Slip slidin’ away

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‘On — and off — the many wet roads of Uganda.’

I wish I had a nickel for every time my mother told me that I “wasn’t made of sugar, so I wouldn’t melt.” Maybe I’d have enough money by now for new rain gear.

Because ours sure got a workout on our African Adventure. In fact, we’re home now and I’m still reminded of how wet it was. My boots are gunky, my clothes are moldy-funky. My socks? Let’s not speak of my socks. You can probably smell them from wherever you are. And it wasn’t even the Rainy Season.

These boots, freshly-applied with waterproofing goop, are made for stompin’. Through mud and puddles and unspeakable gunk

But back to that “not made of sugar” deal. If that’s the case, then why did I attract so many ants? Tiny, nasty little bitey ants. The kind that swarm all over you if you’re not super-careful — and if you’re on a hiking trail where you can’t see the little buggers. (Not like in this video, where they’re on a road in plain, avoidable, sight.)

Nope. If you’re on a trail, particularly a wet, steep, slippery trail, they have a habit of sneaking right into and under your clothes and chomping away. While you flail helplessly and try desperately to keep your balance.

Me, soaked to the skin (which is being savored by teensy ants), and trying not to slip off a cliff

The ants can be nasty and itchy, but not dangerous, like, um, snakes. (We saw a particularly gruesome serpentine specimen one day, but I did not take a video or even a picture of it. Didn’t stick around long enough. Me, not the snake.)

Even elephants slip on those muddy trails. This was one huge skid mark. I should have included something for scale. Like a yardstick. Or a freshly-caught fish

Speaking of danger, we did have a truly scary moment on the road from Entebbe to Masindi. It was raining (natch) and this huge, overloaded truck (similar to the one pictured stuck in some mud at the top of this post) skidded out of control on the non-paved clay-like road surface and barreled right toward us. In order to avoid said truck, our van driver, the Intrepid David, went into a controlled skid of his own that almost — just almost — launched us over the side and into Ugandan Oblivion. Or, if not Oblivion, into a ditch where we’d end up suspended upside-down by our seatbelts. (A condition I have, in fact, experienced — and never want to try again. See ‘Here’s Your Trouble’ for gory-yet-hilarious details.)

But back to those trails. They were steep and they were muddy, but they were where the birds were. (Especially this very cool bird called the Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill.) So that’s where we went.

The Dude and Alfred ponder the mists from, like, a thousand feet up. Yup, there were gorillas in there. Birds too

It was a thousand feet down to this swamp where the bird hung out. (Yes, we saw it — and its nest; with a baby bird head peeking out! I’m pretty sure The Dude snapped a picture. I’ll share it if I can ever get it off his camera.) And it was a thousand feet back up too.

At the bottom, where the marsh (and the baby African Green) was. It was pouring; Dude was smiling

Rare bird seen and noted, steep trails slipped on and surmounted, we staggered into our rustic lodge (the kind where electricity was, um, optional) and toasted our soaked boots by a roaring fire. Kind of like marshmallows, only not stuck on sticks, and not so sweet smelling.

But back to that mud-bound truck pictured at the top of this post. It was indeed stuck — could still be there, for all I know — and blocking our trail something fierce.

What to do, what to do? Well, David the Intrepid Driver had a plan. He would go around said truck, but to do so would mean plowing through a vast (and deep) Mother of All Puddles. (He knew what he was talking about — he donned knee-high rubber boots and tested it, almost sinking to his hips. Honest. I saw him take off a boot and pour water out of it. Yuck.)

So. Anyway. He got us all to remove ourselves from the vehicle. (He didn’t have to ask me twice), then gunned it.

You can see the result right here:

Vehicle safely — yet extremely muddily — maneuvered through the muck and past the stuck truck, we were on our merry way to yet another adventure.  Speaking of which, I’ve got to load up the Toyota and get myself to the dump. Er, ‘Recycling Center’. Heady times.

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

Monkey see, monkey do

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‘Up close and personal with the Burt Reynolds of chimps’

Okay. I realize only too well that there are some of you out there who may not ‘get’ the reference in the subtitle of this piece. Well, Once upon a time, there was an actor named Burt Reynolds. He was considered quite hunky at the time. So hunky, in fact, that he agreed to pose nude (yes, nude!) for a women’s magazine centerfold. (Equal Rights, you know.)

Anyway. This piece is not about feminism; it’s a piece about chimps. Check out this link, and see if you don’t think there isn’t a rather strong, um, family resemblance between Burt and the cheesecake cousin I’ve pictured up there at the top of this story. And no, I don’t mean that as an insult. We are all primates, after all. Even Donald Trump.

Some folks thought there was a resemblance between Burt and my Starter Husband. This was, at the time, considered quite flattering. But, being sort of a naughty person, when Mr. Starter would bring up this supposed resemblance on social occasions I used to say that, yes, he did look just like Burt — from the feet down. Check out ‘My Polio Shot Marriage’ if you’d like to make up your own mind.

My current — and long-lasting — hub, The Dude, just caught me chuckling to myself over this post, and said ‘Hey, I thought Burt Beynolds was dead!’ (The Dude looks like James Taylor. Which is another story. Hmmm. Good thing I’m done getting different husbands; who knows who the next one would look like?)

But no, Burt is not dead. In fact, he made a movie just last year (the title escapes me; I could look it up, but am not sure I am going to be able to use this internet much longer). Anyway, Mr. Reynolds claims in interviews to regret posing for this famous (at the time, anyway) centerfold. But I certainly don’t regret going on the Optional Primate Trek that was offered on this Birding Shindig. We got VERY ‘up close and personal’.

Miss Chimp makes a monkey out of me in this double selfie. Yes, that is a female. As am I. Though we both are coming across a bit Unisex here

We did this chimp-searching with professional primatologists. (And some guys with guns just in case elephants attacked us — elephants do attack people on occasion, but the guys with guns don’t kill them — they just shoot up in the air to scare them away. Whew!)

This was in a place called (and I kid you not) the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Which kind of reminds me of when I visit my Mom out on the Oregon Coast and there are all these places named from when Lewis and Clark got stuck there and were very very bummed. Like there is a place called Cape Disappointment. (I have a mug somewhere emblazoned with this name; it cheers me up no end to drink from it and relish the fact that I am not stuck on a damp ship with a bunch of crabby explorers.) On our trip we were certainly not disappointed. Not only did we get to skip a wet cold winter making salt, we got to hang out with a whole chimp family.

We did have to be sort of careful around the Alpha Male. (See him in the picture at the top of this story basking in his well-earned Alpha Glory.) We didn’t want him to think we were trying to usurp his role. Every time he beat his chest, shrieked, and banged on the sides of a tree we, well, did our best obeisant monkey impersonation.

Some time, some how, I hope to be able to add the two little films of the chimps that I made. One shows a cute baby chimp running merrily along; the other shows our group cowering as Mr. Alpha beats the tree trunk and shrieks. Sadly, you can’t see him, but you definitely can hear him. Sounds just like a Tarzan movie! Only with no loincloths.

Hey! I found the cute-baby-chimp-running-video!

In closing, let me share a selfie with another kind of primate, one who rarely beats his chest, not to mention tree trunks.

Me, with my favorite Alpha Male

Uganda, in Africa. June 2018

 

Stalking the wild Shoebill

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‘On the hunt for a Ugandan bird as big as Idi Amin’

This morning I got locked in a bathroom. I mean seriously locked in. The kind of locked in where you beat on the door till someone hears you, but, worried that no one will, you actually consider clambering on top of the tank and climbing out the window — except the window has bars on it. Then someone finally does hear you, but that someone doesn’t speak English and it’s ages before a gang of guys comes with tools to break you out.

The bathroom in question was located on the banks of Lake Victoria, on the outskirts of Entebbe, which is in Uganda. Where Idi Amin used to be Head Dude and Dictator. Idi is long gone, but there are still plenty of ways to scare visitors. Like making a bathroom door that locks just dandy but, well, see above.

Once I emerged from said potty prison, unharmed except for a severely wounded dignity, our little Band of Birders boarded (more than a tad belatedly, due to my bathroom emergency) a local boat that was supposed to take us to a swamp so we could search for a rare bird called the Shoebill. My fellow birder/boaters had put the finishing touches on their potty jokes and had arranged ourselves on deck when a gigantic black cloud blew in and our leader, thank the Birding Gods, decided it wouldn’t be safe to continue.

While waiting patiently in an abandoned shelter for the storm to pass, our saintly leader happened to remark that in fact it was a good thing that I got locked in the bathroom — otherwise we would have already left shore — and been out on the open water when the storm hit. Which wouldn’t have been a good thing. No, not a good thing at all.

Gimme shelter. Nothing dampens The Dude’s birding ardor. Here he waits patiently for the torrent to subside. Yes, he’s laughing — probably about me getting locked in the bathroom

Anyway. I’m writing this in the Boma Guesthouse, where they do (obviously) have wifi. But it’s getting late in Birder Hours (it’s, like, 9:49!) and I have to get this done so I can schedule it to post tomorrow (yes, you can do that, unless you screw it up, which I’ve done) because tomorrow (usual Posting Tuesday) we’ll be staying in a place that (and I quote) “has seen better days”. I’m doubting it has running water, much less internet.

So I’ll skip the parts, funny though they are, about how we got to the boat that got us to the dugout canoes that got us to the swamp. And skip right to finding the darned Shoebill.

Yes, dugout canoes were involved. You may recall that this is not my first experience with dugout canoes. This is, um, my third. Once on the Amazon, and once in Panama. In fact, I’ve now been in dugout canoes more times than I’ve been in regular, normal, non-dugout ones. As someone who has never been what you’d call comfortable around water, I’m hoping I can break this habit, and break it soon.

But, as the only way to find this elusive Shoebill was to get into dugout canoes and roam around a swamp, that’s what we did.

The view from my canoe of one of the other canoes — stuck in the reeds and such. Note that our Boat Guy is standing precariously in the front so he can search for the Shoebill

The canoes had motors, but we couldn’t use them much, because a) it was too shallow, and b) because the boats kept getting stuck in the reeds. When we got stuck (a lot) the Boat Person in the fronts of the boats (see photo for how that guy/gal perched up there, mainly so he/she could scan the horizon for that darned Shoebill) would hop out and push the boat, kind of like the way Charlie, Humphrey Bogart’s character in The African Queen, would hop out and push said African Queen. Only I don’t think our boat-pushers had to worry about leeches. Snakes, yes. Leeches, no.

I know this because our guy got out once to scout ahead, encountered a snake, and soundly beat it with a long pole he kept on hand for occasions such as this. (He also said it came in handy in case he stepped into a ‘hole’ in the swamp and sank in over his head. Which happened. Three times.)

Well. Our three boats were supposed to stick together. It would be a shame if one boat found the Shoebill, and the other boats missed it. But our boater/guides assured us that this wouldn’t be a problem. They had cellphones, you see. If one boat found the Shoebill, they would just alert the other boats. Piece of birding cake.

Let’s just say they fudged a bit. Our Boat Guy did have a cellphone, which he used. A lot. Little did we know the other boats didn’t have cellphones. So who knows who our guy was talking to. Maybe his Mom? Anyway, our boats got separated. For hours. And I know I’m prone to exaggeration, but not this time. We were seriously separated for about two hours. Two hours of sort-of paddling, sort-of pushing, sort-of motoring through a swamp.

At one point one of the guys in my boat said he had to ‘go to the bathroom’. (Me, I think I’ll never ‘go to the bathroom’ again in my life after being locked in one.) I told him to ‘go ahead; I wouldn’t look’. He didn’t take me up on my non-offer.

We, of course, didn’t know our boat wasn’t communicating with the others, and finally decided that if we couldn’t find the Shoebill, it was time to find our way out of the swamp. After about another hour, we emerged, only to see both the other boats filled with fellow birders wildly gesticulating. One was doing so because they had found the Shoebill (!) The other folks were frantically signalling — because their boat had run out of gas.

The Object of our Attention, stolen hot off The Dude’s camera: a bird as big as a Volkswagen. Hard to miss, once you’ve found it. But there’s the rub

I’m thinking that the Shoebill was pretty darned well worth the trouble. (I mean, take a look at that thing!) And I’m also thinking that those boater/guide guys and gals won’t get booked again by our Birder Company any time soon.

Near Lake Victoria, Entebbe, Uganda. May 2018

Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol

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‘Keeping an eye out for migrants from Mexico’

I was on the phone with my Mom the other day and she mentioned that she almost bought a set of camouflage sheets at her church rummage sale. She said she decided not to because she was afraid she “wouldn’t be able to find her bed.”

That’s my Mom (!) Not only did she get me laughing, she got me thinking about camouflage.

We saw a lot of camouflage when we were in Texas recently for one of our Birding Excursions. We saw camouflage-bedecked guys zooming in boats along the border waters, cruising in vehicles along the border roads, and even sipping lattes in the border Starbucks.

Border Guys in camouflage along the Rio Grande, just upriver from us Birder Guys. (Photo by Lynsey Addario for the NY Times)

Note how the Border Guys are doing exactly the same thing as Birder Guy Dude in the photo at the top of this post. Scanning the shoreline with binoculars, looking for Mexican migrants. Except ours were Summer Tanagers, not “bad hombres”. Continue reading

Crocodile Dumdee

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‘What you don’t know can hurt you.’

A couple of years after The Dude and I got married, we took a trip to Australia. This was a very long time ago. So long ago that when I googled ‘Crocodile Dundee’ after coming up with that groaner of a title, I found out the movie came out after we took our trip. So we weren’t familiar with lines like That’s not a knife…this is a knife’, much less with the fact that practically everything in Australia can pretty much kill you.

Speaking of my punsterific headline, let me say right off the bat that I don’t mean to pick on The Dudeman. It’s just that the photo of him in his Crocodile hat looks, well, more ‘DundeeLike’ than mine.

Me, sporting my Crocodile Dundee (er, ‘Dumdee’) hat. And not much else. I’m perched by the pool that had all the snakes in it, soon to be described in horrifyingly hissy detail

Because, let’s face it. We were both pretty dumb on this trip. Granted, this was long before TripAdvisor or (probably) even the internet itself. (Not sure; I’ll have to ask Al Gore.)

At any rate, we were young, we were naive, and we were game for pretty much anything. We were also pretty poor, but I had oodles of frequent flier miles from all my work-related plane-hopping for Ogilvy. (See ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’) So we cashed ’em in and flew Qantas to Cairns. Where, before we could even grab a rental car, we were ourselves grabbed — right there in the terminal — by a couple of guys who said “Hey, wanna go diving on the Great Barrier Reef? Come with us!” (Use your imagination for the Australian accents.)

No, we didn’t buy the Brooklyn Bridge. But yes, we did hop right on this dive boat

Nope, we were not certified divers. In fact, I had never even tried diving before. But we strapped on that gear and dove right in. There are still marks from my fingernails etched into that boat’s wooden sides. Continue reading

If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?

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‘Sometimes it’s best not to follow the leader’

I have this Teddy Roosevelt fixation. Maybe it’s because my name is Alice*. (In case your history’s a bit rusty, Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a lively cigarette-smoking rebel who grew up to be a famous elderly curmudgeon. She had a needlepoint pillow that read ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.’)

*Yes, ‘Lutheranliar’ is really named ‘Alice’. After my Gramma. Middle named ‘Celia’. After my other Gramma, whose actual name was Cecelia. But my mom said she shortened it so I wouldn’t spit on people. Go ahead; try it: “Alice Cecelia”. I rest my case. Or my mom does anyway.

And Teddy? Well, he did crazy things like wander off into the wilderness all alone and lead charges into battle on horseback. And he still found the time to read two books a day — even while he was busy being President.

Teddy almost died of malaria making the same (gulp) trip we did a couple of months ago. Read about his trip in ‘River of Doubt’. Read about ours in ‘Eat. Or be eaten’ or ‘The Curse of the Potoo’

One of the coolest things that Teddy did (or at least I think so) was how he evaded the pesky ole Secret Service. Since Teddy had actually become President when the guy before him, William McKinley, got shot,  there were lots of Secret Service agents following him around to make sure that this kind of thing didn’t happen to him, too.  Continue reading

“I write, therefore I am”

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‘You read, therefore I am grateful’

I was sitting around the other morning, trying not to think about how weird it is that it’s not even 12 degrees outside and I’m scratching away at chigger bites (from our recent Panamanian Adventure; see last week’s post for deets and pix), when I noticed I got a ‘pingback’.

Our two lovely guides plus one irritating Panama tour participant who, among other things, insisted on being addressed as ‘Raven’. She got chigger-bit too. But she deserved it

For non-members of the Blogosphere, which would be darn-near all of you, bless your Faithful Little Hearts, this ‘ping’ meant somebody cited my blog, good ole Lutheranliar looks at life, in their blog. Which is an incredibly nice thing to do, and doesn’t happen all that much. At least not to me. Before I go on, I simply must thank this nice Blogger Person, Orla by name, who writes “Fancy Paper: little things that make you happy”. When I checked that ‘pingback’, I found that she had nominated me for something called the Blogger Recognition Award. (It’s protocol to thank your nominator, but I like to think that I would do so anyway.) Thank you, Orla!

What does happen to me? Cats hiding in plain sight. Or Sitting on Guys’ Heads in Times Square

Again, according to protocol, we Nominees are also supposed to say how we got started blogging, give two tips to beginning bloggers, and last but not least, list some blogs we like and follow.

Whew. Let’s dig in. So, how did I get started? Continue reading

Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.

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‘I’m so not ready for Swedish “death cleaning”, thank you very much’

As if The Holidays weren’t bittersweet enough. (You know what I mean: You’re happy because it’s Christmastime, but then Christmas is over and you’re smack-dab in the middle of that weird Week-Before-New-Year’s and everyone is telling you they’ll “see you next year” and you’re deciding whether to put away the decorations now or wait and be confronted with them when you walk back into the apartment after your trip to Panama.) Or wherever. You get my drift.

And as if all this Seasonal Sturm und Drang weren’t bad enough, the other day I innocently opened the Times to find a review of this new book called, I kid you not, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Continue reading

Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

Continue reading

The Curse of the Potoo

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‘We spot a most unusual specimen — and suffer the cosmic consequences’

Nope. That’s not the ‘unusual specimen’ in the photo at the top of this story. That’s Chuck. Or, as he came to be known on this trip (by me anyway) ‘UpChuck’. For reasons which will soon become apparent.

The ‘unusual specimen’ in this story is a bird called, I kid you not, the Potoo. I first heard about the Potoo when The Dude and I were birdwatching in Panama last year. Dude Man kept asking ‘Hey, can you find us a Potoo?’ And Guide Man would just smile and shake his head, as if to say ‘That’ll be the day’. And I’d be like ‘Potoo? Potoo? That’s not a real bird, is it?’

See, I thought The Dude and The Guide were having me on. That looking for a Potoo was kind of like going on a ‘Snipe Hunt’. Which, if you grew up in the Midwest like me, you remember was an elaborate practical joke that Big Boys would play on Smaller Boys, like at Scout Camp. Or sometimes the joke would be played on Naive High-School Girls by Naughty High-School Boys. ‘Hey, wanna go in the woods tonight? On a Snipe Hunt? (Snicker Snicker)’

Potoo? Oh, wacky little Potoo? You in there?

Continue reading