Sunday, January 24, 2010

Safari!

I am still alive and kicking around. I have been in Arusha, Tanzania for the last week visiting a friend and shedding the last vestiges of semi-employment. Life is great. It's warm and sunny, I have no worldly responsibilities anymore, and I'm meeting a ton of great new people. I couldn't really be any happier right now.

Out of nowhere, I kind of fell into the opportunity to go on a safari in the Serengetti and Ngorogoro Crater, two of the absolute best spots on the planet to see amazing animals. I came to Arusha to see Mary and Shannon, two friends of Caitlin who came to Mbale for Thanksgiving. I found out when I arrived that they were about to leave for a Safari with Shannon's stepmom that they'd been planning for months and months. In the kind of stroke of luck that seems to characterize my life these days, they had one extra spot. Hells Ya! In a further stroke of luck, apparently mid January is like the best time to see lots of animals in the Serengeti because it's the Great Migration and several million wildebeest, buffaloes and zebras are on their way through the park. What better way to break in my new camera.

I learned that Zebras and wildebeests are apparently very good friends. Zebras see really well and wildebeests have a great sense of smell so they always hang out. Who knew?

Zebras, I learned, like grass.

We saw maybe 15-20 lions, and like 5 lion cubs. No kills though.

We were told there was a 50% chance of seeing a rhino. We saw 12 of the park's 20.

I learned that rhinos like to hang out in pairs.

Tree fulla monkeys.

More lions. Things got a little PG-13 just after this. I learned that when I female lion is in heat, her and her man-friend will do nothing but have sex approximately once every 5 minutes for like a week. You can tell she's almost done because they're so skinny- they've been too busy getting busy to stop for a snack for the entire week. Jebaale Mr. Lion!

More lions. This one stood there like a statue watching the sun go down for easily 20 minutes without moving.

Hippos. One thing I will give to the Uganda National Parks, is that they delivered better hippos. In every other way, this was incomparably better.

Giraffes are funny. Did you know that their front legs are longer than their back ones?

Ngorogoro crater was a huge bowl with an area of 250 square miles or something. Full of animals. Zebras and wildebeests in the foreground, the pink in the back is a few of the approximately 50,000 resident flamingos.

We saw a couple hundred elephants, always moving in big groups. It is very difficult to express just how much better seeing elephants in the wild is than the zoo. The elephants were so happy and content going about their lives and hanging out with their buddies, whereas the zoo elephants look depressed and lonely.

Elephant breakfast.


A dung beetle going about his business.

This leopard walked alongside our car for like five minutes, maybe ten feet away. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Sunrise over Ngorogoro Crater.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remembering the Sun

...on a rainy winter afternoon. Anyone else interested in a little roasted goat? Maybe watch the sun set with a refreshing beverage?


(Yes please)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monkey Tricks

(View from my bed, no elephants for us this time unfortunately)

After a night in Fort Portal we set off for Kibale. This one is really not a popular route, so the matatus in this case were normal sedans rather than vans. In typical fashion they crammed as many people in as humanly possible, so we were flying around on dirt roads in the mountains with 9 people in a Corola- including 2 in the driver's seat. We got to Kibale and checked into our guesthouse. We had reserved the"the tree house," sight unseen so we didn't really have any clue what to expect.

As we were checking in, the woman explained that "you might want to eat and shower before we show you to your room, because it's a kilometer away in the forest." Wow. The tree house was quite possibly the coolest place I have ever slept. It was nothing more than a simple hut perched on top of a tree, in the middle of the national park. No electricity, no water, no window panes, no problem. Did I mention it was in the middle of a wildlife preserve overlooking an elephant wallow in the Equatorial African jungle?

(Don't trip)

As we were being shown to our room, the guy kept stopping along the way to tell us where we might find different types of wildlife if we are lucky- monkeys, chimpanzees, elephants, and birds. Then he stops dead in his tracks and tells us to listen to the crashing in the bushes ahead. We crept around the corner and found ourselves face to face with two chimps, I guess they too use these jungle paths. Caitlin is Junior Miss Jane Goodall, having studied primatoloy and spent months tracking monkeys in South America, so needless to say she just about lost her mind. The guide wouldn't let us stop for very long to watch the chimps, because it's supposed to cost $100 per person to see the chimps. Later in the day we were talking to some other people who were talking about having to hike for like 8 hours with a guide to see chimps, they were a little annoyed to hear that we found them on accident- for free.

The night was great, though I have never in my life been so thankful for a mosquito sechurity net. We woke up with the sun to watch for elephants, but no luck. For some odd reason the park/hotel staff either assumed that a) we knew how to take care of ourselves or b) we weren't dumb enough to set off without an armed guide. Whatever the case, we set off on our own to do some illicit chimp tracking. I don't really know where wandering unaccompanied in a forest full of fresh tracks of elephants and large primates falls on the scale of ill advised decisions, but I think somewhere between "drinking the water" and "pulling a tiger's tail." We were wandering down the path and I caught the apparently unmistakable odor of elephants. I didn't know I knew what elephants smell like, but I instantly knew without a doubt that I smelled elephants- I don't know whether it's from the zoo or 10,000 years of swinging through the jungle. Unfortunately no pachyderm sightings, but we did see baboons, Colubus monkeys and some certain birds.

(Monkey in the middle)

In other news, I decided to stay in Africa. My plane leaves the day after tomorrow and I will not be on it. Instead I bought a tent and sleeping bag and gave away everything I can't carry on my back. I am leaving this week to go wherever I go until I run out of money or decide its time to go home.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good Bye Uganda

Today is my last full day in Uganda. It's really a trip to be leaving after spending the last almost-year of my life here, and sad to say goodbye to all the great friends I've made. My flight home left this morning, and I couldn't be happier with my decision not to be on it. It's a perfect day in Kampala, 90 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I'm staying with my good friend Justus and we're going to go spend a few hours at the pool this afternoon before going out to dinner with some friends for my last night.

I leave on a 22 hour bus ride Sunday afternoon for Nairobi, then Arusha, Tanzania to see a friend of Caitlin and Kilimanjaro. I just found out that my Tanzanian visa was stamped wrong and is good for a year rather than another week like I thought. I got a letter stating so from the Tanzanian High Commision, so I should be able to just stroll across the border without paying anything with some luck. Now that I have all this time to spend in Tanzania, I think I'm going to take a week or so detour and go back to Zanzibar because it's the coolest place I've ever been. Not a bad way to live really.

Good bye Uganda, It's been good.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Southwest Uganda Ho!

(Not a bad place to spend a few days)

I visited Western Uganda this past week to kick off my traveling. We first went to Lake Bunyonyi, which is said to be the 2nd deepest lake in Africa (after Lake Tanganyika). It was very beautiful, but a little cold. We stayed at a really cool guesthouse on an island in the middle of the lake. Once we got the island it was all about relaxing, swimming in the reputedly bilharzia-free water and canoeing in local style canoes. Relaxing went off without a hitch, swimming went well too. The canoeing on the other hand was a bit of a challenge. They have a saying on this lake about the "mzungu corkscrew" because white people don't really know how to do it properly and just spin in circles. Suffice it to say that they know what they are talking about. It took about 45 minutes, but we got it down and eventually were shushing around the lake like pros. No skinny dipping this time, as there is a rumor that "if you swim naked at night the local otters will mistake your testicles for food and bite them off." No thanks

(Nightfall over Lake Bunyonyi, southwestern Uganda)

After a few days there, Caitlin and I split off from our friends and went to Kibale National Forest for a little side trip. Coincidentally, to get from Lake Bunyonyi to Kibale one has to drive through Queen Elizabeth Game Park. Because we're poor we of course took public transportation, because it's not a popular route that meant matatus. As we were driving through the park there were animals visible here and there out the windows, we saw elephants, buffaloes and antelope-y things. The best part was Caitlin got all excited the first time we saw something, so for the next two hours the other 25 people in the taxi (14 seats, excluding driver) took it upon themselves to scout for animals to show us. Some people pay thousands of dollars for a safari, we got ours for about $5- with 25 personal tour guides. No pictures unfortunately, I couldn't bring myself to be the idiotic white guy with a camera poking out the window.

It was a great week with my roommates, and an amazing finish to my time in Uganda. Kibale was even better, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

I be this badman

I'm back in Mbale from my initial stretch of traveling, it has been a great week or so. I went to Kampala to ring in the New Year in style with my roommates. We made some fresh off the tree sangria and pregamed in the hotel before going out to an outdoor concert at the Sheraton hotel. We had a great time, we saw all the usual Ugandan pop stars, including one His Excellency the Ghetto President Bobi Wine who was the one musician I really wanted to see before I left Uganda.


(I gotta plug this video every chance I get, for some reason Pat and I absolutely love it.)

We showed up to the concert fashionably late of course, and by the time we arrived the line at the door stretched for easily a quarter mile around the block- probably thousands of people. For your average crew this may have derailed the night, but luckily we had my roommate, the resourceful Young Caitlin in our midst. She strolls right up to the front of line line- sporting towering heels and a saucy party dress of course- and smooth as you like convinces the bouncer to let her and her 7 friends just skip the line and come right in, no bribe necessary. Being White in Africa is a funny thing, some days it really works in your favor. I guess we should have been a little ashamed of ourselves for exploiting the situation, but the way I see it this is the reward we get for being charged double for everything because of our skin color. As we were being whisked through the line we walked past two random white girls who I overheard talking as we passed. They were like "How come they get to go straight to the front of the line? We've been waiting here for over an hour! They must be important. C'mon let's squeeze in behind them." Haha, score one for us. Turns out these girls were PeaceCorps, from Washington and living in Mbale. Small world. It was a fun night, they even had fireworks at midnight.

Also while I was in Kampala I went to the US Embassy because I had to get additional pages added to my passport, a fact which I take no small amount of pride in. The embassy was odd, kind of the perfect storm of American bureaucracy and apathetic African service. I half expected to be served budweiser and bbq at the door, but I was a little off. Keep in mind I was one of like four people in this office.

9:45- Arrive for my 10:00 appopintment (I was scared that I'd be late to the Mzungu time) 10:00-10:45- wait to see the big man, only to be told to fill out form 1045A (on the internet it said I didn't need to)
10:50- 11:30- wait to hand in form 1045A
11:30-1:30- wait here, it should be 15-20 minutes.

In the end, I was succesful and met some interesting people along the wayincluding a Ugandan dance troupe that will be touring the US for the next couple months, check out EmpowerAfricanChildren.org to see tour dates if anyone is interested.

That plus...

(Matooke Joe Camel going for a little stroll, taken from my bus window)

I bought a new camera!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Morning Americana


(San Luis Valley in southern Colorado)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What passes for excitement these days

Looks like another holiday season has come and gone. What makes a successful family vacation where I come from? Just follow these simple steps:

1. Eat some weird hippie goodness, preferably purchased from a weird hippie at a weird hippie market.

(if it looks like that, it's either poisonous or good for you)

2. Get way too competitive playing kiddie games

(WHICH I WON BY THE WAY SO STICK THAT IN YOUR PHD PIPE AND SMOKE IT)

3. Encourage idiotic behavior by otherwise sensible people

(done and done)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best Laid Plans

Like all my well designed plans, everything I thought I had all figured out for the next couple months is totally out the window. It turns out the partially-inept travel agency I was forced to use to book my tickets had one last trick up their sleeve. I guess my ticket can't be extended past early Feb, some sort of one year maximum. So, now I have to decide to either cut my travels to less than a month or just let my return ticket expire and figure it out later. A responsible person, obviously, would pick the former. But for me, I like cowpeas.

I have some big-boy decisions needing to be made in a hurry. It's unfortunate that I just so happen to be the most chronically indecisive person on the planet. I'll have to figure it out in the next week, so soon enough life will go on as normal.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Picture me Bussin'

(It's a celebration Bitches!)

I need to start writing my travel plans down, and I figure this is as good a place as any. So here goes: if anybody out there sees something they want to blow the bank and be a part of, come join me- I'd love the company.

I'm leaving for Kampala in the morning to do New Years in the city with my roommates. I've heard New Years isn't as much of a huge thing in Uganda as in the US, but any random night in Kampala is usually a blast if you know where to go. I was in Jinja a couple weeks ago and met these cool Indians and an Italian who all work for the multinational building the new dam. We had a great night out in Jinja and they said they have a suite at the Serena or the Sheraton. When I told them about my roommate who just loves Indian guys (in other news my roommate is probably going to be pretty pissed at me for spreading blatantly false rumors about her predilections), they insisted that we join them. I think the plan is to start things out a little classyish, then probably head to the club and dance the night away. Then maybe after-party in a hotel suite.



New Years day is of course the Rose Bowl. For those of you that don't know about what's hot these days, that's an American Football game- arguably the biggest of the year. My Alma Mater and lifelong favorite team, the Oregon Ducks, just so happen to be playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time since I was a kid, and it just so happens that it will be showing live on satellite tv in Uganda. The plan for New Years day is to nurse the hangover and go shopping for some provisions in Kampala (Lonely Planet Southern Africa, new camera?, fresh threads) since we're 11 hours ahead of PST. Then we don the ol' green and yellow, hit an expat sportsbar (assuming one exists) and Duck out all night. GO DUCKS!



Then the morning of the 2nd, we're hopping on a bus for Kabale town in southwest Uganda to spend a few nights on Lake Bunyoni. I stopped there several months ago and it was in the running for the most beautiful places I've been in my life. I was told its the deepest lake in Africa, and that it's one of the few lakes in Uganda that you can swim in without risking bilharzia. After a few days of relaxation lakeside, we head north for Fort Portal and Kibale national forest, home of the greatest concentration of primate species diversity in Africa. My roommate studied primatology in school, so I'm going to get the opportunity for the inside info on all the monkey business. After a night or two there, it's back to Mbale to say a few last goodbyes and one final serving of that tasty Ugandan matooke and then I ditch my current life and forge ahead solo for Tanzania and the unknown.



Wish me luck, the rest of my life starts tomorrow.