Showing posts with label TIA Adventures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TIA Adventures. Show all posts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Uganda - Best Travel Day Ever

Our "best travel day ever" in Uganda was our last touring day in that country. It was also when we saw Nile crocodiles for the first time. They are fearsome, huge, powerful and deadly. Ironically and tragically, a croc was behind what brought us to Africa. See the "back story" at the end of this post. 

It has been nine months since PK and I returned from Africa where our socks were blown off so many times we had to swathe our feet  in bandages and drink strong potions. Just kidding. But seriously, three of our way-too-few days in Uganda (only 12 days!) stand out for over-the-top-all-time travel greatness. They were days studded with surprises that kept us breathless.

What does it take to inspire breathlessness in a couple of almost-geezers, aside from hiking a steep slope, dancing to Talking Heads,  or having sex in a VW bug?  Quite a lot, actually, but Uganda's wildlife and natural wonders delivered. (The sex in a VW bug is ha ha, of course. Check out an earlier post. My prediction was correct! That post continues to attract deviants (!), and, I'm sure, has left them crestfallen in the titillation department. Hint. The post is not about sex.) Don't even look.

But onward. Of the three best-ever days, one emerged as the most-best because it started full-tilt before first light and didn't end until way after the last shafts of a spectacular sunset disappeared from the Nile near the Murchison River Lodge. The two other contenders for "best ever" days were when we scrambled through a rain forest  Gorilla Tracking, and when we experienced Bush Camping in Murchison Falls National Park.

Here's a quick rundown of one day in October 2013, ruled by excitement, surprise, wonder, and awe. We were in or near Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park. 


5:30 a.m. We meet  guide Pete Meredith (a wonder himself) for a quick breakfast, then squeeze into his Land Rover and roar down another rutted red road, this time to the Budongo Forest for chimp tracking.
8 a.m.   Chimp tracking was so fun and exciting. Highlights: running through the tangled jungle behind our guide in pursuit of chimps, both in the canopy and on the ground. Stopped dead in our tracks by chimp choruses. Exhilaration. (Full post of chimp tracking here.)

10:30 a.m.  Skitter along the red dirt, rolling up windows to ward off tsetse flies, en route to Murchison Falls. This cape buffalo grazed just a few feet off  the road with his buddies. Yawn. Just the usual massive African wildlife. A herd.

Noon: Murchison is the most bad ass of falls. It roars, plummets and boils for 141 feet, compressing the mighty Nile River into a 23-feet wide gorge. Great place to eat a sandwich! 

 PK is just a few feet from the top. Note the safety sign painted on rock behind him. Stop! Other spray-painted signs say Slippery! Do not cross!
 Murchsion Falls is an awesome spectacle as it thunders, booms, and vibrates the earth. 

PK puzzles at the sight of an old bridge piling surrounded by slippery rock and surging water. We know supposedly intelligent people (Chris Korbulic, Leyla Ahmet, Pete Meredith) who ignored the signs and stood atop the slick piling for photo ops. They lived. Somehow. The wet rock is super slick.
A 30-foot boil surges up the gorge walls before cascading another 100 feet.
We had the place to ourselves except for a couple of British soldiers returning home after training forces in Mogadishu, Somalia. We enjoyed their stories and insight into what it's like to serve in the world's most dangerous city. A guide, arranged by Kara Blackmore, ushered us down the river to board a tour boat. (More about Kara below.)

3 p.m.  Ho hum, we thought. A boat ride  with a bunch of tourists. Big deal! What could we possibly see that we haven't already? We figured we'd kick back and watch the green banks drift past as we enjoyed a Nile Special (beer) and digested the excitement of chimp tracking and seeing Murchison Falls. But no. 
3:30 p.m. Crocs cooling off below Murchison Falls. Seeing crocs was creepy and transfixing in equal measure. Some in this toothy gang were 15 to 20 feet long.  At least 25 were gathered on a spit of land or cruising the river nearby. No one swims in this part of the Nile, by the way.

Nor do they collect water without a makeshift croc barrier. Even then, the river devils sometimes manage to get around the barrier and snatch people. or whatever warm-blooded hapless creature is in snatching range. 
4 p.m. Just a short sweep downriver, the boat veered toward a sandstone cliff. The closer we got, what appeared as dark spots from the middle of the Nile came alive with primary colors. At least 100 vivid birds perched, flitted and flashed for our viewing pleasure. Where's the popcorn?
I was able to capture close-up images while on my back on the deck, hands shaking and eyes tearing. I don't know. Sometimes beautiful things make me weep. 
                DRAMATIC DUSK
5:30 p.m.  As we caught our breath after the sensory overload set off by the bee eaters, we were stunned by the clotted sky and the gathering dusk. In the meantime we had left the tourist boat and boarded a skiff suitable for four passengers for the approximately 15 minutes it took to get to Murchison River Lodge, where we were staying. With the driver, five were in the boat. Crocs and hippos were in the river, which is wide and still and musky. On the opposite bank, the pilot spotted an elephant. Ho hum. An elephant, and he roared right over to the grassy bank where the behemoth was feeding.


5:40 p.m.  Our little boat bobbled close, but the elephant paid us no mind, except to move away. What a thrill to be so near we could hear him rustle and almost feel his movements. So beautiful. And like most of the day's wonders, unexpected. 
6 p.m.  We return, exhausted but jubilant, to Murchison River Lodge in time to rinse off the day's dirt and have dinner before falling into bed. But wait! There's more!

6:30 p.m. Kara Blackmore, our personal Cambridge-educated cultural anthropologist, cultural consultant, Uganda expert and minute-to-minute itinerary planner, clears the view so we can get the full impact of the coming sunset. No rest yet on our best-ever travel day. And about 50 sunset photos later....finally......

This will be my last post about Uganda. Much gratitude to the late and great Hendri Coetzee, whose brilliant  memoir,  Living the Best Day Ever, along with our son's travels with Hendri in Africa, inspired our trip.

Hendri perished, as you may know if you've followed this blog, in December 2010 when, on an Eddie Bauer-sponsored expedition he was leading, a giant crocodile exploded out of the still waters of the Lukuga river in the Democratic Republic of Congo and took Hendri in an instant. Our son, Chris, was just a few feet away in his kayak. PK and I met Hendri's family in 2011 at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, where Kadoma, a film about the expedition, premiered. They invited us to visit them in Africa. Two years later, we did.

Thanks also to Kara Blackmore, who planned our 12-day itinerary in Uganda and spent several days with us, and Leyla Ahmet Meredith and Pete Meredith, owners/operators of TIA Adventures, Inc. The Merediths are highly recommended if you ever want to go on safari or experience a teeth-clenching Nile River adventure. Or, if practicing yoga with a glittery slip of a woman with a beautiful spirit is up your alley, you can do that, too.

Hendri's memoir, Living the Best Day Ever, was published in 2013. It's a great read. (You can buy it here.) Hendri tells in fascinating, sometimes jolting, detail about his myriad adventures, plumbs his unique philosophy, and in between, explores the nature of the hours, days, weeks, and months between peak experiences and how to make every day the best day ever no matter what. 

PK and I read the book before our trip (we got it prepublication  as I did light editing of the manuscript at the bequest of the book's real editor, Kara Blackmore. ) The book helped to inspire us to visit Africa, Uganda in particular. We were determined that, while there, we would go with the flow. Good idea, because the flow swept us from one trans formative experience to another. Our African days truly were our best days ever.

If you've made it this far.......OTHER POSTS ABOUT AFRICA
My personal favorite 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chasing Chimps in Uganda

Dear Email subscribers, if you have problems with the photos, clicking on the blog title will take you to more pleasurable viewing. Thanks for checking in! Mary K. 
When I shot this photo, I saw only dark blurs in the dense jungle canopy. It wasn't until I downloaded and corrected the exposure that I knew this mama chimp was looking at us with disdain, and that her baby was equally unimpressed. Poor people! They must be so sad, not living here and not eating figs and other delicacies and being part of a chimp troop with undying allegiance to one another. I see the mama's expression as a judgement. From recent experience, she knows that visitors to the Uganda chimp sanctuary mean no harm.* But still. What are those strange creatures doing? There's nothing here for them.
Well, that's not true. There was something there for us. Perhaps she couldn't hear our accelerated heartbeats or our panting as we chased around on the jungle floor as the chimps flowed effortlessly in the canopy, mostly unseen. She didn't sense our wonder, our awe, when the entire troop of an estimated 25, began vocalizing, stunning us with surround sound. We stopped dead in our tracks, jaws agape, eyes roaming the canopy. 

What do chimps sound like? Here's a 15 second video-soundtrack recorded in the same place, but not the same time: Chimp sounds/video. It's similar to what we heard, but the crescendo that enveloped us rose like a giant wave that stopped at its crest, shimmered like crazy, then evaporated. This happened three times and each time we were immobilized with wonder. Enjoying chimp tracking as much as we did came as a surprise. 

Let's start at the beginning. A few days earlier, PK and I had seen gorillas. In the jungle. From about 10 feet away. Accompanied by nine Ugandans, several carrying rifles. An account with photos is here. We LOVED this. In fact, we didn't quite see the point of going for chimps as it meant getting up at 5:30 a.m. and driving for a couple hours and then...chimps? Not gorillas? That just goes to show we're not immune to the shallow/callow Western tourist gimme-more-bang-for-the-buck crap. As usual, our trusty volunteer tour guide—and so much more—Kara Blackmore, heard not our low whining but used her considerable eye beams to transmit this message: Why on earth would you want to miss anything Uganda has to offer?

And  so we were off, just the two of us, following one unarmed guide, along an easy path into the Budongo Forest  home to about 700-800 chimps and dominated by mahogany and ironwood trees. This la-de-da type hiking went on for about 20 minutes. Then the signs began to appear.

Fresh paw prints prove we're on the right track.

Fresh chimp poop excites our guide. They were just here!! He lifted his hand to signal us to be quiet, then whispered, "They're headed that way," he said, nodding into the pathless maze. "Are you ready?
With that, we made a sharp right turn straight into the jungle. So much for the la-de-da path. 
We're going through THAT??!!!

There they are! Whispers the guide.

Where? There? What?!!! The view looking up.

The view looking down. Yikes.
But then, as we moved, we began to catch some glimpses. 

Here's a little chimp texting on his cellphone. Just kidding.

Chimp with wild figs, a favorite food.

Our guide shows us the innards of a wild fig. One that the chimps
are not going to get.

There's one, getting outta here.
It must be said that this chimp chasing was a lot of fun and a good workout. After the first half hour or so of ambling along an easy trail, we ran RAN behind our guide though dense vines, around slippery creek banks, over soft grassy berms, and into places we would never have thought to venture if we weren't chasing a guide, chasing chimps. We liked this.
Here are a few, so near and yet so far.

The guide making chimp vocalizations. He also interpreted the chimp sounds. They were talking about crossing the road, apparently, as the road became the goal of our haste.
 Impressive guy, our guide. He really was.

I only fell once after tripping on a vine.
Thankfully, I landed on hands and knees in soft grass.
PK remained upright.

Our guide was correct about the chimps wanting to cross the road. We made it in plenty of time and got to see a dozen streaking across the red dirt to join the rest of their troop.

* Chimpanzee populations are threatened in Uganda, and elsewhere, mostly from deforestation and poaching. Chimps get caught in snares meant for other animals and lose limbs or life from infection.

Note: When I started this series of Africa-travel posts, I mentioned that three of the most memorable days of my life occurred there. The chimp-tracking day was one of them. But wait! It was just the start of an incredible day, all facilitated by TIA Adventures.  We were finished with chimps by 10 a.m. and then Pete Meredith, TIA owner, drove us over yet another red dirt road into the great unknown. Smiling, he was.
Pete Meredith of TIA Adventures. 

For a comparison between chimp and gorilla tracking, keep reading.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Murchison Falls National Park Wildlife - Wow!

E-mail subscribers, please click on the post title to avoid hassling with photos in e-mail. Things look better on the actual blog. Thanks.

Aren't they beautiful? I've seen giraffes in zoos and pretend wildlife parks in the USA and never gave them a thought. In the Ugandan bush where they really live, they brought tears. They lope in slow motion, they neck, they play. They're shy but seem aware of admirers. Through much of this magical two-hour game drive, I was overwhelmed and the giraffes.....well, I have a new love.  We saw hundreds. This photo makes me want to be there again. I did not expect African wildlife to affect me so deeply. But it did. Giraffes! If reincarnation is real, let me be one. We saw so many that they became almost commonplace. What we were really looking for that morning after bush camping was a lion.

Kara and PK are keen on sighting lions from their perches atop the Land Rover. They're hopeful, but they are not the tracking experts. The expert? That would be Dennis.

Dennis brings out the binoculars, but what he mostly did to find lions was read the tracks and the signs. He sniffed the air. And then he directed Pete Meredith to go this way or that, down the rutted road or off into untracked territory, around bushes, back onto the red mud road. We made numerous twists and turns and then............

It was breathtaking to see a lioness and two cubs. We weren't this close, of course. It's the  telephoto lens effect. Dennis estimated the cubs to be about two months old.

One of the cubs turned to look after the other had slipped into the tall grass. 
Then mama checked us out before they all disappeared into the brush.

We were patient, and finally, the cubs crept forward to satisfy their curiosity while mom, her blonde haunch visible behind them, settled down for her morning nap. Not long after this photo was taken, another safari vehicle arrived and the lions hid. It was 9 a.m., and we headed back, in triumph, I must add, to our camp a mile or so away. 

I've taken thousands of photos and never had such an emotional response to capturing a good image. There isn't time to set up a shot; on game drives, or game treks, it's pretty much luck and trying to keep the camera still and not tearing up or shaking with excitement. I took hundreds more photos than I will ever display. What do I have for my efforts? Visual reminders of some of the best moments in my life. More of them are below, most captured in Murchison Falls National Park between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m on Monday, October 7, 2013.  Best Monday ever. 
The Crested Crane, Uganda's national bird.
Totally lucky shot. This gesture lasted a second or two.

Moments later, they all flew off. 

Cape buffalo are a big presence in the national parks we visited. In their protected state, they appear healthy, although no animals are completely safe from poaching, if only by villagers, for food.
A more sober looking buffalo, this one about 10 feet from the vehicle.

We came within a few feet of this elephant in a small boat on the Nile River
as we made our way back to our night's lodging.
On a morning boat trip in Murchison, this elephant came down to the river to feed.

A rhino named Obama (his father was African, his mother imported from a Florida zoo.) We did not see him in Murchison but en route to the park at the Ziwi Rhino Sanctuary. There are currently no rhinos in Uganda outside of sanctuaries. They have all been poached because stupid people think their horns have aphrodisiac qualities. 

Hartebeests pause from their incessant eating to take a look. They are prime lion fodder, I think. 

A jackal, one of a pair, doesn't seem too concerned about us.

Cheeky little oribi, about 3-feet tall, taking a leak in the middle of the road. Pete stopped
the Land Rover and we watched and waited. 

After a lengthy discharge, the little beastie
decided to deposit some pellets as well. Then he bounded off.

Hippos (river horses) are thick along the Nile River in Murchison. We saw this family on a morning boat ride. Hippos secrete a reddish goo that acts as a sunscreen. They spend most of the day partially submerged and venture onto land at night to feed. They mate and give birth in the water.
Nice job, honey. Leyla Ahmet Meredith gives Pete Meredith a bit of a boost.
The Meredith team does river, game and hiking trips as TIA Adventures.

This day, and several more, made possible by TIA Adventures.