Slip slidin’ away


‘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


‘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


Dude, we’re not in Kansas anymore


’Though the sky sure as heck looks like we might be’

I thought I might have to skip a weekly blog post (quel horreur!) but it looks like I have internet here in Uganda, at least for the moment — the key words being ‘for the moment’.

So this’ll be a quickie. Mainly photos, with a witty bit of banter as filler. (Fingers crossed on the ‘witty’ as well as the internet access.)

Let’s start with that picture up top, showing an extremely scary (at least to this Former Midwesterner) sky. Some of our intrepid birding band were actually on board that little mainly-metal lightning-bait boat and insisting upon chugging upstream to clap their eyes on the Murchison Falls—no matter that the sky looked like the one that whipped Dorothy off to Oz. But cooler heads prevailed. Thank heaven for our Hipster Birder Leader, who insisted on herding us all safely to shelter, where some disgruntled mumbling ensued while we waited out the maelstrom. We (finally) did get to chug on up the Nile.

We missed the Falls, but not the boat. Thank you for not making me a Lightning Rod, dear Hipster Leader (the guy at left, not behind me. Duh)

On the Nile, we found plenty to amuse, including crocodiles and hippos. And (of course) plenty of birds, pointed out by our afore-mentioned Leader, who was himself a rare specimen—a birder sporting not only Hipster Headgear, but a beard, a ponytail, and plenty of tatts (though none of birds, I noticed.) He was also really into martial arts.

Our Birder Leader’s back, displaying a description of a martial art called ‘Grappling’ (somewhat obscured by strap supporting assorted essential gear for something called ‘Birding’)

Speaking of ‘backs’, back to the Nile. Where we found plenty to compensate for the lack of waterfalls. Here are a few highlights:

Hippos! Look up to about eleven o’clock past the hat (those are Birder Directions, by the way) and you can just make out a sneaky guy (or gal, who knows?) peeking at us

The Dude checks out the hippos, in between oodles of birds. There were crocs, too — and not the ugly shoe kind, either

The next day, after riding across the Nile on a rather creaky-looking ferry, we ventured into the safari-esque part of the park. (We’re speaking here of Murchison Falls National Park. In Uganda. When I get a chance, I’ll put in some useful links. Cross my crocodile-fearing heart.)

We’ve got the whole world in our hands. Well, in between us, anyway. This globe marks the spot where the ferry crosses the Nile. The Victoria Nile, that is

That safari part of the Park had its daunting moments as well. For one thing, we (mostly) weren’t allowed to get out of the vehicle, otherwise we might find ourselves a snack for a lion (though we didn’t see any) or a charging target for a Chad Buffalo. We saw plenty of those—though no, I don’t have a photo. Maybe The Dude has one. On the camera that never relinquishes its photos.

Okey-doke. But then where do those ruts lead? And why are they there?

Since I have a bit of internet time left before we take off for a bird-beladen (is that a word?) afternoon, let me finish with a few shots from the following day, when we traveled to yet another National Park (name to come when I can look it up). But here is a sign we saw along the way. Check out the bottom admonition closely:

Check out the warning on the bottom of this sign. I’m opting, personally, for the ‘be faithful’ option. Crossing my fingers that The Dude concurs

In this particular park, there is a rather famous road called The Royal Mile. This is because the last King of Uganda (the one who lost to the British in a long war) used this road to do his Royal Birding. Kidding. He used the road to get to what is now known as Lake Alberta. (You can bet it wasn’t called that when the king used that road to get to it, though.)

I’m fuzzy on the details of the war that he lost, but there was something in the story about how this king failed to get all the other area leaders on his side. They turned on him (sided with the Brits, actually) and, well, there you go. Sounds kinda familiar, huh? Hold on to your pride, while the enemy divides and conquers. And now everybody in Uganda speaks English.

The picture is almost as fuzzy as my memory of Ugandan historical details—but this is The Royal Mile, lined with birders with bins instead of bad Brits with guns

There were, of course, zillions of birds as well as other creatures — some monkeys, some chimps, some bugs, even some dangerous trees. Though this one tree was only dangerous to other trees. I think. It’s a fig that starts as a seed that wafts on the breeze to land in the upper branches of some innocent, unsuspecting host. The fig seed then feeds on moss and such, sends down vines, surrounds the hosts tree and, um, strangles it. Gulp.

The tree behind me strangled its host tree. Instead of me

There were bugs, too. I didn’t hang around long enough to find out if they were dangerous. But everybody took a picture of this one. I’m thinking it’s because she (I’m anthropomorphizing here) was so pretty. Fashionable, even.

This bug dresses in Lily Pulitzer, so how dangerous could she be? (I didn’t try to find out)

Well. Time to go. Today we spent the whole morning with a band of chimpanzees. Honest! I promise to tell you all about it next time. Unless another storm gets me. Not to mention a snake or a bat or a gorilla. Yes, we’re seeing gorillas — on Saturday.

The lights at the end of the stormy tunnel. Maybe there’s a pot of gold at the end. Which this is — the end, that is

Kibale National Park, Uganda. May 2018