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Travel Review: Gorilla Trekking, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Posted on by Ricky in Everything | Leave a comment

Day 10 - Gorilla Trekking

I recently went to Kenya and Uganda for vacation. Part of the trip was to check out the great plains of Africa by sampling the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya. The second part, and the greater objective, was to go see the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. Having seen the movie King Kong once, this was a thrill of a lifetime. Also, they are highly endangered creatures and I thought it would be cool to see them before their inevitable extinction because humans are garbage.

I’ve seen a few guides as to what to do, and what to expect, so I figure I might as well add to this. Let’s tackle this from a Q and A perspective.

Why see the Gorillas?
The mountain gorilla is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. They live primarily in one particular mountain area in Eastern Africa. This area is comprised of three countries – Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The gorillas usually live in families of some number and are led by the silverback. These silverbacks are super strong and will definitely fuck you up if you piss them off. Anyways, the gorillas are highly endangered with roughly 800 or so living today. That’s a Bon Iver concert.

You might have heard of these animals in:
– The Netflix documentary Virunga
Gorillas in the Mist
– BBC Nature docs (David Attenborough’s encounters with Gorillas in 1978’s Life on Earth is an iconic moment)

Where can you see them?
Realistically, your best options are either Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (best name ever) or in Rwanda. DRC isn’t terribly safe right now, but neither is the US, so I guess pick your poison. Anyways, I chose Bwindi Impenetrable NP, and did it as part of a tour. When in Africa, it’s usually easier to just book a tour that will do all the work for you, leaving you with all the time to look for animals. I used Nomad Adventures and I enjoyed the services they provided, it’s my second time using them and I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. Typically you will land in either Kampala or Nairobi and make your way there. This park isn’t really in a very reachable location so prepare for a lot of driving. It’s all pretty driving though.

Is it expensive?
Yes – a permit to see the Gorillas for 1 hour is about 750 USD. On top of that, you will have to fly to East Africa, book a trip of some sort, get equipment and then yellow fever vaccinations. It all adds up but it’s the memories that are priceless (actually a few grand).

What actually happens on the trek
Here is a general itenary of what happens. The timings depend on where you stay. Most people will stay outside the national park near Lake Bunyonyi, which has nice lodges to chill out in while you are waiting your turn. If that is the case, as it was mine, here is your schedule:

The night before: You are assigned a Gorilla family – there are 13 families in the park that are used to humans, each family is assigned around 8-10 guests.

4:30 AM – You wake up and eat
5:00 AM or 5:30 AM – you get in your transport to go to the park
7:30 or 8:00 AM – you arrive at your designated launching spot
8:30 AM – you are briefed and meet your guide and then two other guys in the back with guns to protect you from elephants. you can also hire a porter for around 15-20 USD to carry your stuff. It’s good for the locals so if you have a heavy backpack you might want to consider this.
9:00 AM – ???? you hike.

Day 10 - Gorilla Trekking

Basically the trekking goes like this – in the morning before you have arrived, two trackers go out to find the gorilla families. They mostly know where the gorillas were the night before so they start from there. Once they find them, you basically go to where they are.

Hiking there involves a lot of hiking through thick vegetation up and down steepish mountains. The trails are mostly not so much trails as they are paths hacked by your guide as he takes the most direct path to the gorillas. It’s not terribly easy, but you will have a walking stick to help you and it’s kind of fun to trek like this. You’ll probably fall once or twice, but it’s generally a nice soft fall since you are going slow anyways.

Day 10 - Gorilla Trekking

The trek can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours depending on where your gorillas are.

Once you see the gorillas, you mostly follow them as they do the things for the next hour. You have strict instructions which you follow because the last thing you want is a pissed off silverback headed your way. These instructions are pretty simple

- do not eat or drink near the gorillas
– do not talk about the fight club
– do not have flash in the photos
– do not make prolonged eye contact with the silverback

When you reach the gorillas, it’s magical – you basically realize how tiny you are in this world and just marvel at these majestic animals as they go on about their daily lives. I mean, imagine if some random person flew halfway across the world, endured all kinds of shitty roads, woke up at the crack of dawn and hiked 5 hrs through a mountain and forest just to see you take a piss and watch Netflix. That’s essentially what we are doing, but it feels great.

Your hour ends pretty quickly and about 500 photos and crappy videos later, you hike back to camp.

What do I pack?
I’m going to skip what you need for a safari, instead, here I will put what is necessary.

- Water proof hiking boots
You are hiking in a mountainous rain forest, it’ll be wet and muddy, you definitely don’t want water in your shoes.

- Long socks
– Hiking pants that are light
– long sleeve UV protected hiking shirt

You are hiking through a dense forest with stinging plants and army ants. You need to expose as little skin as possible, as annoying it is, because it’s freaking hot. You are also in altitude so the sun is strong. Get UV protected clothes

- garden gloves
They will provide you with hiking stick, but you will be grabbing all the branches as you walk through mixed terrain. Sometimes you don’t even know where the bottom is, as all you see below you is vines. Grab a branch for balance. You want gloves in case you grab something that stings.

- sun hat
– sunglasses
– bandana (for sweat management)

- rain jacket
– rain pants
Don’t be dumb. It’ll rain if you don’t bring it, and you don’t want to be drenched for 7 hours.

- backpack to hold all that shit in.
It’ll be hot, get a real hiking backpack (with ventilation and pockets) and leave your Fjallraven backpack at home.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. One of life’s most unique adventures, and an opportunity to see one of our closest relatives in our animal kingdom. I always tell anyone I can that travelling to different parts of Africa is the best thing you can do on your travels, and I stand by that – beautiful land, amazing nature and great people you meet along the way. Highly recommend.

Roskilde Festival Review: Whores., Converge, Petrol Girls, July 6

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

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At one point relatively early on in the band’s set, Whores singer-guitarist Christian Lembach announced to the crowd that it would all be coming to an end soon. Seeing as how the band was barely even 20 minutes into their set, he clearly wasn’t talking about their show. No, he meant it was ALL coming to an end, as in the world and everything in it.

“Don’t you know the apocalypse is coming?” he asked the crowd before adding, “Thanks for coming out. If we’re all gonna die we may as well all party.” That may seem a little grim for a Saturday afternoon, but hey, you don’t really go to see noise rock bands for uplifting messages. Nevertheless, he’s got a point – you might as well party and there was something of a party atmosphere at their show with a small group enthusiastically moshing near the front of the stage. “Look at you animals all mixing it up,” said Lembach as he looked upon the pit approvingly. The band’s aggressive noise rock (I caught hints of Helmet, Unsane, Jesus Lizard and Melvins in their sound) definitely struck the right note for me on a day that got off to a mellow start, pushing me in the direction of many of the heavier acts on the bill for much of the rest of the day.

Hardcore veterans Converge put on one of the heaviest, most intense shows of the day during their set later that night on the Avalon Stage. I don’t think I’ve seen the band live since the early 2000s (possibly even since the Jane Doe tour … I am old) and was impressed to see the band (especially vocalist Jacob Bannon) hasn’t really lost any of the energy from those days.

As much as I was enjoying Converge’s set, I had to cut out early and make my way across to the other end of the festival grounds to check out London’s Petrol Girls, who also put on an intense show with a strong political edge. The band has a strong feminist message in their music and covers several other issues within their lyrics. Though they were playing a festival show, the band made it feel like a gig in some tiny punk club, building up an inclusive atmosphere and a safe space.

A powerful performance from a band that I hope to hear a lot more from in the future.

Roskilde Festival Review: Stella Donnelly, Sharon Van Etten, Søren Huss, Testament, July 4

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

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“Thank you for coming in here,” said Stella Donnelly at the outset of her early afternoon set on the Gloria Stage. “I was not expecting this many people and now I’m shitting my pants.”

While she may have been surprised and perhaps a bit intimidated by a larger crowd than expected, she ended up putting on a fantastic show regardless. In fact, her set ended up being the most memorable show out of the entire day’s lineup. Donnelly came across as charming and funny, both in her lyrics and her stage banter, while also dealing with serious issues in her songs. Highlights of her set included”You Owe Me,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” “Old Man” and “Seasons Greetings,” described by her as a song about spending Christmas Eve with racists. “Never done that intro before,” she added, wondering if it was perhaps a bit too harsh before ultimately deciding it was a “short and sweet” summation of the song. She ended things off by bringing her bandmates up to the front of the stage to sing along with her as she played a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” “I’ve got a special treat for you Roskilde,” she noted. “I’m gonna play it in tune. Didn’t do it at Glastonbury. Fuck ‘em.”

It’s not always the case that the first act up for the day ends up being the best thing you see all day, but it absolutely happened for me with Donnelly’s set on the most intimate stage at Roskilde. As it turns out, the intimate vibe and personal songwriting of Donnelly’s show set the tone for the day, with most of the best sets I saw coming from performers who could be classified as singer-songwriters.

Immediately after Donnelly, I wandered over to the Arena Stage to take in a set from Søren Huss, a well regarded Danish singer-songwriter best known for his time fronting ’90s Danish rock band Saybia. Of course, the fact that he sings in Danish and all his stage banter was in Danish meant I didn’t understand a damn word he said, but one doesn’t need to understand the language to appreciate the songcraft.

Speaking of good songs, Sharon Van Etten’s got more than her fair share of those in her repertoire and she played a good number of them, from earlier numbers like “One Day” to newer songs like “Seventeen” and “Comeback Kid” off of her latest Remind Me Tomorrow. The most memorable moment in her set however, came in the form of someone else’s song – a cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds” that, as Van Etten pointed out, is sadly all too relevant today decades after it was first released.

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Of course my day wasn’t devoted entirely to singer-songwriters and one of the other highlights of the day came from the heavier end of the musical spectrum in the form of Testament’s thrash metal (not to be confused with Donnelly’s debut EP Thrush Metal). The Bay area thrashers ran through a fun set full of tracks from throughout their career, including “Practice What You Preach,” “Electric Crown” and “Low,” which, according to vocalist Chuck Billy, may have made its European live debut at this show. Since the band was playing on the 4th Of July, they played in front of a version of their logo that incorporated an American flag to acknowledge their country’s birthday. That wasn’t the only birthday being acknowledged during their show though – Billy also led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to the band’s tour manager Nick.

And while we’re on the topic of birthdays, here’s a gift for everyone, even if it’s not your birthday: a video of Stella Donnelly’s “Beware Of The Dogs” recorded live at Roskilde. Enjoy!

Roskilde Festival Review: Bob Dylan, Christine and the Queens, Hatari, Fontaines DC, Jpegmafia, Ulver, July 3

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

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Not every festival has its own overarching theme, but Roskilde does, and the theme of this year’s Roskilde Festival (its 49th edition) was solidarity.

Inspired by young people around the world fighting to make the world a better place while also hearkening back to Roskilde’s origins in the ’70s youth movement, the Danish festival demonstrated that it’s about more than just a big party (though it is absolutely about that as well). This was reflected in the festival’s programming through the booking of several socially conscious artists such as Petrol Girls, Lankum, and Stella Donnelly and speakers like activist Saffiyah Khan as well as in the festival’s donations to various organizations such as Freemuse and Popkollo (selected as this year’s “orange donation” by Swedish rapper Silvana Imam who played the Orange stage on the first night of the fest).

In the words of spokeswoman Christina Bilde, “Roskilde Festival is a journey that lasts for eight days, a journey that can set you free and take you new places. We’re creating a space together where you can open up in a different way. The people you experience art or a talk with and the atmosphere you’re in, it’s something that combines to let you be inspired. You might not change your everyday life drastically afterwards, but if you’ve taken part actively, I believe that it inspires you to do things differently.”

That notion of bringing people together to share ideas and see things in new ways was evident in Christine And The Queens’ fantastic, energetic performance on the Arena stage with Chris speaking to the crowd about her shows being a safe space for anyone to be whoever they want to be. She later mentioned how it’s a safe space for her as well and that she often uses drama to become who she wants to be during the introduction to “iT.” That theme of reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be is a recurring one in Christine and The Queens’ work and it occurred to me that in a way, it’s something Chris has in common with another of the evening’s headliners – Bob Dylan.

I’m certainly not the first to say that Bob Dylan’s live shows in recent years can be a bit of a hit or miss affair, but the thing is, Bob Dylan has always been about subverting expectations. It’s been that way since he went electric at Newport and as Martin Scorsese’s recent Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story made clear, Dylan does what pleases him rather than just giving the audience what they want.

And while the experience of playing “name that tune” as the man croaks and growls his way through drastically revamped versions of the classics continues to be fairly standard for a Dylan concert, Dylan’s band is top notch and the constant tinkering with arrangements can sometimes yield great results, with “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Love Sick” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” standing out as particular highlights. Another highlight came when Dylan got up from behind his piano at the end of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, danced a sort of jig for a second, then posed like some kind of weird Elvis. It was kind of amazing. Having seen both great and well, not so great shows from Dylan, I went in with no expectations and the show turned out to be quite enjoyable. And judging by the smile on Dylan’s place, he seemed to be enjoying himself too. I’d wager that the always enthusiastic crowd at Roskilde probably played some part in his mood.

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Perhaps the most unique and memorable performance of the first night though came from Iceland’s Hatari, an S&M themed industrial band who have their hearts set on destroying capitalism and who were somehow the unlikely entry for their homeland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Not too many bands take to the stage following a pre-recorded manifesto, but then again. there’s not too many anti-capitalist, S&M-themed industrial bands out there. There probably only needs to be the one – Hatari have that area covered and they do what they do quite well.

Other impressive performances on this evening came from acts across various genres who illustrated the diversity within the festival’s lineup. From the Fall-esque post-punk of Fontaines DC and the confrontational hip hop of Jpegmafia to the ever evolving Ulver (who have now morphed into some mutant form of electro-pop far from their black metal origins), each of them take a different approach to their music, but like Bob Dylan, Hatari, and Christine And The Queens, they all understand the importance of image and attitude in cultivating a certain mood in their live show.