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.

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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.

Kaikoura and the Seals

Our next destination was Kaikoura on the Pacific coast of the south island. We’d heard wonderful things about Kaikoura and were looking forward to the visit. Since we had a limited amount of time, we wanted to take advantage of every moment. Kaikoura means food (kai) and crayfish (koura) in the Maori language. Ken and Mary at Coleraine B & B made us feel right at home. Ken was in the middle of harvesting honey from his beehives when we arrived. I did enjoy some at breakfast the following morning. YUMMY!!

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Once again, we were hosted by the kindest and most friendly people. Spending time with them was a delight. I highly recommend a visit to Coleraine B & B. The large room we stayed in was on the first floor with the cutest patio. Mary and Ken’s primary living area is on the second floor with an incredible view off their large balcony.

Kaikoura landscape

We headed to the Pier Hotel for dinner a bit early so we could enjoy the views while the storm rolled in.

Kaikoura Pier

Kaikoura Skyline

The waves were crashing against the shore and up on the road in places. It was spectacular.

The next morning we had breakfast with Ken and Mary and discussed our itinerary. The first activity was whale watching and then, on our way out of town to Blenheim, Ken suggested visiting the seals and in particular, the seal pups. Sounded like a great plan.

Except…once we arrived to board our boat for whale watching, the caution was up on the screen.

EXTREME SEA SICKNESS WARNING!!!!

It’s me…not you. I have motion sickness issues and have been known to feed the fishes more than once. We waited to see if conditions would improve. NOT. So, reluctantly, we decided to cancel our boat trip. I was really disappointed. Delia was very understanding.

So, it was off to see the seals. Since we headed out earlier than planned, we had plenty of extra time. I’m so glad. It was another incredible New Zealand experience. We saw the seals off the shoreline and then moved further up the highway to Ohau Stream and the seal pups that swim in the pools while moms are relaxing near the ocean. Amazing!!

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I was able to sit just off the path and above the seals. Visitors are very respectful and keep their distance while the pups play.


The waterfall is not much further up the trail and I understand that pool can be filled with seals, but today there were only two and they quickly left the water to head back down the hill. Still, it’s a beautiful area and I’m glad we were able to see it. This little guy must have played hard. We found him resting on the rocks in the middle of a dense forest.

Seal pups of Ohau

Experiences like this are just one of the many reasons I travel. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity and wonderful hosts who make sure I stop to smell the roses, or pause to appreciate the antics of baby seals. Thanks Ken and Mary!

Maine- Acadia National Park

Back to the sisters’ New England adventure in Maine.

We may have only seen a small part of Acadia National Park the day we visited, but what we saw was beautiful. The leaves have just started changing into the glorious fall colors.  I hope to return when I have at least a few days to spend exploring this amazing place.

Acadia National Park
Otter Cliff portrait

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My favorite place was Jordon PondThere is a wonderful trail that goes around the pond, weaving in and out of the forest. Every step brought a new discovery.

Exploring Jordon Pond
Exploring Jordon Pond

Jordon Pond

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View of Bar Harbor from Cadillac Mountain.

We had dinner at The Whale’s Tooth in Lincolnville. Disappointing.

Whale's Tooth Pub

When we arrived back at our apartment, Skip and Judi met us and invited us up to their place just in time to view the foxes and raccoons out their back window. I could have sat there all night. They are such wonderful hosts.

Final Thoughts for the Day:

Acadia National Park:  I loved the park. As a photographer, I usually try to be places early in the day or later in the afternoon. It just wasn’t possible during this trip. Which means, I need to go back. I’d love to plan sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. There were also so many places we missed that I want to visit. Still, it was incredible. Sisters’ Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

The Whale’s Tooth Pub: We were looking forward to dinner after a busy day so we stopped at the Whale’s Tooth Pub in Lincolnville. It was a disappointment. The service was terrible and the food wasn’t much better. My fried clams had too much breading and little flavor. Even a hot fudge sundae wouldn’t have changed my mind. After speaking with the manager, she comped the whole meal. At least we didn’t have to pay for our disappointing meal. Sisters’ Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Have you experienced a time in your life when things started happening, leading you in a new direction? I’m in that place and not quite sure how it all fits.

Here are a few of the pieces:

  • I traveled to Churchill to see the polar bears. This is one of several trips I’ve taken related to similar things: wildlife, nature and diverse environments. I have loved every minute.
  • Annie, our guide, helped me focus beauty of the tundra by suggesting I listen, see, hear and feel the moment and to document those things. It was a profound experience for me that I don’t ever want to forget.
  • I took hundreds of photos on my trip and as I process them, my heart is telling me they have a purpose. (What? I’m not quite sure. How? No idea.) I know that sounds strange, but these photos shouldn’t just sit on my hard drive, be uploaded as stock photography to be used to sell products or just hang on my wall.
  • When I returned from Churchill, I attended a James Balog presentation on the Extreme Ice Survey. Annie had inspired me to learn more about global warming and this was my first opportunity. James Balog started with an idea based on the change he was seeing as he traveled. Today, because of his idea, there are cameras in many parts of the world attached to solar panels that take a picture every hour, documenting changing glaciers and ice.
  • After seeing some of my polar bear pictures on Facebook, one of my friends, Kerry Koepping, suggested we get together to share our experiences in the arctic. Kerry was inspired and recently traveled to Iceland to document change, not necessarily the same kind of change that James Balog is focused on, but change in general. You can see his work on the Arctic Arts Project website. We met for lunch yesterday and his passion and excitement were contagious.

inspired-arctic-arts.MOV from Arctic Arts Project on Vimeo.

Both of these men are working on amazing BIG PROJECTS. They are photographers. The photos they take are incredibly beautiful and tell a story about what is happening in the world around us.

In contrast, I’m a tourist. I travel on group trips hosted by travel companies. My travel leads me to tourist places: a tundra lodge where 29 tourists stay; a ship that has 50+ tourists traveling to Antarctica; camps in the Okavango Delta that have 8-10 permanent tent-like accommodations so tourists can stay in the bush. It’s different. I’m also in a different place in my life, working full time and with a limited budget.

So how do I take the BIG PROJECTS that inspire me and break them down into something that realistically contributes to my area of the world? How can I use my art to communicate and what is my story?

I have some of the pieces to the puzzle. I have no idea how they will come together. When and how things are meant to happen will become clear at some point. When it does, I’ll be ready…

Day Seven- Tundra Lodge

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This is the view of the Hudson bay from the shore. Ice is beginning to form along the shoreline.

This post was written on October 29th on the Tundra Lodge.

One more sleepover and we’re done. This was our last day out on the Polar Rover. Everyone went for the longer ride today except 5-6 people. They stayed behind hoping for some action at the lodge. I think they were concerned about having so many people on the rover. It was a bit more crowded, but everyone was very accommodating as far as getting photos.

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We saw a number of bears. The first one walked toward us. I managed to get out the back on the deck early and had a great photo.

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This was an early morning photo with the bear walking toward the Tundra Lodge where we stayed.

The next bear actually walked under the grate of the back deck area. He looked up and smelled our boots. He was so close, I had to use the little camera to get a photo. I couldn’t see what I was getting, but I kept taking pictures. It’s amazing how big he was. I don’t think I’ll ever be closer to a live polar bear then at that moment. I could hear him breathe. Unbelievable!!

We saw a couple bears sparring, then laying down together and eating kelp, then the cycle would begin again. I think it was a quiet day for bears so more rovers pulled up and the bears finally walked away. I’d seen a couple at a location at a time, but this was a little frustrating. There’s quite a bit of ice now, a lot more than when we came. You’d think with all the snow we’ve had over the last few days that we’d be knee deep. But, the snow keeps blowing. There was little wind today and that was really nice.

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I had an error show on my camera while I was taking photos of the sparring. I thought the battery had gotten cold, so I replaced it. Luckily the camera continued working. A bit later, it just quit. I tried everything I knew to do. It appears it has to go in for professional service per the error code 40. At least it waited until the trip was about over. The only thing left where I would have loved to have the big camera was the helicopter ride. At least I have the little one. I’m so glad I brought it.

As we sat at dinner, two bears sparred outside the window. Then, the kitchen bear that sleeps out back woke up and we had a chance to wish him goodbye. He’s scarred and, according to Annie, about 14-15 years old. He still will chase off the other bears, but he likes to conserve his energy. He’s beautiful!!

It was a good day. I had a chance to really talk to Bonnie about photography and her experience with the professionals coming through. She’s met some of the really famous photographers who have published photo books. It was an interesting conversation. She’s also a wonderful person. I think we lucked out. All the people, staff and travelers alike, have been fantastic.

We are up very early tomorrow. Luggage has to be out by 6:15am and breakfast is served at 6:30. Our helicopter flight is at 8:45 for an hour and then we have to be to lunch by 12:30. So, we have limited time to shop. Probably a good thing. So, off to bed.