Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ooh Ooh Ah Ah Ah AH AAAHHH!

So Rich has taken up the role of Manager at Budongo eco-lodge in Murchison Falls National Park. It means I have to go to the bush at least once a fortnight if I want to visit him, which given that Murchison is probably my favourite place in Uganda overall, is such a hardship.

The lodge he runs was set up by the Jane Goodall Institute as a sustainable tourism development project, connected to the chimpanzee research JGI were conducting there, so that they could develop chimpanzee tracking as a tourism activity that would generate income for the forest reserve.

Sunshine through the canopy

It's located in a stretch of pre-montane tropical rainforest called Budongo Forest. The area where the lodge is located is just inside the southern gate to the national park, and the concession to manage the lodge is now with a local tour operaror, but it's still run much along the lines of its original model, with 50% of tracking fees going directly to forest conservation.


So while the baking hot grasslands of the delta and crocodile strewn banks of the Nile are only two hours drive away, Rich spends his days in dappled shade, in the relative cool of the forest.

Rainforest vs Sunshine: 0-1

The forest is amazing - having always been such a fan of savannah it's been an eye-opener. You see less - your world shrinks to the trees and leaves and birdsong around you and it has a very calming effect. The lodge is built in a clearing, partly so that sunlight to the multiple solar panels on its roof can do their thing in order to light and power the lodge. But step onto one of the paths that take you to the cabins, or to the chimps, and the trees envelop you in their serene embrace. The sunlight streams through the canopy, creating shafts of light that dapple the shade around you. There is an earthiness to the air, you can almost smell the nutrient-rich mulch at your feet.

Dead tree

The soundtrack to the forest is far from silent - there is a constant background insect hum, rising in pitch and volume at key times of day; now and then you will hear a rustle, as a lizard scampers through the dried leaves, his sunbath interrupted by your passing; occasionally the noise of a baboon squealing somewhere through the trees, fighting with another over some petty primate politics, and the light sabre-like swoosh of a Hornbill swooping overhead. It's true, these ungainly birds sound exactly like a Star Wars light sabre when they fly.

Heart-shaped Leaf

But the best noise in the forest, bar none, has to be the pant-hoot call of the chimpanzee. Chimpanzees live in large social groups. This particular troop can number around 50-60 individuals when they all congregate together, but they spend most of their time in smaller sub-groups, moving through the forest to feed.

We came down from the trees

Whilst this goes on, certain members of the group will occasionally stop to call out to eachother, broadcasting where they are, or that they've just found a tasty fig tree, and sometimes getting a response from other chimps elsewhere in the forest. They stick out their top lip and curl it upwards as they call. The vocalisation starts low, and rises, in a crescendo of rising volume, until it's a primeval screech of climactic excitement that reverberates around the forest. It's called the pant-hoot and apparently Jane Goodall herself does a mean impression of one.

Female chimpanzee

When you see it and hear it in the wild, it's one of the most exciting moments I have ever had watching primates. I can't explain it well, but witnessing a troop of chimps pant-hooting (can this word be 'verbalised'?) starts a sort of adrenalin surge deep inside me. I feel the vibrations of the hoots tickle the inside of my chest, and the blood pulses in my ears - I am suddenly hyper-alert, and invigorated with excitement. I think somehow the pant-hoot appeals to the inner chimp in all of us, and a tiny bit of our common ancestral brain comprehends the messages being sent.


And next week, when I visit Rich, a friend of ours who is super-chimp clever and has spent her phd identifying a whole vocabulary of sign language used by the chimps, will be visiting to train the rangers to learn how to interpret some of these signs. So I plan to listen in and learn to speak chimp.

These are the moments when I realise how lucky we are to be here.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Good Life

Last night I dreamed I went to my new vegetable patch and overnight, everything had grown to lush, bulging readiness and my brussels sprouts had, well, sprouted. I woke up hungry.

For those of you who are not aware, I am staring down the barrel of my fortieth birthday and rather than turn to hell-raising to avoid the threat of middle age, I appear to have taken up vegetable gardening.

I have flirted with it a few times before - but only in the way that you might flirt with a regular client by email because he lives in Outer Mongolia, Milton Keynes or somewhere so similarly far flung that you know you are very, very unlikely to ever meet him in the flesh and there is absolutely no risk attached. But I've never really seen it through.

(Who am I kidding? I've yet to see it through this time. The dream was not realistic at all - my brussels sprouts seedlings are still only 2 inches tall. Incidentally, a 500g bag of sprouts here costs around GBP £10 - hence my hunger for growing them, amongst other staples or costlier vegetable treats.)

I started planting seeds back in September. There is a boat stored in our compound (belonging to the landlord) and the upside down hull makes a perfect seed tray area to keep tiny stems out of the way of the four dogs that live in our compound. Plus it's right below my balcony so I can do lazy watering from there which is much easier. Here's a photo of my boat garden - it looks a little depleted right now as a lot of seedlings have just been transferred to the beds.

Last weekend it was finally time to start planting out, as I gather the phrase is. I nearly broke my back hoeing the murram and mixing in 'black soil' which you buy locally from the many garden centers lining Kampala's suburban roads. I also now know what pinching off means when dealing with tomato plants, and I when I first read about someone having their 'pak choi bolt' on them I had to look that up - there's a whole new gardening lexicon to deal with.

(By the way, a garden centre in Africa is not a large Sainsbury's Homebase type affair, with trolleys etc. It's just an open air nursery garden by the side of the road, usually in areas where the road passes through a swamp, or runs parallel with a small, often flotsam filled river, so that they have a free but smelly water supply for their plants.)

But now I have two beds done - one with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, sugar snap peas and courgettes. The other with carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, leeks and spring onion. My salad bed is all transplanted seedlings and I have also spent hours winding sisal twine round bamboo in various wigwam contaptions, so that's looking quite professional, even if I say so myself.

God knows if I will actually be able to see this through - both in terms of personal motivation and the sorts of meteorological obstacles faced. It's either baking hot or torrential rain here and last week we had a small earthquake for god's sake. It hit 4.9 on the scale apparently - which sounds impressive but is probably sod all - and happened at 7.30pm one night after work JUST as I was parking in a multi storey building... Great. Of course, I didn't feel anything (everything in my car rattles anyway) but it would have been just my luck. 

But here's the thing. All the cliches about gardening are true. Your back aches, you get filthy, covered in mosquito bites (maybe that's more an occupational hazard this close to the equator), and you go into work Monday morning with mud engrained in your fingernails and toenails, but it's hugely therapeutic and calming, and very very satisfying when things actually start to look like they're meant to. 

Just look at these courgette plants on the go!

I finally understand the appeal. 

Next week, join our correspondent as she takes up golf and learns to cross-stitch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

There Is A Lot Of It About


Poaching. Possibly the trickiest subject in Uganda right now.
Some politicians are ignoring it by denying it's really anything to worry about; the army are being accused of doing it (in the Congo - not the first time they've fielded accusations of pillaging our neighbours); conservation organisations and tourism operators are getting all hot under the collar about it. I mean, it hardly makes for a feelgood safari if you come back with pictures of a three-legged lion (who is nicknamed Clarence by the way - thanks to Paraa Safari Lodge for the picture).
Clarence is now 'doing okay' after veterinary intervention to treat the leg that needed amputating after getting caught in a snare. But he still depends on the close supervision of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and visiting tourists, who in their very presence deter poachers from the park, to survive. This lioness, found near Tangi Gate in the northwestern corner of Murchison, fared less well in her encounter with a snare.

And the elephants that are snapped by so many visitors with half a trunk - or less - are depressingly many. Imagine if you investigated every new thing with the same 'limb' you ate and drank with. Lose that to a snare and life is a lot more complicated. Noone seems to know if the second ellie pictured, with such extreme trunk damage, is still alive.
Thirty years ago, Uganda was in the midst of a bush war - and poaching was rife. Wildlife didn't just get eaten by hungry armies and civilians, it even became extinct (or damn near so). The Northern White Rhino was poached to extinction - it's only Southern Whites we have in the country today - and then only thanks to the sterling efforts and commitment from Rhino Fund Uganda and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary with their breeding and rehabilitation programme. And in the early 1980s, the elephant population in Murchison reportedly dropped to as low as 50.
Since then, numbers have thrived in an upward trend that spans three decades. Which is what certain politicians are quoting. So you will still see plenty of animals out and about in the national parks. But in the last two to three years, so-called 'normal' levels of subsistence poaching (when a man hunts enough to just feed himself and immediate dependents) have been subsumed by a veritable tsunami of wildlife crime which is undoubtedly now commercial in its nature.
More than 40 restaurants in Kampala are reportedly selling bush meat. At certain road junctions, certain code words will apparently bring you hippo or buffalo meat. A bag of dried bushmeat will sell for less than twenty bucks on the roadside - and contain the meat from up to 5 antelope carcasses. A man can make 1.5 millions shillings from selling a buffalo or hippo carcass - around $600 - a fair old income a country where labour is the cheapest thing you can buy. Food prices have probably exacerbated the increase in poaching for the bushmeat trade, but there are also bigger prizes. The growth in China's middle class, with their increased purchasing power burning a hole in their pocket for 'luxury' goods and status symbols, has led to increased demand for ivory all over the African continent. Ivory trinkets are famously carved from elephants' tusks but they also use Hippo teeth as well. Poaching gangs choose remote areas of national parks to operate in and shoot elephants. When the elephants collapse, after a terrifying chase throughout which they were severely wounded, the poachers use a chainsaw to cut off their head. One assumes the animal is dead first - but who knows?

And what's the penalty if you're caught poaching any animal and it's your first offence? A mere 30,000 shillings (around $13).
It feels like Uganda is at a turning point for conservation. If, as a nation, government and tourism industry, it stands up and tackles the problem of poaching, it won't take long for the wildlife to restore its populations and continue it's upward growth from the 'bad old days'. If we don't stand up, the bad old days will become rapidly turn into today and before we know it we'll be looking at empty rainforests and deserted savannah, wondering where all the animals went.
So, what to do?
Campaigns from international conservation organisations are trying to tackle the root cause of the ivory trade - the demand for this luxury product without any apparent knowledge of the brutal way in which it is obtained. Wild Aid's recent effort in sending Yao Ming to East Africa is particularly notable for it's take on 'If the buying stops, the killing stops too', using a Chinese celebrity to drive that message home where it's needed most.

On a more local level, there are murmurs of change in policy and a call for stronger, more meaningful penalties - but politicians need to be galvanised to advocate far-reaching and effective legislation change. In the meantime, some are doing very good impressions of ostriches.

There also needs to be a change in public perception. Culturally, when faced with a long public holiday weekend, most Ugandans would rather hit the clubs or hit the beach than go on safari. Uganda friends and colleagues of mine who work in tourism have often discovered the natural wealth of their country's wildlife and wild spaces through their work. It's great to watch them falling in love with their own country in this regard - but the bittersweet flipside is that, for the vast majority, the rest of Uganda is indifferent to their wildlife heritage.

The wildlife authority are playing their part well in both managing the parks and introducing new measures to curb the current rise in poaching, but are ultimately hobbled by under-funding and a lack of capacity to tackle all the practical solutions that can also be applied 'on the ground'. Quite simply, they cannot be everywhere at once, and the poachers will always look for the weak spot. I've been on recent game drives and seen suspicious boats 'landing' on the park shores at Murchison, full of men who rely on claiming to be fishermen who 'just had a problem with their boat' upon discovery, but their empty (or non-existent) nets tell a different story - they've come to set snares.
So the missing link, currently, in wildlife management, is being provided from conservation organisations and NGOs in the form of financial and practical support to the wildlife authority in identifying and completing vital projects. They can often raise the funds necessary to build a ranger post right where it's needed...a first line of defence against attempted entries into the park by poachers... or campaign for pratical sustainable solutions for neglected areas and border communities - the latter probably being the most important audience for change.

One such organisation that I happen to personally know well (through work - we make a small donation to them for every safari booked) is Uganda Conservation Foundation. If you're interested in helping address the problem at a practical level, check out their site. More than 90% of the money donated goes directly to projects in the field - they maintain extremely low overheads - so no massive fleet of white landcruisers there...

(If they do get their hands on a landcruiser, they generally paint in a certain shade of green and donate it to the park staff to go about their duties more efficiently).

The battle to beat poaching in Africa will need to be fought at every level - and it won't be won or lost by one entity. There are hundreds of small conservation outfits like UCF getting tangible results on the ground across the continent, and in tandem with support from the highest levels of Africa's policy-makers and tourism sectors, we may just beat the bastards.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are, as elsewhere in this blog, my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any individuals or organisations or companies associated with me or mentioned above. But naturally I make complete sense, and they should all do as I say.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

And life goes by in a flash

Nearly three years have passed since I wrote up our Kidepo trip. Needless to say my intentions are to start posting again - so this is just a heads up in that regard. Whether or not I actually live up to my own intentions is anyone's guess. Life seems so busy nowadays.

In the interim, what's happened? We left Uganda in 2011, after three years at Red Chilli, for some time in the UK. We had a great time catching up properly with family and friends (two weeks is NEVER enough) and spent best part of the summer living in a caravan - which was unexpectedly great. But we returned to Uganda before six months had passed. Was it the African climate calling as the British winter approached, or something deeper than that? Only time will tell - for now, Uganda feels more like home than any other place and continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure on a daily basis.

I swapped budget safaris for the opposite end of the spectrum. I now deal with VIP clients and private helicopter transfers at a classy outfit called The Far Horizons - Journeys Discovering Africa. The clients want 'same, same but different' as in the budget sector - everyone is looking for value these days, whether it's for $30,000 or $300. It's fun - the scope for creativity when designing bespoke itineraries is huge - and there is a lot of international marketing to be done which suits me just fine. 

R has had less luck with work of late, having had a miserable damb squib of a summer in the UK trying to get some bucks in, but it looks like he is coming back soon to some decent work opportunities here which is great (not least for him but it means I get to SEE him). 

We have a granny flat on top of a very green hill. A tiny apartment with a million dollar view. I wake up every morning to trees and birds. Sometimes I see stuff noone really believes exists in Kampala city limits anymore - like the time I saw a Jackal late one night driving home, or two weeks ago in broad daylight when I made beady-eyed contact with a tiny Banded Mongoose. Being reminded where you are by exotic wildlife popping into daily life does make it rather special.

So there will be more posts, on life here, with a focus on the personal rather than general safari experiences (you can find those online at my company's news and blog feed) but as safari is fast becoming a way of life, it'll probably end up being a bit of both.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. I'm five years cancer-free. That's what five years does for you - it pushes it right to the back of your mind. I now only panic when it's the night before my annual check up. So hooray for that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Unnecessary Illegal Meeting Not Allowed

When we stayed the night in Kitgum on the way up to Kidepo, we were amused by the hotel rules stuck on the wall of our room.

I wondered if illegal meetings were allowed, just as long as they were necessary. And R regretted bringing all his military equipment...

Seriously though, this is what hotels are like in previously civil war afflicted areas where child abduction to the Lord's Resistance Army was common.

Never mind sleeping with those under 18, how about kidnapping those under 12, making them your bush wife, have them kill their own friends with their new military equipment to prove their loyalty to the LRA and having them bear several children - all before they turn 16...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

An Elephant For Tea

Ostrich. Kidepo Valley National Park

We'd spent New Year way up North in one of the remotest areas of Uganda, past Gulu and Kitgum and their lingering IDP camps, and even up past the land of the Karamojong - Ugandan tribal pastoralists as famous for their cattle as they are for toting AK47s to keep the cross-border cattle-raiding at bay.

IDP camp between Gulu and Kitgum

Kidepo Valley is made up of rolling savanna plains and bush, sandwiched between craggy mountain ranges on the Sudanese and Kenyan borders. The park offers bush camping in two wilderness campsites, with nothing more than a pit latrine and a shower room to have some privacy with a jerry of water (but you bring the water with you). We'd come for the bush camping but little did we know that Uganda's best kept secret was secret no more.

Kidepo Valley

The day we arrived in the park, we stopped at the UWA headquarters en route to pick a wilderness campsite, only to find out the campsites were full. One had a posh temporary tented camp in it, which we knew about in advance. But the other site, the one we were planning to take, had apparently been taken by a group of 29 - mainly families with young kids and a close personal relationship with Christ.

So, the options were to camp at the UWA village, where the staff live and there were some bandas for rent as well, with the background hum of the generator and the daytime metallic pounding of the truck workshop. Or, depart for a campsite full of kids and guitar-toting Christians.

Well, we figured, If we set up our tents facing out over the valley and stick fingers in our ears we can just about imagine we're in the middle of the bush and so we set up our carefully angled New Year's 'Bush Camp' at the UWA village with the sound of a distant welding torch the only clue that we were slightly closer to civilisation than we'd hoped for.


We picked a large acacia tree for shelter, and having checked with a ranger that the spot was reasonably safe, set up camp. That afternoon, whilst building campfires and reorganising the minibus after our two day journey to get there, we saw more wildlife than I went onto see on any one game drive later in our days in the park. Within minutes, a side-striped jackal appeared and slunk his way past us. Later, a pair was seen, one without a tail, which gave it a curious air of poodle amongst the other jackals.

Side-striped Jackal

Patas Monkey on a termite mound

Then, a small group of Patas monkeys lollopped across the grass in front of our tents and settled down for a grooming session. Two buffalo, caked in red mud, grazed at the firebreak line, where the shorter grass gave way to waist high grasses and reeds. A magnificent male waterbuck lay lazily about 100m away, chewing thoughtfully on the grass and giving us the eye, whilst herds of giraffe and elephant passed by on the horizon. Later, when night fell, a herd of zebra turned up, which we only noticed when someone flashed the minibus lights by mistake, momentarily illuminating the group of stripes in a mirage-like apparition.

Jackson's Hartebeest

So, whilst we had been a bit annoyed that all of Kampala had had the same idea as us and Kidepo was over-run with visitors, forcing us to camp in the village, we ended up delighted with our running wildlife sideshow, waiting to see what would pop up next.

R eyeing up BulBul. Or was it BulBul eyeing up R?

And earlier that afternoon, about 50m away at a ranger's hut, we had also spied the famous "BulBul". A semi-habituated African Elephant, BulBul has been a visitor to the UWA village in Kidepo for many years. The rangers claim (and we later witnessed) that he comes every day to drink his 'brew' (in reality, eating the peelings and fruit husks discarded by the village brewery before the things begin to ferment and become boozy) and has also been known to knock down the door of a UWA banda when he can smell Posho being made inside (a sticky mushy mealy mash).

The first day, BulBul kept his distance, deciding to stick to his tried and tested diet of posho and brew. But on New Year's Eve, when we were peacefully mooching around our camp and a few of us were peeling potatoes for lunch, for no reason at all I can remember, I suddenly looked up to my right and saw BulBul, about 15 metres away and approaching with purpose.

Elephants - they may be big but they can sneak up on you pretty damn quietly. My sister tells me it's something to do with having enormous flat feet.

Uhhhhh.... Guys. Elephant approaching, I managed to stutter. Maybe it was that slo-mo that kicks in in weird situations but noone seemed to react straight away.

Guys! BulBul! Pick up your cameras and head for the bus! He was quite close by now.

BulBul at our picnic table

I gathered my own camera bag, looked at our pile of foil wrapped potatoes for lunch and gathered up those too, and jumped on the minibus. Clever, our driver (yes, his name really was) jumped in the driver's seat and started the engine. We backed off by 20m from our camp but BulBul was now right where we had been sat. He looked at the table filled with clean camping bowls and mugs. His trunk delicately felt around for something less plastic and more edible - no such luck - and several of our bowls fell to the floor. He sniffed at a black bag I'd forgotten I'd left on top of the catering box.

Oh no I groaned.

What's in it? asked Rich.

I was just sorting out our fruit and snacks for the journey tomorrow. That's got all our bananas and mangoes in.

We watched in dismay as it was deposited from trunk to mouth and swallowed, black bag and all.

One bag down...

Quite a crowd had gathered to one side from the UWA bandas - part laughing at the muzungus in their safari bus, watching an elephant trash their camp, part raising the alarm to gather help.

In the meantime BulBul took a step forward and knocked a chair over. In front of the chair were two bags. My heart sank.

What's in those bags? asked Rich, me being chief food monitor on our excursions and me having just re-ordered our food supply and organising the bags for the journey back down.

One's a rubbish bag I was about to throw away, and one's got the Doritos and our remaining chocolate bars in it... I trailed off, willing the inevitable not to happen.

No prizes for guessing which one BulBul took a fancy too. But it seemed he inverted the bag just a moment too soon. He got all the Doritos, and the packet of novelty crisps I'd bought just for the name ("Big Ring"), but two little shiny packets of purple dropped onto the grass at his feet. The Dairy Milk was saved!

BulBul makes his exit...

Since the UWA crowd had sounded the alarm, a truck roared up to see off our hungry visitor. Bu tactically reversing the truck at BulBul in short, sharp bursts, the driver managed to finally see off the elephant who trotted off down the road in a huff. We felt quite bad. Whilst we would miss our Doritos this was by far the most interesting animal encounter we'd had all trip and it seemed a shame to chase BulBul off when we were the visitors.

Turns out, the big tall Acacia we were camped under was also his tree. The helpful ranger who had smiled and said "No Problem" when we asked if it was a good place to camp had failed to mention this.

Poor BulBul. He must have thought us most ill-mannered. Camping under his tree then chasing him off with a big scary truck...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monkey Business

To give you a flavour of the kind of executive business problems we have to deal with here at Red Chilli, we had a customer report a problem to us this morning.

Turns out there is a monkey fried on a power cable just outside his room. The monkeys leap from tree to tree, and house to tree, but where there are no trees near the houses, they will run up and down the power cables.

This one obviously reached out for a juicy avocado whilst still on the cable, or simply didn't clear the building before stepping on to the cable. How do you sensitize vervets to the dangers of electrocution?

So now we have to figure out how to get the corpse down. It will mean turning the power off at some point and then someone has the grizzly task of removing the body.

This is when I'm glad we have a team of camp attendants who will no doubt see the task as a manly challenge, and I can stick to the VAT returns...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Big Bumper Blog New Year Catch Up

I know, I know... It’s been far too long.

First the Kampala riots happened in early September, and I wrote a piece but while there was still the sound of gunfire in the distance at night and stories of journalists getting arrested for ‘inciting violence’ (read, criticizing the established government), I thought better of posting it. But I may resurrect it after casting a careful eye over the final edit…


Then I got embroiled in the whole oil and tourism debate. Or rather, trying to start one. Oil has been discovered in the national parks in Uganda. The government and the oil companies want to drill further test sites and then start production, in between selling their stakes and making millions.


The conservationists are horrified and are desperately trying to work with the relevant parties to mitigate the potential for damage to one of the top ten global areas for biodiversity. The tour operators and lodge owners are also up in arms – if the wildlife goes then so do our customers – so it’s in all our interests to run sustainable businesses and suddenly someone else comes in with full permission to start drilling up the Delta. Furthermore, they didn’t even want to speak with us. Two test sites were drilled and completed and restored within the National Park before any of the tourism concessionaires were consulted. And when we were finally consulted we were reassured that it was before the Environmental Impact Assessment for this next round of test sites would be submitted, only to see a copy of the report stamp-dated a week before our interview. Letters were written, petitions were signed, meetings were held. We played a nice game of what PR merchants term “Stakeholder engagement” for a while (ironic that it took the stakeholders to force a little engagement in the first place) until I personally decided that the fury and frustration I felt at some of the bureaucratic side-stepping and meeting avoidance being practiced by state and corporation alike was no longer worth the effort. I was keeping myself up at night, fuming at the latest email chain of weasel words and weak excuses, but the net effect was that nothing tangible was being achieved, so I quit campaigning for the tourism sector and went back to the day job.

It was a period of two months which left a bitter taste in my mouth. I have worked more than a decade in advertising, considered to be a profession that attracts individuals with little personal integrity, and yet I met more weasels in the process of a couple of months of oil and tourism discussions than I ever did in advertising. The whole process did however leave me in awe of the NGOs that I came across. There I was, railing in anger at knock back after knock back, but mindful of the fact that these conservation NGOs (amongst others) have to do this day after day after day. And still somehow seem to stay motivated. I doff my cap to them all, wherever they may be.


Then, Rich and I took a much deserved week of leave at the end of November and did another loop around the South West of Uganda. We stayed yet again at the beautiful Mihingo Lodge (I can’t possibly pass down the Mbarara road without making a night of it there now), went onto Lake Bunyonyi where we enjoyed a peaceful evening at Bunyonyi Overland Camp, and then onto Nkuringo for a walking safari at 2000m, more about which I shall write later. From Nkuringo, on the fringes of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, we drove up rocky switchback roads to pass over the mountains and down onto the Western Rift Valley plains again and made for Ishasha. The southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ishasha is famous for tree-climbing lions. Of course, with our luck, the lions were on their holidays and had not been seen for a week or two. But it was fine, we stayed at the lovely, peaceful Ishasha Wildnerness Camp on the Ntungwe River and were spoiled rotten by being the only guests and eating some fantastic food.

December came and went in a rush of tourists, trips and festive meals. Our camp at Kampala is full to the brim a few days either side of Christmas itself but on Christmas Day it’s strangely quiet. Those that do stay here on the 25th December itself, are usually in town to visit relatives or friends and so disappear to spend the day with them. It’s when Rich and I eat Christmas Dinner twice a day and play our annual game of pool.

New Year saw us take a trip to Kidepo, a remote National Park in the North East of Uganda on the Kenyan and Sudanese borders. More on that later too, but suffice to say we ended the year with the memorable experience of watching an elephant trash our campsite and eat all our Doritos.

And that, in a nutshell, is the last five months… I’m sorry it’s been a while and my New Year’s resolution for 2010 is to write more posts. So here goes….

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Long Awaited Front Page Splash

Some may remember me mentioning the Kampala purveyors of finest tabloid journalistic tat, The Red Pepper, with its lurid front page stories. One of the readers of this blog, who spent some time in Uganda last autumn, even brought up the famous Pastor Kiweweezi 'Bum Sex' scandal, which ran and ran and ran.

R had taken a photo on one of the best front pages from this particular sordid tale, but had not got round to downloading it off his phone yet.

Then we read a recently released book by a very funny writer called Jane Bussmann, The Worst Date Ever. When recently in the UK for all of about two days (enough time for my brother's wedding a little light shopping) I picked it up because I'd heard it mentioned Red Chilli.

It did mention Red Chilli, with equal measures of praise and scorn, which is probably fair, and it had me snorting out my Emirates orange juice with laughter as I read my way through the flight back home. It's less a guide to dating and more an acutely funny take on Uganda's political situation with some extravagantly dark jokes that most people wouldn't dare make about Aids orphans, genocide and the like. But those jokes smuggle in revelations and conclusions that most people working in the business of genocide seem to spend their lives subtly avoid facing up to.

Anyway, in it she discovers (with some delight I might add) the Ugandan slang for a man's penis, whopper, as popularized by the Red Pepper. So we found her email address on her website and emailed her our appreciation of the book along with a copy of this picture, which she says made her day. Unless she's just saying as some sort of anti-stalking device...

She's currently performing at the Edinburgh festival, Bussmann's Holiday, which is, I would imagine, definitely worth the ticket price if you're up that way. I believe the festival finishes next weekend... Crossed fingers for Jane for the Perrier, or Tap Water, or whatever awards are the ones to have these days...

Maybe the Red Pepper could introduce their own awards called "The Best Whopper Award (And We Don't Mean Burger King Either....But We Would Probably Call It Bugger King If We Had To Write A Headline About It)". But maybe they would come up with something a little catchier.