Sunday, May 23, 2010

The travels…

For our last week in Uganda, we wanted to do some additional traveling. We have seen a lot of the country already, but there are some places we didn’t get around to visiting. So I guess we have to come back. One place we had to go was Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve. When we arrived in 2008, we met the station manager who invited us out for a visit. We never found time, though, and we would always see him in town and promise we were going to come. Plus, I’ve known the past 3 researchers to work at the place. And 2 of them have stayed with us at Kibale for a little visit, so it only made sense for us to go visit there. Semiliki has a research site where they are trying to habituate Chimpanzees. They have been working on this for the past 14 years!!!!!!! And I can testify that those chimps are definitely not habituated yet. There seems to be a lot of questions about why they are taking so long to get habituated, but I don’t know. For the primatologists out there, this is a site where chimps dig wells for water in the stream beds. It is kind of famous for that. It was interesting to see the field site and the forest and so on. They don’t have red colobus there, but they have plenty of black and whites and redtails. They also have some different birds, which Alex and Jeff were interested in (oh, Alex came with us for this trip). The forest is just 300 meters or so on either side of the river there. And it is flat, compared to Kibale. Though there is a big escarpment that they sometimes have to climb, which is high and steep. And next to the forest is the savannah, so the chimps go into the savannah sometimes. Very different. And they have all these cool log bridge things set up over the river, which the trail just winds around and crosses over a bunch. It was cool. They are not allowed to have permanent structures at the field site, so they have an open kitchen, eating area with a thatched roof and then lots of thatched roofed platforms that the tents sit on.

We saw one chimp from a distance. I would argue one of the coolest parts of the trip was the drive there. It is actually only 40 kms birds eye view from where we live, but it took nearly 3 hours. We had to get to Fort Portal and then past Fort Portal and drive through the hills. Because we were starting at such a high altitude, we came into the mountains high up and then actually went down as we were driving. The road was a very windy, mountain road with lots of steep drop offs. It was really cool. See the pictures below.

The trip was good, though we had lots of hijinks. First, we used the driver they recommended and he showed up an hour late in a piece of crap car. The car promptly ran out of gas when we were less than ½ km from our house. Literally. We weren’t even out of the park and it stalled and wouldn’t start and the brainiac driver guessed that it was maybe the fuel, since he put in just enough to get to the field station (we calculated this after a very long and painful discussion calculating what he put in). So I’m not sure how he expected to get back to town. Just to top things off, it was storming out, so we couldn’t even get out of his crap car to wait out the issue somewhere. We ended up calling our usual driver who took care of us after that.

Before leaving, we had drinks at the beautiful, expensive lodge there. The lodge owners were getting ready to move on to a new place and Jeff and I contemplated new career paths for a bit, but then we realized we had better things in mind than being lodge managers.

After we left Kibale, we traveled to Tororo in Eastern Uganda to go to Emily’s parent’s wedding. It was an interesting event. First, that part of Uganda is very different from the lush, green, fertile area of Kibale. It makes you really appreciate where we were living. It is so close to Kenya that our phones were registering with the Kenyan airwaves and were “welcoming” us to Kenya.

There were amazing rock structures in this place, but overall, it was very dry and flat. You could see Mt. Elgon in the distance, which was nice. Emily’s parents had a very traditional wedding in the church and then a huge reception of over 1000 people at their house. It was a bit hard to listen to the sermons at certain points. Especially when they were saying things like “now that they have finally had a wedding, the mother can join the mother’s union”. This is a Mom who raised 6 wonderful kids who are all amazingly successful and have pursued higher education. The money that could have went to their wedding years ago went to supporting their children and I think that is great. She seemed like a great mom to me.

Jeff and I were real Africans at Emily’s place. We brought our own mosquito net and set it up over a mattress that was set up on the floor for us. That is right, we slept on a mattress on the floor, but it was in Emily’s nice room and we had our mosquito net to keep us cozy. And it was actually kind of cozy. It was hot there, though, so that made some things a bit uncomfortable. We also picked some food out of the garden for dinner and ate it – see the photos.

At the wedding, everyone was amazed at how well the Mzungus took care of Emily’s baby, Pani. Pani wasn’t used to any of the other people at the wedding, for the most part, so we held her for most of the time. At one point, she really wanted to sleep, but couldn’t because of all the noise. We went over to the side where it was quiet and Jeff held her and swayed with her while I sang to her. I ad-libbed and jeff laughed at my lyrics. It was actually a very precious moment.

Dancing went late into the night, but Jeff and I couldn’t participate. Everytime we walked towards the dance floor, we drew a huge crowd of people just standing and staring at us. The people in this area were not used to Mzungus at all. At one point, Jeff and I went out on the dance floor to dance and it was like the sea parted to let us by and then closed in around us. No one was dancing, they were all just staring at us. The song we liked immediately ended and we were itching to get off the dance floor, so we started to walk off. A woman then stood up and started dancing with me. It was sweet of her and we sat by her for a little bit, but the staring was too much. Emily came over to us and tried to yell at everyone to stop staring and then she gave up and said she couldn’t even sit by us because of all the attention we were drawing. Fortunately, we found a box of wine and a dark corner and hung out there for a little bit.

The next day was Pani’s baptism. We went to the church for the ceremony, which was nice and interesting. See the photos.

(I missed an awesome opportunity at a photo during the wedding, even better American commentary than this one. When we left the church, there was a girl (homeless?) asleep on the side of the church with a pair of brightly colored Obama flip flops laying very neatly right next to where she was sleeping. I wanted the picture so bad, but didn’t want to invade her privacy.)

Because we were being Africans on this trip, we caught a ride back to town on the truck that was taking back all the soda crates. I guess we should have been more African because we sat in the cab with the driver instead of in the back with the bottles and we ended up getting a citation for having too many people in the cabin. Who knew you couldn’t have 3 people in a truck cab. Anyway, we then loaded into a crowded mutatu for our ride back to Jinja. Along the way, we got stopped by a very sketchy police officer who was not in uniform and made Jeff hand him our passports out the window. It was a terrifying situation, but it ended up working out fine. I think people in that area just aren’t used to seeing whites, I guess. Jinja was a nice place to just hang out, catch up on sleep, and catch up on emailing. We attempted one outing to a restaurant overlooking the water, but came back when we realized they were out of most of their food. Otherwise, we just tried to finalize things in Uganda.

This was the trip of a lifetime. And I think that the two of us being together added to our experience not just because we were together, but because we brought different things to the experience – me with monkeys and forest stuff and jeff with school and children stuff. It was such a great experience!

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