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Gregoire Landel's Rwenzori Experience

More 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 by the 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 flimsy tent.

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...

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