Travels With Maria

Chimpanzees!

We had the best sleep of the trip last night. We're in a deluxe tent with a stone floor, good hot water, comfortable beds, nice cool temps and black darkness. It poured rain overnight, and Maria says there were animal sounds. I slept through it all. We are in Kibale Forest, which is home to over 1000 chimps, as well as 10 other species of primates. This morning, we went on a chimp walk with Ranger Jennifer, who was toting an AK47, and Linda, Livia and Mike, two sisters and a husband from Germany. We hiked quite a way through steamy African jungle, cool in the early morning, water drops…
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On the Road…And on the Side of the Road

Saturday, we had an early start for a long drive. Ali gave a lift to Matthew, a manager at the lodge who was getting some time off at home, which was Kebale, our destination. He had been at the Murchison lodge for 3 months straight. We had gone maybe 10 miles, quite fast over bumpy dirt roads, when the steering failed again in the predawn darkness. Ali and Matthew got out and started looking under the car. I got out our flashlights and gave to them. They shooed me back into the car, saying "we don't trust this place". It was a tall grass area with potential for predators and…
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Fire and Water

Early start this morning. Ali had the top popped up on the Jeep so we could stand and look out. We spent the morning driving around Murchison National Park looking for animals. We saw elephants, warthogs, lots of birds lots of different kinds of antelopes, a few monkeys, several of the highly endangered Rothschild giraffe and a lion. We also saw miles of grassland, the grass was tall, so we couldn't see many animals. The park has a burning program, where they intentionally set the dry grasslands on fire. There were many stretches where the land had been burnt on one side of the road, with tall dry grass on…
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Walking with the Rhinos

On our trip to the Serengeti, the only one of the so-called big five that we didn't see was the rhino. Today, we fixed that. Our flight yesterday from Addis Ababa was smooth. We saw the outlet of the White Nile from Lake Victoria, so check, both sources of the two branches of the world's greatest river sighted. Ali, our driver/guide for the Uganda leg of the trip, meet us at the airport and took us to the lodge where we spent the night, 5km north of the equator. 6am start this morning, to beat Kampala traffic. I suppose we mostly beat it, but we did hit some jams. Eventually,…
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Flying and Flies – Lalibela

We are on the Historical Route, through the ancient capitals of Ethiopia. This is a popular tourist path to visit the country. We're not surprised to see lots of tourists at the sites, hotels and restaurants we're visiting. But what IS surprising is to see the same groups everywhere. There are the two Spaniards whose guide wears a Cuba cap. We've seen them multiple times at different restaurants in different cities. There is the group of Italians which we've been seeing a lot lately. There is the solo guy from Hong Kong who we saw on our second day, then again 5 days and hundreds of miles later. Four women…
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Legends

After breakfast, our Axum guide, Mesgana, meet us in the hotel lobby. We walked from our hotel, the same route we had taken the night before on a futile search for an ATM. Today was the basket market, with a bunch of vendors sitting under a huge sycamore tree displaying their wares. Baskets in all sizes, woven in straw with wool blended in to make colorful decorations. We left the market and started climbing a long hill. Passing in the other direction were farmers taking their products to the market in the town below. Cows, goats, donkeys carrying bags of produce, the occasional chicken. Many/most of the people, men and…
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Not Like Other Africans

Ethiopia is unique among African nations in that it has never been colonized by Europeans. The Italians occupied twice and the British invaded, but no one successfully established a colony. Ethiopia has a very strong national identity that they trace back to the Queen of Sheba who they say gave birth to King Solomon's son and brought him back from Israel and established a Jewish kingdom in Ethiopia. Many other African "nations" are based on European borders that are meaningless to the peoples that live there. They claim that Christianity came here from Egypt in the first century. Probably it was really several hundred years later, but still way earlier…
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Precipices and People

And on your left: certain death. Malas gained substantial status in our eyes today. He picked us up this morning for a ride to Axum, our next destination. During the ride he was more talkative, and though his English was rough, it was way better than our Amharic. We drove for the first hour out of Simien park down to the town at the bottom of the hill. He gave one of the workers, a very pretty (like most of the people here) young woman, a lift to the town. They were chatting all the way down. Once he dropped her off, he stopped at a restaurant to get breakfast…
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Simien Mountains

This morning, a new driver picked us up for the next leg of our tour. This guy, appropriately enough, is named Malas ("bad" in Spanish). He smokes cigarettes, which has evidently damaged his olfactory system because he could use a shower. He's a scary driver, though I got more comfortable as I observed him for a while. Unlike Maria. We had a few close calls, but the only time he slammed on the brakes was when a kid threw a rock at the car. Other than that, our only complaint is that he looks at you to talk. Not a big issue because he doesn't speak English. And he got…
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Ethiopian Emperors

Because of the mosquitos the other night, we started taking malaria pills earlier than we had hoped. The rest of our stay here is at altitudes over 6000 feet, too high for mosquitos. We had hoped to delay until we got to Uganda, but now we need to take them every day until a week after we get home. We spent the day today in Gondar, the third capital of Ethiopia. The first two, Axum and Lalibela are our next two cities. Somewhere along the line, a king established his capital here at Gondar and built a castle in 1638. Gondar is in a valley surrounded by mountains, so evidently…
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Lake Tana and the Drive to Gondar

Another early morning, this one after a pretty bad night. Our cute little bungalow's bathroom smelled of sewer gas and we were plagued by mosquitos. No mosquito net. Mas and Tardi picked us up at the hotel at 7:30 for a boat trip on Lake Tana. Early on the morning, the lake was like glass. We first went to the Nile outlet where we saw a family of 4 hippos, fishing eagles, pelicans and other birds. Then we headed across the open water to visit an Orthodox monastery. The trip over took an hour. A mist hung over the trees on the shore, while we were in sunshine. It was…
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Blue Nile Falls

We were up at 5 this morning for a 6am ride to the airport to go to Bahir Dar, an hour's flight north. The flight was smooth and we landed around 8:30. Bahir Dar is the home of Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile which flows 900 miles north to Khartoum where it joins the White Nile and flows on through Egypt to the Mediterranean. The longest river in the world*. We are staying near where the river flows out of the lake. After dropping our luggage at the hotel, our guide Mas and driver Tardi took us on a ride, maybe 90 minutes over increasingly rough roads past…
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Addis Ababa

After 14 hours of flying and 7 hours waiting in Frankfurt (where we rented a small, in-terminal hotel room for 3 hours to sleep), we got to Addis Ababa at 10pm just in time to get in a huge line at immigration. 90 minutes later, we got to the front of the line only to be told that our eVisas were not authorized. It took another hour following guys around to keep our passports in sight when they finally straightened it all out and we were admitted. During this process, we saw another American woman's passport sitting on a desk - no woman in sight, so who knows what happened…
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Goodbye to Bhutan

Yesterday was our last day in Bhutan. We're sitting at the airport waiting for our flight to Delhi.   We had an easy day yesterday. Visited the local fortress and the nearby national museum, which was damaged in a recent earthquake and mercifully only has four rooms of exhibits open.   Walked around town doing some last minute shopping and went back to the hotel to pack. At 4:30, there was a knock on our door and two women came in to get us into the national dress, a floor length skirt and little jacket for Maria and the bathrobe-looking robe for me.   Then we went downstairs for a…
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Tiger’s Nest

In the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche flew on a tiger's back to Tiger's Nest.   Today, Tiger's Nest is a monastery perched on a cliff, 3000 feet above the valley floor. We left our farmhouse at 6:30 in the morning for the short drive, up 1000 feet to the start of the trail that we followed up the cliff.   The hike has four stages: first is a thousand foot, steep climb from about 8000 feet up to 9300 feet. The goal of the first stage is the tea house where you can take a break. It was cloudy and drizzley when we set out. You can take a horse…
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