Through the park and out on the water

March 29th, 2015 3 comments

There is Lake Edward, and then there is Lake George. Since I am currently in Queen Elizabeth Park, I really don’t think that the names need any further explanation.  We are staying at Mwenga Lodge

More from 28 March –

There were lions last night as well as other animals

another hammerkopf

another hammerkopf

those pink dots? Flamingos down in a crater lake

those pink dots? Flamingos down in a crater lake

The Elephant has the right of way

The Elephant has the right of way

the more usual view

the more usual view

see all the weaver nests?

see all the weaver nests?

HEY! I am prettier than smart

HEY! I am prettier than smart

Lions

"me" & my cape buffalo

“me” & my cape buffalo

Lioness & 2 cubs

Lioness & 2 cubs

yes, it is a lion

yes, it is a lion

welcome to the Lion Tree

welcome to the Lion Tree

look more closely

look more closely

see the paws and tails hanging down?

see the paws and tails hanging down?

and the faces

and the faces

Rest of the critters

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This morning we left the lodge at 0630. It was starting to lighten up, but the sun had not cleared the horizon when we passed the crater lake.

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The lions were not at the previous location. Instead they were making a pile ‘o beasts. Sleeping but occasionally rolling over or batting at each other.

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Otherwise – we saw a nice collection of everyone else as well. River tomorrow….

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There was a second pride on the road to the salt lake.

Individual plots for salt gathering

Individual plots for salt gathering

The one male stalked off. One of the  females was sitting at the side of the road. It was almost like she had shrugged her shoulders and decided that this pride was a pain to deal with and the guy had gone off in a huff.

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Categories: Travel Tags:

Queen Elizabeth National Park

March 28th, 2015 No comments

Wiki here as I wasn’t able to find any local site/reference. The Park is located 375 km westerly from Kampala as the Jeep travels. It is noted for serious numbers of mammalian species and lots of birds.

I’m holding out for a leopard…..

Meanwhile

Flame tree with locally believed medicinal properties

Flame tree with locally believed medicinal properties

As you drive along the roads in Uganda in those rare areas where there are no houses you could be almost anywhere in the world. Anywhere that British driving rules apply. For the most part the roads are two lanes with a yellow painted line down the middle to suggest that keeping to your side might just be a good idea. There are ditches on both sides, green grass, occasional wire fences, trees and bushes. It is raining this morning leading to fogged windshields, huge puddles and a significant decrease in traffic.

The cars, trucks and buses are still on the roads. What is missing is the rest. The Bodas are not on the roads nor are the taxis. It is raining, no one wants to stand out looking for a ride; no one certainly wants to ride exposed on the back of a motorbike. I keep mentioning them – the Bodas. If you haven’t wiki’d them – here is the information. A number of years ago at one on the inter-African borders you cleared one side then faced a significant distance of no-mans to get to the other country’s border. People got a ride to one side and had someone waiting on the other. To get between, you had to walk. Carrying packages, suitcases, small children that .5-2km could be a difficult challenge in the mid-day sun. Enter the bicycle owners. For a small fee, they would toke your “stuff’ or you from “border to border.” This became shortened to border-border and then to boda-boda. Just let the accent roll in your head. Spreading beyond the border, personal transportation is a major business. From bicycles to motor bikes to motorcycles, over the years the Bodas have become integral in a country with dense traffic.

There are a few long distance bus routes between the major cities, but city routes are non-existent . A Boda does point to point service, even door to door just for you. Share with a friend and it will cost you a bit less than going by yourself. Unlike the Taxis which run along the main roads, the Bodas seem to go just about everywhere. Some routes are individually negotiated; others have fixed prices. The 70,000 registered Bodas also contribute heavily to the goods transportation equation. Want to carry your pig to market or have it transported?  Pack several dozen kilos of green bananas on your head or have someone with a bicycle move them for your?

It is extremely expensive to have a car or truck. Most families will never have that kind of money in a country where the annual family income is 1350$/US. Even with oil assets, the fuels are refined in Kenya and trucked back in order the road. At more than the = of 1$/E a liter, it is not as expensive as all of us assume but well more than most can afford.  Remember, this is a country where most everyone does laundry by hand and hangs it out on the roof/a fence/a line/trees.

Where was I? Oh yes, riding shotgun in a bus along the Mbarara-Kasese Road in the rain.

The leading edge of the Tea "Estate"

The leading edge of the Tea “Estate”

The rain effectively stopped as we headed deeper into the mountains. This is a volcanic area studied with crater lakes (well stocked often with both hippos and schistosomiasis) and heavily agriculture plantings of banana and tea. There are huge tea plantations covering extensive tracts and the mountain sides with terraced plantings much where I would expect to see vineyards at home.

acres and acres of tea

acres and acres of tea

All of which is being harvested by hand

All of which is being harvested by hand

Winding through the mountains we stopped and looked down

The Rift Valley

The Rift Valley

The main road runs through park of Queen Elizabeth Park – we entered at the Katunguru Gate. Along the drive to the Mweya Safari Lodge some of the usual suspects presented themselves: Hippo, Elephant & Striped Mongoose to be specific.

Baboon

Baboon

Waiting for a ride?

Waiting for a ride?

I didn’t take any pictures of Fisheagles since I have seen more than a few of those before. We are going to do a drive late this afternoon which should prove to be interested. The roads are fairly decent; rules are that you stay on the road so why not go in your comfortable bus where everyone is at a decent height and can take photos out the window?

Candelabra Tree

Candelabra Tree

Hippo out grazing

Hippo out grazing

And if you don't believe they are around...

And if you don’t believe they are around…

May I present a striped Mongoose...

May I present a striped Mongoose…

Categories: Travel Tags:

Mixed Challenges

March 27th, 2015 No comments

aka – poop, rashes and break bone fever.

Diarrheal disease is a fact of life. Not restricted to the third world, it is a major component of most potluck food poisoning, cruise ship Norovirus outbreaks, and numerous other infectious diseases. For the moment in the Kampala area, there could be typhoid involved (outbreak is well into its third month).

Two things can make a serious difference to whether you shrub off the illness, lose a day of your holiday to hang out near a toilet but other wise recover or potentially are headed to life threatening illness. The particular disease you have been unfortunate enough to acquire is the first and the individual is the second. Extremes of age, marginal to poor nutrition, intercurrent disease, immune compromise can turn what should be mild discomfort and a need for an extra roll of toilet paper into potential death.

Not to be too morbid, from that discussion we are going to be moving on to rashes. Now, rashes are not my favorite thing. I can identify the simple infectious diseases (measles, chickenpox) because I grew up while they were still prevalent. Poison Ivy is obvious as is acne and warts. But for the rest of it? Hey, it is dermatitis (skin irritation, eruption…) and there are the standards (if it is wet -> dry it; if it is dry -> wet it, etc). Since I know so little (and remember even less – it is a great opportunity to learn.

The last disease of the day is Dengue which comes in four major flavors (I mean serotypes). It is viral. There is no immunization. There is only supportive treatment. Many call it “the worst case of flu” they have ever had. Just in case you are feeling comfortable about being “there” while I am “here” may I simply remind you that the mosquitos are well established in the New World as well as the Mediterranean Basin.  It has been around for a while.

In the last several years (not seen here that I am aware)  Chikungunya (viral) is now an issue.  Given that people travel, even sick people travel it shouldn’t be surprising to note that the disease is rapidly spreading across the Caribbean and Central America. Whether hitch hiking mosquito or human vector – this is another disease which has escaped its original habitat. Packed its suitcase and is off to see new countries and infect new populations.

Anyway – morning was dermatology, afternoon was adult ward rounds divided in the middle by lunch.  The less said about luncheon challenges the better. Mine was excellent, but it took a bit of an effort to get the staff to understand that we didn’t have the whole day for lunch.

Hanging out with the Marabou Storks (but not one)

Hanging out with the Marabou Storks (but not one)

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Hospital Laundry - as managed by patients families

Hospital Laundry – as managed by patients families

and no clue why a batch of pelicans. Mbarara is not exactly on water

and no clue why a batch of pelicans. Mbarara is not exactly on water

Categories: Medicine, Travel Tags:

Crossing the Equator

March 26th, 2015 2 comments

Which reminds me – I picked up The Sugar Barons on the most recent Tantor Audio Book sale. For $4.99 I can listen to non-fiction and learn something about the sugar trade and the Caribbean from the 1650s on ward.

Leaving infectious disease behind for the day, a discussion about occupational health and safety is in order. As it turned out – no tour was on offer at  Kakira Sugar (the largest manufacture here in Uganda).  The photos are from outside the compound as picture taking is not allowed on the compound much less in the clinic or on the wards. The fields are easy – the alternative hauling (dude on the bike is blurry – sorry about that).
Sugar Cane in the fields, areas of cut and ares just planted a few months ago

Sugar Cane in the fields, areas of cut and ares just planted a few months ago

man on a boda loaded with sugar cane

man on a boda loaded with sugar cane

We left Jinja at a relatively early time in order to avoid traffic, if that might ever be even remotely possible. The field trip this morning (starting to feel like a happy elementary school child without the burden of parent chaperone.  Kakira is one of the major sugar producers in the country. Not only do they have plantations and factories – they have an incredibly huge compound with all the amenities of your average overseas military post.

Besides the headquarters and administrative areas there are shops, post office, barber shop, schools, clinic and hospital. Extensive housing is on the ground for workers of a certain level. Housing is also supplied for the contract workers: cane cutters, truck drivers. Given the geographical location in the world (see today’s subject line) growing and harvesting sugar is a year around proposition. Unlike a long time ago when I lived in the neighborhood of Crystal Sugar which ran shifts around the clock for the few weeks after harvest of the sugar beets. 

Since I  mentioned cane cutters – you have probably already figured  that the cane is cut by hand, loaded into the trucks by hand and, for that matter, sorted off the trucks by application of significant amounts of human labor. It is a good job in a country where employment is difficult to find, especially that which includes the provision of free medical care. The downside for the cane cutters – besides the risk of injury is living in extremely crowded barrack type situations away from their families for extended periods of time. 

And then we got on the bus to start our 320 km trip to Mbarara. Not that the traffic was horrible or the roads a challenge. Our driver said we did well to make it back to the North Kampala by-pass in about three hours (100km).  

Once past Kampala our pace picked up and the traffic decreased.

2 Bodas, five passengers, multiple packages but no chickens

2 Bodas, five passengers, multiple packages but no chickens

Our rest stop was at the equator (see photo) and consider this probably the only pix of me that you will see for this trip. My partner in crime is Canadian. In fact, I am not sure that I mentioned it – but we have four Germans (usually living in Germany), one Canadian and me living in Germany, one Ugandan living in the Caribbean for greater than 30 years and a Canadian living and working in Hong Kong.

standing at the monument

standing at the monument

Apparently end of the month is low economy for the Police; I counted over 25 radar stops along the way. Usually located about .5 km out from town or a few hundred meters after where everyone is hitting the accelerator it seemed at least that they were not interfering with commerce. I missed catching the fish and fish standards but there were plenty of opportunities for anyone to buy vegetables, chick-on-a-stick, catch a Boda or buy any number of things in town.

Stands in town

Stands in town

Bodas for hire

Bodas for hire

typical main street in the many, many towns we drove through

typical main street in the many, many towns we drove through

fruits and vegetables

fruits and vegetables

houses, animals and kids line all the roads

houses, animals and kids line all the roads

sun headed down before we arrived

sun headed down before we arrived

Categories: Medicine, Travel Tags:

Fever is/

March 25th, 2015 No comments

aka – it isn’t alway Malaria. Although when you are in Africa for more than 8 days it could be a good guess.

This morning we went to the Buikwe Subdivision Hospital where fever was the symotom under consideration. There was an excellent lecture about Ebola (last outbreak in Uganda was 2012 and not the same variant as in West Africa). This is also an areas where Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) is endemic. Ward rounds: in a room about this size

yes, exactly this crowded and no better furnished

yes, exactly this crowded and no better furnished

(except with bright animals painted on the wall) where we saw several older mothers caring for their babies on the pediatric ward. Older means 18 with your first child or 26 with your fourth/fifth and most with a child over the age of 12 months were visibly pregnant. We saw sickle cell and cerebral malaria. Unhappy babies and ones that could peak out a smile.

To Build a House

To start – the room I currently have. Please note the frame on the bed. It makes it easier to drape the mosquito netting and have it work while leaving enough space to turn over.

#21 Upstairs

#21 Upstairs

 

The population density in the rural areas is amazing. If you live in North America, Western Europe or Australia, you know that few people leave outside of the major areas. In North American, rural areas are characterized by long stretches of empty, a few scattered towns and houses surrounded by out buildings and land. In Europe it is most often small tows surrounded by extensive fields under cultivation. In Australia, you are either along the coast or literally “outback” somewhere that no one usually goes.

Uganda has 85% of its population in rural areas. It isn’t just the houses and shops lining both sides of the road at what are probably towns even tho there are no town names, road signs or route numbers. I can understand the concept of “Plot Number” but do not appreciate at all what it might tell me about location. People are continually in motion. There are children all over the place: in school yards, walking along the roads, playing in front of the house, working in the fields, sitting with their mother as she sells vegetables from a road side stand. There is absolutely no question that children form half of the population.

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From the Buikwe Subdivision Hospital where we saw babies, discussed African Trypanosomiasis and Ebola we took a drive to both have lunch near Lake Victoria and see one of the local fishing villages (small smelly fish which require drying….). While we were at it, we set a TseTse fly trap to see what we could capture. These critters are first cousins to horse flies and we all know how great it feels to be bitten…

simple and effective trap. the flies come to the dark colors, then always fly "up" when they take off, becoming trapped in the netting

simple and effective trap. the flies come to the dark colors, then always fly “up” when they take off, becoming trapped in the netting

For those of you who haven’t met them – tsetse flies are nasty biting flies capable of happily transmitting parasites from infected mammal to uninfected in pursuit of blood – a favorite food. Since they are so effective in disease transmission, they have been well studies in the lab, as well as extensive vector control programs. (Trapping, release of irradiated males…..)

One wonders about their place in the food chain. Effective disease vectors, still something else had to have been eating them. I couldn’t find any information at all about what species, a bird perhaps, used to find this fly a nice juicy treat. Not that I want disease back. The effect on humans, livestock and wild animal populations was devastating but some critter somewhere has lost their lunch.

I started thinking about where all these children and their relatives live. You may have a landlord who owns the land, most of the time you are responsible for your own shelter. Round houses with mud dabbed walls and thatched roofs are out. Not only are they impossible to live it, but they provide an absolutely wonderful vector habitat.

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So you want to build a house. First you either make your own bricks or buy them from someone who is in the business. Made from the local iron rich red clay they are stacked in a standard form and the outside is coated. A fire is then started inside and is maintained until the bricks are hard enough to build with. Age them a bit along the side of the road.

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When you have time/money, draw out the walls, then start the layers after leveling your dirt floor.

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Maybe sometime in the future you will be able to afford to pour cement inside to have a solid floor.  If you have money, you can buy supplies – including your bricks and mortar from a commercial store –

 

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Continue building your walls, leaving space on one side for doors and windows. Make one side of the roof higher than the other so it slants and the water will run off and away.  (Gutter could collect rain water, but then still water could also provide a breeding place for insects).  If you don’t have money for the roof right now, you can always start raising crops inside the buiing. (which means that like Death Valley in the Balkans – trees inside a currently unoccupied house doesn’t mean war, someone died or the house was bombed.)

When you have a bit more money add the tin roof. Even better, you can have windows and a door rather than cloth curtains.

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The white X you see on some of the buildings is from the Transportation/Highway Department. Sometime in the future this is going to become a paved road and probably two lanes. The houses in question are going to have to be taken out to build the road….

and ending with birds

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Categories: Medicine, Travel Tags:

Leprosy

March 24th, 2015 1 comment

Doesn’t that stir up thoughts of Gothic castles, strange asylums and nuns nursing the damned in the slums of Calcutta?

Otherwise known as Hansen’s Disease, it is caused by one of the mycobacterium family (TB ring a bell for anyone?)  Similar to TB, causes granulomas and can be treated with a long course of a couple of particular antibiotics. It doesn’t cause parts of the body to fall off, but does severely damage nerves which results in the patient having decreased ability to feel pain. Recent research in genetics has lead to the assumption that about 95% of the population is naturally immune.
The other five percent? They can become infected.

We drove along between klick after klick of sugar cane fields between Jinja where we are staying and Buluba where the St Frances  Hospital is located. Founded in the 1930s and mostly funded out of Europe (esp Germany and UK) it was initially solely dedicated to the care and treatment of Leprosy. It’s role has evolved over the years as antibiotic regimes have proven to stop the progress of the disease. Unfortunately, neurological loss is normally permanent. In a culture that values village and family times, most patients are not welcome back home. Even though the treatment is outpatient now, occasional medication reactions but mostly lack of support have a significant number of patients remaining for an extended period of time. No matter how much education you provide, some superstition remains. Medication is provided by the government free of charge and it also pays for care.  There are a handful of patients who consider St Francis home and the nuns who run the hospital their home (all over 75 years old).  M. leprosae is not an opportunistic infection, so there has not been any increase with the spread of HIV. 

The infra structure needs help, the generator only supplies those area which require power. We saw a number of patients with leprosy as well as babies with malaria, a toddler with tetanus and several other diseases not routinely found in North American or Western Europe practices.

When you think about it – the characteristics of leprosy with all the associated myths might well have played into nightmare, fantasy, fear and the belief that the living dead really exist.
Zombies anyone?

Water Birds and Sacred Ibis

On a much lighter note, the weather held without rain so we went ahead the planned short boat exploration of Lake Victoria. What follows are pictures of water birds, shore birds and, of course – the source of the Nile (which is the longest river in the world. Yangtze is the third and the Mississippi is the 4th. Blanking on the thirds – but thinking it is the Amazon…) a couple of lizards and one monkey determined to ignore us.  With the skyrocketing population, this area has been extensively fished. Fish farms are now in operation along the shore. Each “container” is stocked with small fish which are fed and will yield about 1000 fish at full growth. What is obvious is that several of the bird species think this is just a special version of “fish in a barrel” created especially for them.

We ate dinner before returning to Jinja.  Since it was too early in the day for the fruit bats I am afraid that I can’t provide you photos of them. 

The origin of the Nile

The origin of the Nile

headed OUT

Source of the Nile

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I'm ignoring you

I’m ignoring you

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Vegetarian Kebab Platter

Vegetarian Kebab Platter

Categories: Medicine, Travel Tags:

Starting with HIV

March 23rd, 2015 1 comment

As you might guess, HIV is a major issue in Uganda as it is in other sub-Saharan countries. The plan for the morning is a review lecture followed by ward rounds at the Joint Clinical Research Center in Kampala.

Established by the Ugandan Government, the Center works in collaboration with UCSF, Johns Hopkins, NIH, ITM (Antwerp & Hamburg). Much of the funding comes from PEPFAR & EDCTP.

 

forget your standard thoughts of US or Ger man hospitals.  There are two wards where we made rounds: one for the men, one for women. The windows are open with light and fresh air coming in. The nurses here know how to manage IV medications as there are no fancy electronic pumps.  The ward is squeaky clean.  Some family are present helping.  Opportunistic infections are the reason every is here. Malnutrition is a fact of life.

Currently (WHO statistics) – HIV disease accounts for 17% of the annual mortality over all and about 7% in those under the age of 5. Life expectancy at birth is 57 years. If you make it to age 60, you have on the average another 16 years ahead of you. The death rate/100,000 population from HIV/AIDS has dropped from 440 in 1990 to 169 in 2013. The accuracy of either statistic is in serious question. 85% of the population is rural. Death registration is no more accurate I suspect than birth registration and cause of death is going to be as much political as medical.

Our early afternoon has a lab and discussion of opportunistic infections. We drive to Mobria for a field trip on medical botany. Pictures will be forth coming, but the 2 hour hike through the forest was a blast. The plants are blurring in my mind, the red tail monkeys were a hoot and there was something called a blue ttracto ??? flying from tree to tree and expressing extreme displeasure at our presence

road construction delayed out arrival to Jinja till about 2000.  The rain kept most vehicles and people off our interesting back route alternative

 

 

Categories: Medicine, Travel Tags:

And on to the next adventure

March 22nd, 2015 No comments

22 March

Entebbe – Kampala – Jinja – Kampala – Mbarara – Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) – Fort Portal – Kampala – Entebbe

The Uganda Route

The Uganda Route

In this case, the Park is a short stop on the way of most mornings and afternoons being tied up with either Tropical Medicine lectures or patient rounds.

Genereal Background on Uganda

Statistics

Total population (2013) 37,579,000
Gross national income per capita (PPP international $, 2013) 1,370
Life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2012) 56/58
Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births, 0) not available
Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population, 2012) 389/360
Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2012) 108
Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2012) 8.0
Latest data available from the Global Health Observatory

The mean/median age is ~16 with 48% of the population under the age of 15 and 4% over the age of 60. Obviously, childhood mortality (average family size 5.6 children) is more of a concern than is Alzheimer’s. 15% of the population is urban and birth registration covers perhaps 30% of the children. About 1/2 of births are attended by a qualified attendant. The risk of dying from maternal related causes is 27% for women between 15-49. Makes one understand some of the historical reasons behind the tradition of multiple wives: in these African countries, men don’t raise the children.

Categories: Medicine, Travel Tags:

Schools

March 21st, 2015 No comments

Like most of the locations where I have been in Sub-Saharan Africa, education is important. There are government funded schools here in Kampala. There are also private schools. The general opinion of everyone is that private is better.

It certainly is more expensive with a wide range of variation from “looks just like a shack with dirt yard” to full, formal buildings of most modern style surrounded by high fences, electric security gates and armed guards at the entrance. Some of the schools seem to run on nationality lines, others on religious. All seem to have a mandatory school uniform.

I found a number of different references and listing for schools, some of which just don’t make any sense. Wiki of course has a summary article. Part of the reason for the extensive private system can be found in the fact that primary education wasn’t free [for up to four children/family] until 1997. The implications of that simple sentence are profound. Prior to then, literacy would have been a privilege reserved for those with educated parents/ability to pay school fees. And then there is the limit on how many children/family can be educated on the states schilling. Obviously not enforced, one can understand the stress on the system.

The driver I had for both that evening from the airport and yesterday has six children ranging in age from 6 – 17. All are in school. Those old enough to have taken and passed their PLE (Primary Leaving Exams have all done well and have their completion of primary school certificates. They all have gone to private, religious affiliated schools. Similar to Zambia and Zimbabwe, Catholicism has a strong hold on the Christian sector. Unlike the fundamental Protestant religions, there isn’t much interference with traditional practices, customs and large families are encouraged.

There is also a strong industry in colleges and Universities: I counted more than 30 just on my trip yesterday through part of the city.

I find the names of many of the schools interesting, but most don’t have websites or anyway I can ask. Railway Children? Is this for children whose parents work for the rail? But it seems that the rail, dating from colonial times hasn’t gone through to Kampala since the 1970s. This lives 8km between Kampala and Port Bell and the 190 km to the Kenyan border. Go figure.

Where was I? Oh yes, thinking about schools as a riot of children laugh, play, splash and scream outside in the pool. They have been at it all day. The occasional adult slowing them down when boys cannonballing into the pool soak a few adults lazing near by.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Mzungu

March 20th, 2015 No comments

It should not be surprising to know that there is a word which is amazingly similar across a number of African languages for “white person.” With a side order of arrogance and perhaps a helping of “rich” buried in the connotations. According to my good friend Wiki, the term originated from “wandering or spinning around” which did well to describe the first European adventures. Explorers as they so named themselves to avoid the connotations of pirate or privateer. Often lost, but always certain.

I am not sure that the distinction actually holds since the intention was not just to explore the continent but to claim territory “in the name of [fill in the blank]” with certainly an expectation of reward on the part of many and fame back home for the rest.

According Harari (Sapiens – a Short History of Human Kind] one might consider the Empire period of history the>’ natural result of the shift from “we have all the answers” (a la religion) to “there is a lot out there we don’t know.” This admission of ignorance leaves the world wide open for discovery. Think about it for a second, especially those of you who have ancestors who made that journey (voluntary or otherwise) to a new country away from all that was known in an age where the best you could hope for was a reply to your letter months after you wrote.

Today there are millions everyday on their way to safe and secure adventure courtesy of the tourist industry. There are others who embark on a new life from adventure, belief, or economic necessity. I am leaving out the ex-pats who move because of jobs since the location often is secondary to the employment.

I had the opportunity this afternoon to venture out again. The road traffic is just as insane during the day but it somehow doesn’t seem quite as frightening since you can actually see the idiots on motorbikes, as well as those on foot more than a meter off your bumper. There are police out trying to regulate the flow of traffic. Outside of the downtown area I actually saw a traffic light (ignored by everyone) and several pedestrian cross walks (ditto). Traffic circles abound and painted lane lines seem to be more of a suggestion rather than anything accepted by the drivers.

A colleague with whom I have corresponded has a clinic here in Kampala. Arriving here more than three decades ago from the UK with his wife as missionaries they spent years up country before relocating and establishing The Surgery. The staff is international (10+ countries) and the patient population on anyone day represents anywhere from 20-35+ countries. He has a dry wit, common sense and an understanding of human nature.

Example – (from the ISTM professional list) Q: Are there any serious long term consequences to taking Malarone?
A: Yes, it will seriously hurt your pocket book. Otherwise it is far less expensive that dying of malaria upcountry…..

Anyway, I had a fine and interesting time with meeting staff, taking a tour of the place and recovering from a stop at Barclay’s bank where you get to stand in line in order to stand in line.

Categories: Travel Tags:

The same city?

March 19th, 2015 No comments

Looking out on the green, the neat houses and well kept yards between my hotel and Lake Victoria it seems this morning like I have stepped into a different world. There are birds in the trees and flowers on the bushes. There is haze over the city which the lovely woman at reception this morning says is fog and will clear as the sun comes out.

I can sit on the terrace and look at the islands quite close to shore all dense green and hilly. From the map, most of the city is behind me, up the hill, around the corners but certainly not in line of sight at the moment.

Cassia Lodge is a locally owned and managed hotel. It is comfortable but not shiny. I have a fan, mosquito curtains and a terrace on which I can sit and work. just enough out of the sun as to not bake myself. I have socks drying for the moment in the sun. There are loungers with large shade umbrellas next to the pool. The staff is African, the guests by and large are not.

The most fun of the day was watching swimming lessons. The hotel has an agreement with the International (English Speaking) School that is within walking distance. Once to twice a week the pool fills with grade after grade of youngsters grinning as they cool off in the pool and at least make an effort to listen to instruction. There is more or less a uniform of blue or red shirt and sorts which is quickly shed to reveal a variety of swimming suits.

One guest who had been doing the classic British bake in a poolside lounger seemed to be a bit irritated but finally understood “part of the community…..” which I suspect would not happen with a chain hotel, less accommodating guests and concerns of liability.

Its time to pull the mosquito netting and dowse the lights.

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Don’t land in Uganda after dark

March 18th, 2015 No comments

It was a lovely flight on South African Airways. The food was quite good and I wound up sitting next to an interesting Canadian/South African business man. The sun was low on the horizon as we came in over Lake Victoria to land at Entebbe (population ~70k) where the International Airport is located. This is not 1976, I am not about to tell you a story of hijackers and daring rescue.

The view on approach is amazing with the water stretching out, irregularly shaped tree covered islands scattered out from the shore. It was still light as we trooped down the stairs, along the road and into the terminal. We lined up, handed in our health forms and had an electronic fever check prior to being sent to Passport Control. Once again, in spite of everyone saying it was best to get my visa ahead of time – I found my choices were $50 US or 40E on the spot. Hello? Current exchange rate? Love to pay in Euros thank you very much.

My luggage was already on the carousel (and I was 5th in line) which was probably due to the short distance and the fact that we were the only plane on deck. No working ATMS, so I headed outside to look for my transportation. No sign, no indication of my hotel. Checking my email, I find I have no phone number for the Lodge. This turns out not to matter because I don’t have cell service anyway.

Of course the local taxi service is more than willing to provide me a ride. Asking around, one of the other drivers from Kampala says he knows my driver and he is just running late. The traffic is heavy he reports. Just as I am about to give up, a man joins the crowd of drivers with my name on a sign. It is now full dark. We head to the parking lot. There is traffic, I am warned.

It is dark. The sky is overcast. Street lights are rare and only found along a few major streets downtown Kampala. Trust me, this is not a location where you want to rent a car, at least not to drive at night. I don’t worry about the partly pealing dark film on the windows or the crack in the windshield. The car otherwise looks in good shape without either dents or signs of bodywork. This is still right hand drive territory in case you were wondering.

Now imagine: we are traveling along a main road. Barely two lanes wide, it is not divided. Most, but not all vehicles are using their headlights. Shoulders don’t exist; instead one sees abrupt drop off at the edge to ditches. There are pedestrians everywhere. Walking along the road with the traffic. Crossing both lanes whenever they need, dodging cars, bikes, motorcycles and mopeds. Thinking that every single last person who lives here must be returning from work, school or shopping, I am concentrating on being zen. Tenseness is not going to help nor is worry about everyone wearing dark colors, carrying children, young men pushing and showing off for the young women.

Included in the flow are taxis. Legally able to carry up to 14, they stop whenever someone flags them. They stop whenever someone reaches their destination. They even sometimes signal their intentions. In the first half of our journey we must have passed at least one every 100 meters and probably more just on our side of the road. There is a steady stream of cars, trucks, taxis. There are mopeds with 1-3 riders weaving in and around the vehicles. The occasional car/2 wheeler comes down the wrong side to make a right turn easier. My driver comments that it helps to be used to this traffic. There are no traffic lights, no pedestrian crosswalks, no speed limits posted. Actual traffic lanes, passing areas and turn lanes are only concepts; functioning only because there is an agreed upon reality.

About 1/2 way into this journey we hear sirens and promptly pull over to the left. Everyone is pulling over and getting out of the way. I am surprised. Nothing about this trip gave any indication of orderliness. I am informed that it is the President traveling. How does he know? The lead vehicle. One heavy duty safari type vehicle with spinning lights, several other black official looking vehicles, a patrol car, more official looking cars, more vehicles with spinning lights then a cluster of five obviously heavy duty armored SUVs packed closely together and really moving along, chase vehicles with lights, another 1-2 of the safari type rack vehicles (which I realized after the fact had serious people and weapons profiles in the back. Everyone, but everyone got out of their way.

They don’t stop, my driver informed me. Not for anyone or anything. If you are in the way you can wind up dead, injured or in jail. They don’t stop. About another klick up the road we were sent off the main road by police; accident avoidance. The heavily pocked dirt street is lined withstreet stall shops, bars, homes and hovels. The proximity detector works excellently, in fact overtime as cars squeeze past each other on the single lane. Most of the adults along the way are wearing shoes; most of the children are not. It takes a dozen different back roads, twists, turns and bumps before we rejoin a paved road on the outskirts of Kampala (populations ~1.6M).

We finally wend our way through dark areas and up the hill over looking Lake Victoria. 90 minutes underway. Hundreds of mopeds, equal or more bicycles. Thousands of people along the road, in and out of shops, using the taxis, hanging out in front of the bars. About 40 km traveled per Google Maps which suggests 52 minutes without traffic. Which might be about 0300 in the morning. Stores are open till midnight; the bars don’t close.

I’ve driven in Rome, Lisbon and Paris after dark. All of them are civilized and easy-peasy. This is not Europe, nor was it the modern and shiny portion most tourists see if they come to Kampala on business.

Armored SUVs transporting VIPs and shoeless children walking along the sides of the road.

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Is this really Africa?

March 17th, 2015 2 comments

Tradition!

Even when I mentally say the word I have an image of Tevye immediately appear in my head. What now strikes me as impressive is the portrayal of someone in the middle of change actually recognizing the world as he knew it sliding away.

Traditions are so often entrenched in many societies that they are not even recognized by those immersed in that culture. They can form so much of the framework of daily life and activities that what is bizarre to outsiders can be experienced as completely normal for that time and place. And, as such, they are not questioned but assumed as as the natural order of the world especially by those who are the main beneficiaries of those traditions. Why would you question your way of life, policies, procedures, social pecking order when you are “king of the heap?”

Admittedly, my experience in [Sub-Saharan] Africa to this point are limited to time spent in semi-rural Kenya in 2000 and these last days of whirlwind through South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Reading, let us not forget reading and lectures by various Docs from this region that I have attended within the last 12 months. I acknowledge this is an extremely limited sample and experience. What is more; all of these countries are former British Colonies. A people well known for their love of social order, class structure and extensive litany of expected behaviors.

Add in that this area of Africa was fertile grounds for the Arab slave traders for hundreds of years aided and abetted by tribes routinely sold each other out; one might say in order to keep their own tribe free of those same traders. I am a bit less charitable. It was an extremely practical and effective way to dispose of enemies.

What triggered off this rant was not my tour group leader. Lloyd was knowledgable, frank and honest about tribal and family traditions in the countries we visited. A well educated man, I note that he may speak fondly of rural life but doesn’t live there. Nor did the desultory performance of the men working at the one camp with a woman manager irritate me enough to put fingers to keyboard. I even kept it together this morning at breakfast. I watched in amazement as this woman literally served her husband his breakfast making multiple trips to the buffet till he was satisfied before getting her own breakfast.

What torqued me off were the smiles and nods that one man received as he moved through the check-in area at Tombo International (Joberg, SA). Picture in your mind this woman in her 40s. The luggage cart she is pushing has four massive suitcases stacked neatly on it. She is straining to maneuver it through the crowded area. Where is he? Sitting on top of the luggage.

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

Victoria Falls Hotel

March 16th, 2015 No comments

Send your imagination back 120 years to when the British were relatively new comers to the Victoria Falls area. To the time of David Livingstone, to the time of tea, fancy dress and a refusal to acknowledge any other than the “English” way of doing things. To the time where the Brits were happily and self designated as the colonial power and benevolent determinator of rightness in the world.

Now, we come to the Victoria Falls Hotel which was built prior to 1900 as a genteel location for those traveling adventurers, well dressed women and other English who just couldn’t do without a proper morning bath and afternoon cup of tea. The hotel rapidly became known for its discerning clientele and very traditionally built and decorated structure. You might have heard the name before as the last wedding location for Taylor & Burton.

The hotel also allows us normal and average mortals to stop, explore and dine. There are newer (2012) wonderfully mounted botanical exhibits, amazing historical photographs (mostly of the Royal Family on various visits) and the almost complete collection of Pont Prints (Graham Ladler) on “The British Character.” The decor is extremely drawing room/men’s club and there are more than a few trophy heads mounted on the wall…

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Guess we have become a bit doggy

Guess we have become a bit doggy

We wandered around, checked out the gift shops which actually had high quality goods (duh), walked out and around the grounds and out to the observation point before taking lunch on the veranda. The soups were lovely and the salads both tasty and interesting. The special of the day offered grilled crocodile in lieu of chicken. Chewy, tasting slightly of fish but not offensive. The ostrich was offered only broiled as a main.

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We walked back through Elephant Walk (the shopping area) before going to the hotel.
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Our final evening was spent enjoying a dinner cruise on the Zambezi.

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

March 15th, 2015 2 comments

At various times in your life someone has mentioned “The Seven Wonders of the World.” What they may be thinking about is the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World which according to Wiki

Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the ancient wonders—remains relatively intact. The Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse of Alexandria and Mausoleum at Halicarnassuswere destroyed in earthquakes, and the Temple of Artemis and Statue of Zeus deliberately destroyed. The location and ultimate fate of the Hanging Gardens is unknown, with speculation that they may not have existed at all.”

Since the Gardens were at Ninevah I am not sure that I agree completely with the above. What you have to notice about the list is that it is extremely Euro-centric. My list would include include the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, The Taj Mahal, Ankor Watt ….

But today I will stop muttering around and just enjoy one of the truely impressive natural wonders: Victoria Falls. David Livingstone was the first European to see the falls in 1855.

Unlike most rivers with water falls, this is a long front fall that drops into a gorge due to the edge being where a tectonic plate fall occurred. The result is that the river at the bottom runs at 90* from the upper river. According to signage at the falls – over the eons the river has worked back with this being the seventh location of the f alls and the Devil’s Cascade area being predicted as the next location in a measly 10,000 years. It is a wide falls which can be viewed from multiple locations on the Zimbabwe, the Zambian side or the bridge across the downstream gorge which connects the countries.

The water has been steadily rising for the last week with the waters from Angola finally reaching this area.  It will get steadily higher for the next weeks as more of the flood waters head for the Indian Ocean. The roaring of the water can be heard from a serious distance. At infrequent times there is the accompaniment of screams from the bungee jumpers.  No, I can be brave but am not that stupid.

The sun was shining, the falls put an incredible amount of spray in the air. I think we were all soaked as we went from observation point to observation point along the trail. Yes, I had a rain jacket. It served to protect the camera. So lots of mist, water, and rainbows:

On to the photos which are mostly from the upper river -> Devils Cascade, Rainbow Falls, multiple other named falls as one works along the face (downstream really doesn’t work well as a descriptor in this case):

 

As seen from our plane coming in prior to Hwange Park

As seen from our plane coming in prior to Hwange Park


Quick glimpse from a bus

Quick glimpse from a bus


to orient you

to orient you

the river system

the river system

upper river

upper river

upper river

upper river

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The bridge over the lower river

The bridge over the lower river

Bungee station in the middle

Bungee station in the middle

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Hwange National Park

March 14th, 2015 4 comments

We started early today and spent the entire day traveling through the park. Besides those staying at some of the private/concession lodges there are other alternatives. The National Parks runs both a lodge and a camp ground plus there are several sites that are authorized for private camping. The appeal to me for staying in a car top (yes, up on top of the car/truck. Not on the ground, that would be kind of stupid in an area where there are elephants now wouldn’t it?) tent is about the same as camping on the ground at Denali among the grizzlies.  At the lunch stop location I met a couple from Vienna who came to Africa several times a year and traveled from Namibia where they kept an automobile. There were also a couple of young men in a well tricked out safari vehicle and heavily loaded with cameras. I got the impression that they were several months into a long, extensive and multiple country journey.

To find animals today we went from watering hole to artificial lake. The rains have been delayed and severely limited this year leaving much of the park suffering from extreme drought.  We saw a few of the usual suspects: there were elephants, impalas, water bucks, baboons, crocodiles (yes, the dude with his mouth open is very much alive), hippos and birds. I appreciated the owl, the long tail starlings, herons, ducks, geese and the various smaller birds, but nothing was  more impressive than the secretary bird striding along. I can just see “her” with a white shirt, black leggings, a steno pad under the wing and the black pin feathers resembling pencils floating out behind her head.

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Leopard Logs & Elephant Rocks

March 13th, 2015 No comments

13 March 2015 – Leopard Logs and Elephant Rocks

After driving for hours in a safari vehicle which could be (fill in the blank – Land Rover, Land Cruiser, Nissan…..) one’s imagination starts taking over. We really wanted to see a a leopard at some point. So every horizon dapple branch ~3 meters from the ground in a nice, well developed tree just must have a leopard on it. Never mind that after acknowledging that it isn’t true for the first fifty or so sightings, interest and gullibility never flags.

Once we arrived here in Zimbabwe, the terrain totally changed. The land is not flat. There are ridges, gullies and dry river beds. There is eroded flatish areas that could pass for desert in multiple areas of the world. Except for the elephants. Did I mention that there are some really big honking boulders out there? When the light is dimming and imagination runs wild, perhaps those are elephants?

BTW – there are plenty of elephants anyway.

Quiet Day at Camp

The country of Zimbabwe itself is poor. GCT does a good job with its foundations of contributing back to the communities which it involves in the tourist trade. The Catholic Church (through its European charities) built an elementary school but didn’t equip it. As a result, the new school has been picked up as one of the location visited. So now we are back to the schedule change – school is not open on Saturday so the schedule of safari followed by town visit has been swapped for the reverse.

Our schedule was a bit rearranged from the original plan (see above). On all the OAT trips there seems to be a “visit the local population and learn activity.” It is the reason many pick the particular trips and journeys. For others it is the highlight of their exploration. I picked this particular trip to Africa in spite of this particular activity.  Which means, as you probably already guessed – I am having a quiet day in camp listening to a great variety of bird species and not traveling 40 minutes through the camp in a safari vehicle followed by another interminable bus ride.

I could give you the excuse of waking up with a migraine (said reason probably what George offered to anyone who asked) but I think that most in the group probably figured out that I never planned on joining the group. I don’t do well in such situations and have been in a number of them involuntarily over the years. Where I am and what I do is one of the things I decided that I am entitled to decide for myself. I have given up guilt and meeting other’s expectations of what I “should” do. This is not a particular rationalization but rather some part of an explanation of why you aren’t getting insight into the daily life in a Zimbabwe village.

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Kafue National Park to Hwange, Zimbabwe

March 12th, 2015 No comments

12 March 2015

We left Zambia this morning by plane. The river and green falling behind as we flew back to Victoria Falls.  From the air you can see the change when leaving the National Park system to that which is agricultural. Scattered houses and farm building complexes are surmounted by fields. Green houses were prominent in a number of areas with large scale solar grids reflecting back the sun.  Landing again in Victoria Falls, we made a detour via the Cresta SprayView Hotel where we will be staying on our return. The hotel was holding suitcases for several people and has WiFi.

Which obvious explains why I attempted to upload several days worth of photo teasers.

From there it was the paired border crossings and a long drive. In Zimbabwe you can see where some of the large farms used to be. The fence posts enclosing several of the larger fields and ranges are still present but rarely are there more than two connecting wires keeping them upright, mostly it is standing gates providing stability and the outline of what used to be. Out buildings have started to crumble but the main house which is often now in the possession of a senior government official still is bright and maintained.

Our bus brought us to the edge of Hwange National Park after passing multiple police check points (spot fines help keep the government afloat) and the coal mining areas. We saw rail lines for the first time. The crossings are open and are managed by the “stop, look and dash across” method. School children were walking along the main road, many having 6 km each way to school from their local villages.

From the edge of the park it was transfer to safari vehicles (Nissan this time) to bump along rutted and dry “roads” for 40 minutes to reach Kashawe East Camp. It is called a tented camp; the individual cabins might have tents as part of their infrastructure but the floors, furnishings and sanitary facilities are certainly well beyond a basic tent. Our deck looked out over the valley below.

After dropping off our gear we headed out to see who and what was about in the park. The answer? Giraffes, Elephants, Zebras, Birds (lots of weaver types with trees full of nests) and the Scrub Hare. 

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Kafue National Park (Day 2)

March 11th, 2015 No comments

11 March 2015 – On the River

Do you remember Rudyard Kipling’s “Just so Stories.” This is not the Limpopo River but it certainly is muddy and home to significant numbers of both hippos and crocodiles. This morning we headed out split into two aluminum flat-bottomed boats with a canopy overhead and an outboard motor for power.

One of the group is married to an avid birder who really doesn’t like to travel. She knows a lot about birds plus is gleefully making a list (and taking photos) to share with her husband upon returning home. I am not sure but think part of the intent is to show him what he missed…. Anyway, she is almost as good as the guide about spotting the winged creatures and excellent with instructions for the rest of us who don’t have anywhere near either the eyesight or ability to recognize bird species. Her list for the trip went over 100 by the end of the morning.

This morning’s photos are mostly birds…

This afternoon, besides being entertained by hippos we saw more birds, listened to monkeys yell and watched the sunset from the Kufue River. After dinner it was entertain the tourists night. I am afraid I had more than enough of group togetherness. I can hear perfectly well from my cabin safe inside my mosquito netting which gives me the pleasure of listening without having to participate or swat insects.

Aside – I have never been a fan of enforced group fun and I don’t enjoy “local performances.” Obviously, participating is part of the job description for these kind of camps. So I suppose that if you don’t enjoy it, you find other employment. Zambian singing and dancing seems to involve drums. Lots of drums which don’t always have anything to do with either the basic rhythm or the music. Ot maybe it is a guest getting a chance to participate. I don’t know and I have earplugs.

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Kafue National Park (Day 1)

March 10th, 2015 No comments

10 March 2015 – At Kafue National Park – Zambia

We are no longer at the Ritz; not even midrange camp actually. One couple who made this same round three years ago said that they stated at River Camp (next door) rather than here at Lufuto. The staff is fabulous, the maintenance much less so. It is simple, but electricity is a large issue. Most everything works off solar. I don’t have an issue with that, but I do when it comes to not being able to recharge camera batteries. Safaris are now photo safaris; most of us bring along both coms (cell phones) and computer so that we can download and back up photos which are literally the once in a life time. When you have problems with 14 people trying to charge everything off of two power strips hanging off one which is hanging off a generator which only runs 1100-1900 there are going to be issue. Everything thing is worn and duct taped.

Let me say a quick bit about the rest of the travelers: there is a couple celebrating their 61st anniversary, daughter of the couple who is celebrating (?) turing 50, a decades long friend of the couple and a good friend of the daughter’s (5 all together); there is one gentleman traveling solo; George and I; a couple who is celebrating #50 (children when they ran off to get married) and their two adult sons + daughters-in-law (6 all told). Age range of the group is running from the “baby” who is below 50 to the four oldest in their 80s. Everyone is active, mobile and having a great time. There is no one in the group occupied with taking selfies…..

As I think I mentioned – the camp is located on the river where you can see beautiful reflections first thing in the morning before the wind comes up.

Today was wild animal drive day. I have problem using the term “game driver.” I find it laden with connotations from the colonial era that involved mostly men in safari clothing and hats with large guns looking for lions and elephants. Not the local tribesmen looking to feed themselves. Today hunting is not in the equation; we are out with cameras looking for photos.

Our guides reported that lions had taken down (=killed) a hippo a few days ago so that was stop one on our trip. Not for the “kill” per se but to see if the lions were still hanging out. Yes, three of them with one male relaxing by himself and two relaxing in the sun on the other side of a small grove of bushes.

Then there are the crowned cranes, candelabra tree, more varieties of antelope (impalas, pukus, butterflies, and dozens of variety of birds. Oh, yes, monkeys, rainstorms hippos and crocodiles.

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On to Kafue, Zambia

March 9th, 2015 No comments

9 March 2015 – This time I did take a boat

There was a time, back when I was Wurzburg/67th commander that I traveled downrange with my SGM. We were due back on a winter’s eve in the Feb/March time frame which puts the year at 1999 after our deployment. The challenge was getting home. The reason I know it was after rather than before TFME is that I specifically remember writing “But I didn’t take a boat.” to the list. That trip involved a HUMMV, helicopter, C-12, van, bus, Sbahn, train and car. But no boat.

This time, our journey from one camp to the next includes a boat across the Zambezi River. The Trip:
Land Rover to the airfield
Cesna to Kasane (small four passenger)
Bus to the River
Boat across the River
Bus to customs and airport
Flight to Kafue National Forest (Cesna Caravan)
Toyota Rover from airfield to Lufupa Camp.

Since I had elected not to ride out this morning early to see which scavengers were enjoying the giraffe caracas, I actually had a few extra minutes of sleep/packing/shower time. We processed out of Botswana customs just short of the Zambezi River. The ferry across takes one 18 wheeler at a time. There are two ferrys, one with each flag. We crossed in a small passenger vessel in two contingents and then boarded a bus. On the Zambian side we were accosted for the first time on the trip by rather aggressive souvenir sellers. Copper bracelets, wooded bowls and hand carved animals were the main items on offer. By the time one of the guys pulled out the batiked fabrics, we were ready to roll so I was completely spared from buying scenes of elephants traveling across the savanna.

(Note, so far I have resisted necklaces, bracelets, all sorts of hand woven plates and baskets, wooden bowls, beads and animals. I think I can hold out completely. After spending so much time last summer clearing out years of accumulated stuff I am loath to start adding etwas neue.)

This camp is tentage (hard floors, internal reed dividing walls, a excellent working fan, solar powered water. Shower, flush toilet, beds, mosquito netting. What more could I want? How about an outlet? Recharging of everything is at the main meeting area. There are nine cabins in the camp which is in Lufue National Preserve on the banks of the river. There is plenty of water which also means plenty of bugs. This is an area traditionally known for tsetse flies. Thrilled. Not. The up side is that we will do some wild animal drives from the river.

We went out for a late drive: vultures, lions and a civet were the high points (more about the lions and why they were hanging around tomorrow). The civet is not referred to any more as a civet cat since it has been reclassified to the mongoose family. Frankly it looks like a close cousin to a raccoon to me (colors, muzzle and dark patches around the eyes).

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Okavango Delta – Hunting the wily leopard

March 8th, 2015 3 comments

There has been leopard sighting in the area. In fact, a number of species were complaining loudly and bitterly last night about feline predators. This morning there were tracks overlying those of the guides from last night who went out tracking. So after waking at 0530, having breakfast at 0600 we clambered into our land rovers to track leopards.

Guess what? No leopards.

We saw a terrapin, bones from old kills, more birds. Zebras -  did I mention how cool the zebras are? They are not simply black and white but include shades of grey to golden brown to sienna in both stripes and their coats. Many manes are gleaming with red highlights and backs are dusted with color.

More birds – lots and lots of birds along with Kudus, Impala, Steenbok, Bush Buck, Tsetsebe, and more zebras. More than the occasional elephant and a journey of giraffes. Since this is the start of fall – most of the young are six months + with only the rare obvious really youngling.

We didn’t stop at the hippos today which didn’t stop me from trying to capture their rather large mouths and teeth from a distance. The same with the vultures. No need to get up close and personal. This evening we saw a lot hanging around. No 19 vulture tree but a significant number of trees with small groupings all facing the same direction. That direction as it turned out represented a dead adult giraffe. Not a mark on the beast; intact skin would indicate cause of death not attributable to a large predator. The flies had certainly found him and the stench was incredible.

We are assuming that it shouldn’t take too long to attract the hyenas and wild dogs who will have a feast. Not being a large cat kill – they won’t be interested or looking for a share.

The evening ended with a barbecue under the starts. I am sitting in one of the vehicles quietly typing. Truth is that I have had more than enough of people for the moment and had planned on skipping dinner in favor of a few hours of peace and quiet. I don’t normally do this much togetherness without being able to get away by myself for hours here, half a day there. There was an announcement at noon: I missed it.

Now to see what is on tonights menu.

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Exploring Moremi area, Okavango Delta

March 7th, 2015 4 comments

7 March 2015 – Camp Sebu – Okavango Delta

We are not taking a dugout canoe ride. This is the end of the dry time here. The Delta receives its water both from local rains but more importantly as the drainage area from the Angolan Mountains. As a result, rains from Nov on in the mountains work their way down to the Delta and it starts to fill up again with water in April. The Delta doesn’t border on an ocean, the water gradually seeps into the Kalahari Desert. We have been reminded more than once that this is the largest in land Delta in the world. Thinking about it, I am not sure exactly how common inland deltas really are.

Anyway. We can drive just about everywhere and will drive out several times today to see what we can see.

I have included a lot of birds because I know there are some of you who really enjoy birding. For the rest, let me just say that there are more birds than impalas which is saying a lot.

There have been several wildfires related to lightening strikes in the last year. As a result, there are burned trees and areas with ash. There is currently a brush fire on going just far enough away to avoid presenting a danger to us, but close enough that we can see the smoke and taste it in the air.

As much as everyone else is all excited about elephants, I am cautious about preferring one species over another especially when environmental policy is involved. Plus, really, look at those hippos – don’t they look so comfortable?

It does make for incredible sunsets.019A3330 019A3335 019A3336 019A3354

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Okavango Delta via Kasane

March 6th, 2015 No comments

6 March 2015 – Chobe to Okavango Delta • Moremi area

It was early out on our way to the airport in Kasane. The road travels through the park which might just explain why we made a stop for the two young lions hanging out in the road.

There was wifi at Kasane which was why I was able to post and get out an email in the 10 minutes we were in the airport. The new area has no communications other than radio. Camp Seba, at 45 minutes from the nearest town or village is outside of tower and repeater range. On the other hand – hello! We were diverted to this camp (the original camp is undergoing renovations) which turns out to be Five Star and well earned. The accommodations are lovely, the people incredible and there is no way I need this much delicious food on offer four times a day not counting tea breaks.  For the rest of the group – alcohol included is a serious side benefit.

After settling in, we resumed our explorations.

Of note – Range Rovers. Purpose built vehicle. Can’t beat it for ability to get around in extremely rough territory. Other than Jeeps – can’t think of another vehicle that could manage. Spotting the elusive 7-8 headed range rover became a running joke.

Camp Sebu belongs to Wilderness Tours – the contact operator for our safari. Here in the Okavango Delta there are both public parks and a number of leased concessions.  The rules on concessions are a bit looser than national parks: here the guides are allowed to go off road when following certain wild animals. Lions and leopards for example.

From here – you get photos….. lots of photos. I have done some cropping and shrinking – no editing in terms of color changes or airbrushing. And, in case you are wondering – that hyena is chewing on a water buffalo caracas that has aged about two months.

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Chobe National Park (2nd day)

March 5th, 2015 3 comments

First – College Guy turns 24 today. I’m never sure if he wants well wishes from the rest of the world but I am more than happy to pass them on. Right now he is the only one in California since his sisters are in Chicago, N Y C and Barcelona. We are obviously in Botswana

Today’s adventure started out the gate at 0630 and ran till 1500+ followed by diner and entertainment tonight under the stars.

This morning seemed to be mostly birds till we headed toward the river. Crocodiles were sunning themselves and a lone hippo lay ½ buried in tall marsh grass next to the water.

Then there was the slight matter of impalas everywhere. Today we saw herds of females as well as the herds of young males. Zebras move like their equine cousins and rather briskly at that. I missed the snake sighting but had to laugh at the banded mongoose.

We saw both monkeys and baboons. The monkeys, as it turns out are faster at snatching food from picnic tables than humans are defending their daily bread.

The lion was looking majestic. She was looking like cat in the sun. The giraffes continue to amaze me but perhaps the most impressive sight were the herds of elephants (40+ in one and over 20 in the other ) heading for a long afternoon drink.

The first herd

The first herd

The end of the rainy season is approaching so mating season for some species is under way. Let’s just leave it with more variety of species male dangles than I really needed to see and the permanent vision burned in my brain of male lions being faster than a teenage boy.

 

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Chobe National Park (1st day)

March 4th, 2015 No comments

Did I mention we are staying at Baobab Camp? Booked through OAT, the actual operating organization is wilderness ( based in South Africa, traded on the London stock exchange and with a German major stockholder. Go figure.

Anyway, Both the camp & Chobe are located on the Botswana/Namibia border. Breakfast was early and we were loaded and ready to safari by 0630.

What we saw: Impala, elephants, giraffe, kudu, water bucks. Oh, and lions.

Then there were the birds: fisher eagle, plover, doves, ibis, cranes, rollers, Guinea hens, datil, jicama, kestrel, talway eagle, euro fuller, ama falcon, heron, hornbills.

I have pictures but no bandwidth at present to upload them so sorry to make you wait.

The guides are great, food excellent and my mosquito repellent is working!

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Transiting Victoria Falls

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

Part 1 – Don’t do the following: toss your sunblock in your suitcase. Bring it with, of course double wrapped in plastic when not using a hard sided suitcase. If you just happen to be using a new bag provided by your travel service you might just find out that the dye used on the interior liner is blue and soluble in sunscreen. That color did absolutely nothing for his white shirts or new tan trousers.

Then there was the panic to catch the bus to the airport. Turned out that 0830 was depart time, not arrival time of the tour coordinators. In spite of all of this, made the airport and the flight easy-peasy

Our flight was fine. And then we arrived in Zambia where immigration was slow (but still better than IAD). In the bus with a short stop at the hotel in Victoria Falls to drop off excess luggage.

Photos obviously to follow. But we are staying in a tent camp in Botswana tonight. Some electricity….. I’ll just vote for mosquito netting.

P.S.
We have power 24/7. What I don’t have is a round three triangle large pin plug. Mosquito netting. Check
But elephants, giraffes, antelope, boar, baboons on the way

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Johannesburg, South Africa

March 2nd, 2015 No comments

It is an overnight flight from Frankfurt. Probably the only thing that helped me survive is that I don’t have to deal with another 9 hours of time zone changes (that and using miles to upgrade …..). And no children within hearing.

We landed to sunshine pretty much on time at JNB=Tambo International Airport. Immigration was a breeze and our luggage was easy to spot on the carousel. Not seeing either our names or a rep from the travel company we caught the hotel’s shuttle. Even though it was well before noon, they cleaned our room early.

And this is when it got interesting. At least from an observational point of view. The front desk had a box of reservations for the tour company and it appeared that we were the first to check in. Since it appeared to be nap time, who cared? We had made our own flight arrangements (frequent flyer miles all the way) rather than get routed through Heathrow on British Airways.

Mid-afternoon we made the acquaintance of Carol from Santa Cruz; booked on pre-tour to Kruger. Her BA flight out of London had been delayed/cancelled last night. The re routing onto South African Airways had worked for her but not her luggage. About every 30-45 minutes we checked to see if anyone else had shown. The answer was always no. About 1830 the light finally went on in my head.

Free Wifi. Why didn’t I look at the airport arrivals? Huh. All flights from Europe land before noon, most before 0900. And there on the 0600-0900 list was BA 55. Wasn’t that her original flight? Yes. Do you know it is landing at 2200 tonight rather than 0715? (Brain flash. That must have been the London flight listed in baggage claim as delayed till 2145. )

We didn’t see any point in staying up to see if we were right but it certainly is logical. Seven others from Carol’s pre-tour extension and 10 from ours. All missing and presumed delayed at Heathrow. Arriving here -GMT+2 – about 24 hours after their original scheduled London departure. They are going to be really exhausted.

But I have high hopes for Carol’s duffle being on that flight.

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Going on Safari

March 1st, 2015 12 comments

Here is what is planned:

Day 1 – Mar 1, 2015 Departing Germany – LH 572
Day 2 – Mar 2, 2015 Arrive Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 3 – Mar 3, 2015 Fly from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls •
Transfer to Chobe National Park
Day 4 – Mar 4, 2015 Wildlife viewing at Chobe National Park
Day 5 – Mar 5, 2015 Explore Chobe National Park
Day 6 – Mar 6, 2015 Fly to Okavango Delta via Kasane
Day 7 – Mar 7, 2015 Explore Okavango Delta • Moremi area
Day 8 – Mar 8, 2015 Explore Okavango Delta
Day 9 – Mar 9, 2015 Fly to Kasane • Transfer to Kafue, Zambia
Day 10 – Mar 10, 2015 Explore Kafue National Park
Day 11 – Mar 11, 2015 Explore Kafue National Park
Day 12 – Mar 12, 2015 Kafue National Park • Transfer to Hwange, Zimbabwe
Day 13 – Mar 13, 2015 Wildlife-viewing in Hwange National
Park
Day 14 – Mar 14, 2015 A Day in the Life of a Hwange Community
Day 15 – Mar 15, 2015 Transfer to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Day 16 – Mar 16, 2015 Explore Victoria Falls
Day 17 – Mar 17, 2015 Fly to Johannesburg.

(please ignore the detour to Cape Town – not on our pre or post tour plans)

the route

the route

from here we split forces. George has to return to Switzerland, Germany and the US. I am going on to Uganda till 4 April.

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Flying East

February 23rd, 2015 1 comment

Flying East, it doesn’t take long to pass into darkness even when take off is as early as 1500 in the afternoon. I’m on Lufthansa in seat 11B. The plane is an A380 which means upstairs.

The food is excellent and elegantly served.

My iPad and phone start with a complete charge. Turning down the opportunity to pay thieves rates for WiFi I elect an audiobook instead. Noting that it is now 0332 in the morning (Frankfurt time) I should consider sleep. It is about that time that a parent from down stairs is insisting that the cabin attendants open the emergency kit for some medication. It turns out to be a teething child. Unhappy and a disruption to the surrounding passengers but hardly an emergency.

This parent was not a teenager: in fact I was having an interesting time deciding if she was the mom or grandmother (having been an older mom, I am sure that more than one person mentally asked themselves this question). This completely begs the question of why you would travel unprepared. It isn’t that hard to bring liquid pain reliever, teething meds or comfort chews for that age. The cabin attendants obviously have seen worse: one bottle for a 12 hours, no diapers, extra change of clothing. All of us had flown when our children were young. We all traveled with at least 24 hours of supplies. Heading to locations with bad weather? More. We had to settle for apple quarters as something to gum. I headed back to me seat hoping she had enough sense not to let him choke if he managed to bite off a small chunk.

Seeing clouds followed by snow and sleet on landing did not exactly thrill me. I traded sunshine and lovely weather for this? Perhaps George has a point about winter weather in the East Bay. Not that I am going to admit it in public.

To top off my travels, my first bag which was primarily luggage coming back to Germany arrived promptly off the belt. My second did not arrive. Baggage tracking informed us (the lonely three passengers left) that the band had hit a snag and they were fixing it. Wait, our bags would arrive.

Right.

Meanwhile, George had driven to the airport and is waiting for me. My phone is dead and there are no visible outlets for charging anywhere. I am offered the desk phone.

But his number is in my phone…..

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Heading home

February 22nd, 2015 No comments

hanging out in the United Lounge. This one in particular rates low. The only worse United lounge so far in my experience is Chicago as far as crowded and offering almost nothing for decent food and beverage. I drank the coffee and attempted to eat a banana.

Guess that the expectations for United customer service are low. In contrast, the Hertz rental in Berkeley is outstanding. They are willing to take cars early, late and give me a ride to the BART. Or pick one up if traveling to pick up a car.

The Lufthansa counter was quick and baggage drop off was a breeze. Packing was a bit more complicated (not made easier by having to evict Shana’s cat from the bags multiple times. Some how I didn’t think he would really enjoy such a ride.

I don’t land till almost noon tomorrow – 9 hours to be whacked again.

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