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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Photos from Biwa tour

Biwa Office Board - Baby Rhinos

Hassan, Bella and Augustus
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Biwa Rhinoceros Sanctuary – April 16, 2011

Larry drove Joanne, Jim, and I there; even though Joanne and Jim 
weren't going to partake of the rhino experience, Biwa was on the 
way to Murchison Falls where we were all going, so we all went 
together. We saw lots of wildlife just getting to the main office, 
including monkeys, many birds, and bushbuck deer with the pretty 
pattern on their backs. 
There are no fences here, and I signed my life away, 
agreeing that I might die, and I should run up a tree if charged 
by the rhinos, and not to hold the preserve liable. This tends to 
make you think about just how big these creatures are, and how you 
might not want to do something silly just for a sound or picture. 
Larry and I went on with the guide, who was dressed in a full 
uniform and carrying a long gun, down the rough road in the safari 
vehicle to the pond where the rhinos drink, and near there three 
of them were munching grash, Bella, Hassan, and the 1.5 year old 
baby Augustus. We spent quite a while, and I photographed and 
recorded their sounds. They are fairly quite sounds, but they did 
make some munching and footstep sounds, and a highlight was when 
Augustus wanted to nurse and made a high pitched sound to the 
mother. I didn't feel like enraging them so they would make 
fighting sounds! Another highlight, with a fear factor, was when 
Augustus seemed kind of interested in us and walked toward us, and 
Bella got protective and came close enough, maybe 30 yards, to 
make us back up and move toward the truck. We had to speak very 
softly so as not to disturb the animals, and the guide had a very 
pleasant softspoken Uganda-accented English as he gave me many 
details about the rhinos and the preserve. The reserve has existed 
since 2004, and the first five years were devoted to building a 
wall around the edge to protect the rhinos from poachers. In 2009 
they received two rhinos from the U.S., and after that at least 
one from Kenya. All the native Ugandan rhinos had been killed by 
poachers, and often quite horribly. They now have 9 at at least 
two have been born 
there, Augustus and Obama. The babies gestate for 1.5 years and 
nurse for 2-3 years. They have a family unit that stays together. 
Since there are more males than females in the preserve, they will 
be getting 12 more rhinos from South Africa soon. Periodically 
frogs by the pond would let out a chorus of low sounds with many 
rhythms which I also recorded, along with bird sounds. 

Back by the office there were some caged blue and orange parrots 
(I think) and some weaver birds around a cluster of nests, more to 
record. They hang upside down and build neat round nests in that 
hang down from the branches.
I also went into the pen to see the baby bushbuck orphans, which 
are kept there, if their parents had been killed, until they can be 
released into the wild. 

On the way out we gave a ride to a very articulate ranger who told 
us more about the rhinos and area, including the name of the 
gilded guinea fowl we kept seeing, a bird that looked like a big 
dark colored rooster with a blue crest on its head. 
After the preserve we drove to the De Venue Hotel, which was quite
nice, and had dinner outside.
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Day 1

I lectured to 150 primary school students at 9am. They wore blue uniforms and seemed pretty attentive. Without any preparation I talked about listening, music, sound and my background. We made a little piece out of singing a few notes and clapping, with music notation and a kind of sonogram representation on the chaulkboard. There was no electricity so I could not plug in my speakers, so I walked around with my computer to show them loon sounds and play it for them. It all seemed to go well and a bunch of them came up to me at the end and asked for URLs for music and software.
Then we went downtown so Larry could meet with a government official about a TATS program, and had lunch at a nice cafe where I had African tea and a chicken burger. They were both very good.
We next went to the dance troupe’s place, which is very beautiful, but were unable to meet with them. Since that was canceled I had time to go to the Uganda museum which was very interesting. I hope to get some pictures up here next.
We came back to the guesthouse and I slept for several hours and then had dinner, bananas, beans, rice, and the others had pork. Joanne is from NY and Jim is a math prof from Hawaii.
The power just blew out in a big wind so I had to retype all that and there is now a candle burning in the room.

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Arrival in Uganda

Boston was cold and rainy, and I finished a review there. In the Amsterdam airport I managed to scan in a score for a performance in Seoul, eat breakfast, and lose my credit card going through the second security check before getting on the flight to Entebbe.
I was impressed with KLM’s food, but I did not know the flight was going to stop in Kigali, Rwanda, until I got on the plane. Delta had switched my flight a couple of weeks earlier. I was a little worried about going through Rwanda, having heard about awful events decades earlier, but reading in my guide book on the plane, found that Kigali is actually one of the nicer cities in the area. We only stopped 45 minutes, and never left the plane, arriving in Entebbe around 10pm on April 14, after around 25 hours on 3 flights.
I was pretty stressed in the beginning, as getting ready got really rushed toward the end, but once on the flight to Amsterdam felt quite elated: this trip is actually getting off the ground! I managed to sleep a bit on both flights, and felt pretty good in spite of no sleep the night before leaving. I was surprised that 80% of the people on the last flight were white, and more than half of the people got off at Kigali.
The line at immigration was long and slow with a number of people getting irritable about others going at the inappropriate time, and the security fellow did not intervene. A couple of women traveling with 3-5 children each went to the front of the line and no one minded about that.

Larry from TATS met me there and brought me to the guesthouse. I had some African food and beer and unpacked.

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Uganda trip

Backyard, Cincinnati

Mara in Qinghai province of China, 2007

I will be flying to Entebbe on April 13, through Amsterdam, and arrive on the 14th. The plan is to give lectures arranged by Teach and Tour Sojourners (TATS,, and record the sounds of  wildlife while touring parks and reserves.

So far I know I’ll be spending time in Murchison Falls on the first weekend, and subsequently in some order, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (gorilla tracking), Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale National Park, Lake Mburo National Park, Mt Elgon National Park, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Ziwa Rhinos Reserve, Budongo forest, the source of the Nile River, islands in Lake Victoria, and Bigodi Swamp (bird sanctuary).

Lectures will be at several universities.

It’s a whirlwind trying to get ready for a complicated trip involving recording audio and video, safaris, and presenting new music and technologies to different groups.

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