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Thursday, March 3, 2011

This Post is Late... but, I saw a Leopard!

When blogging is going smoothly, and updating is consistent, the act of writing these posts can be a lot of fun, and quite relaxing. However, whenever I am actually busy enough to find myself postponed from posting, and activity and excitement is omnipresent - then blogging picks up an annoyingly frustrating quality. To be specific, the longer I go without posting, the more content I have to sift through to decide what is important of the everything that has happened. So, with much deliberation, I feel like I have made a suitable list of the essential points in regards to my goings on of the past couple weeks:

This is going to be long.

In my last post, I left you by saying that we were getting ready to have a goodbye party. However, unlike most goodbye parties, this one was to feature outfits composed of trendy buys from the Kisoro market place. Not much needs to be said. Things got messy. In a vote for best dressed, a tie was announced between Richard and Darja.

Richard, standing on a chair at one end of the table, was sporting the ensemble of a decade long past. His bright purple, sleeveless, nylon vest was glistening in the moonlight, while underneath it, just poking through the unthreaded zipper was a t-shirt that clearly said "Desert Storm, these colors don't run!" while a gaudy flag waved patriotically below.

Opposite him, posing proudly on a chair at the other end, was Darja. The best I can describe the dress she found is like a slap in the face. I'm not sure what earthly beast puked up this ribbon adorned chunk of fabric, but apparently that same beast donated it to Africa - because it was for sale at the market. The joke we made was, unfortunately for her, that it was standard Slovenian Sunday best, and she violated competition rules by bringing it from home.

After a close call, Darja won. The competition was pretty irrelevant, because everyone got equally destroyed, but an honourable mention goes out to Mike, who managed to assemble a 'classy' looking suit and touched it up with ladies plastic shoes.

After the party, and before we left Kisoro for good, we managed to clean up the last of the Ugandan Virungas. Mt. Gahinga, the smallest of the volcanoes in Mgahinga national park, was the last of the three for us to climb - and we didn't feel right to leave a job unfinished. So with much planning and hum-haing we set off early on our last day at the park to complete the set.

Gahinga lacks the sheer size of Muhavura, and the novelty and beauty of Sabinyo, yet seems to have forged its own identity that is just right. The climb up was rather nondescript, reminiscent to the beginnings of Muhavura in how it was a steep climb through bamboo forest. Our guide made us stop a bunch of times, but my least favourite among them was when he wanted to show us a hive of African honey bees. As he stopped us to see the bees, he simultaneously parked us over a nest of fire ants. About the time that people started jumping around to get the ants out of their pants, was when I got stung in the head. At least we made up some lost time as we spent the next five minutes running up the hill.

However, regardless of some of the climbs' lesser points, waiting at the top of the modest 3400m summit is a rather pleasant little swamp. It seems almost absurd to find it up there, as it is just so out of place for a mountain top, but it did allow for a string of beautiful and goofy photos before we had to start back down. This climb also marked the start of my cough.

Later that evening, we said our final goodbyes to the town and district of Kisoro and headed off in a private cab towards Kibale and Lake Bunyonyi. Thinking myself pretty smart, I managed to walk off with a pretty neat souvenir. I found out through rumour and hearsay that Ugandan flags were purchasable at the local school supply outlet, and went about getting all the staff at the the community camp and the hostel to sign it. I'm not sure why, but they all seemed so thrilled to just be allowed to participate in something so simple. They felt good, I got a really neat signed flag.

Arriving in Kibale around 9 pm, we checked into a classy little hostel called the Edirisa. The Edirisa contains a cultural museum that it claims is the purpose for the building - but as far as I can tell nobody goes to it. That evening we had a meeting with some Slovenian contact of Darjas' who had arranged to hook us up with a canoe trek around lake Bunyonyi on the following day.

My feelings about the trek are mixed. First off, the normal 90,000 Ush price tag was waved for us as we were to be guinea pigs in the planning of a new guided trek. This was good. However, I've found out in the past bit that I don't have the stomach for contrived, heavily guided 'cultural tours' that are basically human safaris. Furthermore, the title of one day canoe trek is a little misleading, as we spent less than one of the nine hours in the canoe. This meant that there was about eight hours of hiking around a lake, the day after I climbed a volcano, and with a cough that was worsening. Those are the downsides.

The tour started bright shiny, and we were to leave the hostel by no later than 8:00 am, so that we'd have lots of time to make it to the lake from Kabale for the 9 am start. Promptly at 7:15, with a menu promising faster than normal (15-20 minute) breakfast wait times, I ordered my breakfast: eggs and sausages. At exactly 8:15 am, still without breakfast, the waitress, Agnes, returned to tell me there were no sausage. I went without breakfast, hurray!

Leaving the launch site at 9:30, we headed across the bay to the landing site; and the started of our 8 hour trek over land (sans canoe). Stops included a sing song at the local nursery school (really fun), a lecture from a local healer (75% of his random bag of plants were anti-witchcraft) and finally weird lunch and craft time from a local family. Although the healer was a laugh, the crafts time was actually a bit of a hoot; but not because I did any crafts.

While everyone was trying to weave silly bracelets, I was lying off to the side in the sun, unknowingly making myself a target for pillaging by the children. As I was looking through some photos I had taken, one of the girls started reaching for my camera with her grimy hands and quickly relieved me of it.
Once that had happened, everything on my person became fair game, and my sunglasses were quickly confiscated. Then, once they learned that my sunglasses were obtainable, they went off and took EVERYONES sunglasses. I created monsters. However, the one that yoinked my camera did take some cute shots before I managed to relegate it back to proper safety.

After another quick spin in the canoe on turbid waters, and a dinner consisting of the best crayfish masala ever made, the day was under wraps, and we were taken back into Kabale. Not yet satisfied with the lake, as our introduction was under artificial pretences, Jess and I decided to head back out the next day and live it up a little bit. Using bodas, we flung our full packs over the handlebars and chugged back out to Bunyonyi in the early afternoon. The hostel we chose was a small little place called crater bay cottages. We were trying to meet up with Mike and Richard who had headed out the day previous in lou of the canoe trek, and that was the spot they told us to meet them.

Crater Bay cottages, as the name suggests, contains cottages - which were the first things that the reception staff tried to entice us with. After a price tag of 64,000 was stated, we assured them that it was in their best interest to think cheaper.

"We have tents for 15,000 a night"
"Um. Ten thousand?"

So that is how Jessica and I ended up staying in Ugandan surplus army tents for four nights on the side of a lake. It is just a funny coincidence, as it turned out that Richard had a similar conversation the previous day that went something like this:

Staff: "Rooms are 15,000 a night"
Richard: "Anything cheaper?"
Staff: "You can have the discount, but you have to ask for it."
Richard: "Can I have the discount?"
Staff: "Yes, we can give you the room for 10,000"

It should be this easy everywhere.

Lake Bunyonyi is one of many freshwater lakes in Uganda, but unlike so many of the others, it is free of the ever-unfun Bilharzia worm, and is interestingly enough the deepest lake in Uganda; second deepest in Africa, and third in the world, as we were informed, measuring somewhere near 6,500 feet deep. One fun sign on the side of the changing room informed us with an extra zero and an ominous skull and cross bones that the lake was in fact 65,000 feet deep and that swimming was at our own risk; so 'pliz' be careful. This sparked many fun debates as to what may exist at the bottom of a lake that punctures the mantle of the earth.

Everything was not all fun and games though, as my cough had developed into a full blown cold by our second day in the district. I wish cold was accurate, but in reality I felt more like death warmed over. When we went for dinner the first night, I found myself mid-evening lying on the dock shivering while the others played pool. The real scary part is that when I went through the checklist of symptoms, 90% banged head on with the onset of malaria. Fearing for my well being, I did the only thing possible from a man at a resort in a region with terrible health care: I relaxed and swam and drank my heart out until the sickness had no other option than to accept defeat and realise it would not ruin my good time.

Four days and one massive night later, I was feeling a lot better. I'm pretty sure I just picked up some crazy African flu bug, and even now I still have some remanent of the cough. Amen it wasn't malaria though.

As we packed to leave the lake, we began planning for our next destination. The consensus of the group was for us to head up to Queen Elizabeth national park, and we agreed to travel to Kasese, where I am currently writing this. The problem with Kasese however, is that no guide book likes to tell you how to get here, or vaguely references it as impossible. As a result, it took a lot of asking and searching before we managed to get dropped off in the taxi park next to a minibus that we were assured was heading this way. Spoiler alert, it was.

Though there was no surprise in the trip as far as unwanted destinations go, the surprise came from the vehicle itself. These minibuses are nothing spectacular; containing four rows of seats, each with a fold down jumper seat such that approximately three riders could be on each bench, the estimated number of total passengers for a fully loaded bus is twelve. The ride was only 160 km, which should take about 3-4 hours, and if it didn't stop much, we'd get there quickly.
Reality Check: Mid ride we had an estimated twenty six people in that glorified van. The total travel time was about seven hours. We stopped for EVERYTHING.

Forget it, Kasese time! Kasese is a town that I would say is fairly typical of what I am coming to expect from East Africa: couple roads, handful of banks, power intermittently and a grocery run by an Indian man. The big difference? The big different between Kasese and every other place I've been to so far is that it borders on Queen Elizabeth national park; the first park to fit my stereotypical view of Africa as sweeping savannah plains spotted with trees and copious wildlife. It is awesome. Even as we were driving across the park to Kasese in our wheeled sardine can we almost hit an elephant! COPIOUS, CONSPICUOUS, UBIQUITOUS WILDLIFE!

No surprise then, that we were quick to head out on safari. This morning at 5:30, picked up at our hostel by a driver, we headed out into the park for our day of awesome. Five minutes down the road, in the distant glow of the head lamps, our driver claims to have seen a lion. We're ecstatic! We haven't even left the public paved road cutting through the park, and already we have lions! But then:

Driver: "Oh! No, no! Not lion! Leopard!"

Sure enough, as we drove closer, it was a clear as day leopard stalking along the side of the road. Unfortunately I was unable to take a picture due to the lighting, but car or not, I was all of ten feet from a sweet big ol' kitty. After a little bit of head light on/off cat and mouse it finally decided to take its leave of us; but the tone for the day was set. When you see leopards five minutes in, the rest is gravy.

Sure enough, the rest of our early morning safari game drive proved fruitful. We saw a herds of cobs and buffalo, scampering warthogs and a lot of lions. The highlight after the leopard was a particular male lion. His back leg was lame and he was separated from his pride, as if he had been cast out. To add to his misery, he was being harassed and chased endlessly by a single hyena, which pursued him around a bush and out of site.

After the game drive, we headed further into the park to a section of forest that reminded me exactly of the Amazon in South America. While there we managed for a reasonable price to track and ultimately find chimpanzees. Although I loved seeing the gorillas, this trek made me resent that whole ordeal (look at my blog called Gorillas! for clarification). For 1/10th the price and 1/3 the time commitment I was able to spend an hour with another of the worlds great primates. They are truly amazing beasts.

To round off the day we proceeded back towards Kasese and entered the plains area of the park near the channel between Lake George and Lake Edward. For a reasonable price, we managed to book a boat safari up and down the channel between the two lakes. It was here that we got to see the giants of the waters; hippos and crocodiles were around in an endless abundance. I never realized that hippos existed in such numbers, but my god, they are everywhere!

On the drive back to town we were reflecting on out days viewings, and lamenting on the fact that the only thing we really didn't see many of were elephants. We pleaded with our driver to take us to a spot with elephants, and he acquiesced to take us to the one spot he knew where they liked to go to drink. Sadly, there were none there, and we headed back to town in defeat. That was until about ten minutes later, when the driver slammed the breaks and excitedly squealed: "Elephants!". True to his word, on the side of the road, ten feet off, eating the grass, was a herd of elephants. I'll say it again, when you start with a leopard, everything else is gravy.

With the exception of a quick stop at the equatorial line, that essentially brings you entirely up to speed. The line is pretty non-descript, just a little sculpture saying "Uganda's Equator' but apparently the placement is so precise that water spinning out of a bucket will be in different directions on either side, and straight in the middle.

Heading to Fort Portal tomorrow, lets see how many we can get in the bus!

Thanks for reading,

Much Love


1 comment:

  1. Nice post and I also saw white leopard in Himalaya hills while my trip to discover Pakistan.