Extra Helping of Chimpanzee Love at Kibale National Park

chimpanzee trekking

Carefully pushing my way through the trees and bushes, I stepped over the fallen trees, vines and roots that reached out to trip me. It was early morning and my fellow travelers and I were on a chimpanzee trek in the Kibale National Park. Moses, the ranger, led our small group of four through the dense vegetation. We’d been dropped off along the road and led into the forest. It was as if we had left civilization behind. If Moses had taken me 100 yards in, had me close my eyes and spun me around, I would have been totally lost and unable to find my way back out. The sheer variety of shades of green was incredibly beautiful as the sunlight filtered down highlighting leaves here and there. Sometimes, you just have to smile.

Let me backtrack just a little. After I’d left Ngamba Island, Francis, who was our guide for the duration of our Uganda trip, picked me up and delivered me safely to the hotel in Entebbe. I was looking forward to meeting my three fellow travelers. Two of them, Beth and Paul, were from Charlotte, North Carolina and Amy, a fellow solo traveler, was actually from Denver. After a good night’s sleep, Francis drove us from Entebbe to Fort Portal. The driving tours are less expensive than flying from one place to the next. The advantage I’ve found is the opportunity to really experience the country from eye level and to meet people along the way. This was my first experience with squat toilets and a definite workout for my quads and glutes.

As we arrived at our lodging for the next two nights, I was surprised to see all the stairs. There were 100+ steps to get to the main building. I was so grateful that someone else was transporting the luggage. When I arrived at the top and stepped into the lodge, it was clear that the climb was well worth every step. We were on the edge of a caldera and looking down on the most beautiful crater lake. We’d arrived at Kyaninga Lodge. Wow! It was the perfect base for the chimpanzee trek.

Kyaninga Lodge

There was time for a quick walk before dinner and while it was overcast, it had stopped raining and I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Kyaninga Lodge

Up on the hill behind my head is Kyaninga Lodge. I wasn’t the only one on the trail. Beth and Paul had decided to stretch their legs too.

Kyaninga Lodge

Where are they? The little white and black dots in the bottom left of the photo. I decided to just enjoy the view, so I stayed at the top of the hill and was soon joined by a young boy who was watching his family’s cattle while they grazed. He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak the Ugandan language, but we had fun trying to converse. He let me pet one of his cows that didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I was. I think this is the closest I’ve been to a cow since I tried to corral a few in my early days as a patrol officer in northeast Denver. They weren’t very cooperative then either.

I’m not so sure the cow…or maybe a bull…appreciated the view as much as I did.

Now that we are caught up, let’s get back to the chimpanzee trek, which is the main focus of this post.

The tropical forest was beautiful. With all the mosses and huge tree roots, it felt very ancient and undisturbed. It wasn’t too long before we heard things hitting the ground and as we looked up, we saw a chimpanzee eating some kind of fruit and dropping the leftovers. He/she was high up in the trees and not focused at all on us.

chimpanzee in Kabale National Park

chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

As we moved around to get a better angle for photos, Paul ended up getting attacked by red ants. Their bites can be painful and the ants are very large. Moses helped remove them all. It was Paul’s day for added adventure. He also got baptized walking underneath a chimpanzee relieving himself. After that, we all paid closer attention by looking up as well as down.

Not long after, we were joined by several groups of people with other guides. Considering how large the forest is, I was a bit surprised. There was a male chimpanzee in a nest on the ground and before long, he was surrounded by tourist paparazzi.

There were probably between 20-25 people in a circle all the way around him. He didn’t seem to be too bothered and was probably entertained by all the attention. There was a tree he could have easily climbed. Maybe I read too much into one of the messages he sent.

chimpanzee

chimpanzee

People were moving in closer and snapping away. No one was leaving and I finally had enough. It may not have bothered him, but it bothered me and so I told my guide I was moving away. I didn’t want to continue to be part of the paparazzi group. For me, it was one thing to take a photo and move on, and another thing to crowd a habituated, but still wild animal. It bothered me more than I expected and brought tears to my eyes. To me, it was about respect.

My small group left the area and soon it was time for those other groups to move on. Shortly thereafter, we were alone in the forest once again and could observe and learn about the behavior we were watching. I looked into the eyes of several chimpanzees at Ngamba Island and was so touched by what I saw there. To follow up that experience with one where I could see the chimps in their natural home was really special.

 

The only ones that seemed curious about us were the babies.

 

 

 

 

Snares are still an issue and this chimpanzee looks like he may lose his hand if he doesn’t receive medical care soon.

I’m fascinated by their fingers…

…and toes.

We stopped and had lunch while sitting on a log in the forest. It was peaceful and relaxing.

I managed to catch this guy in mid yawn.

And then we were back to the road. We crossed over to follow, but the troop was moving quickly and outdistanced us. We’d spent about six hours with the chimpanzees and decided that we should call it a day…an amazing day for sure.

Special thanks to Moses whose expertise and passion made the experience even better. Let’s do it again sometime soon.

On the Road to Monarchs

Monarch butterfly drawing

The cat was intent on its victim and didn’t notice my approach. The victim was a beautiful large butterfly held captive in the cat’s claws. I chased it away and picked up the butterfly, noticing the wings were a bit battered around the edges. It didn’t appear that there was other damage. As a young girl, I was fascinated by the huge colorful butterfly on my hand.

The butterfly sat on my hand for a very long time. I remember thinking it was grateful that I had saved it and that’s why it stayed. Now, I’m guessing it was probably in some kind of butterfly shock. It finally flew away. I’ve always remembered and treasured that moment. I don’t remember if it was a Monarch butterfly, just that I found it beautiful. Even today, I find butterflies magical.

I love the story of struggling to get out of the cocoon to make their wings strong and their incredible transformation. Then to find out that the Monarchs migrate and generations who have never been there find the path each year, created more of a mystery and allure. School children in the U.S. are planting milkweed to provide food for the butterflies as they migrate across the country. See…magical.

Today I’m in Mexico City a few days prior to our tour leaving to see the Migration of the Monarchs. My friend Delia is traveling with me and we’ve been looking forward to the adventure. I’ve never been to this area of Mexico and we plan on seeing a few of the local sites before we leave for the mountains.

Stay tuned!!

Harriet and the Perfect Glass of Iced Tea

I settled in on the stool at the Public Kitchen and Bar in Queenstown, New Zealand. Twenty four hours earlier, I’d been eating at Moo’s Gourmet Burgers watching the surfers and walking along the incredible beach in Manly, Australia, 1200 miles away.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

Richard, our Sydney host, was kind enough to take us to the airport. We were flying Virgin Australian Airlines and wouldn’t you know it, they weighed our carry ons. Mine contained my backpack with all my camera gear, so it weighed double what it was supposed to. In the middle of the check-in area, we are reworking the contents of our bags. I pulled out my backpack and set it aside. The woman didn’t require that my backpack get weighed, or I would have been in big trouble. And…thank goodness, no underwear came flying out as we frantically tried to get our bags to compliance. The flight itself was uneventful.

We picked up our rental car and while I was focused on staying on the left, driving on the other side of the road, I had forgotten to disengage the emergency brake. Now, in my defense, there was no indicator anywhere that it was on until I looked out my side mirror and saw the car smoking. Delia figured it out quickly and we were back on track. Knowing that we are going to be driving thousands of miles on this trip, we added a GPS to the car rental. Several miles later, the GPS is telling me to turn left to our location.

Left? There isn’t a road to the left. So now, I’m cussing the GPS and calling her defective. We continue driving for another 5 miles looking for a road to the left. We finally spoke to some construction workers who redirected us back to where we were originally. Well, the GPS was right and the Remarkables Lodge had a tiny hidden driveway. Phew! Our GPS was working and it was only me that was defective.

Oops! The Remarkable Lodge showed us arriving the next day so they had to take about twenty minutes to get the room ready. Did I screw up the arrangements and was it for just this night or more nights to come? I was a bit panicky, but it looked like my lodging was scheduled for the right days. Still, our room was a welcome sight once we finally were checked in.

Okay, I know you are wondering about Harriet already, but I wanted to give you a bit of back story so there is a clear understanding about how our day went.

We headed to Queenstown for dinner and only had a few hours to spend. Queenstown is beautiful and while it is a resort style community, it is not as crowded as the resorts in Colorado and not as elite. And…the views are spectacular!

Queenstown Lakeshore

We stepped into the Public Kitchen and Bar and were welcomed by Harriet and the rest of the staff. Harriet is from England and asked for our drink order. Knowing I was still learning how to drive the New Zealand way, I decided not to have a glass of wine and instead ordered an iced tea. I am an iced tea addict and it sounded like the perfect dinner drink.

Harriet was very confused. An iced tea? She looked at Ruby, her coworker who paused, and then said it’s going to take us a minute to do it right. Then Harriet was all over it. An iced tea?

It was the prettiest and most perfect ice tea I’ve ever had.

iced tea

And…on top of all that, dinner was amazing. What a fabulous end to what had been a difficult day. We were in New Zealand where the iced tea was delicious and the scenery so pretty it doesn’t translate in pictures. 

Thank you Harriet!

Retirement – The First Month

A month…it’s been a month since I left my job…just a few days officially, since I entered retirement. I was on the books burning vacation time through the end of February. It’s unbelievable that I’ve been gone from the police department for a month. Time has flown by and I’m not sure I can even tell you how I’ve spent my days, other than that I’ve been really busy.

First of all, I haven’t missed my job for a moment. And…I’m actually a little surprised. The people I care about are still part of my life and I can easily stay in touch on Facebook, or by scheduling coffee or lunch. So, I don’t miss my friends and coworkers.

Here are some of the highlights of my first month:

  • Contribution: Volunteering is an area of my life I was hoping to expand and I just finished my two day training at the Denver Zoo. I’m now an Ambassador and looking forward to spending four-six hours a week contributing my time to a place I love with a mission I can support. The volunteers range from teens to people in their eighties. It’s a diverse group and we had a great time.

Volunteer Denver Zoo

  • Travel: In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving for New Zealand. It’s a trip that has been under consideration for the last five or six years and it’s finally time. We’ll be on a three week driving tour that will cover highlights from both the north and south islands. Airbnb has become our best friend as we do research on where my friend, Delia, and I are going to stay. While I love the wild places, the people are definitely the icing on the travel cake. We can meet people who love travelers and have the inside track on the best adventures.
  • Puppy Love: Scarlett O’hair-a has already made her blog debut. She’ll be coming home after I get back from the trip. In the meantime, Olive and I have been really working on her anxiety by attending training. She’s very smart and it’s been a joy to spend so much time working on her skills and visiting the Cherry Creek off-leash park. Olive runs her heart out and loves to play in the water. After the initial adjustment, I’m confident Olive will be thrilled to have a little furry sister.

Cherry Creek with Olive

The first week I focused on making sure that I was busy, then it was too busy. Once I get back from my trip, I think I will be limiting the number of scheduled days so I have more time to relax and play. I’m definitely doing more than I was before I retired. Exercising is going to move higher up on my priority list. The weather is continuing to improve and I’m looking forward to hiking the beautiful places.

Looking back, it’s been a great month. Some days I need to pinch myself to make sure it’s real. You mean I get paid to do whatever I want, including napping? Yes.

Retirement is good.

Puppy Update Five Weeks

Five week old Golden Retriever
One of the 5 week old puppies being socialized during a visit with my breeder’s mother.

My puppy is five weeks old and I will finally meet her on Valentine’s Day. What a perfect day to begin a life long relationship. 

golden retriever puppy

Now the big question…how do you select a new family member from a group of five adorable girls? Most of my dogs have been adopted from a shelter. This time, I’m selecting one from a litter of gorgeous puppies. Thank goodness I have a quality breeder to help us make the match. My puppy won’t be ready to come home for another month or so, but next weekend we’ll be formally introduced and I will be looking into her eyes, breathing in that fantastic puppy breath.

The trainer is meeting with me in the next couple of weeks to talk about the process of integrating her into the family and training her to be a therapy dog. This puppy comes from a long line where many of the dogs have become therapy dogs. She and I will be in training for the next year or two. I’m really looking forward to having a strong bond with her, just like I have with her big sister, Olive.

Here were the puppies at week two. It’s amazing how fast they grow.

Two week old golden retriever puppies

Count on more pictures and stories of our journey as we travel life together. Awww! I can’t wait.

Over Scheduling Retirement Week One

Adjusting to Retirement

Twelve. I counted them. Twelve appointment or activities scheduled for my first week of retirement. There are notations on the calendar every day but one and only because the appointment for that day was postponed, a weather delay.

I was warned by my retirement mentors to avoid over scheduling myself. I can see how easily that can happen. An eye appointment here and a coffee meeting there. Still, I think I needed a full schedule for this first week.  I feel good. A sense of accomplishment in fact.

My aha moments of more time:

  • Ease of scheduling mid-week, mid-day appointments
  • Workout classes with a smaller group of people
  • Less traffic when most people are at work
  • Relaxed coffee with a friend
  • Waking up without an alarm clock
  • Last minute road trips

I’m trying to celebrate and recognize the gifts that come when forty+ hours of my week are not scheduled.

While I haven’t faced any moments of retirement panic, I did have a nightmare that I was overdrawn on my bank account by $17,000. I don’t know where that figure came from. With more time comes more opportunities to spend money. 

I have a budget and I’m going to do my best to stick by it. I’m one of those lucky people with a pension, so I’ll always have money coming in for the basics. It’s the worry about my IRA and my withdrawal schedule that could be a problem, especially in a stock market where 1-2% drops on a daily basis have been the norm over the last month or two. Luckily, I’m looking at the long run and have enough in “safe” funds to last for several years without worrying about the dollars in the more moderate funds.

Do I feel like I’m on vacation? Maybe a bit. It will feel more like that as I work on the final details for my retirement trip in the next few months. Watch out New Zealand! Here I come!

Cherishing the Love of a Dog

Puppies

She’s been born. She, who is yet to been named, is a cream colored golden retriever puppy, just a month old. In a few weeks, all of us eager owners will select a puppy to join each of our families. Soon, I’ll be driving to Illinois to meet her for the first time and to bring her home. A home where she will be trained and treasured. A home with Olive, her big sister, and Bubba, the cat king of the household.

As I was googling the latest in puppy training techniques last week, I found a video of Oprah Winfrey talking about her dog Sophie. It struck a chord. Oprah equated having the love of a dog to the unconditional love of God. I believe it. I’ve been the lucky recipient of this kind of furry love for all of my adult life.

This new little (soon to be big) dog will be traveling to a place where she belongs and is a valued part of the family. She will contribute more than I can ever return to her. She will be happy to see me whenever I come home, hike with me, make me laugh and be there with me when I’m sad. I will cherish every moment and am so grateful to be loved by my dogs.

There is simply nothing like it, here on Earth anyway.

Waiting for Whales – Hermanus, South Africa

There is something about whales that I find amazing. The only opportunity I’ve had to see them in person is when I traveled to Antarctica in 2009. So, it was a delight to see a Southern Right Whale just off the shores of Hermanus, South Africa on my trip last month.

I imagine if I lived in or near Hermanus, my butt print would permanently be etched on one or more of these rocks.

Wait for it…

Hermanus, South Africa

Sometimes nature just takes my breath away.

Hermanus, South Africa

Dipping My Toe into the Solo Travel Waters

The freedom of solo travel

The first time I ever traveled solo was the day I stepped off the train into Salzburg, Austria in the fall of 2000. I broke the first rule of solo travel safety by demonstrating that I was an obviously lost tourist as I opened the large noisy map and studied it closely. Thankfully, a small older woman quickly pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way. I loved Salzburg. I had a wonderful time viewing areas I’d been long admiring in the movie The Sound of Music. I returned to Munich and reunited with my friends later that night.

While I’m not quite a solo travel virgin, my upcoming trip will challenge my ability to travel without anyone I know. My first few days, I’ll be on my own just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve been to the Cape Town area before. It’s a beautiful city where people are very friendly. This is where I have scheduled the cage diving with the great white sharks. There is a BIG smile on my face just thinking about it.

Then, I head to Namibia where I’ll meet up with fellow travelers I’ve never met who are joining me on the safari. There will be a maximum of eight people and our guide. So, my first solo trip isn’t really solo. It was a good compromise to help me begin the adjustment.

My love of travel has taken me to many exotic places, some of them are locations where very few people I know want to go. The trips are usually about two weeks long and can be expensive. I save and plan my vacations around these opportunities to travel. For me, the choice is to learn to travel on my own for those times when my travel buddies can’t come, or to just not go. I don’t consider delaying or missing an opportunity to travel a good option, so I’m on the path for solo travel.

I’m not someone who minds being alone, as a matter of fact, I’m an introvert so I need this time to recharge. I’m also single, so I’m used to doing things alone at times, like eating out and going to the movies. Still, I am a bit nervous about not having someone else to rely on when traveling in other countries.

Luckily, there are women who have already traveled this road and are very happy they did. Here are just a couple of my favorite solo travelers who inspire me and provide great information for those of us on the same path.

Journey Woman

Solo Travel

This trip is an adventure in many ways and I’m excited to get started. Let the countdown continue…

Is solo travel something you’ve ever considered? Any tips?

Ebola and My Trip to Africa

Illustration of the Ebola virus

I’ve been asked numerous times this week whether or not I’m afraid to go on my upcoming trip to Namibia and South Africa with the current Ebola outbreak on the African continent. My answer is no, for the following reasons.

I spoke with Ian from the Africa Adventure Company yesterday to finalize a few details on my trip. I asked him what impact they have been seeing. At this time, he isn’t aware of any travelers who have cancelled their plans, but people are asking if there are specific things they should be aware of while they travel.

Many countries in Africa rely heavily on tourism and if the ebola virus spreads or if travelers panic and refuse to visit, it will be a financial catastrophe for each of those countries. I’m not surprised they are taking it seriously. Not just because of the financial implications, but because they want to protect their citizens.

Will I be taking some precautions? Yes.

  • I’ll be wiping down hard surfaces on the airplane with anti-bacterial wipes. I’m still doing research on which wipes I’ll purchase. I’m not sure if it will help, but it certainly won’t hurt.
  • As always, I’ll be vigilant about washing my hands throughout the trip.
  • There are experts in all these countries that have far more knowledge than I do, so I’ll be listening and acting on the instructions provided at the airport and other locations.

I can’t even begin to imagine the horror and sadness of those impacted by the Ebola Virus in Sierre Leon, Guinea and Liberia. Just following the headlines will tell some of the story. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone suffering from this terrible virus.

Ebola Outbreak Instills Terror in West African Families

As I write about my trip, I’ll be including what I’m seeing and experiencing relating to the impact of this outbreak in the countries I’m visiting. Please sign up to be notified of new posts if you are interesting in following along.