Africa… What a magic place!

At the equator

At the equator

Martine Dolmière is the Faculty of Science’s Internship and Field Studies Officer, and helps coordinate our Canadian Field Study in Africa Program. She was so interested to see the kinds of things our students see that she recently spent part of her own vacation in Kenya and Uganda. Her hosts were Professors Lauren Chapman (Biology) and Colin Chapman (Anthropology), who conduct their field research in Uganda and also teach in the CFSIA program.

We left Montreal on a Wednesday evening. Flying through London allowed us to have a long lay over and to have a chance to hop on the tube (the metro) for a short downtown visit. We reached Entebbe (Uganda) 48 hours after leaving Canada.  As we were stepping off the airplane we were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the temperature was.  We rode to Kampala with Robert (our cab driver). On the way to the city we were stopped couple times by armed soldiers. Finally I asked Robert why so many checkpoints were erected on the road to the capital. The new elected president of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was arriving by airplane the same day we landed.  We passed his convoy as we were approaching the city limits.

We met the Chapmans (Lauren and Colin) at a guesthouse in Kampala. We then all climbed into a Coaster (small white bus) for the six-hour drive to Fort Portal. Our final destination was Kibale National Forest. We reached it in the early evening and settled in a house located on the grounds of the Makerere University Biological Field Station (MUBFS), which we shared with Tyler (graduate student in Geography) and his nine-year-old son, Jordan.

The next day we headed out on a chimpanzee trek. After spending approximately five hours in the jungle, we spotted only one male chimpanzee.  On the way back to the field station, we stopped at the Chimpanzee Guest House overlooking tea plantations. These vast tea plantations don’t belong to local entrepreneurs but interestingly enough are owned by Indian and Chinese tea companies.

Tea plantations

Tea plantations

We spent Sunday morning with Lauren and her graduate student. We headed to a stream to gather leaves with insect damage. In the afternoon we walked to the village just outside of the field station. On the way we passed the Kibale clinic which was built with the efforts of the Chapmans and many local partners. The clinic serves the villagers’ medical needs and plays an important role in promoting good health practices.

We left Kibale on Monday morning to drive to the Queen Elizabeth National Park with William, our driver. We drove through the Crater Lake area. The road was not paved and was in bad condition. On each side of the road we passed many villages with striking poverty level.  Children were waving at us and yelling “hello”.

Elephants (Queen Elizabeth's Park)

Elephants (Queen Elizabeth's Park)

We settled in our room with a breathtaking view of the park. Early morning, the next day, we did a game drive.  We saw elephants, warthogs, Uganda kobs. In the afternoon, we took a boat ride on Kazinga Channel, a 32 km long natural channel that links Lake Edward and Lake George. The channel attracts a varied range of animals and birds and it has one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos and numerous Nile crocodiles.

A village on Lake George

A village on Lake George

At the end of the day, we headed out of the Queen Elizabeth National Park for a short drive to Katwe, where we visited the salt lake. Katwe villagers have been harvesting the salt here for over 500 years. The method of mining the salt has not been changed. In the 1960s the Germans built a salt factory but failed at their endeavor. They had laid pipes to move the salt from the lake to the factory but because of the high corrosion nature of the salt the pipes became unusable. The factory eventually shut down and now stands abandoned in the middle of Katwe village.

Katwe salt lake

Katwe salt lake

After spending two days in this majestic national park, we headed South through Mbarara to Lake Mburo which is the best place in the country to see the gigantic eland antelope, as well as zebra, topi, impala, and several acacia-associated birds which we had an opportunity to observe  on our nature walk. The lake is rich with a diversity of animal and plant species which can only be viewed clearly if you take a boat trip: crocodiles, hippopotamuses and birds like pelicans, black crane, heron, cormorant, fish eagle. You may also sight the rare saddlebill stork.  We spent the night in  a tent. Before going to bed, we admired the beautiful sky studded with millions of stars. We observed the Southern Cross, only visible from the Southern hemisphere. What a sight! During the night we also had the visit of a hungry hippo who had its dinner right outside our tent.

The road to Mbarara

The road to Mbarara

Nature walk, Lake Mburo

Nature walk, Lake Mburo

The rare saddlebill stork

The rare saddlebill stork

We drove to Lake Nabugabo where we rejoined with the Chapmans. We spent two days there staying in a hut on the shores of the lake.  We had the opportunity to help one of Lauren Chapman’s post-docs lay down fish traps in two swamps on the shores of Lake Nabugabo.

Lake Nabugabo

Lake Nabugabo

Setting up fish traps

Setting up fish traps

On Saturday it was time to say good bye to Uganda. We drove back to Entebbe to catch our flight to Nairobi on Kenya Airways. We landed in Nairobi and met Mukhtar, one of our partners in the Africa Field Study Semester. Mukhtar gave us a tour of his city and took us to the Giraffe center. The center was founded in 1979 to save the endangered Rothschild giraffe.

Then off to the shores of Lake Elementaita in the Great Rift Valley.  We drove to Lake Nakuru National Park which is world famous as the location of the greatest bird spectacles on earth – myriads of pink flamingoes.  Our guide explained that the park had recently been enlarged to provide a safe sanctuary to the black rhinos (which we observed) and the Rothschild giraffe.  We encountered one of the predators in the park: a beautiful and proud male lion.

Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru

Zebras (Lake Nakuru Park)

Zebras (Lake Nakuru Park)

Lion

Lion

It was time to head back to Canada after spending 12 days discovering these beautiful countries.

Africa…. What a magic place!

Food/drink we discovered while visiting Uganda and Kenya:

Mandazi: delicious doughnut-like pastry

Chapati: flat bread, a little bit like a tortilla

Matooke: purée of banana

Posho: maize flour cooked with water to a porridge-like consistency

Stoney Tangawizi: ginger beer (Tangawizi is the Swahili word for ginger); commonly referred to as “a stoney”

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