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Sunday, May 22, 2022

African Adventure 2022: Gorilla Habituation Trek in Rushaga

Back to the early morning wake-up to be ready to leave by 6am to go on our Gorilla Habituation Trek. We wake up with the alarms a few minutes before the gentle knock of Agnes to confirm we were awake. I jumped in the shower to help wake myself up while Kari started getting herself organized. We were out the door by around 5:30am to have breakfast. I had another cheese omelette with bacon, sausage, toast, and fresh fruit. Kari had her medium fried egg with bacon, sausage, GF toast, and fresh fruit. Instead of passion fruit juice, they had watermelon juice, which was good. Around 6am, the other couple came up for breakfast, and Michael came in to let us know he was ready when we were.

Out into the darkness we went. We could see lightning in the distance; an ominous sign for what was to come. We chatted about the earthquake we felt the night before and about heat lightning, hoping that was what we saw. The journey was similar to the journey to our first gorilla trek until we got to the good road. Today, we went right where we went left on Monday.

The area seemed to get more built up as we approached the entrance to the park. Michael got us there on-time, which ended up being quite a bit earlier than the other couple in our group. We took the opportunity for one last bathroom run before coming back down to wait for the start of the briefing. Shortly before the other couple showed, the sky open and started soaking the ground with rain. We all took shelter and updated ourselves and bags for the now guaranteed chance of rain in our future.

Finally, it was time for the briefing. Luke, our guide, brought us into the building to chat. He described a bit of what we had in store for us and asked if we would like to hire porters. Kari and I declined; however, the other couple chose to hire two porters to help. While I wasn't trying to judge, I was a little concerned that the other couple, Bill & Theresa, were going to make it, as they were a bit older and didn't look in the best physical condition. I did feel pretty confident that we wouldn't be the weak links.

As the rain slowed, we set off towards the park. The first section was downhill, which was Theresa's Achilles heel. I can relate, but we managed to put a pretty sizeable gap between us at the front with the trackers (John, James, and Nbed) and the ranger, Bryan, from her, Luke, and Zappani (other ranger) at the back. Luke, wanting to keep the group closer together, had her at the front to help set the pace and set the trackers on ahead to find the gorillas. That worked pretty well until our first uphill, Bill's Achilles heel, causing another fracture in the group. Kari and I hydrated well, so we needed to use nature's washroom. Luke had them keep going for us to catch back up. That seemed to work fairly well. By the time we caught back up, we were close to the gorillas.

For our first view of the gorillas, one of the group's silverbacks was standing on the path 40-50m away. I hurried and assembled my camera to be ready to take photos as the silverback moved into the vegetation around the path. This began our four hours with the gorillas. Unlike the gorillas we visited on Monday, this group is still going through the habituation process to be comfortable around people. They were noticeably more timid, taking more shelter in the vegetation to hide from us. They also let us know if we got too close with bluff charges. The lead silverback charged a couple times when the trackers got a bit too close. Super intimidating!

Luke and the trackers helped position us around to get good views of the gorillas while also helping us stay out of the gorillas' way. It was so cool to spend some quality time with the gorillas and watch them move around, eat, take a short nap, etc. We learned a few things too. First, due to the almost 100% vegetation diet, gorillas are gassy. We heard a few rip out some farts to be proud of. Second, they are masters of picking their nose and eating the boogers. One of the females was going to town before taking a brief nap. Impressive. Third, it is possible to determine the age and sex a bit by looking at the dung with the silverbacks having a diameter of ~7cm, an adult female a diameter of ~5.5cm, and so on. Given we were close to their nests and spending a lot of time with them, we were treated to many examples of their dung.

When the gorillas moved over the ridge away from the nests, Luke invited us to come see them. Kari and I jumped at the chance to go learn a bit more about the gorillas, while Bill and Theresa did not want to make the walk and continued watching the gorillas. Thankfully, the group was ok to split to help everyone have the experience they desired. We scrambled down after James, one of the trackers, Luke, and Bryan, one of the rangers, to go see the nests. Of the 8-9 nests we saw, they were all within a few meters of each other. You could tell the gorillas took time to make the nests as comfortable as possible for themselves. Luke explained that they would only defecate on the nest when they were leaving in the morning. Otherwise, they would aim off the nest to keep it clean. This is where Luke pointed out how to tell the different gorilla's size and sex by dung. He also pointed out where a juvenile likely slept by its mother as there were two nests touching each other. They then pointed out the silverback's nest, which was easy to spot with the pile of dung that remained. Luke went on to explain how they know they are tracking the same gorilla family by counting nests and confirming it is the most recent previous night's nest based on signs in the nest like dung, leaves, and branches. it was pretty fascinating stuff!

once we saw all we could with the nests, we headed back up the hill to rejoin the group. When we reached the top of the ridge, we saw that the gorillas had not moved much, so we settled into the group to watch them eat. At this time, the rain also started coming down again, somewhat forcing me to watch instead of taking pictures. It was fun watching them eat bark and the various techniques employed. One little gorilla a few meters from me was taking bits out of the tree while the silverback reached up and yanked until the bark he wanted fell down. We saw one shy gorilla not take kindly to our presence and move away from us down the hill. Another climbed a tree a different one was eating the bark off to access the bark further up. I questioned the logic of eating the tree you are sitting on, but hey, what do I know. She looked pretty happy with her decision and got comfy, releasing a solid fart as she settled in. The rest of the gorillas and our group continued down the hillside. We opted to watch our friend in the tree a bit longer. It was so peaceful watching the gorilla on the edge of the forest while farmers tended their fields a short distance away.

Finally, we continued down the hill to join the others and get our final photos and time with the gorillas. The silverback was in a thicket near the path munching on some fruit. I managed to get a few good shots of him before he continued deeper into the forest. I also found a gorilla in a tree who "sort of" posed for me for a bit. She was fickle though. It was not until the end of our time that she moved to a better spot for photos. Oh well! I managed to get a few before we started to work our way back to where we met in the morning. We also said our goodbyes to the trackers who were going to stay with the gorillas.

When we made it back to the main trail, Luke had us stop for a quick lunch break of our packed lunches. He warned us that we might need to be quick as the weather looked like it was about to turn. And turn it did! No sooner had I finished my sandwich did the heavens open again, soaking us completely.

We set off slowly back to the start point on the main trail. Theresa took up lead position only to promptly pull away from Bill. Kari and I eventually closed the gap to Theresa, thinking it would likely be better to be at the front than the back. We chatted with Theresa a bit over the final bit as the rain started to let up a little. Michael was waiting for us, but before we could hop in to seek warm & dry, Luke had us up for a small ceremony. They awarded us a small certificate to commemorate our time and achievement. Pretty nice way to close it out. We said our goodbyes to Bryan, Zappani, and Luke, and then we jumped back into the truck with Michael. We chatted about how we appreciated and enjoyed this experience more. Luke was far superior to our previous gorilla guide and tried to make sure everyone was included and got the most out of the experience. We also laughed about the silly Brits and their lack of standard unit of measure system. It was a nice chat until we got on the "bad" road where we let Michael concentrate a bit more. He managed to get us back to Chameleon Hill Lodge without getting stuck. Granted, we had one close call.

Upon our return, Agnes greeted us and took our boots and gaiters to clean them, offering us crocs to wear in the meantime. She also took our dinner order and confirmed dinner time before releasing us back to our cottage to get clean, dry, and warm.

After a bit of relaxing, we went back up to the lodge to fill out the Tanzania Health Forms and catch up on the connected world. Given we were still a bit chilled, we each had hot beverages: hot chocolate for me and tea for Kari. It was a nice way to get warm before dinner. Speaking of dinner, tonight we had pumpkin cinnamon soup (surprisingly good), chicken stir fry with potatoes and veggies, and pineapple crumble with homemade ice cream for dessert. Another fantastic meal to cap off another fantastic day here at Chameleon Hill Lodge!

With the closing of tonight, we close our time here at Chameleon Hill Lodge and in Uganda. It has been more than we ever imagined. We look forward to when we can come back and spend more time soaking up life here.

African Adventure 2022: Best of Chameleon Hill

For the first time all trip, we did not have to be awake and moving before 6am. What a magical experience to lay in bed with the curtains and sliding doors open to hear the sounds of birds as we watched the sunrise. Despite this fairly relaxing start, we had a bit of excitement when the safe did not open. I scurried up to the lodge to get the keys from Agnes to discover the batteries had fallen out. No wonder I could not get it open.

After making sure all was good with the safe and we had what we needed from it, we went up for breakfast. It was another delicious spread of fresh fruit, toast (GF for Kari), eggs (cheese omelette for me & medium fried for Kari), sausage, and bacon. The fresh passion fruit juice was also available to wash everything down. Delicious! Agnes brought our packed lunches (both requested chicken sandwiches with GF bread for Kari), and we were off to meet our guide, Gilbert, for the start of our outing.

The first portion was on bicycles. I was a little surprised to see decent looking mountain bikes waiting for us, expecting more of a hybrid bike to tootle along the lake. Instead, we ripped along the dirt road back to Kisoro. Given the road condition, mountain bikes were the appropriate tool for the job. We surprised Gilbert by being capable cyclists with most of our stops due to my seat post not staying in place. He was especially impressed with Kari as she was better than most of the men he typically goes on these with. Needless to say, we got to town a bit faster than expected, so our boda boda bikes weren't at the meet point yet. We took the opportunity to use the facilities and buy a pot holder. Pretty cool souvenir for $3.

When the second boda boda bike (read motor bike named so due to being the best way to get from border to border) arrived, we jumped on the back and rode off to the coffee plantation. Kari was more nervous riding on the back of the boda boda than ripping down the dirt road on mountain bikes. It probably did not help that we were relying on Gilbert and his friend to get us to the coffee plantation safely. It also provided another perspective of transportation from while here.

The first portion of the ride was on a paved road, which was probably good to get the handle of it. Before long and we were off on a dirt road, trying to hold on. Thankfully, we made it to the drop off point and began our walk up the volcanic rock strewn path to Kisoro Volcanic Organic Coffee plantation. Ronald and his dog, Max, greeted us as we enter the garden. He first brought us to an arabica coffee plant to show us the different colours of fruits: red is ripe and green is not ripe. To ensure high quality coffee, they only pick the red berries to test as part of the water method. He also explained that the arabica coffee trees grow at elevation (1700m to 2300m); whereas, the robusta coffee trees grow in the lowlands. They grow the trees for 15yrs, harvesting coffee from 18 months through 15 years, then they cut it down, leaving only about 1 foot of a stump. From the stump grows a second generation of the tree, which they let grow another 15yrs before repeating the process. When the root system has been used to grow trees for 45yrs, they dig out the roots and start over.

To assist with soil nutrient and water composition, they also grow a variety of other plants, including banana, in close proximity to the coffee trees. It was fascinating to hear their process to grow and cultivate the trees. He then showed us some of the other plants in the garden that they use for food and/or natural fertilizer and pesticide. kari got the recipe for the natural pesticide, which is part animal urine, so we can consider growing organic at some point in our future. It was fascinating to hear about all of the things growing in his garden and their uses. You could hear his passion coming through. His garden tour concluded with a brief display of the seedlings they cultivate for others to have. Growing coffee beans to sell is only one avenue that they make money from coffee with the other being giving seedlings to local farmers that want to get into coffee production. In those cases, the government will pay him for the plants that he gave away as a mechanism to aid in the country's ability to increase coffee exports. It is a pretty cool way to approach it.

Following the tour of the garden, Ronald showed us the water method to prepare the coffee beans. First, they put all of the harvested berries in a bucket of water to remove the floaters, or ones that have been impacted by a bug or disease. Then, they pulp the berries to free the beans and continue the process. Then they let the beans soak in water for three days, cleaning and changing the water every day to remove the first outer casing. The beans felt a bit slimy when first pulped. After this process, they let them sit on drying racks for a few weeks, not in direct sunlight, to dry out. This dried out bean has a flaky casing that needs to be removed, which they mash in a log until all of the casings are off. Then, they winnow (think pan for gold) to separate the casings from the beans. What you are left with is a green coffee bean, ready for sale and exportation. When they sell the green beans, they are graded AA, A, AB, and B with only AA & A used in premium coffee and AB & B reserved for instant. Ronald prefers to sell the green beans unroasted as they have a two year shelf life and roasted beans only have an 8 month shelf life.

To make sure we know the whole process, he and his wife roasted a set of beans in light, medium, and dark roasts to help us see the difference. Finally, he brewed some of each of the roasts for our taste test. To properly brew, you need to boil the water and then let it sit for a minute to drop in temp to ~80 to 90C before adding to the grounds. Then once combined, you need to let it sit for 4-5min to ferment. While he was letting everything process, he also filtered some of the dark roast using a common way to obtain coffee, also for our taste test.

When it was time, he poured us each a cup of light, medium, dark, and dark filtered to try and compare. He also set out nuts and bananas to snack on. Now, I am not a coffee drinker, but I didn't mind the light roast, even found it a bit enjoyable. The medium roast was ok, and the dark roast was not great, despite smelling the best. It was also remarkable how different the fermented vs filtered dark roasts were. Another fun fact he imparted was the lighter the roast, the greater the caffeine as it is burned off the longer you roast the beans. Interesting! They gave us small bags of our choice of beans or grounds as a souvenir. Kari chose the medium roast beans, and I chose the light roast beans. We debated getting more little bags for family and friends but opted against it due to weight restrictions on our little flight upcoming, not knowing what people would actually want, and unsure when we would see them next. It was a tough decision to say the least as this was the first time I tolerated coffee well enough to finish an entire cup (light roast).

Once we finished, we said our goodbyes and walked back down the path to the boda bodas. For the next part of our journey, Gilbert led us back to the main road for a bit before we drove off onto another dirt road to meet up with Chameleon Hill Lodge's pontoon boat for the final part of our experience: a ride from the southern end of Lake Mutanda back to Chameleon Hill Lodge on the northern end, stopping at a couple islands along the way to check things out. While it was sad to part ways with Gilbert, it was nice sitting on the pontoon boat to eat some lunch and get ready for the ride.

At the dock, we met our guide, Herbert, and boat captain, Amon, for our journey across the lake. As we set out, a couple guys began paddling away from shore in a dugout canoe, which is the primary way to cross the lake. Very few people, mainly tourists, cross the lake with an engine-powered boat. Herbert explained the process of making a dugout canoe from eucalyptus trees and chisels. It is amazing how much people seem to favor the eucalyptus tree (invasive from Australia) over the endemic species, but the wood works better for many of the tasks required of people and grows fast.

As we sailed along, Herbert pointed out various landmarks and gave us information about the area around Lake Mutanda. Before long, we were alongside Mutanda Island, the largest in the lake. This island is home to about 200 people. With no school beyond grade 1 and medical facilities, people would have to row the 15km to the mainland regularly. Moving livestock from the mainland to the island also required rowing with sheep & goats in the canoe and cows swimming alongside. It was fitting that two canoes from the island were heading to the mainland as we approached: one with a small boy paddling solo and one with a family hauling goods and a pig.

When we reached the next island, Amon slowed the boat, so we could look for birds. We saw an osprey, African fish eagle, some ibis, a couple kingfishers, and some cormorants. We also saw a kite swooping down to try to spot some fish. It was neat to not only see the birds but Herbert's genuine excitement for them. He mentioned birding was his favorite activity.

Our next stop was to Skeleton Island, so called because of the cave with royal members of one of the local clans being buried there. Instead of being buried below ground, they were rested in a cave encased in reeds and a blanket. With most of the natural fibers long disintegrated due to exposure to the elements, the bones remained. This is one of two caves in the Lake Mutanda area used for burials with the second on the mainland and better preserved from people taking the bones and other artifacts for museums or personal collections. Herbert explained that people would use these caves as part of their sacred rituals, a practice that has diminished a bit as other religions made their way into Uganda.

Following our stop on Skeleton Island, we got back on the boat and continued on to the lodge. Our final island that Amon slowed the boat for allowed us to see a pelican perched near the top of a fig tree. Herbert also pointed out roughly where he lived along the shores of the lake. That would be a stunning spot to grow up and live!

As we approached the dock, Amon slowed again so we could try to see the otters that live near the shore below Chameleon Hill Lodge. With the reeds providing a great spot for tilapia to grow, the otters also settled in to take advantage. We saw several in their hunt for fish, darting amongst the reeds. Pretty neat! We then said our goodbyes to Amon as we started our walk back up to the lodge with Herbert.

Along the way, Herbert pointed out the garden where some of the food for the lodge is grown, more bird species, and some cool plants. You could tell how much he enjoyed being part of nature and trying to learn as much as he could. Our walk with him also showed us the correct and fast way down to the lake from the lodge, which was much more direct than our misadventure from a couple days before.

When we approached our room, Agnes was coming down to get our dinner order and hand over our keys. We parted ways with Herbert, feeling a little bad he scurried off before we could tip him. We will have to find him later as he was one of our better guides thus far. We then got cleaned up and relaxed until closer to dinner time, looking forward to another delicious meal. While we were relaxing, Kari found some large bees making a home in the roof of our patio. She was not pleased. She wants bees to live and exist, but far from her.

The time came for us to venture up to the lodge for dinner. We connected briefly with Michael to hear about what he has been up to while we were on our day of adventure. He also briefed us for our gorilla habituation trek for tomorrow. Agnes called us in for dinner a little after 7pm. While the menu called for pan seared fish, they substituted some delicious steak for me; Kari had the fish. This was paired with tomato basil soup (another sub), roast potatoes, veggies, and passion meringue pie. Another incredible meal! We hung out for a bit before turning in to get some rest before our big day tomorrow! We also got to meet our new lodgemates: Ollie & Kirsten from Germany. While it was fun to have the run of this place, it will be nice to have a bit more company!

Monday, May 16, 2022

African Adventure 2022: Gorilla Trekking

Despite an early bed time, our 5:30am wake-up came early. It was nice getting a good night of sleep for once, but we both felt like we could have used a bit more. Following a quick shower, we headed up to the lodge for breakfast and our 6:30am departure.

Breakfast was yet another incredible meal. We each had eggs cooked to order. I chose a cheese omelette with a side of bacon, and Kari chose a medium fried egg with a side of sausage. We also had toast, fresh fruit, juice, and müsli. It was an awesome spread to get fueled up for our hike to see the gorillas.

After breakfast, we jumped in the jeep with Michael to begin our ~1 hour drive to the briefing point of our gorilla trek. The drive took us over some pretty rough terrain with the road seeming to get worse as we went along. We encountered kids walking to school, men caring for their goats or cows, and women walking to obtain water from the river or other supplies. Even though the sun was just starting to rise, there was a wealth of activity.

Along the drive, we chatted with Michael a bit about life for those who live in the area. One thing we found in common was with the schools; albeit only slightly. Michael explained that there were four levels of school: kindergarten for ages 3-5, primary school for ages 6-12, secondary school for 13-18, and then university. The government pays for school up to secondary school. Anyone wishing to go to secondary school needs to pay to go to a private school. As a result, there is an approximate 40% drop out rate following primary school. This was actually similar to my high school experience, where I started freshman year with 600 other kids and graduated with a class of 360. Pretty wild when you think about it. For the ~20% of the population that goes to university, the government also assists with paying for school for those with the best grades. Based on this conversation, it would not be hard to imagine that Uganda is home to a fair amount of inequality, even if you only consider education as a metric.

Eventually, the road turned onto a better road, and Michael was able to go a bit quicker. It was still a fairly rough dirt road, but it was vastly improved over the first half of the ride. It was also pretty clear when we got near the entrance to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as the area became more built up to cater for tourists wanting to see the gorillas like us.

Upon arrival at the ranger station, we noticed a group of dancers (the gorilla women group) performing in a nearby field. The gorilla women group is designed and run to empower women to obtain skills. It seemed like a pretty good cause. Following the dance, we proceeded to meet with the guide, Augustine, to hear a briefing on what we were about to experience. It must be fairly common to use porters as we got pressured to use one for our trip. We politely declined as our packs were full of our water and food, which we are perfectly capable of carrying. He then described the Ugandan helicopter and its cost. This is the method where they carry you down into the jungle to see the gorillas and then back up again for the low price of 300 USD. We also learned that we were the only people in our group to go find the Nkuringo family group. This is on top of our having the run of Chameleon Hill Lodge for a couple days solo. Pretty wild!

After the briefing, we loaded back into the jeep with Michael and Augustine to head to the start of our trek. It took about 15-20min on the dirt roads to get to where we were set to begin our trek. In addition to Augustine, we had Didias and Gotfried as our rangers to escort us with rifles should something bad happen. Didias took up the front and started to guide us down the steep hillside into the valley below with Gotfried taking up the rear. It took us close to an hour to get to the bottom as we navigated the steep, slippery hillside. Kari and I both fell onto our bums at least once with several other slips and slides. Thankfully, we managed to make it down in one piece a bit in awe of the ease with which our guide and rangers made it down.

Augustine had us wait by a field of tea plants as the trackers were in the process of funneling the gorilla family closer to us. As the gorillas got closer, we could see the foliage move around them. Augustine also had us move down through the tea field, leave our bags, and put on our face masks to get closer to the gorillas. Given we share a decent amount of genetics with gorillas, it is possible for us to spread disease amongst each other, including COVID. With these part of the last remaining mountain gorillas on the planet, it would be real bad if we got them sick.

As the gorillas moved closer, we tried to find good spots to watch without getting in their way. One of the silverbacks, a couple of the females, and some babies wandered right below us in the river bed. We crossed the river behind them to look for a spot to see them eating. we ended up right behind a mother and baby. The mom was gently grazing while the baby swung from the branches, nibbling on leaves a little higher up in the trees. Augustine called us over to see a different set of gorillas behind some foliage. As he cleared some of the foliage back, one of the silverbacks didn't take too kindly to Augustine and his proximity to his baby, so he did a bluff charge. It looked real enough that I started moving towards Kari to get her out of there. Thankfully, tensions de-escalated and the family went back to grazing. We watched as the baby couldn't decide if it wanted to eat or play. One thing for sure is that it was likely annoying mom.

Eventually, the little family moved further down the hill to join the rest of the family group. Augustine had us follow behind and found a spot for us partially surrounded by gorillas. We watched the moms carry their babies, nurse their babies, and graze in relative peace without the little ones. The babies were swinging all over the place doing a combination of eating and playing. You might think that they wanted to give us a bit of a show. We stood and tried to soak in the moment surrounded by gorillas. We even had one small gorilla get really close to us before crossing between myself and Augustine to go be with its mom. It was pretty cute.

Before too long, it was time to start our hike back up the hillside to the jeep where Michael was waiting for us. We tipped the trackers and reclaimed our packs to start the ascent. Given we are still at ~2,000 meters and the hill was quite steep, we were in for a pretty solid workout to get back up the hill. Didias tried to carry Kari's pack before she realized what was going on and asked for it back due to it having her water and food. Probably the only real bummer was how obvious the group was at trying to extract money from us in the form of tips. I knew I was running low with what I brought for the trek, so I wasn't super keen of their tactics. Oh well. The journey back up seemed to take about as much time as going down likely due to the various stops Augustine had us make. Some of the breaks, I was thankful for; others, not so much. During one of the breaks, a woman carrying a load of sticks on her head and a bag under her arm came down the trail passed us. Given how much we struggled to keep our balance without anything on our heads, it was rather impressive to watch.

Back at the top, we loaded into the jeep for the ride back to the ranger station for a small ceremony and to say our goodbyes. Augustine presented us with some certificates of achievement, in the hopes we will spread the word for more tourists to come. While I hope many more people get to see the gorillas, I also hope they get to remain wild and left relatively alone. We humans are pretty good at exploiting things until we lose or destroy them. I hope that doesn't happen to the gorillas. When I tried to give the tip, it had a small rip, so they did not accept it. Such a bummer that is the case. Good thing I had a little left that they accepted.

Once we said our goodbyes, we loaded back into the jeep with Michael and started our journey back to Chameleon Hill Lodge. We had not eaten our packed lunches yet, so we were starting to get hungry. On the drive, we saw some younger kids walking back from school and more people out and about. The "smooth" dirt road quickly turned into the "bad" dirt road. Michael did well to maneuver the vehicle along the torn up surface. In the small village near Chameleon Hill Lodge, Kari noticed signs on homes. Michael explained that the government is planning a road works project at end of year to pave the road. As a result, some of the buildings near the road need to be demolished. The government did provide money for folks to relocate.

At the lodge, we went to sit on the lanai and eat our packed lunches. Tommi, the cat, came to say hi and purr/beg for our food. He is cute, but we know better than to actually feed him. Too bad we cannot think he is excited to see us as the only guests of the lodge. Oh well. Agnes also came by to take our meal order for dinner. Tonight, we are having sweet corn soup, steak with rice and veggies, and some banana flambé. It sounded delicious!

While we waited, we went back to the room to do some laundry, shower, and relax before dinner. It has been a big day, and it is nice to get a little relaxation time.

When dinner time rolled around, we made our way up to the lodge from our cottage. We chatted briefly with Michael until Agnes called us in for dinner. It was as good as, possibly better than, we imagined. This was also our first meal without our furry friend, Tommi, hanging out and saying hi. It was a bit sad. After dinner, Agnes took our food order for breakfast and the packed lunch for tomorrow. She also talked us through what to expect from our activity, at least a bit. The big takeaway was our guide wasn't coming until 8:30am with a 9am departure. We get to sleep in! She also helped convert four $50 notes to a bunch of $5s and $10s to help with tipping. I'm not sure why HSBC thought we wanted so many $50 notes. Oh well. Agnes came through! She also called out some of Kari's dietary things without Kari asking. She is an absolute legend!

With the knowledge of a slightly later waking time, we chose to relax a bit before heading to bed. We are looking forward to our next day here!