Gregoire Landel's Rwenzori Experience
than 20 years ago, GEO – a French
National-Geographic wanabee – published the story of a
German team of biologists who climbed the mountains of
the moon. Over the next few summers, I re-read this
story several times. The faded tints of late '70s film
could not reveal all the colors, but I was fascinated
stories of european dwarf plants growing to giant
sizes in African mists. I had found the end of the
Earth. My 8-year old mind – unincumbered by
post-colonial notions of guilt and political
correctness - had glimpsed "Africa", a last frontier
not unlike Middle-Earth. The Rwenzoris beckoned as the
most remote corner of it all.
I resolved to climb these mountains. One day.
The dream slept for many years, in a deep slumber. To
push the imagery a little too far, the Rwenzoris faded
into their own mist. I moved here and there, to Africa
and back to Europe, and finally to the USA. There,
during my studies, I met a man who showed me pictures
of his summer vacation at home. He casually mentioned
a trip to the Rwenzoris. My mind clicked instantly. I
had found them again, after all these years. It felt
like meeting a long-lost friend in the most
unpredictable place. I renewed my resolve.
A few years later, in 2002, I had a chance to work in
Uganda for a few months. As part of my package, I
negotiated one week's vacation to climb these
mountains. Finally, I drove my little Toyota Corona to
Kasese with my sister who was to climb with me. We
overnighted in Katonga Forest Reserve, where we saw an
enormous python not 100 yards from where we slept in a
We had prepared in Kampala, buying most of the needed
food at a supermarket downtown. We also stopped in
Fort Portal, where we bought a stove that we ended up
never using. We completed our shopping in Kasese.
After overnighting again in a steamy, dusty, and
mosquito-infested hotel in Kasese, we set out in the
morning to the park's headquarters. Although we'd paid
for two people, there was only one guide for the two
of us, and one ranger. This meant that instead of
spreading the tourist $ around, the trip's booker had
pocketed one week's wages for a guide and escort (and
corresponding porters): pure profit.
However, it was a bright and sunny day, and the
mountains were there at last. I wasn't going to complain.
To Be Continued...