A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about animals

Bonus lakes

Now we weren’t going to be hiking for 6 days we had some time to spare at a very relaxed pace. We had only bracketed the crater lake region on our map as a “maybe see” but we\re glad we made it because it’s a very pretty place indeed. The whole region was formed by a cluster of 20 or so volcanoes which now make for good mountain biking around, and swimming in, the resulting lakes.

When we got to the campsite we found that there was a lakeside cottage in the trees down by one of the lakes for not much more than a dorm bed so we thought why not. It was all a very basic hut with no electricity, a bucket bath next door and the toilet at the top of a hill. We’re used to basic however and the location was idyllic. And we were more than rewarded the next morning by a troop of vervet monkeys scampering and tumbling about the trees and ground right outside our window. We started at the window, then stepped out the door, edged closer and closer and in the end the monkeys were happier about us being close than we were :) When we were outside amongst them two jumped through the window of our room and one left a little puddle on the windowsill…cheeky monkey!

That morning I saw something I’d never seen before: Dave was down swimming in the lake and came back and pointed out the halo of rainbow around the sun, it was kind of oily looking as well. It stayed there for half an hour or so. Dave, the cloudwatcher, reckons it must have been because there were loads of ice crystals up there. Beautiful it was. Didn’t get a picture though, don’t think it would have come out anyway.

We hired some bikes and did a whistlestop tour of the lakes, followed at every turn by a crowd of children shouting “where are you going?” which is a new one. We ditched the bikes at one point to climb through some fields and up to peer in one of the craters which didn’t have a lake in it (extremely deep, steep sided hole), but the best part was that the sun was setting and through the grass, with the sky made orange by the dust, we snapped some arty pictures.

We’d been up and down dome big hills for a long time now so we were pretty tired, too tired to pedal up the steep hills on the way back so we ended up getting back after dark, with no lights. We really should remember to take head torches out with us :) We stopped for a refresher soft drink outside a shop playing some local tunes and played a sit down dance version of follow-my-leader with some very easily amused kids. We were a bit reluctant to push on really but they had used up all of our moves. Of course cycling in the dark on dirt roads, even by a bright moon, isn’t a brilliant idea so I took a tip sideways at one point. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or if its just bad luck on dusty roads but if anyone has any words of advice…

We were thinking of seeing if we could make an appointment to see the King of the region of the Bonyoro people but after finding out it was a seven hour trip by minibus – not so much fun if you’re 6ft4 - we wouldn’t have time to break up the journey and still be in Kampala for some Christmas shopping. So we went to visit some wetlands instead. A strange project really; although the swamp is quite unique, from what the guide was saying the nature conservation undertaken was purely to bring money into the community. So the locals planted fig trees round the swamp to attract monkeys from the surrounding national parks and then set up nature walks. He couldn’t really answer many questions about the swamp itself which was a shame. But still it was a pleasant afternoon.

We were out in the sticks a bit and the minibuses stop early at Christmas so we were standing on the side of the road, hoping for an unlikely shared taxi, contemplating the bone shuddering, hair raising, 45 minute motorcycle taxi ride back on dusty roads when a 4 by 4 stopped and offered us a lift back, for free. Woo-hoo! Saved! I’m not a fan of the motorcycle taxis I have to say. It’s not ever the drivers, they’re all pretty skilled especially out here in the countryside where they know the roads well, it’s just the roads are bad.

Patrick, our savior from the motorcycles, was an agronomist working with the tobacco industry, so he drives out to the small scale farmers to help them improve yield and quality so the industry can get a better product and the farmers get a better price. He took a bit of a shine to us and after we’d got into Fort Portal he drove us around to see the place which is quite well-to-do. He ushered us into his favourite posh hotel bar for some drinks and bumped into a mate of his. Then he showed us all round the hotel pool and the gym and the grounds before driving us all out to another hostel he used to stay in to meet the nice American lady who runs the place (she seemed as bemused as we were). Then the four of us got some dinner and more drinks, and then finally went to a bar over the road from our hotel. Dave and I had to call it a night in the end and left Patrick at the bar. Phew!

We had a bus to Kampala the next afternoon so we took a lazy breakfast and were lucky enough to bump into a sweet German lady and her guide who had tried to help us out the day before when we needed a lift back from the wetlands. She’d been worried about us and we had a long chat about her lone travels round the world before had to leave to grab some provisions for the journey. Dave fancied some guacamole so we bought one of the avocados that are almost as big as your head you get out here, some onions and tomatoes and Dave whiled away the delay by chopping and mashing in the bus. Very tasty it was too. One great thing about Africa is that noone bats an eyelid if you do something like that; it’s going to be quite hard to readjust when we get back.

Posted by rachndave 23:46 Archived in Uganda Tagged lakes animals Comments (0)

Up a tree and down a river

Rachel - Queen Elizabeth National Park

Today was a day of ups and downs. We’d wanted to hire a driver to take us from Bwindi, 60km to Queen Elizabeth National Park, via the area of the park where the tree climbing lions are for an hour or so.

Down = worried about my rash in the hospital waiting area
Up = turns out nothing to worry about
Down = battle with a cab driver who was late, was trying to overcharge us because there aren’t many drivers in this part of town, and then his car broke down
Up = managed to find a new cab driver who was being a little bit more reasonable and promised us it wasn’t too late to drive round the national park
Down = we get to the gate and the driver tells us actually the lions probably have come down from the trees by now so we shouldn’t bother going and by the way he wasn’t going to deduct the price of the game drive from our agreed price, and he also wanted to push on so he could get out of the park by dark
Up = the man on the gate said we could go into the park, for free, for half an hour or so and chance our luck
Up = we were lucky! We saw a real life, male lion - Up. A. Tree! It’s the strangest thing and slightly surreal. It made me think the lion had been picked up by a giant bird and dropped there. The park is really beautiful as well, sunny, green grassy savanna land and the first I’d seen properly in Africa. I loved it and wished we could have spent longer there – it was magical in that evening light.
Down = we arrived at our hotel/campsite, as recommended by the guidebook, to find that they haven’t had a campsite area for two years
Up = The manager kindly let us put up our tent in the very posh hotel grounds.
Up = We had a nice chat with a German family who were also planning to visit the chimps the next day.
Up = Woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the park, the hotel being perched on the edge of an overlooking escarpment we had views of the savanna for miles. I could imagine that doing a balloon ride over the parks would be like this.
Down = The guide for the chimp tracking would not go without a taxi to take them to the edge so we had to call a cab and delay
Up = The walk in the forest was very pretty, with a hairy river crossing over a tree trunk where I didn’t fall in! But…
Down = We didn’t see the chimps because tracking evidence showed that they’d left the national park boundary and there’s no refund of your $50 :( We did manage to bump into the german group to warn them but they were going to give it a try anyway.

From then on though it was all “Up”s. We were camping for the night within the park and planned to go on a river trip. While we were waiting for the trip to begin we stopped in a local pub which had it’s own pub warthog sleeping on the porch, and a humongous stork swooped in for a potter about as well, while we sat in the garden and watched the crocodiles in the river far below.

The river trip was very relaxing, as river trips always are, and we saw some buffalo, monitor lizards, elephants, crocodiles, hippos (including some squeal inducing baby hippos), pelicans and lots and lots of different birds - some of them really pretty which we’d have missed if we didn’t have the guide on board. I think we might be evolving into birdwatchers due to an enthusiastic guide. The guides also managed to pick out a lion lurking under a bush which we could just about make out with binoculars, so heaven knows how they spotted it.

We fortunately had an uneventful night in the campsite, uneventful in the sense that we heard lions calling in the night and there were reports of them in the campsite in the night. Thank heavens we didn’t need the toilet! When we woke up there were dozens of warthogs snuffling in the grass outside our tent and some antelope things. We love warthogs. Particularly how they run – they trot in a way that makes me think that they’ve just called out in a camp voice – “I’m coming!”

Our final “up” is that we managed to hitch out of the park with an overland truck from the campsite which saved us lots of bother and cash. I’ve not been in a touring overland truck before. They have quite an impressive set up with all the cooking equipment and tents and comfy seats. But their schedule sounds relentless. Nice group though and we had a nice hour together in the bus…and they even gave us some pancakes and a cup of tea for breakfast. Good to finish on an “up”.

Posted by rachndave 23:26 Tagged animals boats transportation Comments (0)

Gently gently catchy Jumbo


From the bottom of the sea-like Lake Malawi flows the Shire river which in turn drains into the Zambezi (which even I’ve heard of). And this slow moving sleepy river Shire and the transport-hub town of Liwonde would be our next stop. The river flows through a national park which is renowned for its birds and wildlife and the river makes it rather unique as a wildlife park. Neither of us were particularly interested in a game drive but the chance to pootle up the river in a boat sounded like a nice alternative to see riverside wildlife.

So we arrived, left Jeroen to recover from his tummy upset, borrowed Anna’s laptop for a rare film and room service treat in our elevated turret room overlooking the river listening to the sound of hippos in the river.

Next day we hopped on the back of a cycle taxi to the riverside and had a very lazy river trip past all sorts of birds (my favourite being the “intermediate egret” for the name alone) and yawning hippo pods. The highlight of the trip though was an elephant who had come down to the reed beds to drink. He was none to happy to have us so close judging by the apparent charge-warning of his flapping ears and swaying head but soon we left him alone to watch him and his mate disappear under the water bar their trunks sticking out like periscopes and walk along the bottom to the other side and privacy.

We had offered to cook something healthy like a veg stir fry for Anna and Jeroen using their Landrover stove so we checked out the local covered market but nearly all the stalls in the market were offering the same things – tomatoes, onions, cabbage, dried fish and sometimes some dried beans. We did manage to track down some garlic and a man whispered to us that he could get us a green pepper, literally sold to us under the table out of a hidden bag, which we jumped at. We headed home with what we could get and it turned out they had a store of green curry paste and even some coconut milk they’d stocked up with in Zambia I think. Saved!
As I’m writing this of course we’ve been here for a month so I can say that the markets are often the same. No matter what their size they will still stock only the same things. In the larger markets you can get some bread, mangos and condiments as well but as far as main ingredients go…that’s pretty much it, anything extra is worthy of investigation and comment. Fortunately the tomatoes and onions here are some of the best I’ve tasted. But I tell you, I could murder some cheese.

But I quite liked Liwonde, it had character and we’re easing our way into how the towns work. We left Anna and Jeroen at this point as they head back towards Mozambique and we headed south to climb mount Mulanje…festival hangover safely behind us.

Posted by rachndave 02:24 Archived in Malawi Tagged animals markets Comments (0)

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