Back from beautiful southwestern Uganda
Great seminar in Kabale, which is perhaps the most beautiful spot in Uganda. I'll post a complete photo album soon. Of course, all this travel is tough and tiring--just ask my assistant Gloria, who is attempting (below) to get a little rest in the car.
FYI, the Kabale I visited last week (south west) and the Kibale Park described below (west central) are two separate places. Yes, I'm confused, too.
Pick a cliche headline: Tree House of Horror; Terror Tree House; Going Batty
Note: If this sounds familiar, I wrote a paragraph about this a few weeks back, and promised a more detailed report would follow. Here is that report.
From the Parkville Luminary
KIBALE NATIONAL PARK, UGANDA—I cowered under my blanked when I heard the flapping sound inside my room. When the racket ceased, I grabbed my flashlight, and shined it toward the high ceiling in my tree house.
Yes, in my zest for adventure, or as part of a quest to prove my stupidity, I booked a night in one of the most unusual lodgings anywhere—a tree house. My night in the tree house, however, was just the epilogue to a day filled with adventure/stupidity.
As I arrived at Kibale National Park, I was struck by its awesome beauty—rolling hills, lush jungles, and abundant primate life. (Click here for Kibale photo album)
Seeking commune with some cousins, I booked a chimpanzee tracking tour led by a park ranger. The minute we left the ranger station, it started raining, light at first and then more heavily. Seven of the eight people on the chimp tracking tour had rain gear. The eighth hiker stupidly came without rain gear, and was drenched from the top of his curly hair to the bottoms of his flat feet. At least I brought along some plastic bags to protect my camera and wallet.
We plodded through the now slippery jungle for about an hour during the downpour, seeing nothing except one another—the only primates obtuse enough to be out in a monsoon. As the rain let up, the two of us bringing up the rear were attacked by about a dozen aggressive, small bees. The poor guy in front of my got the brunt of the blitzkrieg, and was stung 4-5 times. I only got one sting. For small bees, these babies packed a pretty good punch. I also figured out, as I was swatting and running, that insect repellent washes off in the rain.
Despite the bad weather, our chimp tracking expedition was not a wash. Once the rain subsided, we saw probably 50 chimps, including many babies. They were moving all around us, both on the ground and up in the trees. These chimps are habituated, meaning that you can get to within 10-15 feet of them, which we did on several occasions.
Not having enough of the jungle during the day, I had booked a tree house, instead of a comfortable hotel room, that night at the Primate Lodge in the park. I should have chickened out when I learned that the tree house was 1 ¼ miles away from the main lodge, literally in the middle of the jungle. The allure of the tree house is that it overlooks a clearing frequented by elephants, and also that it’s cheap--only $20 a night.
I arrived at the tree house, perched 15 feet in the sky, to watch the sun set, which was beautiful. Unfortunately, no elephants came the night I was there, even though you could see their tracks all around my elevated lodging, a small room supported by a tree and some beams and reached by a long staircase. There were no screens, only ill-fitting flaps that just semi-covered the windows.
Of course, any insect smaller than a Buick could have found its way into my room. As it turns out, although the buzzing and droning of millions of insects was disconcerting, they weren’t my problem. As I lay in bed, under a mosquito net, I heard the flapping noise, shined my flashlight, and discovered, to my abject horror, a bat hanging from my ceiling. Mr. Bat helped himself to my room, on and off, all night. He unabashedly announced his arrival each time with a couple of swoops around my room, followed by a few squeaks. I buried myself under the covers, wondering what to do if Mr. Bat got caught in my mosquito net. I could have left my room to Mr. Bat, but that would have meant a 20 minute hike alone in the dark through the jungle. No thanks.
As I lay there worrying about bats, my mind started thinking about other critters, like snakes, which could easily shimmer up to the tree house.
As the sun rose, my ceiling was bat free. I’m sure Mr. Bat had re-joined his friends, and told them all about how he scared some stupid tourist to death in the tree house. If bats could laugh, I’m sure they did. If nothing else, they probably squeaked with delight as Mr. Bat demonstrated how he swooped around my mosquito net while I hunkered down.
I told my wife this story, and she said she actually wants to stay in the tree house when she comes to Uganda. Honey, it’s all yours.