Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The family visit....

My Mom, Aunt Lana, and friend Jean came to visit at the end of January for about 10 days. We had a fun time hanging out around Kibale and visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park. We based ourselves out of the Kibale area, which gave us lots of time for both animals and cultural activities. The ladies adapted well to the rustic conditions and even opted to stay at the low-end places when we traveled. I think they quickly realized the benefits of not staying at the fancy tourist lodges when they woke to hippos grazing outside their banda (grass roofed hut). That sort of seclusion doesn’t happen when you are surrounded by lots of tourists. We did have our fancy evenings, too. We visited Ndali Lodge and enjoyed a meal that cost approximately as much as a month’s rent for me and Jeff. We had an equally expensive dinner while at Queen Elizabeth by splurging on the fancy lodge for one meal. Those three ladies insisted on paying for everything, so we got a nice free vacation and even a break from our usual weekly costs of paying for food, the cook, transport to town, etc. It was a pretty sweet deal. They decided to hang around our house a little more instead of hitting some of the further away National Parks. While this meant they did miss out on giraffes, gorillas, and zebras, it also meant that they got to have some quality time with the local people here. We had all the field assistants and workers over for a traditional Ugandan dinner and we all got to share stories with one another. Another night, we went to a former field assistants house for dinner with his family. We got a tour of the gardens and his home and met so many of his family members. My family had brought gifts that were the hit of the party, for sure. The kids were loving the sweets, the ladies were loving their fancy scarves and earrings, and Richard was so proud of his new school supplies. It was a lot of fun! We also did a trip to one of the primary schools that Jeff works with. I took the ladies on some long, hard walks around the forest and they got to see a variety of monkeys and primates. The red colobus decided to put on a show for us one day by playing all around the house. They were doing good PR for me by posing really great for my Aunt’s photos. We also did a trip to Mweya, where we saw lots of elephants very close up, and tons of other safari animals. We then went to Ishasha where we saw tree climbing lions very close up. A few funny and pathetic things happened at Ishasha. When we were looking for tree climbing lions, the guide told us he knew where they were, but then after some time driving, he gave us a long speech about how all of nature is beautiful and we can’t be sad if we don’t see exactly what we want – clearly setting us up for failure and admitting he didn’t know where they were. Fortunately, we found them and spent some time looking at them and then went on to see if we could find any others. It was during this time, that I leaned forward and saw his eyes shut and said “Ven – are you sleeping?!?!?!” He was, in fact, sleeping. He must have forgotten that all of nature is beautiful and interesting to look at. Hmm…. The family thought it was especially funny that Ven promptly hoisted himself up on the windowseal and put his hand up over his eyes to shade the sun and started scanning the horizon for lions. The next morning, the UWA guides continued to show their superb training with our guided river walk. We were walking along the river that divides Uganda from the Congo and admiring all the hippos when I saw a hippo wag its tail in front of another hippos face. This looked like some sort of social activity, so I promptly asked the guide “What does it mean when the hippos put their bottoms in front of another one’s face and wag their tail.” And she told me, “Oh, that’s when their putting in the shits.” I said, “No, I’ve seen a hippo defecate before and that wasn’t what it was doing.” She replied “Yes, sometimes it is hard to see when they put in the shits. It was putting in the shits.” I insisted that “putting the shits” involved sprays of brown water that the tail splashes around and this was not what I saw. She continued to use the phrase “putting the shits” about 100 times more as my Mom, Aunt, and Jean watched the hippos. Finally, my Mom, the shy little Karen Milich, turned to her with a straight face, pointed to a hippo, and said “Is that one putting in the shits?” In the aftermath, it was pretty freaking hilarious. I will admit I was really frustrated at our guide, Edyta, at the time, and made a bigger stink than I should have, but it is now a really funny thing to look back on. It has continued to be a joke around the field station and the saying was even adopted into a song to the beat of “Putting on the Ritz” when my friends Amanda and Cruder came.

Anyway, I had to be the tough guy on a few occasions during the trip. Not only with those guides, but also to prevent being ripped off. At one point, we stopped to fill up the car with fuel and they tried to cheat me. I saw the amount that was on the pump, then turned to get my money, they cleared the pump and wrote up a receipt for about 5,000 shillings more (approximately $2.75 and a decent daily wage in rural Uganda). After some arguing and me standing in a sea of gas station attendants all discussing the matter, I got the right receipt and paid the right amount.

We had an awesome day with the chimpanzees that included resting, grooming, traveling, feeding, babies, etc. It was pretty exciting. We also got a glimpse of the rare L’hoeist monkey while on a forest walk. We saw lots of red colobus, redtails, and black and whites hanging out around the house. And the bushbuck made several nice appearances walking through the yard.

It was a lovely visit and we had a great time with the visitors! See a few of our pictures below.

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