marahelmuth on Lake Victoria Islands Tour Apr… Jeanette on Lake Victoria Islands Tour Apr… marahelmuth on Kampala 4/18 to 4/21 Dottie Lewis on Kampala 4/18 to 4/21
We stayed in Fort Portal at the Le Jus Centre, a Catholic hotel, and I had African food including chicken stew, matoke, vegetables and potatoes. I went on a walk with guide Jerod in Bigodi Swamp, a bird sanctuary, the next morning. The female assistant guide, who is in training, was helpful, too. Apparently this walk is better ifyou start at 7am than 9am as I did, but I was not disappointed. The persistent tinker bird caught my ear as we walked down the road to the trail. I heard, and hope I recorded, great sounds of various birds, all of which he could name. I recorded and saw Blue Turocos. I also saw a small green snake sliding up into the branches. It was a non-poisonous snake. Ugand has a lot of poisonous snakes, like mambas and cobras, but they usually stay away from people. Since they don't see, they can't very well attack unless they are provoked. We ended up at a treehouse with a nice view and a huge moth in the roof. The walk went longer, but I had to leave to get to my newly scheduled Kibale chimp tracking to make up for the one I'd missed. The female guide said next time she would be the one to take me. We ate lunch prepared by women at Bigodi, fish, and other standard African foods. It took a while to prepare as usual, but was tasty when it arrived. I also had time to buy some crafts, a string with four small colorful stuffed animals, a small adungu (bow harp or guitar) and some other things. The chimp tracking that afternoon in Kibale Park was quite a hike! Chimps move fast and my guide Alex and I spent a couple of hours tracking them with no luck, through thick rainforest jungle, sometimes wet ground, and threatening rain most of the time. He moved fast and sometimes let branches hit me after he'd passed, but I can't criticize his dedication in finding the chimps. At one point he left me for a few minutes to find them, and I was a little afraid, but saw monkeys and was able to record with no extraneous noise which was nice. The bird that calls "it will rain" was singing most of the time, but it never did rain. We crossed the road a couple of times, and found foot prints, but no actual chimps. Finally he called the office and got Larry to drive us down to another area too far to walk. We saw chimps running across the road! We got out and followed, and it was a while before we heard them. The guide said the stridant tone was an alarm call -- maybe one of them had been separated from the group. We followed it and then saw 3 males. They had found food (figs and leaves) and were eating, and making happy noises. They let the others know they had food, and it was good. The others may or may not join in that situation, depending on what they had found. We were lucky - four others came on the ground, so we had a good opportunity to seem them arrive and climb up into the trees to eat. This tracking was 3 intense hours and I was glad I hadn't given up after 2. Later I recorded near one of the crater lakes, and saw a red-billed bird on a branch above the water. Something was near the top of the water - turtle? I was too tired to climb down and see, and pointed my mic down there. Something was leaking from the car, Larry noticed, at this stop. We went back to Fort Portal to the gas station, and it was unclear if the vehicle would make it back to Kampala, but he thought it probably would. It could be better fixed there. We had dinner there and I had malo for the first time, cooked millet which is kind of like a huge dumpling that you break off squishy parts of and dip into stew juices. It was very good. It was a fast drive back to Kampala, and the truck did fine. There were a number of police checkpoints, but they usually waved us through. This was my longest tour on this trip, and I was sorry it was ending already. It would be nice to spend several days at most of the parks. We were back by 11pm, and I was glad to be able to say goodbye to Jim, and exchange stories. He had been (accidentally) in the riot Friday, but emerged unscathed by going with a local person to the village behind, which was safe! Tension has been building since the elections, and the demonstrations turned into riots in 2 districts of this very large city Thursday and Friday. 10 people were killed. I hoped I would not have to cut short my trip. I feel protected in the TATS space where people know what is going on and understand the local language news. I didn't go out the next Monday but there were no more problems. Demonstrations have been on Mondays and Thursdays usually, but writing this on May 9, things settled down last week, as people here had predicted.
In the afternoon we drove into the Rwenzori Mountains, which we'd been seeing from Queen Elizabeth and even near Bwindi. The highest peak is 16,761 feet, and they have snow caps. The tribe that lives there came from the Congo 300 years ago, and are shorter and the faces look different from other tribes I'd seen. We stopped at a hotel for lunch, and the waiter there said definitely it would be ready in 10 minutes. Larry laughed and said it would be an hour because they cook from scratch. This is typical in Ugandan restaurants. So, he then asked the woman who cooked and she said at least 30 minutes, so we took off for a hike. We bought some casava bread (fried thick reddish brown pancakes) from children on the road. Gadson, a high school student and our guide took us up the small hill near the hotel, and we got a thorough explanation of the crops grown there (bananas, guava, casava, coffee, etc) and the dam and water moving from the mountain peaks, through the dam on this hill and down into the valley. I recorded a few bird sounds and the water in the dam, and we able to climb on top and see how things worked. There were leaks in the dam that created tiny waterfalls by the path. It was somewhat steep at times going up but then we moved onto a grass road used by vehicles and cows for a bit. After lunch, which was slow in coming but tasty, we drove deeper into the mountains for a hike which I would do alone with another guide, Eddie. This hike was more of a challenge, although still nothing resembling one of the higher peaks which would require equipment and training to ascend. We crossed a little suspension bridge, and climbed up and up. We passed mountain homes made a clay with grass roofs where families lived. Eddie would often whistle softly as he approached, probably to let them know we were passing by. The children were surprised by us, or rather probably by me, a white woman, being there. One scary place where the dirt had been washed away went smoothly. If I don't think about anything except the next step, I do fine. It had been cloudy all day but cleared a little so I could see some wonderful views. Still I could not see the highest peak. He told me about the Ibiza tree from which xylophones are made, a specialty of this area. If I ever come back I will arrange for one of their performances ($8) and to have a xylophone made for me. We reached a lookout near the top, and it started to rain a little. Because it was getting late, we decided to head back. This was challenging because I the trail was now getting slick. I was still hiking in my New Balance running shoes, and my feet were protesting from the abuse of 4-5 hours of hiking. We made it back down and crossed the river, this time on rocks instead of the bridge. After I got in the truck Larry asked me if I wanted to do another hike. A woman stuck her tongue out at me as we drove out of the village. Most people were friendly, and often especially children waved, but perhaps a big truck driving rather fast on these lurching crazy potholed roads did cause some resentment at times.
I have so many more pictures, video and sound than I can post here.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, which we reached in the afternoon after the gorilla tracking, is a savannah environment, with the Rwenzori mountains in the distance. We saw tons of cob and other types of antelope, bird, monkeys and other wildlife. It was a good place to record as I could just jump out of the truck and see where I was going. We had been looking for lions, and this was probably my last chance, but did not find any on Wed. We had a tremendous drive enjoying the views and wildlife. On the way out when it was dark we saw a leopard for the second time on the road, but this one did not run away so fast! The road was elevated from the surrounding area by about 8 feet, and the leopard hung around within view in the lower area by the road for several minutes. I still could not get a good picture in the dark, but it was amazing to see one fairly relaxed and moving along.
Jim wanted to get back to Kampala for his class Thurs, so we dropped him off at the bus station. I was relieved to see it would be one of those big busses, not the smaller van-like taxis that seem very crammed and less safe. The bus was about to leave early, and we just made it in time. His help with recording was invaluable and his sense of humor was so much fun on this trip. At 10 pm Larry and I found dinner at a hotel, and I had spaghetti with a microscopic amount of sauce, and Nile special. The hotel we stayed at that night was one of the better I’d been in, with a zebra-striped blanket, fan and a TV.
The next morning exhaustion hit me and after 5 hours sleep I could not get up. I was scheduled for an 8am chimp tracking at Chambuzo. We arrived at 8:08, and the group was gone. I could get no refund. We decided to drive back to Queen Elizabeth, not too far away, and this was a very good decision. We drove around looking for lions, and in one area noticed the cob seemed hyper-alert, a sign that lions might be around. Then we found an area with almost no cob, and that seemed even more promising. Larry spotted a lion way off to the right of us, lying on the ground. Then it got up and walked perpendicular to the road. Was she going to hunt? Then we saw another, and another, slowly move in the same direction. They were probably interested in the cob in that direction, from which the wind was blowing. We moved up to follow in the truck. One actually crossed the road a few fee t from another safari truck whose people had spotted them. The lions seemed totally unconcerned about the trucks, even though they were running, and changed position sometimes. A total of 6 lions, one after the other, crossed the road and took up a position in a group maybe 20 feet from us. They were all females, as the males go their own way, and one was young and smaller. An arriving lion would go up to one of the ones lying down, interact affectionately and then lie down nearby. They seemed like big sleepy kitties and I wanted to go up and pet them but of course did not dare. Larry asked me to get out of the truck and pose for pix near the truck door so I could jump in if necessary. In was a little terrified, because I had to look the opposite way but I trusted Larry would let me know if they were coming. I moved slowly and blinked at them, and like domestic cats, they seemed to take that as a friendly signal. We stayed with them about an hour, wondering if they were hungry enough to hunt, but they were not. In one of the pictures you can see a very alert cob in the distance.
If I had made it to the chimp tracking I would have missed this incredible experience.
The gorilla tracking April in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was one of the highlights of this trip, this year, this life. I was 8 feet from huge gorillas, who seemed unbothered and sometimes curious about us. We drove into Bwindi early in the morning, above the clouds which looked like a foamy sea below the mountaintops. You can see the immense Rwenzoris and other mountains while driving in on the rough road. As in many parts of this trip the Land Cruiser was essential. The tracking starting point was somewhat high up, in the lush forest. The idea is that you pay $500US for a spot in a group of what may be up to 8 people, and you have guides who are with you, and who communicate electronically with others to find where the gorillas are today. There were perhaps 6 or 10 guides involved. A British couple living in Kampala joined Jim and I for the hike. You may or may not find gorrilas on any particular outing, but we were hopeful. We had an orientation session first. I hired a porter who carried most of my recording equipment and gave me a hand at critical times. We hiked on the sometimes steep mountainside for an hour, seeing monkeys and hearing the bark of babboons at times. Then were told the gorillas had been found, and so we dropped most of our stuff so as to go into the location too noisily, and quietly and slowly moved into the space. On my right, about 8 feet away was an immense gorilla sleepily lying on his back with his feet up against a tree. He watched us, as we moved by him, and the guides made the throat-clearing noises of gorilla greeting, so as to let them know we were here, and did not mean harm. The UWA has worked to habituate various groups, so the animals are used to humans coming in, and don’t run off. They have done this very carefully, only spending one hour per day, and having a set of rules so as not to bother the gorillas, such as no flash photos, no cell phones on, not going too close, not making much noise, not staring at them if they approach you, not backing off if they charge you, etc. As as result, you can have a tremendous experience getting really close to these amazing huge animals without much risk. We stayed with them for an hour, taking photos, video and I made audio recordings. They did not make a lot of noise, however, except the one way up in the tree dropped a lot of stuff from the fruit he was eating. We found the silverback (the huge leader) with his mate cuddling down the hill. She had a baby clinging to her, but was hidden a lot of the time. I recorded a lot of hiccups from the female or her baby. We were above them on the hill, probably 10 feet away. At one point I slipped and was worried I was going to fall down the hill and land on top of the silverback. As usual the guides were there to help me to a more balanced position.
After we had been there a while, Jim was taking pictures and kept getting close to the gorilla that had been lying on his back originally. The guides told us this one was a little stubborn. He was still sleepy, but woke up some, and got curious. He walked slowly over to Jim and touched the zipper on his jacket and played with the tag. Then he touched the yellow mosquito button on his jacket, investigating it. He was curious about these things, and had come over to check them out. After the interaction, Jim was told to move back. Jim was not even scared, and noticed how huge the hands were. To my great frustration my camcorder ran out of film, and then the battery died, so I could not shoot this. I had left my camera with my backpack, so as not too carry too much. After one hour we had to leave, according to the rules, and had a fast hike on the forest hillside back. The whole adventure took about 3 hours. We got certificates for a successful tracking at a little graduation ceremony in the outside shelter.