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Friday, December 15, 2017

Chimp tracking turns out to be a bum trip for one member

Marilyn being carried out of the jungle
Four of us are standing around Marilyn.  She’s lying in the mud moaning.  Our guide, Fran, is standing off to the side, her rifle propped against a tree sobbing inconsolably.  I’m not sure which woman to run to first. Yesterday everyone one agreed was the “Best Day Ever!”  Today, not so much.

It’s been a few days since I last posted so I’ll bring you up to date:

 Yesterday - Wednesday November 15th   Murchison Falls National Park

Rolled Land Cruise, but where are the occupants?
We leave Budongo Eco Lodge at 5:30 and head down a winding twisting road in the dark.  About three kilometers down the road we encounter an abandoned land cruiser that has rolled over in the ditch.  We get out and examine it to see if there’s anyone who might need help.  The roof has collapsed, the windshield is shattered and deflated airbags lie on the front seat – but there’s no sign of the occupants.   Probably the animals got them. We press on.  Peter wants to make the early ferry crossing.

Sunrise on the Nile at Murchison Falls
We arrive at the ferry just before dawn.  It’s a small barge that can hold about a dozen vehicles.  We dutifully load up and watch a glorious sunrise on the Nile.  I keep an eye out to see if I can hippos or crocodiles, or maybe “Famous Amos” walking across the water with some loaves of bread and a couple of Nile perch – on his way to feed the poor.

Upon arriving on the north bank we begin our first serious game drive.  For the next several hours we encounter giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, wildebeests, and antelope.  We even come across one of the famous Ugandan lions lounging in a tree.  It’s almost as spectacular as Kenya’s masai mara. 

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep Sue Ellen continues to pepper Peter with questions. 
“Pee-tah!  Pee-tah!  Are those Indian or African elephants?”
Finally I can’t take it anymore.
“Enough!”  I scream.  “Enough!  For the love of God, Sue Ellen.  Shut up!  Shut – the fuck up!  For just five minutes!  Please!” My hands begin to move towards her neck.

“Did you say something, Jeff?”  asks Penny.  You were muttering in your sleep.
I realize I had drifted off and was having another Malarone hallucination.  It’s common knowledge that some malaria pills can cause hallucinations as well really “interesting” dreams.  There’s even documentation that someone used the Malarone side effects as a murder defense.  I file that bit of information away for possible later use. 

“Nothing,” I reply to her.  “Just a bad dream.” That won’t end, I add under my breath.

Actually Sue Ellen has briefly stopped asking questions and is recounting her American Thanksgiving tradition where everyone in her extended family brings their guns up to her ranch and shoot things. Sue Ellen mentions that hubby number four has 14 guns.
“Have you ever thought of dressing up like a turkey?” I ask.
Did I mention she voted for Trump?

She’s momentarily distracted by something outside and grabs her camera with the 2000mm telephoto lens and swings it shoot a shot of a wildebeest out the side window nearly knocking my hat off with the giant lens.

I’m momentarily blinded by the flash.
On the way to Murchison Falls on the Nile
“You know Sue Ellen,” I offer helpfully, “You don’t need a flash when it’s broad daylight and the animal is about six miles away.”
“I always leave it on. It helps,” she retorts.

After a few hours, Peter doubles back to the ferry where we’ll board a small cruise ship to head up to Murchison Falls.  We’re treated to all kinds of animals and birds feeding along the river shore on the way.

Murchison Falls - close up
Murchison Falls is a waterfall between Lake Kyogo and Lake Albert where the Nile river forces its way through a gap only 23 feet wide and fops nearly 150 feet before flowing into Lake Albert.  Interesting enough, Sir Roderick Murchison never laid eyes on the falls.  They were named after him by Sir Samuel White Baker who discovered the falls in the mid 1860’s. 

There’s an option to get off the boat at the bottom of the falls and hike up to the top. We’re told it would take about 45 minutes.  We are the only group who opted to do this.  While this gives my heart a fairly good work out, it’s worth the spectacular view we got at the top.  If you look way down the river you might even see where Ernest Hemmingway crashed his plane in 1954.

My cabin at Baker's Lodge at Murchison Falls
Peter picks us up at the top and we head on to Bakers Lodge.  Bakers Lodge is everything that Budongo wasn’t.  It’s the most beautiful safari lodge I’ve stayed at.    As is the case with Budongo I am given the most distant cottage – only a few feet from the Nile.  I can see hippos cavorting in the water just a few feet from my porch.
The hippos right outside my door

During the night I hear the hippos come ashore and munch on the grass right by the stairs to my porch.  I can’t resist: I grab my flashlight and turned it on them.  Who knew hippos can move so fast!  They race down the few feet to the river and literally throw themselves into the water bellowing the whole time.   I think if you could translate what they were saying it would be “Bright Light!!! Bright Light!!”

It’s been a long day filled with interesting animals and we all agreed “Best day ever!”

Today  - Thursday November 16th   Kibale Forest National Park

Today is going to be our first foray deep into the Ugandan jungle.  We’ve all signed up for a “chimpanzee tracking experience.”  We have no idea when we arrive just how much of an experience it’s going to be – but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Fran, Me, & Penny
All the folks who have signed up for the chimp experience assemble at an orientation center where we’re split up into smaller groups and assigned an armed ranger.  Our armed fearless ranger, Fran, is about five foot nothing, has a rifle to protect us – not from the chimps, but from jungle elephants.  Who knew there was such a thing?  I’ve always thought that elephants hung out in the open or near the water.  But evidently there’s a whole sub-species of elephants that hang out in the dense jungle.  They are distinguished from bush elephants by the fact they have only three toenails on their hind foot as opposed to four for their bigger cousins. 

Oh yes, they also are reported to have nastier tempers than their cousins.  Probably has to do with that missing toe nail.  In any case, I don’t plan to get close enough to find out which is which.  Fran’s rifle, which looks like it was last used in the Boer War, doesn’t look like it would deter a gopher – much less an angry three toed jungle elephant.  Fran informs me the rifle isn’t to actually shoot elephants but scare them away.  Good luck with that.

Jungle elephants - with toes hidden
We’re informed this troop of Chimpanzees has been “habituated.”  That’s different from being “tamed.”   Over a period of years they have slowly been introduced to humans. There is no interaction between the humans and chimpanzees.  They just look at us as sort of moving trees.  We’re informed of a list of “do’s and don’ts.”   No food or drink in our packs, don’t mimic them, keep at least 8 meters away and the biggie – “no flash photography.”  We’re told once we encounter the chimps we will have only one hour to spend with them.  They don’t want the chimps to become too habituated. 

After about 20 minutes we know we’re getting close to the chimps.  They aren’t a subtle animal.  There’s much screaming and hooting coming from the forest.  We follow the sounds until we come upon the troop. 

Chimp - just before he falls out of the tree
Everyone grabs their cameras and begin snapping pictures.  Sue Ellen has affixed the space telescope to her camera and is focusing on the alpha male in a tree about 8 meters away.  The lens is practically in the poor animals face. 
She presses the shutter.
The animal screams and falls out of the tree.  Sue Ellen forgot to turn the flash off.
The troops heads off into the jungle with our group in hot pursuit and that’s when it happens.

Marilyn's broken leg
Fran, our guide, is in front clearing a trail for us to follow.  Marilyn is behind her and I trail just behind.  Suddenly Marilyn trips over a root.  It isn’t a big trip – just your everyday trip.  It could be on a park trail or even a street curb.  She falls in a slow motion twisting to the right screaming in pain as she falls.  I don’t think it is anything much and hold out a hand to help her up – then I look at her leg.  There is no doubt she won’t be walking on that leg for a while.

Fran, leaps into action and removes off Marilyn’s shoe and tries to massage the bones back together.   Which was a hopeless task since it was obvious it was broken.  Luckily all the guides have two way radios and she manages to call the orientation center and inform them of the situation.   They reply that they’ll send some guys with a stretcher.

As soon as the rescue is organized Fran burst into tears.  We tell her the accident was just one of those things – it wasn’t her fault.   Nevertheless she feels responsible.  We split up in two groups – one trying to keep Marilyn calm and the other trying console Fran.

About half an hour later four strong guys arrive carrying a stretcher, load up Marilyn and haul her out of the jungle.  That is the last we see of her. 

After Marilyn is on her way out of the jungle we tell Fran we won’t be upset if she just wants to take us back to orientation center.  We figure she’d had enough for one day, but she insists on resuming the search for the chimps that have been gone for over an hour.   

To her credit, Fran finds the chimps again, and we were treated to an hour of watching the Chimp troop soap opera.

After our adventures we are transported back to our lodgings a Primate Lodge for showers, lunch and a long wait for Peter to return from looking after Marilyn. 

We agree  that it wasn’t the best day ever – especially for Marilyn

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