Posts Tagged With: Uganda

MILESTONE MOMENTS

A guest post by the wonderful Gypsy Queen who opened her mind and heart to the ways of a bartering nomad. She showed me love, art, inspiration, creation and fed me words of wisdom which I adhere to every day (well, most days).

She comforted me during every hospital visit where I was at the whim of the doctors. She introduced me to a bounty of awesome friends. And she provided a patient ear to chew on whenever my heart and soul needed unraveling

If you’ve ever met her, then you know she truly is an Unbound Gypsy Queen.

Check out her amazing talent on Facebook:  Unbound Ether Photography.

IMG_7022

From the Gypsy Queen:

Please note, I don’t call or refer to myself as the Gypsy Queen but do so here because the Nomad King has generously given me this title in his memoirs and for continuity’s sake, I must respect that in this missive.

It is necessary to admit that I never thought I’d be looking at the opposite side of the Indian Ocean before me. The same trade winds that blew north along the eastern-facing Kenyan coast one year ago, are the ones that are blowing along the western-facing Indian coast, where I am sitting now, one year later, in the little seaside village of Ashvem in Goa, India.

It has been several months now with this testimonial on my plate of things to devour, process and respond to. From day one with the Nomad King, timing has been everything and this missive to The Universe is no different.

Milestone Moments in one’s life have to be patiently awaited for, and even then, it’s only in hindsight do we realise the beauty in those moments. All the pieces of the puzzle needed to fall into place to bring you to that Milestone Moment. When that last dot joins the rest, completing the circle and finally, realisation sets in.

I think of it as Resolution.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. Almost one year ago the Nomad King and I first collided on our paths in Kilifi Creek along the Kenyan coast. I was living and helping build Musafir the boat, and grow the community that surrounded it.

Little did I know that this scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad that washed up on our shores was about to jump start my life and put it straight into high gear. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was exactly who I had asked The Universe for, just two weeks prior to our meeting.

Ro and I

© Aleks Leigh, 2016

But that’s a different story.

Freedom has always been a major theme in my life but never once did I imagine that I was about to be exposed to a new kind of freedom, one I only vaguely knew existed, let alone imagine my own journey taking a radical twist the day the Nomad King and the Gypsy Queen met.

I have the spirit of a gypsy, one who must simultaneously follow the wind and intuition, the stars and the dusty road, the fires of the heart and rhythm of the earth, for they are all one and cannot work alone, in order to truly be happy and healthy in life.

The day we hit the road for the first time a new kind of adrenaline became known to me. My whole being was vibrating with a sensation, a whisper almost, of a whole new world tingling at my fingertips. Each physical step forward, packs and tents and camera equipment included, was a step towards the Unknown.

And what greater high than the Unknown?

Every facet of bartering and hitch hiking reminded me of a way of life that addresses the need for living simply that is almost entirely lost to us today – in theory and in practice. Traveling without money, relying on the kindness of strangers to voluntarily take us to the next destination and then, conjuring faith in humanity, all the while constantly renewing this personal relationship with the earth’s geography, space and time.

All vital aspects of bettering one’s connection to the pulse of Life and The Universe.

I thought I was already pretty well connected, so imagine my surprise when I discovered I had only just scratched the surface, that below sat a locked box of life’s mysteries and the Nomad King held the key.

And open that box I did! Quickly. For the road has many teachers, and one must keep up! Every lesson learned on the road with the Nomad King made up for every wasted day that I spent trying to get an education in formal schooling.

He showed me then, and continues to show me a thousand different ways how a person can give and collect love and kindness. Every barter was a gift that we received and a gift we gave in return; a pure exchange of respect and compassion. Every story swapped, every song, every article, every photo, every second of footage, every peal of laughter, every meal, every sanctuary, every kilometer, hug, handshake and ‘hello’ is given and received in gratitude. Very quickly this cup of gratitude spills over, washing over one’s being like a glorious swell.

A surfer’s wet dream.

Though I have bartered many things in my life, I never fully realised the power that lay in an exchange devoid of anything that even remotely smells like money. I’ve always loved to barter, little keepsakes and presents sent out and returned into the world; reminders of a kindred spirit’s touch.

Sometimes leaving something behind in a place that you may never return to again is like leaving a piece of your legacy. It has always felt like that for me with every installation the Nomad and I created together. A part of our story, not just a barter, but a mark that we were once there. That we loved, laughed and created something beautiful . Something that place inspired in us. Our response to the world in the form of beautiful artwork, song, written word.

Through the life of a Gypsy and a Nomad many kilometers are traversed, many souls encountered, many connections welded together on a string, like beads, each individual but essential in completing the Whole.

So from place to place we travelled, each time making a mere outline, allowing the dots to complete themselves, not worrying about plan B (at least not the Nomad. I, on the other hand, had to learn that there is never a plan B), and simply trust in the process.

Many a time the Nomad gently tossed my philosophical ideas about The Universe back at me – The Universe will never give you more than you can handle, being a favourite. An undeniable truth (among others) that would always bring me back to my centre and the moment I’d let go of fear and doubt, the road would magically open up again, sending us just the right ride, or just the right barter, right when we needed it the most.

For example, 70kms shy of our day’s final destination at the lakeside town of Kisumu, Kenya, while waiting for almost an hour by the roadside with barely a car stopping for us and with the sun setting, I frustratingly asked the Nomad what plan B is.

And he looks at me simply and says, “There is no plan B. Just plan A – we get to Kisumu.”

It took a while, but the moment I resigned myself to whatever fate befell us, a pick-up truck slowed down and the kindest driver the road has ever sent me (I say ‘me’ because I know the Nomad has met many a kind driver and I don’t want to take anything away from them), not only took us to Kisumu, but paid for our bed and a couple of meals for our bellies.

On the latter half of our Ugandan trip in Mbale, the Nomad fell terribly ill and between a dozen bathroom calls had to be rushed to the hospital with a horrendous ear infection.

The kind souls of Sukali Hostel where we were being hosted, let us stay for days without insisting that he perform. Insisting he get better first, feeding and providing us shelter without question.

Cut to yesterday:

This Gypsy is in limbo at the moment, hanging out along the coast while my new roomy and I await our monsoon retreat to begin in our new home in the hills of Goa. My friends Adrien, Justine and Emma left on their mini-vacation to the big, bad city of Bombay, leaving me to my own devices.

Having been back in India almost a month now, I’ve had to shift gears once again and adapt to a more conventional way of life here. Namely, paying for transportation, accommodation and meals.

Earlier this week I found some distant relatives in a wonderful creative space called Vaayu where artists, travellers and surfers flock to during the cooler, busy seasons. The end of the season is upon us, most places have shut and the majority of people have begun heading for the Himalayan foothills where life is much cooler.

On Thursday morning I made a sincere intention, took a leap of faith and approached the Vaayu tribe to see if I could barter work – any type of work – for a bed. Though there are many people out there who are doing this, it was the first time I was approaching a community/business to let me in, without having any money to offer, alone and in India.

They have never been approached in this way either, although they do host an artist residency program which attracts a very colourful group of people, which has made them open to the barter way of life and those that live it.

Needless to say, they accepted my offer and even offered me three meals a day. So here I am now, working on this piece, reflecting on my life and watching the last dot connect itself to all the other dots that have led me to this moment, closing the circle – a Milestone Moment that marks the end of one chapter in my life and the prophetic beginning of another.

As the Nomad King likes to say, “The end is the power of the beginning.

And I have all this because one year ago, a scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad washed up on Kilifi’s shores and I followed my gypsy heart.

I’ll call this, Resolution.

 

Advertisements
Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DE-NILE

AG

Although this adventure happened a few months back, it’s now readable on Africa Geographic.

Special thanks to the amazing folk at the Nile River Porch Lodge and the Nile River Camp, Jinja, Uganda.

Well worth a visit.

Enjoy.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

STRINGING UP ART

“So what do you think?” Teresa asked as we stood inside the main room of the restaurant, The Black Lantern, that serves the best pork ribs in Africa – so is the claim. And it was here that our art installation barter would commence. We looked at the walls. Some had spears hanging from them. There were two empty spaces and then another space over the entrance to the porch overlooking the Nile.

“I’m thinking three string art pieces that we could hang on the walls,” GQ envisioned. “Do you have something we could use as a canvas? Wood or something?”

“I’ll have to look,” Teresa replied.

“What about that space in the back?” I asked (which was really the front reception area). A large wall stood bare, yellowish cream painted on it.

“Sometimes we have conferences and we use the wall as a projection screen,” Teresa said.

“What about above the line?” I asked.

“Yes, you could do use that.”

“We’d have to hammer into the wall,” GQ pondered. “Can we do that?”

“Sure,” Teresa nodded.

“We could do a 90 degree angle piece at the end of it,” I started to knock off ideas that were cascading off my rapid-working brain. “And then in the negative space we make three circle mandalas, from small to big, kinda like an evolution thing. No?” I turned to GQ who was nodding along.

I picked up the restaurant’s flyer and stared at the logo of a Grey Crown Crane silhouette (Uganda’s national bird that also appears on its flag) and the writing of The Black Lantern in Kuntsler Script font.

“What if we made the logo?” I suggested. “I mean, just the writing, on the top there? That way, you can still screen on the wall.”

GQ and Teresa looked up, envisioning it.

“We’d have to make stencils,” GQ said.

“Nah, I can copy it, free-hand.” Looking around I saw that it was me who made the claim.

Shit.

As a kid I used to draw, illustrate, cartoon and sketch a lot. It’s in the family genes. It also annoyed my teachers as I wouldn’t pay attention in class (explains a bit). My rebuttal at bullies and anyone that pissed me off would be a cartoon of them in a compromising position. And I’ve drawn on walls before. My childhood bedroom saw me draw a cartoon of a basketball player squashed on the wall behind the door so every time a friend entered the room I’d say, “Watch it, mate. You’ve just squashed him!”

Eventually my years of teacher annoyance paid off and at my high school I was asked to draw on the wall of my class. Something the teachers have yet to regret 14 years later as my mate, who now teaches at the school, sent me a photo with the caption, ‘Remember this?’

Which I didn’t and was surprised when I saw it, barely recalling that I had drawn the clichéd two swans coming together to create a heart in a sunset (I know, I know but I was 17 at the time and not quite rebellious trying to impress girls. That would come years later. The rebellious part, that is. Still trying to impress girls).

Swans

And then there’s the cave paintings I did at Amuka Safari Lodge.img_6648

But I ain’t ever done a font before. And never at 50 times the size of the original (a ballpark figure).

“I like it,” Teresa said.

“Yeah, that could work,” GQ concurred.

 

We got Bingo’s blessing and began to sketch and plan over the next few days while watching a Ross’s Turaco with its striking red wings fly in front of our tent, the song of fish eagles – a pair of which had built a nest in the huge tree in the car park – creating a consistent soundtrack, black and white casqued hornbills buzzing about, the yellow-billed ck8a8633kite raising its young in the nest just off the porch, the red-tailed monkeys and the vervets jumping from branch to branch. The lightening shows in the evening when moon-sized clouds pounded the horizon and the heavy rains that drenched everything.

 

 

And then there are the sunsets.ck8a8098

Oi ve, the sunsets.

At one point we had to move to the Nile River Camp for two nights due to the Nile Porch being fully booked. Luckily, Bingo also owns the NRC (as it is locally known) and we were guided to safari tent number two.

Two nights later we were back at the Nile Porch, this time in tent number 4 with the same incredible view.

THE DOOR

“I noticed there’s a door painted obscurely in the front there,” GQ said to Teresa the next morning. “Do you think Bingo would let us cut it into three canvases?”

“Ah, that door,” Saleem reflected as we watched the sun set over the Nile River. “There’s a story behind it.

That door was used for the house and one night our trusted askari (watchman) came in and stole the door.”

“Stole the door?” I repeated.

“Yes – ” Saleem attempted to continue.

“Who steals a door?” I pressed.

“Bro,” Saleem laid it down, “it’s Africa. Anyway, I went looking for that door. I was asking around, going into the villages and checking every door on every house. I was on the hunt. This kid came up to me and showed me where the door was. It was painted but I recognised my fucking door and I took it from the building. The guy claimed that he bought it for 50,000 shillings ($20 AUD) from my askari.

So I told him to come and find me at the Porch. Meanwhile I had called the askari and told him to come over. I deducted 50,000 shillings from the askari’s pay and gave it back to the guy in front of him.”

“And now we’re gonna chop it up and stick it on the wall,” GQ erupted into laughter as did we.

Speaking of, “Shall we get to work?” I asked.

I sawed the door into three almost-equal pieces and hammered in nails after GQ drew the circles.

She created the first two pieces and had a momentary lapse of sanity when she decided to let me do the, “Pièce de résistance,” on the last canvas.

While GQ strung up the first two pieces I spent my time free drawing the font onto the wall. It’d been awhile since I’ve used my brain to this artistic and engineering capacity so it was a little overwhelming at first.

The fuck am I doing? ck8a8305I can’t fuckin’ draw this shit. And on a ladder? The fuck was I thinking. Who put me up to this?

Oh.

Right.

Me.

Shit.

Self-doubt is a bitch of a dog that just wants to bite you in the ass as you try to hop over the fence to safety. But I whipped around and bit that bitch right back. Add on some encouraging words from GQ, the staff (“Well done.”) and some guests and three days later the font was on the wall, somehow looking exactly like the font on the flyer.

“Jesus,” I said aloud standing with GQ, Saleem and Teresa, admiring the sketch. “That was fuckin’ exhausting.”

But now came the hard part – hammering in 1700 nails.

Perhaps we were caught in the euphoria of seeing the work actually coming to life, or perhaps it was the amazing food that distracted us, either way, we were all unaware that the reason why the nails were bending was because they were wood nails.

Even though I was attempting to drill in pilot holes the drill bit wore down and the nails still bent. Turns out it helps if you use a drill bit for concrete rather than for steel.

“Let me call Joque and ask him if he has any drill bits,” Saleem whipped out his phone. “Concrete-steel nails?” I heard him repeat Joque’s suggestion. “Yeah, we could try that.”

Wouldn’t be my first ‘D’oh!’ moment.

Once we had the nails it took two days to hammer them into the points GQ marked.

“Yessis, you guys have patience, aye?” Bingo said on his occasional visit to see how much destruction we were doing to his wall.

Teresa had overheard him explaining what we were doing to some of the guys at the NRC.

“So the guy asks him, ‘But how do they have so much patience to hammer in all those nails?’ and Bingo says, ‘Because they are artists, bru’.”

ck8a8603

“You spelt Lantern wrong,” said a guest, attempting suicidal humour.

GQ and I began to string up the letters – which also took two days. When we were done, we stood back like proud parents, admiring our creation.

“Looks amazing,” Bingo said.

“It’s fuckin’ amazing,” Saleem concurred.

“It’s very beautiful,” Teresa added.

“Quite chuffed,” I grinned.

“Quite chuffed,” agreed GQ.

Quite.

*Check out the Timelapse video here

 

Categories: Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

ON A PERSONAL NOTE – EARY DAYS

© Stephanie Helber, 2014

“Argh,” I awoke suddenly in the dark. Something was trying to rip out my left ear drum. “Jesus,” I moaned, clutching my ear. The Gypsy Queen woke up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked worryingly.

 

 

“My ear,” I winced. It was turning into a helluva weekend. First the stomach bug that had me running to the bathroom every 20 minutes and now this. By the time the sun rose I was in agony. GQ took the initiative and looked up the nearest ENT specialist. We hopped on a boda-boda (well, GQ hopped. I staggered) and waited 40 minutes to be treated in the Mbale clinic.

“You have an inner ear infection,” announced the doctor. “I will give you three injections for immediate relief and treatment.”

Injections? What the..? “Why injections?” I countered through the pain.

I’m not a fan of pharmaceutical medicine. I don’t get sick very often and when I do I usually prescribe myself whatever solution nature provides. Usually swallow sliced up raw garlic (natural anti-biotic) and drink lemon-honey-ginger tea. It might take a bit longer to recover but my body’s stronger for it by not using pharmaceuticals.

“One will treat the infection, the other is a painkiller and the third is a steroid to bring down the inflammation.”

I despise painkillers. They trick you into thinking there is no pain by numbing the affected area. But they don’t take the pain away. So while you’ve numbed the pain, any action you do could affect the injury\infection worse and you wouldn’t know it – because you’ve numbed the pain.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve had my fair share of pain. A traumatic treatment of my severe sinus issues in my early twenties has given me the ability to tolerate pain on a level that would have Guntanamo Bay prisoners (hi NSA) confess to killing Tweety Bird.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was an ENT specialist that had given me that trauma and ability to suffer that amount of pain.

“I don’t want painkillers,” I grunted.

“Please, mister, it will ease the pain for you –” the doctor tried to reason with me. GQ also tried to convince me otherwise.

“No painkillers,” I seeped through clenched teeth. “Just fix me up.”

In my state, I wasn’t exactly friendly with the doctor. In fact I was quite hostile but this was coming from the trauma I had received a decade and a bit before. Memories were returning in a flash flood. It was the only time in my life that I had threatened to kill another human being (the doctor treating me) and meant it.

I’ll save you the gory bits for the memoirs but let’s just say that what he inflicted on me had me screaming at a level that cleared out the waiting room in the hospital. I don’t blame the doctor when he then demanded that we go from the clinic to the hospital where, “I will feel safer in the environment there as I’m currently not comfortable in this situation,” he said.

I copped some words from GQ about how I antagonised the good doctor and created that environment. But it was hard to put into words what I was going through and not just because of the pain I was in, but the memories that were consuming me were putting me in a hateful state against this institution that represented that specific traumatic event.

At the hospital we waited on the bench and were summoned into the room within fifteen minutes. It was full of nurses and interns all surrounding me.

I had managed to scoff a bit at the ridiculousness of the situation, that somehow, I had managed to make this doctor feel so unsafe that he needed a room full of people that might need – should it come to it – subdue me. I had no intention of pouncing on anyone. Even if what I was projecting was animosity towards everything these people represented, it wasn’t personal. I know these folks are out to heal me but some things can’t be erased.

GQ sat with me and held my right hand as my left was chosen for the injections. I can handle needles. It wouldn’t be the first jab I’d receive. But it was the first time that I was getting injected in the vein on the top of my wrist, right where the hand and joint meet. I managed to convince the doc that I didn’t want or need the painkiller injection. The antibiotic stab was a standard needle pain. My head hung low. I stared at the floor knowing that I was about to go through some serious shit on a personal, emotional level. I had no idea how destroyed I would be by the end of it.

When the doc began with the last injection, the steroids, he had to do it in the slowest way possible.

“This will hurt a bit,” he warned before inserting the needle.

I clenched.

“Breathe,” GQ reminded me, encouraging me with words. If it wasn’t for her, bad things would probably have happened – mainly to that doctor who had nothing but good intentions.

The pain the slow injection caused consumed me. It opened up the dam that blocked the traumatic past cracking it wide open, flooding the valley of the now with memories I had suppressed for more than a decade. My head collapsed on GQ’s shoulder and I let the tears flow.

I hadn’t cried from physical or emotional pain for more than ten years and it was all coming out now. I’ve always sought for a way to be able to open those tear ducts, to cleanse myself but I could never find it. I was lost but I certainly didn’t want to be found like this. It released a lot. I felt lighter. Slightly weaker at the knees but emotionally, I was lighter. I had dealt with that past trauma and came out on top, stronger (but for that moment, not at the knees).

GQ apologised for not seeing it my point of view.

“It’s OK,” I mumbled, head down. “You could never know.” I thanked her profoundly. She’s always there when I’m in need of medical assistance. Saying the right words – not just to me but to the presiding staff taking care of me. Without her I’d be a mess surrounded by the dead bodies of medical staff.

But that emotional ride I involuntarily hopped on had exhausted me. I couldn’t even raise my head to the world even though the medicine took immediate effect. I sat silently on the boda-boda back to Sukali and lay quietly in bed for the rest of the day, slowly recovering, smoking cannabis, the only thing that actually takes away the pain.

Doesn’t numb it. It takes it away. So much so that the next day we all climbed up to Wanale Waterfalls in the rain.

The lesson? Face your past if you want release. Face it, embrace it, forgive it and then pack it away because it’s done and dealt with.

And only then can you move forward.

Oh, and avoid ear infections.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

RAINING SPIDERS

It was just after 18:00 so I hit the shower, knowing dinner was at 19:00. As I had moved into the chalet that happened to have a roost of bats in the bathroom, two remaining bats flew about. I turned off the water and commenced to towel myself dry. Being it Wednesday meant it was hair-brushing day. Quite an exciting event for me, as you can imagine, since I rarely brush my hair.

I began, as usual, on my right side when something made me look up, the brush getting caught in the hair and me having to yank on it, pulling my head back and up. And that’s when I saw a new tenant had arrived. Unlike the bats who can be seen and felt what with all their swooping and flying about and the mountainous piles of bat shit everywhere, this new tenant was the very silent type.

I didn’t like it one little bit. And not because it had eight legs and eight eyes. I can deal with that. But when those figure eights combined with the body become big enough to cause a combined solar and lunar eclipse, then we have a problem.

Surprisingly, I didn’t run off screaming. And not just because the two bats were swooping below knee height just outside the shower. Really, I was rooted to the spot out of sheer terror. If I was considered a white person before, I was now transparent. I’d never seen a spider that big – or anything of that size, for that matter – seemingly just hanging around lazily on the wall. It must have weighed like a rhino (3 tonnes).

What the fuck was holding it up?!?

And this isn’t the kind of spider to weave webs either (thankfully, otherwise we’d all be in a tangled, sticky mess). It builds a nest.

A.

Fucking.

Nest.

I reckon most of the poo in this place is from this fella. It’s big enough to compete with dinosaurs for the biggest pile of shit.

I finished brushing my hair and nervously put on my pants, never taking my two eyes off its eight. Then, even more nervously, I walked out among the bat (and probably spider) shit to get the camera to take a photo of it. As I came back around the wall that separates the room from the bath something else caught my eye.

At first, I thought it was a giant wasp. But then the shadow of it on the wall showed the hairs of its legs, revealing it to be what I was suspecting it to be. I raised the camera, zoomed in, focused and took a shot. Looking at the outcome I quickly wished I hadn’t.

It was another eight legs with eight eyes, perhaps slightly bigger than the fella in the shower (this thing was so big I needed to walk to Kampala for it to fit in the lens). I swallowed slowly and then went and took a photo of the shower spider (also taken from Kampala).

IMG_6763

The one in the shower

I suspect both spiders are on steroids. They’ve probably worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his hey-day. I imagine the conversation to be something along the lines of,

“Hey, Arnie, check this out, four dumb bells at a time. Whatchya got?”

Arnie doesn’t answer. Just throws his dumb bell at the spider. The dumb bell deflects off it. It doesn’t even flinch or blink any of its eight eyes (it then swallows Arnie, injects it with a parasite, coughs him back up and manipulates him to become Governor of California many years down the web, playing puppet master).

 

 

 

I backed away into the room to put the camera away and cursed the zipper on the tent that didn’t work. I stood there staring at the broken zipper and cursed it. Those spiders seemed to be the kind that ate whole tents. And mosquito nets. And quite possibly bats (which might explain the sudden departure of the previous ten. I reckon these two tag-teamed them. And only two survived).

In fact, they were so big they could wrap themselves around the moon and still have a leg on Earth. They could eat Pluto and still have room for dessert. They were so big they could sit on the eye of the huge storm on Jupiter and stop it from storming. They could tip the rings of Saturn. They were so big that if a spy satellite took a photo of it then Obama would get a call from the NSA saying,

“Sir, it appears the planet’s been swallowed up by a large arachnid.”

“How big is it, Special Agent Smith?”

“Well, sir, we can’t see any land masses or oceans. Can we shoot it?”

“Yes you can!”

I was contemplating on asking to sleep in my former dwellings when I stopped myself.

‘Mate,’ I told me, ‘this is Africa. This is the bush. They don’t wanna harm you –’ I hope – ‘so just relax, go have dinner, come back and get under that mozzie net as fast as you can and go to sleep. Savvy?’

Savvy.

At the restaurant a ranger was around. I explained about the spiders.

“I’m not killing it,” I said firmly. Especially as I didn’t have access codes to nuclear warheads or sharks with freakin’ laser beams – the only two things that could kill these fuckers. If I killed them, we’d need to have a barbecue as they’d be able to feed the entire population of Uganda.

“Just take a tissue and hold it –” began to suggest the ranger when I cut him off with,

“I ain’t holding this thing with a–” fuckin’ – “tissue, rafiki.” I wasn’t even going to hold it with lead gloves. “See my hand?” I placed it on the post. “Whatever is not my hand is how big it is.”

“Then just leave them,” the ranger laughed. “Just let them live. They won’t harm you.”

“I just hope they let me live,” I countered.

These guys move and it might shift the planet off its axis. Trying not to think about my new tenants, I sat down for dinner. Finishing up I headed back to the bat cave. Earlier, I had stepped on a thorn and the end of it had lodged itself in the bottom of my foot. I knew I could easily resolve the issue by grabbing my tweezers.

Which were in the bathroom.

To get there meant having to face Pinky and The Brain (I guess the upside is that they don’t party all night and play heavy metal music. Or try to take over the world).

I took a deep breathe, rounded the wall that separates the room from the bath and looked up to the rafters. The two bats were gone, out on their nightly hunt or to find new dwellings. Or eaten by the arachnids. I was kinda hoping the bats would come back. They gave me a heightened sense of security against the spiders. But neither bats nor the second spider I had seen were there.

Shit.

Nothing worse than knowing what’s up there but not seeing where it is. I then looked in the shower and that tenant was also gone.

Fuck.

Their movements have probably caused an earthquake and a major landslide somewhere on the other side of our blue ball. Possibly the oncoming El Ninõ could be attributed to them.

I nervously grabbed the tweezers, went and sat on the pile of mattresses in the room and removed the end bit of the thorn before I turned off the lights, flicked my headlamp on and scoured the tent for any possibilities of sixteen large, hairy legs and bright eyes and then, faster than the lightening cracking across the horizon I slipped under the mozzie net and lay down, wrapping the sheets air-tightly around me

At 22:00 I was already nodding off. At 01:30 it began to rain and didn’t stop until sunrise (what are these clouds drinking?  ). I’ve been awake for the duration, listening to the thunder, the machine gun patter on the tin roof, the lightening lighting up the sky, all the perfect ingredients for a night of terror with two of the galaxies largest arachnids just hanging around outside my tent.

I think I maybe going bat shit crazy.

Bat shit spider crazy.

Perhaps it was all a figment of my imagination.

Lemme check the camera.

The one in the rafters

The one in the rafters

Nope, shit was real.

*I’ve found it to be called a Rain Spider. It’s the biggest non-tarantula spider and, er, well, quite harmless [its bite is compared to that of a bee sting, tested on guinea pigs. Although the guinea pigs died within 3 minutes, it was found that they died from shock rather than the venom. I mean, if you were faced with something that had the leg span of 7cm and a body length of 3cm (doesn’t sound like much but meet them in person) and you might possibly die of shock as well].

It hunts lizards and insects. Its from the Palystes genus (from the Greek word, meaning ‘wrestler’). But I didn’t know it at the time. Still, doesn’t mean I’m gonna toss a frisbee to it anytime soon (probably eat the frisbee anyway).

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY

img_6577

I heard a thundering rumbling behind me. I looked up and found that I was surrounded by blue skies so it couldn’t be thunder. I turned around and froze. Charging at me like a runaway locomotive was a 3-ton white rhino, our planet’s second largest mammal. Its horn low and aiming for my quarter hind.

Shit.

I turned and sprinted, my heart and lungs doing there mightiest best to co-operate with my legs, dancing my bare feet between the fallen thorny branches of the acacia trees with the elegance of a drunken Russian ballerina.

White rhinos are quite fast and can reach speeds of 45 K’s an hour.

The ground shook and trembled as it charged closer. I could feel hot breath on my calves. I spotted a tree and shimmied up it to the highest branch. Plonking onto a sturdy branch, I watched the rhino below screech to a halt, snort, circle the base of the tree once, linger and then turn to retreat to where it was munching on short grass.

I panted a sigh of relief and tried to control my breathing when I heard a low growl beside me. I froze and then turned to face the leopard who’s branch I’ve inadvertently found myself sharing.

“Excuse me.”

“Huh?” I snapped out of my daydream as the ranger began to explain the five indications that a rhino might tag you as a threat and decide to charge you:

“First, it will raise its head and hold it up for longer than usual.”

A rhino’s head is its heaviest body part which is why they only eat short grass – 150 kilos of it daily. Saves them from lifting their head any higher than needed – except when it’s about to charge. They’d be quite the eco-lawn mowers in large parks and stadiums. Especially as, unlike elephants who poop everywhere, rhinos pick one spot and they all poop in it.

“And they drink between 60-80 litres of water daily,” continues the ranger.

The second indication? “Its tail will coil up and then it will scratch the earth with one of its forelegs. The fourth indication is when it mock charges you.”

I mean, if something mock charges you it’s pretty much a given that the mock charger – in this case, a full-sized African White Rhino – doesn’t want you around. Sometimes this warning is repeated before the final clue,

“When the rhino fully charges at you. Now,” the ranger grinned, “are we ready to see some rhinos?”

On foot and standing no more than the safety required distance of 30 meters? Sure, after an intro like that, how can one resist?

These pachyderms are, like elephants, short-sighted but have acute hearing and sense of smell. They mature at the age of 8 (females) and 10 (males) and will continue to grow throughout their lifetime – spanning 45 years – a time in which a single white female can produce about 10-12 offspring.

But a White rhino isn’t actually white. You may have noticed that rhinos in general tend to be grey. Even the Black Rhino. So what happened? Well, the Dutch settlers of South Africa rightfully named the White Rhino, Wyd rhino which means, surprisingly, ‘wide’ due to its lips being wider than the pointy, parrot-beak like one of the Black rhino (we’ll get to its naming as well).

Along came the early English settlers of South Africa and mispronounced Wyd for White. I mean, could they not tell that the beast they were looking at is grey? You can see that it’s grey from space. Perhaps because during that time, in the late 19th century, there were only about 20 Wyd Rhinos left in South Africa and so the English probably just assumed their colour was white (I wonder what kind of shock they got when they saw they were actually grey?).

The Black Rhino was named due to it’s enjoyment of wallowing in mud, hence giving it a darker tone. Put through your local car wash, and its the exact same colour as it’s bigger cousin, the Wyd Rhino (the Black Rhino is the smallest of the five remaining rhino species).img_6570

Rhinos are highly intelligent and live in social families called a crash (don’t ask). One large dominant male will visit each crash he has spurned. A female will give birth to a 50-kilo calf after a gestation period of 16 months (second longest after the elephant – 22 months). It will then separate her calf from the crash to raise it (perhaps to give it a crash-course on life) until it’s strong enough, usually after three months.

In the 1960s about 700 rhinos roamed Uganda. Enter Idi Amin who ruthlessly dictated over the land until his downfall in the late 70s and today the numbers are just below twenty. Two are in the Entebbe Zoo, the rest at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, located just outside of Nakitoma village (pronounced Na-chi-toma) on the road heading to Masindi.

“We keep all our rhinos under 24/7 watch,” informed the ranger. “They are being poached for their horns which are big in Vietnam where they believe that the horn holds medicinal powers to cure cancer (it doesn’t), hangovers (it doesn’t) and resolve impotency (it doesn’t)”.

Perhaps if the Vietnamese drank less they’d not only suffer from less hangovers but less impotency issues.

Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance that creates our hair and nails. Essentially, it’s just a massive dreadlock that can weigh in at 12 kilos (and you thought maintaining your hair was a hassle?). If it had any medicinal value, we’d all be cutting our nails and hairs and having keratin health drinks every time we had a big night out and couldn’t ‘rise’ to the occasion.

The plight of the rhinos is a very serious one. Not only are they one of the most endangered species on earth, they’re also the least researched of our land mammals, a job that the rangers of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary have undertaken and discovered that, like elephants, a rhino will mourn a fallen member of its crash.

Today there remain five species of rhinoceros (the word comes from the Greek: ‘Rhino’ meaning ‘nose’ and ‘Ceros’ meaning ‘horn’) listed from the biggest to the smallest: The White (Wyd) Rhino, the Indian Rhino (which uses its teeth to defend itself rather than its horn), the Javan Rhino, the Sumatran Rhino and the Black Rhino (as of late last year, 2014, believed to be extinct in the wild).

img_6596The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has gone to extraordinary lengths along with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to protect these majestic animals we know so little of. For more information visit their website:

www.rhinofund.org/

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

WASP A MATTER?

img_6696

“What the?” I stared at the eagle-sized wasp that had somehow made its way onto my right thigh – which was wrong on all levels – not my thigh. The wasp being there.

I was sitting outside the reception of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary surfing the web when I noticed the purple-redish insect climbing to the top of a pole that, upon closer inspection (but not too close. After all, there was an eagle-sized wasp on it), I noticed happened to be a spear on display.

 

I figured if it was climbing rather than flying it must have reached the end of its life cycle as it had fallen several times to the ground only to resume its climbing. Keeping it in my peripheral, I continued to surf the web while pushing the pet warthog, Farki (which means, ‘pig’ in Afrikaans) away from my bag which she kept mistaking to be some sort of food supplement (she was hand-raised and never got the hint when released into the wild).

When the wasp was on the ground again it was making a beeline (see what I did there?) towards my feet.

Wasps are omnivorous, was my immediate thought. And why shouldn’t it indulge itself for its last supper on a hearty, meaty nomadic thigh? I know I would if I were in its place. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I wasn’t in its place. Unlike bees, wasps sting rapidly multiple times. And won’t lose their stingers like their smaller, kamikaze honey-making cousins.img_6684

I lifted my feet from the ground and continued to work when, a few moments later I found myself staring at the yellow face – which looked like the Transformers logo – from its locale on my right thigh. I slowly set down my laptop , never taking my eyes off the alien-looking creature as it began to explore the outskirts of my shorts.

I quickly wrapped them tight so as to not allow it to enter the safe where the family jewels are kept (I only have one pair of underwear which I use for special occasions. This wasn’t a special occasion).

The movement caused the wasp to raise its abdomen high, like a contortionist from Cirque du Soleil, the stinger glinting in the equatorial sun, a UV ray reflecting off it.

“No, no, no, no,” I repeated repeatedly. “Please no,” I continued to beg. I wondered if I could just grab it by its abdomen but then I didn’t know if wasps also carry a mean bite since they eat meat.

I figured that since it was possibly dying and low on energy then I could flick it off me, perhaps towards Farki who might mistake it for food and leave my bag alone. It’s not that I wanted the thing dead. I hate killing anything living (except mosquitoes. Genocide the lot of ‘em). Even accidentally stepping on ants bums me out but it must be nearing its end if it didn’t have the energy to fly, right?

Or maybe it just didn’t have enough meat in its diet.

It didn’t have the energy needed to take to the air but it sure had some fight in it to hold onto my pants when I tried to flick it away. And, in slow motion mind you, as it began to raise its abdomen, it brought it down straight into my thigh.

Repeatedly.

Now, I may or may not have yelped and ejected myself from my seated position, scaring Farki off (that’ll teach her to munch on my bag) but I can neither confirm nor deny this accusation (my lawyer says, “No comment.”). But I did manage to flick it off before it got another sting in and watched it climb the wall – way on the other side from where I was sitting.

I then limped towards Angie, director of the sanctuary, and asked her, “Have you got anything for wasp stings?”

“Onion,” she said. “Take half an onion and rub it on the stung area. It’ll absorb the venom.”

I’d never heard of this method. I’d never been stung by a wasp before either. Of course, as my thigh began to swell I was game for any remedy – besides amputation. A moment later, half an onion was produced and I rubbed it on the stung area, already turning as red as the Ugandan soil.

Incredibly, the stinging and burning sensation vanished almost immediately. I continued to apply the onion for the next half hour, went and tracked some rhinos with a ranger and by dinner time (the onion was not involved in dinner) I had forgotten about the yelping incident of being stung by an African wasp.

Except in the morning when the redness was still there and the itchiness of it began.

But still, onions! Who knew?

*Despite the fear they sometimes evoke, wasps are extremely beneficial to humans. Nearly every pest insect on Earth is preyed upon by a wasp species, either for food or as a host for its parasitic larvae. Wasps are so adept at controlling pest populations that the agriculture industry now regularly deploys them to protect crops (National Geographic).

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Uganda | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

UPSTREAM WITH A PADDLE – OR ALEX

IMG_6219“Do you want to go for a paddle?” Alex asked me.

A young lad of 22 from the Musoga tribe, I had met him when I casually walked down to the banks of the Nile seeking adventure.

“Won’t say ‘no’,” I grinned as I stepped into his leaky canoe and  paddled upstream towards the Owen Falls dam. “What do you do?” I asked him as we glided on the still waters of the Nile, close to the bank.

 

IMG_6172A bright blue malachite kingfisher with a long red beak, darted along the banks with us as it fished, resting on the low hanging branches.

“I’m studying in Kampala,” Alex said. “I want to be a doctor.”

We stroked upstream towards a cave where, “There used to be three caves,” explained Alex. “But now there is only this entrance. Because of the dam it made the other entrances fill up with water. See?”

He pointed to the top half of what would appear to be the entry point of one the previous exposed caves.

Dams were a problem on the Nile. They’ve caused tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the Blue Nile, almost leading to all-out war and also with Uganda along the White Nile. But the biggest concern was not for the existing dams but for the one about to come further downstream, towards the rapids.

It was a controversial idea that the government had approved. Thing is, if they do go ahead with it, it will kill Jinja, a huge tourist town that probably brings in most of the tourism dollars for Uganda. White water rafting is growing in its popularity but without rapids to create the white water rush, it’s just rafting. Which I’m sure might be appealing to some but for the adventure seekers, it won’t cut the gravy. And this approved dam will kill the rapids, destroy half of the nature in the area and the income for the town of Jinja and its people.

The malachite kingfisher continued to follow us as we spooked darters, cormorants, open-bill storks, egrets, herons and sandpipers. We paddled all the way to the dam that also acted as a bridge across the river at the mouth of Lake Victoria.

Back in 1862, John Hanning Specke, along with Richard Francis Burton, set out on a mission to find the source of the Nile. These two were the Bradgalina of their time, in the days where being an explorer of foreign lands was the highest celebrity status one could achieve.

Burton loved languages and immersing himself with the locals. Upon reaching Lake Victoria, the two separated. I could imagine the conversation going something like,

Burton: “Right, I’m going to set up camp here for the next few weeks.”

Specke: “Marvellous thought, old chap. I shall continue on the quest for the source of this damned river (see what I did there?).”

Six weeks later, Specke returned with the announcement that, “I’ve found the source. Named it Rippon Falls. I’ll see you in the Queen’s country.”

Burton had his doubts. Although the two were equipped with scientific equipment to survey the land, Specke hadn’t utilised any of it. Upon their separate return to England, Specke’s celebrity status rose to that of Beckham’s in his hey-day. Burton argued in the press and to the Royal Geographic Society that had funded the trip that Specke was full of it and demanded a public debate. Specke accepted. Legend has it that on the day of the debate, Specke was out hunting pheasant when he ‘accidentally’ shot himself dead.

More than a year would pass until it was confirmed that, indeed, Specke had found the source of the Nile. A plaque was made in his honour and placed at Rippon Falls – until they built the Owen Falls dam and relocated the plaque.

“The name of my village is Bujugali,” Alex said. “It was named for the waterfalls next to it, but the dam you saw? It has killed the falls. Now it is just the river flowing.”

Seems to be a concerning pattern.

IMG_6209The canoe had a major leak in it and between shooting photos of the wildlife, paddling and waving at the few fishermen in their canoes, I found myself to be the water bailer. We U-turned just after the 80-meter bungee jump from an outstretched crane and allowed the current to carry us downstream back towards Alex’s village river bank.

Red-tailed monkeys jumped between the tree branches. Water monitors evaded my camera lens and kids splashed in de-Nile (see what I did there? Thanks Stacey), striking poses.

“Alex, thanks for the adventure,” I hugged him as we parted ways. “I’m playing tonight at the Nile River Explorers camp. Come down and see me, if you can,” I invited him.

Smiling, he accepted my offer.

As I hiked back to the camp I couldn’t stop grinning. I asked for an adventure and there I was provided.

Don’t ask, don’t get.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.