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

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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Strike a pose

During a recent visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, we paid a visit to the small fishing village of Kasenyi.  As we neared the water's edge for a closer look at the wading hippo's, children were running towards our vehicle from every direction.  After a moment or two it became evident what the attraction was, our cameras.  These children obviously encounter tourists regularly and couldn't wait to be photographed and then erupt with giggles and laughter as they saw their image on the small digital screen.  One by one, they all wanted a turn to strike what they deemed as their best pose for the camera.

"Two Fingers Up"
"Eye's Wide Shut"
Not a matter of bad shutter timing, that was her look.
"Profile Pic"
"Shy Guy"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seeing Spots

Under normal circumstances if you start seeing spots you may worry that you need to seek medical advice about your visual impairment.  This past weekend, Kevin and I both saw spots but it was something we had waited 9 years for.  Through the prickly limbs of a candelabra cactus tree we could see pale yellow fur elegantly decorated with black spots in-filled with a rich golden hue.  Leopard!

The water in the Kazinga Channel gently pushed our small boat back and forth as those aboard desperately tried not to lose sight of this amazing animal.  In response to our presence which was obviously annoying the resting creature, it peered out of the branches to see what the source of the noise was.  I was looking through binoculars and Kevin the lens of a camera, as it raised it's head and it's large piercing eyes seemed to stare right into our souls.  Magnificent.

We could see movement in the tree and after what appeared to be a big stretch, it descended the tree and instantly disappeared in the bush.  We continued up the channel viewing hippo's, cape buffaloes and numerous species of birds but they all paled in comparison to what we had just experienced.  We were exuberant about finally seeing a leopard.  On our return down the Kazinga channel we saw this leopard again, this time sitting in a clearing.  As we slowed to get a better look, it got up and walked like model down a catwalk all the while flicking it's tail with the playfulness of a house cat before once again slipping away into the dense bush.

I love that a leopard never changes it's spots, they're exquisite.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Garden Safari

One of the joys of living in Uganda is the bird life.  Uganda is home to over 1000 species of birds which makes it a twitchers' paradise.  Previous to living here, I never took notice of birds let alone knew the names of them.  I used to watch my Mom admiring the birds at her feeder and referencing her book and wondering what all the fuss was about.  I'm not sure whether it's the extra years of wisdom I have now that come along with maturing or a new interest in nature but I now hold a strong appreciation of the bird life around me.  I love their different sizes, the glorious shades of color and most of all, the vast array of noises from their song book and the harmony of multiple species singing together.  

A few weeks ago I heard my dogs voicing their annoyance with something.  I went out to the verandah and was pleasantly surprised to see a male and female Black and White Casqued Hornbill in a nearby tree.  They took little notice of me or the dogs as they did what birds do before they flew off with a noisy "flack flack" of their wings.  Now that's a wonderful way to start any day!

Black and White Casqued Hornbill - Male (left) Female (right)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Abalimi Farmer's Market

On Saturday morning, we went to the Abalimi Farmer's Market in Kampala.  As far as I know this is the first market of it's kind in Kampala and we were not disappointed.   All the products being sold are coming direct from the grower or producer.  We filled our basket with fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, stone baked bread, goat's feta cheese, mozzarella cheese, sun dried tomatoes, gingerbread cookies and the list goes on.  Abalimi is not for shopping alone, there is a cafe that sells great food using the products and produce that are for sale at the market.  We indulged in "The Platter" and then went back to the stalls and bought a few more items, specifically the humus and sun-dried tomatoes.

The Platter

Eco-friendly shopping baskets are available for purchase or bring your own.  See you there!