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.

My Uganda Itinerary Comes to Life

Planning was complete. All my work to get in shape for the gorilla trek was done. I’d gone over the itinerary online and in booklet form at least a dozen times and had sought insight from a friend who had done a similar trip several years ago. Still, I know from experience, that there is no way to totally prepare. There’s excitement and, yes, a little fear. It was finally here.

After three flights, I located my bags and officially entered Uganda. It’s always a relief to arrive at an unfamiliar destination, find all your luggage has arrived and know someone is there to provide safe transportation to your lodging. I’d arrived several days before the official tour began so I could get over my jet lag and add some wonderful solo adventures on the front end. The Boma in Entebbe provided lodging for the first few days. My room was elegant and comfortable. I settled in for what I hoped would be some decent sleep.

I was up early and had a wonderful breakfast, with bacon. Yum!

Uganda Breakfast

I studied my map so I’d know where I was going prior to leaving the hotel, hoping I wouldn’t look so touristy. Ha! As if being the only person dressed in safari gear carrying a sling bag didn’t scream tourist. Still, I was confident in my direction and plan. Today’s adventure included a visit to UWEC, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. The roadway was very busy with lots of motorbikes and cars. Motorbikes seem to be the primary mode of transportation and function as taxis. After watching all the near misses, I was really glad to be on foot.

I crossed the street to continue on my way and ended up walking near a group of children, one who immediately ran up and took my hand. She was about eight years old with a big smile on her face. We didn’t speak the same language but we laughed and walked together for a block or two. It was one of the special moments of my first day in Uganda. Not long after, a young man named Patrick joined me, hoping to be my tour guide. He was very friendly and knowledgable. Patrick works at the local golf club and is an amateur golfer.

The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre was established to provide a home for animals who have been confiscated from the pet trade or are otherwise unable to go back to the wild. Samuel volunteered to show Patrick and I around the property. He is fascinating and so passionate about the organization and each of the animals who make it home. The Centre received help from the Bronx Zoo in setting up the yards so that they were as animal friendly as possible. Samuel helped with some of the construction and volunteers his time to educate visitors. He knows the animals by name and they respond to him.

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Not only did Samuel have a way with the animals, but the children loved him as well.

Samuel at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Samuel had thrown this chimpanzee some food and the chimp used a stick to get the food close enough to grab out of the water.

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

I enjoyed visiting the centre. Samuel was such a great example of how a guide can enhance a visitor’s experience. As a volunteer guide at the Denver Zoo myself, I learned so much from him. Thanks Samuel!

Just as I was getting ready to leave, three small children entered the zoo with their mom. They ran right up to me and held my hand with big smiles on their faces. I was so touched, it brought tears to my eyes. They were beautiful and so happy.

Uganda children

Patrick made sure I made it back to my hotel safely, with more good conversation along the way. If you are interested in a guide to see you around Entebbe, he’s the one.

My first day in Uganda far exceeded expectations. As you all know, I love wildlife and new adventures, but I find that the people make it extra special. From the smiling children to my knowledgable and friendly guides, I had hit the jackpot. And…after 19,000+ steps, I enjoyed my gin and tonic (an African tradition), a steak and a good night’s sleep.

Monarch Butterflies : Wonder Takes Flight

Last, but certainly not least, Monarch Butterflies.

monarch butterflies take flight

wonder takes flight

footsteps hit the ground
gravity holds me tethered
walking sticks and gear-filled backpack
firmly earthbound

surrounded by people
joined together
on the same journey
searching for wonder

faster than focus can follow
rising from trees
warmed by the sunlight
wonder takes flight

closing my eyes
thankful to be here
listening…breathing in and out
the magic of this moment

lifting…transformed
i stretch my wings
embrace the wonder
and dance with butterflies

We arrived in Angangueo, ate an amazing lunch (bottomless guacamole!!), and set our sights on El Rosario. After riding up the steep and narrow roads in the back of pick-up trucks with benches, we were greeted by enthusiastic children selling baskets woven from the local pine trees. The handcrafts were beautiful and I bought several a few days later, but now it was time find monarch butterflies. Horses were provided by the locals to carry us up the mountain. Each horse had a person to lead the way. Thank goodness! It’s been decades years since I’ve ridden.

Riding horses at El Rosario

The men have such great relationships with their animals. I’d hear kissing noises and my horse would speed up. It made me smile as I hung on tight.

Then we were off the horses and on the trail. Fernando told us not to be distracted by the occasional butterflies here and there, but it was hard not to be. Butterflies on the ground were drinking from a small trickle of water.

keep going…

click, click…

Monarch Butterfly

Not long after, we arrived at the viewing spot and could see incredibly large clusters of butterflies hanging on the branches of oyamel fir trees. There were also many of them flying around. How they don’t run into each other I’ll never know. This picture isn’t one of the clusters. It’s just a small gathering of butterflies. How many did we see? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were millions or at least hundreds of thousands.

monarch butterflies

Now, here are just a few of the clusters.

Monarch Butterfly Clusters

This isn’t really the best picture, but it gives an idea about the density of the clusters. How many butterflies are there in each one? Who knows. And…these clusters were just at the edge of the protected area. This goes on for acres.

Monarch Butterflies

Nature is incredible. This generation of monarch butterflies left Canada and the Great Lakes area of the United States, flying 3,000 miles to winter in Mexico. Considering they live for about six months, four times the average life span of Monarchs and have never been here is amazing. It was 4-5 generations ago when the last butterflies graced these mountains.

Monarch Butterflies

It was a magical moment that we repeated several times over the next few days. We visited the Chincua Sanctuary the next day and returned to El Rosario for our final experience. After taking photos, fellow travelers and I would sit quietly and these beautiful creatures would land on us. Sometimes when it was really quiet, we could hear the fluttering of their wings.

Somehow, I can’t think of them as bugs. They are just too beautiful.

And..who doesn’t want to fly?

and transform?

and add color to the world?

Days spent in a beautiful place with wonderful people… Life is good.

Hiking through the forest

And even time for a sundowner overlooking Angangueo. Wine always tastes better with a view.

Sunset over Angangueo

It’s hard to really understand being in the midst of so many active butterflies unless you are there. The video and slideshow is in progress and coming soon.

Adios!

Old Town Mexico City and Xochimilco

xochimilco

I woke up this morning excited to see Xochimilco, the water canals, and the market.

Andre, Delia and I talked about the day’s schedule that included a city tour. Trying to see everything in one day isn’t my style. I prefer spending time in a few areas observing people and savoring the surroundings.

Mexico City

After narrowing the focus of our day, we were able to spend more time in the key places we wanted to visit, beginning with the National Palace. It’s a beautiful historic building constructed almost 400 years ago. Among its most amazing features are the Diego Rivera murals, painted between 1929 and 1951 showing the history of Mexico.

Diego Rivera mural Mexico

It was amazing how the Archeology Museum, Teotihuacan, and the murals tied so closely together. Andres’ description was so detailed and I learned so much as the paintings brought the history to life.

National Palace Mexico City

Some people were more fascinated by the murals than others. And, we had plenty of security. The National Palace is an incredible place. If you happen to be in Mexico City, I’d add it to the must see list.

Delia and Andres went inside the Cathedral, which was amazing from the outside. I sat down in the middle of the square listening to the music and watching the people. A friendly man let me sit down next to him on the bench so I could draw in my sketchbook. A perfect time to soak in the moment.

We’d arrived early before the crowds and were leaving at the right time. The area was filled with people enjoying the wonderful weather.

Then it was off to Xochimilco and the flower market. Andres took Delia and I on a quick drive through the bustling streets. Vendors with caged birds and coconuts, women carrying colorful flowers and booths filled with every imaginable plant crowded all available space. It was so vibrant and filled with enticing scents. I was practically hanging out the window. Loved it!

Flower Market

Market Mexico City

Last, and certainly not least… Xochimilco and the canals. Delia and I stepped on to our private boat and met Juan who would be navigating us through the waters. The area is owned by a community and if a person would like to buy property along the shoreline, they must be approved by the majority of those who live there. It does not happen often. The properties tend to remain in the “family”.

Our lunch of chicken, tortillas, rice, mole and local beer was delicious. It was prepared on a small boat that anchored to ours while the meal was cooked and served. Many of the boats were filled with family members and friends celebrating with loud laughter and music. Merchandise of all shapes and sizes was available in boats that floated by.

Xochimilco

Xochimilco

Xochimilco

You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words…

Xochimilco

Our final adventure for the afternoon was the boat jam…traffic jam…gridlock, or something like that. Delia and I ended up jumping from boat to boat to get to the shore. Who knows? They may all be still stuck there. I sure hope not. Other people need to experience this delightful place.

xochimilco

Xochimilco

We were back to the hotel early to prepare to meet our fellow travelers for dinner. Then, it’s on to our butterfly adventure. Thanks Andre and Juan for a very special day.

 

 

 

Mexico City: Museum of Anthropology

Our first full day in Mexico City started late, after a good night’s sleep and a wonderful breakfast. Then we walked a few blocks to the Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park. It was highly recommended and far exceeded expectations.

Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City

The exhibit followed a timeline, beginning in 30,000BC and ending in the current times, although we only were able to see half of the exhibits. It was spectacular. The use of technology, lighting and outdoor exhibit space was fabulous. It’s amazing how far back people created art. It was an integral part of the culture.

Museum of Anthropology Art

This is just a small assortment of the masks, sculptures and paintings that were on display. Works of art ranged from enormous stone carvings to intricate pieces of jewelry. The history was told in dioramas, videos and reconstructions of burial grounds.

Security Museum of Anthropology

There were a number of police officers on the grounds and I spotted this officer keeping a close eye on visitors from a high perch. Thanks for taking good care of us!

Museum of Anthropology

As we entered the main complex, we were greeted with an incredible totem pole style structure with sheets of water pouring down. The school children who were visiting stood in the face of the breeze that blew water in their faces. It was magnificent. Later in the day, the water was turned off, so if you plan on visiting, I’d suggest going earlier in the day.

And, as always, I love people watching.

Museum of Anthropology

 

Museum of Anthropology

 

On this one, I confirmed with mom that she approved of me taking their picture.

Museum of Anthropology Visitors

It was a wonderful day with beautiful weather and an opportunity to learn more about the rich Mexican culture at the Museum of Anthropology. It would take days to fully appreciate all the exhibits at the museum. Delia and I had to breeze through some sections we would have loved to spend more time in. We also only saw the exhibits on the first floor. There is a full second floor of mysteries that will require us to return.

It’s well worth a visit next time you are in Mexico City.

After a very full day, we headed back to the hotel to relax and, you guessed it, drink our margaritas.

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!!

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!!

KenandMaryKaikouraweb

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!!

Kaikouraweb2

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!

From Ice to Hot Springs Pool – Hanmer Springs

Denver snow

Here’s what it looked like in Denver while we were visiting Hanmer Springs on the South Island of New Zealand. (Thanks for the picture, Margie!)

Hamner Springs pools

We stayed at Rosie’s B and B which is a block from the center of town and the wonderful Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools. Each pool was a different temperature and it was so relaxing sitting in the heat of the water. They also had a therapy pool with jets that hit the perfect places on my back and shoulders. If it weren’t for my wrinkling fingers and toes, I might still be sitting there today. It was perfect timing. Delia and I were ready to be pampered and this is a wonderful place to slow down and take time to think about what a wonderful trip we’d had so far.

Breakfast included the most wonderful hot croissants along with our cereal and yogurts. After spending a few hours at the pools, it was time to move on to our next stay.

HamnerSpringsweb1

 

Fox Glacier – From the Air

Late in the afternoon after our walk around Lake Matheson, we went into Fox Glacier and checked on helicopter flights for the following morning. We wanted to see the area from the air. The weather was supposed to be bad, so we were told not to expect a flight, but to show up anyway.

Luckily, while it was still overcast the next day, the bad weather held off and we loaded up on the helicopter. Delia and I were the only ones on the flight with the pilot, Dion. We’d seen the magnificence of the area from on the ground, now it was going to be from the air and we weren’t disappointed.

Fox Glacier

Our flight included Mount Cook and Fox Glacier. Mount Cook is 12,218 feet tall. Comparing that to Colorado, we have 53 14,000 foot peaks. The difference here is that this location is near the ocean, not already a mile high.

Mount Cook

The day before, we’d visited the beach at the Tasman Sea. So we had literally gone from sea level to over 12,000 feet.

Tasman Sea

And yes, I managed to get my feet into the water between bites from sand flies.

Tasman Sea

Now back to the flight. It was incredible. Early on, we were being buffeted around a bit and I was getting nervous, but once we made it around Mount Cook, the air settled down and I was too busy looking at views and taking photos to pay attention to anything else.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier Helicopter

FoxGlacierweb6

FoxGlacierweb7

We were able to set down and walk out on the glacier. It was amazing. The pictures tell part of the story, but can’t capture how beautiful it really was. There are a number of different companies that provide flights to the glaciers and they all cost about the same. It was worth every penny.

FoxGlacierweb8

The sun tried to break through but ended up being unsuccessful. The crevices added such wonderful textures across the snowy landscapes. The flight was over quickly. I’ll never forget how humbling it was to land on the glacier. A very small person in a very big ice field.

And as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Fox Glacier – From the Ground Up

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier was another area of New Zealand that was high on our list. We arrived in the late afternoon and checked in to our B & B. It had been another long, but very beautiful drive, and we were tired. So we heated up our dinner and settled in. As usual, I was up in the middle of the night for a bathroom visit. The only issue? I couldn’t remember which door in the hallway led to the shared bathroom. All the doors were shut and I knew there were other guests. The hallway was really dark. I must have gone back and forth several times before my need to go forced me to select a door. I opened one door and felt the wall for the light switch. Nothing. Crap! Maybe it was a bedroom and I quickly shut the door as quietly as I could.

Then, out of desperation, I decided to head to an area of the house I knew was safe, the kitchen. I turned the light on and it lit up part of the hallway. I opened the door to the room I had guessed earlier and discovered a small bathroom that I never knew existed. Thank goodness. After I finished, I counted the doors, committed the location to memory and went back to bed.

The next morning, Delia asked me why I hadn’t used the flash light on my cell phone. Hmmm…good question.

Kirsty, our host, recommended we visit several places and we started with a walk around Lake Matheson. The walk is about 4.4K through an incredible rain forest. It was one of my favorite places on the whole trip, at least so far. As the helicopters flew people to the glacier and around the top of the mountains, we were walking through an area where the smallest detail was exquisite. It was very peaceful with few visitors.

Fox Glacier

Rainforest

FoxGlacierweb4

Occasionally the trees would part and a view of the lake would appear.

Lake Matheson

It was an overcast day, but still lovely.

Then it was back into the dense forest with roots that wove themselves into curves and crannies that cemented trees to the ground.

FoxGlacierweb6

New Zealand Rain Forest

FoxGlacierweb8

I was just waiting for the creatures of a fantasy world to peek out of the forest.

Then I stepped over the bridge and was back in the open places. The walk, with all my stops and starts, took about an hour and a half and was over too soon. But I just couldn’t resist a photo of the huge tree that provided the final period on a wonderful journey.

FoxGlacierTreeweb9