Baboons

Baboons

There are cheeky monkeys, and then there are baboons. At the ferry landing, a big male was hanging out by the gift shop of all places, acting like he was waiting for it to open so he could buy a trinket or something. We opened the door to our safari car, and in seconds the baboon shot across the parking lot. We were all sure he was going to steal one of the children in the car (to be fair, the little ones are snack-sized), but instead he reached in a deftly snatched one of the pack lunches. We can marvel for a moment about how aware this baboon was that he could spot a paper bag in a dark car from thirty meters away and know it contained lunch; and admire his ability to go right into the midst of a crowd of people and steal their food and get away with it; but mostly my take-away is that an animal that can do that can really mess me up if it wanted to.

When we returned, the same baboon was leaning against the driver’s-side door of someone else’s car, like a primate gangster demanding protection money.

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Nile River cruise

Nile River cruise

The point of the river cruise is to see the actual Murchison Falls, but along the way you get a bonus mini-safari along the river. The river guide tried to his best to explain what we were looking at, but the crowd was a bit noisy, and there were some concerns that if we all stood on the same side the boat might tip over and we’d all get eaten by crocodiles, so I must confess I didn’t learn much. I did, however, see more elephants, which is always fun.

IMG_4241 Continue reading “Nile River cruise”

Murchison Falls game drive

Murchison Falls game drive

It is possible to stay at a resort inside Murchison Falls National Park, but it is cheaper (and, I am told, a bit more fun) to stay at one of the many lovely lodges outside of the park, so that’s what I did. The trade-off, though, is that you have to carefully plan your trip and wake up really early. There are no bridges across the Nile at this point, so to get into the park proper you have to take a ferry. The ferry operates from 7am to 7pm, and it only holds eight cars at a time. And because it is dry season, the animals are going to spend most of their day in the shade and out of sight, so if you want to see one, you really have to be on the 7am ferry. Which means you have to wake up early, have breakfast, and make sure you are there in time to be one of those first eight cars to go across.

Since I am a maniac, I woke up at around 4 and grouched at everyone in my party to get in gear so that we could leave on time. As it turns out, ours was the second car to get to the landing point, and I felt my grumpiness vindicated. Continue reading “Murchison Falls game drive”

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls, just east of where the Nile takes a rest at Lake Albert, bills itself as the “Most Powerful Waterfall in the World.” I have learned not question these kinds of claims, as nothing positive can come out of that sort of conversation. After all, in my hometown the Empire State Building claims to be the world’s most famous building, which can be disputed by a number of other buildings around the world, but who cares, right?

After leaving Jinja I decided I needed to go someplace new, so I am now up at Murchison Falls National Park. I took a riverboat to the falls with the intention of hiking to the top, but then someone told me that you can just drive up, so I stayed in the boat, turned around, and then drove to the summit. Much easier. Here’s what I saw.

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Another Nile sunrise

Another Nile sunrise

I spent the weekend at a place called the Hairy Lemon, which is a small island in the Nile about an hour north of Jinja, which has somehow become my go-to weekend destination. The island attracts kayakers, mostly, but I don’t do that, so mostly I sat around drinking, avoiding monkeys, and overhearing people talking about kayaks.

But in the morning, while all of those fit young types were sleeping it off, I had the island entirely to myself, and I spent it trying to capture the sunset. Here are the best of my pictures. Continue reading “Another Nile sunrise”

My favorite shitholes

My favorite shitholes

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” -The Great Gatsby

Many years ago, I and a few other expats were hanging out in someone’s apartment in Erdenet, Mongolia, playing a game of “Why it sucks” with an inflatable globe our hostess had lying around. The gist of the game was that we’d toss the globe up and catch it, and wherever the catcher’s finger landed (I think we went with the right-hand index finger) we all had to say why that place sucks. It was usually pretty easy—I remember landing on Somalia, for examplebut sometimes we had to be creative, especially when our fingers landed on some of our favorite places. It wasn’t fair to say, “Hey, I like it there!” We had to provide a convincing reason for why that particular place was, basically, a shithole.

It wasn’t lost on us that Erdenet, the city we were in, could be described by some people as a shithole. Small, poor, and isolated, it basically is a shithole, at least by most measures. If Erdenet was a shithole, though, it was our shithole, and we loved it.

A Soviet-built cement smudge on an otherwise barren stretch of hills, Erdenet exists entirely because of its copper mine, one of the largest in the world, and the mine’s slag heap looms over the southern side of the city. It’s prettier than it sounds, though. Continue reading “My favorite shitholes”