Life in the Jungle.

Katie and I will most likely be writing about the same stuff… but hopefully we will have a different spin on the events that took place last weekend. Last Thursday we headed out for our long weekend away from “home.” We departed at 5 am and sat in the bus for 3 hours before it left for the bumpy road… although it was scheduled to leave much earlier. We fully experienced Africa time that morning. After sitting on the bus for appr. 10 hours, we arrived to Butogota, Ug. We then took a truck to our gorilla tracking site in Buhoma. Yes Dad, it was only 5 km away from the DRC border and I know I promised to stay away from that area… but hey, I am still alive! We actually did not see and crazy guerillas (although they are reported to be in that area, causing a ruckus year round) as Arlene was wondering but we saw many wild gorillas! On Friday morning we went to tracking orientation and then set off for a 45 minute drive in a Land Rover to our insertion site into the Jungle (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest). After we arrived (feeling motion sick like I always do but miraculously did not vomit out the window this trip, unlike the trip I took to Jinja for the white water rafting), we set off into the thick Jungle. When I use the word Jungle here, try to imagine the most thick foliage you have seen and multiply it by 100. The armed guards/guides had to use a machete and other devices to get us through the mountainside as we were tracking the peaceful giants. After 1.5 hours of tracking, we came upon the 23 member mountain gorilla family. This was the largest habituated family in the country. By habituated, I mean they shouldn’t attack us and kill us as the other non-habituated groups would. They were sitting around eating, as they do most of their lives. I was so excited when I saw them that I was squealing like a pig! If you didn’t already know, gorillas are one of my favorite animals and I always spend the most time watching them at the zoo. I did not know what was in store for me that afternoon. The sun was unbearably hot and I was fully dressed with long pants, hooded sweatshirt and fully loaded backpack. All of the pain, fatigue, and feelings of impending doom from the hike melted away as I approached the gorilla family. I was able get a few feet away from many of the gorillas in the family, including the mothers with babies clinging to their backs, the feisty adolescents and blackbacks, as well as the stubborn silverback. Our group was charged twice by the silverback. The first charge caught me off guard and nearly made me soil myself, as the silverback came from behind the bushes and was running at me and stopped only a few feet from me, snorting, howling, and pounding the ground with his massive arms/fists. What a thrill. The hike back was torturous as the sun was high in the sky and we were out in the open (unlike the hike in). Lucky for us, the lodge we were staying in had a full shower, not just a bucket with a faucet. I have never felt so clean than I did after that shower.

The rest of the weekend we were able to relax and visit the local community sites. We were lucky enough to take a community walk and visit with the “traditional healer” and the Batwa pygmies. The traditional healer was not what I expected. He was basically a herbalist, not a witchdoctor as I assumed. He said there are other “witchdoctors” around and they heal through witchcraft and casting of spells. The Batwa pygmies were very happy people, although their stories were enough to bring Katie to the verge of breaking down. They are very small people, as the adults barely make it to my upper abdomen. We have some good pictures and videos of them putting on a show for us.

During our weekend adventure, we met many interesting people from other countries on vacation/trips. We were fortunate enough to make friends with some Canadians and they offered us a ride back in their tour van so we wouldn’t have to take the public transit home. How friendly eh? We were able to go home a different way and made a pass through Queen Elizabeth National Park and had a teaser of the “big 5” safari experience. We were able to see 2 of the big 5 just in that short detour (elephants and water buffalo). We were also able to stop at the equator but didn’t have enough time to watch the water spin in opposite directions on either side of the equatorial line. Maybe another time.

Now we are back to Kampala, working in the hospital as we were before. This week I am working on the Cardiology ward. I have already seen half the tropical cardiac diseases in one day of working! I will try my best to keep the hearts of Africa beating this week. For those of you that are medically literate, I have already seen Dressler’s Syndrome, pheochromocytoma (with malignant hypertension), and Endomyocardial Fibrosis.

At Edge House (our residence) we are mixing up the international student pool and getting a few new students and seeing a few go back home. It has been a great experience meeting people from medical schools all across the globe and expanding our physician network. Also… Katie and I will be here for our Residency Match day and will have to submit our final rank list on the 25th of Feb.! After that, we will be waiting in anticipation for Match Day on March 19th! We are both praying we get our #1 choice.

As with every post, let me know if there is something you would like me to type about in more detail, because there are so many things to talk about but I am unable to fit everything in with each post. Hopefully Katie is able to hit on some things that I have been unable to pull out of my jumbled brain.

your dirty mountain man,



9 Responses to “Life in the Jungle.”

  1. Erin Says:

    Jon, I sure have missed your blogs, loved reading about your adventures! We will have to plan a time at graduation to see your pictures. Just keep the food stories coming, they make interesting topics for my classes and any malnutrition things you see are also good to add to class. Remember you are always in my prayers.

  2. Rebecca Says:

    Hey Dirty Mountain Man and Katie,
    Wow! Both your stories of the gorilla expedition were awesome to read! You weren’t afraid… ok, well I guess YOU were Jon, since you nearly soiled your pants. I hope you have lots and lots of good pictures!!!!

  3. Diane (Mom) Says:

    You are such a world traveler now. Wow, I didn’t expect that you could get so close to the gorillas. It sounds like such a great adventure! You even forgot about being hot for awhile. I’ll read Katies story now before I ask you any questions. We love you and miss you!!

  4. Arlene Hiatt Says:

    Guerillas / gorillas … I was just checking to see if you really read the comments posted. 🙂 I cannot imagine walking through such a thick jungle! What an awesome adventure to see the gorillas, one you won’t forget nor will you forget the bus ride! 🙂 Bus drivers and matatu drivers are soooo unique! When you get back to the States, you’ll wonder where all the traffic is. It’s great to read your blogs again. You and Katie continue in my prayers!

  5. Robb Says:

    “We were fortunate enough to make friends with some Canadians and they offered us a ride back in their tour van so we wouldn’t have to take the public transit home. How friendly eh?” Noo doobt aboot it!

    Do you think the silverback might have enjoyed getting a reaction from you since they are so habituated? When I used to watch them at the zoo the silverback would wait until the crowd had their back turned to him and then hurl a tire at the glass to scare people. He could throw it so hard that it sounded like a very, very loud gun shot. of course it always got the crowd’s attention. I’m curious if you think it was still done out of instinct or for his own amusement much like we scare each other for fun.

    What are the other three of the”Big 5?” I’m guessing lions, hippos, and rhinos.

    Take care.

  6. Robb Says:

    Oh, and uh….FYI:

    Sorry, I just don’t want you to go out of your way to check on this experiment and be disappointed. I can disappoint you without all the hassle.

  7. Kyom Says:

    you are so crazy! Vennie likes your sense of humour… u’d better keep UG hearts beating or else 😉 it would be a shame if you didnt get to see patients with EMF; almost every cardiac patient has it here u should do the tapping too in 3BEM… something to do with the cassava i think, have you tried it yet?

  8. boringstoriesfromafrica Says:

    oh… i’ve seen many patients with EMF! cassava must be the devil… and yes I have tried it. Maybe I will get EMF!! So Vennie likes my sense of humor huh? I haven’t seen her since I switched wards. Tell her hi for me.

  9. Tammy Says:

    Jonny!!! I can’t believe the adventures you are having! Amazing lil brother you are. Although I have to say that I for one hope that you do not get your first choice…I hop you get your second so I can move up to Portland with ya..heh heh. I’m gonna go read your other posts now. xoxo

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