(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.