Motorcycle Safari

When you do safari with your Dad, you have a guide, a chef, a 4 by 4 and a general feeling of safety. Those days are gone. This time, when I wanted to see animals, I had to do it a little differently.

Some people do safari with private jets. Most people do it in jeeps. We drove into and through the safari the way we drive everywhere else – on a boda.

Did you know they had a branch in Uganda? ūüėČ

A boda-boda is a Ugandan crossbreed between a motorcycle and a piece of crap. The word originted with bicyclers who used to take passengers from “border-to-border”. This morphed, in a typically lazy Ugandan fashion, into “boda-to-boda”, then “boda-boda” and finally “boda”.

So on our little boda we have our little driver, my not so little self, my friend and our definitely not little bags. Somehow we all get on. The real miracle is that somehow, we stay on Рmost of the time. We leave the town of Sanga and the road soon turns to dust, the potholes get bigger and more frequent, and groups of people are replaced with herds of horny cows. Cows with horns.

We reach Lake Mburo National Park’s gate. There’s a thirty dollar entrance fee and I didn’t even want to go to his place. Haven’t I seen enough animals already? I get off and try to bargain but the closest I get to reducing the cost is an offer to sleep with the park workers. Which I turn down.

It is without a doubt the prettiest boda ride I’ve ever had. Savior (yes, that is our driver’s name) dexterously maneuvers us across rivers, around holes, up hills. We see lots of animals. Motorcycle parts fly off. Passengers almost do.

We reach the campsite and I try to bargain a little more. This is getting out of hand. At least we can dump our heavy bags, and continue the journey feeling balanced and free. Not like we’re three people on one little boda.

Another indefinite lapse of time, and we reach a stunning lodge which is way above of my budget (Dad, I miss you). We go horseback riding and see the whole zebra-gazelle-bushbuck crowd.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to ride a horse. So instead of telling me¬†what to do, the guide communicates with the horses. He tells his horse to take it easy and sticks my horse right behind his horse’s butt, commanding him to follow.

Unfortunately, his horse has a tendency to stop short and swing in all directions (my horse follows suit, and the last one to fly all over the place is me).

It happens again! I clutch the reins hard and yell. “Whoa!” And then I see that his horse had nearly stepped on a giant cobra, and then I really yell whoa.

From this moment on I’m thrilled I’ve paid the stupid 30 dollar entrance fee to the park. I had wanted to see a snake since arriving in Africa. Now I had almost fallen on one!

After our horseback ride, we get back on our boda, which feels painfully similar to riding a horse. Very soon after setting off on the journey back, day becomes night.

Did you know that buffaloes are one of the most dangerous animals to humans? And did you know they charge at night? And that when their young ones are with them, they are even more protective than irritable than usual?

The driver’s feeble light shines on a pack of buffaloes that are just a few meters ahead.

It is night.

They are with their kids.

And there are about fifty of them crossing the dirt path on which we are driving.

And so, behind two others, I am on a creaky motorcycle at night, in the middle of a safari in the middle of Africa, watching my highly-unqualified-as-a-guide driver toot his little horn at a pack of buffaloes.

I feel somewhat exposed.

But we make it to the Lakeside restaurant, bid Savior good night and arrange for a dining ranger to drive us back to the camp. Driving back (feeling very cozy and safe behind doors) we see a HUGE blob of blubber. Why did the hippo cross the road? Oh my G-d!! A cobra, buffaloes and now a monstrous hippo walking around? I’ve never seen one out of water; this day is insane!

Just as I’m squealing with excitement, two spiky porcupines scuttle past. Now I was really thrilled – talk about a well spent thirty bucks!

We reached the camp and as I stepped out of the shower I noticed some sparkly dots. Then I understood that they were four shining eyes, which must have been attatched to two big animals. So I stood and stared at them staring at me ¬†– and before my impatience took over and realized I couldn’t go to sleep or even walk out of the shower – I was all at once in awe, fear and love with nature.

Chimping and Pimping

I’m cheap. Well, not always, but on month four of traveling, having had no serious job in the past and certainly no prospects for the future, I decided it was time to watch where my money was going.

So bargaining has become my second favorite sport, and I’ve gone to a number of clubs for free, but every now and again I stray from my frugal ways. And so last week on my big trip west, I convinced myself that it made sense to pay 150 dollars to go chimapanzee tracking. People pay 500 dollars to track gorillas, so I kind of figured I was getting a bargain.

We were told we’d walk for an hour or two, have a mind-blowing hour hanging out with the monkeys (sorry, the primates) and trot happily back to a satisfying lunch. Which, of course, would not be included in the price.

But let’s not forget who we are. We are the girl who had to get a rabies injection on her first full day in Africa. We are the girl whose camera, wallet, keys (and almost ipod) got stolen in less than a month. We are the girl who fell into the sewer five minutes before going to crash a wedding. If that’s the way a chimp tracking day is supposed to look, that’s obviously not how it’s going to happen.

We started at 11. I was with a friend from Uganda, a friend from Tanzania and a guide. Oh, and gum boots. I had forgotten about mud, snakes and rainforests, and wore sandals – so I was given a not so new pair of rain boots to put on my bare feet. As you read, bear in mind that my feet are chafing, sweating and smelling throughout the story.

At noon I was still patient. I’ve gotten better, you know. By 1 I was starting to get antsy. Why hadn’t I made them agree to give us a refund if we didn’t see a chimp? We’d asked jokingly what would happen and they said we could get another shot. What the hell was I going to do with “another shot”? It’s not like I plan on hanging out in Ugandan forests the rest of my life.

When the clock inched toward two, I could see the guide was getting agitated. His tip was looking smaller and smaller. I cursed The Book (Lonely Planet East Africa) – it had said there was a 90% chance of seeing them in Kibale Forest. It said nothing about the other ten percent. But it began to dawn on me that ten percent meant that one walk in ten was a dud. And we might very well be that one.

We did see cool things. Twisted branches and lots of funky mushrooms. One of us would stop and take a picture, the next would take the same photo, and the third would too. It passed the time. But it didn’t help that sneaking sensation that we’d just gotten majorly ripped off. And I was starving (no, a bag full of nuts, oats, and a half kilo bag of yogurt do NOT count. I am a growing girl and I need lunch). At three o’clock we had some action.

Our guide who had gone ahead to see if he could find anything without three noisy brats disturbing him, came back running.¬†“I think he saw one!” my friend exclaimed, and we all charged. Let’s take a moment to remember my bare feet and gumboots.

Thanks. We ran and ran and ran. We wanted to see a chimp. Now. But when we reached a tree (which looked to me just like all the other trees) we saw our guide had given up.

We were always just one step behind him. We saw chimp tracks. We examined chimp shit. We heard chimp cries. BUT WE SAW NO CHIMP. Disappointed, tired and me with a growling belly, we trudged on.

At four o’clock (when we should have been sighing after a good coffee after a good dessert after an enormous meal) the guide’s walkie-talkie cackled with the information that another guide had found the chimpanzees. He turned and faced us. He looked solemnly into our eyes and said, “They found them. But they are far. We will have to walk quickly and quietly” we nodded in unison, thrilled beyond words. There was hope!

We walked. Through thorny plants and long weeds, through water and mud and insects – and at around half past four, saw a very seriously-dressed safari couple (I’m sure you remember the type from my previous post). They were both looking up. ¬†We looked up. And what did we see?

One pot-bellied chimpanzee reclining on a branch – playing with himself. He eyed us smugly and twiddled his ding-a-ling. Was this what they meant by genetically similar to humans?

“What?!?!?!!” I shrieked. “Is this it?” I looked at the guide. Where were the other 99 chimps? Why was he so high up on the tree? And why was he looking right at me and pleasuring himself?!

I looked at the girls. It didn’t take long for us all to howl with laughter. The chimp continued to stare and do his thing and I tried to convince myself that I had not just paid 150 dollars to see a masturbating monkey. Sorry ‚Äď primate.

Chimp or pimp, it was money well spent, even for a cheapskake like me.

Can you see that little black spot in the distance?

Safari People

The cameras….

So you want to be a safari person?

First and foremost, you need a hat. It should be wide-brimmed and dopey and preferably have some ridiculously touristy symbol printed on it, such as the Tanzania flag.

You probably wear glasses but if you don’t you must have sunglasses.

You might want a balaclava or some other health-obsessed form of dust-protection. An airy, button down shirt is best, but again, something super-touristy will work as well. Or you could have your tour group’s emblem printed on it.

I am sure you’ve already bought yourself a pair of khaki pants (probably sweat-wicking, rainproof and have the ability to make you fly), but if you haven’t go do that.

The most important part of your attire, however, is a camera. Or should I say telescope? It is best if you can get a camera with a zoom that touches the animal’s fur, but if you can’t, you must make sure it is one that will allow you to count the number of whiskers a lion has. And x-ray vision.

 

With my little point and shoot, running shirts and flowery hat, I was a disgrace to safari people worldwide. I trust you will hold up the name better than I did.

Peeing My Way Up Kilimanjaro

I do believe I have been blessed with a healthy and functioning body, so thanks, God. But. Why couldn’t you have made my bladder just a teeny tiny bit bigger?

It’s really not a problem in my normal life. During the day it’s not an issue, and at night I just sleepwalk to the bathroom and back (or down to the kitchen for a midnight meal, since I certainly was blessed with a big enough appetite). But when¬†I want to climb Kilimanjaro, having a small bladder is a very big deal.

Day 1: To Forest Camp

The Lemosho route starts from the Western side of the mountain. We spent the first day walking through dense vegetation in a green rainforest. As I walked through the thick plants for my very first pee on Kili, I got bitten Рthrough my pants Рby a tiny flying insect. Within seconds, my skin was stinging and a patch that looked like seven mosquito bites together apperead on my leg. Seems like the animals of Africa have a thing for my leg.

Night 2: Shira 1 Camp 2900 m/3200 m (depending on whom you ask)

Could I be any more of an old lady? I got up in the middle of the night to pee. I came back from the journey ready to eat. In order to do that, I had to pull out my false theeth (retainer). Well, I consoled myself – at least I don’t have afternoon tea (hmm. the porters serve it every evening) or walk with a stick (I walk with two.)

Night 3: Shira 2 Camp 3500 m

Denial. I stayed in my sleeping until four in the morning, convincing myself I didn’t really have to go. I nearly exploded.

Night 4: Barranco Camp 3976 m

The denial continues. Using logic doesn’t seem to get me out of the cozy sleeping bag and warmish tent¬†into the freezing air, just to pull down my pants. My new strategy is to wait until I absolutely can’t put it off any longer, and then, when I’m faced with the¬†dilemma of peeing outside or in my sleeping bag, I sprint out.

Night 5: Karanga Camp 3930 m

I walk over a thin veneer of frost and plants in the middle of the night. I facethe distant glittering lights below, and behind me looms a Mama Kili. I am out of breath and shivering, and I wonder why some of us feel a need to be so close to nature. Perhaps it’s to make up for all those who have gone astray. But that’s as deep as my thoughts can go when I pee in the middle of the night, and I scurry back into my tent.

Night 6: Barafu Camp 4640 m

Tonight I do not wake up to pee. Instead, I wake up at 11:40 to put on all of my layers and talk myself into climbing up to the top of one humongous slab of rock. More about that night coming up…

Rabies, Baby!

injection time

On my second day in Africa, after having arrived, met my friends, and having nearly all of my equipment (my sleeping mat and a pack of gum were stolen) I was brimming with excitement and ready for my absolutely wonderful African adventure. Everyone had been warning me about all of the possible horrible ways I could die, and I was going to prove them all wrong.

We arrived at Lake Nakuru National Park. It’s a¬†great blue¬†lake in Kenya, where people do safari drives to see flamingoes, rhinos, buffalo and… monkeys. At the parking lot, our guides got out to pay the entrance fee. There was no need to get out of the car.

But having been in the stuffy van for too long, and in general being way too young and hyper and stupid to sit still, my friends and I tumbled out of the car. We streched our limbs, yelled about how cool we were to be traveling in Africa, and started snapping photos of the adorable monkeys that were scattered around.

They were either Velvet Monkeys or Vervet Monkeys, depending on whom you ask (like many other facts in this country). They had long grey fur that looked soft and smooth, cute little faces and they carried their kids on them. “They’re very mischevious,” our guide had said. We saw them go into one of the cars with open windows and snatch a bag of chips. Really naughty, but very photogenic.

As I walked over to my friend, I noticed three of them were huddled together, glaring at me. I know I’m white and everything, but I’m not that funny looking. Anyways, they were only monkeys, so I didn’t take it to heart, but rather as a sort of challenge. I happen to be quite the master of The Blinking Game.

But these guys were playing dirty. A few moments of locked looks passed, and the monkey with the most severe eyes ran up, jumped on my leg and sunk his vicious teeth into my left calf.

“What the hell?” I asked my friend in disbelief. I felt betrayed. “Danya, run!” she told me.

“But he’ll catch me,” I rationalized, and looked at the little creature. Asshole.¬†I got out of his way and then my other friend came by smiling at the whole situation until he saw my leg. I spun my head back and saw bright streaks of blood running down my leg and splattered all over my shoe. (Finally, my equpiment would look well worn and used)

Since Romy is a medic, Iwe both sat down and started laughing and cleaning out the bite. Everything was going well until a blonde woman came along and looked at my leg in horror.

“Oh my God! Did the monkeys do that? Oh yeah, they are really awful. Did he scratch you or bite you? Oh, he bit you?! Well you have to get that taken¬†care of, right away. You need to get to a hospital, you don’t know what these monkeys have been eating, what sort of diseases they carry. They could have Rabies! I don’t want to scare you but you have to get that checked out immediately!”

Okay. Time to get nervous. I only really panicked when I imagined how my mom would react and then I started thinking I’d probably die in the next few hours.

The hospital bathroom

So I looked around and tried to figure out how to get to a hospital. Since our guide constantly looked high, the cook didn’t speak English or have many teeth, and my friends, who are great, were just as white and foreign and shell-shocked as I was, I turned to the driver.¬†He reached my shoulders and was bald with a huge smile, and was my only hope.

“Yes, we will take you to hospital. Okay.” This was my first encounter with a concept¬†I’ve come to know well: “African time.” Things don’t happen when you want them to. They happen when… well, when they happen. And every little thing, is gonna be all right. So after some minutes of useless consultations and negotiations among the guides and park rangers, we were all back in the van.

After a bumpy, dusty ride, we arrived at some section of a building that had some variation of the root “medic” painted on it, and¬†proved to be¬†a very very untouristy place. The man in the white robe behind the desk took a quick glance at the wound and said it wasn’t very deep. The driver with the enormous smile stood in between us and translated parts of sentences. I asked what about rabies. Oh no, rabies is only found in carnivorous animals. Mmhmm. He wrote something in his big book and prescribed me something called megamox.

Enough with all this save-the-world-let’s-be-one-big-happy-equal-African-family crap. I wanted to get to the richest most Western hospital there was. Now.

So we were back in the car, most people around me liking me a good deal less than they had a few hours earlier. We arrived at a decent place (by driving on wrong sides of the road a few times) and the doctor, who was still far from having a name I could pronounce, seemed to know his stuff. He told me there was a pretty big chance that those monkeys had rabies.

“So how do I know if I have rabies?” I inquired.

“There’s no test. But if you die, then you know you have it.” Oh. Uplifted, I entered the nurse’s room to get my first of five rabies injections.

She took my different measurements, and I noticed that not eating breakfast or lunch was one way to lose weight. On her desk were two books: The Holy Bible and The Old Testament. Oh God help me. And then she asked for my hand. Was she going to start reading my palm now?! “Where are you from?”

“Israel.”

the questionnaire at the missionary hospital

“Israel! Oh wow! Do you know that the lord loves Israel? He watches over¬†the¬†People of Israel¬†and protects them.” Well, I sure hoped he did, because I was in the middle of nowhere, Kenya, with a fatal disease and a woman reading my palm.

But she’d only wanted my pulse. So she jabbed my arm and treated the wound and that was the end of that.

(Tomorrow I get my fourth shot. I’ll write about the other experiences in the African healthcare system later, but for now I’ll reassure you that I haven’t shown any signs of being about to die! No really, I’m fine.)