating their plankton.  I’m so eternally grateful each time they show trust in me.

What I’ve also started to notice is that they blow bubbles!  I’ve tried googling this behavior and the only thing I could find it mentioned was during a study of self-recognition using mirrors to see if the manta ray was able to identify itself.  During these experiments the rays were seen to start blowing bubbles in front of the mirrors and this behavior was not observed by the researchers any other time.  When I’ve seen them do it, the bubbles are coming out of little vents on the top if it’s head behind the eye called spiracles.  I’ve watched them blowing very light streams of bubbles where you hardly see it, and very forceful streams.  I have not seen this when there are several rays around, I have only seen it when I am one on one.  So I still don’t know what it means – either they are trying to communicate and/or interact or they are telling me to get the hell away from them.  That’s what I have it narrowed down to.  Hopefully it’s option 1.

Perhaps someday soon I’ll be sharing more real time ray adventures, but in the meantime I leave you with this little video I put together of some of my favorite ray moments over the past month.  I call them the angels of the sea, hopefully they’ll bring some smiles across the distance to you as well.


Posted in Environmental Solutions, hawaii, Life, maui, Photography Fun, Quarantine Chronicles, Uncategorized, underwater photography, watersports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment