Hell’s Gate National Park

Hell’s Gate National Park got its name from the underground hot springs seeping through the park’s 40-kilometer-long gorge. The picturesque park served as inspiration for Disney’s The Lion King—think Pride Rock—and is very different from most of the parks we’ve visited so far. We were lucky to spend the day cycling through the park, enjoying the beautiful scenery, getting up close and personal with the wildlife, and even partaking in a little bit of rock climbing!

A dramatic late afternoon in Hell's Gate National Park.

The moon lingers over the cliffs in the morning.

Hell's Gate National Park used to be a drainage for Lake Naivasha, which carved deep canyons through the park's sedimentary bedrock.

A vervet monkey playing in a tree overlooking the gorge.

A trickling stream now runs through the gorge, but during heavy rains there's a constant risk of flash flooding.

Ants burrow into these umbrella acacia tree's thorns, causing them to whistle when the wind blows and giving the trees the nickname 'whistling acacias.'

Josh rock climbing in the park.

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Lake Bunyoni

Uganda is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Africa.  The dramatic countryside and peaked roofs (albeit corrugated tin instead of shingle) certainly feel European—nowhere more so than Lake Bunyoni.  But a very… noticeable difference between Lake Bunyoni and the lakes of Switzerland is a certain community living on its shores.

Beautiful Lake Bunyoni.

Houses nestled on the steep shores of the lake.

Cormorants roost in a tree on 'Punishment Island,' the smallest of 29 islands on the lake.

When the mountain forests of Uganda became national parks to protect the unique environments and endangered gorillas living within them, the native pygmies living in the forests were forced to leave. Having lived subsistence lifestyles for thousands of years, the pygmies have had a hard time adjusting to modern society and are reduced to living marginal lives on small plots of land and surviving largely off of handouts from the local communities. The elders of the pygmy village that we visited have acquired their own unique style...

The traditional pygmy style of greeting is dance: upon our arrival the whole village got into the groove, young and old.

A pygmy woman greets us with traditional dance.

After dancing their greetings, the pygmies insisted that we reply in the same fashion. Naturally, Mads taught them a few moves.

Even the pygmy children get involved in the greetings.

 

Roadside Fruit Market

The produce in Uganda and Rwanda is bright, beautiful and delicious due to the region’s  luscious rain-forrest climate. We stopped one morning at a road-side market to stock up on all the essentials—pineapple, mangos, passion fruit, bananas and oranges!

Amazingly fresh fruit.

This girl was glad to strike a pose.

There are more than 20 varieties of bananas in Africa. We're working on trying them all!

A young boy working the stand.

Land of a Thousand Hills

The people of Rwanda refer to their country fondly as the Land of a Thousand Hills.  The lush, rolling countryside is a sight to behold, and the peaks and valleys formed by volcanic activity are home to tea plantations, native forest, and deep, placid lakes.

The rolling hills of Rwanda.

Rwanda's beautiful landscape was formed largely by volcanic activity. Active volcanoes line the border between Rwanda and DR of Congo.

A lightning storm over Lake Kivu.

Sunrise over Lake Kivu.

Locals take a morning swim in Lake Kivu.

Gorillas in the Rain

One of the most anticipated experiences of our trip has been trekking through the hills of Rwanda to see mountain gorillas.  The only existing population of mountain gorillas in the world lives in the Virunga volcanic mountains, which straddle Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with less than 800 remaining individuals.  Due to the low population size, the endemic nature of the species, and the destruction of their natural habitat due to encroaching human communities, national parks have been established in all three countries to protect these rare animals.

As could only be expected, it rained the day before our trek, making the mountainous trails through bamboo forest muddy and horrible.. it also happened to start raining almost like clockwork as our one-hour viewing period began.  To reduce impact from tourism, only a single group of eight tourists is allowed to view a gorilla family for one hour each day, and gorillas tend to shy away from rain—so we had to get in quickly before the gorillas disappeared and we missed our chance of seeing them.  Luckily, the family of 13 that we were visiting weren’t too bothered by the rain and stuck around while we took some wet photos.

Charles, the silverback of this particular family group, munches on bamboo as it starts to drizzle. A few minutes later, in a display of dominance, Charles did a mock-charge, beating his chest, running towards our small group and throwing himself ferociously on the ground. Our ranger insisted that we stand our ground so that Charles would not gain confidence and attack.

A female mountain gorilla curls up with her chilly baby in the rain.

An immature, or black-back, male pops out of the surrounding bush to take a look at us.

A two-month-old baby hitches a ride on his mother's back. Mountain gorillas have remarkably human-like qualities, but still retain their primal, wild attributes.

Mud, Mud, Mud and a Safari

After six weeks of desert-like climate in northern Africa, we nearly forgot about this little thing called “rain.” We were, however, reminded the moment we crossed into Kenya, where it rained for days on end (Locals were saying it was the most rain they’d seen in five generations!) The primitive Kenya roads simply couldn’t handle all the water and we were stuck in the mud in the middle-of-nowhere, Kenya for three days. Although Josh had the pleasure of spending his 23rd birthday helping to push our bogged truck out the muck, we had a proper celebration when we finally made it to the town of Nakuru for a game drive in Lake Nakuru National Park.

Lioness in her natural habitat.

Zebras grazing.

This water buffalo isn't messing around.

Pelicans and pink flamingos flanked Lake Nakuru.

A leopard sighting makes for one lucky game drive—we saw two!

This beautiful lioness is one of the fifteen lions we saw (the morning of the game drive, our guide informed us that there are only fourteen in the park...). Check out her leg muscles!

A baby baboon hitches a piggy-back ride from its mother.

You would think that their zany stripes would make zebras highly conspicuous, but it was pretty amazing how they are camouflaged in the tall, dry grass.

The endangered Rothschild giraffe munches on its favorite treat—yellow-bark acacia.

Lion scanning the horizon.

White rhinos look massive in photos, in person they're even more astounding. Most of the rhinos we spotted were in herds of eight to ten—this solitary rhino was a rare sighting.

A lion and its cub lounge about lazily during the hot Kenyan afternoon. We were so lucky as to see four different lion families throughout the day!