I am trying to blog regularly and not sure how this will go and if it will bore people. Some people really requested this and I think it is good I document one of my adventures for once. I want to do this instead of a journal since I have a lot of work and a research journal.
It is my third night in Buhoma May 11th 2011, a small village an hour walk from the tourist town of Bwindi and across from the entrance of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. It is only about three kilometres from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has been raining a lot the past few days, apparently the rainy season has been delayed and it is hitting us hard now. The mornings are always damp but now we are wet and I wear clothing equivalent to a rainy fall in the U.S. or England. It is much colder than the UK right now. I did bring some warm clothes so I am okay but I wish I wasn’t so damp or wet all the time.
Let me recap the past week and the journey getting here from Kampala. Last Friday I managed to push my last research permit through with quite a lot of polite assertiveness and visits to the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST). Leah who had been on leave was kind enough to sort everything in two days. The process had taken so long because I am finding in Uganda if someone is away on leave they often do not pass responsibilities or authority to their colleagues. I managed to sort this and pay for the permits as well as pay CTPH. Everything is done in USD or Ugandan Shillings and in cash. At one point I was carrying around 4,000 USD in Shillings, which fills up a small backpack. That same day Richard handed me the phone with Alexis on the other end. This was another CTPH guest working for an NGO ECOLIFE based out of San Diego (www.ecolifefoundation.org). She was very nice and offered to take me to Buhoma whenever was convenient for me so I picked up my final documentation and Alexis from the Sheraton. She wanted to stay in the hostel I had been at so we stayed there one more night and managed to go out to Iguana for some clubbing. This was where I found all the Mzungus (or Abmzungu plural; Omzungu singular) aka white people. It was quite an interesting mix of people and music selection changed every 30 seconds, every fifth song being Bob Marley. We tried to get in at a reasonable time because we wanted to get an early start.
That morning we said goodbye to our new English friend that was six months into his bicycle journey from the top of Scotland, all across Europe, the Middle East, north Africa, and down to South Africa. There were some really interesting people at this hostel. In fact the whole hostel was filled with working individuals not so much ‘travelers’. And the actual travelers were families in camper vans. I met some architects, mechanical engineers, journalists, medical students, epidemiologists, and so forth. It was pretty amazing. Africa may not be my favorite continent yet but it definitely provides people, projects, and issues I find exceptionally interesting.
Of course there was a delay of some sort. Bank of America was blocking my accounts after I had warned them five times and Dr. Gladys wanted to have a meeting with Alexis about her aquaponics project so we ended up leaving Kampala at about 3:30pm, perfect Africa time. We headed east to Kibale National Park. It was great to get out of the city. Fuel was quite expensive at about six dollars per gallon! The riots that had been going on were a direct response to the people’s confusion and distrust in the government for why gasoline and food prices kept rising. We had some lengthy conversations with our driver/guide Emmy about the issues going on in Uganda over the past two presidential terms. Museveni has been in power for 25 years now. We talked quite a bit about where all the revenue goes from the tourists who pay 500 USD per mountain gorilla trek. I am debating how much of this I will use in my dissertation and how much I will discuss this in interviews with tourists, probably all of it. It has already come up in interviews without any leading questions from me.
After about five hours of driving on mostly bumpy roads we arrived at a lodge to what felt like a honeymoon suite that overlooked the tea plantations and forests of Kibale. I do love African tea (the key is to add plenty of milk) but it was sad to see the miles of private land deforested for the plantations. We interrogated Emmy about everything you could imagine on the way to Buhoma and one of the things he told us was that there is hardly any forest left in Uganda that is not a National Park and there certainly is no primary forest outside of them. Emmy knew everything and all exact kilometer distances and square areas. He is also one of ten expert birders in Uganda so I know quite a lot about birds not just mammals here in East Africa and all of Africa. We had dinner and chatted but tried to go to bed because the next day would be full of activities. I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about everything. Alexis wanted to see the chimps so we did a trek that next morning. This was the last thing I wanted to do in Uganda especially because you have to pay but I joined her chimp trek because I didn’t know if I would have time to do anything for leisure on this trip and after all I was going to studying ape trekking.
We were able to spot one chimpanzee in a very very tall tree. I could only make him out with my new 300m zoom lens. A word of advice never pay for chimp trekking in the rainy season or on a Sunday when the church drums scare off the animals. We were only informed about this after the trek. We left slightly disappointed in what we paid but thankful we saw one individual. I can now say I have seen a chimpanzee in the wild. We made our way to Queen Elizabeth Park that night to stay at Simba Lodge. We even managed to squeeze in a short game drive just before sunset. I wanted so badly to see an elephant or lion. I spotted the first elephants and Alexis followed with six lions. The lions were very peaceful and relaxed exactly like house cats. They seemed to be very satisfied like they had just made a kill. The cubs even laid on their backs pawing for attention like kittens when we drove up to them. Unfortunately, I had no battery life to get this footage. It was much better than my day footage and much closer. They were actually doing things like walking around, yawning, playing, drinking, rolling around, and so forth. I love cats and it was one of my favorite experiences so far in Africa so hopefully Alexis will share those shots. The next morning we woke at 5:45am to do an additional game drive. We saw the same animals buffalo, bushbuck, warthogs, tons of birds, ele’s, and our six lions. The only thing we didn’t see were leopards that are very hard to find and rhinos or giraffes not found in Queen. We even got to see hippos in the Ishasha River and I threw a rock to the DRC. Alexis got to interview some people living withing the park about their stoves and open fire cooking within households that cause respiratory diseases and burns. There are about 11 fishing villages in the towns; Alexis has been telling me that people think that food tastes better with the open fires.
The Ishasha section of the Albertine Rift (place of high endemism extending down Africa) of Queen Elizabeth is higher in elevation. It has great trees and is hotter so it has caused lions to climb trees and it is famous for the ‘tree climbing lions of Ishasha’. By staying in the trees they avoid insects and can breathe easier. We saw one gorgeous lion slow motion falling out of the tree. I wish my driver wasn’t in such a rush to get to Buhoma by sun down to avoid driving dangerous bumpy roads at night or I could have watched him for hours. We then stopped in Kihihi a small town an hour from Buhoma, but Alexis’ fish were not ready.
I was given a walk in tent like out of the movies, which is really nice. There is no running water, a shower that is filled each time in a bucket (I found this out by finishing a shower covered in soap), and a drop toilet.
I have been able to start my pilot and most tourists are cooperative inviting me back to their lodges. I then have to take a boda boda back each night. Boda boda or motobike came from the saying “border border” between Kenya and Uganda. I usually grab the tourists at the orphanage that hosts a dance each day at five. I have made a lot of friends this way. UWA is also going to help me get to the tourists at their debriefing point after their trek.
The gorilla groups have been close and I have made friends who call me when they are close especially group Rusheguru ‘R’ that loves to crop raid, not a good thing. I will try to attach a photo of the forest. It is especially interesting to see where the crops and tea plantations end and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park begins. I hang out a lot at Bwindi Community Camp and the orphanage.
I have gotten a lot done but it is really hard to write up my data and stay organized with this netbook and very slow unreliable internet. I am lucky to have something though! I really wish I had something to edit my photos, it would be a good project. All the photos I have I can’t crop or cheat to fix the exposure so I am not happy about the ones I am posting. I try to post a few a day to facebook.
Today we had a great meeting at CTPH with the community health volunteers about cleaning food utensils and contraception. Florence a nurse from Bwindi Community Hospital came to speak, I spoke about conservation medicine and the importance public health near conservation initiatives, and Alexis gave a tutorial on aquaponics, stoves, and other ideas she had for Buhoma and Uganda. Aquaponics is so interesting and I love what Alexis and ECOLIFE are doing here. I am glad to be here to see it in the making and how carefully the community is brought into their projects as well as sought out for advice on the projects. They are really putting a great deal of thought into the long-term feasibility and local management of the project. Everyone attending the meeting received a very long bar of soap, the longest I’d ever seen. Alex and David in the meeting had said that these volunteers for CTPH act as ‘doctors’ for the communities, they educate their friends and family about what they learn and distribute items within their villages. Conservation Through Public Health is brilliant.
I am trying to document just about anything I can here in the form of testimonial videos, photography, and so forth. If anyone wants to help me make a documentary on CTPH, my work, or just the community here I would love the help.
Things look good with the research especially swabbing which I had been worried about. I need to meet the Conservation Area Manager (CAM), wardens, and all trackers and guides. In June the rainy season is supposedly over and the tourists should hopefully stream in so I can hopefully hit my sample size. For now I am doing my pilot. It is nice to have Alexis here for a few more weeks.
I must go work instead of blogging, Kare Kare!