|Chicago and Uganda, May/June 2009|
Travelogue: Chicago and Uganda, May and June 2009
By Roger W. Reini
By date:Prologue: March 8, 2009
Yesterday, I mailed my in application for a visa to Uganda, sending it to the Ugandan Embassy in Washington. Now why am I planning to visit Uganda? Well, my sister and her family currently live there, posted to the US Embassy. Although we have met up overseas on two previous occasions (London in 1996, Finland in 1998), I’ve never visited them at one of their postings. And I’ve not had a niece on the brink of graduating from high school before.
I had contemplated visiting them in Uganda on the way to my Bahá’í pilgrimage in December 2007, but the connections proved to be unfeasible. I’ve been thinking about this particular trip since July 2008. It would be a trip of a lifetime, for it would seem unlikely I’d ever go back there.
March 13, 2009
for Uganda are firming up. I received my passport back from
Ugandan Embassy this morning by Express Mail (I paid for the return
postage); the visa was inside, good through late August. It
paper stamp, not the ink stamp that most countries use. Now I
thought the passport would have arrived back yesterday, so I worked
from home, waiting for it to arrive. It never did.
it had not arrived at the Detroit post office until this
Once I knew that it had arrived at my local post office by 9, I knew
I’d be getting it today. I worked from home again to await
arrival -- that, and the arrival of a crew to inspect the roof of the
garage for a leak.
March 15, 2009
What do I plan to do in Uganda? In no particular order, I want to do the following: see my niece’s graduation; visit the Bahá’í House of Worship in the suburbs of Kampala; visit the Equator and get evidence that I’d been there (I have certificates and photos from the Prime Meridian and the Arctic Circle); see natural sites and wildlife on a safari. My sister says that a safari can be expensive; let’s find out how expensive is “expensive”.
May 5, 2009
One month from today will be my
birthday. It will also be my last day in Uganda, as I will be
flying home starting that evening. And three weeks from today
will be the day that I arrive there. Yes, my trip is coming
Friday May 22
was my last day of work for two weeks. It was a fairly slow
today, which allowed me to work on and complete a design consideration
(design guidance) for selecting retention or mounting points for wiring
in the package tray area of a car. I saw a review of Company
latest fuse products, and I cleaned out my e-mail inbox to some
extent. I know it’s going to be filled to overflowing when I
I woke up around 4:45 this morning, around the time that I do for a regular workday. I didn’t get out of bed until 5:30, though. I was finishing up my packing when I heard a knock at the door. It was my uncle Bill, here for our trip to Chicago to Bike the Drive. Once I finished my packing, I brought my bags downstairs and put them in the back of my SUV. He put his bag back there as well. I installed my bike rack, and then we put our bikes on the rack, taking great care that they would not move during the ride and damage each other. We also locked them up, for we’d be leaving them unattended for several hours later in the day.
A little after 6:30 in the morning, we hit the road. I drove out Ford Road to M-14, which took us to I-94. As we neared Chelsea, I noticed a black Lincoln MKZ passing me, then moving back into my lane. Not long thereafter, I saw a deer on the side of the freeway. This one moved away from the road, so it was not going to jump out at us. But there were two deer in the area, and the second one was right in the path of that MKZ. They never saw it, and they hit it square on. The deer never had a chance. How the driver could have failed to see the deer was something that perplexed Bill and me. It reminded me of my own deer-related accident five years ago this weekend near Fairfax, Virginia: I was driving with my niece Heather and nephew Brandon on Lee Highway when all of a sudden, I saw something brown rushing toward me. Before I could react, I hit it and flipped it over the car into the adjacent lane. That deer was in deer heaven, and my hood had been crushed up front, but we were not injured.
We stopped for breakfast at the McDonald’s in Chelsea, where I had one of their burrito breakfasts. Then it was time for a visit to the gas station, and we were under way again. Most of the time, I had the Old Time Radio channel on Sirius, and we both enjoyed listening to that. A few hours later, we arrived in Chicago. Our destination: the Museum of Science and Industry. Bill had never been there, and it had been several years since I’d been. The museum had undergone extensive renovations since I’d been there, starting with the creation of an underground parking garage, replacing the parking lot in front of the museum that I’d used before. There were 4 levels to the museum, counting the entry level. We got general admission tickets, no extras such as Omnimax movies, the tour of the submarine or the special Harry Potter exhibition.
Up to the topmost floor we went, concentrating on the chemistry and the aviation exhibits. Since my uncle is a private pilot, the interest was natural. We spent some time at the 727 exhibit and saw a short video about the plane, how it had arrived at the museum, and some memories from pilots who had flown that particular plane. From the balcony, we could see one floor down to the train exhibits, including an elaborate model railroad. That railroad simulated a cross-country trip from Seattle to Chicago. At one point, I noticed that crossing gates functioned realistically; that is, they would come down as a train neared, then they would go back up a short time after the train had passed, just as in real life. This particular gate crossed three tracks, and I noticed one instance where the gate started coming up, only to go down again as two more trains neared. If that happened to me in real life, I’d be really ticked off.
We spent some time in the genetics exhibit (home to the chick hatchery), Fast Forward (home to innovative ideas which may or may not lie ahead in our future) and the Navy exhibit. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the Navy exhibit was curtailed by a sore back and feet; I needed a seat. Bill was getting a bit hungry, so he suggested the Food Court. It was a long hike to the Food Court, but we got there, bought sandwiches, and sat down for our meal. We’d spent 4 hours there, and we decided on two more exhibits: the Foucault Pendulum and the Burlington Zephyr. The pendulum was right outside the food court. As it swung, its line of movement did not change, but it appeared to change because of the earth’s rotation. Indeed, the original pendulum helped to conclusively demonstrate that the earth rotated.
The Burlington Zephyr was one of the first diesel-electric trains, which set a speed record in traveling from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes. We waited for some 30 minutes to take a 15-minute guided tour of the train, which was the first to contain on-board air conditioning and was nicely appointed. After we toured the train, it was time to leave for our hotel in Rolling Meadows. I drove us out there via Lake Shore Drive, the Stevenson and Eisenhower Expressways, having to contend with a big backup on the ramp to the Eisenhower and a few backups once we got onto it.
The Holiday Inn Express was situated right behind a regular Holiday Inn. The rooms were fairly nice, and the elevators were quite large, easily able to hold bicycles. It was our plan to take the bikes off of the rack and bring them into the room for the night. It was also our plan to ride from the hotel to the Busse Woods Forest Preserve and get a few miles of trail riding in. Bill had used satellite maps to identify a route to the preserve. It actually worked out well, for I recognized where the route intersected Golf Road. The trail was across the street; we crossed, and I took the lead, having ridden these trails last year. I kept up a good pace, around 12-13 miles an hour or so. We didn’t take any of the spur trails I had ridden last year, but that wasn’t a problem. We got a good workout going around the park. We even saw a deer, but I didn’t have a camera with me. I’d tried to mount my camera on the handlebars, but the mount didn’t work very well for that, so I gave up on the attempt. Bill didn’t have his camera ready, and the deer crossed our path and scampered away fairly quickly.
Back at the hotel, we put the bikes in our room and headed off to supper at Sweet Tomatoes, a salad bar restaurant. I’d been there before and enjoyed it, while this was Bill’s first time. He compared it to an Old Country Buffet. I saw the similarities, but I noted that the OCB featured several main entrees and had a small salad bar, while Sweet Tomatoes had a huge salad bar. Once again, I lamented the fact that Detroit had no similar establishment. Back to the hotel we went, and we got ready for bed.
Sunday May 24
The alarm clock was set to go off for 4:30 AM. It didn’t. Turned out the clock was 12 hours out of phase, as it indicated it was 4:30 PM. I slept fairly lightly and awoke at the proper time, though, so I didn’t need it. Bill and I got up and got dressed for the ride. We would miss the breakfast buffet at the hotel because we were leaving before it opened, although Bill did get us some bananas and muffins that were to be put out for the buffet as he was checking out. We went out to the car with our baggage first, for once the bikes were in place, the bags would have been hard to access. Then we went back for the bikes, and we got them on and in place.
By 5:45 local time, we were on the road, heading down I-290 toward downtown. It was a nice sunny day so far, if a bit on the cool side. If you were standing around not doing anything, you’d want a jacket. I brought a jacket but decided not to wear it, for I knew I’d warm up quickly on the ride. Bill decided to wear his jacket, though. As I drove on, we spotted several vehicles with bikes on their backs and, in one case, on the roof. We were pretty sure where they were going, Bike the Drive.
I-290 turned into the Congress Parkway downtown and ended at Michigan Avenue, where I was in prime position to enter the Grant Park South Underground Garage. This is where I had parked last year for the event. This year, we ended up at the lowest level of the garage. After our bikes were off of the rack, we rode up the ramps of the garage and onto the street. A few hundred yards later, we were in Grant Park, ready to begin our ride.
The wind was coming from the north-northeast. Bill suggested we start to the south, then head north into the wind for the middle portion of the ride, putting us with the wind in our back for the end. Our plan was to ride the whole length of the roadway, some 30 miles altogether. Last year, I had started to the north and made it to the north end before coming back and starting on the south end, but I got tired and turned off at Oakwood, halfway on the south end. This year, we did indeed go south as Bill suggested. We kept up a pretty good pace, passing more riders than being passed. I felt pretty good as we pulled into the rest area on the grounds of the Museum of Science and Industry. From the outside, that was a huge building! All sorts of snacks were available for the riders, including fruit, cookies, bagels, Clif bars and water. I think we were there for 15-20 minutes in all.
Then we set off on the return loop. The wind was in our face now, and it really slowed my pace down. It was a tougher slog, to be sure. But it was scenic, with Lake Michigan to our right, Soldier Field and downtown in front of us. As we neared downtown, things were going pretty well. Bill accelerated ahead of me; I didn’t know why at the time, but later he said he was trying to take a picture of a fancy bike. I tried to keep him in sight ahead. Suddenly, there was an accident involving two riders. One of the riders was Bill! He fell on the ground hard. I pedaled up to him and stopped; other volunteers were swarming around him. He was dazed, wondering what the heck had just happened. The volunteers urged him to remain in place, fearing broken bones or a possible concussion. I was given his camera and his glasses and held onto them. The police asked us to move to the side of the road so as not to interfere with the oncoming riders. Bill was able to get up and move his bike, though not without stumbling at the fence (that may have been due to uneven ground). I kept watch on him throughout the aftermath. The helmet appeared undamaged, so I doubted that he had hit his head. We moved over to the other side of the roadway, where there were no riders, to allow for paramedics to examine him and the other rider. She had light scrapes and didn’t require further treatment. Bill had a scraped elbow (cleaned and bandaged) and complained of chest pain (EKG was clean). He waived further treatment.
The chain on his bike was out of whack, so he got it back onto the gears. He felt like continuing, and so off to the north we went. The wind felt stronger now, and I was having a tougher time, for there were a number of overpasses to contend with. We’d been delayed significantly by the crash, and it was getting close to the time when riders would be directed off of the drive and the street reopened to motorized traffic. I said after the North Avenue overpass that I wanted to turn around at the turnaround point, which was Fullerton Avenue, and so we did.
We didn’t ride on the southbound Drive, though; we were directed onto the Lakefront Trail, where walkers and bikers normally go along the lakeshore. It was nice, albeit a tad busy. By this time, the riders were coming up from downtown along the trail, and they didn’t respect the lanes very well. It was a nice trail, though, and I said to myself that I would like to ride it all some day. Maybe I’d go there for the week of July 4, if I didn’t go to Texas.
We finished the ride without further incident and made our way to the post-race celebration. We locked our bikes to a light pole and set off to collect our T-shirts. Bill wanted a place to sit down really badly; I found a bench close to our bikes. He was hurting, no doubt about that. The breakfast line was very long, so we didn’t stay for it. In fact, we got our bikes and made our way to the garage. He put the bikes on the rack while I went to look for a payment machine. There were no cashiers at the exit; you had to pay in advance at a self-serve machine. The closest machine was one level up, so I went up there, paid for parking ($24 for up to 8 hours), went back down. I helped Bill with the bikes, and then we set off. It took us several minutes to leave the garage thanks to the backup, but eventually we left. I made my way back to Congress Parkway and the freeways. Meanwhile, Bill called my aunt Marie and told her what had happened to him.
As we drove, we listened to the Indianapolis 500 broadcast on XM Radio, and that kept us company through northern Indiana to well past Kalamazoo. We stopped for lunch at the Cracker Barrel in Stevensville near St. Joseph. Bill had a turkey sandwich platter, while I went with blueberry pancakes and turkey sausage patties. I think we both enjoyed our meals. Onward we went, with a detour through Battle Creek due to overpass problems on I-94. When the race had ended, I flipped over to coverage of the Detroit-Chicago hockey playoff game. The score at the end of two periods was Detroit 5, Chicago 1 (it ended 6-1, giving the Wings a 3-1 series lead). Around 6 o’clock, I pulled into the garage.
Bill needed help loading his bike into the back of his pickup truck, for he had a hard time lifting things after the crash. I got the bikes off of the rack, put mine away and got his into the truck. He set off for home, and then I unpacked, at least somewhat. I would be packing tomorrow for my Ugandan trip. Tonight, though, I rested up from the events of the weekend, pulled out the laundry to wash tomorrow, and made sure to watch the season finale of Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union.
Monday May 25
Today was the Memorial Day holiday, but I woke up fairly early regardless, at 5:40 AM. I took a shower and did the laundry from the weekend. I continued to pack my suitcase and my carry-on. After 9, I went to the closest branch of the credit union in Garden City to pull some more money for the trip, and then I went to Target for last-minute shopping. Candice had asked me to get the latest soap opera magazines before my flight, and I knew that Target would have them. I also picked up a copy of Scientific American to read on the plane, and then I picked up a pack of ballpoint pens that I liked, in part to replace one I’d lost in Chicago over the weekend. Back home, I read the Wall Street Journal from last Saturday; I had it in the car since then, and Bill had glanced at it, but I hadn’t had the opportunity.
My next task was to take my memory cards for the camera and identify them. I did that by painting numbers on them. I was carrying so many cards, I’d need an easy way to identify which one was which. For lunch, I had 3 “naked” hot dogs, meaning without buns. I had planned on having one of them with a bun, but when I took out of its bag and found it had gone moldy, that ended that plan. They were still good.
Interestingly enough, just before I would leave on my trip to Africa, I made plans for my next trip. After the Bike the Drive experience this weekend, with the return on the Lakefront Trail, I got the idea to bike or trike the entire Lakefront Trail. That would make a good weekend trip, or even a trip for July 4. But there was another possibility: a trip to Texas. I was overdue for one. Now would I go to Houston or to Austin? Things worked out best for Austin this time, so that’s where I would go next. I made my flight reservations and received my e-ticket.
Now it was around 2:45 -- three hours before my flight. It was time for me to head to the airport. I shut off the valves to the washing machine just in case, based on a discussion I had with my uncle Bill this weekend. I put the suitcase and the carry-on in the car, made sure everything was locked or off, and then I left. I hadn’t made reservations with the taxi service this time, unlike with my pilgrimage; this time I’d drive and park myself. There wasn’t much traffic, and it was at 3:15 that I found myself at Airlines Parking, parking my car for the next 11 days. There were two other passengers with me on the ride to the McNamara Terminal.
At the terminal, I got in line to check my bag. Now I had done a form of online checkin before coming here, and that turned out to be a mistake, for I was not able to get a boarding pass for the Amsterdam-Entebbe segment of my flight. I would have to do that at a transfer desk in Amsterdam, the agent said. But the suitcase was checked through to Entebbe, and I had my seat and pass for this portion. Through security I went; no problem there. At the currency exchange counter, I swapped $41 for €24 and 10 cents back. I saw where the gate was, then started walking down the concourse toward the Borders store at the far end. I saw the Chili’s where I ate before leaving on pilgrimage, although I didn’t feel like eating there today.
The Borders mini-store did not have any magazines, but it did have The American Patriot’s Handbook, a collection of important American documents and inspirational writings. It struck me as an appropriate purchase on this Memorial Day and at the start of a vacation where I would be visiting expatriate Americans working for our embassy in Uganda. I didn’t want to walk all the way back to the center concourse, so I took the shuttle train back there.
There was still plenty of time before the flight, so I took advantage of this time by visiting the Religious Reflection Room again. When I got there, I was not alone; a woman was there reciting prayers. I noticed someone had penciled in markings on the wall for the orientation to Mecca; those markings would be cleaned up on the cleaning crew’s next visit, I figured. I don’t recall how long I spent there, but I spent enough time to recite a number of prayers before leaving. Before reaching the gate, I stopped at one more gift shop that had magazines, but it turned out they didn’t carry soap opera magazines. If I had not gone to Target this morning, my niece would have been disappointed.
Before leaving on pilgrimage, I noted a major sense of calm and tranquility, something I thought was spiritually akin to the ihram or ritual purity of the Muslim pilgrimage. The start of that journey felt different from the start of any other journey I’d ever taken before. I did not feel that same way this time; the reasons for my travel were different. This was more like a regular trip; the purpose was not purely spiritual.
As I waited at the gate, I watched CNN on the big screen. I couldn’t hear the sound for it, though, so I was losing some of the information being imparted. But there wasn’t a major news story in progress, so I had no problem with that. The gate agent announced that boarding would be delayed for 20 minutes to compensate for a shortened flight time: as strong tailwinds were expected throughout the flight, the flight time had to be adjusted so that we didn’t arrive too early, before flights could land without violating noise restrictions.
By 6 o’clock, we had boarded. I was sitting in an aisle seat, one row behind an exit row. This plane was a 747, and it was the first time I’d ever been on one. We were pushed away from the gate at 6:06; the process seemed slower than normal to me. Well, this was the largest plane I’d ever been on, so it would make sense for it to be slower. It took 14 minutes to taxi into position, and then we were off. I could see through the window that we were proceeding north to northeast across town, for I was able to see downtown, the Detroit River, I-696, the GM Tech Center, and the Tank Command area as we headed out. The main viewscreen provided information about our flight path, but not constantly. Our seats did not have individual displays, so all we had available to us was the main display.
Some 90 minutes later, I and one of my seatmates were eating dinner. We’d both requested special meals, and it just so happened that those eating special meals received them before the rest of the passengers. My meal was a chicken breast with rice and broccoli; it was pretty good.
I started to think in terms of Amsterdam time, 6 hours ahead of Eastern time. And so it was that at 2:57 in the morning, I noticed that the plane had passed the coast of Newfoundland. North America was behind us; ahead lay the North Atlantic and Europe. It did get dark outside; I wondered if we would have been far enough north to experience some midnight sun, but we weren’t. I didn’t get any sleep on board the flight; I’m not even sure I tried. Much of the time, I tried to study for the Extra Class amateur radio license exam that I was planning to take in July. I didn’t use the headset, and so I never heard the sound for the movies Hotel for Dogs and Yes Man.
Tuesday May 26
By 7:05 AM, the plane was on the ground in Amsterdam. One of the first things I did on the ground was to visit the restroom; the next was to take some medicine. Then I proceeded to the nearest transfer desk to print out a boarding pass for the flight to Entebbe. I could provide my e-ticket number or my passport number; I think I gave my e-ticket number. And a few moments later, I had my boarding pass.
Now how did I spend my hours on the ground in Amsterdam? I visited some of the shops, including a video store and an electronics shop, but I didn’t get anything at those stores. I visited a deli, which was more of a convenience store; didn’t get anything there, either. I did get two newspapers at a bookstore, though (a USA Today and a Daily Telegraph). I visited an Internet cafe on the second level and spent €6 for 30 minutes of time to check e-mail. Then I went to the gate for the flight to Entebbe. The gate wasn’t officially open yet; there were two waiting areas, with one on the other side of a security checkpoint. So I sat in the first waiting area until the gate opened. It was warm there, or so I thought; I spent much of my time fanning myself with the Daily Telegraph. I could hear someone playing a ukulele from time. At one point, an agent came over inquiring about a bag that had been abandoned; after no one claimed it, we were asked to move out of the area. I don’t know what happened to that bag other than that it didn’t explode in my presence.
When the gate opened, we lined up for the security scan, then went into the second waiting area. There was a toilet there, allowing for last-minute relief before boarding. I took advantage of that. This plane would be an Airbus A330, and I would have a window seat. The seat was a little cramped for my liking, with less knee room than on the 747. What’s more, the seat ahead of me had a box underneath it, taking up room that could have been used for a bag or to put one’s feet. I had to put my bag in an overhead bin.
The plane took off on time, and for the first couple of hours, it was uneventful. I could see the Alps below at one point. The seats had individual display monitors, and one of the functions let one send e-mails from on board, albeit at $2.50 a message. I decided to send Sharon an e-mail. A short time later, the purser made an announcement: was there a doctor on board? A man a few rows away from me identified himself; he was brought forward to the business class cabin. I had no idea what was going on, but it had to be a serious situation. Several minutes after that, the captain announced that the plane would have to land in Rome so that the stricken person could be taken to a hospital. The plane had already passed the latitude of Rome, so it turned around and went north along the west coast of Italy. The airport was not in Rome itself but along the coast, so I never saw the city of Rome. I sent a second e-mail to Sharon telling her of our diversion and mentioning that I was not the medical emergency.
We were on the ground for at least 2 hours, it seemed. An ambulance arrived shortly after our landing. I could see paramedics gathered around someone in the business class cabin. Several minutes later, I saw what appeared to be the stricken person being loaded onto the ambulance. He appeared to be seriously overweight. I would later learn from someone in business class that the man may have had a heart attack. After he was taken to the hospital, we remained on the ground for many more minutes while a new flight plan to Entebbe was generated. Eventually, we got under way again and were headed south by southeast toward Africa.
One of my meals on this leg of the trip was tofu curry. Now I like tofu on Mongolian barbecue, but this tofu had been cooked in such a way that it became real chewy, and I didn’t care for it like that. The rest of the meal was good, though. I tried to get some sleep on board, although I had to lean against the side of the cabin or the back of the seat in front of me. At one point, I saw the desert below -- the Sahara Desert. Much later, I saw powerful lightning flashes outside as we flew between storms in southern Sudan or northern Uganda. But there were no storms in Entebbe as we landed.
On board the plane, we’d been given immigration cards to fill out. On the ground, we were given a second card to fill out. This one was for health concerns: did we have any symptoms of swine flu? I filled mine out saying I had no such symptoms and gave it to a nurse who was wearing a surgical mask. Then I proceeded to immigration. The agent wondered where my visa was in my passport; I told him it was a few pages into the document. He found it, stamped it, and sent me to baggage claim. I paid a visit to the restroom, opened up one of my containers of insect repellent, and wiped my exposed skin down. I waited for my bag to come off for several minutes, but then I turned around and saw an area where several suitcases had already been removed. One of them was mine. I went through the nothing to declare lane and entered the airport arrival hall. I wasn’t sure what to look for at this point; would there be someone holding a sign with my name on it? Just then, I heard a familiar voice calling me. It was my niece Candice, over by a sliding door. That was where I went to meet her, my sister Sharon and the van that would take us to Kampala. Also traveling with us was a US government employee visiting the embassy in preparation for his pending posting there.
I sat in the front passenger seat of the van for the trip to Kampala. Uganda was a drive-on-the-left country, and the drivers tended to be more aggressive than in the US. I would later learn that seemed to derive out of necessity; a timid driver wouldn’t do well in the city. It was a definite experience riding along the main road between the airport and the capital, although I couldn’t see much because it was dark outside. I did notice the gas stations with mostly unfamiliar brand names (I did recognize Total, though). Traffic was fairly light, as one would expect late in the evening. But I did notice a lot of people walking along the road. Sharon pointed out the location of the International School south of Kampala, although it was some distance off of the highway. We traveled through several travel circles and through several streets of the city, dropping off the government traveler at a very nice hotel in the process, before reaching a Shell station, which was considered a local landmark. The driver turned at that station and went for what seemed like a mile before turning to the left and turning right at the second driveway.
It was after midnight when we got home. Randy was waiting for us, while Heather and Brandon were asleep because it was a school night. Candice had come along because school, for her, was effectively over already. Beyond practice for graduation, her last official high school event was Friday afternoon, graduation. I nibbled on a chocolate chip cookie that Heather had made. I was shown to my room on the first floor, normally a spare room housing an out-of-commission computer. As I unpacked, I noticed a small lizard falling on the floor. I wasn’t able to step on it before it scampered away. It was just as if I’d seen a cockroach crawling around down home in Texas.
I woke up after 8:30 after a reasonably
comfortable sleep; I did have a large fan blowing in my room, although
it was rather loud. I collected my pills, took then with
water, and went to have some breakfast. Today would be a day
for taking it easy, to recover from my trip and get adjusted to Ugandan
time, currently seven hours ahead of Eastern time.
Tiger the cat came into the TV room meowing up a storm and walking around. It wasn’t clear to me why he was meowing; Candice said he wanted to go upstairs. There was nothing or nobody stopping him.
Now one thing I wanted to do was to check e-mail, but I couldn’t because the Internet connection had been out since either Monday night or early Tuesday evening. The hardware for the connection was in my bedroom, so I looked around to see what I could do. I noticed that the router had been unplugged, perhaps after thunderstorms had gone through on Tuesday, so I plugged it back in. That brought up the wireless network, but the Internet connection was still out. I saw a loose cable but couldn’t figure out where it went, nor did I see anything looking like a cable modem or DSL modem. That ended my efforts at network diagnosis until Randy got home. It was his network, so he ought to know how to repair it.
Later in the afternoon, Sharon asked if I wanted to go with her to the grocery store. I said yes, for this would be my first chance to see the city in the daytime. We got into their old Chrysler minivan, which had a few hundred thousand miles on it by this point. It had also developed some water leaks underneath the instrument panel, but given the age and mileage on the car, this wasn’t unexpected. As we drove to the store, I got to see a different world: roads where deep potholes were common and near-complete underminings were almost as common; a near-total absence of stop signs or traffic lights; a high number of bicycles on the road, and amazement at how much was being loaded onto them; an equally high number of scooters or mopeds carrying passengers (the boda-boda vehicles); vans serving as the main form of public transportation; buildings that ranged widely in condition from OK to dilapidated. This was my first daytime view of a developing-world capital city.
The shopping center where the grocery store was located, the Lugogo Mall, was similar to many in the US and was in decent condition. Like the US centers, there was a security presence; unlike the US centers, the guard was on foot and carried a rifle. We first went to Game, a South African store that was on the order of a Wal-Mart. This was where the pet food was found, and I helped Sharon carry the packages of cat and/or dog food (I think it was all cat food). After checking out, we put those bags in the car and went to the Shoprite grocery store. This was also a South African chain and looked just like a North American supermarket, albeit one smaller than the typical one of today. Many of the brand names seemed unusual to me -- Fax air freshener? These strange brands were likely Turkish or British, my sister told me. Shopping complete, we headed home, passing in front of the US Embassy where she and Randy worked.
For supper, we had chicken, garlic noodles, garlic toast, green bean casserole, and Spanish rice. An unusual mixture, to be sure, but everything was good. Near the end of our meal, a technician from the Internet provider came out to diagnose the connectivity problem, which still persisted. The problem was very easy to fix: a device was not plugged in. That’ll be an expensive service call to plug something in! But they were back in business. I had brought my iPod touch along instead of my Macbook, and it worked, but it wasn’t the most convenient to use. Having a larger screen and a physical keyboard would be more useful, I thought. Fortunately, the family let me use their old iBook that had been retired from service. It only had the stock 256 MB of memory it came with originally, and the software was OS X Panther, but most of the time it worked for what I needed it to do.
Randy showed me where I could plug in the iBook for charging next to the TV downstairs. It was the transformer and power strip that controlled the Wii game machine. I charged it there for a while, and when I was done, I unplugged it and shut off the power at the wall outlet. Oops! I turned off the wrong outlet, the one with the TV, not the one for the Wii and laptop! No damage was done, though; no one was watching that TV anyway. They’d already gone upstairs, which is what I did later. I turned the TV outlet back on and the other outlet off before heading upstairs. A tribute to George Strait was airing on one of the AFN channels (the main one, AFN Prime). I watched about half of it with them but then went downstairs to my room around 9:30. Back on the Web, I learned that the Stanley Cup finals would be pulled ahead a week to begin this Saturday.
It took a while for me to feel tired enough to go to bed, and then it took a while to fall asleep. I turned off the fan for a bit, but then I could hear mosquitos flying around. I turned the fan back on, and I couldn’t hear the mosquitos any more. Hopefully, I was blowing them away from me.
My sleep wasn’t particularly sound; I recall waking a few times during the night before getting up for good around 6:30 AM. I had set the iBook near my bed, just like at home, and so the first thing I did was to check for e-mail from overnight. The next thing I did was to get up and take a shower. Now the flow from the shower head seemed a little weak to me, and I had difficulty getting a lot of hot water, but I was able to clean off.
After I’d dried off and changed into my clothes for the day, I took my medicine and got my breakfast -- more corn flakes, but also some yogurt that Sharon had bought for me at the store yesterday. The yogurt was pretty good, Dannon variety (or Danone, the true name of the company, used everywhere but the US -- some might call it Dan-One, I guess). Ellen was playing on the TV downstairs, courtesy of one of the M-Net channels, but nobody else was in the room. When it ended, I flipped it over to Sky News. There weren’t any commercials on Sky News; they’d all been removed, just like when I’d seen it in Israel (no doubt it was the same feed). And I noticed that it had more of a domestic feel to it than the other news channels, that it had a stronger emphasis on Britain than, say, the BBC World News channel did or CNN International did.
Now this was a big day for Candice: graduation day. It was big enough to warrant Mom and Dad coming home early. Well, everyone had to get ready for the afternoon ceremony, which was at 4, but the motor pool was picking us up between 2 and 2:30. Changing for the ceremony was easy for me; I just took off my T-shirt and put on a white long-sleeved shirt. I had the remainder of Wednesday night’s sandwich for lunch.
The driver from the motor pool arrived at 2:10 PM to take Randy, Sharon, Candice and I to the school (Heather and Brandon were still at school and would head from class to the ceremony). It seemed like we traveled through a maze of pothole-ridden, traffic-laden city streets to get to the school. At one point, a pedestrian walked out into traffic, looking for all the world like he would walk in front of the van, then slapped the windshield HARD. What the heck?
It took an hour or so to make it to the south of town and the school with all of the congestion going on. I vaguely recognized Entebbe Road, the road between the airport and the capital, which I had traveled Tuesday night. The driver turned off onto the road for the school and drove up into the hill a kilometer or so, passing by two Bible colleges and a small shopping center before arriving at the International School of Uganda. The parking lot was torn up for improvements. We got out and climbed four flights of stairs to reach the main school level. From what I could see of the campus, it looked nice, spacious and neat. We made our way to the main assembly area, which was normally the gym. It was covered by a tin roof, which would keep us dry if rain came down, but it would be a noisy dry.
We were there an hour before the ceremony was to begin at 4, so we got our pick of seats. We ended up going to the third row; I had a seat along the aisle. There wasn’t much to do until the ceremony started, so I took some pictures of the pre-ceremony happenings. Heather was serving as an usher, handing out programs
Now it was 4; the ceremony started with the processionals of the school officials and dignitaries, led by the headmaster and the Egyptian ambassador to Uganda, who was the main speaker this evening. Next came the faculty, and then the students entered to the sounds of Ugandan drums and a piano-and-trumpet version of “Pomp and Circumstance”. I took video of the students walking in, and I also took a still of the first group of graduates. Yes, it was possible to take pictures while also taking video with my camera, but the video will be interrupted. That wasn’t a big deal, though. Candice was towards the back of the procession, and she ended up in the back row of graduates, with a taller graduate blocking her out at times.
I thought it unusual that the class speech was given by students other than the valedictorian and salutatorian. I guess the International School doesn’t follow the US tradition. There was nothing wrong with the speech; it was a typical valedictory-type speech. I ought to know, for I wrote one-fifth of my high school class’s valedictory speech. The Egyptian ambassador’s speech was also a good one, if a bit on the long side. His son was a junior at the school; both Candice and Heather knew the son. Sadly, though, he would be found dead one week later, cause unknown (unknown to the public, anyway).
There were several musical numbers presented this evening, including the entire senior class singing “Let It Be.” That was not the song they intended to sing, but the school wouldn’t let them sing one of their party songs. Finally, it was time for the graduates to receive their diplomas. They left the stage, then came out when their name was called. I had a good view of Candice receiving her diploma, although her father would complain later that he had a terrible view, thanks to an idiot in the front row who blocked his view. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the graduates all moved their tassels to the left side of the cap, signifying that they were now officially graduates. Then came the tossing of the caps into the air and the recessional, again to the sound of the Ugandan drums. My oldest niece was now a high school graduate!
After the ceremony, everyone gathered in the open-air amphitheater for congratulations, well-wishing, and a chance to nibble on some food and get some cake. I was somewhat detached from these proceedings, because the only people I knew there were my relatives. Still, I met some of their friends, classmates and teachers. I got to see Candice’s diploma, one of two she would receive. This diploma was from the school; in two months, she would receive one from the International Baccalaurate organization. As it grew darker, we moved toward the parking lot to meet the motor pool van. We weren’t going home; we were instead going to the home of the Cronins, co-workers of Randy and Sharon. The girls regularly babysat for the Cronin children, and I could tell when we arrived that the children really liked the girls.
It took us a long time to get back into town and to the house, though, due to very heavy traffic. For most of that trip, we were behind a pickup truck filled with men sitting in the cargo bed. It got a little ridiculous at one point, being behind them for so long. I was able to show the family the pictures I’d taken during the ceremony. Eventually, though, we went our separate ways and arrived at our evening destination. Our hosts fed us well, with shish kebab, shish kafta and chicken kebab as the main food and plenty of soft drinks and beer to go around. Much of the conversation revolved around Heather’s future college plans, where she should consider going (Candice would be attending William and Mary in the fall).
When we got back to the house, there was some uncertainty about whether the girls would be going out to celebrate. Heather wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay home, while Candice did go out later. I tried to go to bed, but I had a hard time doing so. I heard Tiger meowing loudly in the hall, so I opened the door and let him in for a while. Even Sassy came in briefly, but only just: she stuck her head in the door, then went right back out again. I read from the American Patriot’s Handbook for a while before feeling sleepy enough to turn in.
Today was another down day for me, where I stayed around the house. It would have been difficult for me to go anywhere else on my own, for I would have no idea where I was going. I did receive an e-mail from my aunt Marie and uncle Bill; he was still quite sore in the ribcage a week after crashing on his bike at Bike the Drive, so he was going to the doctor. Later that evening, they would attend the Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert. I would also pack for the safari; I’d only need one bag, for I’d be gone three days.
The Boomerang channel that aired on DSTV originated in the UK, so it carried a few programs that weren’t that familiar to me. I saw ads for The Raccoons, which was a Canadian cartoon, and I actually saw an episode of Danger Mouse, a British cartoon of the ‘80s. I’d heard of both of them, but I hadn’t actually seen them until today. And I only saw ads for The Raccoons, not the show itself.
Yesterday, rain threatened during the graduation ceremony but held off. It didn’t hold off today, for it rained in the early afternoon. And whenever it rained, the satellite television was lost. The TV would go out before the rain started to hit the ground, and it would come back before the rain stopped. The rain did not last long, but it came down pretty hard while it did.
Before it rained, I had gone in the backyard and played with Lucky for a little while, kicking around one of her balls. I was filming her at the same time, and it wasn’t easy to kick a ball while holding onto a camera.
Supper today was pizza, supreme style, with those peppers that Randy had cut in the morning, along with many other things he’d prepared. There were thicker-crust and thinner-crust versions of the pizza; I think I had mainly thinner-crust slices. Lucky hung around during supper, making a pest of herself. We had to be very careful with our plates lest she decide to grab our slices.
Later on, while we men were out on the back porch or in the yard, my phone rang. It was the guide from the travel agency who would take me on my safari. His name was David, and he confirmed that he would be arriving at 7:45 tomorrow morning to pick me up.
Heather was feeling better in the evening, well enough to go on a babysitting job. The rest of us watched the premiere episode of Leverage on AFN (it had already aired in the US, but I didn’t see it then) as well as an audition episode of So You Think You Can Dance? By 10 o’clock, I had gone down to my bedroom for a period of e-mail checking and web surfing before calling it a night.
I woke up around 6:20, in plenty of time to be ready to be picked up for the safari. One of the first things I did was to check out the web; game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals had concluded less than an hour earlier. Who had won? Detroit did, 3-1. Only three more wins to go to win the Stanley Cup.
For breakfast, I had corn flakes, yogurt and white grape juice. Out in the TV room, the family members who were up were watching an E! True Hollywood Story on today’s young stars; segments I remember seeing were those on Taylor Swift and Zac Efron. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for a long ride. The doorbell rang at 7:45. Yes, it was David, the guide from Let’s Go Travel in his Nissan 4-wheel drive vehicle. It was time to hit the road. I made sure I had my phone, my medicine and everything else I needed, said my goodbyes, and then we were off.
Our route took us through the city, and I was amazed at the number of people out and about on a Sunday morning. In the distance, I saw a mosque on a hill; that was probably the one financed by Libyan leader Khadafi. Onward we went, underneath an overpass for a bypass road under construction and through a very busy market area. A young man tried to sell me a newspaper, but I declined.
Eventually, the development, such as it was, petered out, and we entered the countryside. It was very lush countryside, in my opinion, very green. The road was in very good shape compared to many in Kampala. Now there were some areas where it was under construction, being paved with small stones. Here is where I had my first experience of Uganda’s way to slow the traffic down: build lots and lots of speed bumps that are spaced closely enough and are high enough so that you have no choice but to do the speed limit of 20 kilometers an hour. This keeps the stones from being chucked by bus and truck tires before they set into place. One stretch seemed to last for a couple of miles. Fortunately, most of the road was not like this.
Many of the buildings in the cities and villages were painted with advertisements, such as for Uganda Telecom and other phone companies, as well as Sadolin paints. Sadolin’s motto was “Colour Your World.” That got me thinking about the two songs called “Colour My World”, the one by Petula Clark and the other by Chicago -- Clark’s song came to mind first, being more upbeat and driving.
I had heard that once you got outside of the cities and villages, Uganda was a beautiful country. I was beginning to see that for myself, and I was nowhere near the scenery of Murchison Falls National Park. There were times when I was reminded of Texas, for the scenery reminded me of a combination of the coastal area and South Texas, with a little bit of the eastern part of the Hill Country. The villages were nothing like Texas small towns, though.
Wildlife sightings started well before the park. Before making the turn onto the road for Masindi, we stopped so I could take pictures of some monkeys on the side of the road. I didn’t need to get very close to them, thanks to my 20x zoom lens (equivalent to a 28 to 530 mm zoom on a 35 mm SLR). Just after the turn to Masindi, we saw several storks, and a little ways beyond that, we saw some cattle that had long horns, but they weren’t Longhorns. No, these horns were circular, coming together above their heads.
Around 11 in the morning, we arrived in Masindi and stopped at a local inn for lunch. I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and fries, or “chips”. When I heard “chips”, I was expecting what they would have called “crisps”. But everything was good. I had a regular Coke to drink (no diet, unfortunately), while David had a pineapple-flavored Mirinda. I learned that he had been a guide for 14 years, the last 10 with Let’s Go.
After lunch, we hit the road again. Not too far away was the road to the national park. It was not paved; we wouldn’t see paved roads again until passing this point again on Tuesday. We went through a few small villages and passed by many people walking, riding their bicycles or even pushing their bikes up the hills. And their bikes were frequently heavily loaded with all sorts of merchandise, often crops for market. We stopped at the gate for the national park. While David arranged for our admission with the rangers, I got out of the car, walked around a bit and took some pictures. Once we entered the park, it didn’t take too long before we saw our first baboons. My camera started to get a good workout here. These baboons were rather shy and didn’t stay in camera range long. We passed by the ranger station for chimp tracking expeditions in the forest. I’d be coming here on Tuesday morning.
Onward we went. I admired the scenery, and David the guide pointed out the sights and the wildlife along the way. We stopped at a scenic overlook, then continued onward. Then came the turnoff to head to Murchison Falls.
My natural comparison to Murchison Falls was Niagara Falls. Niagara was much larger in terms of breadth, but Murchison seemed more powerful, more forceful to me. Murchison was more natural than Niagara, for there was no commercial development of any sort. Both were awe-inspiring. Both kicked up a mist. I took several pictures and movie clips here, and I even had David take my picture with the falls in the background for four pictures. We weren’t alone; there were a few other people here, including a videographer. He got too close to the edge on multiple occasions, in David’s opinion.
Back on our way we went, back to the main road. We passed by some other safari lodges and one camp on our way to the Paraa Safari Lodge. But we couldn’t get all the way there by road; we had to stop where the road intersected the Victoria Nile. There was no bridge; all traffic had to take the ferry. It ran once an hour at the top of the hour, and we had arrived 20 minutes too late for the 3 o’clock run. That meant a 40-minute wait until 4 o’clock. Nearly everyone waiting for the ferry was in some sort of shade. While we waited, we noticed some elephants near the ferry landing on the north side. Thanks to the zoom lens, I was able to get a picture of them.
Around 3:50, the ferry began loading. There were only two vehicles that were crossing, but there were a lot of pedestrians. It took ten minutes for the ferry to load and for the operators to get ready to cross. Then at 4, the two operators revved the engines, and we started to cross the Nile. It took around seven minutes to cross. After we disembarked, the elephants were still near the landing. David drove the SUV as close as he could to them, enabling me to take some good pictures and video of them.
The Paraa Safari Lodge was very close by, less than 5 minutes from the ferry landing. When I arrived, I was greeted by a worker who gave me a glass of juice to drink and a hot towel with which to wipe down. I checked in and received my key: room 117 on the second floor. It was an old-fashioned room key, a key that you needed to lock your door from either the outside or inside. The fob for the key was very appropriately shaped like a hippo. The room did not have air conditioning, but it did have a ceiling fan and a balcony that viewed the Nile and the swimming pool. The two beds were surroundable by mosquito netting, which was present but pulled back and tied back. The room was stuffy, but I could do nothing about that. The fan didn’t work; neither did the lights. That was because the power was out. In fact, the power was regularly turned off for nine hours during the day: from 10 AM to noon, from 3 PM to 6 PM, and from 1 AM to 5 AM.
I didn’t want to stay in the room with the power out, so I walked around the grounds and spent some time on the patio. I made some notes about the journey in my notebook; I took a look at the pictures I’d taken on the trip up from Kampala; and I lounged around the pool in one of the pool chairs, underneath one of the umbrellas. There was a breeze, so it was somewhat cool when staying out of the sunlight. I found it relaxing.
There were some lizards on the patio, adults and children. The thing that struck me about these lizards was, whenever they were stopped and looking around, they would do pushups. Yes, pushups. Why, I didn’t know; perhaps it was to look over the top of grass. I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with a Jack Palance impression.
I stayed out on the patio until 6:15 to be sure that the power had come back on, and then I went back to my room. I laid down on the bed closer to the window for an hour, and while I’m sure I didn’t fall asleep, I may have come close to it. No matter; I needed the rest. And that helped me feel refreshed for dinner at 7:30.
The diners were seated on the second-floor balcony of the restaurant. I was directed to a table right along the railing, and the waiter lit the candle on the table. A candlelight dinner: good for setting a mood, but not for reading menus or seeing what you’re eating. I could see well enough to order tomatillo soup and Nile perch with rice, which made for an excellent meal. Meals were included in the safari price, but drinks were not, which is why I had a 3000 shilling bill for two bottles of Coke at the end of the meal.
Now the sky was clear, which meant that the meal was not only eaten by candlelight, it was eaten by starlight. And these were stars that I’d never seen before, for they were always below the horizon in Michigan and in Texas. I saw the Southern Cross for the first time, and I also saw Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. I wished I could take a picture of the night sky. but I wasn’t well positioned to do so from my room’s balcony.
Before I went back to my room, I stopped at the hotel bar and bought two bottles of water for drinking and for other activities (mainly brushing teeth). There was a TV playing in the background, probably the only TV on the grounds (there wasn’t one in my room). Back in my room, I read the newspaper that I’d bought at lunchtime in Masindi; later, I would read from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf) before turning in for the night. At 10, the power went off briefly, then came back on. When I woke up around 12:45 AM, it was still on, but at 2:30, it was off, and so was the fan. That didn’t help my sleeping comfort any.
Today was the main day of the safari, when I would make my game drive and cruise the Nile. It started at 5:10 in the morning, when I woke up for good. The power had come back on when it was supposed to. I still had the second bottle of water from last night. It was no longer cold, but it was quite drinkable. I used it to take my medicines. Then I took a shower. It may have been a little on the cool side, and the shower may have felt small and confined to me, but I did need to clean off, and it did the job.
My mobile phone had an alarm function on it, set for 6. I didn’t need it to wake up today, but it did go off at 6, so I knew that it worked. I got to the restaurant for breakfast at 6:30, for I had to be ready to leave on the drive by 7. The menu was very extensive, but I only had time for cereal and bread. The corn flakes were OK, but the wheat bread seemed rather chewy for my liking.
I was a little late arriving in the lobby to meet up with David and our UGA ranger guide (all game drives had to have a UGA ranger with them), but not terribly so, and we set out for the open savanna north of the lodge. David set this early time so we would be among the first trucks out there, hoping to see more wildlife that way, before the heat of the day got to them and the other trucks shied them away. The ranger was armed, in case an animal got too close; he would fire to frighten it away. They sat in the front seats, while I sat in the back; this enabled me to stand up and stick my head out of the sunroof.
As we set off, we saw the baboons hanging around the Shell station near the ferry landing. Then we turned onto the road leading to the savanna. It wasn’t long before we saw some waterbucks off to the right in the trees. I got a picture of them walking away, which wasn’t much of a picture, to be frank. But the morning was young. It was unusual for us to have seen game already, so close to the lodge, said the guides; it tended to be more prevalent farther from the river. And it was, as we found out later.
A little farther in, we saw our first group of giraffes. Some were munching on tree leaves. One had a large spot or sore on his neck; that was a fungal infection, the ranger explained. Thanks to the zoom lens on my camera, I could get as close as I wanted to the giraffes. They weren’t super close to the SUV, and I had been very close to giraffes in zoos, but this was different. Here, we were in their territory, and they could go wherever they wanted.
I can’t remember all of the animal species I saw today, but I remember many of them. I definitely saw cape buffalo, huge and rather intimidating. There were several deer-like or antelope-like species, such as the waterbucks, the hartebeests, the kobs, and especially the oribis. These oribis looked like tiny deer, and I saw them bounding over the savanna, trying to see over the grass. One deer-like animal looked like it had leaned up against wet paint or had had someone paint white stripes on its fur, but the stripes were indeed natural. There were plenty of warthogs out and about, even a few warthog families. As far as birds went, I saw several cranes, a few fish eagles, and several species that I can’t remember. I should consult a wildlife book to learn what I would have seen!
One animal that proved scarce for the first two hours was the lion. No matter where our vehicle went, the lions were nowhere to be found. Whenever we encountered another vehicle, the drivers and guides would talk to each other about what they saw and where they saw it. It was from one of those tips that we were directed to a open area with a few trees -- and there, straight ahead, was a female lion laying down in the shade. I stood up, zoomed in and took a good picture of her. I then looked to my right and was startled to find two more female lions laying down not more than 20 feet away. I got a good picture of them, too. They were very calm, and I wanted them to keep that way. I didn’t want to be in a situation where they became Princess to my Lucky and would menace me. Fortunately, they remained calm and made no attempts to move in our direction.
We didn’t see any more lions on the trip, though we saw many more buffalo, warthogs and giraffes. Indeed, we went through what could have been described as a giraffe day care center, with several mothers and their children gathered together. They seemed to be having a great old time. And so it was that, just before 11 o’clock, we pulled in at the lodge at the conclusion of the drive. What an experience that was! Now I was on my own for the next few hours until the start of the Nile river cruise. This was a blackout period, so I found a spot under one of the umbrellas by the pool and reviewed my pictures. An American family went for a swim, and I heard them complaining about the sharp conditions on the steps leading into the pool. Sharon had warned me about that; when they went in the pool, it felt like their feet got cut! I didn’t bring a swimsuit, though, so that was something I didn’t have to worry about.
At noon, I went to my room, but the power wasn’t turned on right away; it came on perhaps 10 minutes late. After a while, I went to the restaurant for lunch, and I was seated at the same table I’d been seated at for breakfast and for last night’s dinner. I had time to enjoy the full menu this meal, and I ordered spaghetti. It was quite good, but the portion was rather large. I didn’t finish it all, wanting to leave some room for dessert. Also, I was up against some time pressure, as I didn’t want to miss the boat. I received a text message from my sister asking how the boat ride was; I told her it was in the afternoon, that I had just come back from the game drive.
Around 1:45, I was ready to go down to the boat ramp to pick up the cruise boat. The baboons were hanging around, as always. A South African vehicle drove up a short time later; the inhabitants were Afrikaners, for they primarily spoke Afrikaans. They were there to take the ferry across. Soon, the cruise boat came from the other bank to the north bank, where I boarded. On board was the same ranger/guide who had been with me on the safari drive; his name was Taban. Also on board was a German tour group, who made up the bulk of the passengers. The boat had an upper and lower deck, and we were warned to not all go onto the upper deck at the same time. I stayed on the lower deck the whole time, both because I was the largest passenger on board and because I wanted to stay out of the sun. But I could still see all of the wildlife there was to be seen.
The cruise was some three hours long, two hours upstream to Murchison Falls and one hour downstream back to the lodge. On the way, we saw many hippopotamuses (hippopotami?). Most of them were in the river close to the shore, although I did see one on the shore and got a few good pictures of it. Later, I saw another hippo in the water opening its mouth wide; I got a picture of that, as well. Closer to the falls, the Nile crocodiles became evident. A few were on the shore, in the shade; a few more were in the river, seemingly following us. I caught two pictures of a crocodile in the river opening its mouth. The elephants that were invisible on the game drive this morning were quite visible along the north bank this afternoon; I saw two elephants fanning themselves with their ears to keep cool. I saw another elephant charge two hartebeests or kobs; they got out of the way and were unhurt.
As we headed upstream, there was a time when I was reminded of the final episode of Battlestar Galactica (the modern remake, not the original series). In that episode, the Fleet had arrived at our Earth some 150,000 years ago, and many of the survivors settled in the great African rift valley -- one part of which I was in right now. The scenery on the north bank looked like it might have looked all those years ago.
At last, in the distance, we could see Murchison Falls roaring away. If we’d gotten closer, we would have heard it roar, but we didn’t. We did not get as close as the Maid of the Mist boats at Niagara Falls, and that disappointed me. Then again, the river bottom might not have permitted a closer approach. We did stop at the south bank briefly to discharge and pick up hikers who were either going to climb to the top of the falls or were coming back from the top. It appeared to be a very steep approach just above the landing, not a climb I would want to make -- or, I suspected, one I could make.
The return trip lasted but an hour, for we were going downstream with the current. I didn’t take as many photos this time, for most of the sights were the same, plus the sunlight was at a bad angle. By 5:30, we were back at the lodge, and I left the boat. Back at the hotel, David had me arrange for a box breakfast and a box lunch tomorrow, because there would be no time for me to visit the restaurant before we left for the chimp tracking expedition
I sat around the pool again, waiting for the power to turn back on. It was actually rather comfortable lying in those pool chairs underneath an umbrella, and I was content to lie there until the power came back. When I got back to the room, I set up my camera to take a picture of the night sky, including the Southern Cross. Unfortunately, clouds rolled in later, preventing me from taking that picture. I received more text messages from my sister. In the first, she wondered why I was doing chimp tracking tomorrow, for they hadn’t done that when they were here last year; I replied that I was the beneficiary of a freebie, being the last client of the month. In the second, she let me know that she was trying to arrange for me to be taken to the Equator and the Bahá’í House of Worship on Wednesday.
7:30 rolled around again: time for supper. Once again, I was seated at the same table as before. On the menu this evening was cream of green pea soup, which was excellent; chicken Maryland with vegetables, which was OK, although in the dim light, I had a hard time telling what was what; and a custard dessert, which was also good. Once again, I had two Pepsis with my meal, which meant a 3000 shilling bill. Don’t be alarmed, that’s less than $1.50. After I had finished, I went downstairs to the gift shop in the lobby, where I engaged in some birthday shopping. My aunt Marie had had a birthday last Wednesday, and I had not yet gotten a gift for her. I wanted to wait and get something in Africa and bring it back. And tonight was my best chance. There were so many items here that were suitable, but one caught my attention: a lion carved from wood. She is a cat person, so a carving of one of the biggest cats at all would be very appropriate.
Back at the room, I counted out enough 500-shilling coins to get two bottles of water from the bar. I went back to the bar, bought the bottles, and went back to my room. Still cloudy to the south, so no chance to photograph the Southern Cross. I started to pack my bag for tomorrow. Later, I would continue reading from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf until I turned in between 10 and 10:30.
I had awakened a couple of times in the middle of the night, and I noticed that the fan was still blowing. According to the hotel information, it should not have been blowing; it should have been off because the hotel power should have been out. But I wasn’t going to complain. When I woke up for good, it was 5:10 AM, and it was still dark outside. I finished my packing and took my medicine, making sure I’d packed all my medicine to take home. For a moment, I thought I had lost my passport wallet. I started looking through my luggage for it, then wondered if I’d left it in the gift shop. Finally, I patted the pocket where I normally keep my regular wallet. It should have been empty, but it wasn’t. It held my passport wallet. Whew!
I had a rigid deadline this morning: 6:40 AM. That was when David said we had to leave the hotel in order to be at the ferry landing for the 7 AM crossing. I was down by 6:40. I turned in my key, and I didn’t have to sign anything else or pay anything additional. But I did pick up my box lunch and my box breakfast. The breakfast was there because the restaurant opened at 6:30, and there would be no way to eat there and catch the 7 AM ferry.
The ferry was a short distance away, and a number of baboons were waiting. Some other locals were waiting for the ferry as well. Shortly after 7, the ferry started to cross from the south bank and took 5 to 7 minutes to cross. It docked, and some 5 or 6 vehicles drove off. Many of these vehicles were going on game drives. David backed our SUV onto the ferry, and the other vehicles drove on as well. Five minutes later, we crossed to the south side and headed on our way. Along the way, I ate some of the box breakfast -- two sausage links, a cheese roll, and one type of cake. There was far too much in there for me to have eaten, for I passed on the boiled egg, the watermelon and the other fruit that looked strange to me.
Although chimp tracking was not officially on my agenda, I happened to qualify for a free chimp tracking walk by virtue of being the last client of the month and there being a walk already paid for. So instead of it going to waste, I got to go on the walk. I finished my breakfast (or what I wanted of it) at the ranger station, then went to the restroom before being briefed by the guide, whose name was something like Siprianou. He advised me not to get closer than 10 meters to the chimps, warned me not to smoke (I don’t smoke, so no problem meeting that), don’t litter, don’t go on the trip if I was ill, etc. I didn’t have a cold, so I was all set. Well, almost; I needed to tuck my pants legs into my socks to guard against fire ants. Two bottles of water in my camera bag, and away we went!
The trail through the forest reminded me of the nature trails at Oakwoods Metropark in Michigan, although it was a bit hillier. As we went along, we stopped frequently to listen for the telltale sounds of chimp activity. There was no guarantee that I would see any chimps on this tour, said the guide, but he would try his hardest to find them. As we walked through the forest, he would point out interesting trees, birds and other items of interest. At one point, he showed me mahogany trees and ironwood trees.
We had been walking for an hour and a half when Siprianou began to hear the sounds and see the tracks of chimps. We went closer; at one point, he left me alone for a few minutes while he went off to track down some chimp noises. I could hear calls and yelps from other chimps, and I was a bit intimidated. I remembered the news stories about a woman in Connecticut who had half of her face ripped off by an enraged chimp she had tried to kiss. Now I certainly wasn’t going to do that, but what if these chimps were in a bad mood? They didn’t approach, and Siprianou came back. We went onward, passing by a salt lick. They were coming this way, he said, and so we backtracked. At one point, we left the trail and traveled through thick growth. I was recording a lot of this on my camera.
Suddenly, there they were! I must confess, I had a hard time seeing them, even when Siprianou was pointing them out to me. I was expecting chimps with light faces, but these chimps had dark faces. Eventually, I saw them! There must be a female in the area, said the guide. There was definitely one male in the trees above us and fairly close to us, as we learned when he decided to relieve himself. We weren’t close enough to get wet, but we were close enough to see it dripping down! I took as much still and video as I could; I didn’t want to frighten them away. I never got a real clear shot of them, but I could see enough.
We’d gone a good distance into the forest, and it was a good hike to get back to the ranger station. Still, I was very glad I decided to go on this originally-unplanned add-on to my safari. I left a 20,000 shilling donation in the collection box and signed the visitor registry. Then it was back into the SUV for the drive to Kampala. We didn’t stop in Masindi today; there was no need. But we did stop at the entrance gate to confirm that we were leaving. I visited the gift shop and bought a wooden elephant, and then we continued onward. Once we left Masindi, I texted Sharon that we had left there and were on our way back. She replied that I would indeed be visiting the Equator and the House of Worship tomorrow beginning at 9. Onward we went. At the intersection with the main road to Kampala, we got some cold bottled water. Some kilometers down the road, we pulled off and had our lunch. Like the breakfast, the box lunch was filled with more than I would have selected for a lunch, and I didn’t finish it all.
As we drove onward, we encountered more speed bumps again. That SUV seat began to feel quite uncomfortable. What’s more, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom. I texted Sharon when we reached the northern bypass of Kampala. David took a short cut to get to the Bugolobi neighborhood, which took me through parts of Kampala I had not yet seen. Eventually, though, I saw sights that I recognized, including the Shell station on Luthuli Avenue. By 3:45, I was “home”. Lucky the dog was very happy to see me, hopping all over me as I went to the front door. Sarah the maid was leaving as I was arriving. I got a can of Sprite from the refrigerator and the iBook from my room, then sat down in front of the TV to watch Sky News. I wanted to see what had happened in the last couple of days. GM, as expected, had declared bankruptcy. There had also been a plane crash in the Atlantic: an Air France jet had been lost on the way from Rio to Paris. The upheaval in the British parliament was still going on.
Heather and Brandon arrived home from school a bit later on, followed by Sharon, Randy and Candice after 5. Yes, Candice had a summer job at the embassy. Supper tonight consisted of leftovers; for me, it was a slice of thick crust pizza and several slices of gouda cheese.
Today I filled out a survey from Let’s Go Travel, which asked me about how well the safari went, did it live up to my expectations, those sorts of things. Apparently David the tour guide had dropped it off early in the morning and would be back to pick it up later. I made sure to fill it out before I left on my Equator expedition.
Around 8:45, the driver for my Equator trip arrived. By coincidence, his name was also David. He worked for the US Embassy, but he had a sideline of taking visitors and showing them important sites around the area. He’d been a travel guide before the Embassy job, and he’d taken many people to the Equator over the years. He also specialized in taking visitors to the churches, mosques and cathedrals in and around Kampala. With me, he’d have both experiences, going to the Equator and then visiting a House of Worship -- or, to be more specific, the Bahá’í House of Worship.
The trip to the Equator involved driving across Kampala, then driving on the road to the southwest. Traffic was supposed to be lighter than usual today due to a public holiday, Martyr’s Day. But there were times when it was still heavy. There were a few hills along the way, but it was very green and lush alongside the road, for the most part. At one point, we saw the aftermath of an accident in the other direction, and we saw where a truck had broken down in the middle of the road, with no place to push it off to the side.
Finally, there it was: two rows of buildings alongside the road, with a line traveling diagonally across the roadway between two large circular monuments. They spelled it out explicitly: Uganda Equator. This was the Equator! I had never been so far south in my life until now, and I’d never been in the Southern Hemisphere until now. David drove a few yards into the Southern Hemisphere and parked in the gravel parking area, and we walked back to the Equator. I took pictures of the monument on the east side of the road, and then David took some pictures of me in and near the monument on the west side of the road. Then, at his request, he had me take one of him in front of the monument and made me promise to get it to him. I said I would leave it for my sister to give to him.
One of the workers at the gift shop right on the Equator asked if I wanted to see the demonstration of how water circled down drains differently depending on which side of the Equator you were. 5000 shillings, he said; sure, I said. And as I watched, he demonstrated that the water in the drain pans was indeed going down in different directions, and right on the Equator itself, it didn’t circle at all. Now I knew that this was a bit of a sham, that while the effect is real, it wouldn’t be seen over such small distances, and that the design of the apparatus has more of an effect on the results than does the Coriolis effect.
After the demonstrations, I went inside the gift shop and paid for both the demonstration and a certificate proving that I had crossed the Equator. That certificate cost 10,000 shillings. Now I had certificates confirming that I’d been to the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, the Arctic Circle in Finland, and now the Equator in Uganda. Afterwards, we walked down to another gift shop at the end of the row, which happened to be the farthest in the southern hemisphere I would go. This was a nice shop with all sorts of wonderful items. There were several drums available; there were plenty of carved animals for sale, as well. There were even several paintings for sale, although I contented myself with a carved baby hippo. Restrooms were out back, and both David and I took advantage of them before heading back into Kampala.
The inbound trip followed the same route as the outbound trip until we reached the outskirts of Kampala. Then David drove the SUV to the northeast, taking me through what was an unfamiliar part of the city. He pointed out the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals atop two hills, and then he drove us past a mosque that had been financed in part by Libyan leader Muhammar Khadaffi. The street in front of the mosque had even been named for him. Later, I recognized some of the streets that I had traveled on Sunday heading towards Murchison Falls.
At one point, David told me to look out to the right. And there it was, atop a hill: the Bahá’í House of Worship. This was the second-oldest House of Worship still extant; only the one in Wilmette, Illinois, predated it. The drive to reach it from the highway was a fairly long one. I could not help but compare this House of Worship to the one in Wilmette, the only other one I had visited. Being on a hill meant that the gardens surrounding the structure would be different than Wilmette’s, which were on a flatland. The House of Worship itself was at ground level rather than being raised above it. The building was made of pink rock with a green domed roof; this compared to the whiteness of the Wilmette structure. The windows were made of translucent red and green glass, which allowed light to enter but did not permit one to see clearly in or out, as opposed to the large glass windows and doors at Wilmette. Speaking of the doors, all nine were made of wood.
In the past, I would circumambulate the House of Worship in Wilmette whenever I visited (recent construction has made that temporarily impossible). I proceeded to do so here in Kampala, taking many pictures of the gardens, the grounds and of the structure. At one point, a Ugandan student came to me and asked me some questions about the Faith; I proceeded to answer them as best I could. He asked for my e-mail address in case he had more questions, and I gave it to him. Later, I spoke with some of the guides there.
The interior of the House of Worship was similar to but different from the interior at Wilmette. There were long benches here, which in a church would have been called pews; in Wilmette, the chairs were individual ones connected into rows. The dome appeared to be open at the top, probably for ventilation, and unlike Wilmette, did not have the symbol of the Greatest Name at its apex. However, there were three such symbols around the periphery of the hall, compared to Wilmette’s use of quotations from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. I saw ropes leading down from the top of the dome; clearly some form of renovation was in progress, although no work was being done at that moment. I sat down and offered several prayers before leaving.
Back outside, I took a picture of the House from the side where I had entered. The door was still open, although nobody inside was visible. Now I had not taken any pictures inside the House, as that was clearly forbidden. As I got ready to take another picture from that angle, one of the guides stopped me: even from the outside, you can’t take a picture of the inside. So I pointed my camera up toward the dome and took that picture. It would end up being my last picture at the House. When I looked at the previous picture later, the only parts of the interior that were visible at all were faint red and green spots from the windows opposite the entrance; the rest was dark. That was due to the photo being exposed for the bright light outside, not the much dimmer light inside. Had I taken that photo in the evening or at dusk, I would have been able to se more, and I might have been motivated to alter the photo or to delete it altogether. In fact, I probably would have gone to another position in front of a closed door
David and I left the grounds and headed back into the city and through the traffic. I recall passing some cattle in the median on one highway, even though that’s technically against the law. Eventually, we got back to Bugolobi and “home”. I gave him his fee of 170,000 shillings, less 30,000 shillings I’d paid for fuel en route, along with a tip. He did a good job.
Now I had done everything that I wanted to do in Uganda: I saw Candice graduate; I went on a safari; I went to the Equator; and I went to the House of Worship. There were two things that I wanted to do but wouldn’t be able to, though, and both involved Brandon. On Friday night, he was scheduled to play guitar in a class program, and on Saturday, he was to test for his next belt in taekwondo. But these would take place after I’d left for home. There might have been a slim chance for me to see his musical number before I left for the airport, because the school was on the way there. As it turned out, though, due to his being sick last week, he dropped out of both events, as he didn’t feel prepared for them.
For supper that night, we had lasagna, which was quite good. I also enjoyed a piece of birthday cake.
For some reason, I woke up around 4 AM. I wasn’t really up, but I wasn’t asleep either. That’s why I noticed when, a little after 5, the power went out. Less than a minute later, the generator kicked in, and the fan was going again. I had been warned that the generator was loud, and it was. It ran for maybe 15 minutes before the power came back. Apparently, the fluorescent lamp in the hallway outside my door and at the base of the stairs was a casualty; it was out.
I tried to take a shower this morning, but I had a hard time getting hot water from the shower. I eventually gave up and washed only parts of my body in a partial shower -- the parts that really needed washing. I had Cheerios for breakfast in the kitchen. At one point, everyone was in the kitchen, and then they all left -- Randy, Sharon and Candice for the Embassy, and Heather and Brandon for school. So I was left to amuse myself today.
I read from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf for a while. I brought the iBook out to the living room, but its wireless reception was weak, so I didn’t keep it out there for long. The iPod touch worked out much better; I checked my .Mac e-mail (really my MobileMe e-mail) and checked the weather forecast for Westland on Saturday. I watched the news channels with a little bit of Boomerang thrown in.
At one point, when I went out into the kitchen, I saw a train of ants coming from outside and swarming around Lucky’s food dish. In fact, they were IN Lucky’s food dish! This was an insect emergency, and I needed to take action! First, I got the bug spray and sprayed all of the ants, including in the dog dish. Then I got a bag for dumping the contaminated dog food; that bag eventually went outside in the garbage can. Next, I rinsed out and wiped down the dog dish, then put it up by the sink for washing; I presume that Sarah the maid washed it along with or after the other dishes.
I felt like petting the kitties, so I went in search of them. Tiger didn’t want me to pet him, though; he squirmed away and even pawed me hard. If he had claws, I would have had scratched up hands. Sassy was in hiding, as always, but Princess was OK.
At 1 o’clock, I turned on CNN International to watch President Obama’s speech in Cairo directed to the Muslim world and Muslims around the world. It had been heavily hyped, and it seemed to go over well. It went over well with me.
Later on that afternoon, the occasional visiting cat Cloudy Patch paid a visit. Sharon put out some food for her and put the bowl on the wall across from the door. She must have been hungry, for she had her head in that bowl and hardly ever came out of it. That complicated my efforts to take a picture of her, but I waited until I could take a good picture; I took three. When Lucky came out, Cloudy Patch hissed at her, and unlike Princess, could have done real damage if she struck, for she still had her claws. Nothing happened today, though.
Supper tonight consisted of leftovers. Later, we went upstairs and watched The Family Stone, a movie that had appeared a lot on AFN in recent weeks, or so I . It was a holiday-themed drama.
Back in my room, I checked my e-mail, and I received some sad news: Gloria Smith, a Bahá’í in Canton Township, had succumed to her cancer earlier today. Funeral arrangements were still pending. She was one of the Bahá’ís who had welcomed me into the Faith in 1994; of course I would attend her funeral if I could (it was held the following Wednesday evening, and I did attend).
birthday started out rather uneventfully, if a bit queasily: I felt a
bit sick to my stomach this morning. It may have been
nerves. So I didn’t have a lot for breakfast this morning; I just
had a piece of birthday cake. Heather and Brandon were getting
ready for school. This would be the last time I saw Heather
before I left, for she would be going straight from school to a
babysitting job. So we said our goodbyes when she and Brandon
left for the bus.
could see a gradual brightening along the horizon; sunrise was
approaching. There was a star visible above that brightening, and
it remained visible for some time (it may have been the planet
Jupiter). It was cloudy over the Alps, but as we neared the
coast, it had cleared out. The plane went over the North Sea,
then headed back inland for the landing in Amsterdam. It was 5:45
or so when we arrived at the gate, and I was glad to get out of my seat.
©2009 R. W. Reini. All rights reserved.
by Roger Reini