Thursday, November 28, 2013


For 17 days we traveled the high roads and low roads of Uganda.  We spent a couple days in Entebbe, which is a nice city, but not one of Uganda's largest.  Mostly we were on the back roads.  We saw the "real" Uganda.  We saw how people lived and worked.  85% of the country's population live in the rural areas.  Uganda's largest export crop is coffee.  It is mostly picked by hand on small farms and plots, dried out in the sun on plastic tarps, bundled into large plastic bags and bicycled  to a weigh station. I will never drink another cup of Ugandan coffee without thinking  about this.  We drove past MILES and MILES of tea plantaions, where the machines clip off the top leaves of this ever producing plant.  But, the best tea comes from Bwindi , where it is hand picked.  Congolese  come across the boarder to have a "better life" and end up doing this hard work, along with many Ugandans.  Only the top 2or 3 leaves and the bud are handpicked.  They put it in huge tea baskets and wait for the tea truckers to come and weigh it and pay them.  
The best Pineapple I have ever eaten is picked RIPE in Uganda and served many ways.  I had it  3 times a day a day sometimes. Bananas are a staple! Everything is bananas. We had Banana wine, banana beer, banana gin, bananas fixed everyway.  Tomatoes are another huge crop and served in and with everything. Fish is good, especially tilapia and Nile perch.  We ate both alot.  The beef is from the African cow, and lean.  Nothing is grain fed in Uganda, or procrssed.  People do not eat much desserts or snack food.  I never once saw a fast food resturant.  Their idea of fast food is vendors  with home cooked food offering it in the windows of cars and vans as the traffic slows.  In fact, I never saw an overweight Ugandan.  In some of the rural areas a big push is on to educate peole to use goat milk for kids.  It would help the fight against malnutrition, but people only use goats for meat, and it is hard to change their culture.  I ate goat one day, but didn't love it.

Tea fieldsas far as the eye can see....

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Mihingo was the 3rd amd last eco lodge we stayed in, but because of time constraints, we spent little time there, and that was too bad, because it easily could have been my favorite.  It followed the same protocol as the elctricty or generators, solar power and wood heat.  They had a beautiful pool that looked down from the edge of the Rift Valley.  The tent homes were spaced out quite a way from each other and the lodge, so everything was very private, VERY spacious, and made out of all local materials.  We loved the funky decor and our bird toilet with the "turtle" flusher, and the carved stone everywhere.  It was like a big Hobbit house.  All screened, but no curtains. They brought us coffee and "bisquits" early in the am in a big beautiful African basket, and we sat out on our huge wooden deck and watched the monkeys try and figure out when and where they were going to get into our food!  We had breakfast and an early lunch.  Some of our group took another game drive because the animals were completely different than the other areas.  I decided to take a small hike to a "hide" where one could observe animals coming to a watering hole and not be detected.  Then I went for a refreshing swim in the pool.  We still had to drive to Entebbe that afternoon and get ready for the "farewell" dinner.  I would have loved to stay at Mihingo.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Today we drove a long hard road from damp Bwindi area to the southern dry area of Lake Mburo.  We were schedualed to stay at our last echo lodge....Mihingo.  I already wrote about the mishaps along the way, but one more thing happened.  We decided we had done enough game drives and river cruisers, so in late afternoon, we look a game "walk" with a park ranger. Lake Mburo NP is the second smallest park in Uganda, but boast 315 bird species( keeping my mouth shut, here) and zebras and eland, and even ardvarks. It is open wooded savanna and thickets and rolling grass hills.  After a while, we noticed a big "single" Cape Buffalo watching us.  We had learned that a sigle buffalo is the msot dangerous, and also more people are killed by Cape Buffalo in Africa than any other animal.  Our ranger took his gun off his shoulder and we were ordered to clump together and move farther away, but not rapidly.  This is why I did not take a picture.  It was serious, and I didn't want my last picture to be a full on charging Cape Buffalo.  We hid behind a thicket, and he stalked us!  It was kind of scary, without any vehicle to get into, and only one ranger(our guides and drivers) were coming back later. After a few tense minutes, we put some distance between us and this snarly male, but I can tell you, everyone was glancing back over their shoulders the rest of the walk.  
It was getting late, and we saw the new Lodge high up on a plateau and asked the ranger if we could just walk to it, instead of waiting.  He said yes.  It was a long hot sweaty climb, and we were all dying for a cold beer and to clean up as the sun was going down.  As we approached the lodge, it seemed eerily deserted.  There was a good reason for that.  It wasn't our lodge!  There had been a couple big miscommunications, and our drivers were waiting somewhere close to where we had been, and here we had hiked far away to a place where no one was expecting was.  There was a care taker and he graciously let us have some cold beers.  By the time the Land Cruisers arrived, it was dark and NO ONE was very happy.  We got to Mihingo late, in the dark, and dinner was a bitch fest!

Monday, November 25, 2013


Piled into our Land Cruisers today for a drive from the rain forest of Bwindi to the grasses and dryer areas of Uganda.  Of course, nothing can be simple or as planned in Uganda.  The "better road" we were suppposed to take had places washed out from all the rain, so we had to backtrack on the super hwy!  Hahahha.  That is the very rutted dirt track that is mostly used by truckers carrying goods from Mombasa to Congo.  The main entertainment for us besides seeing animals, was seeing how many trucks slide off the road and end up overturned into ditches.  Uganda has very little machinery, so most of the people just start digging.  It takes forwever to get a truck back on track...days sometimes.  On these really long days you get to know your travel mates pretty well.  I lucked out when we did the land cruiser shuffle this time.  With our guide, Ham, who is a local boy made good....we talked about everything: politics, religion, female circumcision, male circumcision, marriage, babies, sex, food, morals, poligamy, education, language, Idi Amin, future of Uganda.....all the good stuff.  When we got to our next lodge and we getting out of the car, I heard one of "our" guys ask the other group what they talked about on the long ride..........Answer: "birds".  


On the gorilla trek we met a doctor from England.  He was in Bwindi to visit his daughter and her husband whom were both doctors at the small Bwindi rural Hospital. They were having dinner that night at the lodge and invited our group to "tour" the hospital the next morning.   Very educational and informative experience.  It was started about 10'years ago bring health care to this very remote region. Through a lot of hard work and donations and constant improvement, they are now the number ONE rutal hospital in Uganda.  You really have to be here to experience what that means! The biggest problems are alcohol abuse rehabilitation (about. 1/3 of the adult male population!), livihood of people living with HIV/AIDS ( which has increased because of complacency, after a great decrease the last 10 years).  Most women here get "married"( this term is used lightly) at 14 yrs old.   Very common to see children with babies. 8 babies is the average.  Polygamy is alive and well and very accepted in Uganda, and it is legal.  So, of course, sex education in ALL aspects is paramount to changing things in rural Africa.  It is just recently that women here have finally embraced coming to the hospital for birth. When they get here, the hospital team takes "advantage" of the captive audience and they get the full meal deal on contraception, health, vaccinations, HIV ed. and spousal abuse information( yes, that is also a huge problem).  
I was VERY impressed with the health care teams and their ideas.  They struggle with so many cultural customs that are difficult to change.  A local "traditional healer" is brought in almost daily per requests of patients...but they make him wear a "lab coat" over his medicine man garb.  I have included his picture, as we also paid a visit to him.  The hosp has also built an traditional kitchen so families can come and cook their food for their relatives in the hosp.  They bring their own firewood and traditional food.
When talking to the PR director, she found out we were from Seattle and the land of Mr. Gates.  Could we please contact him and tell him of their efforts and ask him for assistsnce?  Well. Why not?  They said they have actually tried to do that but, have had no success, so since we live by him, and maybe know him ( hahhahha) maybe we could talk to him!  I gave them a small donation and told them I would do my best.  Long shot, but I will write a letter.


I must say, I am becoming a fan of these eco lodges.  We staying in three different ones on this trip, and the consensus last night at dinner, was Buhoma (in Bwindi) has been everyone's favorite  so far. They all follow the same format, no electricity at all, even for cooking, everything runs surprisingly well off of solar power.  There are compromises made, but we are getting used to that. we always have scalding hot water no matter the time, flush toilets, drinking water brought to our huts, and very comfortable, if not plush accomodations.   There are charging stations for iphone, computers, etc but they only go on  about 5 PM.  They are slow, but everything in Africa is on "Africa time" hurries. No one seems to have a watch but Visitors, because here on the Equator, you get up when it is light and go to bed when it gets dark.  We do have solar lighting in our huts and it also goes on about 5.  Everything we eat is grown locally, or fished from local,lakes, and is prepared over fire.  In the rural areas, everyone uses fire pits to prepare food, even if they happen to have electricity.  I have not seen a stove yet.   They ask us at dinner when we would llike our "wake up call" in the am.  Wake up call consists of a gentle voice outside our hut..."morning mam, sir", accompanied  by a beautiful coffee or tea service left on our deck.  In our case, it is about 100 stairs to our hut nestled in the trees!  I usually get up  around 6 am because I love watching the dawn break while,sipping my hot coffee on our deck.  The lodges also wash our clothes for us, but no dryer.  They do not do underwear for "cultural reasons".  We were offered complimenarty massages after our trek yesterday, and mine was different but very wonderful, and gave a new meaning to"full body" massage.   There is a lovely bar, with excellent wines, mainly South African.We all seem to gather there and they bring munchies.  Yesterday was homemade potato chips and some kind of small hot wings, hopefully chicken.  Ha.  When we return to our tree top dwelling after dinner, our beds are turned back and being warmed by cozy hot water bottles.  Like i said, I could get used to this.


As if things weren't exciting was the topper.  We were one of 24 people schedualed to hike into the Bwindi NP with rangers and gorilla trackers.  We had to give the officials our passports, go thru a health screening, listen to instructions, and our group had to drive another hour into a certain part of the Forest.  Steve and I were with another couple from US, 2 people,from Switzerland, and one from Spain.  Most of us elected to hire a porter($15.) and worth it.  Our tree top lodge had packed us a lunch, and canteens of water.  Off we went.  The group we were assigned to ..the Habinyanja Gorilla group, was the largest...18 gorillas.  They were also the fastest movers and the ones who roamed the farthest.  We lucked out.  After only about one mile of hiking, the trackers reported movement.  We were astounded and so were they.  Almost the whole group was feeding in the forest, and we saw 2 babies only 6 months old, and the big silver back and the next in line black back.  Our ranger said last week, they were really hard to find and the people almost gave up on it.  We are only allotted 1 hour, and have to keep 20 feet away, UNLESS the gorillas intitiate closer contact.  We were over 5,000 ft and it was steep! you can see by the pictures, the gorillas were very visable and my little,"point and shoot" got some good shots.  Observing these apes in the wild...was worth this whole trip. I will say Uganda is doing a great job of protecting the 400 they have in their country.  They are extremely serious about their welfare and saving them for the world to enjoy.  
Whenwe got back, our lodge gave us complimentary massages and washed our boots and all our clothes free! the rainy forest, we had a beautiful weather day!  


We stopped at a wilderness camp along a river.  It was  beautiful  and all the furnishings  carved by locals out of the trees surrounding.  Our lunch was served in a lodge area under the thatching and we had a chance to stretch our poor beat up bodies.  We all agreed "Ishasha Wilderness Lodge" would be a place we would have loved to stay if we had more time.....but we hadn't seen Buhoma yet.   We still had hours to go and much to see along the way to Bwindi NP.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


We have just spent 3 night in  a classic Safari Lodge called Mweya.  We are headed this am after breakfast for Bwindi National Park.i am not expecting wifi availability for days, and maybe not until end of trip, but will keep posting as I get a chance and send later.  Uganda is physically  diverse and each area we have visited is inhabited by different types of birds and animals. Ndali was temperate rain forest with many primates, and of course, the chimps.  The last 3 days we have seen Lions that sleep in trees(to get away from tse flys) elephants with enormous tusks, hippos,,crocodiles.  Bwindi area is the home of the Mountain Gorillas, and the main focus of this trip. The mountain gorilla have beenkilled by  poachers  and locals alike.  Local farmers have traditionally killed these beautiful animals because they get into the crops, and crops are the only food available in this area.  Education is changing things, and tourism is bringing money to the area, and changing the way the locals see their livelyhood.  Even though Steve and I are easily capable of carrying our own backpack on the Mountain Gorilla hike, we are strongly advised to "hire" a porter...i.e. farmer, to add $$$ to the local economy.  
I will post more about local customs we have seen and food, and people.  I had never realized the diversity that Uganda has.  We have felt very safe everywhere. The Ugandans, as a whole are extremely courteous, modest, VERY friendly, and kind.  They have some wonderful customs to make others feel welcome and comfortable.  The country is peaceful now, and changing as tourists discouver the biodiversity and beauty.  I hope this doesn't change their country personality.  The food has been good and fresh and basic. Everything  everywhere is grown locally with out even fertilizer.  It is literally "stored" in the ground until pulled out to eat.  plaintains and bananas are a huge staple and we have them cooked some way every mean.  Potaos are always served boiled or roasted. Fresh greens and spinach at every meal.  Chapati  bread (introduced by the Indian population) is always served.  Condiments are few, but usually sauces made with peanuts.  Peanuts(whichnthey call "ground nuts") are everywhere.  Tomatoes are a huge crop, along with tea, and wonderful Ugandan coffee.  We have eaten everything served, even the lettuce, and grasshoppers, which are a delicasiy especially in the rural areas. Nothing is spicey. It is a diet centered around vegetbales and starches like maize and manioc..sp.
So I need to finish packing, send this and hit the road again.  Catch us later!


This was an awesome time! After a very early breakfast we drove over an hr to the Kibale National Park area.  Once heavily logged, it forms an 111 mile continuous forest and wildlife corridor.  It has 60 mammal species, 325 bird species, hundreds of trees amd butterfly species, but we came for the chimpanzees!  Only a small number are allowed in the park each day, and after a short briefing oftrekking  rules...i.e.  no eating, no making chimp noises, no running from or after chimps, and some other rules, we were assigned our ranger to lead us.  Boy Howdy! Did we ever draw the lucky straw.  Our group divided in half and we were assigned to "Alex".  I knew that was a good omen, because it is the name of our grandson!  It was cloudy, but warm, and we were lucky it never rained, although we were prepared.  After hiking over an hour with no sightings, we were beginning to become a tad  discouraged.....when far out into the forest came the most blood curdling  banshee Chimpanzee noises, and they went on and on and on and stopped us in our tracks. I was close to Alex, and he turned to ask me if we were"strong to go". Wasn't exactly sure what he meant, but I said yes, and our group of 5 took off running thru the thick forest after the troop.  We found them.  Some were lying around under trees, some were foraging a little for food, and some were.....ahhhh, hmmmm playing with themselves.  These are totally wild chimps, but somewhat used to humans if the humans don't act aggressive or challenging. We covered 5 miles of running/walking/climbing and following Alex for the next few hours.  We came upon many chimps, mostly in groups, and lots of times they got very excited and wanted to fight other chimpanzees.  The biggest thrill of all, was standing quietly watching a few random chimps when the forest once again errupted with agitated  chimp screaming.  A BIG alpha male broke loose and ran toward us on his way to the offending troop.  Alex yelled at us to stand and NOT run, which was an instinct.  The big Alpha ran so fast and powerful and veered toward our group, that he actually brushed his fur on Elena, who was standing next to me. It was an adreniline rush like no other!   We continued for another hour or so tracking these  exciting animals.  When we all reconvened  and asked the others how many they saw, they answered... 5, and they were hard to see because they were high in the trees.  We saw over 80 ( some more than once, because they form with other troops),  and had the "brush by" experience.   The other group was dog tired amd dissappointed.  We were ecstatic...luck of the draw!
PS.  Sorry for the quality of the photos.  We were not allowed to use flash or red eye correction, and it was fairly dark in the forest for my little point and shoot.



There's always a light at the end of the tunnel, right?  After the roughest day of traveling, testing our bodies and minds, we started climbing the towards the Rwenzori Mts.  Close to the boarder of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  We climbed through a melange of forests, villages, and tea plantations to over 4700 ft and entered the grounds of Ndali Lodge.  I will describe it at a botique eco lodge.  No electricity, only solar power.  It is in a destinctive setting perched on the edge of an extinct volcano crater which now forms Lake Nyinambuga.  Everything is contructed with local building materials, and there are no generators.  It was originsly owned by a family from England who grew tea on the slopes.  During the 70's Idi Amin confiscated the estate and it fell to ruin.  It is a ruin no more, as one of the grandsons has returned it to a beautiful abode of 8 thatched guest cabins.  We were greeted by a calming tea service on our individual decks over looking the mts.  Fresh flowers and candles in our rooms, and temperfoam matteresses.  Immpecable service and they did all our dirty laudry without charge.
They also had a wood fired Finnish sauna, which Steve and I made immediate use of.  The nights were cool, and we slept like babies.


We have had 2 bad days of traveling on this trip, and today was the second one.  We left Paraa Lodge early and caught the ferry for the last time!   We basically drove 200 miles on the worst roads ever.  We hit a torential rain storm.  There was alot of slipping and sliding, even with the Land Crusier.  I was cursing the whole thing and bouncing like a rubber ball.  After 5 1/2  hrs we had only gone 99 miles, so we pulled over on some piney woods and had a box lunch picnic and took a break. 
The problem is: we are seeing a lot of Uganda, and between lodges, there is not much except local tribes and small villages, so on the last couple legs of the trip, we have had to drive on mostly dirt roads with huge ruts, and lots of mud.  As soon as rainy season is over, the communities will,probabaly grade these red dirt roads, but for now it is tough going.  We have really seen the "local" tourists here.  People walk everywhere in the country. Today was Sunday and most were dressed for church.  Our guide, Ham, speaks 6 different tribal languages and was able to tell me about the dress of many of  the groups.  Christian Fundamentalist groups have been a huge influence in this area, but the people throw their own version of religion in too.  We drove past many, many small churches and they were rocking and rolling  with the spirit!
I cannot say enough about our two great drivers.  We alternate between the rigs and these guys are amazing drivers and people!  While not exactly a comfortable ride, these guys make it so much better with their kindness and humor.  And I give them gold medals for keeping us safe.  I know they must be exhausted after these long driving days, but they are still smiling!


KOk all you birders out there, don't get your tail feathers all in a knot, but I got something to say!  You know I love you guys.  Some of my good friends and relatives are hard core birders.  I think it is a great hobby, and I appreciate that you can laugh at yourself...right?  
About half our little group of hardy travlers are birders, and I am learning alot, whether I want to or not, because being captive in a Land Cruiser on a game drive which lasts hours gives you time to observe...the Birders!  Now, I know if we had come across a lion with a fresh kill, you would have loved that too, but we didn't.  So, Steve and I were included in your world, and it looked like downright ecstasy a few times when something new was spotted. I learned about "listers ( not a bird, folks) and more bird minutia than I ever thought possible.  Our guides and drivers are birders, so we could not get away if  we tried!  They will stop anytime and any place to sight.  Our cuiser is filled with books, binnocs, very expensive camers lenses, and happy camper birders.  I am sure they would happily spend all day, forgo lunch and even wine time!  That is why our 2 hr game drives always took 4 or 5 hours!  
I get it, but then again, I don't.  I caught Steve peeking thru the bird book after complaining that no one was looking for lions, etc.  And I even took some pretty good shots with my little point and shoot, but I don't know what they are........yet.  Oh this just the first step into that swirling vortex of birding?
Well, you birders out there...and you know who you are....these shots are for you!