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Let Us Go Meet Our Cousins: MyDogKyle’s Adventures in Uganda & Rwanda

Let Us Go Meet Our Cousins: MyDogKyle’s Adventures in Uganda & Rwanda

Apr 21st, 2009, 12:52 PM
  #61  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
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I'm not sure that we will actually be trekking the chimps. Our itineray reads that we actually arrive at Kibale one afternoon and stay at either the Ndali Lodge or the Kibale Forest Camp. Yes, it does say that the next morning we "will spend your morning tracking the noisy chimps and other primates crashing aournd though the high canopy...". We then head to Queen Elizabeth where we head to Kyambura Gorge to track the chimps then on to Bwindi where we are staying at the Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge to see the gorillas.
fourwheelinit is offline  
Apr 21st, 2009, 03:59 PM
  #62  
 
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Wow, MDK, what an experience. I bet you did feel like you had witnessed a murder and then to hear the sorrowful mourning of the victim's mates. Just incredible.

Fourwheelinit, Your itinerary looks like you'll be tracking chimps in Kibale.
atravelynn is offline  
Apr 25th, 2009, 11:35 AM
  #63  
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PART 10 (Kibale Fuel Wood Project) – “A Better Side of Primates”

Today we visited the Kibale Community Fuel Wood Project, another Oakland Zoo-sponsored project. While the Budongo Forest snare removal project focused on immediate hazards to wildlife and also extended its activities out into the community via educational activities, the Kibale Fuel Wood project starts by helping people directly, and by extension helps to conserve the local environment. We were really excited about learning more, and meeting some of the people involved in this project. (More information at: http://www.chimp-n-sea.org/projects/...-wood-project/)

But first we had a lazy morning at camp, waiting for our drivers to come pick us up. (They’d all cringed at the idea of sleeping in tents, and had stayed with the rest of our group at the Ndali Lodge.) We ended up waiting about 3 hours longer than we’d expected, but it was a real luxury to have some downtime, something we hadn’t experienced at all so far on this trip. I spent the morning writing in my journal in the open-air lounge, surrounded by greenery and forest sounds of birds and monkeys crashing in the treetops, and my husband worked on some Uganda-inspired music he was writing for our band.

At last Ali arrived with the van and drove us down to the little village science center, where the Kibale Fuel Wood project has its home base. We met Margaret Kemigisa, an energetic, charismatic woman who helps run the program. She told us all about how they teach local families to plant fast-growing native trees called Sesbania for their firewood needs, rather than taking trees from the Kibale forest. These trees are planted around the borders of crops so they don’t take up much space, and if farmed properly they can provide immense amounts of fuel wood, even on small plots of land. Another aspect of the project is teaching local families to build “rocket stoves” from simple materials including mud, bricks and dung, and one small piece of sheet metal. The stoves cook faster and use much less firewood than traditional methods of cooking. Since 2006 the project has helped build more than 300 rocket stoves, which saves about 2,000 pounds of fuel wood per day! Much of this wood would have been collected from the Kibale forest, so this is obviously a great benefit to the wildlife and the local environment. The final component of the project is community education, including two science centers and a traveling Movie Night, where the whole town comes out to watch nature films. (We were sorry that our visit wasn’t during one of these events – they sound like great fun!)

At the science center, with an audience of local kids, Margaret showed us their baby tree nursery and we planted some tiny seedlings. Then we hunkered down in one of the little rooms lined with ecology posters and animal pictures to escape the rain, and enjoyed a delicious lunch made on their demonstration rocket stove—a stew of red beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and curry. (Margaret said the secret was using “really good beans!” We’ve tried to recreate it in our crock pot at home, without success.) It was one of the best meals we’d had on the trip so far, no kidding. Apparently one of the things they’ve done to convince local folks to want these stoves at their own homes is to have cooking contests, which I can certainly understand after tasting the results!

After lunch our group walked down a dirt road past small farms lined with Sesbania trees to a family’s home. The husband and wife welcomed us warmly, with Margaret and her assistant Florence Kengonzi acting as translators. The little kids of the family hung back staring at all the strangers, wide-eyed and silent. We all gathered around to watch as Margaret and Florence helped the father build a double-burner rocket stove in the family’s little mud kitchen hut. The space was too small for everybody to get in and help with the building (which would have been fun, but terribly inefficient!), but it was amazing to see how quickly the raw materials (mud, dung, straw, bricks) were transformed into a beautiful new stove. The kids all got into helping their daddy, carrying bricks back and forth and laughing and showing off their muscles when the visitors exclaimed about how strong they were. Florence, who was helping the mom inside the house, brought out little baby Christopher to meet the guests and everybody admired him. The kids were also really interested in watching my husband videotape the proceedings as the stove was being built; they gathered around behind him to peek over his shoulder at the screen, and later busted up laughing when I rewound the tape and showed them some footage of themselves. Meanwhile, baby chicks were running around underfoot, and the family goat was bleating out his annoyance with all the commotion. One little artist in a Pope John Paul II t-shirt pulled a folded sheet of smudgy paper out of his pocket and brought it over to show my friend and me his drawing of a lion. It was really good! I don’t know if he understood our words exactly, but by the way he lit up he certainly understood the praise. In addition to the fun of watching the stove come together, I also really loved seeing this family’s home and their tidy little farm: a few small buildings and a shelter for their goat, banana trees behind the kitchen, and a clever water catchment system made of plastic bottles rigged like gutters along the roof of the house. The kids were adorable, but it was clear that the family was living with very, very little, and their health was suffering for it. That is always heartbreaking to see, but even more so when you spend time with people and see how kind and generous they are.

When the stove was finished, all of us joined in the applause—family and guests alike, with additional commentary by the chickens. The mother and father thanked each of us warmly for coming to be part of this special day (even though all we’d done was watch and entertain the kids), and they gave us a basket of eggs as a gift for being guests in their home. It was a beautiful experience, and very humbling considering what a basket of eggs means to them versus the value it would have for us back home.

We walked back through the farms and up the main road of the village to a craft co-op. Along the way, a little girl who introduced herself as Irene decided to be my friend’s and my special pal and tour guide, holding onto one of us with each of her hands. Her tour was so cute, and very thorough: “This is a goat. Yes.” And a bit father up the road: “This is my house. Yes. That is my sister. She lives in my house.” And, “This is a tree. A nice tree. And another goat—yes.” At the craft shop they’d put out a colorful rack of beaded necklaces (more of those wonderful beads made from strips of magazine paper) and spread blankets on the grass to display baskets and toys. As usual, the group spent too much time shopping (another hazard of group travel?). The real highlight was when our chimp expert put on a giant papier-mâché chimp mask and started “displaying” (while also shopping for beads).

At last we were able to tear everybody away from the “store,” and walked back up the road… where we found the entire village gathered for another performance in our honor. What a great surprise! This event was put on by a local women’s conservation club. It was a fantastic, fun, and sometimes rowdy show of singing, dancing, and drama. The women and men were great dancers, but there was no feeling at all of this being a tourist show or a “professional” performance—just a big dirt clearing ringed by tall trees, with little kids running around through the middle of the dancers, old men leaning on their walking sticks, the local audience laughing and clapping, grass skirts swinging wildly and guys stomping in rhythmic dance steps with bells on their legs. One young girl was dancing with the women and she was a superstar, obviously concentrating very hard, and really good at it. We were in the audience with the rest of the villagers, but at one point a women dressed as a beer-bellied old witch doctor pulled me out of the crowd to dance with her (much to my mortification… but how can you say no to a witch doctor?).

After the singing and dancing, the women’s club performed a play about the hazards of poaching, complete with the aforementioned witch doctor, an (unscripted) baby running into the middle of the play to bang on a drum, and ultimate comeuppance for the poachers. We couldn’t understand a word of the local dialect, but the crowd was roaring with laughter and the funny story was easy enough to follow. As at Kinyara High School, they asked our group to sing for them, and this time we managed a slightly better version of “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.” A local artist stepped forward to present a gift he’d made for the Zoo—a collage that said, “Uganda, a Home of Chimps,” with a hand-written letter of thanks on the back. Most of our group spontaneously chipped in to make a donation to the women’s club, so they could buy costumes for the presentations and plays they do in local villages. (In fact, just last week we were e-mailed a short video of them dancing in their brand-new t-shirts!)

At last it was getting dark, and time to head back to camp. After many goodbyes and thanks to Margaret and Florence for all their hard work, we white-knuckled it through another drive in the dark over bumpy mud roads, with dogs darting out in front of the van’s headlights. During the long journey through pitch-black forest back to camp, I had time once again to reflect on an incredible day that had only been possible because of our Zoo connections to this special project, and I felt so fortunate to have experienced this… especially after a tough day of seeing the violent side of our primate cousins. Today was a day of primates helping one another: humans helping humans improve their lives, and by extension helping chimps and monkeys keep their homes.

Safe back at camp, we enjoyed another delicious dinner in the treehouse dining room, and spent a long time at the table after the plates were cleared away, just enjoying each other’s company. Off in the darkness of the forest, a black and white colobus monkey screamed. I ended the night journaling in our tent by headlamp, to the accompaniment of owls and bush babies. What a wonderful, inspiring day.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 25th, 2009, 12:27 PM
  #64  
 
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Ugh, the "murder." I would have had a very hard time witnessing that. This trip really covered all aspects of our cousins' characters (not to mention our own).

Thank you for continuing.
Leely2 is offline  
Apr 26th, 2009, 06:22 PM
  #65  
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You're right, Leely -- I think we really covered the whole primate spectrum. I promise there won't be any more death in this trip report (well, not that we witnessed first-hand, anyway).
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 26th, 2009, 06:23 PM
  #66  
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PART 11 (Amabeere Cave Hike) – “A Totally Unexpected Adventure”

We had lots of choices for things to do today (what’s this? a free day in our itinerary?! I’ve never seen such a thing!), and five of us opted to take Wazir’s advice and go hiking in the Kibale area, through a region filled with crater lakes on our way to the Amabeere Cave. This was something that wasn’t even on our radar—we’d been thinking initially of doing a bird walk in a swamp, but then Wazir mentioned that this might be a more exciting option for “you people who enjoy hiking.” Well, why not? It’s not often you get to get out of the car and really hike in Africa (without expensive permits!).

This choice meant we had the morning free at camp again, which was a relaxing treat. At lunch in the treehouse dining room, we were visited by a very active group of monkeys: red colobus, as well as black and white colobus, who scampered around in the treetops almost within arm’s reach. One red colobus came all the way down a tree trunk to lick the red earth. We all abandoned our lunch to gather on the stairs, snapping photos like paparazzi as monkeys leaped through the branches around us.

On the drive from Kibale Forest Camp to the starting point for our cave hike, dark clouds gathered overhead and it began to rain (again). I wondered if this was such a good idea after all. But the scenery outside the window was so beautiful—the forest, and then the rich green of tea plantations rolling down the hillsides, with the Rwenzori Mountains as a backdrop. The area around Kibale Forest is really one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I suspect the rain has a lot to do with that… so I couldn’t really get too annoyed by the rain. Jhonie played Ugandan pop songs on his cell phone for us along the way (one artist we all liked is Chameleon), and we spotted more primates along the roadside as we drove through the forest—baboons with tiny babies, and a red-cheeked mangabey who stared back at us, looking as surprised to see us as we were to see him. A sign spotted on a gate outside Fort Portal, which made me miss Kyle: “Be Aware of Dog.”

I think we paid about $15 per person (plus tip) for the afternoon’s hike. Our guide was Edward, a bright and funny young guy who showed us medicinal plants along the trail (complete with graphic re-enactments of what an upset tummy sounds like), took us to incredible viewpoints, and talked with me about life in Uganda (“we have a long way to go still in this country”), my job at a movie studio (turns out he’s a huge fan of some movies I’ve worked on), and inter-racial marriage (he said it’s really uncommon in Uganda, but he hopes someday it “will be more like the USA”). He was very intrigued with the story of how my husband and I met, and what our families thought of our marriage… and he told me, “It would be even better if you had children!” (Maybe he’s in league with my mother-in-law?)

We hiked a gorgeous route up through terraced farmland and past crater lakes both wet and dry. The rain had tapered off to give us perfect hiking weather and the views of the Rwenzoris were stunning, with silvery crater lakes dotting the landscape below. Someone passed by us on the trail with a herd of massive-horned spotted Ankole cattle, and a woman ran up from her house to sell us banana-leaf bead necklaces. Far below the trail, near one of the lakes, we spotted bright white pelicans, graceful crowned cranes, a crested eagle, and tiny specks of kids calling out, “How are yooooooooo?” “I am fine!” we called back, “How are you?” And after a pause, a little voice shouted, “We are FINE!” We hiked straight up a steep hill and my husband bolted ahead so that he could take our photo from the top, prompting Edward to remark, “Your husband hikes so well! He is very strong!”

From the top of this steep hill we had a jaw-dropping 360-degree view of the entire Kibale/Fort Portal area, the mountain range and the lakes—one of the single most stunning spots I’ve ever been. After this literal high point, we hiked downhill through some farms to reach the Amabeere Cave. The trail became a narrow “Indiana Jones” route requiring some scrambling, leading us deep into a tropical jungle with towering banana trees, back behind a waterfall to a lovely grotto of limestone caves, open to the jungle on one side. Legend says a princess, Amabeere, was sent here by her father as punishment for bearing a son, who prophecy said would someday kill the old king (and he did, too, despite the princess’ banishment!). Edward was a great storyteller, and he did a good job of sharing the legends as well as giving us less-fanciful information about the people who used to live in the cave and what types of tools and artifacts had been found there. Our route out of the cave took us up some steep steps carved into the earth, and back out through a tangle of plants and vines into the farmland again.

[This area is really a fun place to visit, and we didn’t see a single other tourist today. There’s also a nice campground near the cave trail. If you’re interested in arranging a hike in this area or even something as ambitious as a multi-day trek into the Rwenzoris, you can reach Edward at [email protected]. Or just ask your guide to take you to the office for the Amabeere Cave, where they can arrange a guide.]

On the drive back to camp after this glorious hike we were on the main road from Fort Portal into the DRC (only about 60km from here), and we ran into a little traffic jam caused by a gigantic truck tipped nearly sideways in a muddy rut. We were very glad not to get stuck here! Then, as we drove through the town of Fort Portal itself, we got stuck in another traffic jam that was a visual treat—it was caused by a procession for the town’s new bishop. Hundreds of people in spotless white robes marched up the road waving palm branches, and cars and trucks drove by packed to the brim with more people, honking horns and singing and shouting. It was an incredible sight, another memorable moment in this unique Ugandan day.

At our last dinner at Kibale Forest Camp, we all agreed that this place was the most special one we’d stayed at on the trip so far—the warm, wonderful staff (who drove all the way into town to stock the fridge with Stoneys when my friend mentioned liking that soda on our first night, and who scrubbed our boots clean after that fateful, rainy chimp trek), the delicious food in the treehouse dining room with the monkey visitors, and the intimacy of these tents in the cold, damp forest. So what if the tents were a bit damp themselves, and the dark forest could be slightly spooky when we sat around telling stories by candlelight? We were really going to miss this place.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 26th, 2009, 06:25 PM
  #67  
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Re-posting the photos from this part of our trip:

Uganda Part 2 (Kibale Forest NP and QENP)
http://tinyurl.com/b87vh2
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 27th, 2009, 02:31 PM
  #68  
 
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These pictures are fantastic. I especially loved the pictures of the animals (of course). I only hope that I can take some 1/2 as good as yours. Thank you again for showing me a little taste of what we are going to see. We'll be staying at the Mweya Safari Lodge also.
fourwheelinit is offline  
Apr 27th, 2009, 05:15 PM
  #69  
 
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Part 10
Keep working on your crock pot curry. What an honor to dance with the beer bellied witch doctor character.
atravelynn is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 11:38 AM
  #70  
 
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What a range of experiences you've had! Looking forward to more.

I've given our TO the go ahead to flip our itinerary and am waiting for confirmation.

Do you recommend any special clothing/gear for the chimp trek at Budongo? It sounds like it was a lot tamer than your Kibale trek.
Patty is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 11:42 AM
  #71  
 
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Also what were the temperatures like in Murchison and Budongo? If you could compare it to areas of Kenya that would be great (i.e. is it hotter than Samburu?), thanks!
Patty is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 11:54 AM
  #72  
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Hi all!

fourwheelinit, thanks! I am always a little hesitant to post our photos on this board, since there are so many great photographers here. We don't do much editing in post other than cropping and the occasional shapening, so what you see in the photos is what we saw in real life. The biggest photo challenge on this trip were the river cruises, since you have to think fast and get your shot before the boat floats past (keep looking ahead and anticipating what's coming up), and the boat is moving and rocking the whole time. So the photos are only a small fraction of what we saw from the boats, especially for birds. I'll be writing about Mweya Lodge and QENP next.

Lynn, we need to track down those "special beans." And put more curry in next time. Yes, it was an honor to be chosen by the witch doctor, but nothing makes you humble about your dance skills like dancing with an African woman. I'm a musician, not a dancer. At least I gave them all a good laugh!

Patty, I was wondering what you'd decided to do about your itinerary. I hope that works out -- I think you'll enjoy your chimp trek more if you're not thinking about catching a flight. As for special clothing or gear, I'd just recommend high-top hiking boots if you don't mind lugging them along. We saw some pretty serious ants, and people in sandals were not thrilled. For Budongo I just wore a t-shirt, roll-up capris and hiking boots, and had my raincoat and rain cover the daypack (which I needed on other days in Uganda, but not that day). We brought hats but didn't need or want them, since the tree cover is dense and we were often looking up into the trees to see the chimps, anyway. We had trails to follow (part of the way, anyway), so our hike in Budongo was not as rugged as in Kibale. The main thing is to be prepared for rain, even if you don't get it, since once you start trekking into the forest you can't rush back to the van and get your coat. And wear/bring lots of bug repellant. We used Off Deep Woods wipes (which fit easily in a pocket), and the bugs left us alone.

I'm so excited for all of you planning trips to Uganda! We need more Uganda fans on this chat board.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 12:06 PM
  #73  
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Oh, I just saw your other post about temperatures. In October, Budongo and Murchison were both mild and on-off rainy, maybe in the 70s or low 80s. I was usually wearing long sleeves in the morning and down to short sleeves and sometimes shorts by afternoon. Definitely not as hot as Samburu! And more humid (but again, we were in the short rainy season). We went swimming at the lodge in Murchison Falls and it was a bit chilly in the evening--I needed a fleece pullover a couple of nights. But it never got as cold as, say, the Mt. Kenya area. If I had to compare it to Kenya, I'd say the weather we had in Murchison and Budongo was most like what we experienced in the Mara around the same time of year, just a little more humid.

I know you didn't ask about Queen Elizabeth, but for anyone else heading south in that direction, that is where we had our hottest, sunniest days. Rwanda was downright cold in the evenings, with mild days for gorilla trekking but then sweaters and gathering around the fireplace at night.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 02:06 PM
  #74  
 
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Thanks, MDK! Were the bugs biting insects or just annoying flying ones? I'd read a couple of comments about how hot it was but couldn't really get a good grasp. What you described sounds fine. Oh and by flip our itinerary, I did actually mean we'd have our chimp trek the day we fly out. I don't like it as much either but I think we'll be OK. I was very tempted to use it as an excuse to add another day in Uganda though!
Patty is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 02:18 PM
  #75  
 
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Hi again. Your pictures were fine. You don't give yourself enough credit.
Question for you. I had read that you should bring mosquito netting for over the beds. Did you find that you needed that? Our consultant is saying that she doesn't think that we will need it as the lodges should have it. What do you think?
Got our detailed plane reservation information today. Now all we have to do is try to stay mellow until we get closer. November seems so long away.
fourwheelinit is offline  
Apr 28th, 2009, 03:25 PM
  #76  
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Sorry, Patty, I misunderstood. I'm sure your trip will work out fine either way! Your tour operator certainly knows more about Uganda than someone (me) who's only been there once.

As for the bug questions... fourwheelinit, I agree that people shouldn't need to bring their own mosquito nets, unless they're camping or staying in really budget places or backpackers' hostels. Even in our mid-range lodgings, we had mosquito nets over the beds, and in the nicer lodges they're actually curtains of net that you pull closed around the bed. My only advice about that is to bring along some duct tape and check the nets for tears before you go to sleep -- some of them had little holes that were easy to repair. Also, if housekeeping doesn't do this for you, remember to let down your mosquito net before you go to dinner, so you don't accidentally trap some bugs in there with you at night. November will be here before you know it! Are you counting down the weeks yet? We're already in week-countdown mode for our next trip, but haven't resorted to counting days yet.

Patty, there were both biters and flying-annoyers in the forests. As well as some bugs with interesting calls that sounded almost like birds. I got a few bites on my legs in Budongo, but not bad. Overall, the bugs didn't give us a hard time on this trip -- and we saw/felt very few mosquitos. We saw the most bugs up on the volcano in Rwanda. We did encounter a HUGE spider in Budongo (way up over our heads in a web, thank goodness), as well as lots and lots of butterflies in Budongo and QENP, and beautiful big dragonflies in Murchison Falls. So there were plenty of good bugs with the bad. I'll mention the safari ants here again... watch out for their trails when you're hiking in the forest. Several members of our group went on a short hike near camp in Kibale and stepped on an ant trail, and they had biting ants running up their feet and legs. Not fun.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 02:34 PM
  #77  
 
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t minus 27 weeks and counting!
fourwheelinit is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 02:36 PM
  #78  
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Almost there!
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 29th, 2009, 03:52 PM
  #79  
 
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Even the bishop came out to greet you!
atravelynn is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 07:54 AM
  #80  
 
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Did you have to get their permission to take their pictures?
fourwheelinit is offline  

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