A Travellerspoint blog

Around Uganda in 14 Days Part the two.

Shorter, promise.

sunny 88 °F

Aaaaaand back in Jinja. Done. Finito. No mas Pleasure Cruiser.

I took the gal down to the Shell Station car wash so I could give her back in style. I was met with lots of "whooof"'s and "oh my ghud"'s.
Took them three hours to clean. They had to take it across the street to spread the dust away from the parking lot. I'm weirdly proud of that.

So! We parted in Kampala yes? From there I left early to pick John up across town and head for Lake Bunyonyi by way of Kibale. A good 7 hour drive on oh so heavenly paved roads. I felt quite spoiled tooling along at 100 kph. We spent the time, in part, making Mzungu songs out of existing tunes. "I'm Proud To Be A Mzungu" (country), "Hey Mzungu"(Beetles) "Hey Hey We're Mzungus" (you get it). We also crossed the equator and took the obligatory tourist photo standing on either side. There is a stark difference between touring in the south and the north. President Museveni is from Mbarara you see. The roads are excellent. The homes are obviously higher quality. The electricity is stable. In Mbarara there are malls that aren't even being used yet. He gives generously to this region in all manner of ways. The north and east...not so much.

Lake Bunyonyi is just a gem. Some folks like to learn all about a country before they travel and that's a great way to go. Me, I just go. Before I went to Peru I didn't even know it was on the coast, which I was harangued over most appropriately. That should clue you in to my style, ignorant as it may seem. The reason I bring this up is to say, again, how surprisingly diverse Uganda turns out to be. The previous week I was in desert lands where a tall tree is a welcome sight. Not sand dune desert mind you but proper arid, begging for water, dustiness. And here I am at a 900 meter deep lake with 29 islands dispersed within, offering the kind of view that pictures will never give justice to. My stay was spent at Lake Bunyonyi Eco Resort. I have to say at this point that if you are comfortable camping in your tent you can experience quite the luxury setting for a nominal cost. I was paying about 8 dollars to camp. I think the rooms cost around 80 US for low season. One can get the same service, food, view etc. for a tenth of the price for lodging.

It's just so pretty there really. The climate is much cooler and it's greeeeen. I had missed my green. To further the surreal experience the professor who owns the island had various native animals shipped in. So here we have Waterbucks, Zebra, Kudu and a couple Buffalo as I hear. I experienced all but the buffalo, thanks be.
One can walk alone around the entire island in about an hour at a good pace. I did it twice and could have gone for thirds.
Every Island has it's own story, usually revolving around the drinking of locally brewed beer. We stayed on Crazy Man Island. There is also Upside Down Island, Punishment Island etc.
Punishment Island I saw during a boat tour. It was used as a dump for unmarried pregnant women. The water has eroded much of the soil but I think it was still quite small and barren when the practice was active. Some women were left to die, others were rescued by men who didn't want to pay the dowry to have a wife. There was no stigma for picking up a woman from Punishment Island. One man garnered 15 wives just checking every week to see if there were any new exiles. The practice was stopped quite some time ago of course. The 60's I believe but could be wrong.

I'm not at the point yet of choosing pictures but if I happen to post yet ANOTHER zebra picture it will only be due to the fact that they are so misplaced amidst such verdant flora. One really never sees that.
This is another place one could get stuck in for some time so be careful should you ever go.
For me it was two nights and off again. John had gone Gorilla trekking during out stay and brought back some great footage and pics. I lived his $600 permit vicariously and he said it was absolutely worth it.

After two nights I split company with John and reeled headlong back into the rocky, dusty, serpentine roads that lead to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. I know, name is a bit outdated due to the fact that many penetrate it daily, but it's no peach to get to. Very rewarding for the challenge though. BAD roads, steep drops aching for miscalculations in breaking power, but just gorgeous in its remote rainforest-ness.
Maybe there are droves of SUVs passing to and fro during peak season but for me I was alone save perhaps 4 other cars the whole drive.
I was headed for Buhoma, one of two main bases for trekking in the forest. Lord bless the SuperCustom, she did wonderfully as always. I stayed at the CTPH Gorilla Conservation Camp; a newish budget place that offers wonderful views of the forest for a tenth of the price that the older lodges demand. Three meals a day are included and dinner is three courses on it's own. Most of the proceeds go to the surrounding community. I recommend it fully but please note that they are still learning to accommodate. Work in progress. Staff is wonderful and Solomon is your go to for walks and birding. Speaking of which...

I did two walks in one day. If you are prone to fainting spells or such just pay for one and call it a day. I chose the Muyanga Waterfall walk and the Rushura Hill climb. I think Solomon should might have started with the latter in hindsight. The first was an easy stroll in comparison. In all it was 8 hours of good exercise divided by lunch. Rushura is not for the weak of heart. Yes it can be done by most but it is a proper uphill slog for a couple hours. The reward is a view that encompasses D.R. Congo and the camel-back hills of Bwindi. Quite worth it but do take your water and a towel to sop up the sweat should you fall into my hyperhydrosis camp.
That night was spent between craft shops, of which there are many all selling the same bits, and watching Buhoma Orphanage and Vulnerable Children put on a dance show for the lone Mzungu. Gosh they were cute...duh. Silly, stupidly, of course I'll give you all my money kind of cute.
Why not.

Next day I was headed back for Kampala (Insert insane, windy, rocky, where the hell am I, ask many locals for directions bit). I know right? First post was a hail storm of here and there...now only two more places. But there it is. The van was due back and frankly I was game-drive'd out. So I gave Queen Elizabeth Park a miss as well as the Rwenzori Mountains and decided to show up on time. One has to leave a reason to come back to any country yeah?
In Bwindi Solomon looked at me and said "you're so easy, aside from your skin you look Ugandan", so I'll assume I have been around enough for now. I've had my breaks and challenges and managed to get the van back in one good looking piece.

I met John one last time in Kampala to catch the Uganda VS. Egypt game (football). We went to a place called Cloud 9. I had just been in the jungle that morning and was now surrounded by neon lights, buff security and about 200 Ugandans in an outdoor setting watching on various T.V's. They don't care for the commentary it seems, substituting loud music and a D.J. It was great to watch and experience. Any attempt on goal was met with thunderous cheers. They lost of course, but it was a blast.
The next day was off to Jinja and here I am. Van washed and returned, dusty roads, Karamoja, Murchison, angry elephants, wary buffalo, local hitchhikers, speed "humps", police checks, fear of rolling death....just a memory.

Alex was all smiles when I showed back. I think he thought me a lost cause but ooooh yeah...mzungu power. A bit of a suspension issue and a starter relay were the only real bumps on a very bumpy trip. Success.

I am reminded at this point, albeit with limited travels, of the lines in BladeRunner: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Obviously that is a shamefully pretentious quote with the "you people" part, but a quoted line is a quoted line. Rather I sometimes feel a bit the same in that I am alone for most of this. It will all be lost...lol Ashes and dust. I like to believe that particle physics is on the right track as far as information retention. That even thought processes and experience can be disseminated given proper tools despite the inevitability of being eaten by singularities. The Buddhist in me just says roll with it...

At any rate I'm set for a North or South decision and the next post will inform you of the outcome.

Cheers and love,

Shane

Posted by sbinnell 05:03 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

Around Uganda in 14 Days Pt 1

Make a drink and get comfy.

sunny 88 °F

Hellloooooo!

It's been a little spell.

I left you as a wayward sail-less toss-pot with next to no experience with Uganda and I return to you a man!
Let's dive in where we broke off.

I picked up the SuperCustom from Alex last Sunday around 11am. He looked worried and once again went over the small maintenance points that he felt important. I liked that he looked worried. It meant he cared about his vehicle so I'm sure it was taken care of. Looking at the last service tag hanging from the steering wheel confirmed my intuition; over 530,000 Km on the thing.

I will take a moment to describe the learning curve for any of you interested in someday doing this. This will apply to folks of average intelligence, moderate caution, the ability to shy away from looking at everything shiny or such while driving, and having a clean vehicle record. The rest will experience variables. Day one is white knuckle and all focus. The road conditions, I now know, allow for around 40-60 kph. I averaged 30. Extreme caution is used in towns and villages. Everyone is waved to. Mirrors are checked NOT as often as they should be and so a few near misses occur with passing cars, motorbikes etc. Goats and cows are untrusted and passed slowly. Google maps is trusted completely, until it leads you onto a road that becomes impassable instead of taking the less direct but actually traveled road. Google maps is never fully trusted again. New scratches are made by flora one should not be traveling through.
Day 2 is a little bit faster but not much. Things are still tense and one continues to try to figure out where the left hand side of the car ends so as to not kill any pedestrians. The mind continues to adapt to full compass awareness while driving. In the U.S. we mainly focus on 10 to 2 o'clock and 6 to a lesser degree. Driving here requires all hours as there are very few rules and most of them broken constantly.
Day 3 is much like getting over an illness. When you are relaxed enough to become irritated at the road conditions you know you're getting better.
Day 4 things become quite a bit more comfortable but speed is still kept at a moderate pace. People and goats are given wide birth. One still basically pulls over for oncoming vehicles as one is still afraid of rolling the top heavy van on an essentially one lane road with large ditches on either side. Many are still waved to.
Day 5 one now maintains some small momentum while passing oncoming vehicles. Slow vehicles are passed more quickly and more often. Goats are fairly trusted and cows don't exist unless they are crossing in front of you. One learns that motorbikes are the ones to watch closely. The left side of the vehicle has become part of one's mind space.
Day 6 you've achieved relaxed one handed driving, knee driving to light a smoke, eyesight adapts to picking out potholes and washboard on dirt roads well in advance. Passing cars and trucks is easy. Pedestrians and goats on left side are navigated with confidence.
Day 7 you're honking at bikes to make them aware of your motives, getting irritated with bad or slow drivers, playing chicken with oncoming motorbikes (you are bigger...it's the natural way of things). Few are waved to but children are always responded to.
Day 8 Yawn...when do we get there and how does this damned radio work.
Please keep this guideline in mind and apply appropriately to the coming post. It saves time...lol

So I pulled away from his shop a complete virgin when it comes to having the wheel on the right hand side AND driving on the left. I was apprehensive enough to bag my plan to stop at the bank and just keep to the road out of town. Less turns=better.
The first destination was Sipi Falls in eastern Uganda. Google maps said three hours so I planned on 6. Turned out to be 5 1/2 ;-)
It's hard now to fully remember the sense of freedom and "yay I'm driving in Africa by m'self with the window down and whoop whoop y'all" and such but it was pretty darn great behind the initial tension. The landscape was beautiful in the desert kind of way for most of the drive.
Maps led me astray once as stated. That was a little adventure but I learned I have a magical fuel gauge. I basically had a full tank but as soon as I took that wrong turn, which the pleasant but LYING English lady on my phone told me to take, it started to fall towards empty at an alarming rate. This, along with the horrid road conditions and absolutely bewildered looks of the walking villagers I passed, convinced me to turn around. As soon as I got back on the main road and chose my OWN directions it went back up to full. See, magic. There's no other explanation and none will be heard. Magic! ;-)
This was around Mbale if you're following on a map.
Refer to Day 1 driving for the rest of the trip to Sipi which was reached around 5pm. I parked at the Crows Nest, payed a modest camping fee and shook a bit of dust off. Oh before I forget, please apply dust to everything. The van, the air on the road, all my clothes and belongings, my contact lenses. Really...the inside of the van is now red. It started dark gray. I hope they have shopvacs in Uganda.

It's low season for Uganda now so I was fairly alone at Sipi. Moses, a guide, introduced himself before I even pulled in to Crow's Nest and we made a date for the morning to take the 4 hour guided tour to the three falls. The night passed uneventfully while looking at Sipi falls in the distance.
That night I slept peacefully in the van, which has a large moon roof in the middle and two smaller ones in the back. Quite nice. Incidentally it actually says Pleasure Cruiser on the side. Add that to the tinted windows and it feels a bit like I should be wearing large sunglasses and my license plate should say Candyman.

The next day was a blessing disguised as and all out trudge. I had collected a lot of toxins sitting in Jinja and I think a little something was still lingering from Kisumu but due to the climate and an ungodly amount of steep uphill climbing the icky was all furiously purged from every pour and is now water for banana trees. Those who have traveled with me know that I sweat like an unhealthy alcoholic pig. Then at some point it stops and I feel great! Total flush...lol Obviously Moses was much healthier, didn't sweat a drop and looked kind of bored really. At one point during a rest break to mop up bodily deluge we passed a girl of about 16. She was making the same hike up the valley side with a full load of bananas on her head. I once helped to unload some bananas off the cargo boat while traveling on the Amazon. I can attest to how awkward and astoundingly heavy a branch of them are. I was definitely put in my place. My sweaty sweaty place.
The falls are at dry season flow now but they're are still beautiful and impressive enough and the surrounding area is worth it on it's own. The non-uphill bits are spent walking directly through the back lanes of villages and little farms. The four hour tour costs about 8 bucks. That in mind you've no excuse not to tip.
The trek, along with a short jaunt with Moses to watch the sunset from an outcrop that overlooks pretty much the whole of Uganda, was the day.

Day 3 was off to Moroto through Karamoja Land. I was headed north to Kidepo N.P. and a back route was suggested. The main roads are only slightly better and often under construction so I gladly took the tip. Here folks, is the Africa/Uganda you picture. Here is definitely off the beaten tourist track.
I saw two other white folks when I got to a hotel in Moroto but none before and none till Kidepo. I saw a handful of vehicles. It was wonderful and I highly recommend the trek before the word gets out. The people are friendly, open, very prone to waving back and utterly authentic. The men are partial to fancy top-hat sorts of head ware. This makes them look completely out of place but that's just because we have memories of circuses and fez and a brief hipster trend. I've no idea where they adopted them from or if they are completely original but they're really fun. The farther north you get the more folks adorn themselves with multiple necklaces and bracelets and start painting their faces. You can go quite some distance here between seeing a soul, including wildlife. Not even a bird. Just the bush. Get a flat tire here and you'll be waiting a while. But GPS still worked!
I picked up my first passengers on the way to Moroto. I think after today I'm up to about 26 people, about a gross ton of grain/rice, and precisely 4 live chickens. The latter left a lasting olfactory impression.
The first didn't speak any English but she understood where I was going and nodded. I motioned her to hop in. She patted my shoulder when it was time to stop. No conversation needed. Easy peasy. The second and third were my little B.F's.F. I picked up after I had hit this odd empty wonderful paved road a couple dozen clicks outside of Moroto. It starts there with no pomp and ends just as abruptly just outside of town in any direction. It was surreal and appreciated. These two tiny little girls, absolutely adorable in any conceivable fashion and all painted and benecklaced, were standing on the side of the road unchaperoned when they waved me down. The were exuberantly tickled at being given a lift by a mzungu and whispered and giggled to each other the whole time. The oldest was maybe 6-7 and the younger maybe 4. They were still a good 15-20 Kms outside of Moroto and were hoofing it. And we're scared to let our kids walk to school 4 blocks away ;-) I dropped them on a corner they recognized and they couldn't stop smiling and saying goodbye. They were lovely passengers...lol Please do not affiliate this with the Candyman joke.
The night was spent and the Mt Moroto hotel for a decent price (I've allowed myself a room every two or three days to take a proper shower and get a real nights sleep). Moroto is a small town located at the bottom of it's namesake. It is always windy here. Always. As I told Cam it sounds like the ocean from your room. Great long swooshes of wind racing through down and around the mountain in off-beat rhythm. The landscape is spaghetti westernish and beautiful.

The next morning was an early start for Kidepo N.P. More rocks, dust, washboard. Sparse but captivating landscapes. Many huts and small villages. Droves of folks waking the road. The men on bicycles or walking with their sticks/machetes, the women and children carrying copious amounts of wood, water in jerry cans, bags of grain or rice. All on their heads of course. The posture here is a thing to see. You know me and posture ;-) It is not bred. Nor is it a birthright so do your future selves a favor. The folks are quite literally dirt poor but money isn't really a thing (oh you know what I mean). And they are gorgeous in their poverty I must say. It all comes from the necessity of carrying so much weight atop ones head in a balanced fashion and the constant physical activity. The men are very slender but very strong. The women are varied but always with the posture. Just an observation.
I won't speak about every passenger but the next was odd. Her mother shuffled her off on me and told me she was going to Kotido. Fair enough. It was on my way. She spoke not a work of english. Upon reaching Kotido about and hour and some later I tried to ask where exactly she needed to go. She just looked at me. Okay. Find translator. This wasn't hard and he spoke to the girl, learning that her true and final destination was off in the hinterlands in northeastern Uganda. Without bus fare. I didn't understand everything but I think she was going off to get married. I assume the family figured she'd find her way there eventually through various rides and such. I'm sure it's normal. But I paid for a bus ticket (I hope it was used for that) and left her in the care of the translator. She seemed not happily consigned to her fate but she was a teenager and every teenager looks like that so who knows.

I pulled up to Buffalo Base outside the park just before sunset and pitched my tent. The entrance to the park is $40 for 24 hours so unless you time it right it is sometimes beneficial to camp outside. That night was given to little sleep. There was a man just outside our fence who, for hours, was loudly switching between praising God, preaching, and wailing about his misfortune. No one seemed put out by this so I assume it's a bit of a "yeah that's just Barney, he does that" situation. Plus the moon was full so...
Then there were the roosters. I see no purpose. outside of fertilization, for roosters. In my experience they are never on time. This one starts at 3am and goes on until just BEFORE the sun comes up. And he was about 10 yards away, joined by about 4 thousand others in the town.
So I was up for the sunrise and off for the park.

This was a great day. Just so much fun to drive myself around and be my own spotter and chose my own roads and navigate the very challenging terrain. It was here I learn exactly where my right front wheel is in order to traverse the 4 inches between high-centering pits and points bits.
I was at one point within rock-throwing distance of the South Sudan border. There were Waterbucks, Hornbills, Kobs, Oribi, Hartebeest, Patas Monkeys, Crocs, Fuballo, Elephants, Pumbas etc. Being an amateur and unfamiliar with all areas I did miss a good few species. Mainly lions. And I have no idea what an aardwolf is but that would have been nice. I was pleased as punch anyway.
Two scary moments: Driving through the middle of a hundred and some buffalo hanging out in and around the road (me and cows) and one memorable experience with a good size herd of elephants with their young. They were also crossing the road. I went slow of course but I think the engine was rather disturbing to them. Their hearing and sense of vibration is quite keen and a diesel engine is not pleasing to either sense. Plus it kind of sounds like growling. The size of the van becomes abysmally obvious when very close to a protective mother elephant. Much less 10. They actually did the whole corral and circle bit. Which is fun to watch on T.V. but when you're the one they're looking straight at and there is no one else around for miles it's not as enjoyable. They nudge all the young into the center of a group with their bums, point the tusks outward and start circling so that every vantage can be seen constantly. They flag their ears and trumpet menacingly. Every animal has that sort of bubble of fight or flight. I don't know how large an elephant's is but I was skirting the edge. Far better to keep moving forward with the chance of speeding up than to reverse out of the situation. It was exhilarating and quite harrowing for a bit there. The sad part is being so blatantly misunderstood...lol I lOVE elephants! Let me pet you and ride you and find you peanuts! Nooooo....they want to kill me cuz they think I'm a threat. Oh wait, I just remembered that female elephants are called cows...that solves it. Shit.

That night was back to Buffalo Base where they made an excellent dinner of rice, noodles and stew. It was here that I first met two blokes by the names of John and Eddie. John is from California (but he's okay, don't judge yet...lol) and Eddie was his Ugandan Guide/Driver.
We only exchanged a few words but they would end up being part of my trip again in Murchison and beyond. I as long a the rooster let me and was off. It was AFTER I left Karamoja Land I learned that as recently as 2012 or so it was considered impassable by tourist companies and many others. From 2010 to 2011 the Ugandan military took approximately 40,000 AK47s off the locals. Basically every man and boy of age had one. Highway robberies, murders and revenge killings were not even worth reporting on as it was a given. Jeez without the guns one would never know and I'm thankful I didn't know that beforehand. It's a great place now though, promise! I gave a lot of them rides!

That morning I was supposed to be off to Murchison Falls N.P. directly but I picked up a full load of passengers in Kitgum and the road to Gulu consists mainly of speed bumps that are placed, kid you not, about every 30 yards for distances the length of which I do not like to recall. This amounted to a rather alarming cracking sound around the front passenger wheel. Annoying bit cut short the mechanic fixed two tie-rods, replaced some bushings and greased everything. Then we found out none of that was the problem. He was a bit downtrodden even though I still paid him and told me it was upper suspension and it will make noise but it will get me where I'm going so don't worry about it. Should have just kept driving!
Night was spent in Gulu at Memphis Hotel. If you have to stop in Gulu you could do a lot worse.

The drive to Murchison Falls N.P. was an easy couple hours. At least to the gate. The road to Paraa and the Ferry crossing to get where I was staying was back to rocks and rolls. $40 a day again. At this point something became annoying enough that I'll back up what I read and disbelieved; if you are using U.S. currency here, which is sometimes easier than carrying around boatloads of inflated Ugandan shillings (3600 to 1), do take time to make sure all your bills are IMMACULATE. Not a wee tear, no writing at all. Creases are okay to an extent. They will not take them otherwise. Something with the banks denying them. It can be comically infuriating when you've gone back to your pack for the third time because you missed a little nick that the receptionist sees. Every...time. And "where's George now" can kiss my ass after this ;-) What makes it all the more special is when they hand your change back in shillings and the bill is so dirty and used that you can't even read the denomination. Sigh.

The ferry operates every two hours and I parked with about an hour to go. There's a fun little band that plays for tips and plenty of bandit baboons to keep one occupied. I forgot the window rule and promptly lost my biscuits. Two big fellers just totally had their way with the poor pleasure cruiser before a boy came to the rescue armed with rocks and a teenagers' sense of immortality. They do fight back. It was laughed off without injury.

Murchison N.P. is populated with many of the same animals that were in Kidepo but to a lesser degree. The whole north, including many areas I drove through (I guess that's what whole means), was subjected to incredible violence and upheaval at the hands of the LRA (Lords Resistance Army) a while back and are still recovering. They took their toll on the animals as well. But they're are coming back like everything else. Look it up if you want nightmares.
Murchison is also the site of an incredibly bad break for Hemingway. His sight seeing plane trip ended abruptly in the bad way. He sustained enough injuries to warrant another flight to the hospital, which burst into flames before take off...lol Ruptured liver, hemorrhage upon hemorrhage and a cracked noodle that some speculate he never recovered from mentally and might have led to his suicide. The trip was a gift from his wife ;-)
I read this in the Lonely Planet to give credit where it is due.

I stayed at Red Chili Rest Camp and pitched m'tent. After a shower I went directly to the top of the falls about an hour away through Tsetse land. My experience with them was totally my fault as I had just told an Aussi, whom (or is it who) I had stopped to help fix a blown tire, that I have yet to have a confrontation with them. Enter the legion. Don't drive with the windows down folks. God there were so many. They follow along side the vehicle until you have to slow for holes or washboard then GO GO GO WE'RE IN and we're NEVER leaving! HAhahahahahaha.
I think I used three repel wipes in 10 seconds. Got bit only once on the forehead. I consider that a success.
The falls are gorgeous. The Nile goes from tens of meters down to 6 very quickly and this forms the most powerful waterfall in the world as I've been told. Not the biggest or tallest mind you but the amount of water being pushed through per minute and such. It's a very impressive sound and you can get nervously close.

The flies stayed with me all the way back to camp. This allowed me time with them enough to learn that they are more intelligent than our houseflies. They became so incessantly annoying that I got my travel towel out and started just whipping it around and batting the front windshield and dash....well everywhere really. I wish some satellite somewhere had taken some footage of the idiot tourist swerving on the road trying to beat some manners into the incorrigible. There really were dozens of them. What I learned is twofold: The fear of death can be put into them as they all huddled in the weatherstripping and dash creases after a good flailing. And their memory lasts about 8-10 minutes. Which is kind of impressive for a fly but leads to the need for repeated shock-and-towel tactics. One confirmed death...which I felt terrible about and tried to explain to them but I don't know that it came across. I left the windows open all night back at camp (with biscuits gone there was nothing left to take) and they were gone by morning.

I had planned to leave the next day but met John and Eddie here again and was invited to join them on a game drive for free and took the offer. This amounted to me paying another park fee as it's $40 for 24 hours so I don't know about free free but it was fun. John slept the whole time nursing a hang over that he blamed on me. I was fine :-) Eddie spent his time kindly chiding me about being my own guide and correcting my animal knowledge. At 2pm we took the boat launch that takes you up the Nile to the foot of the falls. This really is a very lovely, slow-going, relaxing way to see the falls and you shouldn't miss the opportunity if you go here. The elephants and giraffes and Nile Crocs and such grazing along the banks of the river bring a whole different ambiance than a game drive. It makes them kind of new to see. We didn't get astoundingly, amazingly close to the falls so be aware of that but that was just a small bit of the trip and there's the option to be let off to walk to the top of the falls if you've arranged with your driver to pick you up. I'd already been there so I took the boat back and left the others to the Tsetses.

I had planned to try to get to Fort Portal the next day and was assured by Eddie that going back through Kampala then up again, though much farther, was actually a good deal faster due to better road conditions. Especially if I wanted to visit the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Which I did want. So we made a wee caravan of it. The Sanctuary is $45 to get in and can be quite brief for the money so be prepared for that. If you see a couple rhinos you are given the opportunity to take as many pictures as you like for a limited time and then you're done. For me it was worth it. We found a mother and her calf which I hear is a lucky break. There are 19 Rhinos in total. The land was gifted and the whole effort stems from the fact that every last rhino in Uganda was poached during the Amin nonsense. Every one. A couple rhinos were donated from Kenya and a couple more from Disney's wildlife park in Florida. It came to be that the female from the U.S. had a thing for the male from Kenya so the first rhino to be born in Uganda since the extinction was named Obama ;-) Now they are up to 19 as I said and once they hit a critical number they will be dispersed around Uganda's parks. Interesting side note: They are called White Rhinos due to a misunderstanding. The folks who described them first did not possess English as a first language. They had intended to describe their wide mouths. Wide (wijd initially) was heard as white. This helps explain why gray rhinos are white rhinos. The black one's just got the opposite name...incidentally they have smaller mouths.

From here we sped along an excellent road to Kampala where we ate lunch in a trendy (who cares totally worth it for the food) cafe chain. I had fajitas in Uganda. It was lovely. The mocha was...well we import coffee from Uganda so you get it. If I ever remember the name of the place I'll tell you. Reminded me of Crepes and Waffles in Colombia.

I was supposed to branch off to Fort Portal but remembered I'm kind of on vacation (not really but kind of) and that ICU Guesthouse is here. Remember? I also felt that waiting any longer to post was going to amount to a heavy burden rather than a fun communication. You've seen how long this is already. Plus I knew they had Wifi here. There really was a dearth of it this last week.
So I'm back where I was a couple weeks ago and it's really strange to have gotten here so directly from a very different place. I'm clean and comfy and it's a self serve bar on the honor system and there are no flies and there are good roads (L.A. traffic though) and the last week seems like a hazy lifetime already. But I have pictures to prove it. Which, and I'm very sorry for this, you'll have to wait for. It's getting late already and this post has taken some good time to write. I have to be off early tomorrow to wire money to Dixon (I know I know but just bear with us, there's a whole land deal and such going on and it's not much), and pick up John to head for the Impenetrable Forest. I'm only just over halfway through the van trip and this is simply a nice cosmopolitan pit stop before more dust. He's going Gorilla tracking. I am not. I'll be satisfied with the trees and the bugs. They're cheaper.

The van is due back this coming Sunday so I'll see what more I can do with it. Please ask your divinities that I don't roll it...lol Eddie and John are on their second van. They were on the same road I traveled to Kitgum, swerved to miss a motorcycle and ended up on their side in a ditch. No major injuries but the van was finished. And he's the pro so...yeah...happy thoughts and safe speeds!

Cheers and love,

Shane

Posted by sbinnell 08:14 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Country the Second

Uganda

sunny 85 °F

So where did we leave off...?

New Year's I think.

Originally I was going to leave Kisumu on Friday and I DID have a ticket but Dixon had written to say that he was running behind and I know he'd wanted to show me the fruits of his labor so I transferred the ticket to Saturday night (31st). I was still feeling a bit poorly piping-wise so a delay was fine by me. Saturday evening I met up with the new businessman and we hashed out a few numbers. This after I gave him a crash course in math and percentage. Which devolved into a crash course on how to use a calculator.
There is still no shop as yet. I know a few of you are looking forward to the pictures but I think Dixon was a bit optimistic with his timeline. There were land use permits to get, vendors permits, wood for the shop etc. He promises to send pictures of everything when it's completed though. As yet most of our communication centers around unexpected costs and visits to Western Union. I'm trying to roll with it and hope for the best. The plan is sound as I understand it. Slow, but sound. He also makes sandals out of tires. I have convinced him that that is precisely the kind of thing tourists would like to bring home and that he should charge a stupid amount of money for them when they happen by.

So after another ticket change due to a foul up on the office side (they were sending me to Nairobi instead of Kampala) I ended up on a 2am Easy Coach to Uganda. New Year's was toasted solo on a rooftop after buying the security guys and staff a round for themselves.

The ride was blessedly uneventful until we got to the border. Lord, how I've come to dislike border crossings. Especially in the wee hours when the staff are the dregs and wholly unenthusiastic about the job. There was the typical nonsense of having no change and trying to get you to believe that your dollars are worthless because they have a crease or some writing on them. Inevitably a $50 visa will cost $60 without anyone batting an eye. The bathrooms always cost money in a currency that you don't have hoping you'll change some money with the ever present money changers. ATM's will always give you a better exchange rate so there are never ATM's...lol
After begging 500 Ugandan shillings off of a fellow passenger (there were bathroom activities that simply had to happen) I lit up in an open outdoor area. About a puff later a wee man walked up and said "Sir I am a police officer, please come with me". I said I had no intention of going with him. He told me smoking is not allowed. I asked where the signs were and he just kept telling me to come to his office. I told him I am going to speak to the driver first and this is when he got irate and handsy. I shook him off, told him I knew exactly what he was doing and since I'm tired I'll give him $20 if he just fucks off. He said I need to give it to him in his office. This is normal. Away from the public and cameras. Sigh. I went to his office, gave him the cash and told him that's all he's getting and don't talk to me anymore.
The same passenger who lent me the shillings and his friend were outside as well and witnessed all of this. He put up a protest and was giving the guy a hard time. "You all come to my office too!" They were having none of it...lol

I went back to the bus and continued talking with the Samaritans. They assured me there was no law against what I was doing and that I should feel free so I figured I'd buck the system and try again close to the buses. This time it took two puffs before another police man showed up with the same drill..lol At this point as he took my arm I just laughed and told him his mate had already bilked my for $20 so I'm not going anywhere. As he was pushing me along the same passenger came up. Turns out he's a teacher and the second cop was his student. It was great. He started berating the cop, telling him he's there to guide not to make money and all that. I was then encouraged by the driver to close up my big backpack, which had been searched without my knowing and left open, and to get back on the bus. I felt this was wise. I was not impressed with my first experience in Uganda. I know smoking is baaaad m'kay...I'm working on it. But jeez...lol And yes, I have since learned that you are to be very pleasant and courteous with officers and simply say "Oh let's not do that, please allow me to just give you something for lunch!". But I was tired and runny and cranky and had no Ugandan shillings. Should really only have cost me a couple bucks.

Turns out that was a singular event and everyone I have met here after has been quite polite and helpful :-)

We made good time to Kampala and I checked in to the ICU Guesthouse, a Dutch-run hostel with an odd concentration of do-gooders and thesis worker-oners. Also mostly Dutch. There was a 25 year old Dutch girl (Selena) working on sanitation, an elderly Dutch farmer (Mathew) working to increase local crop yields, an older Dutch lady (Astrid) working with a local orphanage and two Aussie ladies who weren't working on anything at the moment but had been stationed in South Sudan with the Catholic church helping out with children before the crap hit the fan and they had to leave.
I felt completely useless and lazy...lol

The Aussies (Sue and Sharron) invited me to join them on a city tour the day after I'd arrived. Splitting costs into thirds is always a good thing so I went along. The tour included one of the King's palaces, parliament, Idi Amin's torture chamber, the man-made lake where he dumped all the victims, a national theater, a natural history museum and the Gaddafi Mosque.

The palace was okay. Mostly just a building. We were not allowed to go inside. The torture chamber was a re-purposed armory and was sufficiently eerie. There is still a watermark you can see along the bottom of the walls made from the water they would pipe for means of electrocution. People have written many things on the walls, everything from God Rest Their Souls and Never Forget to the ubiquitous and succinct Fuck You.

The lake is a very pretty and relaxing spot in the city. It was not MEANT to be a mass grave. I cannot remember which king had it dug out but I do recall that every country member was expected to lend a hand. Since the "bad time" they have removed as many bodies as they could and there are plans to build a floating hotel there. Considering Amin killed upwards of 27,000 people (according to the guide) I have to believe there are still quite a few bones down there. We were told that the better part of the younger generations have no idea what it was used for. They don't really teach about that time in school. If any of you are unfamiliar with the exploits of Idi Amin I suggest you wiki the bloke. Him a piece of work.

The Gaddafi Mosque was the highlight I'd say. I was told it is the second largest Mosque in Africa next to the one in Morocco. The foundation was laid during Amin's rule but funding went away after the breakdown. Muammar Gaddafi, another polarizing figure, was asked by the Muslim Society to chip in and he footed the whole bill. The Mosque was completed in an impressive three years after he got involved. Nothing here gets done that fast! If you look closely at the walls and carpeting you can see the price of quick work however. Still, the place is beautiful and well worth a visit.
It was built using craftsman from all over the world to add a sense of unity and the work is striking.

The museum was informative if a bit lackluster. They've done a fine job putting together what they can with what they have. Lot's of pottery and weapons. A small wing for fossils. Examples of bark cloth (a very cool use of fig tree bark to make clothing and such).
You can tell the guide how long you wish your tour to be. We settled on 30-45 minutes and I think any longer would be a bit redundant.

The national theater reminded all of us of our schools' stages. A small affair but culturally important round those parts. Not important ENOUGH I gather as it is to be razed and replaced at some point in the future.

We ended the tour at some craft shops. I picked up a couple do-dads for folks and we headed back to the hostel.

Sorry to say that so far this has been my main outing in Uganda to date...lol I bummed around town a bit and attended a party Astrid had put together for the orphanage. I was in a bit of a stymie as far as what to do or where to go next. This happens on extended trips. At least to me. Flurried activity for a bit...a dry spell...sticky points and eddies. Sometimes it's best to just wait and chill until the wind picks up and blows you somewhere. I caught a small breeze and headed for Jinja based on suggestions. This is where I am writing from now...on table at the Jina Backpacker's hostel. No wifi but I got another phone and it seems to be working as a hotspot. Praise MTN service over Safaricom.
Jinja is one of those places a nomad has to be cautious of. The kind of place one can get "stuck" for a good stretch. The bartender here (a proper South African) came here to build a boat for someone 18 years ago and never left. I've met two other ex-pats that own or work at other guesthouses with similar stories. It is a laid back town with a colonial feel (though Uganda was a Protectorate). Easy to navigate and free from touts and pushy vendors. Sometimes it's hard to willingly push yourself back into the fray...lol

My ever-so-tentative plan as yet is to speak to a guy that a guy knows about renting a SuperCustom. A sort of van I gather. I've been assured it is a simple process and should cost me about the same per day as a hostel. I would then be able to tool around at my leisure and see some of the parks at a much more economical rate. Trips really are pricey here. The Gorilla trekking is right out I think and other package tours run easily into the $400-$1800 range. That's all fine if you're here for a couple weeks but for me even bungie jumping is a bit hard to validate ;-) EDIT: I spoke to the guy of the guy and it's on. Pick up SuperCustom on Sunday.

I DID get off my ass yesterday to visit the source of the Nile river. This is about a 30 minute walk from my front door. The signs all say the Historical Source of the Nile. So if anyone gets bent about details or true origin I'll leave that to you and refer you to the signs...lol There used to be a falls there (Rippon Falls) to make it a bit more impressive a sight but they were blown out and covered after a hydro-electric dam was built upstream.
Now there are a few stones to mark the sight, a few craft shops and a bar/restaurant. I caught the sunset there and headed back.

So far days are spent rather idly and the evenings are spent indulging in copious amounts of Club pilsner with Jaco (pronounced Yawcko) the S.A. barman and whoever ends up showing. Usually other guesthouse workers/owners or fellow guests here. Last night we were joined by Ben, an English agro-major working with locals to increase yield and decrease waste and soil degradation. We all solve the worlds problems and trade tall tales. It reminds me of the part in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen when they end up inside the whale and just play cards for an eternity before he receives the impetus to move on. To that point I've taught Jaco how to play Cold Turkey. He feels it is a great game to keep his mind sharp for blackjack ;-)

So that's the A to Z of things at the moment! Pray for a stiff wind folks....lol

Cheers and love,

Shane

Posted by sbinnell 02:19 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

So...Kisumu

Reality Bites.

semi-overcast 85 °F

Alright folks, now off the tourist grid a bit.

One of the benefits of being able to travel for an extended amount of time is the ability to take side trips. To hole up and see what you can see outside of the Lonely Planet. I am VERY disappointed in the newest edition of East Africa btw. Maybe go with Roughguide or Frodors...I don't know. I've been told by Travellerspoint that I should stay away from slamming anyone or anything so enough said. Not told personally of course, just as a general blog rule.

That rant aside, Kisumu is nice...lol

I arrived on the 24th to find that my reserved room at Kisumu Guest House was unavailable. Yes, irritating but it happens and the receptionist duly found me another place in what I'm sure was another hostel owned by the same folks. Why not right? Why say you're all booked up when you can just keep taking reservations and then funnel them into one of your other properties.
The new place was Cosy Garden and not too far away. The security is tight to a fault. They are directly across the street from one of Kisumu's slums and they know it. The feel was very stay-inside and the gate guards seemed very reluctant to both open the gate for me to leave and open the gate for me to return. The other staff were very nice though ;-)
On Christmas Eve I found myself a bit upset by this so I stalked out the back gate after dark and went for a beer walk. Not five minutes later I was hailed in the usual fashion; "Hey brother! My Friend! Where are you going?". Okay fine, this is my friend for the night. I was not in the greatest of moods and I was well used to "friends" at this point.
BUT...this guy turned out to be DIxon. I know now that the spelling is wrong and he goes by four names anyway so I'll protect the anonymity for him.
You'd heard a bit on Christmas day about him if you recall.
He never asked me for anything that night. Instead we just talked over a couple beers at a joint he knew and made some plans for Christmas Day. He was to take me to his area of town, the "slums", and show me around. This I gladly accepted. You'll forgive the lack of pictures. This will be a word post only. I was invited by only one man to take his picture with me and snapped a couple of the environment but it's a bit of a faux pas to bring out a camera in these places without express permission and I don't like doing it even with permission. These folks are raw. Proud. And completely aware of what separates them from the other side of the street. If you act like a friend you'll be treated as one. If you act like a tourist looking for a shot to send home you'll be treated as one.

I've told people that the only man to ever buy me a cup of Chai in my three months in India was a man in the Mumbai slums. I have been treated to the greatest hospitality without expectation, the most humble and genuine show of welcome in the poorest places I've been to around the world and this Kisumu ghetto was no exception. He has been overly protective since I met him.

I had actually eaten before I left to meet Dixon. More's the pity. The first stop was Fenny's place with her three children where I was immediately given a plate of stewed beef and pilau. NEVER refuse a plate of food in the slums. Her baby of a few months was sacked out on the couch in her Christmas dress. Never moved once...lol Luckily I had Dixon and a house cat to share my food with. It was a bit odd as Fenny never said a word to me but I assume she was acting on Dixon's behalf.
We moved on with the "tour" and saw the local movie house. A cement-hut furnished with wood benches and a 32" flat-screen showing whatever the neighborhood bootlegger could get ahold of. They even had a makeshift marquee outside of the door with printed movie covers. 20 bob to get in. That's 20 cents. Chinese martial arts movies and Bollywood flicks mostly. One American horror movie about some girl who comes back to take sexual revenge on males...Dixon assured me it was an F-d up movie that I shouldn't miss but I think I'll pass...lol

We took a detour after this to investigate a ruckus happening nearby. This turned out to be a heated dispute between a couple brothers and a friend. Rodger, the plaintiff, was convinced that his brother had been sleeping with his wife and that the friend had been in cahoots. We arrived just after the main event to find Rodger with a bashed up leg, a cracked up lip the size of a quarter, a very admirable gouge on the side of the brother's head (dealt by a rock that Rodger had wielded, still covered in blood on the ground) and lots of bickering. So Dixon turns to me and says "maybe see what you can do about this, he won't listen to me". Oh thanks.
The next half hour was spent talking Rodger down, dodging thrown objects, appealing to his respect for his mama, who was there. Dude was just drunk. He needed to go to sleep. Everyone kept sighing and calling it a bloody Christmas. And oh there was a crowd...lol
At one point the mood lightened considerably when Rodger look at me very seriously and said, "you know what....I'm going to shave him. I'll fucking shave him. I'm going to shave my brother". Incredulously I said "shave him? You're going to....shave your brother...?"
That got everyone laughing. Turns out there's a back story. Rodger used to have very long dreadlocks. Until his brother shaved them off one night while he was passed out. So in all this heated bloody affair the only thing drunken, dejected, pitiful Rodger could come up with is that he's going to FUCKING SHAVE that guy...lol That has been a rolling joke for days now.

The next stop was Mami's place. She brews a local spirit made of sugarcane and lime (Illegally). So she's the pub. She's also the local D.J. as she owns a stereo and a t.v. to play videos on. There was a passed out man on the sofa and she explained that he was her client and it was her responsibility to look after his keys and personal belongings while he was there, pay no mind. She had a wee man on a chair, maybe a year and a half old, that knew most of the songs and clapped and sang along when he could. Very cute. She also had a runner child. The gofer for cigarettes, coke (the cola variety), anything anyone wanted. She was maybe 7. I felt a bit awkward about this and offered to get my own supplies but Mami pointed her cooking knife at me and said "Oh no, you're in MY house now. Sit down." That was not to be argued with.

She fed me again.....oof. More rice, tomatoes, a great and very spicy supplement I forget the name of, and a bit of chicken. We started as three but by the time the food was going around I think the word had gotten out that a Mzungu was in the pub so we were about 12 at this point. Food was shared and spread around. Drinks were poured at my willing expense. We even had an elderly woman there, must have been 80, who could hold her liquor very well. After a drink was bought for her she looked at me dead in the eye and said, "I like you, but I don't love you". Fair enough.

We tore ourselves away to the sounds of many thanks and Merry Christmas's and walked around a bit more. Trash is a big problem here as I've said. Any local rivulet or ditch is filled with it. They burn it when they can. The smell of burning plastic is not rosy. There are signs in many places in the ghetto that read "Do not shit in this area". Cuz it needs to be said.

To give me a taste of opposites Dixon then took us to Dunga Hill where I took the Lake Victoria picture I sent y'all. We met a chairman for the president of Kenya and I addressed the garbage issue with him. He assured me they are working on it and I tried to give some cost effective solutions but really felt I was talking to a politician. Lot's of circular speak.

Christmas ended very well with a great package I've been lugging around from Heidi. The next day my intestines started paying for the excursion. This has lasted till the time of writing and is still worth the events witnessed. Just a bit leaky is all...lol

Dixon is now in Nairobi procuring bails of clothes to resell in Kisumu based on a small investment and a plan to get him out of the slums while helping those around him. He seems to know his shit and I trust him. As I told Heidi, if any journalist got ahold of this guy they'd have a promising Pulitzer. He absolutely hates bananas because he had to carry them as a child for a good few miles on top of his head, after his parents died, to sell at market. He's witnessed two of his friends burned alive for stealing in the slums (the worst offense). He has slept in a tunnel under the street my hostel is on with a good hundred other boys and girls. The tunnel is still active. I was, just tonight, happily and sadly surrounded by 14 street boys (it started as 3) looking to be fed. Yes of course I'm a target white man and they were alive before I got here but what the hell. I was able to take them to a local place and get them all Ugali, rice and chicken for 28 bucks. As I told Joey, try feeding 14 boys for 28 bucks in the states barring Top Ramen...lol
I've received a few hugs in my life but a couple of these boys really clung on. I know it's just for a night and the plight continues tomorrow but screw it. Now is all we have.

I will witness Dixon's first shop going up tomorrow if all goes well and will leave him in to the new business, take a bus for Kampala, and spend New Years in Uganda. Fate willing.

Cheers and thanks for reading. A very happy end to 2016 if I can't be in touch tomorrow. I've reserved a room again so I should be...lol

Shane

Posted by sbinnell 10:31 Archived in Kenya Tagged kisumu Comments (0)

Masai Mara

In life there is safari-ing

sunny 80 °F

Start time 8am. I was the first of five to be picked up.

The night before had been spent with Peter and his family. Dinner was Ugali (a very dense bread made with maize flour and used in place of utensils to eat), spaghetti noodles, rice, cabbage, beans and stewed beef. Breakfast was milk-tea, toast, bananas and a fried egg.

The vehicle for this trip was a bona fide pop-top Land Cruiser. Old school. Not the preppy U.S. versions with low differentials, the one's you see in movies. Seven seats in back and a bench up front. This thing was amazing. Beat up and well used but I can't imagine better ride for the area. Which is why they use them of course. It was a beast. One section of the 5-6 hour trek to Mara consists of about 100kms of nothing but rocks and washboard and we were pulling 80 clicks an hour on it. As you can tell I was very impressed...lol

But I need to back up a bit. The next stop from Peter's house was an orphanage close to Naivasha to pick up a 19 year old Israeli girl by the name of Achinoam. Make sure you do the middle-east hawk-some-spit deal on the "ch". She had been volunteering there for about a month and with only a week or so to go was treating herself to a safari. She is of the Messianic Jew persuasion so we had some interesting talks about alcohol and drugs and Christianity/Judaism. For those unfamiliar a Messianic Jew believes both the old testament ways and accepts Jesus as the Messiah. Thus the Messianic.
After her stay here she will return home to fulfill her mandatory stint in the Israeli Army. Two years for girls, three years for boys.

Next were a Kenyan family consisting of what I assumed was a single mother, Agnes, and her two boys, Derek and Mark (23ish and 16). The safari was the boys' Christmas present. Agnes is a nurse working for an NGO based in Nairobi. Derek is a finance/economics major who already owns his own cab company with 7 cars, advancing to 9 in January. This was very opportune as Timothy (remember Timothy?) had written to ask me to help find him a job. I had told him I have no idea how to do that but I'll keep my eyes open. Then here's Derek who will need two new drivers at just about the time Tim finishes his classes. I gave the necessary contact info. I hope it works out.

Then it was off to the Mara.

On any journey of length in most countries I've been to it is customary to stop for breaks at either craft shops or roadside restaurants. We did both. I bought a couple souvenirs for folks at the first and while the prices were obviously outrageous I have to take comfort in the fact that I haggled enough to get the salesman to hide one of my purchases within another, pocket some money, and show the clerk that I was buying one item for 3500 while I was buying two. My guy clearly knew the prices were silly and we both won a small battle against the Man I think....lol

Lunch consisted of a buffet and was included in the safari cost. Chapati, rice, cabbage, beans, stewed beef, and potatoes. Sensing a trend here?

At this point I should name the price. Judging by the number of readers, which is very modest but still more people than I know, they might be looking for specifics. Unless you all are reading more than once...lol

Three days and two nights in Masai Mara, including getting there and back, all meals included, water and alcohol excluded, cost $450. It is customary, if you can, to tip the driver as well so keep this in mind. The $450 also includes the park entrance fee. This will be fully twice what Kenyans pay for the same service but what the hell. Mostly makes sense to me.
You will stay in very well appointed tents with affixed bathrooms which include a shower, toilet and sink. If you have paid for a private tent (which you have unless you are a group) make sure you argue for it when you get there or you'll be stuffed wherever they'd like to put you. Agnes did this for me as the host had originally put me with her boys to save a tent. I ended up with my own. Yay Agnes!

We arrived at the campsite around 5, took some tea and freshened up. You will be covered in dust from the trip. You and everything you own that is not cinched up so mind the electronics. Then it was off for our first game drive, a short stint before sundown.
We drove on to the Mara just in time for John (the driver, sorry, good man and turns out Peter's little brother) to get a tip on two cheetahs with fresh kills. They had nabbed two of the Maasai's goats and we watched them for a good time. Eventually the two got tired of guarding both against the buzzards and jackals and gave one up to the masses. This allowed them to fully enjoy the other at their leisure and allowed us some good photo ops. I also saw my first Wildebeest that night if I recall. Then there were the ever present giraffe (Masai Giraffe this time though, not Rothschild), buffalo, Thompson's gazelle, antelope, rats (I mean Zebras), and a faaaar away parade of elephants.

After returning to camp we had some buffet dinner; rice, cabbage, stewed beef...you get it. Don't get me wrong it's really good wholesome food and I've not tired of it yet. Later I broke out one of the bottles of whisky I had purchased along the way for Derek and myself, and John for that matter but he never did join us. We got to know each other and some of the other guests around a bonfire that night while a Maasai man cooked Nyama Choma for someone who had paid for it. I think it essentially means just "roast meat" but most often I think it's goat.

The stars there folks....just the stars. As soon as the electricity goes off in camp, around 10-11, the whole view-able galaxy just goes HELLLLOOOOO!
If I've ever seen that many stars I can't remember where it was or how I felt. It was just simply amazing to behold. I taught the bonfire group about Orion the first night and kept looking for the Southern Cross as we are below the equator but I couldn't find it for the trees. Derek is an amateur wannabe picture taker as well so we fiddled with my camera both nights trying to capture the majesty, to the amusement of the Maasai night guard out side our tents, but we fell grossly short. I could have looked all night but wake-up call was 6:30 so I tore myself away around 1am.

The next day will be spoken for mostly by pictures. It was a full day of driving around a very beautiful landscape. Constantly bumpy of course but you get used to it. I think the only lull between seeing anything came that afternoon for about an hour or two. Some dozed, some looked at previous pictures. The lethargy is immediately forgotten whenever the next elephant herd or lion is spotted. At one point before lunch Achinoam had to do some "toilet-bushing" at a hilltop viewpoint. John assured her it was okay and of course it turned out fine. The only reason I mention it is that we had not driven 20 yards from her chosen place of solitude when John spotted a lazing lioness in the brush. Based on the look on Achi's face the proximity added some perspective to her 19 year old life and her next Coke might taste just a bit sweeter...lol

After the Hippo pod, also called a bloat which seems very appropriate, we chased some buzzards out from beneath one of the lonely trees you see pictured and had our sack lunches; a bit of chicken, a tomato sandwich, a banana and a juice box. It was like reliving a school field trip but with things that can eat you. I quite liked it.

The highlight of the afternoon was when another driver spotted a leopard and radioed it out. According to John drivers can go months without seeing one. For me this sighting completed my Big 5 of Africa. I think I already said this but it's Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Lion.
To put some extra luck sauce on an already pleased group Achinoam spotted another leopard on the way back to camp. It scarpered quickly and only herself and Agnes saw it but she managed a quick shot for proof juuuuust inside of frame. She was very proud of this ;-)

Once back in camp we decided as a group to take a side trip to the Maasai village next to us. I say trip but really it was like a 5 minute walk. This is an extra $20 per person paid directly to the Maasai and includes a dance performance, a chance to see them make fire with sticks, a look inside one of the cow-dung houses, the option to buy Masaai made wares and the option to sleep in the village that night. We all took advantage of everything but the last bit. We were greeted and led around by William, the Chief's son. I cannot remember his Maasai name as I didn't write it down. He speaks English very well but cannot read or write it (which I find very suspect because he was able to read "Ken Onion Design" on my pocket knife later..lol). He encouraged us to join in the dance and took pictures for us with our cameras. Picture a Maasai in full dress with two cameras around his neck and another in hand, switching off expertly to take appropriate shots. I think dude knows how to use every brand...lol We were split into two groups, whites and Kenyans, for reasons unknown and Ache and I were led to meet the Chief. Actually I don't know that he's the current chief as he is very old. He is the Grandfather or father of every member of the tribe that wasn't married in. The village consists of 200 people. That's a lot of doing. They are polygamists by culture and as far as I know wives are paid for but not chosen in most instances. Wives cost anywhere from 5-20 cows. The reason you see the Maasai jumping so much is that the highest jump receives a discount of some few cows on his next wife purchase. I was offered a wife of course and asked if I could at least shop around and William said "there is no shopping, all Maasai women are beautful no matter who you are given." I passed due to a shortage of cows on hand.
The Grandfather did not want his picture taken, especially while blessing a female so I put my camera down and just kept the shutter button pressed hoping for the best. I managed a few shots Maasai God's forgive ;-) Inside the homes it is VERY dark. Only the embers of a little cooking fire light the place. Here we were offered the chance to buy necklaces and bracelets and such and bartered a bit. I feel I got a good deal on my purchases. Once outside William asked "would you like now to do some more good trade?" I asked what he meant and he pointed to my pocket knife. "I very much like that." So long story less long, he ended up with my pocket knife and my newly purchased hat and I ended up with his Maasai warriors knife...lol I feel I got the better end of the deal with the story involved but he was very happy and everyone kept playing with the pocket knife. Sometimes goats get thorns in their hooves and he felt it will be a great tool to get them out.

Back in camp we had our meal and this time Achinoam joined us to try and capture the stars. I think she did better that we did and the look of awe and accomplishment on her face was heartwarming. Good to be young!

The next day began at 6am with an short, optional game drive. The Kenyan family opted to sleep in and Ache and I went out. We saw three more cheetahs but they were awfully fat so I think at least two were the same from the goat kill. Still no Black Rhino. Very elusive and shy and seems to be the hardest to find in my short experience. Missed one in Nakuru as well.
Then back to camp around 8:30 for some tea and off on the road again back to Nakuru.

It was a great experience and if I can give any suggestions to any of you thinking about it, three days seemed enough. Especially combined with the Nakuru Park the previous Monday. At least take the safaris in chunks maybe and not for like 7 days straight. It's good to get the dust off and not be in a lurching, though wonderfully adapted, Land Cruiser for a good length of time. And definitely try to stay away from the pop-top vans for a long safari. Day trips are fine but I'm very glad to have had the Cruiser.
And yes there were plenty of families with young children on up. I kept picturing what Toby's face or Meredith's face would look like if they saw those cheetah's diggin' on some goat. Or at being a couple meters away from a Leopard or Lion in their natural environments. Judging by the kiddos I did see it might be as good a thing to witness as the wildlife :-)

Well, you have all been very patient in reading this if you got through it so I'll leave the next post for tomorrow or the next day.

Cheers and love,

Shane

Posted by sbinnell 13:13 Archived in Kenya Tagged mara masai Comments (0)

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