The International School of Latvia, where we are working, is celebrating a big milestone this year. The school has been around serving the local and expat community in the Riga area for 20 years. Just 3 years ago it moved into the new and much larger building. It is beautiful and located about 20 km from the city halfway to the coastal town of Jurmala.
Cody and I arrived to work at 7:15 well rested and well dressed. We knew it was going to be a formal experience since we were hosting the Latvian Minister of Education, many from the Embassies in Latvia and the news crew. The excitement was curbed a bit as soon as we went outside to stand in the cold for an hour for the flag raising ceremony. It was a great event, but I was excited to start our day.
Here is my teaching partner Skye (left) and our teaching assistant Laima. It has been a wonderfully welcoming team so far!
At the close of the day we met outside for a quick introduction ceremony. The kids nearest in the photo are mine and they performed a song they created that day. We changed the words to “We Will Rock You” and made it applicable to our class. Queen is a great way to start the year off right. I wish it was recorded.
Tradition in Lativa is to give teachers flowers. I received many beautiful bouquets which were a welcome touch to my sparse new classroom. I only have 14 fifth graders (I know, don’t hate me) and the day, all in all, was a great one. Our new friend Mikyla teaches 3rd grade and we noticed that the amount of flowers you receive is proportionate to the lower grade you teach. This was her being dropped off with about 1/2 of her bouquets. All in all, it was the best first day I have ever had. What a way to start the year off right. Not to mention, a few days later I found out that I was in the news! Check it out!
We made our way to Hondo Hondo Camp at the foot of the Udzungwa forest.
The camp was charming but not well-kept up. Long grass with no paths was a little wet at times, especially for bathroom breaks. We went with the cheaper room and that might have been a bad idea.
We went for a nature/bird watching walk around the camp and the village near by.
Some lovely nature in our hotel room. Not the best surprise right before bed time.
First stop on the hike was the bottom of the water fall. Usually when the school trip happens, the water is running very low. It was great to see it in the spring.
The view from the top of the waterfall.
Even managed to watch a little football on the trip.
Overall Udzungwa was great. We spent two nights and most of our days just hiking and walking. We wouldn’t go back to Hondo Hondo unless we did the upscale room that has bathrooms and proper flooring. The hike was fantastic, only the water levels were so high that we were unable to take a dip at the top, or even take photos. One to our next stop.
Our plan was to drive out from school on Friday through Bagamoyo, skipping the major Dar truck traffic and out to Morogoro for a quick night stay. The drive was fantastic. Quiet, beautiful, and relaxing. It helps that I get to skip my least favorite road in the world so far.
We made it to Morogoro at night to a great hotel who we were surprised to find out it was owned by our co-worker’s boyfriend’s family. No discount applies. Had a nice walk and some local barbecue, which I am already missing here in Latvia. Quick to bed so we could have an early morning on the road through Mikumi National Park and on to Udzungwa!
We stopped a few times on the road through Mikumi to watch the animals and get some photos of the baboons versus truck drivers. Many are hit and killed as they hang out by the speed humps/bumps to eat anything that might bounce out.
The Stand Off
Off to Udzungwa Mountains.
We are here, having fun, settling in and taking care of business. Latvia posts will start very soon, but also be warned that Cody wants to throw in some last minute Dar posts including our wild roadtrip and his dengue fever. Yikes, can’t we leave that all behind us. No really, they are good stories to tell so although our title and header image has changed, we are not free of Dar yet, and we possibly never will be!
Us in Portland
We were on our drive back from Bwindi to the the capital. On the way the traffic slowed and I (Cody) stepped out of the car with the camera to see what was happening.
The local village had barricaded the road, not letting traffic through either direction. There is no way around. We found out later they were protesting the land being sold to people within the government system who were taking out all of the sand, a valuable and free resource to the village until this moment.
The police were there and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas.
The crowd begins to disperse looking for water to wash out their eyes. The traffic stuck in the middle of the town is released and I make my way quickly back to the car. It seems we are on our way through this mess.
It was surprising to hear all of the Ugandans around me making jokes and giving the police a hard time. For us, this was scary, and unknown. For them, this was a mild occurrence. Our later conversations with our driver shed some light on how people were affected during the multiple regimes that terrorized this country.
We moved on going first into the village as stones were being moved by police. Once we reached the middle of the village, the protesters regained their strength and closed the road behind and in front of us. We were the only car in this area at that moment, surrounded by angry people mostly young men banging large rocks on the hood of the car and yelling at us. Out driver, super calm, talked to them in almost a playful way as we crouched inside the old Land Cruiser.
With the protesters still surrounding our car, the military and police made there way into our area and started firing just above head height around our car. Most were carrying AK47s and firing them within about 5-10 feet from us. Everyone ducked down in the car as they dispersed the protesters around us and chased them into the interior of the village. Our driver took off driving around the boulders and off road to get us through to the other side. He seemed completely unfazed by the ordeal, and offered us some solace that we were never in danger because they were not shooting at us, and that only the police had guns. Laughing it off, yet apologizing in the hope that this would not change our view of Uganda.
The next day we flew back to Tanzania. Happy to be home.
The main reason for this trip centered around the chance to see gorillas in the mist. The drive up to the Impenetrable Forest was chilly, with the clouds laying deep in the valleys showing off the tops of the hills.
The winding ride filled us with anticipation, we were going to have only one chance at this. A slight rain started so when we arrived we grabbed our rain gear, our hiking gear, and of course our cameras.
Rorey and I decided to get a porter for our trek. Creating protected parks has been somewhat of a tradeoff with the local populations. If they are expected to not farm in the area, or tolerate the local wildlife populations destroying crops, they should have some extra incentives. Many people in the area benefit from tourism in different ways. Porters, in many places we have traveled to far can earn a decent living, and often provide a great service. As we found out, our lovely porter helped get the entire crew up and down the forest as we tried to locate and follow a specific gorilla group.
We could have been better prepared with our gear. Rorey’s running shoes didn’t quite cut it and she took a fall into a group of Army Ants.
Finally we (trackers) found the gorillas and we started our countdown. Once you locate the gorillas, you only have a certain amount of time with them. Even if they are moving around. It was a series of stop to watch and then hack through more forest and move up and down the hills to catch back up with them. Only the babies paid us much attention.
One of the big Silverbacks was munching in a tree full of vines when he started to fall. Amazing how graceful theese big guys are even when falling.
Just an amazing trip. Including our quick stops on the road out of the hills.