Wednesday, October 12, 2011

KAMPALA TO ENTEBBE


I had a full day in Kampala.  Breakfast at the Ruch Hotel was pretty disappointing after those fabulous buffets at the game park lodges.  I did manage to get some eggs, sausage, fried tomatoes, and toast (white bread again). I spent the morning feeding my blog into the computer via hotel wifi before venturing out into the city.  The area I am staying in is pretty nice and has sidewalks, but still lots of traffic so you feel like you are taking your life in your hands crossing the street.  I did not see any traffic signals or lanes, so the cars just seem to push their way through the traffic circles.

I walked past parliament to the national theater.  Behind it is a crafts market with about twenty stalls.   This was plenty for me since I did not have much Ugandan money.  I bought 3 batiks, which I love.  A lot of the wood carving, drums, pottery, etc looked like stuff you could get at a Pier 1 store, and I can't carry them anyway.  

On the way home I stopped to look at the most expensive hotel in town, the Serena Kampala.  The grounds are lovely.  I had lunch at the main restaurant, sitting in a quiet outdoor area overlooking a garden, waterfall and lily pond.  You pay for this ambience, of course.  Lunch of grilled tilapia and vegetables was about $15 and a glass of white wine was about $10.  Thankfully, a bottle of water was only about $1.50.  Price was not as big an issue as finding someplace in town that would take a credit card.  The manager was very friendly and when I was done eating he gave me a tour of the other restaurants and bars at the hotel, as well as the health club and outdoor pool area.  All is very beautiful, elegant, and tasteful.  They have the longest lap pool I have ever seen, which connects under a bridge to a large swimming pool and kiddie pool.  The health club was gorgeous, with a lot of new looking, sturdy exercise equipment and a separate wood floored aerobics room.  The health club was huge and there was nobody in there except the two gym guys.  The pool had been empty except for two wazungu girls.  The restaurants and bars, however, had a lot of customers, all black.  

I spent the evening catching up on my blog, since I have not had internet capacity to post in about six weeks.

The next morning I took a taxi to Entebbe and checked into the Central Inn, a fairly inexpensive place at $50 including breakfast and transportation to the airport.  After the crazy traffic in Kampala, Entebbe seems like a quiet and green lakeside resort.  I walked through town and you can see Lake Victoria along much of the main road.  I stopped at Anna's Corner (www.1000cupscoffee.com).  It is run by an Italian woman about my age who came to Africa many times for the animals before settling in Entebbe three years ago to run this combination crafts store, internet cafe, community cente, coffee bar and restaurant.  The money goes to support local charitable causes.  The outdoor restaurant was a beautiful thatched roof patio overlooking a garden.  I had a tuna sandwich on toast for the first time since leaving the USA, as well as a salad and beer for about $7.  Afterwards I sat down with Anna in her office for about an hour and chatted about our lives in Africa, living in Entebbe, etc.

I continued walking down the main road to the post office, where I mailed Matt's birthday card.  It takes 14 working days to get to LA, so watch for it, Matt!  I walked down a hill towards the lake to visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Center.  There were many school buses and a long line to get in.  Prices are 5,000 shillings for Ugandans and 30,000 for foreigners (about $14).  I am leaving this country tomorrow and didn't have that much money, so I just went in the gift shop and looked around.  When I went out, I met a motorcycle driver (called bulas here?).  He said he would take me back for 5,000 shillings, but accepted 2,085 when I told him that was all I had left.

Monday, October 10, 2011

RHINO SANCTUARY

In the morning we left at 7 a.m. to catch the ferry across the river.  Almost immediately after we crossed, I saw a large tree with about 30 large birds scattered among its branches, which I was told were Marabou storks.  On the side of the road I also saw an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, a rather large bird so called because he prefers staying on the ground to flying.  There were many crested eagles, which are black with white wing tips.

ferry

The morning drive was all dirt road, but after a couple of hours we took a 12 km detour on a much rougher single lane dirt road to the top of Murchison Falls.  I did not expect much, since the falls did not look like much from the boat at a distance the day before.  The top was totally incredible though.  Imagine a wide river of class 5 rapids forced through a 23 foot channel: really high water pressure, lots of spray, and two rainbows!  My guide and I were the only people there, which made it even better.




Murchison Falls overlook

Rapids squeeze into ...

this small gap...
...causing mist and rainbows
















































In the afternoon we drove a few more hours and stopped at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.  There used to be hundreds of rhinos in Uganda but poachers took advantage of the civil unrest in the 1970's and 1980's, so that by 1983 there were none left.  Asians evidently value the horns as aphrodisiacs so there was a good market.  In 2001 Kenya donated a pair of white rhinos to the Entebbe Zoo.  A ranch donated a 30 year lease on land for the sanctuary and the US Wildlife Federation gave a grant.  Kenya donated four more rhinos in 2005 and Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida donated a pair in 2006.  After a sixteen month gestation, the American female and one of the Kenyan males had a baby in 2009, named appropriately Obama, the first rhino born in Uganda in 30 years.  The same pair recently had another baby named Malia, after President Obama's daughter.  The total rhino population is now 10.  When they get to 30 they plan to start introducing them back into the wild. They eat only grass and can weigh up to two tons, proving you can gain weight on a vegetarian diet.


Obama, the white rhino,  has a Kenyan father and American mother

white rhino

our guide at the rhino sanctuary shows us the cattle that co-exist there

Uganda koe


Our small group of six people drove a ways into the park before tracking the rhinos through the bush.  Our instructions are to always stay behind the guide, walk in single file, and if the rhino gets annoyed or charges, move near a tree and be ready to climb or stand behind a large tree.  I was able to see Obama and the mother and calf he had hooked up with since his own mother pushed him out so she could take care of Malia.

After lunch we pushed on to Kampala and I checked into the Ruch hotel.  Most of Kampala that I have seen (sitting through a few traffic jams) is pretty poor, but the hotel is near the Parliament, embassies, and National Theater, a more prosperous looking area with sidewalks and lots of trees and flowers.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

PARAA SAFARI LODGE

I enjoyed a buffet breakfast at Chobe again overlooking the Nile River with hippos and water buffalo.  We left at 7 a.m. for our 5 hour game drive through Murchison National Park.  We went through several different ecosystems along the way,  from thick acacia forest, to savannah with predominantly fig trees, then drier savannah with Borassa palm trees, then to rainforest by the Albert Nile.  I saw lots of Jackson's hartebeests, Uganda koes,  water buffalos, baboons, warthogs, and giraffes.  There were lesser amounts of bushbucks, vervet monkeys, and elephants.    I only saw a couple of oribis, a small antelope that was licking up salt from the road.  And I only saw one lion, a female who was hiding in the shade of a bush flicking her ears and moving her head around.




Typical African mud houses

Uganda koe


Jackson's Hartebeest

Water buffalo

Oribi looking for salt

Water buffalo are considered the world's most dangerous animal


giraffe


After the drive we checked into the Paraa Safari Lodge and had lunch.  The decor here is "early African explorer,"  with the closets made to look like old steamer trunks and decorative touches like old typewriters and navigational tools.  The public rooms are named after explorers like Speke, Livingstone, etc.  I have a big balcony in my room with huge rattan chairs that overlook jungle, pool, and river, although there is too much vegetation between the hotel and the river to be able to see any wildlife.


My room at Paraa Lodge

Paraa Lodge pool overlooks the Albert Nile

Close detail in my room looks like an old travel trunk


The movie "African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn was filmed in this area.  In 1954, Ernest Hemingway and his wife were sightseeing in a small plane and crashed in the river just below Murchison Falls, then camped on the shore with the crocodiles while the world reported them dead.  The plane that rescued them exploded and crashed, so that then they were really hurt.

In the afternoon I took a 3 hour boat trip to the falls and back.  The boat was a two level pontoon named "African Queen," of course.  There were about 15 fellow travellers, including Ugandans, a Norwegian, Englishman, Swiss, and a group of American black musicians. It is all preserve along the way, so we saw a lot of wildlife, including tons of hippos, waterbucks, water buffalo, and lots of crocodiles.  I only saw one elephant out in the open, who was taking a bath.  You mostly see only the protuberant eyes and wiggly little ears of the  hippos but we were able to see many out of the water.  The guide says they sunburn easily and the skin does not heal so they stay in the water most of the day.  There were so many types of birds I don't remember them all, but there were a lot of African fish eagles, white herons, egrets, and kingfishers.  We could not go right up to the falls because of the current.



hippos



crocodile

African fish eagle

Murchison Falls

water buffalo


Dinner was another luscious buffet.  I am trying to push the protein while I can get it, but find I miss the vegetables if I do not eat them, even though I have never eaten so many vegetables in my life as here in Africa.