Ifrane is a town and region just a bit south of Fes; in fact I took a day tour from Fes. It is pretty high up in the Atlas mountains, 5,400 feet, in what is sometimes called Berber country (my Casablanca host family iss of that culture and they preferred the term Tamaziɣ.) Very green and lush in the summer, and snowy in the winter. Iframe even has it’s own monkey: the Barbary Macaque! These pictures may not seem like Morocco to you, but I assure you, on the grave of my son’s pet rat, Ratso, that this IS Morocco.
Marrakech, Morocco sits on the edge of the Sahara Desert, a mere 200 km from serious sand. It’s a convenient 3 hour train ride from Casablanca, and trains seem to leave somewhat on time. So…an easy weekend trip, 3 nights away. Right? Well, not so much.
I get to the Casa Voyageurs train station, in central Casablanca, an hour early so I can buy a 1st class ticket. Because I’m all about going First Class when it’s cheap. $14 vs. $9 for 2nd class, plus you get a reserved seat and 6 people per compartment rather than 8. Well worth the $5, right? Turns out, 1st class is sold out, so I get a 2nd class ticket, which puts me in the densely crowded bustling free-for-all coaches. Train rolls in and my fellow passengers start the rush and shoving to load in and find a seat. I notice a guy in the passageway who refuses to move as I struggle to get past. He looks shifty. Very tight going but I heft my backpack up high and squeeze on by. Lots of yelling, not sure why yelling helped the process. Much jostling. Everyone shorter than me which gives me a nice view of the chaos. After peering into 4 compartments, being met with resistant looks among those inside, I find one where the resistant looks feel not so annoyed. I plop down in the nearest open seat, and relax. 30 minutes later, I notice that my smartphone is gone: the shifty swine has pickpocketed me! Which, you know, really?! It’s annoying. I knew about the risk, I thought I had taken precaution, I had my phone deep in my front pocket, but that wasn’t good enough, I guess. Fine.
As I sit there with 2.5 hours more travel ahead of me, I ask the train conductor dude what my chances are of finding (a) the guy or (b) my phone. He looks at me as if I had been dropped on my head as a child. Repeatedly. “Someone is probably selling it at the train station now.” Ugh. Fine.
As I sit there with 2.5 hours more travel ahead of me, I ask the train conductor dude what my chances are of finding (a) the guy or (b) my phone. He looks at me as if I had been dropped on my head as a child. Repeatedly. “Someone is probably selling it at the train station now.” Ugh. Fine.
So at this point I face two choices. Get pissed off, rant, and generally curse the world as I sit there, stewing away the hours. And stay that way. OR I could reflect and bless the crook for having the kind of life that causes him to do harm to a fellow human. Considering these options, I decide to create a 3rd one. I silently but emphatically – and quite profanely I might add – curse the swine, AND his family, AND the horse he rode in on, for about 60 seconds. A good, solid cursing session, full of venom and indignation. Felt really good. Then I said “screw it, it’s gone” and continued to read “Huckleberry Finn”, which I’m reading for some reason in North Africa. I mean, I was NOT going to let the miscreant steal my phone AND my afternoon train ride to Marrakech too. Right? (sigh…)
I call this a Modified Buddhist approach.
I get to Marrakech, sans (notice French, which is spoken here) communication device, and no one from the hotel is there to pick me up. I kind of expected it, because I speak no language the locals speak, and the person I talked to at the hotel to arrange it spoke no English, Spanish or German – my go to languages. And I’ve discovered that the usual back up tactic of charades doesn’t work on the phone so well. So no shock.
FORTUNATELY, my practice of transferring logistics info from phone to little Moleskin notebook came in handy, because I had the name, address and phone number of the hotel in that notebook and just flashed it at the taxi dispatcher and requested a ride. He, squatting there on the curb with half a dozen cronies around him, had, of course, never heard of the hotel. He whipped out HIS phone, which, after I told him about my phone’s demise, he was kind enough to flourish in a rather condescending way, I thought. His attitude was very “Neener, neener, neener, I have a phone and you don’t!” But I overlooked this. He got hold of the hotel, in very animated Arabic, arms flailing, voices rising, incredulity lacing his tone, lots of “la la la la la la!” (la = “no” in Arabic)…after about 5 minutes of this wildness and apparent anger he hangs up, smiles at me and says “No Problem!”. Turns to my driver…..more arms flailing, voices rising, incredulity laced “la la la la la’s”….driver turns to me, smiles, and says “Let’s go!”. Morocco taxi drivers are entertaining.
I really like my guesthouse here, Riad Granvilier. It’s right in the medina, at Jemaa el-Fna, which is the main plaza in Marrakech, surrounded by souks, bazaars and a huge labyrinth of medieval alley ways, dark passages, tall walls, and hidden villas. (That’s the Jemaa on the lead picture to this blog post.) I have to admit, getting to it was a bit sketchy…Badr, my guesthouse’s day manager, met me at the taxi stand, near the shell station, because cars may not drive in the Jemaa after noontime. So Badr and me, we walked for about 10 minutes through this delightful market place insanity, then took a right at the corner with the sign that said تذكر، والأجانب تدفع ثلاثية, (loosely translated I think it means “remember, foreigners pay triple”), then another right, then another left past the donkey cart, then a left and finally a stretch before we end up at the door on our left.
Kids playing soccer in the alley paid us no mind, and I nearly took a yellow card as I stepped on one running by. Once we entered through the door, we were in another world. A beautiful courtyard, quiet, peaceful and sunny. Incense filled the air. A big orange tree in the middle, a water fountain gurgling, and my room just off to the side. The image that comes to mind is a geode, with a bland interior that opens up into brilliant beauty inside.
The next day, Badr, took me in search of a store to replace my phone. That didn’t work, so he left and I started to wander. Which I like to do. I just got lost in the labyrinth, taking pictures (some below) and not really worried about losing anything because MY PHONE HAD ALREADY BEEN STOLEN (guess I had a little residual anger…). As I’m taking a camera picture of a store’s wares, I hear a voice. “My friend, I have been waiting for you”. Which is a pretty good line from a shop owner, if you think of it. I turn and see a smiling man I later learn is named Hamza. I decide to see what he has.
At this point I need to explain one of my character defects. I hate shopping. I hate owning “stuff”. I hate haggling prices in strange currencies (with all that math) for products that I do not understand and I do not want. In fact, I really REALLY suck at it. And so “Dave in a Moroccan Bazaar” is just all sorts of wrong, kind of like a lamb being led to slaughter. I’m a grown man. I know this is a problem I should work on. But I can’t get there. My best defense is to just not carry much money.
Right. Hamza. Hamza is an Herbalist. That means that his 15’ x 4’ cubicle of a shop is lined from floor to ceiling with bottles full of…stuff that presumably comes from herbs. Stuff, you’ll remember, that I do not need, nor want. I tell this to Hamza and he looks shocked and hurt and retorts, “but you DO my friend! Here sit down and have some tea.” For those of you unaware of the tradition in these parts, before any real business transaction you must have tea. You simply can NOT do without it. If you insist on getting straight to business, you will offend your guest. (You may ask why I was worried about offending a man who was setting me up for the slaughter. But don’t. This is bigger than that.) So I sit and he sets to brewing tea in the propane tank that, if it explodes, will render his shop, and me, picayune.
While I’m there I might as well ask questions, which I do well. The format was usually this: “What’s that? No, no, no…I don’t want to buy 3 kilos of it, I just want to know what it is. Why are you putting it in a bag?” He looks hurt, and slowly removes the item from the bag. We do this at least 15 times. But sometimes he wins by sheer charm, sometimes he wins by sleight of hand, sometimes he wins because he just wears me down. Throughout he promises me a “good price”. For whom, I was never able to determine. Hamza is good. The tea is good. The experience is fun. I have nothing else to do. And I only have $50 in my wallet. What could go wrong?
We have a good time. I even manage to ignore my feelings of impending doom, incompetence and sheer naivete, and just go with it. In the end I walk away with $45 worth of stuff. That I do not need. That I do not want. Here’s my haul.
Anyway, he tossed all these in the bag, after weighing everything carefully, insisting all the time that he was going to give (someone) a good price. And then he announced the result: “420 dirham!” An auspicious number I thought. Gathering up all my pride I countered with 400, and he accepted. I’m a tough negotiator after all! I figure I got a bag full of stuff (that I don’t need nor want nor fully understand), I got 45 minutes worth of local entertainment, I got 3-4 cups of tasty local tea, I got to learn about vary strange substances (he also sold pigments, incense, oils, dried flowers and many other exotic items). I got to sit inside out of the hot sun. I also got to watch his partner work the passing crowd in 4 languages. And I got some of this blog post for you! So, for $42, not a bad investment. Right?
More happened in Marrakech that I’ll just allude to.
I took a picture of a group of men drumming, and a man came up to me and asked for money for the privilege. I thought I was being picked on, he didn’t ask anyone else. And I wasn’t even sure he was with the drummers. So I gave him 10 dirhams ($1) and he looked at me with disgust and said, “Fuck you!”. (Sigh.)
I took a picture of a cobra, and then let the snake handler take a picture of me with the cobra. He said, “that will be 300,000 dirham!” What the…. He was asking me for $30 for 5 seconds of work on MY camera. I told him he was nuts. His partner then comes over as the Voice of Reason, asks me what happened, I laugh and say this guy just asked me for 300,000 dirham for one picture on MY camera. The Voice of Reason looks at the guy, looks at me, and then as if he was King Solomon passing judgment calmly says, “You should not pay more than 200,000”. Ha! I give them 20 and walk away. There’s one thing the street performers do well in Marrakech – they target the tall foreigners and then go for the big bucks!
The first night as I perused menus in search of a restaurant that looked tasty AND served a cold beer, a man with a limp came up to me and asked, “you looking for beer?”. How did he know? I said, yes I am! And he said, “follow me, I know a good restaurant”. So I followed Abdul Ahmad, as he led me through a dizzying route of back alleys. Sure I was doubtful that I would find myself back, or maybe he was hauling me off to some Saharan bandits that wanted to kidnap me and make me a sex slave for their women. I could deal with either consequence. Plus, I wanted a beer. Ended up at a VERY nice restaurant, Dar Nejjarine, that I even went back to two days later. Turns out Abdul Ahmed gets paid for brining tourists to the restaurant, so it cost me nothing. I got a great meal, free live music, and a delightful view of the sunset through minarets. And he got paid. (When I went back two nights later, I searched him out on the square and asked if he wanted to deliver me again, and get another commission and he happily agreed!). Nice guy.
The trip back to Casablanca went nicely, partly because I got a First Class ticket, partly because I had Survived Marrakech!
To spare you further commentary, I now present…pictures! With captions of course….
The first set shows a small subset of things you can buy in the alleys and “streets” of Marrakech. Colorful, but I avoided all (except from Hamza). Traveling around the world in with only one bag and 25 pounds thankfully prevents me from buying too much.
I apologize in advance for the formatting. WordPress is annoying sometimes, andI don’t have the patience to fix it. Click to see these in more detail!
Then I just offer random shots of Marrakech, things that caught my interest.
It's Not Like The Movie
Stayed here 3 weeks with a fabulous family. They were really warm and the college age children even gave up their room for me. All set up through IVHQ. I won’t talk about the assignment here, but my days were generally spent working in a coffee shop on a couple assignments, and evenings were spent often at the Center when all the kids were there. One day another volunteer and I explored Casablanca and saw the biggest mosque in Africa and ate at Rick’s Café, with no Bogie.
Cross the Straights of Gibraltar
I was on my way to Rabat, Morocco to start my assignment with International Volunteers HQ but the is no direct route from Albufeira to Rabat. For some reason, the market doesn’t exist. The next best way to do make it happen is to take a bus to Seville, spend the night, and then continue the journey the next day. So it was a very brief visit to Seville, but I had a very nice outdoor meal, and it was nice to see signs and speak a language that I kinda know.
In the morning I took that 3 hour bus from Seville to Tarifa, on the straights of Gibraltar. Then I had to hike 15 minutes “thattaway”, which was kind of dicey since my mobile phone didn’t have any working GPS, on account of the international Lebera SIM card I bought in London didn’t do roaming well. Anyway, I found the ferry, boarded, and enjoyed the ride over. On board, they have one Moroccan clerk processing the passports of all several hundred passengers. I was looking at the end of the line, and decided that I did not want to spend my voyage in that line, so I went out on deck and enjoyed myself. When we docked, I went to the line, and sure enough there were only 3 people left. So I got in line, got my passport packed and then headed out in to…..Morocco. Immediately was fleeced by the only taxi driver I could find quickly who would drive me to the back up train station on account of the main station being renovated for the next 12 years. Missed my 1:30 train to Rabat, borrowed a phone from the ticket clerk and called Samad, my connection in Rabat, and told him I’d be on the next train. Eventually I made it. My first inkling of what the next 3 weeks would be like.
I’m sorry I didn’t have much time to take good pictures…I was moving a lot.
I was planning on staying here 2 weeks and do what I could for the Human Needs Project in Kibera , the biggest slum in Africa. I had a good start! Walked around Kibera with Margaret, one of the Community Center managers, along with Edward, a resident of Kibera who was basically our body guard. And I was getting some ideas for how to help the Center get more engagement from the community. Then…I got a call that one of my best friends, Don Horsley, was dying in Maine and didn’t have much time left. So I did what I could, which wasn’t much. Mostly showed the Community Center leadership how the IDEO Human Centered Design methodology could help them come up with products and services to serve Kibera, and showed them a few data gathering techniques to get insight from the community. Really smart, engaged staff there. I’m sad I couldn’t stay longer.
For a 3 minute video flyover of Kibera, to see what it’s like, and what the Human Needs Project is up to, go here.
(Okay, I know, I’m WAAAAAY behind in my posts. Since I last posted, I’ve been through India and now 10 days in Uganda. All good stuff that I’ll try to find time to write up. But honestly, I’m so busy “doing” that I have too little time to write. The following is a fun little morsel I hope you enjoy. I sure did.)
I’m a bit early for my 9:30am RwandaAir flight from Entebbe, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya. Looking very “munu” (foreigner) here, but otherwise comfortable. As I amble happily away from the Immigration desk (this time, a very nice man), I hear a yell, “My Friend!”. I turn to see a Ugandan Police officer, with a rifle slung on his shoulder, walking towards me, with some purpose in his stride.
He approaches me. “My friend, where are you going?”
“I’m off to Nairobi on RwandaAir”
“Ah, Nairobi. Why are you going there?”
“I’m on a trip around the world, and that’s my next stop.” (Dammit, I screwed that up! Always say you’re a missionary and they’ll leave you alone)
“A trip around the world, very nice. When are you returning to Uganda?”
“I don’t know, I have a lot of traveling to do”
“Well when you come back, you will want a friend, yes?”
“Yes, someone to greet you when you arrive. Like a police man”.
“Yes, like me. Will you give me $10?”
“What is your name?” (I say, trying to change the subject and pretending I didn’t understand him)
“Innocent” ( I am NOT making this up)
“Your name is Innocent?”
“Yes. Will you give me $10?”
I give up the feigned ingnorance. “$10? For what?”
He smiles and gently shakes his head. “So you will have a friend when you return to Uganda”
“Hmmm…What can you do for me now?” (thinking maybe I can bribe my way into a shorter security line) “This looks like a pretty long security line?”
“Ah, that is not your security line. Your flight is not yet called. You can sit over there until they call you”
“Oh, okay. Well, I don’t happen to have $10. The foreign exchange lady would only give me a $100 bill, and I already have friends here.” (At this point, I realize I’m not in trouble, he just wants money, so I decide to play along just so you readers could have this story. Yes, I did.)
“You only have $100? But you could change it?”
“I don’t know. Who here could change a $100 bill if the foreign exchange lady doesn’t even have change?”
“You could go there” (pointing to a bar inside security)
“Okay, I’ll go check. I want a Coke Zero anyway.”
This gave me a chance to check to see what cash I actually did have on hand. So I take my time with the clerk, and notice that I have a $100 bill, and two $20 bills. He’s not getting those. But I also have some extra Ugandan shillings left over, 10,000 to be precise (about $3). So I figure I’ll just pull the Bali shuffle on him with that. He’s a nice guy, laughing easily with me, not at me, and probably makes no money at all. What am I going to do with 10,000 Ugandan shillings anyway? So I fold the two 5,000 shilling notes in my hand, grab my Coke Zero, and walk back out to the terminal, where he is waiting.
Remembering my Bali strategy, I palm the money, look him straight in the eye, full of bon vivant, and reach to shake his hand.
“My friend, I’m sorry, they couldn’t break the $100, but here is what I have. I appreciate you being my friend. “
He smiles, then stops smiling as he looks at what is in his hands. He really wanted US money.
“I’m sorry, they couldn’t break a $100 and I need that to get into Kenya.”
“Where is my gate?”
“It’s just over there” (he says dejectedly) “They will call you when your flight is ready.”
“Okay, thanks so much. Sorry I couldn’t do more, but I appreciate your kindness, Innocent. Bye!”
“Good bye, my friend”
I should keep a list of skills I’m learning on this trip. One would definitely be “how to haggle with people carrying automatic weapons”.
Murchison Falls State Park, Uganda
So in Part 2 we take a ride down the Victoria Nile, which is the SAME Nile that Moses floated down a few thousand years ago up near Cairo way. This cruise was NOT like this familiar cruise…..
….but it wasn’t far off (tour guide on our boat was not so quick with the jokes). So let’s get started!
We, David, my trusty driver, and I, hopped on the boat which isn’t actually this one. I’m not really sure why I have a picture of a boat that isn’t ours, but there it is. Ours was a bit bigger. Our journey takes us up river towards the amazing Murchison Falls. Do you see how big that river is on the above shot and the cover shot? Now imagine all that water getting shoved into a tiny rocky crack about 7 feet wide. That’s what Murchison is. You’ll have a chance to see this all a bit later in the show. With movies!
For now, let’s just take a look at the animals I was able to point my camera at and snag. If you read the previous post, you’ll know that David felt it was his duty to keep me alive by keeping me in the truck. He could relax on this, since I wasn’t going anywhere off the boat. Well, except for the rocks that we bumped up to but…more on that later.
As we move up the river with Captain Thomas at the helm, he pretty quickly yells and points up at the tree. If you look in the top left hand corner you’ll see a Colobus Monkey,which doesn’t do much except sit in the tree and look like a Colobus Monkey, as far as I could tell. If you read that link, you’ll learn that the Colobus Monkey has no thumbs. Which kinda puts Darwin’s theory in all sorts of hot water.
And then we have this guy. The notorious Nile Crocodiles. Claimed in the Bible book Leviathan to be aquatic, untameable, strong, possessing teeth and having a scaly back immune to sword, spears, sling stones and arrows. (look it up) And our favorite ancient pundit, Pliny the Elder, once famously – and bit controversially at the time – said of the Nile Croc: “It is a four-footed evil thing, as dangerous on land as in the River. It is the only land creature without a tongue and the only one that bites by pressing with its movable upper jaw”. Take a look at that top picture. Do YOU see tongue?
Momma crocodiles lie on their eggs and protect them from Evil Doers such as…..
…the voracious and none to considerate Monitor Lizard., who likes to steal and then eat, Nile Croc eggs.
One of the delightful scenes along this part of the Nile is seeing several cool animals together – here is a croc and a waterbuck. I dimly recall seeing National Geographic shows where a croc such as this would actually ambush a waterbuck such as this, much to the waterbucks dismay and indignation. These two seemed to get along well enough that day.
I don’t show many pictures of myself because I’m usually holding the camera and, well, I’m just not the selfie type. But to prove I have been to a certain place, I must offer, uh, proof. So here’s me in our boat, with Murchison Falls in the background. If the boat sank I’m really not sure which of the carnivorous animals would respect that orange life vest, but fortunately it did not. Sink.
And there is Murchison Falls from the down river side. See how narrow it looks? Well take a look at what it looks like from the top!
This is at the top of the Falls, and all that water is rushing downstream and then crashes into ….
That. Maybe 4-5 feet across.
For maybe 100 yards. That is a LOT of water going into very small crack in the rocks.
Had to prove I was there, too.
And of course I need to prove that David, my trusty driver, was also there. That’s him. If you want to really experience the falls, check out this 40 second video I made.
Back on the boat!
So, back on the downriver side of the falls….we’re floating along, going with the current and I see movement out of the corner of my eye.. And look what I see, two of these guys just hanging out, foraging. And there were more!
Three animals! Elephant, egret and – look carefully in the middle – hippo!
And then I spot an elephant HERD frolicking and wallowing in the water!
I’ve saved the funnest for last…..hippos!
This is what a pod of hippos looks like from afar. I must have seen 15 or so of these pods in a pretty short stretch of river. Let’s see if we can get a little closer….
Awwwww….. I’m now wildlife expert, but it doesn’t seem to me that hippos are in that much trouble here. Lots of them.
Even OUT of the water!
So in the past two posts you’ve seen pretty much all the animals saw on the trip to Murchison. Lions, elephants, hippos, cape buffalos, monitor lizard, baboons, warthogs, warthoglets, Colobus “I got no thumbs!” Monkey, Nile croc, a variety of ruminants and so many birds I can’t count. Not bad for a 24 hour period, right?
As we’re leaving to get on this ferry across the Nile…
…three enterprising young men started up some music. I recorded it, but can’t figure out how to put it on here. I will. It was really pretty good! So I dropped some Ugandan shillings in their bucket.
Thanks, Murchison! You’re the best!
Murchison Falls State Park, Uganda
Well! While I was in Uganda, I HAD to do a photo safari, right? And safari I did! I chose Murchison Falls State Park, in north western Uganda. However, in keeping with the “winging it” flavor of this journey, I did NOT book a tour. No, I did not. Instead I borrowed a pick up truck, paid for gas, and hired one of the NGO’s talented drivers, David, to haul me around. So, on the cheap, I had a personalized visit to an amazing place, Murchison Falls National Park. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted and, within reason, stop and get out and get to know some of these animals up close and all personal like. I mean, what giraffe wouldn’t want an eager, slightly absent minded, foreigner coming up and saying howdy-do? Exactly.
David, way below at the end of this post, was astonishingly patient with me, only getting firm with me about what I should not do…just a few dozen times. For example: “Sir, the lion may LOOK like she’s resting and calm and chill but do NOT get out of the truck.” Harumph.
So there’s not much commentary here, I hope you just enjoy the animals as I saw them. There’s a hand held shaky 30 second movie of giraffes if you stick with the scrolling long enough. All pictures are mine, taken as close as I could get without annoying David. And presumably the animals.
This is part 1, the land animals in Murchison. Part 2 will be the Nile river animals. Part 3 will be the rhino preserve about an hour east. Fun!
You can’t really get an idea for how expansive Murchison is from these pictures, all told it encompasses almost 1,350 square miles, and the skies are just Wyoming big. This is the sort of landscape here.
Our strategy unfolded thusly: David would drive the truck down “barely can call them roads” and I would yell STOP. Frequently. David would sigh. Stop. Watch me get out of the truck. Watch me take photos of dirt. Or some animal that he’d seen a million times before and held about as much fascination for him as a groundhog would for us North American types. On occasion he would urgently “ask” me to get back IN the truck. We did this no more than a million times.
This guy is a Ugandan Kob. In both pictures, he is proving to be camera shy.
This would be the Hartebeest. Pretty big guy. One seemed to like me. The other, bottom right, I couldn’t seem to make a connection.
Waterbuck. A stout ruminant. We’ll see him again during the Nile River shoot.
Now who doesn’t like a gruff, standoffish warthog? I mean he/she carries birds on her/his back and he/she lets little warthoglets hang around. (I did not check the gender of these noble beasts. I thought it would be impolite.)
Okay so now we’re getting to exotica! Let’s start with the lugubrious giraffe (I may be using that word incorrectly).
All of these pictures were taken from the seat of my truck. David thought it would be imprudent of me to chase after them for that perfect shot. Still, they were RIGHT there, maybe 20 meters at times, from the road so I was giddy!
There are over 2,400 giraffes wandering around Murchison. I have to say, while I appreciate the role zoos play in our world, watching these animals just….roam…with no wall or fences, left me feeling sad. Even the best zoos, like San Diego’s, with all of their “humanely designed confinement areas” can’t possibly even mimic what I saw in Murchison. On the other hand, the rhino was poached to extinction here in 1983. And only with the help of rhinos in zoos are they making a comeback in the wild (see part 3 of this series when I visit the rhino preserve.).
And now, as a special multimedia treat, I offer you…. a shaky hand held 30 second video of giraffes!
What else do we have?
Ah yes. Our friend the Cape Buffalo. The first of our “Big Five” African mammals viewed on this expedition. The “Big Five” is apparently a marketing thing, or a blast from the past when people would shoot these fine creatures (I guess some still do). The Big Five are the Cape Buffalo (above), Elephant, African Lion, Rhinoceros and Leopard. I never did see a leopard, regrettably. (I did spot 2 hyenas running along the landscape, too far to photograph, but …well…okay. NOT the same as a leopard.) I shall provide you with lovely shots of the rest.
What’s not to love about a momma and baby elephant?
I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve now seen both Asian and African elephants. Spent a day with Asian elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and although they weren’t truly wild as the African elephants here, they were not caged nor abused. Which goes a long way for an elephant these days. I got to within 30 meters of Mom and Baby. 🙂
Okay, now for a demonstration of Nature’s amazing camouflage. Spot the lioness…
No? How about this one?
This is what she looks like, from 20 feet (and, thanks to David, from INSIDE the truck).
Now go back and see if you can find her!!!! It’ll be fun!!
And if you really can’t, click on this small photo and smack yourself on the forehead.
So how, you may ask, did we find this needle in a haystack? A resting lion under some shrub, barely visible, in a park of some 1300 square miles? Well…I hired me a guide with a mobile phone who had a bunch of other guide friends with mobile phones who told her where it was, that’s how! Best $30 I ever spent. We also got up at 6am to get there. Really excited to see a live wild lion. Even with David nervously telling me to roll up the window.
That was a lot of excitement for one day. So we headed out of the park (the river cruise that I’ll post next actually happened the day before). But on our way out we had one more surprise!
What could it be? Surely it will run off before we can get close enough to see!
A baboon! And he’s…he’s not moving out of the way?
No. In fact he never moved. We pulled up right next to him, 3 feet away. And I rolled down my window and took this shot. He barely looked at us. David wasn’t happy but even he could see this primate had zero interest in us.
This was as close as I got to any animal. I would have reached and and pet him on his furry little head but, well,…my driver seemed anxious.
And then we left. This is David negotiating our exit. You see, when you enter the park you get a time stamp, and then you have to leave by 24 hours, or to pay for another day. We were, maybe 15 minutes late and thus….negotiations ensued. Before the guard lifted that gate he and David talked for awhile. I don’t believe any money exchanged hands because I never got a bill. David was/is a really good guy. He was a great driver,and traveling companion. I would NOT have been able to the have the experience without him. Good guy!
And that was Part 1 of this Ugandan nature adventure. Part 2 will be about the river cruise we took (WITHOUT the cheesy guide like they have in Disneyland Jungle Cruise, but most of the same features), and Part 3 will be about the visit we made to see 14 rhinos that are the first rhinos to live in the wild in Uganda since 1983. Stay tuned!
Apac Region, Uganda
Apac is in the northern part of the country. It’s in the region where Joseph Kony was kidnapping kids to be sex slaves and soldiers, and hacking off arms of people he and his followers didn’t like. But that was 10 years ago, and the largely rural people are trying to make a life again. It’s hard going. I saw people walking around with half arms.
I was there to do what I could to support an NGO (International Lifeline Fund) that had been successful in supplying camp stoves to refugees and digging clean water wells near villages. Since the wells had been successful, the villagers now have more time available and so I was asked to come up with a plan to teach them small business skills so they could make more money with that free time. So I did what I could. What impressed me the most was how many smiles I saw. Maybe it’s because nobody has much (walking was the norm, some had bicycles, and a very few had motorbikes. Only NGOs and businesses had trucks or cars.), and so there was an equality that is missing in the US. As part of my work I visited and interviewed two villages about what they thought they needed for small business education. One village greeted me with a wonderful dance, waving branches, and singing as they walked me to my seat, clearly they had been waiting for me. A boy, maybe 1 year old, started to cry and his mom had to talk him away. I found later that I was the first white man to visit their village (really? It’s 2015!) and the little boy had been scared of my white face. I was stunned.
I had the meeting, with the help of an interpreter and before I left the village women sang me song and again danced me back out to the road. I was very honored that they treated me with such respect.