Rwenzori Mountains

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 
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.

the view down

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Queen Elizabeth National Park Photos April 28

one of the crater lakes

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Queen Elizabeth National Park

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.

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Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Gorilla Tracking April 27

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.

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Lake Mbura Tues April 26

Monday Jim and I went for a long walk past lots of businesses in the area, and I bought EVERYTHING on the list! (and a few more impulse buys, like a shirt, gum, Stony ginger beer, etc.) The big surprise was finding a microphone cable, since one of mine had disappeared in the comings and goings from the safari truck. We had asked at about 10 places and everyone told us to go downtown, but then Jim spotted a guy with a pile of cables moving large speakers, and it turned out he had one to sell. I paid about $10 for it, which was well worth it since it could have been a huge project to find one otherwise. You can’t just google audio equipment in Kampala.

I have been doing short sessions for the Stawa class at 5pm, on electronic music.

Tuesday morning Larry drove us west toward Lake Mbura. I saw green papyrus puffballs. At a gas station Jim made friends with the female employee, who shook my hand before we left. Shops you see by the road are often the most primitive structures, corrugated tin roof and clay or brick walls, with the most sophisticated technology inside: cell phones, videography services. Cows were sleeping on the median grass in one place.

We stopped near Mpabire to check out the drum makes by the road, who give demos of drum construction, and sell very reasonably priced drums of wood and cow hide. I bought 4, that had different sounds, for around $50.
We passed the equator and took pix with our each food in a different hemisphere. I paid 200 UGX to a boy to use the restroom and bought some things. Now in the southern hemisphere for the first time, there was a lot of road contruction to widen the road. I had the Uganda version of MacDonalds (in my case roasted chicken on a stick, and roasted bananas) which was stuck in the window along with many other possibilities. It tasted excellent. You can also get corn (roasted, slightly smoky, dry and substantial, which is a really good snack), beef, pork or chapati this way. It’s cheap, healthy and good. You grab what you want, and pay a minimal amount. The bananas here are amazingly good, roasted or raw. They have so much flavor: tart and sweet at the same time, and a fuller texture than in the US. The little ones are also extremely good and sweet. The matoke green staple bananas are not sweet, but they are good with beans.

The wide road turned into a narrower road, and we made a left turn (south)
to Lake Mbura. It was a long hard road with many animals — my first view of zebras in the wild! IT was a wonderful drive with many wart hogs, water buffalo, antelope, especially impala. Waterbuck and babboons were in the distance. We had a slowly cooked dinner by the lake, unable to help a British group with car trouble as neither of us had jumper cables. The great-tasting fish with chips took over an hour to cook. I photographed a monkey by the kitchen, heard a hippo in the water, and recorded warthog snorts and bird song. We found a magic place on no trail, on one of the recording sessions, a pond with many birds and lots of sunlight. Another beautiful Ugandan park.

At one point a bunch of cattle had gotten into the park, and a herder was trying to get them out as he was in trouble for it with the Uganda Wildlife Authority. So there were 100 cows with horns on the road in front of us, meaning another great recording session.

On the way to the hotel at night we saw a leopard briefly on the road! He ran away quickly. My first wild cat sighting. The hotel was pretty nice. I heard howling dogs or coyotes, but I was too tired to record.

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Lake Victoria Islands Photos

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Lake Victoria Islands Tour April 24

Easter sunday Jim, Larry, Anita (a student who works for TATS) and I went to Lake Victoria islands. I got the best recordings of the trip so far! I had no idea how extensive the islands were in this huge lake. The drive took about an hour to the wharf and fish market. Larry arranged with a guy to take a boat out for most of the day, and we headed off to Sowe Island, seeing many birds, including egrets, cormorants and white storks, not the Kampala type. Anita was familiar with this first island, and showed me around. Jim is a child-magnet and after a few minutes had an expanding group following him around. I met the school teacher, stopped by the church to record some music, and had a good recording session on the other side of the island, with the children following me being very good and quite while I recorded. Larry got some fish and we went on to Paradise Island, which was aptly named. After losing the “security” guy who kept talking while I was trying to record, as Jim went with him, I got wonderful recordings and video of egrets and other birds, mostly in the trees.

Kings Island was had belonged to the King of Buganda, turned into a commercial vacation spot now. Dragon flies circle you as you walk. Waves lapped up onto rocks with cormorants and egrets perched on them. You have a perfect view of this from the tables covered by grass roofs. There was even a great rest room. In the middle of the island was grass-roofed bar with couches, audio system and sculptures. Behind this was a grassy area with a few trees and an amazing number of birds and a few cows. In the grassy/treed area I got great recordings. I ate a whole tilapia freshly caught and cooked and with the chili sauce.

We saw otters in the water, briefly. The final island we stopped by in a forested area and I had to walk through a big tree branch to get off the boat. As soon as I looked up there were huge spiders all in front of me. Of course I freaked out, spiders not being my favorite thing, and it was a while before I got up the courage to follow Jim up into the brush. There appeared to be a path, but it didn’t go anywhere, and we still heard the loud waves and loud music from across the lake. I got one bird call recorded. However it was probably good this happened because I learned that Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where I’ll be next week, will be even thicker forest than this, and  have these same harmless but large spiders.

We had dinner at the Kabira country club, which was really nice. I had chicken biryani and part of a death by chocolate cake.

Easter Monday is a holiday in Uganda, so nothing was planned. Jim and I went shopping and managed to find a microphone cable, CDs, a map of Uganda, Stony ginger beer which is quickly becoming a habit here, batteries, and other useful stuff. Larry, Jim and I had a great Ethiopian dinner at the place that was bombed last summer. You would never know that happened, except that we had to go through a security check on the way in. The prices are so reasonable – about 10000 (around $5) for a huge platter more than enough for 1 person. We split 2 for 3 people.

Pix will go up later. Tomorrow (Tues April 27) we go on the longest tour, Lake Mburo, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (gorilla tracking), Queen Elizabeth (tree lions are there), Rwenzori Mountains and Bigodi Swamp bird sanctuary. I will be back late Friday.

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Jinja Photos

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Malaba Uganda, Malaba Kenya border Photo

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More photos from Mt Elgon

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