Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Africa & the Middle East
Reload this Page >

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 30th, 2009, 08:55 AM
  #81  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 788
As far as taking pictures of people goes, we do ask if it's okay first if we're taking portraits (like the two older gentlemen at the Kibale Fuel Wood Project gathering). Sometimes "asking" is as simple as raising the camera and smiling, and then people will nod and smile back (and pose!). We didn't ask about shooting random crowd shots during the gatherings our group was invited to at Kinyara High and Kibale (and in those instances, our group sent lots of photos back to people in Uganda). For the bishop's procession everyone was smiling and waving and it was a big celebration, so Wazir said it was fine to shoot photos out the window. This generally seemed to be the case in Uganda and Rwanda.

In Tanzania, on the other hand, our guide told us people did not like it when tourists took pictures of them out the window, so we didn't. In Kenya, people did not seem to mind except in the Maasai areas. I think it's always a good idea to ask people first when you have the chance, and ask your guide what they think (although of course they might just want to tell you what you want to hear!).

Also, for taking pictures out the window of a moving vehicle, especially when driving through a town, there's a big difference between taking one quick snap and putting the camera down, or having the camera up constantly and just shooting away at everybody and everything. So sometimes whether it's perceived as rude by people is a matter of approach. One of the great things about digital cameras is that you can immediately show photos to people (kids especially enjoy that). Of course, this doesn't work so well from a moving vehicle.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 10:58 AM
  #82  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,839
stepped on an ant trail, and they had biting ants running up their feet and legs

Been there, done that, don't want to repeat it again

Regarding photos, if you're not close enough to ask someone directly, I agree that it's a good idea to check with your guide. On our first trip to Kenya, we visited a tea farm and took photos of the tea fields. There were workers in the fields but really distant (even at 10x zoom they appeared very distant) so it didn't occur to us that they would take offense until one of them started waving and yelling at us to stop. So that's an instance where we probably should have checked with our guide first although maybe he would've thought it was OK too!
Patty is offline  
Apr 30th, 2009, 02:19 PM
  #83  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 56
Thank you both! Good to know the 'rules'. I certainly wouldn't want to offend anyone if I can avoid it. Thank you.
fourwheelinit is offline  
May 2nd, 2009, 06:36 PM
  #84  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 788
PART 12 (Queen Elizabeth National Park) – “Kule’s Old Stomping Grounds”

Today we headed south from Kibale for the long drive to our last destination in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kule used to be a park ranger there, so it was fun to be in his van for this leg of the trip. There are lots of charming turns of phrase used by our Ugandan guides—the road is “disorganized” rather than trashed or muddy, and they ask us “What is taking place?” rather than “What’s going on?” And, of course, my personal favorite: answering a yes-or-no question with “Yes, please” instead of simply “Yes.” One thing I’ve heard Kule say numerous times is that we will “meet” animals, rather than simply seeing them. In Murchison Falls it was, “Perhaps today we will meet giraffes,” and this morning he told us, “In this next park, we may meet lions!” But first, a long drive over a mix of paved and extremely unpaved roads. How can a road be “extremely” unpaved? Go to Uganda and you’ll see.

As we said farewell to the staff at our wonderful tented camp we both felt a bit blue to be leaving here, knowing this was the only experience of that kind we’d be having on this trip. But it would be fun to get out of the damp forest and into wide-open grasslands too, to go from trekking back to game drives. This trip to Uganda and Rwanda really gave us a wonderful mix of different types of activities and animal sightings, and a lot more physical activity than our previous African adventure in Kenya and Tanzania (which was primarily game drives). As we drove through Kibale Forest one last time, a family of three baboons—daddy, mommy, baby—posed for a portrait by the side of the road. This place really is a primate-lover’s dream come true (even if ours was a bit of a nightmare, too).

Driving through Fort Portal town again, we passed a wedding procession with lots of cars and a marching band in bright green uniforms. (Regarding earlier comments about whether or not to take pictures, this was something we just enjoyed with our eyes and ears, not our cameras.) Finally we reached a paved road and picked up speed, humming along past views of the Rwenzori Mountains.

Close to QENP, we stopped to take pictures on the Equator, which was quite a different scene from the Equator stops we’d seen in Kenya. No souvenir stalls or guys demonstrating the water trick here, just open countryside and a big “Equator/Uganda” sign. We stopped again just inside the park entrance at a pavilion originally built for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit. It was situated high on a hill with sweeping views of the tree-dotted, golden grasslands and, far in the distance, the dark mountains of Bwindi where Uganda’s gorillas live. I remember staring at those distant shadowy mountains and thinking of those gorillas, and feeling a thrill run up my spine. We would be gorilla trekking in Rwanda, not Bwindi, but still… just to know there are mountain gorillas living out there, how incredible is that? And more incredible still that we would be seeing them (or their cousins) in only a few days’ time.

We had our picnic lunch up near the pavilion, sitting at a table under a thatched roof and enjoying the view. My husband picked up a Pringle-like can of “Safari Pops” at the little shop here and while they did not taste all that great, he joked that they were the key to the incredible animal sightings we would have the next day (more on that later, but I just thought I’d mention it in case anyone wants to try their luck). We all had a good laugh at the illustrated “How to Use” instructions posted next to the brand-new squat toilets. Very graphic. Too bad I didn’t take a picture of that.

After lunch our whole group gathered in the pavilion, where we dodged buzzing bees while Kule gave a talk about the ecology of the park, the lakes (Edward and George) linked by the Kazinga Channel, and the wildlife here. Then it was back to the vans and onward into the park, our only plan to take our time getting to Mweya Lodge and seeing who we might meet along the way. The first animals we saw were large herds of lovely Uganda kob. The trees were mixed with dense clusters of tall cactus-like Euphorbia, small forests of candelabra trees. We saw many birds—bright weavers and red bishops in shades from orange to deep scarlet. Then buffalos and warthogs, and a lone bull elephant. We stopped at a viewpoint over a soda lake, where buffalo lounged on the shore and flamingos gathered in the water. Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the drive was a giant African eagle owl sitting in a tree right beside the road. We stopped to watch him for a while and he watched us back, slowly blinking so that we could see his bright pink eyelids. More comical were the guinea fowl and spur fowl that scurried alongside the road.

We headed up a steep hill toward the lodge, with remarkable views on both sides—to our right, the Kazinga Channel stretched out like a wide band of silver, and to our left was shining Lake Edward and the dark mountains of the Congo. The border between the DRC and Uganda lies somewhere in the middle of this lake. We got out of the cars and looked down the cliff to see a big herd of elephants on a peninsula far below, several of them play sparring and really putting on a show. There were huge tuskers and tiny babies and everything in between, all busy with their elephant tasks—eating, socializing, playing. From here we could hear the deep grunting of hippos in the lake, and a unique bird call that Kule identified as a common boubal.

When we finally tore ourselves away from the elephant show and went on up to the lodge, the first thing that struck me was that this was the perfect spot for a safari lodge (the only one I’ve been to that can rival it for location, in terms of fantastic views and sheer beauty of the natural surroundings, is the Mara Serena). Views stretched out in every direction, and we could stand on the edge of the bluff near our room and have a perfect view of the lake, the mountains, and the elephant party down below. From here we could see a mother elephant walking with her tiny baby behind her, holding tight to her tail with his trunk, more youngsters sparring, and at least 30 or 40 individuals just in the clearing right below us, with more scattered all along the peninsula. It was a breathtaking sight and we stayed here for a long time, alternately glued to our binoculars and just drinking in the wider view.

We had free time to explore the lodge and its wonderful outside areas before dinner—lots of places to sit and enjoy those views, from gazebos and open walkways and grassy lawn, to the swimming pool with its deck perched right above the Kazinga Channel. We did all those things you can do at a big lodge that you can’t always do at a smaller camp (checked our e-mail, browsed the gift shop, did some laundry in the sink), but we kept being drawn back to the cliff’s edge and those elephants. What was particularly wonderful about that sighting was that we had this amazing aerial view of the whole elephant group, but they didn’t seem to be interested in us at all (perhaps not even aware of us… although we did see a few of the big females turn and raise their trunks upward in the direction of the lodge, so I think they knew people were nearby). Basically, this was one of our best elephant sightings ever, simply because our presence didn’t seem to be impacting their behavior at all. We watched the elephant party gradually disperse, then wandered over to the swimming pool and watched some little gold and black weavers splashing around. Weavers are a constant (and sometimes pesky) presence around this lodge, and other wildlife hangs around too—we saw mongooses (with tiny babies!), warthogs, agama lizards, dung beetles, and a great variety of birds, to mention just the daytime visitors.

As it grew dark we gathered with Zoo friends on the steps of the deck outside the bar and watched a spectacular lightning display out over the channel while sipping cocktails called “Crocodile in the Sun.” It’s not all bad traveling in the rainy season, after all! Dinner was a BBQ outdoors, with good but not remarkable food (which seems to be typical of the larger lodges). After dinner some of us gathered around the campfire on the bluff to sip Amarula, swap stories, and listen to the night calls of birds and bats swooping around overhead. It was great to finally have a campfire – Kibale had been too damp and drizzly for it—and, more to the point, it was great to share that campfire with friends. I felt such overwhelming gratitude for all of it.
MyDogKyle is offline  
May 2nd, 2009, 11:36 PM
  #85  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 34
MDK, I'm just catching up with your story again. How shocking to read about the chimp trek and the terrible event you witnessed! However, your continued journey and the descriptions of all your adventures are wonderful. Of course, your posts are even more exciting since I will be there in 2 months! You had an amazing trip and I appreciate your insights and thoughts. Looking forward to reading more! You mentioned another trip...when and where are you going?
MB
pinkdogmb is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 10:50 AM
  #86  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 788
Thank you, pinkdog! The chimp trek in Kibale was definitely the hardest and most upsetting part of our trip -- there are some more sad things coming, but nothing quite as dramatic as that episode. Six months later, I am starting to realize and accept how unique this experience was, and appreciate that uniqueness a little... but I'm still certain I will never be able to say that I enjoyed the last part of that particular chimp trek! However I do, without a doubt, love chimps very much and hope someday I can see them in the wild again. I'm really excited for anyone who has that opportunity!

Our next trip will be to South Africa in August 2009. We'll be volunteering with an Earthwatch project on brown hyena research, and spending a few days on safari beforehand at Madikwe National Park. Our experiences in Uganda and Rwanda really made us want to focus our next visit to Africa on a volunteer project -- it will be nice to spend 2 weeks in one place and with one project. All part of our dream to explore the African continent as much as possible... Our first trip was in 2007 to Kenya and Tanzania. (There's a very long trip report about that one, too.)
MyDogKyle is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 10:53 AM
  #87  
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,496
Great recall of the phraseology of your Ugandan guides. It really made me smile; I've never been to Uganda and I've heard the "Today we may meet some leopards," etc. I love calling a muddy road disorganized--an apt description.
Leely2 is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 11:37 AM
  #88  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 34
South Africa will be another great trip, no doubt! I will there again in July for 2 weeks for a project in the Cape Town townships before going to Uganda. I have always wanted to go to Madikwe and heard it is beautiful. I have only been to Kruger in SA. Another question about your Uganda trip..How careful were you with eating the food? Did you eat any salads, raw vegetables or non-peeled fruit? Was bottled water readily available? I'm just wondering what to expect... Your pictures are wonderful and I'm studying them closely for hints on what to bring.
Looking forward to reading more of your adventures!
MB
pinkdogmb is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 01:34 PM
  #89  
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 2,309
MDK, I’m catching up. I found the chimp murder very disturbing, but I’m glad that apparently not a single primate in Uganda, and especially not your own species, tried to kill you. It even sounds like most were quite friendly. The report isn’t finished yet though. I’m looking forward to reading about the gorillas. When will you go meet some bonobos?
Nyamera is offline  
May 3rd, 2009, 04:16 PM
  #90  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Until MDK replies about food and water, I'd like to put your mind at ease, Pinkdog. If you are with a reputable land operator and eat at places which cater to international guests, I think you can eat what is served, whether it is salads, non-peeled fruit, etc. I always have eaten everything in Uganda.

I recall our guide buying a large carton of water bottles at the start of our safari and then replenishing the supply once. On one of my trips the cost of the water was not included, and one it was, I think, but you can ask about yours.

Water bottles were available at the places I stayed and I don't remember if there was a nominal charge or not.

I'm sure there is a bonobo volunteer project out there somewhere, MDK! Maybe I'll join you on that one.
atravelynn is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 12:23 AM
  #91  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 34
Hi atravelynn, Thanks so much--you did put my mind at ease...
MB
pinkdogmb is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 03:11 AM
  #92  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,989
Thank you, MyDogKyle, for one of the most engrossing reads on any travel forum and the vicarious pleasure of seeing Uganda through your eyes and all your senses (and sensibilities).
DonTopaz is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 07:35 AM
  #93  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 108
I agree with rizzuto, a thoroughly engrossing read. Thank you!

We were chimp trekking at Kibale a couple of months after you and there were very few to be seen.

Bonobos can be found in the Congo at Lola Ya Bonobo:
http://www.friendsofbonobos.org/index.htm
They are just getting over a very nasty outbreak of flu.
Wingi is offline  
May 5th, 2009, 02:16 PM
  #94  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 788
Hi everybody, just returned to the forum today and saw your nice comments. Thank you so much!! I'm sorry it's taking me so long to transcribe/edit my journal. Your interest really helps motivate me! Now it's just a matter of finding time for all this typing around work and volunteering and my band and all the other things that "interfere" with Fodors Africaland. Thanks for your patience. I hope to get another entry up this week (more QENP--eles, lions, kobs and a leopard!)

Ah, bonobos! I don't think I'll be going to the Congo any time soon, but I certainly would love to visit them someday. Lynn, let's go together in a more peaceful future. My hubby and I have a dream to visit all the great apes where they live.

Nyamera, it's true -- no primates of any sort in either Uganda or Rwanda tried to kill us (just each other). Although I did have a female gorilla "put me in my place" when her silverback walked a little too close to me (it involves defecation, but is not as dramatic as it sounds... and was more than made up for by the baby gorillas tumbling out of the treetops).

pinkdog -- Lynn is spot-on with her recommendations about food and drink. We stopped at a store and bought water when we first arrived in Kampala, and then purchased bottled water as needed from the hotels and lodges. One tip is to bring your own drinking bottle and then buy larger bottles/jugs of water to keep refilling it, so you don't generate so many of those little empty plastic bottles (most places don't have recycling). We never had any trouble finding a place to buy water, and did not drink tap water.

For food, I agree that you should be able to eat whatever they serve you in a tourist lodge or hotel, including salads and fruit. I've never had problems with any of that. I was more cautious in some of the local restaurants and budget level hotels, which just meant I would order whatever sounded good and avoid fresh fruit and salads (except for fruit I could peel, like bananas).

For food on the road, we picked up snacks and fruit from roadside stores and vendors -- things like crackers, cookies, jackfruit and all sorts of bananas. Our guides cautioned us against grilled meat-on-a-stick, which my husband really wanted to try (but didn't). I don't eat much meat in my everyday life anyway and usually go vegetarian when I'm traveling in developing countries, but my husband ate goat, beef, and chicken at restaurants and lodges and had no stomach troubles.

My #1 recommendation for food (in case you couldn't tell by my report already) is to try some Ugandan dishes -- they're delicious! And the Indian food we had in Uganda was very good, as well.
MyDogKyle is offline  
May 5th, 2009, 08:45 PM
  #95  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
"Ah, bonobos! I don't think I'll be going to the Congo any time soon, but I certainly would love to visit them someday. Lynn, let's go together in a more peaceful future."

Now, I have yet another trip to try to fit in and budget for! The Bonobos. So many species and places, so little time.
atravelynn is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 07:28 PM
  #96  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 788
Sorry for the long delay... life has been interfering with Fodor's again. Here's another post, and I hope to get this moving along more quickly (I have to finish before Patty goes to Uganda!)
MyDogKyle is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 07:29 PM
  #97  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 788
PART 13 (QENP, Day 2) – “The Best of Queen Elizabeth National Park”

We woke up at 4:45am, thanks too a family of hyenas. Somewhere outside in the darkness, we could hear a series of whoops, interspersed with high-pitched, almost mournful cries. We could also hear the low gurgling of hippos (on the water far below, we thought… but then later a friend showed us the long line of hippo tracks across the lodge grounds and down the steep hillside back to the lake!). Later, as the sky began to light up with the dawn, we were awakened again by a bright chorus of bird song.

We had an early morning game drive today—the plan was to track radio-collared lions with the Uganda Large Predator Project. After a quick breakfast of tea and queen cakes, we drove down the hill to the ULPP office, where we met Dr. Ludwig Siefert, a German biologist who has been living and working in Uganda for more than 30 years. He showed us the collars they use for lions, leopards, and hyenas (how tiny the leopard’s collar looked next to the lion’s!), and told us about the grim situation for these large predators in the QENP area. A number of lions had recently been poisoned by local people whose cattle had been killed by the cats. When the national park was first established, the Ugandan government decided not to relocate the villages in the area being set aside as park land—people were allowed to keep living in the national park as long as they maintained fishing villages, did not become pastoralists (keeping cattle), and did not allow the villages to grow and larger. Predictably, in a country where cattle are seen as indicators of wealth and where the population is booming, these stipulations were ignored… and now instead of tiny fishing villages there are sizeable towns and lots of cattle that need grazing, all in the middle of the national park. It’s no surprise that lions quickly figure out it’s much easier to kill a cow than a fast-moving kob. And so people poison the lion’s kill to get rid of the threat lions pose to their livestock, and in addition to the lion, any scavengers or other predators who feed off that kill are poisoned, too. This kind of human-wildlife conflict is certainly not unique to Uganda and QENP, but it has reached a real crisis point here, and the populations of lions and hyenas have become so small as to be unstable. The ULPP is trying to keep track of the individual animals still surviving here, and also to educate the local people about this problem, but it is a steep uphill battle.

James, one of Dr. Siefert’s assistants, climbed into our van and then up onto the roof with his tracking device. I wondered what the odds were of seeing any lions, considering what they’d just told us. But, like all good game drives, it quickly became not just about the lions but also about the beauty and diversity and constant surprises that Africa offers. Just down the road from the lodge we came across a group of elephants. There were two juvenile bulls sparring (periodically distracted by tasty snacks), and some big females with little calves, all very close to the road. Across the road on the other side we could see several huge elephants browsing, moving gracefully between the euphorbia trees in a fine mist of rain. I would have been happy to stay and watch these guys for an hour, but the trackers weren’t picking anything up and we needed to move on. We spotted some pretty waterbucks, including a female who stood and posed at the foot of one of those gigantic euphorbia trees (made for a great photo, to really show the scale of the tree). Then warthogs and guinea fowl running down the road in front of the van, a hammerkop sitting proudly beside his enormous nest, a group of francolins, and a crested eagle sitting on top of a euphorbia, silhouetted against the sky. Along the way, we enjoyed great views of the Kazinga Channel and the Virunga mountains far in the distance.

We passed by a village and James told us, “Lions will visit here—people think it is normal.” I tried to imagine that. At home, we think it is normal to have skunks and opossums and raccoons visit… but I can’t imagine having to worry about a lion coming in through the dog door! It made me feel a bit more sympathy for the people trying to figure out how to live with the wildlife (although I certainly can’t condone the poisoning). It’s a much more complicated issue than it seems on the surface.

As we drove past a herd of bachelor buffalo, one of them raised his head and peeked over the back of his companion, making for an interesting 2-headed buffalo. But still there was only static on the tracking device. We continued to see a huge variety of bird life—a bustard in flight, vultures up in the trees, and wattled plover, plus more of the same folks we’d seen before. The areas close to the channel were fantastic for bird watching (not to mention those beautiful kobs). There was a brief interlude during which one of the vans got stuck in the mud, and Kule, Jhonie and Dr. Siefert got out to push it free—not nearly as exciting as our mud-stuckage in Murchison Falls, but considering that we were on the hunt for lions, it gave me pause to see these guys out of the vans in the tall grass. It never fails to amaze me how many ingenious methods the drivers have for freeing their vehicles from that mud… and how quickly they can (usually) manage it.

Then everything happened quickly. First we saw a vast herd of buffalo, with both jet-black and reddish coats (from inter-breeding with the forest buffalo in this area). They were moving rapidly along in a drawn-out bunch, with kobs and warthogs mixed randomly into the herd. They clearly seemed agitated about something, hurrying and making noise. Almost as soon as we saw them, the tracking device began beeping, and just a moment later—lions! There were two big females, who James identified as Anna and her sister Fatima, along with Anna’s 8-month-old cubs, Peter and Boaz. We couldn’t see Fatima’s smaller cubs, who would have been hidden somewhere nearby. Anna looked lovely in her radio collar, with a full, rounded belly. The ULPP folks were so happy to see her. They told us that there were usually a total of about 10 documented lion poisonings a year, but this year was much worse than normal—3 lions poisoned just in the past month, not counting the collateral dead among the hyena and vulture populations. Sometimes the tracking device would lead them to a collar that had been cut off of a dead lion and thrown away so that the person responsible for that death would not get in trouble. So any time they find their collared lions alive and well, it is something to celebrate.

We stopped the vans and I climbed out onto the roof to film the lionesses and their cubs, who were lounging in the grass. These lions were much more wary of us than their counterparts in the Masai Mara or the Ngorongoro Crater. Anna sat up watching the vehicles for a while, panting hard and snarling at us a few times, while the cubs and Fatima relaxed around her. Finally Anna plopped down too, evidently satisfied that we weren’t going to come any closer to her family. The buffalo and kob herd visibly relaxed when the lions were all in repose, and they settled down to graze not too far away from the sleepy lions.

We stayed long enough for everyone to get a good look at the lions, and then left them. Dr. Siefert didn’t want us to hover around so long that they felt compelled to leave, since this was a good, safe place for them to have their cubs. At this point we began to make our way back to the lodge. We passed through a very active kob lek, or breeding ground, where we saw one male kob trying (unsuccessfully) to make his move, and another pair of males engaged in a horn-bashing fight while the females stood off to one side, watching. So many kobs in this park! And lots of warthogs too, but we didn’t see any of QENP’s famous giant forest hogs. We were all looking for them, and at one point a woman in the group thought she’d spotted one. “Oh,” she sighed, “it’s just a warthog.” Kule teased her mercilessly: “Just a warthog?! It is not JUST a warthog… it is a Warthog!” he said with deep feeling, and everybody laughed. But even though he was being funny, Kule’s right, too… that’s why every game drive is so thrilling. Each animal is amazing and fascinating in its own way (and hey, a warthog can be much more entertaining to watch than a sleeping lion!). For example, just up the road we saw another warthog, this one hanging out with a waterbuck mother and her tiny baby (which we dubbed a “waterbucklet”). At one ridiculously cute moment, the three of them lifted their heads from the grass at the same moment, posing for a perfect portrait that looked like a mother, a baby, and their pet. (And no, I don’t think such silly things when I am working on data collection for the elephants.)

Now we really had to get a move on back to the lodge so we’d have time for lunch before our afternoon boat trip. We had inadvertently missed lunch several times already during this trip, and some people in the group were cranky about it, so the guys were doing their best not to let it happen again. In fact, they were driving so quickly up the good dirt road toward Mweya Lodge, that we almost went right past a leopard! Fortunately, my husband and I spotted it at the exact same moment and broke safari etiquette to yell, “Leopard!! Go back!” (People came up and thanked us for this later, so I didn’t feel too bad about raising my voice, which is something I normally would never do.) Kule threw the van into reverse and we rolled backward for a perfect view of one of the most gorgeous cats I’ve ever seen. The leopard was crouched in the open on a patch of bare earth, drinking from a nearly-dry stream. We were close enough to see his bright blue eyes when he raised his head, and the bright white flash at the tip of his tail, curled gracefully back toward his sleek spotted haunches. He drank for a long time, giving everyone in the three vans a chance to see him, and then silently sauntered off into the bushes. We were all so thrilled we could hardly speak, and my friend’s eyes were filled with happy tears; this was her second safari, but her first leopard. (We’d been fortunate enough to see a leopard on our very first game drive in Kenya, but that one had been up in a tree and much harder to see than this one.) James leaned down from where he was sitting on the roof above the driver’s seat, smiling hugely, and asked who had first seen the leopard. When everyone pointed at us, he gave us a thumbs up, “Good catch!”

Back at the lodge, the safari continued—a swamp flycatcher was hanging out on a couch in the lobby, and bright yellow slender-billed weavers hovered above us in the outdoor dining room. But some people in our group also witnessed something upsetting: a guest was tormenting some baby mongooses with a stick, in order to make his children laugh. One brave woman in our group went over and scolded him for it, but the man didn’t seem to understand why this kind of behavior was bad. It put the staff members in a tough position, because they obviously knew it was wrong but didn’t want to speak up to a guest. Still, I was disappointed that it took another guest to make the man stop harassing the wildlife.

Our late-afternoon boat safari on the Kazinga Channel was terrific. We spent a lot of time on the lower level of the boat to have some shelter from the blazing sun, but we did climb up to the roof deck for the return trip, and I would definitely recommend doing both. Like our boat safari in Murchison Falls, this one was a who’s who of birds: goliath herons, little egrets, spoonbills, hadada ibis, Egyptian geese and fluffy goslings, yellow-billed storks, spur-winged lapwings, pied and malachite kingfishers, hammerkops and weavers with their unique nests, African fish eagles, sand pipers, red bishops, yellow-wattled plovers, marabou storks, and a long strip of peninsula crowded with a mob of cormorants, two types of pelicans, and gigantic saddlebill storks who looked like cartoon characters. Unlike the boat in Murchison Falls, our guides were able to come with us… which was a good thing, because we could barely hear the guide on her loudspeaker, and she was not very good at identifying the birds.
In addition to the birds, we saw lots of animals from the boat, including pods of hippos all along the channel, large herds of buffalo with babies both in and out of the water (and covered with busy little oxpeckers on their faces and ears and backs), crocodiles, a Nile monitor lizard, and amorous kob chasing a female who was definitely not interested in him, and a spotted hyena basking in the sun high up on the hillside above us.

We passed one of the fishing villages and saw many small boats out on the water with men hard at work hauling nets, silhouetted against the Congo mountains in the silvery light. One man was standing up in his boat, holding up a big sheet of fabric to act as a human sail. On shore, men and women were hanging out, washing clothes in the channel, and hauling loads up the steep hill from the water to the village, while nearby a buffalo wandered along the shore. Imagine having to watch out for that while doing your laundry! Not to mention the crocodiles. Marabou storks picked through a trash dump right by the water, and there were some brand new porta-potties lined up beside the dump. On the way back to the lodge, we stood up on the roof deck with the wind in our faces, watching black-and-white pied kingfishers hovering behind the boat and swooping down to hunt in our wake. As we landed at the dock we saw a hammerkop perched there, waiting to be our final bird of the cruise.

Up at Mweya Lodge again, the three members of the Zoo’s elephant observation team went out front to take our picture with the giant elephant statue there, posing with our stopwatch, binoculars and notepad for a photo to send back to our team supervisor in California. We spotted a bright blue and yellow agama lizard basking on the statue’s back, a warthog mowing the lawn a few feet away, and those teeny baby mongooses again, this time scampering across the driveway, free from harassment. After a hit of caffeine at the bar and some journaling on the porch, we enjoyed a dinner of Zanzibari fish curry, and then ended the night by the campfire again with the necessary Amarula. We decided this day was one of our best safari days ever (could it be those lucky Safari Pops?), despite some of the sad things we’d learned about the park’s predator population. Today, at least, Queen Elizabeth showed us her best side.
MyDogKyle is offline  
May 26th, 2009, 11:30 AM
  #98  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 56
You are such a good narrator. As busy as I get into my everyday life, you bring me right back into the throws of excitement about our trip.
The description of seeing the leopard brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you for continuing the serial!
fourwheelinit is offline  
May 26th, 2009, 07:30 PM
  #99  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Great job on spotting the leopard at QENP! Did you write it on the board of sightings? It's nice you got to see some lions in the park but very disturbing that the population of lions and hyena may have dipped to low to be sustainable. It does not seem like an optimistic future for them.

That mongoose tormentor is lucky he got only a verbal lashing from another guest. On my first stay at Mweya there was a researcher there studying the banded mongoose and she warned us that despite their cute appearance, if we tried too touch one, all of them would attack us and do great damage.

I like the waterbucket and will have to remember that along with the safari pops that seem to bring such good luck.

That lizard on the elephant statue might live there. One made its home behind the ear when I was there and appeared in my photo.

Glad you are contributing installments again.
atravelynn is offline  
May 27th, 2009, 10:42 AM
  #100  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 56
I'll have to look for the lizard when we go in November!
fourwheelinit is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:15 AM.