More adventures of world explorer Bob Gannon

Mimi Pollack

Third in a Series

GROSSMONT COLLEGE– Solo airplane pilot and adventurer Bob Gannon has made the eradiction of AIDS a special cause as he continues his global exploration.  In Uganda, he helped to build a special school and donated money for  children who were orphaned because both of their parents had died of AIDS. Gannon said that unfortunately, AIDS has ravaged many parts of Africa.

This brought to mind the annual Reed Dance he saw in Zululand–a portion of the Republic of South Africa. The Reed Dance celebrates a young girl’s virginity.  Gannon called it the “Dance of the Bare Breasted Maidens” because in traditional times neither young women nor young men had need of shirts in Zululand’s hot climate. Gannon  said the girls danced with long, bamboo or reed poles, hoping the king would choose one of them. He said the king has the right to choose a bride every year, but usually doesn’t.

At the time Gannon attended the ceremony, the king was more concerned about the growing threat of AIDS. He wanted to start virginity testing on both adolescent girls and boys because there have been so many people dying from the disease. Gannon said that the first and the last thing you see driving through Zululand are funeral homes. Despite all that, the dance continues every year, and Gannon said he was glad to be able to see it.

Gannon has spoken at Grossmont College and has agreed to return at some future date to share his adventures.  As part of his odyseey, Gannon has made it a point to visit as many
UNESCO World Heritage sites as possible, especially those featuring animals, as the adventurer is an animal lover.

Among these was the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, one of the 36 African countries he visited.  The park is one of three sites where mountain gorillas can be found under the watchful eyes of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, which maintains strict controls.

Mountain Gorilla in Uganda {Photo: Bob Gannon}

Visitors are guided in groups of  6-8 people. The Authority allows only two treks a day and all participants must be healthy so  as to not endanger the gorillas. When Gannon’s scouts found the mountain gorillas, the group was required to stay back at least 8 to 10 feet. Gannon said a Silverback male eyed them cautiously, but did not charge them. He said the feeling of being among the gorillas was a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.

In Namibia, he visited the Harnas Wildlife Foundation, which is dedicated to saving and if possible rehabilitating the lives of wild animals in Africa.  While volunteering there, Gannon saw lions, wild dogs, and baboons, and  made friends with a partially domesticated cheetah who took a liking to his plane, Luck Lady Too.  The cheetah was very curious and walked all around his plane.  He also saw her growling two-week-old cubs. The conservatory had to keep the mother, but they were hoping to release the cubs into the wild once they were old enough

Cheetah by Gannon's plane in Namibia (Photo: Bob Gannon)

On the border of Namibia and Botswana, Gannon landed his plane on an old road, and set up camp overnight in the Kalahari Desert. He was very brave to spend the night there alone, but it was in keeping with his adventurous spirit. A  game park ranger came by to tell him that there was a pride of lions two miles away, but as long as he kept the campfire going, they would leave him alone, which they did. A lone jackal was curious and as Gannon kept on throwing him pieces of meat, he came closer and closer until he was almost eating out of his hand. This was a wild jackal! This was just another of the incredible moments he experienced in Africa.

In Kenya, Gannon wanted to try something different. All his life, he has enjoyed outdoor, physical activities, so he decided to he enter the Maralal International Camel Derby in the amateur division. Having been raised on a farm, he had ridden horses before, but a camel was another story, especially in a camel race! It was a 10 km race. Gannon said that for just over one hour, he felt like his head was in a Martini shaker. It was hard for him to walk for a few days after the race because his muscles were very sore. It was also hard for him to sit down.  However, he placed 17th out of 58 participants. He said he was pretty proud of that.

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Pollack is an instructor in English as a Second Language (ESL) at Grossmont College.  Part II ran in the Grossmont Summit earlier this month and Part I ran in December.