East Africa: Among Gorillas, Lions and Elephants

East Africa: Among Gorillas, Lions and Elephants
A washed-out track that winds through green banana plantations to the Ugandan border has led us here. And once inside the post on the Kenyan side, it's obvious we've committed the serious offense of disturbing a well-fed immigration officer during his power nap. Call out the guards!

On the Border Between Kenya and Uganda, North of Mount Elgon

While he checks our passports, his sleepy expression changes to astonishment. He flips through all of the pages again before asking us where the incoming stamps and visas are.

Our attempt at a satisfactory explanation involves another retelling of our hairy escape from being the hostages of a hostile Ethiopian war tribe in the remote Omo region before we finally managed to cross the "green border" into Kenya. The police had taken down our personal details on a piece of scrap paper that disappeared in one of their many drawers. And, of course, no one on either side had ever heard of the need to have incoming stamps in order to leave the back-end of beyond.

The uniformed authority wipes at beads of sweat on his forehead and the look in his eyes is all too familiar. He's not about to pass up this golden opportunity to augment his lousy salary. Leaning forward, a vision of smug superiority, he informs us that the law has just changed. Starting this year, Germans also need to provide visas. The syllogism followed that we had therefore stayed illegally in Kenya; and although he believed it entirely possible that we hadn't heard of this new regulation, ignorance of the law certainly didn't protect us from punishment.

If he wanted, he said, he could take us to court, which would cost us a lot of money. He looks down, surveying us  -  we're floured and baked in dust and road grime  -  to estimate how much that might come to, at least $ 1,500 each, he concludes. As if this prospect wasn't terrible enough, he adds more horrors to the scenario: "Of course, I would have to lock you up until the trial. African prisons are hell on earth... Months could pass by. Your motorbikes would be confiscated as well."

The World's End View in Zimbabwe overlooks Mozambique.

With the hook now firmly set, he watches as alarm and panic do their work before he shows these dangerous criminals his merciful side. "But you know, today is your lucky day. On Sundays, the prison is closed."

After a lengthy bout of careful reconsideration, the officer issues two valid visas and affixes the incoming stamps our passports lacked. Now, according to our papers, we entered Kenya, rode some 3,000 kilometers, and left the country on the very same day. He's not a sadist after all. He's just a practical man, a typical agent of corruption in one of the many places where good will is rarely free. Surprisingly, it "only" takes two hours to negotiate the "fee" from $ 200 down to $ 6. But before he remembers that we also have to declare our motorbikes, we've taken to our heels.

The Gorillas in Rwanda, "The Land of a Thousand Hills"

The jungles lining the cones of the seven Virunga volcanoes are cold, dark and muddy. This region shared by the countries of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo is home to the last mountain gorillas on earth. There are only 300 left, they say.

For some time, we had been dreaming of an encounter with these unique creatures. That time had come, and together with a Canadian, two guides and twelve heavily armed rangers we set out for the mountain chain. Fog covered the valley.

After the rains, Namibia.

We slide up and down steep slopes tangled with nettles and thick vegetation until, stepping into a clearing, we come upon a fully grown male devouring bamboo shoots but a stone's throw away. He glances at the intruders, with their flashy cameras dangling around their necks, as if to say "Puh-leez, not another tourist." The very human, somewhat bored expression on the gorilla's face is fascinating.

After a while, we also get to see the rest of the group. Three tussling beatniks try to knock each other into the bush. We were told to keep a distance of at least five meters, but that's impossible when the youngsters are running towards us. Hairy hands reach out.

A mother is breast-feeding her tiny three-day-old baby. She treats it very tenderly while the chief of the clan, the silverback, relaxes on his back, yawning and exposing two rows of giant teeth.