October 23, 2009
Well we had a heck of a trip, didn’t we? Saw more than I could have hoped for. We had wonderful gorilla encounters, giant forest hogs (very rare sighting), chimpanzees, and tree climbing lions not to mention just being on the Nile and Lake Victoria. Though some of you did not really get in very good shape (ahem) in spite of my warnings, we all did manage quite well in challenging terrain. It was also nice to have a cultural component to this trip. There are a lot of people in this part of the world and they have been cultivating this land for quite a while.
After one of these trips into a wild area I always suggest ways to help the conservation movement in that particular part of the world. In Uganda/Rwanda I believe that the most efficient use of our money in aiding the natural world would be with World Wildlife Fund and their partners. Please see the following: http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/2009/09/mountain-gorillas-support-network.html
And also the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation http://www.itfc.org/. We had a research associate from this organization in the group that I went with on my own in Bwindi.
Rwanda has a tremendous amount of aid (GUILT) money pouring in so they do not need our help. For the people of Uganda I suggest we help fund Dr. Paul Williams at www.bwindihospital.com I like his emphasis on birth control, use of local Ugandans and it seems well run.
If you took any photos of your fellow trip members I am sure they would appreciate having copies. I will send everyone a DVD in November (I hope). And please send me any prints, not a cd or email image, of people (guides, staff) of Uganda and Rwanda and I will bring those photos to them in two years. They are greatly appreciated. My suggestion is to do this right now before too much time passes. I would also appreciate a label on the back of the photo as to where it was taken (e.g. staff at Bahoma Lodge).
Anyway here is the trip synopsis as I saw it. I did not see everything that you did and I saw a few things no one else did which I included in this report. Thanks again for wonderful experience. We really were a fun group. I will see you later I am sure Galapagos, Botswana, Bhutan, Namibia, Madagascar, and the Pantanal?
Until we meet again,
UGANDA AND RWANDA
October 4 to 22, 2009
BELOVED clients go to see chimps, gorillas and other hairy, feathered and leaved things with their ever appreciative guide – Michael
Ably assisted by Joseph and Ham with Wild Frontiers
Thursday, October 1. I leave San Francisco on this date and after a long flight into the following day
Friday, October 2. … arrive at Entebbe and Joseph meets me. To the Windsor aka Libya aka Lake Vic Hotel. To sleep perchance to dream.
Saturday, October 3. Today I get you some shillings, do a city tour in much traffic, and get a massage by Jessica and rest.
Sunday, October 4. I have my first Boda boda ride ride and spend several hours at the Botanical Gardens it cost two dollars to get in and I hired a guide – Alex- and tipped him five dollars. Entebbe Botanical Gardens covers an area of 40.7ha (a hectare is 2 ½ acres).The gardens have a collection of species of plants of the tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones, in addition to several shrubs and other plants which regenerated naturally over the years. The habitat has attracted a diverse array of birds. I saw little Weavers, red chested Sunbird, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Ross’s and Great blue Turaco, Splendid Glossy Starling, Double-toothed Barbet, Black and White Casqued Hornbill, gull billed tern, stilts, Crowned hornbill, Woodland, and Pied Kingfishers, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Alpine and, Palm Swifts, Palm-nut Vulture, Hamerkop, Sacred Ibis, African Thrush, Black-headed Heron Long-tailed Cormorant, Egyptian Goose, Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Duck, black Flycatcher, cattle egrets white fronted bee eaters. Also saw Black and White Colobus Monkey, black faced Vervet Monkey (also known as green monkeys), and red tailed monkey. The latter apparently escaped from nearby wildlife Center and is living all by herself in the Park. There are also many butterflies. Uganda is well-known for its butterflies. I also saw a green snake and a striped African ground squirrel.
Everyone but Katie and Mike are arriving early because of the canceled KLM flight. Ham, Joseph, and I go to meet you at the airport. You have an uneventful flight – a very easy transfer to Entebbe Town (+- 5-minutes drive) to check-in at the Windsor Lake Victoria Hotel for immediate sleep.
Monday, October 5. The hotel is full of US military and UN troops doing NATO maneuvers and US military exercises in northern Uganda among other things. The Entebbe airport we arrived in is not the infamous one from the old days. That airport is being used by the president for his private plane and the United Nations to fly supplies into the Congo and the Sudan.
What a timely group! Well everyone but Matt who thinks he has another hour and has corrupted Pamela and Steve. We leave right on time at 845 for a very short drive to the dock. Where we catch our speedboat for the 23 km, 45 minute ride to Ngamba Island. Matt sees some of our first monkeys – black faced vervets over in the botanical garden. He has excellent eyes, as you will see. We see the worst aquatic plant in the world — water hyacinths from South America. The water lily however is native.
The Water Hyacinth was introduced from its native home in South America to various countries by well-meaning people as an ornamental plant; to the US in the 1880’s; to Africa in the 1950’s spreading to the Congo, the Nile and Lake Victoria; also in India.
The fast-growing Water Hyacinth soon becomes a noxious weed outside its native habitat. Plants interlock in such a dense mass that a person could walk on a floating mat of them from one bank of a river to the other. The presence of Water Hyacinth disrupts all life on the water. They clog waterways preventing river travel, block irrigation canals, destroy rice fields, ruin fishing grounds. By shading the water, these plants deprived native aquatic plants of sunlight and animals of oxygenated water. As the mats decay, there is a sharp increase in nutrient levels in the water, which spark off algal growths that further reduces oxygen levels.
There are many gull billed terns, pink backed pelican’s, long tailed Cormorant’s, great cormorants. The ride is very smooth and we just get a few sprinkles. They have very nice rain jackets for us. There are only two other people going with us. They are from Holland and are staying overnight. We arrived right on time and are met by Bruce, our local guide. There are open billed storks, long tailed cormorants, swamp flycatcher, spur winged plovers, cattle egrets, Egyptian geese, black stilts, common sandpipers, Hamerkop, black-and-white casqued hornbill’s, Angola swallows, cattle egrets, little egrets, pied kingfishers, and many Nile monitor lizards.
I give you a little information on Lake Victoria while we have tea and coffee.
Lake Victoria is either the second or third largest lake in the world. What?
I discovered in doing research that Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is the same
elevation therefore to hydrologists they are essentially the same Lake.
Therefore Lake Michigan/Huron is the largest lake in the world followed by
Lake Superior and then Lake Victoria. Lake Baikal in Siberia is the deepest
lake in the world — almost one mile deep. If you’d drained Lake Baikal and
diverted every single freshwater river in the world into the basin it would
take one year to fill back up this Lake! There is enough water in the lake
to supply the entire human world with drinking water for 50 years!
Lake Victoria on the other hand is shallow — the average depth is only 130
feet in the deepest part is 260 feet. 18,000 years ago Lake Victoria totally
dried up. It is well-known for tilapia fish stocks. Non-native tilapia was
introduced here from Lake Tanganyika. The non-native tilapia out competed
the native tilapia fish and drove them to extinction.
Then Bruce gives us a nice overview of the chimpanzees on this island and history of this place. It began in 1998. Ngamba Island is a forested island about 1 km² on Lake Victoria that provides a haven to 44 orphaned Chimpanzees that are free to wander around the Island. Wild Frontiers are the booking agent and you are able to spend the night on the island if you wish. The couple from Holland is doing this. We have our great experience with chimpanzees. We know it is artificial and controlled but it is still a lot of fun to watch with their antics around feeding time. They must feed them three or four times a day because the size of the island and can only support 2 chimpanzees and if they all made nests every single night the trees would be destroyed.
We have some free time after the feeding for some bird watching and photography. There are many dragonflies on the island. Great look at Nile monitor lizards — many different sizes. Off right on time at 12 o’clock for our 45 minute ride back to the mainland. When we arrive I give you a quick overview of the afternoon’s possibilities. Back to the hotel, lunch, and rest or exploration on your own. You can also get a massage with Jessica; go to the exercise room, bird watch in the gardens, or just chill.
Pamela definitely wants to take a Boda Boda ride. Good for her. Many of you walk to the botanical gardens and see vervet monkeys and other delights. At 6 PM we meet on the second floor for an orientation done by Ruth from Wild Frontiers. And I also give you an orientation that will hopefully make our trip go better. We also go around the circle and introduce ourselves. It’s going to be a good trip.
Joseph and I head to the airport and pick up Mike and Katie. Very smooth. Time for bed.
Tuesday, October 6. Our bags are out at 730 — this is a lot of luggage! Will it fit in the vehicles or do we need the trailer? I know the answer but Ham and Joseph did not. We finally leave at 830 and it is raining. We drive north toward Kampala but veer to the east and avoid the city center. The rain has stopped; the traffic is heavy but fortunately going in the other direction. There are about 1.2 million people in Kampala and another million come in every day to work — at least that’s what Ham tells us. The city is 10 times larger than the next largest city in Uganda. Kampala means that Hill of the Impala — because the King used to use impalas to graze on his palace grounds Two weeks ago there were riots in Kampala — the police killed 25 people and these actions were condemned by the international community. The conflict is basically about the monarchy. Ham will give us an overview later in the trip. There are also potential oil reserves that are in Murchison Falls National Park. The kingdom of Bunyoro desires a percentage of the revenues from the oil. They are both complicated issues which have roots in the way the British governed Uganda. They divided the country in the kingdoms with varying degrees of power and then there was the central government as well. In 1962 they granted independence to this mishmash, guaranteeing conflict. There will be 10 oil wells drilled in the Murchison Falls National Park.
We pass the Ankole cattle with extremely Long horns. Photo opportunities. Out into the countryside we go many many people. Notice the competition between the cell phone companies in the brightly colored buildings and stores along the way. Zain is the bright pink, MTN is the mustard color. We have our first Bush stop. It is getting warm. Mike notices many many migrating birds of prey far overhead. We go through the town of Luwere we cross the Kafa River and take a left. There are Borassus Palm here, which are thought to be planted by elephants.
Borassus aethiopum is a species of Borassus palm from Africa. In English it is variously referred to as African fan palm, African palmyra palm, deleb palm, ron palm, toddy palm, black rhun palm, ronier palm (from the French) and other names. It also has names in African languages. The tree has many uses; the fruit are edible, fibres can be obtained from the leaves and the wood (which is reputed to be termite-proof) can be used in construction . There are at least two varieties of this species: var. bagamojensis and var. senegalensis. They grow swelling, solitary trunks to 25 meters in height and 1 m in diameter at the base. The green, 3 meter leaves are carried on 2 meter petioles which are armed with spines. The crownshaft is spherical to 7 m wide, the leaves are round with stiff leaflets, segmented a third or half-way to the petiole. In male plants the flower is small and inconspicuous; females grow larger, 2 cm flowers, which produce, yellow to brown fruit resembling the coconut containing up to 3 seeds.
The landscape is heavily cultivated. The Bantu people arrived in this part of the world around 1500 years ago bringing iron implements and agriculture (yams and millet) and drove the original people — the Batwa — away. The roads do not have numbers they are just named between point A and point B. We see some vervet monkeys in the road. Around 1230 we arrive at Masindi – a bustling town and pull into a nice hotel. We eat our box lunch and get to play some pool. Our guides fill up on petrol. We see some people getting ready for October 9 — Independence Day — celebrations.
We left at 145 and turn off the main rd. here; we have 85 km to our Lodge. It is a good dirt road. We cross from the kingdom of Buganda to the Kingdom of Bunyoro. We finally arrived at the entrance to the park at 215. We want to pop the top but Joseph tells us about tsetse flies which are ahead. We trust him. There are olive baboons along the road as well — they are very shy and runaway quickly. We also have a look at an Abyssinian ground hornbill. A female. It is a life bird for me! We begin to drop down the escarpment and the tsetse flies get bad == we close the windows and turn on the air conditioning. Slender mongoose is also seen. We stopped for warthogs and Cape buffaloes were wallowing in the mud, trying to escape the flies. They look miserable! We dropped down the escarpment even more and arrive at the top of the falls at 345. We are afraid to get out of the car tsetse flies are there and it is hot.
Tigris is our local guide and we walked to the falls. Mica flakes all over the ground from the Gneiss – which is Precambrian basement rock which underlies much of Africa. What can you say about one of the great wonders of the natural world? The Victoria Nile poring through a gorge 7 m wide and 45 m high. What power and energy!!! 45 km to the west it meets Lake Albert. Then flowing north it becomes the Albert Nile. Then it is called the White Nile when it enters the Sudan and at Khartoum the Blue Nile (90% of all the water) and the river becomes just the NILE. There is a large flock of rock pratincoles on the opposite shore. And a Palm nut vulture flies overhead. We take a group photo in front of the falls in perfect light. Looking west in the far distance we can see the Blue Mountains, which are in the Congo.
We backtrack and then turn right and follow the main road toward the ferry and Paraa Lodge. We are trying to make the 6 PM ferry and we succeed. While waiting for the ferry we see our first hippopotamuses and our first elephants on the opposite shore. There are also some Cape buffaloes in the water. There is also a huge mounted Nile perch on the wall of the small building.
The Nile perch (Lates niloticus) is a species of freshwater fish. It is widespread throughout much of the Afrotropic ecozone, being native to the Congo, Nile, Senegal, Niger, and Lake Chad, Volta, Lake Turkana and other river basins. It also occurs in the brackish waters of Lake Maryut in Egypt. Common names include African snook, Capitaine, Victoria perch (a misleading trade name, as the species is not native to Lake Victoria), and a large number of local names in various African languages, such as the Luo name Mbuta.
Lates niloticus is silver in colour with a blue tinge. It has a distinctive dark black eye, with a bright yellow outer ring. One of the largest freshwater fish, it reaches a maximum length of nearly two metres (more than six feet), weighing up to 200 kg (530 lb). Mature fish average 121-137 cm (48-54 in), although many fish are caught before they can grow this large.
Adult Nile perch occupy all habitats of a lake with sufficient oxygen concentrations, while juveniles are restricted to shallow or nearshore environments. A fierce predator that dominates its surroundings, the Nile perch feeds on fish (including its own species), crustaceans, and insects; the juveniles also feed on zooplankton.
Nile perch have been introduced to many other lakes in Africa, including Lake Victoria (see below) and the artificial Lake Nasser. The IUCN’s (World Conservation Union) Invasive Species Specialist Group considers Lates niloticus one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
We arrive at the Lodge, check-in, and meet at 730 for dinner. Fortunately for us it is not too crowded. We are told we can eat everything here so we do. So far so good…
We are perched on a high bank overlooking the mighty Victoria Nile River. The sun sets quickly here at the equator and dusk is very short. There is much laughter and dinner — we seem to be having fun. At 10 o’clock there is an elephant screaming near the Lodge. He or she must’ve been in the place staff did not want to. I went outside to see what was going on but it was too dark. We all had our bed turned down in our Mosquito net dropped. The power is on all the time. The Nile flows silently below us. Early this morning the moon came up waxing away in central Africa. Hippopotamuses are outside the rooms eating grass.
Wednesday, Oct 7. After breakfast at 830 we have a short walk down to the dock. We see red chested sunbirds, common waxbill, speckled mouse bird, bulbul, and tracks of the waterbucks and the national animal of Uganda – the kob, tracks of genets, red-throated bee-eater, and the scary olive baboons. We wait for the boat to come over from the opposite shore. We board the boat at 9 for our trip upriver to Murchison Falls. Our local guides are Isaac and Kenneth. The captain is Moses. We have 17 km to go and we are going slowly. There are huge globs of foam floating downstream; as soon as the sun heats up the bubbles they pop and the foam disappears. We have great looks at hippos, warthogs, Cape buffaloes, pied kingfishers bush bucks, purple Heron, striated herons, intermediate egrets, goliath herons, gray herons, wire tailed swallow, black capped gonoleks, water thick knees, black winged terns, gull billed tern. But the highlight for me — bird wise — was the Malachite Kingfisher. Most of the game is on the north side so that is where we concentrate. Very good looks at hippopotamuses and their babies. Many of them are missing either one or both ears. Very strange probably a result of in breeding from a small population. There is an upper deck which has a great view and that can be very hot. The other group with us is the ones that were in the hotel in Entebbe they are far from international expeditions. We will continue to see them. There is a bathroom and drinks for sale on the boat.
We finally can see the Falls. On the right side of the river — that is the South — there is a group of black and white Colobus monkeys as well as vervet monkey’s. We get good looks. Also right nearby is the site where Ernest Hemingway crashed an airplane. On the north shore we cruise over to Crocodile Cove, We watch many many crocodiles — some quite large –move into the water. They accumulate at the base of the falls to catch the fish that have gone over the falls. We tied up on a small island. I jump off first and get hula hooping with Murchison Falls in the background. Nearly everyone gets their photograph taken here.
Yesterday we saw a small boat closer to the falls but apparently we cannot go that far in this boat. Bummer! We return a bit faster this time and Kenneth has promised us elephants. And sure enough there is a large family group, combined families, 44 individuals including many babies. A census of the elephants done in the 1960s indicated there were 14,000. This was probably the densest concentration of elephants in the world and Murchison Falls National Park was considered a premier Safari destination. That was all to change thanks to the last King of Scotland. Right now there may be 2000 elephants and that is a recovery from even lower population. Eventually the numbers will return but it will take some time. We certainly had our share of hippopotamuses, crocodiles and elephants and birds today. What a nice way to begin our trip into Wild Africa. We are back to the dock at 115 and we all choose to walk back up the hill to the Lodge. Past those baboons and it is hot. The baboons have social groups much like those of human beings. Multi-male troops, high-ranking individuals over low ranking individuals, lower ranking will curry favor from high-ranking, shared copulations, often uncertain male parenthood, long-lasting male friendships, female and male friendships — with or without sex, group male defense, males will care for young. 80% to 90% of their diet is grass — human beings also eat a lot of grass except we call it rice, wheat, millet, corn, barley, rye… We are not so different.
Lunch is good with many vegetables.
Rest and relaxation for a little while — swimming sleeping reading shower. We meet at 330 for a game drive. It was clear this morning with blue skies and no rain. This is the lowest elevation we will be on our trip is about 2800 feet above sea level. We are in the Rift Valley — the Western part — and close to the lowest point. The movie, African Queen, was shot in this area. We will have to watch it when we go home.
We are off at 330 and there are now dark clouds. Our first stop is for a gray hooded Kingfisher, pin tailed whydah and helmeted Guinea fowl. Soon there is lightning and then very hard rain. We see our first Rothschild’s giraffe and kob — Uganda’s national animal. The rain is hard as we continue northbound. We are on the road to Pakwach but turn left and head toward the airstrip. I can tell you now that that part of the Park still not safe. There has been a terrorist activity out there.
We see the first of many oribis- the smallest antelope in the region. Easily identified by the black spot under the ear. Looking west we can see a large body of water; it is the Albert Nile which flows north east out of Lake Albert. Quick bathroom stop at the airstrip and don’t take a picture of the old, beat up tank! What tank? I don’t see a tank. Uganda is paranoid about their military. A hawk hairier is seen and many kongonis aka Jackson’s hartebeest. There is a family of elephants in the distance. We are in open grassland with scattered Borassus palms and whistling thorn acacias. Giraffes really liked the acacias. We take the Victoria track heading toward shoebill habitat. We reach a very large marsh, which is called the Delta and is basically where the Victoria Nile drops into the Lake Albert at the far north end of the lake. The rain has stopped, the tops are up. The temperature pleasant. Slender mongoose seen. We go out into the papyrus and sedges and small waterholes. Great looks at many giraffes. Also woolly necked stork and lines of cattle egrets in the distance. But no shoe billed storks, yet. We backtrack a bit and see the boat and photographing something. It is the stork but we cannot see it. However we do get to see our first crowned cranes. This is the national bird of Uganda and they are gorgeous. Many many dragonflies abound. We wind out to Delta point and take a different track home. The sun is setting, the sky is on fire. There are many rabbits (Bunyora hares) in the road, thick knees sitting in the road, nightjars, and we actually see one spotted hyena. We get back at 730 just as a number of other safari vehicles arrive. Time for dinner. This was a great start to our trip – 48 species of birds today. And 12 species of mammals. A hippo by the pool much to the delight of us tourists.
Thursday, October 8. We are off at 730. It is not raining and we are heading in the same direction as we did yesterday afternoon to the north and then west. We see our first elephant family and we are nice and quiet and we can hear the low-frequency rumbling. There are some large black long tailed birds hanging out on the Cape buffaloes. These are piapiacs — which is a new species for me. They tend to be associated with Borassus palms. We see a pale chanting goshawk at the airstrip and a mystery eagle. We are going on the Queens track and looking for leopards in the trees here. None are seen unfortunately, but we do see many common kobs and there are at least 50 giraffes on the horizon. We are in open savanna — mostly grassland with scattered trees. There are some imperfections on the giraffe skin which apparently come from a fungus. Sooty chats, Carmine bee eaters, bronze manikins, bright northern red bishops, white backed vulture, Bateleur or short tailed eagles, Silverbird, many swallows.
Then we see a male and female lion! When you see them together it usually means the female is in heat. They trot off together toward a large group of Cape buffaloes. Nearing them, they mate. The buffaloes are upset (what prudes!) and several of them thunder after the Lions — we are amused and very lucky to have seen this. It is estimated that it takes 3000 copulations to produce one viable cub! We backtrack and dropped down a bit toward the Delta. We can see the antelopes – kobs and oribis are very interested in something — it must be the Lions. Up a new track we go and we see the female again. She disappears under a tree, drops down in the shade to rest. Goodbye. Skirting along the Delta we see Denham’s bustard – another life bird for me.
Our search for the shoe billed crane continues in the marshes. We do see the crowned cranes — Mr. and Mrs. And we encounter another elephant family with a lame baby and one of the young males with an enlarged penis nearly dragging the ground. One of the females bluff charges of us and we make a hasty retreat in reverse. Alls well that ends well. We see fishermen who are from the nearby village of Pakwach. We see our first hoopoe and paradise flycatcher but alas not the special crane. Lynn narrowly avoids being eaten by a crocodile — not! We head back at 1210 into darkening clouds to the east. The light is amazing. The Borassus Palm’s especially look great, as do the giraffes. We will not see the wonderfully tall animals again on our trip. It takes us an hour to get back to the Lodge — nonstop. And it begins to rain just as we arrive — exquisite timing. There is a beautiful silk moth at the Lodge some of us get good looks and good pictures of. We have free time until 630 we meet for a little talk on giraffes (blood pressure problems), hippopotamuses (vocalizations in air and water), crocodiles (parental care, related to birds), and the Nile River (Victoria, Albert, white, blue). Tomorrow we have a very long drive and a visit to wild chimps!!
Friday, October 9. What a great group we depart the Lodge right on time and catch the 7 AM ferry. We are off on a 10-hour trip and by 845 am we have a nice overview of the rift Valley — looking at that Fat Albert Lake. The Congo on the other side. We are basically heading South West. Our first town is Holmes. We stopped for water, cookies, and gas. Across the street from the gas station is a medicine man doing a show chugging Coca-Cola’s and he has a cobra in his trunk. We don’t have time to wait for the cobra. It’s getting hot in the road is getting rough. Today is Independence Day in Uganda — 47 years. The children are not in school and many people are in their finest outfits. The soil is red, rich and planted with corn, bananas, manioc, papaya, cotton. We pass a village where some men have killed a kob — they hold the bloody head up for us to see, smiling. We see the first dogs we’ve really seen; they all look the same. The road is narrow, rough, and slippery. We have a lunch stop at 1240. At a school and there are children about. The lunch is not as good as the food at the Lodge. There are ants at our picnic — imagine that.
Baboons, black-and-white Colobus monkeys, long crested eagle, are all seen this morning. At the Musisi River we get out and walk for a bit. Good idea Joseph. There seems to be a big hatch of the reproductive ants. I found out later they are called sausage flies — they have wings and are being eaten by the local people as a delicacy. We try to catch some to try them but we fail.
Dorylus From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The army ant genus Dorylus, also known as driver ants, safari ants, or siafu, is found primarily in central and east Africa, although the range also extends to tropical Asia. Unlike the New World members of the subfamily Ecitoninae, members of this genus do form temporary anthills lasting from a few days up to three months. Each colony can contain over 20 million individuals. As with their New World counterparts, there is a soldier class among the workers, which is larger, with a very large head and pincer-like mandibles. They are capable of stinging, but very rarely do so, relying instead on their powerful shearing jaws.
Seasonally, when food supplies become short, they leave the hill and form marching columns of up to 50,000,000 ants which are considered a menace to people, though they can be easily avoided; a column can only travel about 20 meters in an hour. It is for those unable to move, or when the columns pass through homes, that there is the greatest risk. There have been reported cases of people—usually the young, infirm, or otherwise debilitated who could not escape—being killed and eventually consumed by them, often dying of asphyxiation. The characteristic long columns of ants will fiercely defend against anything that encounters them. Columns are arranged with the smaller ants being flanked by the larger soldier ants. These automatically take up positions as sentries, and set a perimeter corridor in which the smaller ants can run safely. Their bite is severely painful, each soldier leaving two puncture wounds when removed. Removal is difficult, however, as their jaws are extremely strong, and one can pull a soldier ant in two without its releasing its hold. Large numbers of ants can kill small or immobilized animals and eat the flesh. A large part of their diet is earthworms. All Dorylus species are blind, though they, like most varieties of ants, communicate primarily through pheromones.
In mating season alates (winged queens and drones) are formed. The drones are larger than the soldiers and the queens are much larger. They mate on the wing, and the queens go off to establish new colonies. As with most ants, workers and soldiers are sterile (or non-reproducing) females.
Male driver ants, sometimes known as “sausage flies” due to their bloated, sausage-like abdomens, are the largest known ants, and were originally believed to be members of a different species. Males leave the colony soon after hatching, but are drawn to the scent trail left by a column of siafu once it reaches sexual maturity. When a colony of driver ants encounters a male, they tear its wings off and carry it back to the nest to be mated with a virgin queen. As with all ants, the males die shortly afterward.
Such is the strength of the ant’s jaws, in East Africa they are used as natural, emergency sutures. Maasai moran, when they suffer a gash in the bush, will use the soldiers to stitch the wound, by getting the ants to bite on both sides of the gash, then breaking off the body. This seal can hold for days at a time.
Several species in this genus carry out raids on termitaria, paralysing or killing some of the termites and carting them back to the nest. 
We start to see the tea plantations mostly owned by the British originally — surprise surprise. The day has cleared up with nice large cumulus clouds. We are climbing higher and higher up to over 5000 feet elevation. Quite a change from Murchison falls. As we approach for portal we can see the Mountains of the Moon. Mount Stanley at 17,000 feet is the third highest peak in Africa. We stop for another bathroom break at Fort Portal. 425. By 530 we have made it to Kibale National park area and PRIMATE LODGE. We are in a forested area and very happy to be out of the Land Rovers. We check-in — some of us have to walk quite aways to our room er make that tented cabin. These are wonderfully placed in the forest and quite private. My kind of place. There are some gray cheeked mangabeys near my cabin. I get good looks. Lucky me. But all of us will see them later.
Tea harvesting is a laborious task that requires some training in order to yield the best results. When plucking the leaves for a high quality tea, they pluck the bud and the second and third leaves only. This is called fine plucking. If more leaves are taken with the bud it is said to be a coarse plucking and produces a lower quality tea. Sometimes mature leaves are discarded giving each bush a pruning, which enables nutrients to go into new growth. The best climate conditions are usually those that are higher in altitude and get plenty of rainfall. It also seems preferable to have cooler weather and misty mornings to shield the sun, which causes the bush to mature more slowly. A typical tea bush will generally produce about three thousand tea leaves a year. Now before you get any ideas of buying a tea bush and making a fortune, you might want to know that these three thousand leaves only make up only about one pound of fully processed tea.
Once the tea leaves are collected in baskets they are taken to the factory to be processed. The processing steps taken will depend on the type of tea desired. The types of tea that differing procedures create are white, green, oolong, and black. Black tea is nothing more than the leaves of the camellia sinensis that have been processed a certain way. It is one of the four types of teas (white, green, oolong, and black). Black teas are the most consumed of the four types of teas. They are the highest in caffeine, but still have antioxidant properties, just not quite as much as others. Processing tea is generally considered the art of tea. It is where many of the subtleties in taste, body, and overall character are created. In its most basic form, it is taking the raw green leaves and deciding whether or not, and how much oxidation (or fermentation) should take place before drying them out. Tea leaves have enzymes in their veins. When the leaf is broken, bruised, or crushed, the enzymes are exposed to oxygen resulting in oxidation. The amount of oxidation depends upon how much of the enzymes are exposed and for how long.
The processing of black tea requires a full oxidation of the leaves. After the leaves are plucked, they are laid out to wither for about 8 to 24 hours. This lets most of the water evaporate. Then the leaves are rolled in order to crack up the surface so that oxygen will react with the enzymes and begin the oxidation process. The leaves are left to completely oxidize, thus turning the leaves to a deep black color. After that, a final drying takes place. From there, it goes off to be sorted, graded, and packaged.
At 630 or so there are some local people who sing and dance for us. It is quite entertaining and the kids are real cute. At 730 as we sit down to dinner. Edison, our chimpanzee guide, comes and gives us an overview of tomorrow’s activities. We are tired and after dinner I attempt to point out a few stars.
Our Tented Camp consists of eight unique safari tents in African style. The tents are raised on a wooden platform, with a private veranda overlooking the forest. Each of them is tastefully decorated in African style, with comfortable twin beds, large windows and en-suite bathroom. Besides the safari tents, we also offer recently renovated cottages. They are privately situated in the forest, with their own veranda, spacious bedroom and en-suite bathroom.
KIBALE NATIONAL PARK. Kibale, 766 km2 is one of Uganda’s enchanting forested parks. Here, you can hike in the park for hours observing the drama of life in a rain forest. The park contains pristine lowland tropical rain forest, montane forest, and mixed tropical deciduous forest. In addition to forest, you will also notice areas of grassland and of swamp. The forest is rich in wildlife. It is most noted for its primate population. Some of these are red-tailed monkey, diademed monkey, olive baboon, chimpanzee, black and white Colobus, and red Colobus. Some of the other mammals you might see are bushbuck, Harvey’s red duiker, blue duiker, bush pig, and African civet. More difficult to spot are buffalo, waterbuck, hippo, warthog, and giant forest hog. Herds of elephant once traveled back and forth through the area. These elephants have become more and more rare, and now are seldom seen. The birdlife in the forest and grasslands of the forest is abundant. There are almost 300 species, which have been identified here. One particularly worth noting is the endemic to Kibale forest. There are 144 species of butterflies in the park and a diverse population of moths and other insects. A system of trails has been developed within the park, and tour guides are available to guide visitors.
Saturday, October 10. It rains hard in the night; I kept thinking there was a stream somewhere. But it stops by morning. Breakfast is a bit late. We head downhill to the National Parks Headquarters for a guide allocation and briefing. I asked John, the director of the Park, if I can have seven in each group so we won’t get broken up. He tells me no because he could lose his job and if he loses his job; his wife and children will have nothing to eat. How can I argue with that? Katie and Mike volunteered to go with another group — unfortunately their guide, Gerard, is not that good. But thanks for the sacrifice. John gives us an overview of the Park, before we set off into the forest in search of the resident chimpanzees.
I go with Aston, who is an excellent guide. He knows that we have to drive to the trailhead that the walk is too long to walk from the headquarters. Your guide will discover that as well. There are somewhere between 100 and 120 chimpanzees in this group that is habituated. There are over 1400 chimpanzees in the entire Park. There are 335 species of birds, 321 tree species, 250 different kinds of butterflies, 21 species of snakes. The name of the alpha male in this group is, Mboto, after the former dictator of Zaire. He has been the head guy since 1991! It is not raining and the weather looks good. The very common dove-like sound is a yellow rumped tinker bird. We hear a blue monkey vocalizing, but we never see it. There are huge emergent trees erupting out of the forest. These trees are of different species. The large trees have flying buttress roots that help anchor them to the moist forest floor. One species of Ficus which has very rough leaves is eaten by the monkeys to help rid themselves of worms. The common understory plant is a kind of grass. Not much light is hitting the forest floor. There are trails everywhere that help us follow the chimpanzees. We are lucky — in a very short time we have found them. There are at least six above our heads and six more nearby. We stay them a very long time. And watch them go about their daily life of being a chimpanzee. One of the highlights — at least for me – was catching the big male masturbating! Yes he was caught red-handed or should I say pink handed. Many of us are urinated on which brings us seven years of very good luck.
We can see the white tufts on the tail of some of the young ones. They keep these tufts for nine years. We also see them groom each other and clamber up and down the trees. The big male whose name in Luganda, Sabo, means Sir. He actually comes down onto the ground and walks away from us. Aston said that he is responding to other chimpanzees that pounded on one of the buttress roots. That sound can carry for 2 km and is one of the major ways of communication. The huge ferns that we see in the tree are called elephant ear ferns. There is also mistletoe and orchids as epiphytes. There are many vines clambering up large trees. We hear some more chimpanzees so we move toward those. We then call you guys because we have heard you have not had much luck and we would like to share our chimpanzees with you. So you come on over. So much for those intimate groups of six people. The fig trees are all numbered so that the guides can reference where they are.
There are many fungi everywhere and there are also many ripe fruits. It’s easy to see why there are many primates at the forest — it seems to be a rich environment for fruit eaters. We walked back all the way to the headquarters. One of the large trees is the genus Celtis, which we know as Hackberry at home. The Emerald cuckoo has a call which says – hello Georgie. We see the crested Guinea fowl, red Colobus monkeys, L’Hoests monkeys, red tailed monkeys, and gray cheeked mangobeys. The latter is flashing us. There are not many places in the world where you can see this many primates on a morning walk. The other group sees olive baboons, which we do not see. This morning we have a grand total of seven primates- very few places in the world can you see this many species on a morning walk.
Back for a late lunch just as the rain begins — hard! Lunch is good: pizza, fish fingers, potato salad, avocado salad and fruit for dessert. Five of us meet at three o’clock for a walk to the tree house. The rain stopped just in time. We are led by Joseph who gets lost, but we backtrack and clamber up into the tree house. Green sunbirds seen — male and female working on their next. This is a place where elephants are often seen, it overlooks the swamp where they like to feed. We have seen elephant sign here, droppings, broken branches and large footprints but no elephants. It does not rain on us. Again we are lucky — after all this is a rain forest. Back to our bandas, which sit nicely and privately surrounded by the forest. They are most peaceful. Some of us, most of us had hot water for showers. That feels good.
Sunday, October 11. At 830 after breakfast we gather for a little talk on the geology of the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa — a most remarkable geologic feature. The Gregory rift is 25 million years old; the Albertine rift is 10 to 15,000,000 years old. The eastern one is the land of volcanoes — fire! The Western one is the land of water — deep, deep string of lakes. I review the map where we have traveled and where we are going as well. We are off at nine o’clock — a most reasonable hour — we depart for a three-hour drive Queen Elizabeth National Park. Of course we will have stops along the way especially at the equator. We turn right at the main headquarters to take what we hope is a shortcut. We pass a number of crater lakes which should more accurately be called caldera lakes. A crater is caused by either a meteor or a bomb a caldera is caused by a volcano. We pass the Lodge – Ndali- which I had originally booked but then found out it was an hour to an hour and a half drive to the chimp treks and said forget it. It has a nice view though.
Katie notices there is snow on the distant mountains — the Rwenzoris. Ham assures her this is only a cloud but no, we have a very clear view of the third-highest peak in Africa and that is snow. Lucky us. We enter the Tooro kingdom. We turn right on the next road. And eventually we hit the main road tarmac — hallelujah. We stopped at Kasese for gas and toilets. This town has seen better days when the Copper mine was operating. There apparently is an active cobalt mine however. The train used to run here but no longer does. We are entering Queen Elizabeth National Park named in her honor in 1954. There is a road that turns off to the right which leads to the Congo 40 km away. John’s GPS indicates this is actually the equator. But just a little way south we come to a monument to the equator. The photo opportunities. Sure wish I had brought my hoop.
We turn right and go to the Queen’s Pavilion where we have our lunch. In the distance we can see Lake George and there are many animals visible on the other side of the main road. Cape buffaloes, water bucks, kobs, warthogs. It is warm! Back in the Land Rovers we popped the top and continue on the scenic drive through the craters — known as explosive craters. They erupted eight to 10,000 years ago and some are filled with water, some are full of trees, some are full of grass and bushes, and some are full of sulfurous gases. We spy an elephant family down below to the left. There isn’t much game here even though the grass seems tall and healthy. But perhaps it is not nutritious.
We get to the main road and turn right and go into the small semi-deserted almost a ghost town of Kitme. We pick up a local guide from that community based project. His name is Ouma we go to the crater and dropped down into the salt works. Unfortunately since it is Sunday there is no one working here. The salt has been mined since the 16th century. It created an extremely prosperous kingdom of the Bunyoro. The salt was traded all the way up into the Sudan, west to the Congo and south to Burundi. The Germans tried and failed to create a modern salt processing facility. Another example of well-meaning donor money gone bad. It’s pretty hot out there and it sure is a tough way to make a living. The women worked in the shallow pits and the men work in deeper water. The salt is very tough on their bodies. While we were there a large truck arrives and we see across the lake men loading it by hand. Each bag of salt weighs over 200 pounds. Katie really liked it but I think I’ll leave it off future trips.
We then head over to our Lodge- Mweya. I think we can get used to this. It is large and comfortable and most importantly has a very hot and powerful shower. There are friendly banded mongoose here, warthogs, and weavers which are easy to see and photograph. Down below along with the Kazinga channel there are hippo, elephants, and Cape buffalo. Water bucks too. The channel is full of birds. Toward the northwest we can still see the Ruwenzori Mountains.
At seven o’clock we meet at the bar with Joseph and Ham. They are going to share with us some information about Uganda. I start with one question — what caused the recent riots in Kampala? 25 minutes later Ham finishes answering that question. He did a very good job of explaining a very complicated situation and history of this fascinating country. Dinner is very good. Egyptian free tailed bats and tropical geckos are eating the insects. We lose Matt to a soccer match — Nigeria and Mozambique. Another exciting game that ends zero to zero!
QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK. The park spreads over an area of 1978 km2 in the western arm of the Great East Rift Valley. It is a home to a variety of wildlife including elephant, lion, hippo, buffalo, and Uganda kob, baboon, and, all typical of riverine and savannah habitats. In the southern part of the park is the Ishasha are with tree climbing lions and the Maramagambo, one of the largest surviving natural forests in Uganda. The northern part of the park is traversed by the equator and is dominated by the scenery of crater lakes with lots of flamingos on some of them. A launch trip from Mweya along the Kazinga channel, which joins Lake Edward and Lake George, provides one of the most memorable experiences of the park.
Monday, October 12. Hot water and tea and coffee and muffins are ready at 6 AM. What a great group — we arrived at 620. There is a Cape buffalo right in the middle of the road. And there is a sweet sweet smell permeates the African dawn. We can’t identify the plant smells good. The sky is clear; I could actually see stars this morning. We get a good look at red capped gonoleks. And we encounter our first elephant family. There are flappet larks, black shouldered kites, babblers, the work harder dove — a.k.a. Ring necked. Northern black flycatcher, coucals, yellow throated long claw, Senegal plover, and grey backed shrike. This Park section is known for its extremely large candelabra trees. These are in the Euphorbia family and contain toxic sap. Remember to not camp under one.
We are on the Leopard loop, which become the channel track and into the main road. We cross the main road and we are heading toward Lake George – the Kasenyi region. We have heard on the cell phone that there are Lions visible. And sure enough we stop to find a total of four female lions lounging at the grass. There is also a small family group of elephant’s nearby. It is interesting to watch them interact. One of the lionesses strolls over toward the elephants and jumps up into a candelabra tree. Joseph and Ham are elated – we have our tree-climbing lions already! There is a staring match between one elephant and the lion. The yellow cat will probably spend the rest of the day in the shade of tree. We continue on the road going through many species of birds and some mammals — water bucks, kobs, and Cape buffaloes. Matt has an encounter with a tree branch and loses some blood. The tree is okay. We stopped at an overlook of the Salt Lake called Bunyampaka where there is salt processing going on as well. Down below we can see large numbers of pelican’s — probably pink backed and African white. But no flamingos.
Uganda Safari guide fact: a short call it is slang for taking a pee. Long call is something else.
African foods original coffee, barley. Okra. Millet. Sorghum. Watermelon. Chickpea. Black-eyed pea (cowpea). Sesame. Castor oil .tamarind. Yam. Palm oil cola
We leave at 915 head back to camp and make it just about 10 AM. Breakfast stops being served at 1030. The rest of the morning and early afternoon are at your leisure… Tour group from international expeditions is here — surprise surprise. Some of us take advantage of the massage, the pool, the bar, or just relax. The day is perfectly clear with a few clouds therefore it’s getting hot.
We meet again at 245 for our boat ride in the Kazinga channel. We thought we had the boat to ourselves but we are sharing it with some people from the Ministry of Tourism. Godfrey is our guide — enthusiastic with a bit of misinformation but we get the bird names. We cross the channel and head up the Kazinga Channel toward Lake George so the best views are on the right side for a period of time. Western Uganda has the perfect habitat for Cape buffaloes and we see quite a few. Many of them are tinged red because they interbreed what the red forest (also Cape but a different subspecies) buffaloes of the Congo. Once again illustrating the biodiversity that occurs when two major ecosystems overlapped slightly. East African savanna and West African Congo lowland forest. That is a quiz question.
There is an African fish eagle sitting on a nest. There is also a black and white Colobus monkey and a small family of elephants. We turn around and head out toward Lake Edward, now the left side is the best. But there are so few people it really doesn’t matter. No rain and great light. Hippo out of the water, crocodiles, Nile monitor lizards, an aquatic turtle (probable side necked), a nice male waterbuck, kobs up on the hill. There are 11 villages that border the Park and we pass the one called Kazinga. There are people washing in the water with Cape buffaloes and hippos nearby. It is easy to see why people are killed by hippos throughout Africa. Normally I don’t make an extensive list but on this boat trip I wrote down every bird we saw or at least I saw. Because this is one of the best boat trips in the world. It only lasted two hours and 4 MB of Jackie’s pictures. But here is the list as I saw it.
Pink backed pelican, African great white pelican, great Cormorant, cattle egret, Squacco Heron, gray Heron, little egret, great egret, African spoonbill, glossy Ibis, sacred Ibis, hadada Ibis, hammerkop. Yellow billed stork, Marabou stork, Egyptian geese, water thickknee, black crake, African jacana, African fish eagle, spur winged plover, Wattled plover, ruff, common Sandpiper, wood Sandpiper, green shank, common stilts, ringed plover, pied Kingfisher, malachite Kingfisher, white winged black tern, gull billed tern, gray-headed gull, laughing dove, morning dove, ring-necked dove, a Angola swallow, African sand Martin, long tailed starling, speckled mouse bird, yellow backed Weaver, yellow billed ox pecker, swamp flycatcher, white throated bee eater, red capped gonoleks, yellow wagtail,. Pied wagtail.
Pretty good list I’d say. At seven we meet in the bar again for the Joseph and Ham half-hour show. Both of them give us an abbreviated version of how they came to be guides. Both trained as accountants. Go figure? And then it is to dinner we go. Last night there were hippos outside grazing on the grass. Matt saw them but did not wake John. Mike went to mark his territory and had a close encounter.
Tuesday, October 13: We are off at 9 AM for our game drive down to the Ishasha region of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We already had our tree climbing Lions but maybe we can see some more. It doesn’t take long for our first stop. Just after we left the lodge we saw two of them just to the left by the road. A male and female lion — on their honeymoon? She is blind in one eye and has a radio collar on. He is one of three males that Ham recognizes; he says they have come up from the Ishasha region of the Park. That’s a long ways. Our Land Rover sees another male on the other side of the road walking toward us and then he drops into the shade and disappears. There must be one more male somewhere close by. At breakfast Brenda had said that she heard Lions, this certainly confirms it. We are on Channel track heading back to the main road when we encounter a very nice elephant family. There is a lot vocalization going on but they seem to be peacefully feeding – at least the ones we can see. But we hear trumpeting and squealing back in the bushes. The young elephants are playing, one even mounts another one. In the 1960s there were 4000 elephants accounted in this Park by 1980 they were only 150. The population is up to about 2500 right now. Through the gate we go and have a stop at the little town to pick up some drinking water. We cross over the Kazinga channel right at Lake George. If we went down the channel on a boat we would go back to the Lodge.
We take the first right and go through another gate. It is a dirt road that in very good condition. The last time I was here it was raining and it was muddy and slippery. The first turn off to the right we passed goes to the fishing village Kazinga that we passed yesterday on the boat ride. Now we have a nice long ride heading essentially due south. We pass the large forest are left, very extensive. Most of us are reading or listening to our iPods. The trucks coming toward us are coming from the Congo. We see some elephants and Ham tells me they are more aggressive here because they regularly go to the Congo where they are hunted. It makes them more ornery. We cross the river that our Lodge is located on and continue south. We turn right and enter into the Ishasha region of the Park. It is a cloudy day but also sunny, kind of warm but not too hot. Our elevation is about 3700 feet. We pass Park buildings and drop down into the valley of Ishasha River. We go into the same picnic area that I was in March. We had it all to ourselves that day. But guess what? The international expedition group is there! There is another couple there — Americans from Kampala — teachers at the international school. There are hippos in the River and you can throw a rock over to the Congo. In March we found a mother hippo with a brand-new baby. There is a young hippo there and I like to think that is the baby I saw six months ago.
At lunch I give a little overview of the social structure of Lions (sister groups, the lions share, cross suckling, primarily eat kobs here) and a little bit about elephants (sister groups, menopause, low-frequency hearing). Off we go and see our first topis. They are wearing brown socks and look a little bit like kongonis. Baboons and wattled starlings. There are large herds of Cape buffaloes, and of course kobs. Termite mounds are everywhere about the same color as Lions. We go on the fig tree circuit looking for sleeping lions in trees.
And we find two lionesses sleeping in a fig tree. Ham says they have two cubs which are probably down in the bushes at the base of the tree and we can’t see them. All of us get fantastic photographs. When the international expedition’s group arrives we decide to leave and go to our camp. On the way there we find a pair of giant eagle owls also known as Verreaux’s eagle owl. They are huge and have pink eyelids. I get the scope out for a better view. We backtrack toward the north to the Ishasha Wilderness Camp. We arrive at 330.
This is the place I said I liked a lot. Karen, the manager, gives us a nice overview and introduction. Chris is the assist. Her husband David is off shopping and will be back later today. The camp is located right on the river. There are animals that regularly come through camp like Cape buffaloes, elephants, lions, and this morning there was a leopard screaming nearby. Now we are in Africa, at least the Africa I like the best. No swimming pool, no Internet BUT cold beer and hot showers what can be better?
There are 10 cabins, we occupy eight and the other two are empty. . So the camp is ours. There are flush toilets that are shared and are very convenient. But after nighttime when you are in your tent you used a portable toilet that is they are. . No roaming around at night.
Quote: This is the only camp in the area, giving a feeling of exclusivity. Style of camp: East African ‘Meru’ Tents, ensuite shower, toilet and basin. Tents are spaced under shady trees, overlooking the river. Quote.
Free time until seven when we gather. From my tent I hear hippos and elephants. I am happy to be here. There are two species of weavers – vieillot and black headed weavers. Also a black and white Colobus monkey is doing an alarm call which sounds like a giant frog. The River is flowing hard about a meter above normal according to Dave. I give some more information on elephants, after tomorrow we will not see them unless we are very very lucky. Then Ham and Joseph had the opportunity to ask us questions. Unfortunately they pick on me. I put the scope on Jupiter which is directly above us and we can see all four of the Galilean moons. At eight o’clock we have dinner and it is really good. Cheese sticks. And strawberries and chocolate. Dave tells us that if we hear a loud slapping sound coming from the water in the middle of the night, it is a remarkably large catfish. Gray-headed Negro Finch is the politically incorrect bird I see today. I think we all like this place.
The Galilean moons are the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo Galilei on January 7, 1610. They are the largest of the many moons of Jupiter and derive their names from the lovers of Zeus: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. They are the most massive objects in the Solar System outside the Sun and the eight planets, with a radius larger than any of the dwarf planets.
October 14. The night sounds I hear– spotted hyenas whooping at 5 AM, lions in the far distance, black and white Colobus monkeys croaking loudly, and a barking sound, which I think, is a Bush baby. Wake-up call 6 AM for hot tea and coffee and then we are off on a game drive right at 630. Good work.
Five spotted hyenas are seen right away and a couple of them lope right by the Land Rovers. They could keep that up all day long — they are the most successful large carnivore in all of Africa. They are able to exist very close to human habitations and in fact thrive. They are not the cowards and scavengers as they are portrayed but excellent hunters. They too have sister groups and status is inherited from the mother. Almost every single female hyena is dominant every single male hyena. I would not want one to be reborn into that mammal except as a female. Tawny Eagles are nearby. There is extensive cloud cover so that is keeping it cool. We see many topis on the hillside frolicking. One of the males is very interested in one of the females. He is doing flehmen. This is raising up his upper lip and either smelling the air or tasting her vulva for hormones using his Jacobsen’s organs which is inside his mouth. This gives him information about her state of arousal. Humans rely on moaning sounds sometimes instead though I suspect scent plays a vital if unaware role in our behavior as well.
There are also hundreds of kobs gathered as well. We are searching for a lek. While we find many kobs. There is no lek going on right now.
A lek is a gathering of males, of certain animal species, for the purposes of competitive mating display. Leks assemble before and during the breeding season, on a daily basis. The same group of males meet at a traditional place and take up the same individual positions on an arena, each occupying and defending a small territory or court. Intermittently or continuously, they spar individually with their neighbors or put on extravagant visual or aural displays (mating “dances” or gymnastics, plumage displays, vocal challenges, etc.).
Lek mating arena, modeled on the sage grouse, in which each male, alpha-male (highest ranking), beta-male, gamma-male, etc., guards a territory of a few meters in size on average, and in which the dominant males may each attract up to eight or more females. In addition, each individual is shown with variations in personal space (bubbles), where by higher-ranking individuals have larger personal space bubbles. Common bird leks typically have 25-30 individuals.
The term derives from the Swedish lek, a noun (verb att leka in the infinitive), which typically denotes pleasurable and less rule-bound games and activities (“play”, as by children). Specifically, the etymology of the word “lek” is from 1871 and means to engage in courtship displays (of certain animals); probably from the Swedish leka “to play”. A strict hierarchy accords the most desirable top-ranking males the most prestigious central territory, with ungraded and lesser aspirants ranged outside. Females come to these arenas to choose mates when the males’ hierarchy has become established, and preferentially mate with the dominants in the centre.
Larks are singing everywhere. As we continue we see two crowned cranes doing a courtship dance in the distance. Humans have imitated the European crane in the dance at the Temple of Apollo. This dancing reinforces the pair bond. There are 16 species at cranes throughout the world, every continent but Antarctica and South America have them. We have the Sandhill Crane and the whooping crane in the United States.
Suddenly running down the road we see a fairly large black-and-white animal — I immediately think that it is a Zorilla. This is the type of skunk found in Africa but no it is a black and white Colobus monkey! This is unusual to see on the ground and as soon as he can, he clambers up in the closest tree. It is probably an adolescent male who has been forced to leave his family and forge out on his own. Life is tough on the savanna.
As we approach a large marsh on our left we see hadada Ibis, a black-headed Heron and suddenly Joseph shouts – giant forest hogs! I cannot believe my eyes there are four of them fairly near the Land Rovers. These animals are famously hard to see; they are rare, secretive and nocturnal. Joseph and Ham are thrilled — this will be the rarest sighting for them on this trip. I too am thrilled and elated. We are a lucky group. Mountain gorillas are rarer but much easier to see.
Here we see the toilet tissue plant like we saw Murchison Falls but here it is pink not white. We stopped for a photographic opportunity of the wattle plover. He or she is very cooperative. It is great to take the time to really enjoy looking at one of the creatures here. I am greatly appreciative of your interest in all things, not just mammals. Many groups (not mine) only want to see mammals and nothing else. As we continue toward camp we spy some vultures up in the trees. They are white backed and Nubian (lappet faced). There must be a kill nearby; we look but cannot see it. But sharp eyed Matt spies a leopard in an Acacia tree far far away. Everyone is suitably impressed with his spotting ability. I may just have to add him on as an assistant. And he doesn’t bring much baggage with him — or make that luggage — not sure about the baggage. We all get out of the Land Rovers and I sent up the spotting scope and we have fantastic views. Some photos are taken to the spotting scope and they are not too bad.
Some birds that we saw in this region: African fire finch, black bellied bustard, mourning dove, ring necked Dove, white browed coucal, Palm nut vulture, gray back shrike, gray hornbill, white throated bee eater, common buzzard, Turaco, black headed Weaver, Vieillot Weaver, laughing dove, flappet lark, woodland Kingfisher, striped Kingfisher…
Back just before 10 for our late breakfast but lunch is going to be at one o’clock is sure to be good. Free time to shop etc. etc. for lunch we had beet soup, green salad, potato salad — everything was yummy. We are off at 215 to continue our journey to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Out of the Park we go and take a right back onto the dirt road we came in on. Heading south through rural Uganda. It about two hours and 15 minutes to get to Buhoma Lodge. It looks like it’s going to rain that doesn’t. Ken is the manager and Richard is his helper. Richard gives us an orientation and refers to us as beloved clients. Helen thinks that I should start saying that to all of you. Maybe she’s right. We checking into our little rooms perched above the forest. It is really quite lovely. Solar power again, hot water when we want it. And cold beer. The power is on at 6:30 PM to 8 AM. They also offer free massages after gorilla trekking. What a deal! It is Sylvia who does it.
Some of us explore the village, go shopping, sit the bar, take a real good hot hard shower, eat and relax. 7:30 PM for dinner — we are the only ones here again. Hallelujah. Pam and Steve have a L’Hoests monkey near their cabin. During dessert Ham gives us an overview of what to expect tomorrow for our gorilla tracking. He almost forgets to tell us to bring our passports — that could’ve been trouble. We are actually divided into three different groups. Unfortunately I am in a group without any of you and must leave for an hour and a half drive at 615. There will be eight of you at one group and the five of you in another. There used to be only three habituated guerrilla groups but now there seems to be six or more. I am going to wander on the other side of the mountain looking for my gorilla family.
Thursday, October 15. I get up very early and drive an hour and 50 minutes over to the other side of the mountain to the Bitukura Group at Rufuji. The rest of you divide up into groups of eight and five. Mike, Katie, John, Matt, and Lynn get the Mabare group. They have a very challenging hike straight up for two hours or so. Katie’s ankle looses a contest with a big rock. John wishes there was more oxygen in the air. Matt, of course, has a fine time. They visit the oldest habituated group in the Park. There are five members — a silverback, a black back, a female, a juvenile, and I think a baby. They see 4 out of 5 and get pounded with rain 45 minutes into their visit. They do get very wet because they forgot to get the rain gear out of their daypacks. They also see a chimpanzee and a green mambo. Bwindi is the only place where gorillas and chimpanzees coexist. They seem to ignore each other when witnesses have viewed the very few encounters in the wild.
Meanwhile the other eight have driven one hour to visit the H group. They walk through a farmer’s field where he is growing millet and bananas. They have guards to keep the baboon away. They get to see babies play, a lethargic silverback and Jackie gets too close and get touched by the female. A gentle reminder to get the #%$^%$ back from the kid. They got rained on as well
I am up at 8200 feet with a group Bitukura at Rahija which has four silverbacks, three black back, two females, some juveniles in a couple of babies. There are 12 altogether and we get to see about eight. There were 13 in this group but recently one of the young females immigrated to another group. Also the dominant silverback was replaced by the number three in line, number 2 stayed in this place., #4 to number three, and the head guy is now number four but accepted by everyone. It is a regular soap opera up here in the forest. Of course his mating opportunities are now limited but he had his time. The gorillas we saw were very social and active. We had a charge from one of the black backs – details at seven o’clock. I felt blessed. Our hike to the group was pretty easy, though that is not what some of the people thought. However I knew that we could be on a hike like the folks going to MABARE group. We did see blue monkeys, Bush squirrel, black and white Colobus monkeys, great blue Turaco, black and white casqued hornbills. The rain did not start until we had already returned — Lucky us. Several of our ladies commented on the fact that it has been a while since they have had so many hands on their butt. But they sure it helped get up the steep hills.
It may be good at least for the ones who hiked to group Mabare that we do not have another gorilla treks scheduled for tomorrow. Please check out the website for the Institute of tropical Forest conservation. They will have information about the gorillas in Bwindi National Park. Donations are of course welcome.
Though this type of vegetation is often called a jungle that were actually comes from an Indian Sanskrit word –jangala- which means wilderness. But now most people use it to mean a forest at the equator with huge amounts of plant growth. The actual term used for this jungle is a medium altitude moist evergreen forest and high altitude forest. Bwindi is one of the richest forests in Africa. There are 350 species of birds, 310 species of butterflies and 324 species of trees. Out of 320 species of mammals aren’t primates.
Just before dinner I give a very brief overview of the major human groups in Uganda and Rwanda. The most ancient peoples to live in the area are the ancestors of the Batwa people we are going to see tomorrow. They have been living in the forest at the Congo for the last 50,000 years. Basically hunter gatherers with an incredible knowledge of how to live on those resources. About 2000 years ago and agricultural revolution and the development of iron smelting occurred in West Africa. Those people spoke a language we now call Bantu. They were extraordinarily successful with the knowledge the new technology and food crops. They were able to clear the forest and more easily plant crops especially millet, yams, watermelon. Their populations exploded and they moved all across Africa, all the way to the east and all the way to the South. They both intermarried with some of the population and drove some of the San or Batwa people deeper into the forest or in the case of Uganda and Rwanda higher up into the mountains. About 1500 years ago bananas were introduced into the area, making their way all the way from Asia via a route that is unclear. But it revolutionized the agriculture here and created a beneficial source of food that was easy to grow. Around 1000 years ago a new people showed up – the Cushitic or Niliolotic- these were pastoralists bringing their cattle from the North following the Nile River into new promised land’s especially new grazing land’s. We know some of these people as Maasai, Zulus or Tutsi. They were and are tall stature, fierce warriors with very sophisticated societies. They came to dominate this region. The Batwa were driven even higher into the forest. In 1991 due to international pressure from conservationists and environmentalists the Batwa were removed from the national Park. This further this disenfranchised them and marginalized them even more. They became landless tenants at the mercy of the other tribes and could no longer use the forest for essential resources. Their health deteriorated and their own culture weakened. They are considered by all the local people to be inferior and they are heavily discriminated against. The relatives of these people still dwell in remote areas in Africa – the San people survive in the Kalahari Desert. And there are a very few Khoisan in South Africa. Carolyn, my wife, and I hunted with the last Stone Age tribe in Tanzania which are located near the lake Eyasi.
Friday, October 16. It’s Bob’s birthday today and we will try to make it memorable. At nine o’clock we walked down to the Buhoma Community Lodge for our guided walk. Our two guides are Elias and Selvan. First they say we are going to handicraft store but I override them and we keep walking. Augustine, the Rastafarian dude, is the unofficial mayor of the town. Bob Marley T-shirt and dreadlocks. We walked down the road a bit and then turned right. Bronze Sunbird, African blue flycatcher, Angola swallow, Brown capped tschargra, African paradise flycatcher, coffee growing, tea plantation, we get to the River and suddenly the folks in Mabare group get nervous that they have to cross it again. But no we stay on this side. The name of the River means the grabber. Because at flood stage it has taken people. The tea pickers only receive 200 shillings per k — this is five cents a pound. We see a local man distilling alcohol and we stopped to visit him. He is a mutwa (singular). Lynn asked our local guide. If he was Batwa. It seems to be an insult and he immediately tells us he is not a Batwa! We cross on a rickety wooden bridge and then begin to climb. First stop is to see a medicine man – Alphonse. He is from the Congo speaks French and local languages but not English. He shares his knowledge of plant floor with us and if nothing else he is quite photogenic. We passed millet growing which is a native African grain.
Next stop is to see how they make banana wine and banana gin. It is quite a complicated process but our guy does a fine job of explaining it. I am impressed with his knowledge and English skills. We sample the juice, the banana wine, and the banana gin. Dropping down the hillside we passed the elementary school and keep going to the secondary school. The headmaster, Herbert, who looks about 23, gives us a little talk. He is fund raising of course. It’s getting late so I encourage us to see the Batwa people. We retrace our steps toward the primary school and then go down to the left where they have gathered. We did not actually visit their village. We are in a neutral place. There are about a dozen of them including an old woman in 50 who gives us on little talk about their life, past and current. She says they are now happy — I hope so.
There are babies, young mothers and fathers, and some middle-aged folks. They sing and dance for us. I then hula hoop for and with them dancing and playing their musical instruments.. I think they really enjoyed it. I also passed out the warm hats that my next door neighbor’s church group (the happy hookers). They seemed to appreciate them. Then there is a little shopping. The sky is getting dark so we retrace our steps and drop down to the hospital. Our loyal guides have driven the Land Rovers up for us to take in case it suddenly rains. Dr. Paul Williams, a very personable man from Great Britain and the director, gives us an account of the successes of the hospital. It was really, really pours. Just like the rain on Group M. on the Mountain yesterday. Back for a late but delicious lunch. Nice pasta, potatoes salad, lettuce and tomatoes, dessert of mixed fruit. Matt finally getting the silverware etiquette down. I will have a chat with his mother, who I know very well.
There is a local birdwatcher – Sam- offers his services to us at 430. John, Mike, and Katie all get a free massage. Lynn says they are short on technique, very hard on pressure and overall it felt good. At 430 rain stops and Lynn, Brenda and I go for a walk with Sam. He is a very knowledgeable birder and we see a lot just around the Lodge. Across the street is the new Uganda wildlife authority headquarters — a brand-new building. We walked down toward the self-guided trail which is passed the large sign which says” no one past this point without a guide!”. But we never get that far there is too much to see. Steve tells me there are four L’Hoests monkeys that are regular visitors around his cabin I finally see them. The generator comes on to run the DVD player so that birthday Bob can view Augustine’s sale items. Since it’s his birthday we suffer through the noise, but it is nice when it goes off. The bright yellow sunflower weed is called California flower — they say it was brought from there.
Birds around the Lodge: pied wagtail, Ross Turaco, tambourine dove, blue spotted wood dove, montane oriole, African white tailed blue flycatcher, Brown throated wattle eye, green coucal, dusky tit, white eye salty flycatcher, redheaded blue bill, saw wing, yellow whisdkered bulbul, Ludher’s bush shrike, black crowned wax bill, white eye, black necked Weaver, and many more.
We invited Dr. Paul Williams from the hospital to come and have a drink with us for dinner. They’ve done some fine work. He is a good public-relations administrator and no doubt he swings by these Lodges to solicit donations. But it is a good cause. www.bwindihospital.com. Dinner is quite fun. Joseph and Ham join us tonight. We have cassava and Matoke (plantain) with peanut sauce — traditional Uganda dishes. There seems to be enough left over for the staff. Green Acres, Mr. Ed, Mayberry are just a few of tonight’s topics and Matt knows all the songs. Our guides cannot agree about what we’re doing tomorrow. Joseph says we will be walking to the Congo — that should be interesting. We get to meet the rest of the crew especially Moses the cook and Joy his helper. All the staff comes out he singing for Bob. He gets a nice cake for his 60th birthday. Congratulations. Our bills are ready.
Saturday, October 17. Early morning at 8 AM for the approximately 7 – 8-hours drive to Rwanda we retrace our road in back to the main road. Now we turn right and head south. This is the route I took to get to my gorillas the day before yesterday. There are bracken ferns growing high along the road. The biological claim to fame of this plant is that it is found on every continent but Antarctica. We reached the Ruhija gate for a toilet stop. This is where I went trekking. It is about 8000 feet. The gate opens and we continue on a rough road and we get to see a great blue Turaco on the right displaying. Out of the Park into the cultivated lands we go. The land of potatoes, not sweet but Irish. The road is no better, in fact worse. By 11 AM we are actually to the main road where it is paved — but not for long. SBI international has the job of making this road and we are on it for a long time. Around noon we had to stop — a short call. When we continue we are in a forest reserve and there is much native bamboo growing — it’s pretty tall and a wonderful all-around useful plant.
As we dropped down the hill we could see the first volcano – Muhabura at 13540 ‘it means the guide. The top is in clouds. A little while later we could see parts of a total of four volcanoes. Mgahinga = flat, Sabinyo teeth of the old man, Visoke or also spelled Bisoke means watering hole because it has a crater full of water at the top, and we can see a tiny piece of Karisimba 14,797 feet high it means cowrie shell and is the highest peak in the Virungas.
The last Ugandan town we stop in is Kisori. There were United Nations refugee camp this year last March but now they are closed. Refugees from the Congo. We have a brief stop for postcards, postage, duct tape, and powdered milk. At 1 PM we have our box lunch at the famous Travelers Rest. This was the hotel that all the researchers, expats, foreigners, always stopped at. And here it is. Mike looked at a map and estimated that we were only 25 air miles from where we started this morning!
Down the road about 10 K. is the border — Cyanika. By 220 we leave Uganda and we walked down the road into Rwanda. Volcanoes rising high above us in the clouds getting dark. We go to Ruhengeri and take a right and ascend the hill way way way up into the clouds until we reach the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. Boy is this place disappointing. It is under construction, unfinished, depressing cold dark little hole with furniture poorly designed… one redeeming value is the location and some of the famous Intore dancers, mostly children, have a beautiful performance for us.
Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. The finest exponent of Rwanda’s varied and dynamic traditional musical and dance styles, however, is the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore – literally ‘The Chosen Ones’ – once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice.
A quote from what Wild Frontiers –
Thirty en-suite chalets furnished with your comfort in mind. After a day visiting the Mountain Gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, the warmth of your personal fireplace awaits you.
Well I think most fireplaces worked but not too well. We have a little meeting in my room because the restaurant is so depressing. They have just turned a room into the restaurant. Sorry about all of this. We meet in my room at seven o’clock for a briefing. I go over a little bit about primates. There are four main groups – lemurs and bush babies, New World monkeys with prehensile tales, old world monkeys, and apes. There may be three species of gorillas — Eastern Lowland, Western lowland and mountain. There are only 740 mountain gorillas left — half in Uganda and the other half in Congo and Rwanda. We head up to the restaurant and food is pretty good. Domestic beers four dollars. I will not be coming back here. And tonight we found out that Katie actually has six pairs of shoes and Helene five…
Sunday, October 18. Breakfast is ready at 545 and so are we… Off at 630 down the hill to see which habituated groups we visit. Eight of us are selected to visit the Amahoro group with our guide Hobe. It takes quite a while for the entire process to get organized. But it’s raining and we are protected under the shelter while our guides talk to us. The other group of five is lucky because they get to visit Sabinyo group. This is the one that Carolyn and I saw. It has the big male – the largest on record at 220 kg. We did not get the Susa group which is the farthest away. They leave that for younger people.
We have to drive about 40 minutes. This group is on the lower slopes of Bisoka aka Visoke volcano. Silverbacks in this region eat 250 different kinds of plants — 30 kg a day our guide said – 15% of body weight. Each one can be identified by its nose print. Our groups name means peace. The silverbacks name is Ubumwe which means unity. Peace and unity. There are two silverbacks, one black back, five females, six babies, two juveniles. By the end of the day we will have seen a lot of these. A female can give birth four to six times at her lifetime. When we get to the trailhead is quite busy with tourist groups going different directions. We have about a 30-minute walk to the park boundary and we were walking along with another group. It is pouring rain. They are going to visit Charles’ group. Charles was in our family unit and left several years ago to start his own family — there’s about 11 in his group now. It is still rainy but not hard as we enter the Park proper marked by a rock wall. We have about an hour and a half to walk to our family.
Along the way we see Buffalo droppings, Bush buck prints, wild celery — a favorite food, Veronia in flower, bed straw, Hagenia trees, and large stands of bamboo. There are few birds singing. The trail is muddy but not too steep. Just at 11 AM we get to our family. We have a very very good time. I felt very blessed to be able to look into the eyes, those gentle eyes, of these magnificent beings going about their business of being gorillas. We saw many interactions and had some very cute baby looks. A highlight was watching female cradle her baby — it was really sweet. The rain stopped the entire time we were there. We were literally surrounded by gorillas, we were in the middle. They were just sitting around peacefully eating or sleeping or nursing or just sitting like Buddha with a big belly. About half way back to the trailhead we had our lunch. And then it began to rain hard and we finally got really wet. When the Park ends, it ends abruptly. There is no gentle transition to the cultivated land. We are back into the fields of potatoes, Pyrethrum, simple buildings, many children saying hello and asking for pens and money. Women with brightly colored clothes and brightly colored umbrellas. Rwanda is crowded — the most densely populated country in Africa. At two o’clock we see Ham waiting for us. Back to the hotel for a fire and hopefully dry our clothes before tomorrow morning.
We spend the afternoon huddled in our rooms trying to keep our fires going so our clothes can dry. Some of you hop into bed to stay warm — what fun! The hot water in the shower does not seem to work very well — it is brutally hot one moment and freezing the next. Is there nothing that works right in this place? I decide to have a party at my place seven o’clock — free beer and slide show. There are even finely woven hats by Santa Rosa church ladies as door prizes. Of course now desperately poor little children won’t have those hats — oh well. Both Bob and Katie their do gorilla imitations. The food here is actually good and after dinner we see that stars are shining!
Monday, October 19. A repeat of yesterday morning. Off we go to our 2nd Rwanda gorilla trekking opportunity. We divided up into groups of eight and six — Steve is joining us today. Yesterday he stayed at Lodge — a taxi cost $40 go to town! It is the same old same old except it seems a bit faster. Katie, Mike, Lynn, Kala, Brenda, John, Matt and I go with our guide named Patience. Our group is the Hirwa family. Called that, which means lucky, because the silver back left a group and within six months had four females! So he is lucky. Now there are five females in the group and five babies and no black backs. One of the babies was orphaned and the silver back took over protection of the little one. The baby was old enough to not need his mother.
Our guide told us that he rescued one of the babies from a snare. He got there just in time as the baby was hanging suspended by his hand. He has special affection for that one now — his grandson or godson. That little one is about two years old now. The silver back is 19 so he is just beginning his legacy; he has many more years of having sex, fighting, and leading. Patience said that he is a good fighter and clever. He gets females from other groups very quietly. He leaves his family nearby and goes off to the territory of neighboring groups to snatch females. Of course they want to come and are ready to come. The females emigrate from their natal group. It apparently works well.
We have about a 15-minute ride to the trailhead and then about 25 minutes at the most to the beginning of the Park. There are many eucalyptus trees being planted for fuel. The gorillas like to eat the sap of these trees. This family group lives on the slope of the volcano Gahinga, spelled Mgahinga in Uganda. The backside of this one is in Uganda and contains one of their national parks and the other site (besides Bwindi) to track gorillas in Uganda. We are off at 830 through a different kind of forest — no stinging nettle, a gradual trail, not too muddy, has some flowers (begonias, Impatiens), ground pines, mosses, liverworts. We seem to be hiking along a lava ridge with a steep drop in the right. There are forest elephant and Cape buffalo droppings along the trail. A short 50 minutes later we are at the site. That was easy and no rain. We did however, at least Kala and me, get bitten by a few Safari ants. Stinging nettle also stung her; she is very sensitive to it and it swells up. Our family group is munching on bamboo; apparently during this time of year when the bamboo is sprouting the gorillas are much easier for us to see. The bamboo grows lower. Later in the season the gorillas climb high up into the mountains to find food. That’s a note I will remember.
Into the bamboo we go and get to see the babies playing, females climbing high up into the bamboo forest, the silver back munching on bamboo and knocking it down to get some more. The sun actually comes out for a while — we are not sure what it is and did not know that sunshine actually occurred in Rwanda. Ha ha. We could really smell this guy. We dropped down to see the silver back from a different position. And he came toward us; rocked back and forth, made a very quiet sound which the guides knew immediately meant he was going to charge. And he did. Exciting? You betcha. One last look at a female and her baby and we had to go. It was a very quick walk back out. And we had lunch sitting in the sunshine — it got hot!
Back to see Joseph, tip our porters — $10 here but they’re not as good as Uganda — and down the hill we went and got our certificate at the visitor center. The guides in Rwanda are better trained and educated than the ones in Uganda. At least in my sample size. We do a little shopping at the handicrafts shop nearby. Joseph takes us down down down into the largest town of Ruhengeri. It is now called Musere. They have changed the name of many places that hold many memories from the genocide. The country is now divided up into five provinces named for the four directions and Kigali as a separate district. We have 45 minutes to go to the shops and that is more than enough time. It is not a particularly interesting place and many people refer to us as we walk by as Muzungos.
Muzungu is a word that has become to mean “white person” in many Bantu languages of east, central and southern Africa. There are a number of variations depending on the location. Any light-skinned non-asiatic person could be addressed as Mzungu/Muzungu in the region.
John says he would like to take that as a compliment, so we will. I hear that the other group is just now getting back from their walk. I hope they had a good time. We wind our way back up into the coolness and our Lodge. It is not nearly so depressing when it is sunnier here.
The other group had a great time. They went to the same trailhead as we did yesterday and even took the same trail for a while but then continued straight where we went down to the left. They got to Charles’s group — we heard about him yesterday. They had lots of babies playing around, very close encounters with the hairy kind, got to see a baby pull poop out of a females butt – yummy. They stayed with the gorillas for well over an hour – naughty people. When they finally left, the gorillas followed them! It was about an hour and a half walk out and the same back. Their guide seemed to be superb with very good information. He talked about how bamboo gives the gorillas diarrhea but if they eat the leaf from a vine at the same time it cancels it out. They get back to the Lodge around 330. We saw this as well but it wasn’t explained to us.
We meet in my room at 630 to trade tales and to have our closing circle because tomorrow is a very busy day. We went around the circle and shared our highlights of this very diverse trip. Thank you all for being such a great group and so amenable and easy to travel with. We all really had a good time and I especially enjoyed the people. The gorilla treks were fantastic, lions sleeping in trees, Michael hooping with the pygmies, Matt finding a leopard, the Nile River, watching elephant families, seeing hyenas, challenging trek at Bwindi, Ishasha Weaver birds, huge crocodiles, hippo’s with babies out of the water, beautiful birds, every day was different. You all even enjoyed the time in the land rovers traveling through the countryside. There certainly was a lot to see on this trip and the cultural component was appreciated.
Our last dinner at this place — the food is actually very good; the cooks are from Kenya.
Tuesday, October 20. We are getting used to this drill. Up early. John, Jacquie, and Steve stay back. Matt, Lynn, and I go with a fast group. But they aren’t really that fast. We go to the Kwitonda group and had a mighty fine time with some very active gorillas. A perfect way to end this trip. The rest of you go to Group 13 made famous by the researchers Bill Weber and Amy Veder who wrote In the Kingdom of Gorillas. I highly recommend that book.
We all return to the lodge to maybe take a hot, hard shower – Ha-ha fat chance! We collect our luggage and head off on the road to Kigali (approximately 2-hours drive – depends on traffic). We leave it 120 and go through sunshine, rain, fantastic cumulus clouds, eucalyptus forests, red soil, and vistas of a heavily used countryside. Average elevation is over 5k’. We arrived in Kigali and the Genocide Memorial just before four o’clock. We have until five to visit this most powerful museum. On the drive Ham shared quite a bit this own personal experience in the genocide. It brought it home for many of us. No admission price but we all donate (I hope!) Quite a moving place built with funds from the citizens of Kigali. May we never forget!! But I have little hope of that – Darfur.
Then it is to the Laico Umubano Hotel. Nice place to rest. We meet at 730 for our dinner. Our guides join us this evening.
Wednesday, October 21. Luggage out at 10 we leave it 1030 for our airport transfer. We give the tip to the well deserving guides and off we go for about 35 hours via Nairobi, Amsterdam and then get to San Francisco. Kala, Bob, Jacquie, Mike and Katie and Brenda have a different route.
Thursday, October 22 Most of us are home or very close to it great trip thanks……