Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas.

May you enjoy a blessed day with loved ones!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord and this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:10-12



Friday, December 23, 2011

Buhoma to Lake Bunyonyi through the Mountains

Two days ago we left Buhoma situated in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and drove south with Lake Bunyonyi as our intended destination.  From Buhoma we travelled north for a short distance to Kanyantorogo and then turned in a southern direction to Kanugu.  That's were  the real adventure began as we
bumbled up steep hillsides and wound our way through the mountains reaching a maximum height of 7250 feet (2009 metres).  The scenery was breathtaking.  The one side of the the track dropped hundreds of feet down to small villages, terraced farms and people going about their daily lives in the fields and around their homes. We crossed over streams and drove through the Mafuga Forest Reserve, a plantain forest of pine trees.  The road was at times a little tricky to negotiate but with patience, expertise and a Land Rover it was possible.

During one portion of the journey we passed many people on the road all travelling in the same direction.  A few kilometres on we found out where they were headed.  A remote village was having a market day, the vendors had their goods spread out on either side of the road and eager shoppers were spilling out onto the narrow road.  We had to pass through the buzzing crowd, many of whom had travelled great distances on foot to get there extremely slowly not to hit anyone or anything.  Even in the remote hills of Uganda, Christmas was in the air!

Naturally we started to descend and wound our way down to the main highway.  We didn't stay on that for long before turning onto a lakeside road at the northern tip of Lake Bunyonyi.  The road was extremely narrow and we wondered what we would do if we met another car somewhere along the 21km journey, thankfully we never did.

Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Buyonyi is Uganda's deepest lake at 2950+ feet (900+ metres) deep and the landscape around the lake is indicative of it's depth with steep slopes protruding from the water. We reached the Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort and set up our camp right on the waters edge.  It is a peaceful location to relax and watch the world go by and is abundant with bird life and local fisherman paddling around in their dugout canoes.  The lake is home to freshwater crayfish, so last night we feasted on the local fare...delicious!  Lake Bunyonyi is a stunning place indeed.  It is our last night here and we both wish we could stay longer but tomorrow a new adventure begins as we cross the border into Rwanda.

Monday, December 19, 2011

An Epic Road Trip Begins!

A little over 18 months ago I sat down in front of my computer with my steaming cup of freshly brewed Ugandan coffee in my kung fu grip and began to read through my Facebook news feed.  I came across something interesting posted by The Far Horizons.  A census of mountain gorilla's was taking place in the Virunga range and they were offering 2 permits to trek the mountain gorilla's in Rwanda to the person who could estimate the census results to the nearest number.  As a result, my morning became all about finding out the breeding habits, gestation period and life expectancy of mountain gorillas.  The previous census to the one conducted in 2010 was in 2003, so there were a lot of factors to consider to estimate the population.  After extensive reading, I submitted the estimate of 454.  After this several months passed and I completely forgot that I had ever even entered a competition.

On the morning of December 8, 2010 I sat down at my computer with the ritual cup of morning coffee.  I opened up my emails and began reading, ugh, more spam, more software updates to do, and then my eyes fell on the subject line:

The Far Horizons Competition for 2 Gorilla Permits in Rwanda - Winner!

I couldn't open the mail fast enough.  I proceeded to read the following:

Dear Michelle

I am delighted to inform you, that you are the winner of our competition to win 2 gorilla tracking permits for Rwanda worth $1,000 - congratulations!


The results of the census are now in and revealed a total population of 480 mountain gorillas in the Virunga chain. This brings the total world population to 786 individuals - an encouraging increase indeed. Your estimate of 454 was the closest we received to this result.



I nearly spat the delicious dark roast from my mouth.  I screamed with excitement, could it be true?!  It was, and what has entailed is months of planning a road trip centred around mountain gorilla tracking in Rwanda.


So today, with great excitement, the journey to explore another country in Africa and come face to face with gorilla's begins.  The most exciting part is the anticipation of travelling to new places, not knowing what to expect and experiencing it all unfold.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Furry Little Love Story

When we're not out exploring what's around us, we're at home in Kampala and naturally we need company.  As both of us are big dog lovers, a year ago we decided to add to our pedigree pack.  Stray dogs are pretty much ubiquitous on the streets of Kampala, so we opted to go and check out the local animal shelter to see if we could make a connection with a little soul in need of a good home.

We had agreed upon arrival that we were just there to take a look and may not necessarily leave with a dog in tow, although we had brought blankets and a few other necessary items just in case.  I clearly was not prepared for what I was walking into.  The shelter was housing a lot of needy dogs and cats.  Looking into their eyes and knowing that I couldn't save them ALL made me want to leave, but instead I wandered around.


Since our current situation was most conducive to getting a puppy, we focussed on the areas which housed several puppies all around 3 months old.  We had come in the late afternoon and it was feeding time.  As I approached the fence, one little puppy left her food bowl and came running over to me immediately.  Perhaps she thought that I had more food to offer her.  She began to nibble on my fingers and seemed to be very free spirited focussing only on me and not giving any notice to the other dogs or the food.
I gently pulled my fingers from her tiny mouth full of sharp little teeth and continued my exploration around the compound.  I found my husband and suggested that he come and see her as she really seemed to be interested in getting to know me.  As we neared the fence together, once again she came running over and greeted me again with the same hand licks and nibbles as before.  We were told by the shelter staff that her name was Mirembe meaning "peace", she had been rescued from the
Getting into the Christmas spirit
streets and brought to the shelter.  I felt like fate was taking it's course, she was after all choosing us!  How could we walk out of here and sleep tonight knowing that she was sleeping there.  So with that, we filled out the paperwork, covered the cost of her medical expenses to date and got in the car.  I was filled with a certain degree of anxiety as I was unsure as to how the other dogs would react to the new member of the family and was pleased that it all went off without a hitch.  It was as if we all agreed that Mirembe needed us and we would give her a place to feel comfortable and loved.  We decided to give her a second name and she is now affectionately known as Molly Mirembe.  Not a day passes that I don't think about where she was when first met her and where she is today and how happy I am for her.  In return, she fills our time together with excitement, her free spirit and unconditional love.

For more information on adopting a dog or cat in Kampala visit https://www.facebook.com/USPCA

Monday, December 12, 2011

Luxury in Harmony with Nature - Kyambura Gorge Lodge

Perched on the hillside above Kyambura Gorge is a new gem in Uganda.  Volcanoes Kyambura Gorge Lodge offers astounding views over the Kyambura gorge, the plains of the Albertine Rift Valley, Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains as the backdrop.  Whether you are going to Queen Elizabeth Park for a safari or to get away from the city, the lodge offers a quiet comfortable retreat abundant with natural beauty.

Main Lodge Building
We set off from Kampala early on a wet Saturday morning headed for Kyambura Gorge Lodge.  We drove via Masaka and Mbarara, although road construction was underway we experienced only short delays and a fantastic new road.  It didn’t stay cold and damp for long and by the time that we reached the equator, we were peeling off our sweaters.  The equator is always an enjoyable stop no matter how many times you have crossed over.  Uganda being one of less than 13 countries in the world that the equator passes through makes it an experience not to be missed.  As we drive past Lake Mburo National Park,
we see several zebra grazing near the road as well as many crested cranes.  The scenery through Bushyenyi is beautiful, the road meanders back and forth through tea plantations and more banana trees than you can imagine.  Soon we reach the top of the escarpment and stop at a viewpoint for a breathtaking view over the Albertine Rift Valley.  As we descend into the valley we turn off the main road and after a short distance arrive at our destination.

We are welcomed to Kyambura Gorge Lodge with big smiles and handshakes from a few of the people who we will see and interact with throughout our stay.  As our bags are unloaded we are drawn into the reception area and our eyes take in the creative African d├ęcor.  A woman offers us fresh juice and we are invited outside onto a large platform with views across the
plains.  As we marvel at the view we are given an introduction to the lodge, its facilities and history.   This contemporary eco-lodge is built on what was originally a coffee plantation.  Several buildings were carefully restored while others were newly constructed in keeping with the same style and feel as those restored.

The reception area gives us a small taste of what awaits us but now we are eager to see more.  We are led down a stone pathway that winds through the natural bush to our accommodation, an elevated wooden banda.  Each banda has its own unique name; we stayed in Emiti which means “tree”.  It is aptly named as it is built next to a very large old fig tree.  Just a few steps down off the main pathway we enter our banda onto a large covered area with a porch swing facing the views.  We step inside though a large sliding
Emiti
door.  Each banda embraces a different color theme and Emiti is yellow with splashes of it in various forms throughout the completely wooden room.  Inside there is a sitting area, a large built in window seat, 2 generous sized single beds with mosquitoes nets and a set of double doors that lead to a partially covered porch with a couple of appropriately colored chairs.  Through another wooden sliding door is a walk in closet with a built in wooden bench to sit on or store your bags on with a row of pegs and hangers above for clothes.  Inside the bench is a digital safe for keeping your valuables.  The closet is the bridge between the sleeping area and the bathroom. Everything about the bathroom is pure luxury. There is lots of space in between the double sinks, toilet, shower and another large built in window seat.  There is plenty of hot water for both of us to have showers at night and in the morning and the water pressure is excellent. Overall, the banda is spacious and filled with natural light.  It is obvious that a lot of thought has been put into the design unlike any place we’ve seen before.  Its luxury and comfort in harmony with nature.

Dining Room
The main lodge building was the original coffee store and processing plant and has been restored to a spacious oasis.  The large open space is divided into separate areas with unique room dividers which create different areas without losing the feeling of openness.  There are plenty of different chairs, sofa’s and seats to choose from, there is something for everyone.  If sitting inside isn’t for you, there is a large covered verandah. At the end of the day, we convene with our friends in the dining area of the main lodge. The large dining table is surrounding by an eclectic variety of dining chairs.  Around the table we talk about the day, discuss in length what we should do the next day, share stories of past safaris, laugh, cherish the joys of being in good company and enjoy a three course meal.  We are offered choices for the starter and the main course including vegetarian options.   My husband and I selected different options so that we could try everything.  We weren’t disappointed with any of our choices; the food was plentiful and delicious.  My pork chop was one of the best I’ve ever had and the meat was falling off the bone, served with creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly crunchy beans and carrots.  My husband’s coq au vin was tender and full of flavor served with roast potatoes and vegetables.  A very sticky rich toffee pudding was the final course served.  After a hot cup of tea we retired to our banda to fall asleep to the sound of the Kyambura River rushing below in the gorge.

The day starts before the crack of dawn with a knock on the door and a tray of hot coffee and fresh orange cake.  We relish in the warmth of the coffee before setting out into the cool crisp misty morning.  Before leaving on our morning drive we sit down to a cooked breakfast made to order served with fresh juice and toast while watching the darkness turn into daylight.  After a great breakfast we drive into the Queen Elizabeth National Park.   We’re not disappointed for the early start as we lay eyes on a lioness and
shortly thereafter a hyena.  After a successful and beautiful drive in Queen Elizabeth enjoying the wildlife and the African landscape we return to the lodge.  This gives us some time to relax on the verandah of the main lodge with a cold drink and see what we can find looking through the large spotting scope.  It’s not long before the staff beckons us to a set table to enjoy a light two course lunch of salad and vegetable couscous.  In the afternoon we take the boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and are treated with seeing a leopard, elephants, buffalo, hippo, crocodiles and numerous species of birds.  The day ends on a high since after nine years and dozens of game drives this is our first opportunity to see leopard.  With the sun starting to lower in the sky, we make it back to the lodge in time to see a beautiful sunset. The mood around the dining table tonight is exuberant.  Over a glass of wine and more delicious food we recall the highlights of the day.  We opted for game viewing in the park during our stay, however other activities nearby include trekking Chimpanzee’s, bird watching, walking and exploring the surrounding communities.

The next morning we are again woken with a knock and a tray of coffee and cake, only this time we are getting ready for a trip back to Kampala.  We feel like we have to tear ourselves away.  We don’t want to leave the comfort and quiet of this stunning lodge.  The hospitality that we have experienced over the last couple of days is second to none and with a heavy heart we climb into the car.  As we look out the window we see the entire staff of Kyambura Gorge Lodge including the kitchen staff smiling, waving and wishing us a safe journey.  As we drive away we hear lot’s of voices chiming “see you next time”.  It is without doubt they will be seeing us again!

At present there are four banda’s with a further four under construction and due to open in 2012.  When we visited the pool, changing rooms and massage room was still under construction but nearing completion and scheduled to open soon.

Booking Information
salesug@volcanoessafaris.com
+256 414 346464

Originally published in The Eye Magazine December-January 2012

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bye Mzungu Bye

"Bye Mzungu Bye" is a term we've heard countless times mostly from the mouths of children who usually jump and wave madly while singing the words with huge smiles on their faces eager in anticipation for us to respond.  Mzungu is a swahili word that means white person.  It is not derogatory in nature and is used simply to describe a a white person either male or female.  We can't quite work out why the children say "bye" and not "hi", maybe one day we'll figure that one out!

Today as we made our way across town battling the pre Christmas traffic and the heat of the midday sun, our eyes fell upon some graffiti that made us laugh.


We'd be interested to know what the artist was thinking when he painted this and if he truly thinks this is representative of mzungus in general.  One can hope it depicts only the one's he's met!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Kikoi - Never Travel without One!

As I'm compiling a list of things to take on our upcoming road trip, I realize there is one item that I never travel without, a kikoi.  A kikoi is a rectangular shaped piece of woven cotton which comes in an array of colors and is generally accented with stripes.  The history of the kikoi dates back to the early 20th century when they were worn by men in Swahili culture, wrapped around their waist and hanging down to their knees.  Now kikoi's are worn all over the East African coast by men and women.

The fascination with the kikoi comes not only in it's beauty but in it's purpose or shall I say multi purpose.  A kikoi can be used as a wrap, a skirt, a towel, a scarf, a tablecloth, a curtain, a bed sheet, a lightweight blanket, a beach or picnic mat and the list goes on.  Use your imagination and you'll easily see why you should never  travel without at least one kikoi.  Due to their lightweight nature they are easy to wash and they dry quickly, great for the traveller on the move.  I think it's safe to say I'm kikoi crazy and I never travel without them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Inventive Fishing Boat

Fisherman on the Nile River are commonplace and their fishing boats vary widely.  Some boats are simply hollowed out sections of a tree and and others are hand crafted canoes.  They vary in size and color and always make for and interesting sight on the water.  One young man that we met recently while exploring the river looking for birds had taken ingenuity to the extreme!  Clad only in his underwear, he was floating on a banana tree stem and used his feet as a motor of sorts.


Carefully hanging at the front of his vessel was a makeshift storage compartment made from small sticks and a plastic bag which carried his clothes, presumably for when he returned to shore.  His fishing line and hooks were meticulously attached to the banana stem along with his catch of the day.

 

Although this is probably not the image that comes to mind when you think of a fishing boat, it's working and for this young man it's extremely cost effective.  One can only hope that as the months and years pass, his savings will translate into something more traditional as his business grows from mere subsistence fishing to commercial fishing.  What a crafty water craft!

Monday, November 21, 2011

An Explosion of Culture

Overcome with a desire to do something different on a Friday night and an imminent power cut looming, we decided that we needed a little culture in our lives.  It was decided that Ndere Centre was the place to be!


The Ndere Centre is home to the Ndere Troupe who performs several times per week in an outdoor amphitheatre housed on 9 acres of well manicured gardens right in the heart of Kampala.  We arrive just as the day's last light is fading and enter the seating area and find a set to the sound of many large drums are beating, the vibrations penetrate our inner beings and we instantly feel welcome.


Ndere means flute and was chosen as the name for the troupe because of it's beautiful sound and for it's universal unity in every culture in the world.  The troupe was formed in 1986 and had very humble beginnings.  In the early part of the new millennium we often took guests to Ndere's weekly show at the Nile Gardens (which is now the Serena Hotel) for a nominal entrance fee of which I was told by Rwangyezi Stephen the troupe's founder was a hotel charge, the troupe was performing at no cost to expose their existence.  Their hard work paid off as they now they have their own cultural centre.


Throughout the performance we are taken to many regions of Uganda.  Every song tells a story of culture, wisdom and history in their traditional form of storytelling, singing, dancing and dress and are accompanied by traditional stringed, percussive and wind instruments.  The show is interactive with the audience which makes for a real explosion of cultures. 


The warmth and enthusiasm of the performers, the beautiful music and expressive traditional dancing which makes up the performance is not to be missed.  We leave with smiles and our faces.  The night has been a strong reminder to us why we enjoy life in Africa not to mention a great way to escape the darkness of a load shedding night.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nile High

On a daily basis we experience Uganda from the ground and are familiar with it's sights, sounds and smells.  We have visited the source of the Nile River, camped along it's banks and fished in it's water many times.  To gain new perspective on a country that we love, we took a 90 minute scenic flight.

Cessna 172

I had never been in a small aircraft before and was full of nervous excitement.  Kevin had flown to Lake Albert previously so was excited to see Uganda once again from the air and to get me in a small aircraft to see what I thought.  We boarded a Cessna 172 at the Kajjansi airfield, the pilot logged our flight plan, started the engine, taxied out to the long murram runway and before long we were floating above the earth.  The moment we were off the ground my nervousness subsided and I was in awe of what I saw.

Wetlands

We took off from Kajjansi in a south east direction over wetlands before reaching the waters of Lake Victoria.  I had seen these types of images in books before, but now I was seeing it for myself and it was incredible.  We turned in an eastern direction and followed the edge of the lake shores passing over fields, villages and people carrying out their daily activities, some of them pausing to look up and see what was passing overhead.

Then it was time for the highlight, the whole reason we had decided to take this flight, The Nile River.  We flew over the source of the Nile and Jinja town before taking a sharp left turn to head North and follow the river.

Source of the Nile River

Having driven over the Owen Falls Dam numerous times, it was fascinating to see it from the air.  It gave me a whole new perspective on the dam and it's operation.  As we followed the river we saw many of the places that we have visited and stayed at over the years.  The new Bujagali Dam which is in it's final stages of construction was a busy place.  Lot's of people and heavy machinery hard at work to complete the project and start producing much needed power for the country.

Bujagali Dam

We circled around some rapids in the river and instead of hearing the thundering of water that usually goes with seeing them, we heard only the light hum of the engines.  It was a very peaceful and serene way of watching all that water come crashing down rapids we know well and have fished below many times.

Rapids on the Nile River

A gentle left put us in a south western direction heading straight for Mabira Forest.  A beautiful, lush green dense mass of life.  I was so fascinated with the forest.  As we were flying over the forest a light rain began to gently hit the windscreen, it was mystical!  I couldn't stop thinking of all the life that was down below in the rainforest.

The last part of the flight carried us over Jinja road on the outskirts of Mukono, over Murchison Bay with Kampala city on our right and Munyonyo before we swung round to face south east and prepare for our landing which was as smooth as butter.  With that, we were back on terre ferme.  What a unbelievable experience!  I'll never forget it and can't wait to fly small craft again.

For more information on scenic or charter flights contact:
Kampala Aeroclub And Flight Training Centre
http://www.flyuganda.com/

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Playing Peek A Boo with a Hippo

One of our most memorable safari experiences and one that we talk about often happened several years ago while we were on safari in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  After a satisfying lunch at Mweya Lodge, we decided to go out for an afternoon game drive.  Many people say that there is not a lot to see during the hot afternoon hours, but this encounter would prove those people wrong.

Just several kilometres away from the lodge along the channel track, we rounded a corner and next to the road was a pool of muddy water with a massive muddy body lumbering away from it.  It was a hippo.  They are amazing creatures to see out of the water so on this particular instance we decided to give the pool of water and the vehicle a bit of space, turn off the engine and see if the hippo would eventually return to his wallow.  We fully expected that it would run off and find another retreat from the blazing sun and the heat.

After about 15 minutes of keeping our voices to a whisper, we saw the hippo peek out of the bushes quite a distance from the car.  It paused for a moment to assess the situation and then retreated back into the bushes.  Again, we waited for another 15 minutes before seeing it again.  This time it was much closer than the first time and again, peeking out of the bushes, another assessment and another retreat.  We continued our waiting game and then saw it peeking out of the bushes at us, right next to the giant puddle.  After staring at our vehicle for quite some time, we were obviously seen as no threat and the hippo fully emerged from the bushes and as gently as a hippo could, got back into its puddle.


We were so amazed at the process of checking if the coast was clear and how with each inquiry, it was getting closer and closer to us.  This experience was definitely worth waiting around for, when else would we get the opportunity of playing peek-a-boo with a hippo!


Monday, November 7, 2011

King of the Mountain

On safari it takes a sharp eye to spot animals due to their ability to camouflage so well with their environment. This is an impressive rocky outcrop in the Kidepo Valley National Park isn't it?


That's what I thought until Kevin pointed out that rocks don't have tails that they can flick. Great spotting!!  The amazing thing about animals is that they always know you are there and I often think they see us when we don't see them.  After all, it is their turf so they're going to know if someone's in it.


This male lion gave us a Disney like experience.  He was lying on the highest point in the vicinity and made several efforts to show us that he was the king of the mountain.  We admired this mighty beast for quite awhile during which he, took a couple cat naps, got up and stretched a few times and glanced over to remind us that he knew we were watching it all.



A simply magnificent experience and one which makes you look at things a little closer when on safari!



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Uganda is #1

Many people in Uganda have been buzzing this week following the exciting news that Lonely Planet has announced that Uganda tops their "Best in Travel" list for 2012.  The excitement stems from the fact that those of us who live in Uganda have known all along that it is a special place and we are excited and proud to see it recognized especially by the well respected Lonely Planet.  These are the reasons why Uganda is so special to us and why we fully agree that it’s #1.


THE PEOPLE

Ugandan people are incredibly friendly people.  It is so easy to get a wave or a smile from complete strangers.  As you drive down the road children are jumping up and down, waving and calling out mzungu (white person).  If approached, Ugandans are happy to share some time with you and have a chat.  They are incredibly proud people and have the right to be as they have an amazing home.


THE LANDSCAPE

It really is as all the travel brochures brag “gifted by nature”.  Uganda has a lot to offer including the source of the Nile River, beaches on the largest lake in Africa - Lake Victoria, the famed Rwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the Moon), mountain gorillas and between it all lush green rainforests, savannah grasslands, tea plantations and a lot of really great people.


THE BIRD-LIFE

Uganda is home to 1061 bird species making it a bird watchers paradise.  You don't even need to leave Kampala to enjoy the bird-life, you can find over 300 species in the city and the surrounding suburbs.  Every morning you are guaranteed to wake to a chorus of song from the avifauna of Uganda.


THE WEATHER

With average daily temperatures of 21.5°C (71° F), need I say more?  Uganda straddles the equator but due to it's elevation it experiences moderate comfortable temperatures year round.  It has two seasons, a dry season and a wet season, each occurring twice a year.  Don't let the name wet season fool you though as the sun is generally out between the rains.  The tropical storms are amazing to experience with winds blowing, lightening flashing, thunder clapping, palm trees waving frantically and more rain falling from the sky than you thought possible.


NEVER A DULL MOMENT

Just when you think you've seen it all, you'll round the corner and see something that will make your jaw drop, make you laugh or just amaze you.  Uganda offers so much to see and enjoy every minute of every day whether you are on safari or making your way through the taxi's and boda boda's on your way to work.
We have had the opportunity to see a lot of Uganda and yet there is still so much we haven't seen.  Uganda has a lot to offer anyone who is looking for an exciting holiday.  

Congratulations Uganda on being number one, we're proud of you!



Why Uganda should be on your must-see list
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/uganda/travel-tips-and-articles/76859

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel: top 10 countries for 2012
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/uganda/travel-tips-and-articles/76856

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Laundry Day on The Nile

Water is a very precious resource and essential to many of our daily activities.  For those living along the banks of The Nile, the river becomes central to those activities, one of them being laundry. 


The banks of the river turn into brightly colored palettes of plastic washing basins and clothes laying out to dry in large contrast to the lush green landscape and dark colored rocks.  


It makes me think of how much we take for granted that when we turn on a tap, water flows out.  For many people around the world, so much of their day is consumed by doing basic chores vital to life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Colorful Chameleon

Sometimes we don't have to go far to encounter interesting creatures.  This chameleon was spotted sitting on our window basket outside our kitchen window.  Once we knew we had a chameleon living in our plants, we would periodically check in on it to see what it was up to.  Slowly it moved along the steel basket and through the growing herbs gently swaying back and forth.  


Patience even bought us a fly catching show.  Two eyes moving independently from each other focusing in on the target and then with great speed and accuracy, the long tongue rapidly extending from it's mouth before quickly drawing it back in again with captured prey.  Another amazing attribute of the chameleon is the ability to change color.  The main reason for this is social signalling, secondary to that communication is camouflage. 


There is a lot of superstition surrounding chameleons in Africa and they are feared by many.  It is not know exactly where this originates from, but most Ugandans that we've met cringe at the sight of a chameleon.

We're not sure where this chameleon moved on to but we sure enjoyed the time he spent with us!



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Into the Wild at Kidepo Valley National Park

Standing in the vast openness, I stare up at the night sky and am in awe of what I see, more stars than I ever knew existed. The Milky Way is a smear in the sky. Looking up at this is the end to a perfect day in the African bush. There is a part of me that wants to keep this special place a secret but it wouldn’t be fair not to share what a wonderful place the Kidepo Valley National Park and my unforgettable stay at N’ga Moru Wilderness Camp.

I have wanted to visit Kidepo Valley NP for many years and finally had my chance. My husband and I packed up the beloved Land Rover and together with family from overseas we set off full of anticipation to find out what this park was all about. Tucked in North Eastern Uganda and bordering the Sudan and Kenya we knew that getting there was going to be part of the fun. An early start from Kampala had us out onto the open road heading north and before we knew it we were crossing over the Nile and the stunning Karuma Falls. We arrive in Gulu and take a break to have some lunch, a cold drink and stretch our legs before driving to Kitgum for an overnight stop at Fugly’s.  Fugly’s is a great spot to overnight to break up the journey. The drinks are cold, the food is good and there is a pool.  The next morning we woke up to the birds singing and the sun shining.  After a cup of coffee and some breakfast, we filled up with fuel and hit the road headed towards the Kidepo Valley.

The 2 ½ hour drive from Kitgum to the N’ga Moru Wilderness Camp was my favorite part of the drive. The graded murram road passes by numerous small villages with clusters of mud and thatch huts. Children lined the roadside waving, dancing and shouting out greetings. The road winds through the Keler and Loniyili mountain ranges and offers some amazing views. It’s not the kind of drive that you want to rush because there are so many places to stop and admire the scenery. 

Some people we met walking on the road in the pass
Mom has sheltered the baby on her back from the sun with a large gourd, a common practice in the north
As we dropped down into the Kidepo Valley, the way to the camp is clearly marked with signs. We arrive just before lunch and sit down with our hosts, the proprietors of N’ga Moru and Fugly’s, Patrick and Lyn.  They are always welcoming and a joy to sit and chat with and are full of information about the park and surrounding area.  It doesn't take long to realize that they love the African bush and they revel in the joy of sharing it with their guests.  Over some nice food and great company we periodically gaze out across the valley to admire the Morungule Mountains in the distance.

The camp sits on 98 acres on the border of the park. N’ga Moru means “The Place of Rocks” and just a few minutes into our late afternoon drive, I soon understand that the name is appropriate. We explore the area around the wilderness camp and there is plenty of game on the property and the views over the valley are outstanding. Kidpeo is so remote, unspoilt and pristine, you truly feel like you are in one of the last great wildernesses. 

On Safari
Our accommodation is a large luxury canvas tent tucked under a thatched roof with a large toilet and shower ensuite. The beauty of the tents is that there is no need for mosquito nets; essentially you are sleeping in a giant net. Keeping the flaps of the tent open allows for lots of fresh air and the sounds of park night-life. Next to the tent under the thatch roof is a veranda with a couple of safari chairs that face the valley, a perfect spot to sit and take it all in. 

Our tent under thatch roof with stunning views over the valley

At the end of every day you’ll find a fire ablaze in the large fire pit encircled by chairs.  What a perfect place to sit down enjoy the sunset over the mountains. With a cold drink in hand there isn’t anything more I could ask for, a stunning location, great company and a beautiful African sunset. 

After dinner Patrick takes us out on a night drive. After about 10 minutes of driving through the darkness waving our floodlights back and forth, we heard a large noise in the bushes, an elephant not far off the road. What a fantastic sighting, but the best was yet to come! I was sharing the back seat of the open air vehicle with a friend and we could hear a loud puffing noise coming from behind us. We shone our lights around to where the noise is coming from and see an extremely large puff adder; it was easily six feet long.  It was the largest puff adder that any of us had ever seen. We sat in silence as it moved off the road and disappeared into the bush with all its grace and beauty, marveling at the pattern of its skin. I am not a big fan of snakes, but do think they are beautiful to admire from a distance.  To witness this was a truly amazing sight!!

In the morning, we were woken by the light just in time to see a giant orange ball emerge from behind the mountains and flood the valley with daylight. Another day begins; the only question is what it will hold. After some breakfast, we’re off for a game drive in the park.  It is a 10 minute drive to the Katarum Gate where we enter KVNP. Immediately we see a rock hyrax scurrying along the cliffs nearby. The drives are beautiful and there’s lots to see including a herd of buffalo which is rumored to be the largest standing herd in East Africa. The buffalo are on the move and it’s incredible to watch. There are also elephants, lion, zebra, giraffe, warthogs, crocodiles, oribi, waterbuck, bushbuck, reedbuck and numerous species of birds for us to enjoy. There is so much more I can tell you about this place and the three days that we spent there, but the best is to go and discover it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed. N’ga Moru is a real bush experience in one of the most beautiful and remote parks in East Africa, Kidepo Valley National Park. 

N’ga Moru Wilderness Camp
Mobile: +256 754 500555
Email:ngamoruwildernesscamp@gmail.com.



Elephant in Kidepo Valley National Park

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Would you dare?

Hippo's are responsible for killing more people in Africa than any other animal.  When you approach the water during the day they seem pretty caught up in keeping cool that they don't seem overly dangerous.  Having said that, I would never compromise a healthy and respectful distance from them, they are wild animals and thus can be unpredictable.  This women is fetching water, a resource vital to any human existence and given that she lives in a remote village, her only source for water is a lake occupied by hippos.  I suppose when there is no other option, people take chances, not sure I would dare do this, it's a little too close for comfort for me!


Monday, October 17, 2011

A Giraffe Nap

On a late afternoon game drive through Murchison Falls National Park, we spotted several giraffes lying down.  I have often wondered why giraffe's are not seen lying down often.  My curiosity got the better of me and I learned that giraffe's only sleep for about 30 minutes per day and these 30 minutes are broken up into several naps generally shorter than five minutes in length each.  During sleep, the giraffe lays down and curls it's neck back to rest on it's hind quarters.  Most of a giraffe's time is spent eating leaves from the acacia tree.  Using it's long 21 inch black tongue, it gently plucks the leaves from the acacia tree from between the acacia's large thorns.  An adult giraffe can eat up to 75 pounds of acacia leaves a day and much like a cow, giraffe's have four stomachs and regurgitate their food to chew it as cud.  So basically a giraffe spends a lot of time eating, and very little time sleeping or laying around.  The next time I see a giraffe laying on the ground I will appreciate the relatively rare moment in the giraffe's day captured.