Mt. Elgon, Jinja and Source of the Nile tour


It rained all night Wednesday. I had worked late and got to bed 
after a shower at 1:30 battling a couple of mosquitos, when the 
rain started. At some point the wind started to roar in an 
ascending pitch. I kept thinking it would die down but it just 
got stronger, until I was afraid the windows would burst. I put the
 blanket between my face and the right window, and faced a way 
from the left window. The rain poured off the roof. I My door was 
ajar when I got up even though I had left it clasped shut. When I 
got up at 8am, Larry said plans had changed and we were going to 
Mt. Elgon today instead of tomorrow, and the Lake Victoria islands
 trip would happen Sun. I asked if it was because of the weather 
and he said "yes." So we headed out for the longer trip to the 
Eastern side of Uganda in the safari truck, onto the best road I'd
 seen in Uganda, with lines on each side and down the middle, and 
shoulders. There were still many bicycles, and walkers on the side
 of the road. Many women were in beautiful dresses, some with the
 traditional butterfly sleeves, more so than usual, because of the
 Easter weekend holiday. We had Indian food in Mbale, at the foot
  • of the mountain, and picked up the guide, Amos.
We drove up the dirt mountain road with much bouncing, jostling 
and squeaking of the truck. We saw the mountain people who live 
there, who stared at us and sometimes waved. Goats, cows and sheep 
were by the road more often here than on the highway or in Kampala.
 Often they had a leg tied and would be at the end of the rope. We 
finally got to the Uganda Wildlife Authority at 4:30pm, signed in 
and started the hike. Larry did not come, but Ellenie joined us. 
Amos, who carried an AK47, kept saying we'd be back in an hour; our
 goal was to see some caves. Jim and Amos got well ahead of us on 
the steep uphill since I was weighted down with recording equipment
 and the African food I'd been eating since I got here. The first 
hour was mostly uphill, through rainforest, and passing through 
some farmland with cows and rows of crops planted. I was breathing
 fast and hard. It rained a little off and on, and thunder rolled 
occasionally. Rainforest! Pretty views of the valley, moutains and 
small farms. After a mostly flat area we climbed again, taking big 
steps over the boulders on the path. It got rougher, and even scary
 at times. Approaching a slanted rock wall I refused to go up it, 
as this had reached my climbing limits. I spent about 15 minutes 
stewing over it and arguing with Ellenie, who kept saying "you 
will go, and I will help you. I will be right behind you." She said
 later teh mountain people had removed some of the UWA's ladders 
that are usually in spots like this. Finally, since Amos and Jim 
were not coming back to see what happened, and I realized either 
I'd be left alone waiting for them while she told them I wasn't 
coming, or I'd have to climb it, I just decided to do it. It really
 was not hard, and she did tell me where to put hands and feet so 
I didn't slip. The main problem was when I grabbed thorny plants 
to hang onto instead of roots. I started to feel some confidence in
 her because she could be right under me, hanging on from some 
impossible place, making sure I, who was on the easiest path, made
 it.
We got to the cave, met Jim and Amos, and went inside. It went 
about 40 feet back in, and you could stand up in the end part after
 ducking through the entrance. Jim saw a bat. I took some flash 
pix, and so could see everyone briefly. There was only one oval 
light from the entrance in one direction. The reverberation on our 
voices was wonderful, prolonging the sound.
Going back over that scary place again I had Jim, Ellenie and Amos
 helping, which made it easy. We had to really move to get back 
before it was too late. It was almost dark when we reached the 
truck. I'd gotten a few recordings of birds and the mountain people playing drums and singing which we heard at the cave, in the distance. I was really excited to have conquered the fear of heights, at least in this one situation.
Jim had bought some staples for the mountain people on the way up,
 and we stopped and 3 of their homes to deliver the gifts. They 
invited us in, chatted for a few minutes. It wasn't so easy since 
the language was different, but I think they got the idea of what 
we were saying. They were very gracious. At first I was concerned 
this would seem condescending, but after doing it, found it to be 
wonderful. I could see what their lives were like, and they seemed
 to appreciate the gifts. The homes were made of clay  with tin or
 grass roof, with newspaper, often with President Mouseveni's face
 on the wall. Larry says this is wallpaper.
It was dark, but they have candles. I recorded some frogs near one
 of the homes that was next to a stream. 

We drove back down the difficult road in the dark, getting to Mbale
 late and looked for dinner. We ended up, dirty and tired, at a 
place that took forever, and confused our orders numerous times. 
At least we got to sit outside. The hotel Ridat was worse. I had 
no light in the bathroom, and there was no hot water. A guy 
replaced the bathroom light upon my request, with a disco black 
light from the attached club. At least 
the mosquito net was in good shape. Apparently this hotel had
 "gone down the tubes." This is the first time we had had a negative 
experience with either food or accomodation and we had some laughs 
about that and the dinner.  

The next day we had a decent breakfast at a very nice hotel in 
Tororo, after driving a couple of hours. The Rock Hotel where the 
government people stay. I had lionized potatoes (fried with egg). 
We headed southeast to the Kenya border and parked at Malaba, 
Uganda. We changed some money, and walked over the bridge of the 
Malaba River which delineates the border, to Malaba, Kenya. Cars, 
trucks, carts and bicycles with all kinds of products went over the
 bridge. I put away my camera when we saw the guards. We saw 
produce, and many other products being carried over. Several trucks
 carrying new cars crossed from Kenya to Uganda. Women in beautiful
 dresses and others crossed on foot. We shopped at the little 
tourist shops there and I found some colorful fabrics. We ate lunch
 at the mini-hotel (a restaurant) and I had chapati with rice and 
vegetables. It was pretty good. Then we came back over the river.
 There was a hippo in the river, but I missed it with my camera. 
I climbed under the bridge to record the birds, but it created 
such a ruckus with people being surprised to see a muzungu (white 
woman) under the bridge with recording equipment that I had to 
stop. We then drove west and north to Jinja.

Jinja is a beautiful city with nice gardens and buildings. Jim went
 shopping since he'd been here before, and I went on a boat ride 
on Lake Victoria/Nile River. This is the source of the Nile River,
 at Lake Victoria. Walking back up from the boat launch there was 
a statue of Ghandi, that people stood in line to photograph. The 
trees around the statue were full of monkeys with little human-like
 black faces and grey bodies. One jumped down and a guy was feeding
 him peanuts and playing with him, until the monkey stole the whole
 bag of peanuts. We stopped in a "bar" supposedly to recording 
them singing a drinking song, but they didn't. A bunch of people 
sat around a big bucket with beer (looked like mud to me) drinking 
out of long pink or green tubes. Next Larry took me to Bulimbaga  
Falls, while Jim stayed in a small village talking with people. 
These waterfalls are beautiful, and people go down them in short 
kayaks. I spent a while shooting video and recording the falls. 
Soon there will be a dam here and the falls will probably be gone. 
Larry got a very cool drum on this trip, with a python skin head, 
which I play sometimes. 

We drove back in a gorgeous sunset most of the way to Kampala, 
Saturday night. I recorded sounds in a town before Kampala, but 
unfortunately the batteries had run out and I could not record 
these rich pulsing traffic/club sounds.
The dinner and shower at the guesthouse were so welcome!
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Kampala Photos

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Ndere Dance Troupe 4/20/11 Photos

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Kampala 4/18 to 4/21

I heard Joanne leaving at 5am for her flight Monday and went back to sleep. We’ll miss her friendliness, appreciation for everyone, and her willingness to give up her excessive worry and try to go with the flow, which helps here. Things often don’t go according to plan, but they always seem to work out ok.

I was working on sound and video I’d recorded, and found some of it seemed amateurishly shot (the video at least), but some is good. I heard sounds I don’t usually make – grunting at the jolts of the truck, and laughing in a huhuhu way that sounds new. It’s a very full and relaxed laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much before as in these last few days. Part of it is that the unexpectedness of everything keeps me engaged, and partly Larry, Jim and the others have such easy-going attitudes that the time is  enjoyable.

Jennifer cooks for us just outside the kitchen, on a charcoal fire every morning and evening. She comes at 7am and at 8am we usually have scrambled eggs, bread with strawberry jam, and sometimes porridge made of corn or millet and coffee or tea and mango juice. The eggs with a little vegetables and mild seasoning and porridge are great. The mango juice is very strong so we add water. One morning we had samosas with peas inside, with the eggs. For dinner we most often have African food, either out or in, which consists of chicken, beans and matoke (mashed non-sweet bananas that is a staple here), rice, pusho (like white polenta). Other times we’ve had yams (purple, not sweet), sweet potatoes (white, sweet), fish stew or fried or roasted meat, or vegetables. For some reason I have a beer every night — I like Nile special. I’ve heard complaints about Ugandan food but I like it. It does tend to be high in carbs so you have to watch how much you eat.

Jennifer also washes our clothes and cleans the guesthouse. She is a young woman with a gorgeous smile and cheerful almost all the time. Her husband had malaria and is sick. There are many women and men who work here, some coming in to use the computers upstairs or the one in the shared living area down here. Anita is the person I communicated with before coming here, but she is getting married and not here as much now.

My room is one of two off of the living/kitchen area downstairs. It has a polished granite floor like the rest of the house, a dresser, plastic desk and closet which is larger than I need. The windows have no screens so I keep them closed most of the time, unless I am out. I have a mosquito net which every night I pull down and tuck in around the edge of the bed, and every morning I tie up and away so the mosquitos don’t hide inside it. It is comfortable inside most days. I’ve not experienced air-conditioning in Kampala yet, and it is usually in the 80’s during the day. I’ve only missed AC a few times, particularly when driving in traffic jams which clog the city from 10am to 9pm.

The guesthouse has a name: “Giraffe Park Hotel.” It has a high wall around it with barbed wire on top, which is a remnant of the wartimes. Now it is safe here, but barbed wire remains on some buildings. There is a big metal gate which one of the employees often opens for us when we arrive. There is lots of washing of cars in the front and incessant sweeping goes on everywhere in Uganda it seems, keeping the dirt surfaces outside neat.

I have had internet problems so I am sometimes using the TATS computer to get online, or I borrow Larry’s USB wireless modem, which brings up the Internet Everywhere app on my Mac, which installed the first time automatically. The only problem with the modem is you cannot do large uploads or downloads with it. I think my wireless card has died, which I may get fixed here.

Monday I taught a class at the Tropicoso Primary school. I’ve not taught primary school before, and it seems in a way odd thing to do in my life as a professor of a somewhat esoteric area of computer music. I was agreeable to it because in all these meetings I engage with people in Uganda in a way I could never do as a tourist or visitor. You learn a lot about a different life. The children are touchingly sweet sometimes, too. In the afternoon I met with Annet of the Ndere Dance Troupe, a professional  group that travels internationally. We briefly discussed a collaboration which can get going next week and she thought they would be interested in working with me on a piece. Larry and I had lunch at an African restaurant outside and worked there on computers afterwards. I contributed a music component to the Stawa University evening class at the guesthouse that Jim has been teaching.

I went to the African clothing store Tuesday morning and ordered two custom tailored dresses to be made with African print fabrics.I dropped by Jim’s class at the Policeman’s Children Academy, and later met with Mikael from Uganda Theatre Heritage at Makarere University about a possible theater collaboration in May. It was hard to choose the print as so many were beautiful. The evening class happened again, and I processed Joseph’s voice with flanging. After that Larry and I went to hear Qwela, a fusion band that is popular, in a nice outside restaurant called “Catch the Sun.” I met with the leader, and we may talk more again soon.

Wednesday I met with the House of Talent performing group. They perform traditional Ugandan music and dance, and were interested in working with me using techology, which they’ve not done before. They were also fascinated with the idea of using bird and water sounds, and wanted my music and a bird recording. One of players makes the adungu (bow stringed) instrument, and possibly will make me one. In the evening class I again showed some signal processing and played “Water Birds.” The students seemed to really like it.

We headed off to the Ndere Dance show and dinner. There is an outside theater at their Centre with dinner tables with white table cloths, and a good buffet with spinach soup, various bananas, potatos and vegetables, and fruit for dessert. The show was wonderful, with enthusiastic and authentic-seeming traditional Uganda dance and music. The emcee kept everyone laughing, pointing out the Ugandan qualities of relaxation compared to the overly stressed Westerner and filling us in on what music came from what tribe. We were invited to dance with the dancers afterward and I found that  imitating their hip-shaking dance is aerobic and fun.

Thursday I had no meetings, as the schools are going on break and spent the morning struggling with wordpress.com image updates to my blog, and other stuff on the guesthouse computer. Jim, Larry and I went to a Chinese restaurant, quite a nice one, downtown, and I had “sumptuous vegetables” served in a wooden boat and green tea. Ugandan Chinese. Good.
On the way back we went to a set of craft shops behind the National Theatre building, and I got Omweso, an Ugandan board game, a rosewood dish, elephant earrings ($2) and a beautiful shirt. One woman told me I was her first customer at 3:30pm, and if she had no sales one day she would be in trouble with the boss. The people don’t have their own shops; they are hired as attendants. I found some Congo drums but Larry was early getting back so I didn’t have time to decide about them as he was parked in a bad place. I worked on sound and Lillian came in around 6:30pm to ask if I’d do 30 minutes of music for the Stawa class, and so I did. They got excited about the No.7 for Gyil piece and I showed them recording and processing their voices in Audacity software.

Driving down the roads of Kampala is good entertainment for the visitor: views of the hills with trees and homes on them, tangled spurts of traffic, roundabouts, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) everywhere, often carrying businessmen or women in  beautiful print dresses riding side-saddle, bicycles carrying crates of soda pop stacked 6 high on the back, 15′ long pieces of wood, big bags of food, and other impossibilities, vendors coming by stopped traffic to sell triangularly stacked oranges, sugar cane, vegetables, steering wheel covers, toys, or floor mats. You pass all kinds of people, women in gorgeous traditional dress with butterfly sleeves on their way somewhere, vendors, shops with bed frames, chairs, fabrics, air-time (phone minutes), clothing and downtown even bigger supermarkets. We passed a Peace Embassy today; I wonder what that was. People in shops are usually friendly – a Spanish-sounding guy in a fancy furniture store with million-shilling couches could not sell Jim any tape measures, but said he would get them for us because he had to go downtown anyway the next day. I thought this was unlikely, but he called with the price, and today we picked them up and Jim paid the price the guy had paid for them.

Tonight Jim and I played with the cheap toy electronic instruments he’d been collecting for around $5US each, an “organ” and a “guitar”. The Chinglish on the boxes is hilarious, and the organ actually had, for the controls you think you will get, a piece of printed paper with shapes of knobs and display. It does make weird glissing out of tune sounds, and if you play a b-b diatonic scale you get something close to a major scale. The black keys are fake. The guitar is a little better, with its built-in pinball machine and many buttons that start melodies like Fur Elise and Old MacDonald Had a Farm. And lights! Things light up when you hit the buttons. We had a ridiculous rock concert-like jam session and Larry photographed.

Tomorrow we go to Lake Victoria and the islands, and Saturday leave for Mt. Elgon, a 2-day trip including Jinja, source of the Nile.

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Murchison Falls Photos 5

kobAcoli area

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Murchison Falls Photos 4

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Murchison Falls Photos 3

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Murchison Falls Photos 2

Warthog crosses the road

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Murchison Falls Photos

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Murchison Falls Safari

We woke up at 6, and took hard boiled eggs and bread from the hotel to drive to Murchison Falls. This was unusual as almost all of our meals have been relaxed. My first photo was of the glowing orange water-color sunrise patterns on blue sky background. We saw many baboons who scampered off the road when we approached. The road was red dirt, sometimes morphing to a sandy yellow and then back to red, with lush brilliant green vegetation. Larry opened up the top so you can sit on the back of the seat and look out for animals. This was exhausting as the vehicle jerked around but fun. We took a ferry across with the car, eating the eggs at that point. Larry told us more animals would be on the other side. Juggling camcorder, camera and occasionally recorder was complex but manageable most of the time.

The ride in to Murchison after the river was tremendous and I was incredulous at the number of different animals I was seeing.

A pond had hippopotomous in it; all you see are flat round brown lumps on the top of the water. Later we saw many more, large groups, and heard their occasional antiphonal snorting and grunting from different sides of the hippo cluster. I heard they come out of the water and spend all night eating grass. They can be the most dangerous animal, however. All sort of antelope: culb, water buck, Jackson’s Hartbeest, dikdik. Two of them have horns with braid-like pattern, and you distinguish them by how they curve. The small dikdik looks very alert and worried. They can all run very fast when threatened. This savannah area is mostly grassy, with coconut palms and other trees occasionally. Finally, off in the distance we saw giraffes, which to me was unbelievable, that outside of any zoo, these improbable creatures could actually exist and survive. They seemed to hang out in pairs or small groups, and sometimes a couple would be together with their heads and necks alligned. They let us come to about 50 feet before they would start to turn and walk away. The red anthills, actually built by termites, started to take on castle-like and strange shapes with many towers. Before they had been mostly rounded, 3 or 4 feet high, but they were bigger in this area, maybe 5 or 6 feet high.

The warthogs were hilariously ugly, sort of pig-like animals with curly fangs(?) on each side of the face and a long thin tail with a pouf of fur at the end. I never did get a good head-on picture, but a group did cross the road in front of us. We had seen elephants in the distance off and on, and finally the road, which was getting more difficult to navigate due to ruts and holes, took us closer to them. A monitor lizard, several feet long, was just next to the road on my side of the vehicle. Many kinds of birds, not just the storks that find home in Kampala, but many birds I have no names for. I kept seeing Lake Albert in the distance, with Congo on the other side, and finally we arrived at the boat launch well after noon and had lunch at a 5 star hotel with a great buffet, and desserts! These were
well-earned after struggling to stay balanced for hours while the truck lurched and jolted us, sometimes making me grunt loudly, while trying to take pictures and video. Jim bravely drove for a while and gave Larry a rest. Joanne’s headache had become difficult, and I found one tissue – covered advil in my pocket which she welcomed. Fortunately that and the coffee seemed to help. Sitting in the outside area of the restaurant, we had a view of the valley and swimming pool below.

Next Joanne, Jim and I had a three hour boat ride to Murchison falls, seeing all the animals we had seen earlier and more, including crocodiles, lying by the water with their mouths staying open. Apparently this is to cool themselves. We were less than 10 feet from hippos in the water and they stared at us and sometimes snorted. Groups of 10 or twenty African elephants, or water buffalo, clustered by the water, eating grass and hanging out. Sometimes they would have a bird or two on their backs. White egrets, or other birds eat bugs off them. We finally got close enough to see Murchison Falls in the distance, and right there was a small island with a tree and a cluster of weaver birds fluttering, singing around their nests. Since the boat motor was turned lower I hoped the recording would be usable. I had recorded earlier on this boat trip with the shotgun mic, and will have to see if the boat noise obscures the bird sounds.

Every time I turned there was a new amazing thing on this trip. This vibrant eco-system has to be one of the most unique and varied on earth, and being in it for a day gave me an extraordinarily joyful and expansive feeling.

Back from the boat ride, we had news from Larry that on oil-truck had overturned (we’d seen it driving on the way in), and was completely blocking our exit road. So we needed to take another way out that would take 3 extra hours, and had to leave right away. So the hoped-for drive up to the top of the falls would not happen, and we were looking at arriving back at the guesthouse at midnight. I had wanted to record the falls in particular, so this was a little disappointing, but tiredness was taking over so I was ok with the change.

This even more difficult road with washed out areas, deep ruts, and huge bumps had us at crawling speeds at times. But, this less-used road took us even closer to the wildlife. We never saw lions despite my careful looking, but so many other animals were nearby. Elephants even crossed the road in front of us! Of course, we stopped. I can’t imagine what would happen if you hit one. Probably the car would be wrecked, and they would charge, leaving you in a pretty terrible situation.
They must have been 10 feet from us. More giraffes, and some of teh best pictures came from this time photographing them. A young giraffe with its mother was off to the side, and near the end in a very nice moment, several elephants, including a mother and baby, let us be very close to them for several minutes without moving away. I have video on my iphone of that since my camcorder battery had worn out.

This day may have been the most exciting of my life. Falling in love with Africa, is similar but different than falling in love with China as I did in 2003 in places like Hua Shan, Xian, Huang Shan and Yushu. You can’t be the same having experienced this place, a feeling of how life goes on in the wildest, freest place on earth, where humans are not dominant. But while it feels joyfully free, it does not seem completely ‘wild’ when you are there. Every animal has its uniqueness, its places for play and strategies for eating and and caring for babies that are natural and intelligent.

After exiting the park, putting us more east than we had been, we had to travel on Gulu Road. We passed through many Acoli tribe villages, with round clay buildings with grass roofs. I enjoyed seeing women in traditional colorful dress, sometimes carrying things on their heads. The road was disintegrating, though, and the two-way traffic often barely (if at all) fit on the road. With the many bicycles and walkers, this seemed to me a dangerous situation in the darkening light toward evening. This went on for hours, as it became darker. Fortunately most people wore light colors, but those who did not faded into the road and were hard to see. When we had to veer to the left (driving on the left side of the road in Uganda) to avoid oncoming traffic sometimes the road had been eaten away and so we hit the edge with a hard and loud jolt. We didn’t hit anything due to Larry’s amazing driving skills, but for me, used to wide US roads with lines, lights and shoulders, it was at times terrifying. After some hours we reached a police checkpoint. They were relaxed and waved us through. Apparently the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) had been active in those areas before.

We stopped for dinner around 9pm at a small placed near a gas station and had chicken which was good, and chapati. Joanne wanted wine because she would fly on to Paris tomorrow, so she and I had some bubbly white wine with an Italian name from the convenience store. We stopped later to put the fuel Larry had brought into the truck with help from some people who sell charcoal by the road. A woman in a pretty dress calmly asked me if I wanted charcoal. The three of us caught some rest on the way back, and the roads improved. Lights started appearing and we arrived back in Kampala at the guesthouse before 11pm, dirty and exhausted, but still in a state of excitement.

Hippos and Elephants from boat

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