Sunday, February 22, 2004

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Email from Uganda - Safari Letter Feb 21 04

Hi to everyone. This email will tell you all about our latest adventures. First we want to say a special "Thank you" to all our friends at the Richmond Clinic for helping to make the last two safari's possible. We will not talk about work in this email only about wild animals.

On Sunday we left for a 10 hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to trek for mountain gorillas. After 4 hours on an ok road and 6 hours on a terrible dirt road we arrived at Volcanoes Rest Camp. We were greeted by about 6 of the staff who served us juice and welcomed us. They showed us to our cabin and explained all the rules. There was no electricity or running water but the cabin reminded us of our place at Lake Chelan and there was a nice ecologically sound toilet and if we told them what time we wanted to shower they would bring solar heated water for us. We relaxed and headed for a family style dinner served by candlelight. The food was really good. Went to bed ea ly and awoke the next morning for breakfast and our trek.

We headed for the starting point of the trek and were filled in on all the rules. We hired two porters, one to carry Peter's camera equipment and one to help Hinda up and down the mountain. Here in Uganda they do not have switchbacks so you have to imagine climbing 1500 to 2500 feet straight up the mountain on a narrow trail with rocks everywhere for about three hours. Hinda's porter was a young man named Fred and without his assistance she would not have made it. He held her hand and helped her all the way up and then did the same on the way down. Thank God for Fred and boy did he get a big tip.

Once the gorilla's were located we quietly hiked to them and let us tell you it was a sight to behold. The silverback (lead male) was huge. If you have ever seen King Kong, there wasn't much exaggeration. He was so big but also had an extremely gentle face. We were about 10 feet away. There was also a female and a couple of young ones who played and rolled around. We felt priviledged to be one of the few humans to have the experience of seeing the mountain gorillas. Since there are only about 700 of them left. After spending an hour with them we had a bite of lunch and headed down the same path we had come up on. Hinda doesn't know which was harder, up or down. But it was worth it.

When we got down we were given certificates stating we had seen the gorillas and we will proudly show them when we get home.

We headed back to the cabin, hot water was brought and we took long showers and relaxed.

Next morning we left for a 5 hour ride on a road worse than the two we had been on a couple of days before. We arrived at Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park around 1pm. There we were greeted by staff with juice and warm towels. This lodge is a 5 star hotel by western standards and very beautiful and luxurious. We checked in and were shown to our room, which was lovely and did have hot water and electric. We went to look at the patio and there were three large wart hogs grazing off the patio.

We then took a two hour boat ride on the Kazinga channel and saw hugh hippos, cape buffalo, a crocodile, and hundreds of species of beautiful birds. It was relaxing and delightful. We then spent some time sitting on the terrace and a huge hippo came to browse right there about 5 ft. away.

We then dined on the terrace overlooking the lake. Early to bed for a 5:45am wake up call. By the way everywhere you ask for a wake up call you get a man coming to your window saying "good morning". It was so pleasant. We met our driver and guide in the lobby at 6:15am and after a quick cup of coffee and a muffin we headed for our first game drive. It's still dark when you leave but soon the sun begins to come up and the sky gets brighter, birds start singing and the animals awake. First we saw two spotted hyenas. They are much bigger than we thought they would be and were heading for their den since they are nocturnal. We also saw some lions, but they were pretty far away. There were many Uganda Kob, Antelope, Buffalo, Waterbucks, a family of mongoose, Bushbacks and birds. At about 9:30am we headed back to the lodge for a buffet breakfast and an afternoon by the pool.

At around 4pm our driver picked us up and we headed for a village that pans for salt. It was very interesting to learn and see how these poor, poor people live. They earn $1 perday for paning salt in the hot sun and getting many awful diseases from the byproducts of the salt, including the young women becoming sterile. But it is either that or starve! We left the village and were driving back to the lodge when the driver spotted some elephants in the lake. We headed in their direction. They were far away so we decided to get out of the car and walk toward the lake. We got about halfway there and saw several large elephants on our left and then a couple more on our right and thought we should get out of there. We turned and headed for the car but there was a buffalo behind us. We quickly got to the car got in and the driver started the engine just in time for us to see on of the elephants make a move toward the car. We got oout of there fast.

The next morning we got up early again and went for our second game drive. We were out for just a short time when we saw a spotted hyena, and then 3 lionesses walking toward us. We stopped the car and they walked right in front of the car. There were three females who walked slowly and gave us the opportunity to photo them in our headlights. It was really exciting. We then drove some more and found many of the same animals we had seen the day before. Then we came upon a mother lion and her 5 cubs. She had just made a kill and they were all feasting. We just staying in the car and watched while they ate. Hopefully, some of the photos will come out. What a thrill to see these lions in the wild. Then on the way back we saw a family of elephants browsing.

We had that great buffet breakfast again and then headed for Kampala.

All in all we had a great time and want to again thank all of you who helped make it possible, not only for us to go on safari but to stay in such nice places.

Take care and we will write again soon, please keep in touch. Love Hinda and Peter

P.S. We will send a photo of a couple of elephants in a separate email so you can be sure to at least get this one