Day 7

24 October 2014, Friday

Lake Mburo National Park to Entebbe, approx 244 kilometers. 6 hours.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERALast to crawl out of his tent is Ed with the simple Our carcomment “I know how Pierre thinks, and I am heading straight to tonight’s hotel.” He is referring to the high likelihood that the final night’s hotel will be rather comfortable. But first, we all have to be at the ranger station by 7 am for a 2 to 3 hour hike in the park.

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The rangers split up the gang into 5 smaller groups so as not to spook the wildlife. The hike is not as rough as the chimp hike in the rainforest, but very cool as zebra, eland, buffalo, warthogs, kudu, waterbuck and crested cranes are spotted. Luckily no snakes today. The great thing about the nature hike was the rangers’ great knowledge of the animals. It was really nice to hike along and learn so many details of the animals we were seeing.

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After the hike, we enjoy a quick breakfast by the lake and headed out on our final 244 kilometers of the Challenge. We have a long list of items to gain Challenge points. And as mentioned, Ed is having none of it. However, today I will be riding with James Choi and SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERATerry. To my immediate chagrin, as I am about to get in their car, they announce to me we will be hitting each and every Challenge point. Ed and Jim have already left for the comforts of the hotel, and it is too late to change cars! I am thinking this is going to be a long day in the back of the car, bumping along with no one to blame but myself as I am the one who came up with the challenges.

Within minutes, I am surprised at the teamwork between James and Terry, two very different personalities, and how pleasant it is to be with them on our “treasure” hunt. They are having fun, but are serious about their strategy to find and photograph the various signs in the park as well as wildlife. In order not to get too lost on the different t

DSC_0362racks, they actually employ a compass. This is turning into great fun. And lo and behold, 15 minutes into our trek, a hippo dashes across the road in front of us in broad daylight. It must have gotten caught out when the sun rose and took refuge in a mud hole. We must have startled it and it made a run for it right in front of us. We follow it for a bit just as surprised as the hippo must have been. He does quickly stop and give us the eye to let us know to stop following him. We oblige.

We finally get enough points and head out of the park. We are heading to a first class hotel on the outskirts of Kampala and technically in Entebbe. We take the short cut at Mpigi and from there on it is a lot of guess work as well as driving by compass. The roads are awful and there are absolutely no signs to the hotel. It is the kind of hotel where one does not drive themselves and thus signs are not necessary. Terry and James ask lots of folks and continue to use the compass. Amazingly, we make it to the Serena Lake Victoria with very few wrong turns. It did take 3 hours from Mpigi, but somehow we are the first to arrive. I IMG_3365laugh at myself for doubting these guys for being meticulous.

One of the challenges for today was to be photographed with a police officer. This is harder to do than one thinks DSC_0411as the police do not want to be photographed. Thus, getting such a photo involves some convincing. I am surprised to see that a few folks actually got the photos. One of our participants, who shall remain nameless, actually left her driver’s license at home. She happened to be driving when IMG_4276they pulled over for the photo, was asked for her driver’s license and was fined! Seems when going on a driving trip in a foreign country a driver’s license is required. A smile and a passport just does not add up to being able to drive. Actually, her team mate would debate whether the actual driver’s license means anything at all given his description of near-death experiences with her at the wheel on the broken roads of Uganda.

Uganda - Rwanda 256Team Poli Poli 2014 are lucky enough to ask a marathon runner out for a training run for directions…he simply tells them to follow him!…given the roads to the hotel are so bad, the runThe fish barners pace is just about right. The hotel is amazingly difficult to find, but it is beautiful and a complete sense of relief to each team as they drive through the gates.

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Unfortunately, our intrepid Jim and Ed have a breakdown…their fan belt is completely mangled and unrecognizable. As Martha and Guy had stopped to “help” Jim and Ed with the fan belt, both teams Help Help Me Rwanda and U-Gan-Da Wrong Way are way behind. They rightfully decide to follow our fantastic

ed and fan beltmechanics, Shaban and Ali to the hotel…it is getting late, and as I mentioned the hotel is hard to find in the best of conditions…I think they deserve a pass on this one.

The next day, I tally the final scores. There is a large spread, but it is great how well everyone did in tracking and winning points. We had intentionally slowed the Challenge down this year so as not to make it a race. In spite of everyone’s concerns of disease, terrorism and poisonous snakes, the greatest danger to us and those around us is a simple traffic accident. It is great to see everyone arrived safe and sound. That said, we still have some winners: In third place, Tim and Vivian in Poli Poli 2014 with 64 points. They were just beat out for second place by Shad and Josh of Photon Cultivators with 66 points. And if I had not witnessed their teamwork and strategy first hand today, I would have been shocked to learn of the first place finishers. They were a great team and brought in 70 points. Terry and James of Fish Called Wanda won the Northland Challenge 2014.

Congratulations to them and all of the participants!

Day 6

23 October 2014, Thursday

Ruhengeri, Rwanda to Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda, approx 305 kilometers. 9 hours, including border crossing.

Although the teams get going early as we have a long road, border crossing and need to set up camp at the other end, Guy, Martha and I stay behind. Guy and Martha are helping with logistics while I go with Francois and Gregoire to visit the office/store of Dassy Electric. They are still in awe of the fact we were able to get the panels installed and the lights on yesterday. In addition, Jim and I were working with Francois to put together a cash flow analysis for hundred homes Dassy will be installing thanks to our fundraising. We wantTRA_8028 to make sure these homes will form the foundation for a “utility” revenue/profit stream that will fund the installation of another 600 homes over the coming years. We estimated there are 1,000 homes in the Janja vicinity. 100 of which have enough resources to pay for their own 70 or 100 Watt solar array, and another 200 which would be able to afford a 20 to 50 Watt array on their own. Thus leaving a total of 700 that would be too poor afford any system outright. Given our 100 “starter” solar homes, we want to ensure Dassy has a plan to ensure power to the remaining 600 homes. We think we have a plan and will be working with Francois to get there.

Meanwhile, Guy is at the bank trying to change a large amount of money for me so that we can pay the hotel. For some mysterious reasons it takes him over an hour of waiting in line. He finally shows up with a paper bag stuffed with local currency. We are in too much of a hurry to get going to see the humor in all of this. Great thing I discover after a short bit of time is that Guy is a great driver under these conditions, and we are not too far behind schedule. I was suspicious as the only stories I had heard till now is how they got lost on the first day in spite of excellent directions from locals.

We breeze through the border crossing, take on some windy roads through the mountains, and hit the flatlands. The roads are greatly improved since I was here last, but we finally hit what the teams call the ribbon road. There is a narrow ribbon of pavement in the middle of the road that takes up one third of the road, the edges are thrashed and bound on each side by another third of severely potholed dirt. Of course, the trick is to drive off the ribbon when confronted by an oncoming truck, negotiate the potholes, bicycles, pedestrians and motorcycles, before popping back on the ribbon. When we see Paul later in the day, he is a bit hysterical from the experience of Kirsten passing slow moving cars on the ribbon road. They survived, but just. However, as they seem to have a faster car, they were also playing with the other teams. Zipping by them, only to pull over somewhere, and then zip by them again over and over again. A bit of taunting.Bakery Stop

A bit of revenge given that Terry and Rob had unplugged a couple of spark plugs on Kirsten and Paul’s car at the border. Terry was baffled that they would leave their car unlocked and figured he would play with them. Paul was wondering why Rob shouted “good luck” when Rob pulled away from the border. That got Paul a bit nervous, and had him muttering that they wouldn’t have done anything to the car. A bit unsportsmanlike. But as they got going, the car sounded off. Paul was a bit frantic and pulled over to look under the bonnet (hood). After a few moments of searching, he saw the loose cables and reattached them. They were back on the road to resume their taunting of the other teams.

IMG_4192Otherwise, the day was fairly uneventful with the exception of a few flats and Shad and Josh completely breaking off their already broken muffler. Ali and Shaban our team of mechanics in the chase car had developed a fuel leak. Luckily it was with their car and they knew what they were doing.

Our destination is a campsite along Lake Mburo in a national park. Little does everyone know that once they pass the gates, they will encounter large numbers of IMG_4216zebra. The long road is instantly forgotten. Even more fun is the fact our campsite is home to five or six warthogs. We have to set up our tents amidst grazing and snorting warthogs, as well as the now familiar sound of snorting hippos in the lake.

There are a number of aspects to the Challenge, and team-building is one of them. Chimps, camping, hippos, remote villages and solar panels, and more camping is one heck of a way to bring people together. We have gotten to know and appreciate each other quite well. In a world where we often, even mostly, relate to each other virtually, it is great to have gotten to know each in person. Our clients, suppliers and internal teams work across the globe, and the openness the Challenge fosters is essential to our understanding of other cultures, organizations and ways of communicating. That understanding will serve us and our community well in getting projects done anywhere anytime.

Day 5

22 October 2014, Wednesday

Day 5. Service Day at Kivune Primary School in Janja Province, Rwanda.

TRA_7609Yesterday we were in awe of the kids scrambling up and down the steep paths carved out of the mountainside. Today it is our turn. At 11 am, we all find ourselves out of breath, slipping and sliding on a muddy path in a remote part of Rwanda. We have been at it since 10:30 am, and still have another half hour to go. And we are not sure if that is a real half hour or an eTRA_7462stimated one.

Our day started with us in our cars and ready to go at 8 am for what was to be a one hour drive to the school. Two hours later, we pull into a courtyard, where we are greeted by a dance troupe to welcome us to Janja.

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it is a wonderful and much appreciated welcome, but now it is 10:30 am and we are all wondering “where is the school?” We had expeTRA_7570cted to be working by now. However, we are told the road is washed out and are asked if we are willing to hike 4 kms to the school.

TRA_7606Well, of course we are!  And that is how we happen to find ourselves perched precariously on the side of a hill with no school in site.

At 11:30 am we are ecstatic to break out into a clearing with the school in site. The kids are all running around and greeting us. Gregoire representing Firelight on the ground and TRA_7656Francois with Dassy Electric have climbed the path with us. They introduce us to the school director and some staff. We then walk over to another building where we see one of Dassy’s technicians hammering together some sticks into a twelve foot ladder. AlTRA_7684though we have seen all sorts of things on the back of motorcycles, including full size beds, it seems carrying a twelve foot ladder all that way would be absurd. Thus, making a ladder on site makes all the sense in the world. Or would it be more absurd to actually climb up a twelve footer ladder that was just hammered together a few minutes ago? Not at all…we were thankful for that ladder and used it all day long!

To get things started, we get the management types out of the way, and have our technical guys talk to their technical guys, Fidel, Antoine, Vincent and Maurice. They have brought and laid out the solar equipment, mounts and cabling we will need. Vivian coordinates the unpacking of the supplies she acquired in the states, including two heavy-duty drills, spare batteries, chargers (to be used in town) and lots of anchoring equipment. Half of TRA_7718the anchoring equipment was donated at the last minute last Friday by Sean and Dave of Service Warehouse when they found out what it was for. 

The combined Dassy / Northland technicians figure out what needs to be done, put a plan together, and put the rest of us to work: digging a hole for the grounding rod, hammering panels onto the roof, setting up the control panel, wiring the buildings, installing junction boxes, light switches and light sockets. It seems simple, but we only just got there at 11:30 when we expected to have been deepTRA_7695 into it by 9:30. We have a full day ahead of us.

While some preparations are underway, Charles leads some of the kids a round of the hoke poke. After that, TRA_7957Sebastian pulls out one of the dozen football (soccer) balls we brought (with pump and needles) and starts to kick it around with the kids. We are guessing they have never had a fully pumped ball before because they seem shocked at how high and far the ball goes when they kick it. When Sherwin sees them joyously kick arouTRA_7912nd the football (soccer ball), he pulls out the American football he brought.  He, Guy, Joseph and Sebastian start to show them how to throw the weirdly shaped ball around, and they love it. While the Americans continue to train the kids, SebTRA_7900astian organizes a football (soccer) game.

 

TRA_7663Meanwhile, the preparations are winding down, and the real work begins. There is no way we will finish today.

TRA_7733It is decided that the four Dassy technicians will each lead a team. After a very short time, they realize our guys are not just a bunch of bozos and know what they are doing. The feeling is mutual and we are impressed by their experience and workmanship.

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We break out into even more teams. The work progresses quickly, but I know we don’t want to be scrambling down the path in the dark. We are willing to drive in the dark, but the path isTRA_7839 too dangerous for us foreigners once the sun sets and the mountainous shadows take over. We will need to cut it off at 5:30 pm and let the local techs finish off the work during the remainder of the week. Around 2:30 pm, the work is progressing nicely, but a torrential thunderstorm is upon us and a few of us know the narrow path back to the cars has turned into a rushing, muddy stream. We will need to go the long way around on the washed out road. We decide we will have to cut off the work at 5:00 pm.

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It is amazing work! The extremely remote setting, the energy of the kids and the meaning of the project are inspiring. As we make more progress, we seem to get even more energized and do more. Everyone is pitching in. As time ticks by, folks are working even harder and faster.TRA_7827

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Around 4:20 pm, the guys think they have it. They flip the circuit breaker. Nothing. They play with switches on the panel. Nothing. They start to talk about spending the night in the classrooms till they figure this out. A bunch of different guys have a go at the switches to no avail. And then, around 4:45 pm, Cesar notices the on/off button on the inverter, pushes it and asks Rob to flip the breaker. The lights come on in the main building. A huge roar from the crowd!

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In addition to the main building with offices and classrooms, there are two more classroom buildings. By 5 pm we have wired up one of the other buildings. The Dassy technicians will need to come back to finish the third building as well as run the main power line from the main building. They will easily finish up in the next day or two.

Several hundred friends, family and colleagues have donated generously over the past 6 months to make this happen. This is the highlight of the trip, I think of all the people who have talked about this project, donated time and money, and helped coordinate it. I am deeply thankful to all of them. If they could only be here to see what they have helped accomplish. The kids and teachers cannot believe their good fortune. Little do they know how much they have given us by being a part of this project.

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As we start hiking back to the cars at 5:30 pm, there is an incredible feeling of having accomplished something special. Although it is quickly getting dark, the conversations are relaxed. I hear from Francois and Gregoire say they never expected to have the lights on today and are coTRA_8081mpletely amazed by our willingness to jump in and get to work. While talking to the Dassy techs, they tell me how much fun they had working with our team. I heard later from our guys that they were making plans to bed down in the classrooms for the night as they were not going to leave until they got the system up and running. They were having so much fTRA_8091un and felt so good about the project, they had to make sure the system was working properly.

By 7:00 pm we arrive back at our cars and are ready for the 2 hour drive back to the hotel. However, the local government representative, chief of police and parish priest want to thank us. We are brought to a café in Janja and treated to kebabs and beer. With lots of cheers and speeches, we have a small celebration.

Day 4

21 October 2014, Tuesday

Ishasha to Ruhengeri, Rwanda, approx 189 kilometers. 8 hours, including border crossing. Note border crossing is at Cyanika, Uganda.

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A hippo bellowing near our tents just before dawn is our alarm clock. Nearby hippos responding to the call gets some of us to stir out of our sleep a bit more. The massive thunder clap seemingly overhead startles awake everyone else. The ensuing downpour has half the gang scrambling to pack up before they float away, a

IMG_4018nd the other half hunkering down in their warm dry tent. The storm breaks after an hour, and we are able to pack up our wet gear and hit the road.

IMG_4032As we are to cross a fairly mountainous region with bad roads, we break up into groups of 3 to 4 cars. Our group takes ten hours to reach Ruhengeri in Rwanda, but are surprised by the number as the drive went by quickly. It was extraordinarily beautiful and varied.

For a good stretch of the road, we passed through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home of the gorilla. The forest is absolutely beautiful, and I know some of folks are making plans to come back some day to spend a day tracking gorillas.

As we break out of the forest, the same mountainous IMG_4296terrain is now covered by terraced farming covering entire hills and mountains. We are amazed as we watch locals perched at steep angles working the land. We are more amazed at the kids scrambling down sheer hills at ridiculous speeds to shout out “hellos” and “how are you” at us. We assume they will then effortlessly climb back up to where they were when we pass by. An effort that would likely leave us lying flat on the ground gasping for air.

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We arrive at the Uganda / Rwanda border with little incident. There is a confusing trio of offices we must navigate in order to get through, but as we are the last set of cars to come through, they officials seem to have it down and know what we are about to say. We first have to go to the Uganda Police Office (a one desk hut), who look at our passports and fills something out. He gives each driver a piece of paper. We all then walk across the “highway” to the Uganda Customs Office, where each driver presents registration and insurance documents for the cars. The customs officer looks at the police piece of paper, and gives the driver another piece of paper. We then go back to the police station, present the customs documents and get a very small piece of paper with some handwriting on it. We then proceed to the border barrier. Once we hand over the very small piece of paper with handwriting on it, the barrier goes up, and we are through. Fifty meters ahead, we are asked to park our car in front of the Rwanda border barrier, leave the car there in “no-man’s-land”, and proceed forward on foot.

Our temperature is taken to ensure we do not have a fever before we can cross over into Rwanda. The driver, Sebastian in my case, then walks into the Rwanda Police Hut with the automobile documents, while the rest of us proceed to passport control and TRA_1769immigration. In a great effort of improved efficiency, we discover that Uganda emigration and Rwanda immigration are located side-by-side. I was wondering when we were going to get our exit stamp from Uganda. In any case, we fill out an exit card and an entry card. The process is relatively quick and painless. A few of our folks, looking like the Muzangas (lost and confused foreigners)  that we are, are gently pushed aside by a local who figures they need to jump in front of us to avoid a long delay.

As we arrive at the hotel, we are greeted by Gregoire who has helped us organize the next day’s solar project at the Kovani elementary school in the Janja district. We need to be in our cars at 8 am for the one hour drive to the school. We want to get started on the project by 9 am. Having started the day before dawn in a torrential downpour, followed by a long drive, has us pretty exhausted. Still, I am surprised when everyone retires early to get plenty of sleep for the following day’s activity.

By the way, each day has us completed a number of tasks such as finding landmarks, getting photos together with locals, photos of wildlife or recovering from a misadventure. Not much of a surprise, Shaka Zulu is dead last and is followed by U-Gan-Da Wrong Way. Leading the Challenge is Team Help Help Me Rwanda followed by Fish Called Rwanda and Haraka.

It seems that James C and Jim C switched teams yesterday after they figured they had already spent 2 days in the other’s car. This was due to the difference in arrival times of flights on day 1. In any case, seems Jim got the short end of the stick point-wise by being on Team U-Gan-Da. Whereas James has a shot at the title with Fish.

Day 3

20 October 2014, Monday

Queen Elizabeth National Park to Ishasha, approx 103 kilometers. 2 hours, but up to 6 hours with morning Game Drive.

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The thrill of the safari. Stories of elephants charging and lions has Photon Cultivators, Shad and Josh, up before dawn and on the road by 6 am…”if the park gate is not open when we get there, it doesn’t matter, we will just wait.” A few other teams are not far behind. Many others had such a great couple of days, they have a leisurely breakfast and head out around 8 am.

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Shad and Josh find plenty of elephants, but no lions. They are the only team to spot a hyena, and almost swarmed by a community of mongoose. George and Eric stumble upon the same elephant family as Tim and Vivian, and are also threatened by mama elephant. Video to come. All of us see plenty of game throughout the day. And are mesmerized by the beauty of the savannTRA_7252ah.

We all trickle into Camp Site 1 at Ishasha. The campsite is on the river with lots of hippos snorting and calling to each other, with the occasional fight. 100 meters away, on the other bank of the river, is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ed has a huge inflatable mattress for his sleeping comfort, and we threaten to put him on it and push him across to the Congo.

TRA_7223We set up our tents, and settle in. Tim, Vivian and Terry help me prepare dinner. We boil water, measure as carefully as we can with plastic cups and pour intoTRA_7319 bags of prepared meals we brought from REI (recreational equipment corp) in the states. On the menu is Beef Stroganoff, Lasagna and Mac & Cheese. It is delicious, and Terry is a great host to all the guest.

Just after dark, as we were lounging around the fire, we see the guard running with a flashlight seeming to be shooing something away. A hippo has come out of the water and is crossing through our campsite. The shooing does not do much good, and the hippo trundles along casually. An amazing sight that caps our day.

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Day 2

19 October 2014, Sunday

Kibale National Forest to Queen Elizabeth National Park, approx 133 kilometers. Up to 4 hours.

TRA_7119After breakfast, Teams Haraka, Poli Poli 2014, Photon Cultivators, KC Enginerds and Solar

TRA_7133Bear who had seen the chimps yesterday headed off to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QUNP). The rest of us, walked down to the visitor center to register and get debriefed on our morning trek. We split up into three small groups of 5 or 6 and headed out. Luckily it was not raining and we encountered a few chimps who were very high up in a massive “fig” tree eating fruit, and dropping the remnants down around us.TRA_7171

This went on for some time before we started to hike through the underbrush in the muddy and hilly terrain. While hiking we could hear the chimps calling loudly to each other high up in the trees. Evidently, once they were done eating, they would come down, run across the ground and run back up. At one point, two females came down within 10 meters of us, screaming at each other and seemingly beating each other, before one ran back up. A few minutes later another chimp camp down, ran straight at me, and swerved at the last minute having come within a few inches of me. It then ran right through Ed, Joseph and Andre. Seeing its huge arms and muscular body as it approached was frightenTRA_7150ing! Ed, Joseph and Andre had a good laugh at the expression on my face as I turned away from the chimp.

Everyone on the trek have stories of close encounters with the chimp. We quickly forgot the ardous and sweaty hike given the exhilaration we felt.

 

 

 

Only 130 kilometers away, TOTO, Northern Lights and Hakuna Matata were driving in a small convoy through the east side of QENP. While Cesar and Amanda de20141019_173610bated rolling up the windows while watching lions they had found only 10 to 20 meters away,  Andre offered to take Joseph’s picture…they both got out of the car so that they could get a “better” picture. Cesar, Amanda, Drew and Echo were stunned.

In Terry’s word, who was in a different part of the park with James C, “there is no way you are getting me out of the car.” This was after James K and Sherwin were driving in the lead, and a black mamba raised its head straight up two feet off the ground and flared its head cobra-like. It happened so quickly and was so startling, Rob, Charles, Terry and James figured there is no way to know where a black mamba or any other snake might be.

Meanwhile, Tim and Vivian had found a couple of baby elephants. They were admiriP1010506ng them and taking pictures, when the mamas showed up. As the car was between them and the babies, the elephants were not too pleased. One of the mama elephants stood in front of the car, stomping its foot, flapping its ears and making a low rumbling sound. It was moving its head back and forth, swinging its trunk over the car’s hood, with the end of the trunk just inches from the windshield. In Tim’s words, they were terrified. These large mother elephants, with their tusks gleaming, flapping ears and swaying heads were angry.

After a long while, the elephants finally walked away. At this point, Vivian and Tim are looking all around the car to make sure there are no other baby or mother elephants around. They don’t see any, but they do see a male elephant 100 meters away stomping its foot. As they spot the male, he starts to charge toward the car…Tim hits the accelerator, bumping along the very rough track as fast as he can get the little Rav4 to go for several hundred meters before the chase ends.

Ten minutes later, their hearts are still racing when they recount their story to Shad and George who are also on the same game track. Shad and George drive off to find other elephants at a safe distance as well as some hippos in the river. While stopped, Tim and Vivian did not notice that one of their tires was slowly going flat, probably due to the frantic dash down the very rough roads. Tim is not too pleased about having to get out of the car. He P1010519does not even know about the black mambas. Luckily, George and Eric are a ways away, but close enough to see Tim wave them down. The perfect guys to flag down as Eric and George have experience changing the tire on the Rav4s.

 

Seeing lions, elephants, mambas, hippos and lots of other animals close up and without a guide is exhilarating. In spite of the rough roads and time at the mechanics (oil leaks and blown tires), not knowing what will happen next and how we will react to it is a powerful experience.

Day 1

18 October 2014, Saturday

Entebbe to Kibale National Forest, approximately 356 kilometers. Up to 8 hours.

Teams Haraka, Poli Poli 2014, Photon Cultivators, KC Enginerds and Solar Bear are hustling through the underbrush of the rain forest in a downpour trying to keep up with their cheerful guides. It is 5:30 pm and everyone is out of breath at the so-far two-hour exertion in the darkening gloom. They were told earlier they had to start getting out of the rainforest by 6 pm as sunset is at 6:30. The gang is wet and tired, wheIMG_1083n one of the guides points upward. In the top of the trees, they can just make out a family of chimpanzees. It is nice, but as it is raining, the chimps are unlikely to come down. While Vivian is craning her neck looking upward, she hears “Viv, Viv” from the others. She looks down and just in front of her is chimp. Very quickly our group is surrounded by a dozen chimps who alternately stare at our gang and ignore them. The rain subsides and a mist starts to rise from the forest floor. The two groups, chimps and humans, begin to casually walk side-by-side through the mist. It is awesome.

By the time the hikers get back to the lodge at almost 7 pm, the other teams have arrived. As only a small number of people can go on a chimp hike at a time, we had to break up into two large groups. Group 1 left at 7:15 am and Group 2 at 10:15 am. The 2nd group was chosen to leave later as many of them had landed from the USA less than 12 hours before. Group 1 also included KP Rav4 and Shaka Zulu who got so lost en route, they missed the hike todaTRA_7017y. Funnily, this includes Shaka Zulu who were the first to leave the gates of the hotel in Entebbe at 7:15 that morning. This is even funnier as Eric was on the preview trip and should have had a better idea than anyone where he was going! Even worse, Eric and George arrived after everyone from Group 2 had already arrived.

 

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To be fair, George and Eric did have a tire blowout, and had to spend some time replacing it, with much assistance and advice from local bystanders. Nonetheless, the fact they also ignored helpful local instructions as to where they were on a map and continued to go in the wrong direction toward a different national park had nothing to do with the blowout!

IMG_0796They only realized they were in the wrong place when they were completely out of the forest and looking at savannah. Eric knowing he was supposed to end up at the Primate Lodge in the midst of a rainforest said “oops.” George explained to me later that regardless of being so lost, he would not have given up the experience as they spent so much time stopping and laughing with the locals and at each other. Kirsten and Paul, who were also lost for quite some time, agreed.

In Group 2, Teams A Fish Called Rwanda, Northern Lights, TOTO, U-Gan-Da Wrong Way, Hakuna Matata and Help Help Me Rwanda had more time as we are to go on our hike tomorrow. One of our participants had to drop out at the last minute, and I was left the odd man out…so I joined U-Gan-Da Wrong Way, and will hop from car to car for the rest of the week. Today was a long stretch of tarmac (paved road) to get to the western side of Uganda where we will spend most of our time before popping into Rwanda mid-week. it being a Saturday the traffic was not too bad from Entebbe to Kampala, and then opened up completely from Kampala to Kibale National Forest.

Help Help Me Rwanda with Guy and Martha were the only team to get more lost than others from Group 2…mostly because Guy refused to believe the locals, who correctly pointed out his actual locatDSC01304ion on the map. He laughed at himself as one of the points of this exercise it to work with locals to get help and find our way without GPS. Still, they only arrived 45 minutes after the rest of us, and got here before Shaka Zulu from Group 1.

Team Toto had the greatest misadventure of the day when they accidentally tapped the rear fender of a motorcycle and sent it skidding. The two passengers were unhurt, but Drew and Echo were quite shaken. As they were negotiating with the bikers, Northern Lights was driving by and noticed a crowd gathering around. Amanda and James stopped to help. Lots of calls with our chase vehicle mechanics, some cash and a ride to the hospital for one of the bikers (he was unhurt, but Drew and Echo were being extra cautious), and everyone was back on their way.

Their mood was lightened as they caught up with us, encountered some baboons and saw that we were only 30 minutes from the end of a log 7 hour drive. I had to laugh as we pulled over to see Andre and Joseph walking through some brush to peer into the rain TRA_7117forest looking for what might have been a white colobus monkey they had seen. I was laughing as we had just seen a bunch of baboons and I could only think of the frantic hustle back to the car in case one showed up. In any case, Jim, Ed, Echo, Drew and I joined them to no avail. No white colobus monkey today.

We have taken over the small Primate Lodge in Kibale National Forest, and the staff have been really nice. One of the cooks started a small group of dancers with local folks. Taking the lead from a very energetic troupe leader, James, Sebastian and Eric got into it and kept pace with the very fast-moving dancers. So much so and for so long, the entire hotel staff came out to watch and laugh.

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One Week To Go

We have 27 excited participants with inoculations, visas and tickets in hand. By this time next week, we will be in Uganda to begin the 2014 Northland Challenge.

I am proud of our participants and all their supporters. To date, we have raised $40,000! $30,000 from our participants’ online campaign on CrowdRise, plus $10,000 more from Northland. We are very hopeful we will reach our overall goal of $50,000.

The Firelight Foundation has contracted the solar installation company in Rwanda to proceed with purchasing the materials for the solar project at the school and some of the homes. This is the first step in the virtual cycle of eventually providing electricity to entire community of 20,000 people. By working with a local provider of solar panels, we are helping to create a sustainable business model in the region. The company already has some staff, but this will enable them to hire and train a few more, while starting to charge a “utility rate” to the clients. The ensuing revenue will then be able to further fund solar panels for more homes in the region. The “utility rate” is based on the replacement cost of the kerosene the households will no longer need. We are excited about participating in this virtuous cycle, and being on hand to help install the panels at the school.

10 Weeks to Go

All of us participating in the Northland Challenge this year are pretty excited as well as a bit nervous. We are excited to learn more about Uganda and Rwanda, and to contribute to a good cause. I recently got back from a family trip to the area, andMosanze 20140626 took some time to check in with Gregoire, who is coordinating our solar panel project and will be our “auditor” on the ground.  We are going to fund the project through a local solar supply and installation company. However, I was looking to assure the company had a strategy to sustain its operation beyond this initial stage. By our providing capital to launch 50 to 100 homes, the local company will charge a “utility rate” equivalent to the kerosene that would have been expended. With this cash flow, they will then be able to provide additional solar panels to other homes, thus increasing the customer base of its “utility rate”. Over time, this base will be self-sustaining and will not only fund additional homes, but also ongoing service and support. Our hope is our effort to provide power to these initial homes will eventually LEDD 20140627result in all 20,000 residents of this region having some electricity.

I also spent 5 days at Les Enfants de Dieu. A truly amazing place, that is actually run by the kids. All of them were living on the streets at some point. I was expecting somewhat cynical and hardenTRA_1967ed kids, but was amazed at how open and kind they are with each other and strangers. I have studied a lot of business strategies and psychology, and some of these 15, 16 and 17 year olds could teach university courses on operations, finance and organizational behavior, as well as child psychology. They have a few dedicated professional management staff, but they serve the kids’ executive committee. I am amazed at these kids’ outlook on life, and ability/willingness to take on the responsibility of their futures. For folks TRA_1997who essentially have none of the advantages we do, it is incredible to see their energy and optimism.

My visiting with Gregoire and Les Enfants de Dieu further reinforced our commitment to the solar project for the school of 1,000 kids in the Janja district. I was at LEDD a number at times at dusk and in the evening, and it is truly dark. LEDD is in Kigali and has access to electricity, but Janja does not. It is impossible for the Janja kids to read or study after dark. Given that many of them have to work or carry water during daylight hours, the evening is the only time they have to read and study. It is great to know that we and all of you readers are involved in helping the Janja community serve its children and eventually its future development.

Finally, I did get another chance to taTRA_3502ke a look at our route. Stay tuned for when the Northland Challenge gets underway. There will be lots of TRA_3493adventure and news. I did encounter lots of extremely kind people willing to help, some misadventures including a blown radiator, and some wildlife at very close range.

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Finally, I also mentioned we might be a bit nervous. While on this last trip, there was a terror threat for Entebbe airport for July 3. The 3rd came and went without incident, and we were at the airport on the 6th. The security was very tight, and we felt pretty reassured. At this time Uganda and Rwanda are very stable, and we are following State Department regional security reports and communicating with folks on the ground. There have even been some positive developments politically in both countries.

More disconcerting is the outbreak of ebola in West Africa. Six months ago, in the first paragraph of the “Preparations” page of this blog, I even referred to ebola, as it was a concern in the northern part of Uganda. After talking to a number of folks, we determined it was perfectly safe to travel through southwest Uganda, and there being no risk of infection. West Africa is even further away, but has an active outbreak. We are closely monitoring the situation by talking to folks on the ground and information online, but at this time, there have been no reported incidence of ebola in East Africa. We believe it is safe to travel to East Africa and are continuing with our planning, but will continue to monitor the situation. Here is a link to the World Health Organizations’ update:

http://www.afro.who.int/en/clusters-a-programmes/dpc/epidemic-a-pandemic-alert-and-response/outbreak-news/4239-ebola-virus-disease-west-africa-4-august-2014.html

 

The Preview Trip

In preparation for the Northland Challenge 2014, we wanted to ensure our service project was not only feasible, but valuable to the local community. In addition, as we were organizing the transportation ourselves and planning the routes, we thought it would be a good idea to see what this involved.

Prior to leaving, I sat down with Paschael, a Ugandan friend who lives in the DC area, and his brother-in-law who was visiting from Uganda. We had a great time talking about places to include in the challenge and what we were trying to accomplish. When I pointed out our intended route, Kaddu  the visiting Ugandan, whom I can now refer to as a good friend, laughed and said that is not the route he would choose. He would stick to the main road, which would be enough of a challenge in and of itself. If you click on the below image that would be the purple highlight on the map from “Day 1 Start” to “Day 1 Destination.”

Preview Trip Route - Day 1

Of course, I was having none of that. I figured we could cover the 300 kms on secondary roads in 6 hours, no problem. As this posting is only intended to give a flavor of things to come, I will give a quick synopsis of our journey to our intended Day 1 destination. We started driving at about 10 am. We missed the turning point where I show the green arrow, as we don’t think it exists…although it was clearly shown on our map! So, we decided to head up and cut over on what was a clear and dark line…that turned out to be an abandoned railroad track. After debating driving on the tracks for a while, we decided to turn back. It was still early on and we were making good time…notice how close we are to the purple highlighted main road, and our refusal to head in that direction…in spite of all the locals we talked to insisting that we should.

So we plowed on. We even crossed over where a bridge was washed out…someone had helpfully piled up a lot of debris.Uganda 2013 Drive to Katonga 15 At this point, we are starting to get a bit nervous. The photo in the banner at the top of this blog is an actual picture I took at sunset, nowhere close to our destination. Now notice where the green arrow hits the blue arrow. Well, we were looking for the “blue arrow” road in the dark…obviously you can see from our GPS track that we missed it and looped back, and added at least 2 hours to our already long “6-hour trip”.

Remember, we are heading for the Day 1 Destination, had been driving for 10 hours, and looked like we were only half way there, and the sun had set. And when the sun sets, there are no street lights, no markings on the dirt road, and certainly no signage. As you can guess, from the image where it says “camping”, we didn’t make it to our destination. We pitched our tents at midnight in a national wildlife reserve. We were the only ones there. We dined on some biscuits we had bought along the way.

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The next morning, we went on a hike as we were in a wildlife reserve after all, and then set out by 10 am. We were doing great. And by the time we got to where the orange arrow is, we figured we were only an hour away. An hour later, we see a roadside cafe, and are excited as we had only eaten biscuits for the prior 30 hours and knew we had made it. Of course, the first thing they tell us is the kitchen is closed as it is 2 pm. Sitting at an outdoor table, we go over the map with some locals as we figure we are darned close, but things are just not quite right.

Yep. We missed the left hand turn for the orange arrow, and were actually on the main road. We had no clue how far off we were. We arrived at our Day 1 destination around 4 pm on Day 2!

When I got back to DC and told Paschael and Kaddu the full story, they laughed hard and long, banging on the table. They couldn’t believe the absurdity of our journey. Needless to say, we figured out some things we won’t be doing.

Now, imagine the actual challenge with 15 vehicles and 30 participants.