Flamingoes, Chimps and troublesome tour leaders

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May 18th 2010
Published: May 18th 2010
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Being the lazy bums we are we had booked ourselves on an overland truck tour for the last part of our trip round East Africa. We thought it would make safaris and gorilla permits and all that palava easier to organise and cheaper because of group rates etc. It probably was an OK idea and I had been looking forward to my only worries being having to concentrate on looking out the window and remembering to wave at small children on the side of the road...but then we got the worst trip leader in Africa and it all became hard work again!

Not only could he not communicate, count or think logically, he was also a pathalogical liar who would tie himself in knots to get out of apologising for his incompetencies. But enough of that, despite the chaos he caused we actually had a really good trip, all the other passengers were great and at least we had a common gripe to moan about and bring us together in a short period of time! We also had an energetic, friendly and very safe driver and a grumpy, pedantic but competent chef.

There were definitely two themes to this part of the trip, photographing wildlife skitting away from us and photographing clamoring children who's greasy fingers would be all over the screen of my camera before I'd even hit the shutter button. Once again the children of Africa have proved energetic, smiling and excitable, and excellent mutual entertainment. They particularly enjoyed laughing at us flap drying our dishes by the side of the road and they boarded on rioting when I starting taking photos. Kids here find it absolutely hilarious to pose with their friends and go crazy to see themselves on the screen afterwards. The digital camera is such a good ice breaker!

So, we have been on quite a few safaris in the past 2 weeks and unfortunately a lot of them have been fairly disappointing. Not helped by the lush vegetation of the rainy season or the fact that the Ugandan army ate most of their animals several decades ago; the real problem was our tour companies idea of a game drive was to keep us in the noisy, imposing truck and get us to look out the window and try and spot the bums of fleeing animals as we drove through a park to our campsite. We did have some success in Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park though.

Having been one of the most iconic images I associate with Africa, coupled with my growing obsession with birds (as the theme of decorative objects more than as a twitcher so far!) I was more than a little bit excited to be able to stand on the lake shore and watch the mesmerising dance of thousands of chattering flamingos. I have taken about 40 photos of them but will try to edit and only bore you with a few! We also saw rhinos, zebras, buffalo, antelopes and a very lazy lioness lounging in a tree right by the side of the road. Continuing the twitching theme there were ugly Maribou Storks squatting and pooing on their legs (it's their sunscreen apparently) and male Black Whydah birds with tails so long and fancy they could barely take off to perform their mating flights. There was also a very wrinkly, grouchy looking giraffe who reminded me of our truck cook and a pack of baboons that took great pleasure in ransacking the campsite as soon as we departed.

We did a walking safari at Lake Mburu which was particularly disappointing. Trudging through monotonous thorny savannah at 5:30 in the morning with only a couple of antelope to see running away was not especially inspiring. I did have fun laughing at the hippos and buffalo wallowing in the lakes at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda but even me, the most excitable of safari goers, got a bit bored after 2 hours of the same hippos and buffalo!

One particular family of wildlife I think none of us ever want to see again is the ants. At our camp in Queen Elizabeth we discovered at bed time that our tents were almost surrounded by a thick, seething line of angry, fat, vicious safari ants that could climb up your legs and bite your bum before you had a chance to scream and slap and do the ants in your pants dance! Luckily for us our fearless and ever cheerful driver donned wellies and armed himself with a can of Doom and waded into the army of ants to save our tents while we escaped to the bar to build up the courage to return to our beds for the night. By the morning the sadistic little insects had concocted a new plan to get us and revenge was sweet for them when their new ant line captured me on the way to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I have never leapt higher and further out of my flip flops so fast and stood jiggling around on the steps of the bathroom slapping at the bastards as they bit my ankles. Once again our driver had to come to the rescue and save my flip flops from the seething mass of ants attacking them. Not content with ant attack I have also been attacked by spiders or mutant mosquitoes because I have had two of the most painful and disgustingly puss filled infected bites on my legs that are barely healing even now.

Anyway, even oozing bite wounds wouldn't have distracted me from our trip to Kibale Forest to track Chimps. Apparently only 85% of people actually see the Chimps so we were very lucky to get as good a view as we did. From seeing them high up in the gigantic fig trees bombarding us with discarded fruit and less desirable missiles we watched them swing, slide and bounce out of the trees like hairy firemen and then tracked them through the forest as they searched for more food. Our guide did say they were moving naturally to look for other group members, food etc, but at times it did feel like we were chasing them. One thing is for sure, no matter how similar to us they may seem, they are definitely far better adapted to plunging through the thick undergrowth of the forest floor than we are! It was amazing to see them but also incredible just to hear them all around you. Their hooting and screeching echoed around the forest and the boom of chimps pounding on buttress roots was incredible. I nearly leapt out of my skin when one chimp screamed and kicked a tree I was standing the other side of!

As well as observing the local wildlife I have been have great fun interacting with the locals, especially if it involves buying vibrant fabric or delicious street food from the markets. I have discovered the Ugandan version of the egg sandwich - the Rolex - a two egg omelette wrapped up with two chapattis for 25 pence. In Rwanda I spent an afternoon entertaining the local Mamas who draped me in Kitangas and head wraps and I pranced amongst their stalls giving them a fashion show while I waited for them to adjust a skirt I had made! We also visited an orphanage in Kenya as part of the trip and played with the kids for a few hours while they worked the hard sell on us trying to get us to sponsor them or buy crafts that local grannies had made. The kids all seemed happy and well fed but I appreciate this costs money and they have to raise it from comparitively rich westerners at every opportunity.

Having escaped the truck on Sunday we are enjoying our new found freedom and the ability to use our own initiative to make decisions about our life again to raid the craft markets for last minute souvenirs. If I'm not careful I'll be buying an extra bag at the market today to transport all my purchases back home in. 24 hours and I'll be back in the UK - please get the sun to shine I'm not looking forward to the cold! See you all soon for a good catch up, Frankwah xx

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