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Anthony in Rwanda!

Date: January 12, 2015 Author: admin Categories: Scroller

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This month the chairperson of the parents association is visiting Rwanda & Uganda for a work assignment. When his work is done he’s planning to visit an area with gorillas living in the wild.  Anthony is going to keep a daily blog of his adventures for the school website which will appear here.

Blog Post 1

Kigali, Rwanda

So a week ago I set off from Laragh on the trek a little over 10,000 kilometers to Kigali (], the capital of Rwanda ( I came to Rwanda via one night in Uganda where in the morning this giant tortoise was sunbathing outside my door!



In Rwanda I’ve been travelling around to places in Kigali and outside in the countryside near the borders with Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (which really you should say in French – République démocratique du Congo – as in DRC as in Rwanda many people speak French). In Rwanda people also speak Kinyarwandan and English, and the kids who are 7 or 8 years old can usually speak three languages: Kinyarwandan, English and French. Where I have been staying these last few days I have been serenaded by this Crested Crane which sounds a lot like Kevin from UP. The Crested Crane is the national bird of Uganda



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Rwanda is called the country of a 1000 hills and everywhere there are hills and mountains but also open plains call Savannah. It is so green and like the other countries in this part of Africa the soil is red and very beautiful. In Kigali, the capital city, life is quiet and it is like any other city, but not far outside the capital there is more familiar Rwandan life where people often grow their own food (‘tend their gardens).


In Rwanda people are usually Tutsi or Hutu – the two main groups of people who live here and over the borders in Burundi, DRC, Zaire and in Uganda too. Also, people often have family spread around this part of Africa and living in different countries.


Like Irish people Rwandans like song and dance and like to paint.

If you can you should listen to this old Rwandan recording here: 

Or this one from DRC here: 

(this one is my favourite and it is the kind of traditional music you might hear in Rwanda)

Rwandan’s also like to paint and traditional painting is called Imigongo. Imigongo is usually done by girls and women and paintings are made with cow dung which when it dries is painted – I brought home a small version of one of these paintings about six years ago and I have it on my wall in Laragh. In the olden days these paintings were said to be magical and were very important to Rwandans.


So tomorrow I set off on a long and interesting trek. Maybe you should see if you can find these places on the map. I leave Kigali and go to my favourite African country – Uganda. There I will go to Entebbe, Kampala, Lake Mburo, Bunyonyi, Ruhija and Kihihi. Along the way we get to stop at the equator, take a canoe on Lake Bunyonyi, hang out with hippos, zebras, tree climbing lions and chimps, go into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Queen Elizabeth National Park and hopefully spend some time with a family of silverback gorillas on the slopes of the mountains in the rainforest on the Ugandan-Rwandan border. Hopefully then it is either back to Laragh but maybe a few extra days back in Rwanda. We will see!



Blog Post 2

Kampala to Mboru by passing through the Equator



So last night I flew from Kigali in Rwanda to Nairobi in Kenya and then on to Entebbe and Kampala in Uganda. Kampala is the capital of Uganda and the name comes from ‘Impala’ which is a beautiful antelope (and I saw many of these today).



So Kampala means ‘hill with the impalas’ because before the city was built there were many impalas living there and the people used to hunt them for meat, pretty much like some people hunt deer for meat in Ireland.


Then this morning we drove south to Mboru national park and before we got there we passed the equator




So here’s a good question to ask your teachers. At the equator you are standing exactly half way between the North Pole and the South Pole. If you take one step to the North and pour some water in a sink the water goes down the sink by spinning clockwise (so in a swirl going left to right). If you take one step to the South and pour some water in a sink the water then the water goes down the sink by spinning anti-clockwise  (so in a swirl going right to left and opposite to the sink on the North). If you pour water in a sink  that is right on the equator it doesn’t swirl at all – just drains straight out. Maybe your teacher in Scoil Chaoimhin Naofa can tell you why?


Then we arrived in Mboru. Mboru is the smallest national park in Uganda and is shared between the farmers who live on one part and the government of Uganda who stops any farming on the other part. But the animals just use it all and there are so many animals.  Not far into the park we came across a big traffic jam – do you know what kind of farm animal these are?


Today just some of the animals we saw were: Zebras, Impalas, Surfer Waterbuck (the biggest antelope), a Topi (the second fastest antelope), Waterbuck, Warthog, Vervet monkeys, a lot of different birds such as the Brown Snake Eagle and one with a very strange name – a Go Away Bird!

Here’s a picture of a mother Surfer Waterbuck and her young, one of which is having a drink. The young buck is about two and half years old.


Tomorrow we go on an early morning bushwalk and then travel to Lake Bunyonyi but first now that I’ve finished this blog I’ll watch the bats that are flying around my feet catching moths for dinner

Blog Post 3

Bush Walk in Mboru National Park

This morning we got up very early and headed off on a long bush walk. We hoped to see some of the animals we saw yesterday but up close and wow, what a morning.




There were many zebras and warthogs wandering about. Do you know why warthogs wallow in the mud? It’s because they can’t really sweat like humans or pant like a dog and so they can’t cool down in the sun. So they cover themselves in cool mud and that first cools them down and then is like suncream to stop them burning in the sun. Warthogs eat like sheep by getting down on their bended front legs – you can see the young hog doing that in the picture.

Throughout the morning we watched for vervet monkeys and weren’t disappointed.



These guys live in troops (a little like baboons) and when the young see you coming the keep standing on their back legs and then crouching just in case you’re coming to catch them. They live on acacia trees which have huge spikes and up until today we had only seen them in the trees so it was great to see them playing and grooming while sitting on the ground. When food is scarce (like during a drought) the baboons and the chimps hunt these cute monkeys for food. Luckily there is no drought now even though we are at the end of the dry season (basically the Ugandan summer).

Years ago when I first came to Uganda I bought a piece of ebony (do you know what that is?) carved into the shape of an animal. I thought it was a Ugandan cob but now I think it was one of these – the Topi. This big male didn’t like the look of us and he stood his ground protecting his territory by snorting at us and watching us intensely.



So for the rest of today we will drink fresh juice here and watch the Baboons, the Vervet monkeys and the Impalas that are passing below us and then we head to Bunyonyi – a place of lakes where the local people live on islands and get around in canoes. There I think there many other beautiful birds and animals.


My daughter Lily has many books from Africa that tell the stories of how animals came to behave the way they do or look the way they do. One of my favourite is Greedy Zebra that tells how the Zebra got his stripes. I think of it every time I see those guys in the bush.



Blog Post 4



Last night we arrived in Bunyonyi. Lake Bunyonyi is an 8000 year old lake with about 25 islands in it. It is the second deepest lake in the world – about 6000 feet. I think Glendalough is about 100 feet so that’s 60 times as deep as Glendlough. Where Glendlough was made by glaciers moving down the valley lake Bunyonyi was made by a volcano that poured lava into the valley and the lava melted the rock base.

‘Bunyonyi’ means ‘place of the little birds’ and this is mainly because of the many weaver birds that live on the shores of the lake.  There are over 50 kinds of weaver birds in East Africa and they look a little like finches we have in Ireland. They build really tightly woven nests that sometimes are the size of an onion and other times are bigger than a football. This orange bird is a weaver bird having lunch on what looks like a bottlebrush tree.



There are also much bigger birds, like this Brown Snake Eagle.




Bunyonyi is also where the Batwa people live. The Batwas are also called Batwa pygmies because they are small people and look quite different to other Ugandan people as their skin colour is lighter. Batwas used to live all over this part of Africa but when farmers particularly  cut down the trees to clear pastures for their cattle and crops they removed the places where Batwa people live. This is because Batwa people are hunter-gatherers – in other words there are no crops, no cows, sheep, pigs  – they get their food by hunting it or by gathering wild fruits and other edible plants. This is the way all humans used to live before we started to farm. After the farmers and more recently the Ugandan government with the help of countries in Europe and America turned most of the remaining land where the Batwa have lived for hundreds of years into national parks and banned people from living there. Now most of the Batwa have no land and are not allowed go back to the forest.

Here there are many farmers – when you ask what they grow they say they grow ‘Irish’. Have you any idea what that is?



Later we move closer to the mountains where the gorillas are!



Blog Post 5

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest



Today was planned as the big day of our trip but so far every day has been a big day. We’ve seen so many animals and birds, visited so many places but still where we are now is amazing. We climbed 1360 metres into the mountains and the tropical forest.  We are in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Last night we stayed in a place called Ruhija which is right on the edge to of the Park and I spent the night in a hut on sticks with a roof made of banana leaves and reed thatch. Banana leaves are used for everything from packaging, to steaming matoka (which is a green banana) and here it makes up my ceiling.



Bwindi is where the gorillas live. It’s a big tropical forest on the border with Rwanda and hear to Democratic Republic of Congo. It is 25,000 years old and has 200 different kinds of tress and 310 types of butterfly and of course – 120 types of mammals including the mountain gorillas. In Bwindi there are only about 408 gorillas left and together they make up about 40 groups of around 10 gorillas, usually two silver backs (the big males) and a variety of younger males and females. Here is where the forest elephants live, the macaques and other primates and of course the mountain gorillas.


We set off early into the rain forest lead by a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide called Stephen who has been working with the Gorillas for 21 years. He lead us as well as two soldiers one in front and one behind which we were told were for our defence in case we were charged by forest elephants. But this part of Uganda has a troubled and recent past so there may be other reasons.

Very shortly on the trek after hacking our way with machetes through the jungle a young male came bounding around the corner and started stripping the tree of leaves for his lunch. We watch and watch, slowly moving closer, and then the guides noticed where the family were down in the jungle. We quickly cut off and moved down, down, down in the bush until we found the family. These are the Oruzogo family.




The family is a silverback (the Dad) who is about 30 years old. Around him are females, juveniles and baby gorillas. Do you know what a young baby gorilla is called?




We hunkered down and watched as the fed on timber from an old tree. The big silverback was in control and the gorilla children climbed the trees and then slid back down like they were playing in a playground. The gorillas were incredible, such beautiful, gentle and powerful animals – and so like humans, even up to the gorilla children snuggling into the their mothers and the mothers putting their arms around them for hugs. We are so lucky to share the world with such amazing creatures.




Tomorrow we go in search of tree climbing lions, hippos and savannah elephants!



Blog Post 6. 

Searching for tree climbing lions and elephants

Today was nearly the last day of the short trip to Uganda. I’ve been visiting here for a long time but never paused to see just how beautiful a place it is and how amazing the wildlife is. I’ve always known how great the people are.

This morning we woke up early and drove to Queen Elizabeth National Park. I was so sad to leave the rain forest and the mountain gorillas behind but excited to go in search of tree climbing lions in the hot savannah lands of the park. The park is huge – it is pretty much the same size as the whole of county Wicklow – but the closest I’d ever been before was to work in a town called Kasese which is just on the edge of the park.



We arrived very early and immediately the place was buzzing with Ugandan Kob, Vervet monkeys, Waterbuck, Waterbuffalo, Warthogs and Baboons. They were everywhere!



We went deeper and deeper into the park and spent a long time watching the big game animals and searching the trees for lions but today, when it came to lions we were unlucky and they were nowhere be found. However, just as we were about to head for the exit from the park we spotted something relaxing under a bush and watching a big heard of approaching waterbuffalo – a leopard! It is so hard to find leopard that we couldn’t believe our luck! Can you see how effective her spots are at camouflaging her in the bush?



We had spotted hippos in the river Ishasha that runs along the park and is the boarder with DRC (remember I mentioned DRC before?). But we took a boat out on Prince George lake and there were so many hippos, Nile crocodiles, waterbuffalo and birds. So many hippos had baby hippos which stay by their mum until the mum figures out if they’re a girl or a boy. If they’re a girl they stay with the herd but it they’re a boy the mum needs to take them away from the herd as the dominant male will kill them as he will feel they might grow up to challenge him to be the head of the herd.


Most elephants have what we call a dominant male, which is the leader (like that big silver back gorilla). Then they have dominant females. Savannah elephants are led by the female or ‘the matriarch’. She’s the boss. And she brought her herd right across the trail in front of us today – how amazing are these guys!


So tomorrow is the last day – and it should be a special day. We go in search of chimpanzees!


Blog Post 7.

The last day – Chimpanzees!

So the last day arrived. Last night we slept in bamboo and banana leaf cabins where our showers were outside with the water heated by the sun. During the night a family of warthogs hung out underneath our cabins!


We set off early today to Kyambura Gorge – it is incredible. Hidden in the savannah is this huge gorge with a micro-climate like the rainforests in the mountains. Because it is deep down in a gorge it is called ‘an underground forest’.  Elephants, hippos, crocodiles and best of all – chimps, live here.




About 20 years ago this beautiful gorge was linked up to the tropical rainforests at one end and big troops of chimpanzees would travel up and down it in search of food. Then over time people cut down the tress and cut off the gorge from the Katsyoha-Kitomi forest in the mountains and the chimps in the gorge became trapped. The government of Uganda and others are trying to re-establish the trees so as to provide the chimps with a way to get back to the rain forest (and for others to visit the gorge) but for now they remain cut off in the gorge.



We headed into the gorge with our guide Stephen who told us all about the trees and the wildlife. After trekking for about an hour he heard something nobody else heard – a chimp fart! The chimp was high up in the tress eating figs and berries and we waited for him to come down.


While we were waiting we began to hear the other chimps far off in the gorge – so loud shouting and screaming and so did the chimp in the trees above us. He came scrambling down and headed off up the trails. We followed as we thought he would take us to the other chimp families but actually he was hiding from them and scared. We stayed with him for a while and then headed off in search of the others


We found the rest relaxing in the trees, eating berries and playing. The dominant male was missing – he’s called Brutus – but the next most dominant male was in charge. Like many of the other animals we have seen the chimpanzees had young ones as part of the group and they were a joy to watch


So after watching the guys for an hour or two we left the troop and left the park. What an amazing experience! One quick fact to take away – the long haired chimps of Kyambura Gorge share 98.76% of their genetic make-up with humans – do you know what that means? There is a code in all our cells in our body. All living things have it. For short it’s called DNA. Written in it is all the information about how we will look and how we will function. So, for example, DNA in humans tells our body what colour eyes to have, how tall you should be, tells your lungs how to work, and tells your heart how to function. The chimpanzees in Uganda have nearly exactly the same DNA as us humans! They even use tools such as cups made from fruit shells to bring water from the river to the baby chimps. This is a really interesting thing your teachers might be interested in explaining a bit more.




Thank you so much Anthony from everyone at Scoil Chaoimhín Naofa.  Your blog was an absolute pleasure to read.  You’ve really showcased how spectacular and vibrant this part of the world is.  It has brought home to all of us in the school the variety and breadth of the natural and cultural phenomena that constitute those amazing countries and the cultures therein.

Go raibh míle maith agat!