I got up early on Wednesday, packed one small backpack with everything I thought I needed (Mom the flashlight turned out to be a lifesaver! figuratively). My driver and guide, Mr. David, picked me up at the hotel in the Pearl of Africa, Inc., safari van, and we shot out of Kampala, just missing morning rush hour (which lasts from 8am-3pm. Evening rush hour starts at noon). We drove about 4-5 hours on the bewildering highways of rural Uganda. The national highway system is characterized by the most schizophrenic planning I’ve ever encountered. Several miles of immaculate asphalt will often be sandwiched between two entirely unpaved stretches of the same road. Unmarked speed bumps, bulging drainage pipes, and accidental piles of dirt provide constant surprises. You begin to prefer dirt or gravel surfaces to paved ones, unless the latter are brand new, because the older, crumbling asphalt has more of Uganda’s national product, potholes. In fact, “highway” is really too strong a word for the two-lane road with no lights, no signs, no guardrails, no shoulder, and no telling how many goats crossing at a given moment. No matter how remote or urban the setting for the highway, you are always certain to have one of these banana-cycle guys along the side.
Local driving etiquette is an experience in itself. Because the potholes, banana guys, ladies with enormous objects balanced on their heads, and goats cluster nearer to the sides of the road—and since there are no lane markers anyway—drivers tend to stay right in the middle of the road. This results in an exhilarating game of “chicken” virtually every single time two cars come from opposite directions: each driver, attempting to spare his suspension as long as possible from the beating it will take from the potholes in his actual lane, stays in the center of the road on a collision course with the other driver until the very last moment, at which point both drivers
Finally I reached Kibale National Forest, home to one of the greatest concentrations of monkeys and chimpanzees in the world. I checked in at the nice Kibale Primate Lodge and went on a hike in the Bigodi Swamp. The local tribe has come up with a pretty cool business model for their swamp, which is ringed by a 3-mile hiking trail. Apparently they protect the monkeys inside from hunting and deforestation, provide guides for tours, and then use the funds generated for community enterprises like schools and irrigation. Led by my trusty guide Ivan, I saw a ton of swamp creatures, including baboons, colobus monkeys, and many other of our playful distant relatives with obscure names I can’t recollect.
After posing proudly for a few Kodak moments, the bodyguard whistled that the coast was clear, and the alpha male emerged with a swagger. The rangers have named him “Mobutu” after the late dictator of Zaire in light of his tyrannical behavior to his underlings and especially the women of this chimp clan. Johnson suspected he was due for a coup attempt, as happens occasionally in chimpanzee communities, probably by a member of his five-chimp “Cabinet” of almost-alpha males. After winning the respect of the despot, we sort of earned the good graces of the community and were treated for the next 3 and a half hours to a staggering number of swinging, scampering, jumping and hollering chimpanzees as we traipsed through the jungle, which did have some trails carved out by elusive and destructive forest elephants (which we did not see). At one point a group of chimp “warriors” cornered a family of colobus monkeys, which chimpanzees apparently eat with great zest. The entire chimp community rose up in joyful shrieks as the news spread. From my guide, later supplemented by some research of my own, I learned that chimps do indeed hunt and eat meat, as well as going to war against other chimp communities (see, this does have something to do with my research project). Unfortunately the jungle was so dark and my camera lens so affordable that I didn’t really get many good pictures, but I’ll put up a few of what I’ve got.
Oh no they are closing the “business center” here for the night. Well, much, much more on my safari tomorrow! Love to all.