Week 11 : Madagascar Part 2


Madagascar lies about 250 miles from the African coast. In spite of being relatively close, there’s a clear difference between the people who live here and those that live on the continent itself. The prevailing understanding is that most Malagasies are descendants of a group of people that came over on the trade winds from Indonesia. Their language, looks, and customs all have much stronger similarities to other Indian Ocean dwellers than to the African continent. That being said, trade also occurred and continues to happen with the African coast, not to mention the French colonial influence. Most people here describe their country as a mix, a bunch of different groups of people who now share a national identity.


click for full-size image at Wikipedia


I wasn’t aware that silk was ever made from wild cocoons, but here in Madagascar there are a few workshops that do this. Although they also farm the cocoons, people still collect the cocoons from the forest that are left over after the silkworm metamorphizes into a moth. (This is different from farmed cocoons which are boiled with the silkworms still inside. This is so the cocoon is not disturbed and they can remove one long thread.) After the cocoons are collected, they are layered into balls and cooked in Malagasy soap which is made from zebu (beef) fat and ash. Then the cocoons are dried in the sun, spun into yarn, and then dyed using natural colorants (beet root, passion fruit leaves, etc.). The yarn is then woven into scarves and table runners and other products.


farmed cocoons on left and wild cocoons on right, boiling cocoons with Malagasy soap, finished scarves

I also had a chance to visit a paper workshop, where the women must first mash up the fibers before spreading the thin pulp out on a screen to dry. The women in this cooperative add floral decorations to their creations which are all different and very creative.


fiber before being smashed in small bits, decorating the paper, final products drying in the sun

Near to the town is the beautiful private Anja Nature Reserve. My guide Adrian had spent the last 20 years creating the reserve and working with local people to protect the ring-tailed lemurs that live there. Ring-tailed lemurs are very charismatic and King Julien in the animated movie Madagascar made them famous. As with all lemurs, the women run everything in the family. They live in large family groups, so it’s fun to look up at a tree with a bunch of striped tails hanging down. They also like to climb up on the rocks to sleep and sun themselves in the morning when they get up.


ring-tailed lemurs in Anza Reserve

They definitely like to move it, move it!

Although the park is famous for its lemurs, we also managed to find some other cool species, including one of the biggest, Furcifur oustaleti,  and one of the smallest chameleons, Brookesia brunoi.


tiny green frog, Oustalets’ chameleon, Brookesia brunoi

 The views from the reserve are also just amazing and absolutely spectacular.


hills above Anja Reserve


Anja Reserve. This might be my favorite panorama I’ve ever taken.


Isalo National Park is one the most visited parks in Madagascar. The guidebooks all include photos of gray and red sandstone rocks, created by water long ago. They are nice to look at and make a nice hike in the morning, but the really beautiful parts of the park are the canyons nestled between those rocks.


view of the sandstone rocks


rocks and surrounding flat countryside

On the way, we did find some interesting life forms. Stare at the first photo and see how long it takes you to find the walking stick insect. The female is quite large and is actually mating in this photo with a much tinier male. The picture of the far right is of a plant called elephant foot. It looks kind of like a miniature baobab tree but isn’t actually related at all.


walking stick, pink dragonfly, elephant foot plant

After walking down from the canyon plateau, we entered a wonderfully verdant canyon that has two waterfalls that enter into shimmering swimming holes. I spent quite a bit of time splashing around and swimming in the refreshingly cold waters.


waterfall #1, me in waterfall #1, waterfall #2

On the way out of the park, there’s a campground where ring-tailed lemurs like to hang out. Since there’s a bunch of photos of them above, instead I’m adding a bunch of photos of the Verreaux’s sifaka. This one is actually a solitary lemur who was separated from her family during a fire a few years back. The rest of the family is deeper in the forest and she’s never found them, but instead hangs out near a family of ringtails. Verreaux’s sifaka is one of two lemurs that walks on two legs which has earned them the nickname the “dancing lemurs.”


lots of pictures of one Verreaux’s sifaka

I only captured a short hop on film, but it’s easy to see the difference between them and the ring-tailed lemurs walking on all fours.

On the drive to Ifaty, the famous Malagasy baobab started to show up. These aren’t nearly as big as some of the baobabs I saw in Zimbabwe, but they are impressive. There are six different native species of baobabs on the island.


baobab, une allée des baobabs, baobab

We also stopped at the Antosokay Arboretum near the town of Toliara. They had a remarkable array of plants from southwestern Madagascar, and I was absolutely struck by the number of them that had spines as a form of protection.


lots of spiny plants


My driver left me at the beach on the western coast of Madagascar. I spent a lovely two days of hanging out, enjoying the sun and even a bit of snorkeling. Although the reefs aren’t nearly as stunning as other ones I’ve seen, I did manage to get a few good shots of the coral. Parts of the reef look really healthy, while other parts look extremely dead.


anemone and fish, a bunch of mushroom corals, Moorish Idol and corals
fan corals, corals close-up, reef life



rice terraces and houses, en route to Ambalavao


en route to Ambalavao

I just love the peacefulness of the photo below. It’s my current computer desktop background.


before entering Isalo National Park, the landscape completely flattened out

Week 10: Madagascar Part 1

Welcome to the wonderful world of Madagascar, where nothing is poisonous and almost everything is different than anything you’ve ever seen before. I’m currently traveling in a way that I’ve never done before. Due to limited time and the rainy season, I hired a car and driver to take me around the island. I’m covering a lot of miles, but I am also getting to see a lot of beautiful creatures. It’s expensive and a little bit strange to not be stuck in the back of overcrowded mini vans, but I needed a change in my travel routine. As you might guess, this post is going to have way too many photos, because I did a terrible job trying to figure out what not to share.


This place just has tons and tons of awesome reptiles. I’ve forgotten most of their names, but they’re awesome and these are just a few of the many, many, many creatures there.

reptile reserve.jpg

chameleon, me holding some chameleons, chameleon
chameleon, Parson’s chameleon, carpet chameleon

The coolest thing about chameleons are their tongues that can extend up to twice the length of their bodies.

reptile reserve1.jpg

Madagascar leaf-nosed snake, me holding some kind of snake, Madagascar tree boa
leaf-tailed gecko, another type of gecko, tiny leaf-like chameleon


The same day, I walked through the rainforest in the night to see even more chameleons! They’re easier to spot at night because their eyes show up with a flashlight. I also managed to catch a shot of the elusive mouse lemur. This nocturnal animal is the smallest of all the lemurs and moves super quickly.


dwarf chameleon, mouse lemur, Parson’s chameleon

There were more hikes the following day and a visit to a Lemur Island, where lemurs that were formerly kept as pets are currently living out the rest of their days.


top: Eastern lesser bamboo lemur, eastern wooly lemurs (nocturnal, but we caught them in the day time), endangered indri lemurs (short tails!)
middle: African land snail, me with a brown lemur, gecko
bottom: diademed sifaka, red ruffed lemur, black and white ruffed lemur

The landscape in Madagascar is ever changing. When it’s not raining, there are so many different shades of green and the sky lights up with a blue we never see in San Francisco.


beautiful views en route to Ranomafana


Moving down National Road 7, I stopped in the middle of the rainforest. Most people come here to see lemurs and I definitely saw a few new species.


lazy brown lemur, brown lemurs playing, black & white ruffed lemur

However, I was also absolutely entranced by all the other magnificent life we found in the forest. Because of their isolation, islands are factories for special animals and plants. After so many years away from their relatives, they turn into their own species with their own unique looks and behaviors. It is such an amazing feeling to take a casual walk and bump into things I’ve never seen before all the time.


top: frog, female spider (the male is red-brown and only 1 cm long), another African land slug
middle: wasp, chameleon, butterfly with transparent wings
bottom: fruiting body of a stinkhorn fungi, crazy-shaped spider, green lizard

Ravenela is just a completely unique and crazy looking plant. It’s apparently related to banana trees but is called the traveler’s tree because it can provide anything a traveler needs. A traveler can make a house and everything they need to go inside it from the plant. Even water can be gotten from inside the stem. This is one of the national symbols of Madagascar!

I do want to point out the last photo on the bottom right. That’s a leech. When I first heard about Madagascar years ago, people told me that the rainforest was beautiful but that there were leeches everywhere. It made me extremely nervous to visit, even though I’ve wanted to see lemurs for years. A while back I visited my sister when she was living in Thailand and after a day of whitewater rafting, I looked down to see one of my toes was bleeding. There were some clear marks on my toe where a leech had attached itself, but it didn’t hurt at all.  Leeches may look really strange, but they don’t hurt at all. From that experience, I decided that leeches are way less annoying than mosquitoes. Ranomafana was the only place I’ve seen them so far. Our group stopped quite a few times to remove them from our clothing and our shoes. However, I walked for six hours and not a single one actually got any blood.


top: ravanela, blue dragonfly, tomato frog
bottom: closeup of ravanela stem, red dragonfly, leech hanging out in my shoe in Ranomafana


Vegetarian food is a bit hard to come by since almost everything is zebu (beef) or pork based. There’s a lot of rice and Western dishes served in hotels, but vegetarian Malagasy food is rare. The one dish I have had is ravitoto which is ground up cassava leaves (it’s usually served with meat). I also drank ranuapangu, water boiled with the burnt rice at the bottom of the pan which tastes exactly as you’d expect it to. The special soda here in Madagascar is called Bonbon Anglais and it tastes really similar to Inka Cola in Peru.


top: Bonbon anglais, soursop juice, ranuapangu
bottom: sambos (samosas), ravitoto, snack mix for the car



en route to Andasibe


en route to Antsirabe


rice terraces


hiking in Ranomafana

Week 9: Rwanda

I read We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch when I was still in college. I’m not exactly sure what brought me to the book (certainly not any of my classes), but I do remember reading it and the haunting stories it told. Gourevitch details the atrocities of the 1994 genocide, the lack of intervention from the international communities, and the disgraceful way the European powers did intervene, which ended up mainly helping the génocidaires.

For those of you who need a refresher: During the Belgian colonial era, the colonial administrators split the country into three ethnic groups: Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa. However, Rwanda traditionally didn’t have ethnic groups; they shared the same language, culture, and religion. This distinction was made entirely on a class basis, with people designated as Tutsi having more cattle and Hutus with less. (From my understanding, the Twa were designated as having in-between amounts of cattle, but also have a more distinct cultural identity as well. During the genocide, there were Twa on both sides.)

The Belgians put the Tutsis in power, serving as the in-between administrator role between the Europeans at the top and the Hutus at the bottom. Of course, this bred resentment and some Hutus attacked small populations of Tutsis. These ongoing divisions and attacks continued after independence and a group of people started advocating for “Hutu Power.” Many people in the group held positions high up in the military and were being trained by the French. Eventually in April 1994, the president’s plane was shot down and Hutus began slaughtering the Tutsis with guns and machetes. Over the course of 3 months, an estimated 100,000 people were killed.

Over the last twenty-five years, the country has turned around. When I first got here, I said the country reminded me of Singapore. There are sidewalks everywhere and even some bike lanes. The country is the cleanest I’ve ever been in. It’s completely safe. I can walk around at night alone with no issues. When I get on a moto-taxi, the driver gives me a mandatory helmet to put on. Plastic bags are banned. Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s benevolent dictator since the genocide ended, has revolutionized how business is done. He has prioritized technology, infrastructure, and, perhaps most notably, transparency in government business. This transformation, however, lacks many democratic freedoms and allegations of Kagame’s roles in assassinations of political opponents are rife.


I don’t have a lot of photos of Kigali. I suppose I could have attached photos of the clean and beautiful sidewalks. Many of the sights I visited were about the genocide, and for this reason, I didn’t take a lot of photos. I think the most moving part of the Kigali Genocide Memorial is the room that contains all the photos of people who were killed. Black and white photos with young folks sporting beautiful afros and bellbottoms, color photos with straighter hair and young babies, kids on their first bicycles. There are just so, so many people and it’s not even a fraction of the total number that were murdered.


Kigali Genocide Memorial, plaque on memorial wall, actual Hotel Rwanda

At the Murambi Genocide Memorial in the south, they have exhumed mummified bodies on display. This may seem a bit gruesome, but the country is committed to making sure that people remember the genocide and that there will never be people saying that it didn’t happen.


I stopped in this town to have an experience making imigongo, traditional art made from cow dung. 🙂 This almost died out during the genocide, but some people continue to practice it. Mostly it is women, but my teacher learned from his grandmother and really enjoys making his paintings. The process is pretty straightforward. First make a design, then apply cow dung, paint, and smile when complete. I went with Azizi Life and really enjoyed the whole experience, which included hanging out with a women’s cooperative and ended with singing and dancing.


top : design and pile of cow dung, applying the design, almost done
bottom: painting, painting, smiling

Lake Kivu

Kibuye is just one town on this beautiful lake. I stopped by since I was looking for a relaxing couple of nights. The lake, however, is prone to limnic eruptions because of the high quantity of carbon dioxide and methane found at the bottom of the lake. When an eruption happens, that gas is released and almost all of the living things in the area are killed. Scientists can see this has happened in the past in the archeological record, so although the lake is beautiful, it’s also quite deadly.


view of Lake Kivu

Volcanoes National Park

The endangered golden monkeys only live in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mostly their habitat has been destroyed and the ongoing conflicts in the DRC haven’t helped their plight. There’s a few thousand of them left, but they still need to be protected.


chameleon, one of the volcanoes, bamboo forest

They live in huge crowds and as we were walking through the bamboo forest, we had to be careful to watch out for the golden monkeys scampering around over our heads and potentially peeing on us. they are really cute and friendly and these habituated troops aren’t scared of humans at all. Unlike with gorillas, the women control everything in these troops.


golden monkeys posing!

Rwandan Food

I did a terrible job of collecting photos of Rwandan food. Typical food in the village was boiled cassava, cooked bananas, beans, and huge slices of avocado for one big lunch meal a day.  I ate beans, rice, and tomato sauce more than once. Rwandans like their Akabanga, a hot chili oil they drizzle with an eyedropper on anything needing some extra spiciness. I drank a lot of African tea (chai!) while I was here, which I love. Fanta also comes in three flavors here: orange, lemon (citron) and fiesta (black current, which is purple colored and definitely my favorite).


speculoos with tree tomato jam, soft-serve honey ice cream, mashed potatoes and peanut sauce

Week 8: Kampala, Jinja, & Lake Bunyoni


The capital of Uganda is crazy, colorful chaos and I loved it. There are lots of people and terrible traffic everywhere, but the city has a vibrancy and energy that is difficult to describe. Who cares that they’ve had a dictator for 32 years? Many Ugandans reflected a similar sentiment to me: “This is something I cannot control, I have to live my life.”

I visited both the Baha’i Temple and the National Mosque. If you’ve never heard of the Baha’i faith, its basic tenets are that all of the teachings of the major world religions were revelations from one God. Their faith is based on cultivating a personal connection to God through self-understanding. As you might imagine for a faith who centers their work on meditation and contemplation, Their temple was beautiful and calm. The National Mosque is huge and although envisioned by Idi Amin, it wasn’t completed until years later with help from Muammar Gaddafi. It was fun to find out that many of the fixtures and writings on the wall were done by Moroccan craftsmen. I did have to wear a scarf and piece of fabric wrapped over my pants to enter, which in the Kampala heat was hot, hot, hot.  The minaret was worth the climb for the beautiful views of the city.

kampala jinja1.jpg

Baha’i Temple, stained glass windows in the National Mosque, me appropriately covered to enter
dome and light fixture, decorated with Arabic script, view up to the top of the minaret


view from minaret over Kampala city

Before Uganda fell under the influence of European colonial powers, a good portion of what is now Uganda belonged to the Bugandan empire (this is how Uganda got its name). The former palace of the Bugandan king has been updated, but the current king only keeps an office here and doesn’t stay here overnight. This is because when Idi Amin was in power, he used a concrete structure on the property to torture people. There were five rooms and the area that connected them below was filled with water and then electrified so that anyone who entered the water would be electrocuted.

kampala jinja2

Bugandan king’s palace, shield on front gate, Idi Amin’s torture chambers


Jinja is famous for claiming to be the source of the White Nile. (I went and saw the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana in Ethiopia). Sources are a tricky thing to claim. What is the ultimate source for the Mississippi River? Some tiny little stream in Montana? Wikipedia gives claiming rights to Rwanda and Burundi. Nevertheless, the Nile spews forth from Lake Victoria at this point so it’s one of the main reservoirs for the White Nile as it flows north.


Nile River

The “Source of the Nile” spot wasn’t as interesting for me as the tiny Nile Reptile Park nearby. There weren’t that many animals inside, but they did have a gaboon viper, which is my favorite snake of all time. When I told the keeper this, he got a wire hook and took the snake out of its cage so I could see it up close. Gaboon vipers have the biggest fangs of any snake. They also have the most venom, although it is not the most poisonous. Their skin also has a tinge of purple to it in some locations. I first heard about them in Zimbabwe, but they’re not native to that area. The park also had some cobras, some monkeys that we fed bananas to, and some turtles. I can imagine that this is probably not all that exciting for most people, but it was one of my highlights of my trip to Jinja.

kampala jinja

supposed Source of the Nile, gaboon viper, lesser spot-nosed monkey

The other thing Jinja is known for is Class V whitewater rafting. The only other place I’ve been on rapids that big is on the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls. Due to the hydroelectric dam they recently built in the area, there aren’t as many rapids now (only 5 big ones), but we still had a lot of fun and we definitely got flipped over.

kampala jinja3

our crew headed into our first rapid, me trying to boogie board a wave on the river (not successful), last rapid of the day


Watch the paddle!

I also jumped off this structure that was only a few meters tall and this, for me, was way scarier than flying out of raft. I used to jump off high dives when I was a kid, so I’m not sure when this became an issue for me. Nevertheless, after a bit of coaxing, I jumped in and was so proud of myself afterwards. It may have been a small fear, but conquering it felt grand!


I bent my knees to get a little closer to the water.

Lake Bunyonyi

This lake is one of the deepest in the world and it is free of both crocodiles and bilharzia (unlike the Nile River). I came here to relax for a few days and that is exactly what I did. I swam every day, did some yoga, and read three books. I’m gradually learning the value of taking a vacation from my vacation. 🙂

kampala jinja6

view from my room, geodesic dome ceiling, view from restaurant

Ugandan Food

For the foodies in the crowd, typical Ugandan food is matoke (pronounced ma-toe-kay), which is basically mashed green banana, served with some kind of meat stew. Ugandans are also very fond of their rolexes. No, not fancy watches. A rolex is an omelette wrapped up in a chapati and they’re sold everywhere as a snack. My favorite find in Uganda was masala chips, French fries doused in spicy curry. I found them at a bougie café / restaurant and they were so incredibly delicious. Some enterprising food truck in San Francisco needs to get on this trend because they would make a fortune.

kampala jinja4

beans and collards with matoke, rolex, masala fries

Even though I’ve had it before, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about jackfruit. It’s sold already peeled (thankfully) on the side of the road and in supermarkets. African tea is quite popular, but it’s really just a variation on chai, harkening back to the Indian presence in Uganda. By far, my favorite beverage in Uganda is Stoney Tangawizi, Coca Cola’s version of ginger beer. Yum!

kampala jinja5

jackfruit, African tea, my beloved Stoney


Week 7: Rwenzori Mountains & Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Rwenzori Mountains

I’d seen the “Mountains of the Moon” mentioned in the guidebook, but dismissed it because I don’t have that much gear with me. Then I stumbled on a National Geographic site listing some of the world’s best hikes and with that second mention in a few days, I found myself signing up for a 5-day trek to the top of Mt. Luigi di Savoia, also known as Weismann’s Peak. The Rwenzoris are home to Mt. Stanley, the fourth highest mountain in Africa, but the peak is technical and I’m still not a fan of climbing where it’s difficult to breathe. I did a different route up the mountains then mentioned on the website, and it was both beautiful and very tough. Weismann’s Peak is 15,157 ft (4,620 m) high and the hike involves hiking up over 10,000 ft of elevation in four days. I passed through tropical rainforests, bamboo forests, fields of lobelia and other afro-alpine plants, and the rocky, snowy summit. We had fantastic weather for the whole trip until the last hour walking into town, where the sky opened up and dumped gobs of rain.

Day 1: Kilembe Town to Sine Camp


Day 2: Sine Camp to Mutinda Camp


Day 3: Mutinda Camp to Bugata Camp


Day 4: Bugata Camp to Kiharo Camp

Long day so double photos!

Day 5: Kiharo Camp to Kilembe Town
Bonus Panoramas

slug 🙂


view from Weismann’s Peak


view of Nyamwamba Valley


view of mountains


lunch spot on the last day


Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Everyone goes to Bwindi for one thing, to see the mountain gorillas! It’s not cheap (a permit alone costs $600), but this was a once-in-a-lifetime situation and it was amazing. The park is in the southwestern corner of Uganda and everywhere I looked, everything was green, green, green. The park rangers have actually planted a large amount of tea on the surrounding lands because gorillas don’t eat tea leaves. It provides a potential boredom deterrent so the gorilla don’t enter the nearby villages. The idea is that they’ll give up when they see only rows and rows of tea ahead of them and turn back to the forest for better tasting food.


view of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The rangers start tracking the gorillas from the place they left them the night before. They start at 7 am and they usually they find them by 10:30 am. They watch them all day until about 5 pm when they go home from work. We tracked the Nkuringo gorilla family and it only took us a couple hours of walking to get to them, most of which was just walking down to the forest itself from the headquarters.

The rangers actually hack down nearby vines so that tourists can get a good view of the gorillas. The silverback moved a few times, but eventually we were standing a few meters away. However, I have to say, this silverback spent almost the entire hour while we were there just eating tons and tons of leaves. They may look fat, but it is mostly muscle and larger intestines used to process all the cellulose in their vegetarian diet.


top (l to r): various views of the silverback (which it acquires at 14 years old)
bottom (l to r): baby gorilla (awww!), silverback gorilla, mama gorilla

Just like pandas, gorillas spend almost their whole day just eating.

I’m definitely feeling incredibly blessed to have seen these gentle giants in person.

Week 6: Murchison Falls, Kalinzu Forest & Queen Elizabeth

When I lived in Zimbabwe almost twenty years ago, several people told me that if I liked it there, I should see Uganda. There’s a lot of similarities: everything is lush and verdant, people are overwhelmingly friendly, tea with milk (aka British style) is available everywhere, driving is on the left side of the road, and ginger beer is plentiful. I spent my first week here living the safari life. Although I’ve been a few times before, nature continues to awe and inspire me.

Murchison Falls

The remnants of British colonization are everywhere in Uganda, including in the name of this epic waterfall. A couple of British explorers dedicated the site to the then President of the Royal Geographic Society, Sir Roderick Murchison. It is the most powerful waterfall in the world, mostly because of the narrow entrance at the top that is only 7 metres (23 ft) wide. Over 300 cubic meters of water flow every second (11,000 ft³/s) through that gap. Basically, it’s a lot of water moving through a very small space. Murchison Falls is part of the bigger Nile river system. It’s on a tributary of the White Nile that eventually joins with the Blue Nile (coming from Ethiopia) in Khartoum, Sudan to form the Nile River that empties into the Mediterranean Sea in Cairo.


Murchison Falls: view from front, looking into the gorge, me at the top

Murchison Falls National Park is one of the bigger parks in Uganda and has one of the largest assortment of animals because of its size. Although members of the antelope family tend to get old after you see them many times, I really enjoyed seeing the Ugandan kob for the first time and oribis may be the cutest antelope of all time.


top (l to r): red-headed Agama lizard, spotted hyena, Abyssinian ground hornbill
middle (l to r): Ugandan kob, warthog family, oribi
bottom (l to r): African buffalo, Rothchild’s giraffes, olive baboon mama with baby

We were also able to take a boat trip up the Nile to see the animals that live along the river. Watching the huge elephant walk along the edge of the hill was quite impressive. Due to continued threats of poaching, all of the rhinoceroses in Uganda live in the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary which continues to guard and protect the animals as they reproduce so there are enough to repopulate the national parks. The Ankole cow we saw on the side of the road, and this one has some of the craziest horns I’ve ever seen.


top (l to r): Nile crocodile, African elephant, common hippopotami
bottom (l to r): saddle-billed stork, white rhinoceros, Ankole cow


large group of elephants congregating along the river

Kalinzu National Forest

On the way to Queen Elizabeth National Park, we stopped a few times to enjoy some sights along the way, including an equator marker (flashbacks to Ecuador). We also saw some zebras along the road before we stopped to track chimpanzees in Kalinzu National Forest. This is the first time I have ever seen chimpanzees in the wild. We were only able to see a mama chimpanzee and her baby up in the tree, but it was still pretty exhilarating. After about an hour of staring up at an odd angle, we took a walk through the forest and I found all kinds of interesting things growing on the ground.


top (l to r): equator marker, zebras near Lake Mburo, mama chimpanzee
bottom: various finds on the forest floor

Queen Elizabeth National Park

More animals! Notice the two Nile crocodiles in the photo, the lighter colored one is a juvenile and the darker gray one is an adult. The solitary hippo in the mud has probably gotten kicked out of the main group in the river from losing a fight with the dominant male. Since it can’t be in the river anymore, it has to find another way to cool off its massive body.


top (l to r): Nile crocodile (female and male), hippo wallowing in mud, hippos 
middle (l to r): group of elephants, lions hanging out, symmetrical elephants
bottom (l to r): Uganda kob, banded mongoose, waterbuck

The Kazinga Channel is a 32-km long waterway that connects two giant lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George (named after British princes from back in the day). Colonialism strikes once again. The channel is full of birds, crocodiles, and hippos that are drawn to its shallow waters. There is one local community that is still allowed to fish in the area that mostly catches tilapia and catfish. The boat ride included a huge array of birds birds and more birds.


top (l to r): African spoonbill, saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork with Nile crocodile
middle (l to r): sacred ibis, African fish eagle, heron
bottom (l to r): great egret, yellow-billed stork, ?


On the way through the park, we also stopped at a salt production spot in Katwe. The harvest the salt in two ways. The first way is to create salt ponds with irrigation channels connected to Lake Katwe that is the source of the salt. From there, the water evaporates and women (only women) scrape away the salt that has accumulated at the bottom of the pond. This is tough, physical work made even tougher by the fact that the constant exposure to salt can cause skin issues and dehydration. They are paid very little, but this is one way that single women in rural areas can support themselves. Men do work outside of the ponds once the women have removed it to create large piles of salt.

The other way that salt is harvested is directly from the lake itself. Men (only men) go into the lake and using tools break up the bottom of the lake which has a crust of salt on it. From there, they float the pieces of salt back to the shore where they are collected in piles of 100 kg to be sold. The men have to wear condoms to protect their genitals while they are working in the salty lake.


salt pond, salt from the bottom of the lake, floats used to bring salt to the shore

Bonus Panoramas from Queen Elizabeth


herd of elephants (look for the babies!)


hippos cooling off in the Nile


African buffaloes (note the cattle egret hanging out on top of one of them)

Bonus Post: Ethiopian Food

Since there has been a request for more food commentary, I’m trying to appease my audience with this post. While I was in Ethiopia, I was lucky enough to get a couple of lessons in Ethiopian cooking.

Home Cooking

The first lesson came unexpectedly near the end of my first couple weeks in the country. I was staying with Tselate at her uncle’s house when we realized that I needed food for my 13-hour train journey to Djibouti. After some ridiculous discussions, it was decided that Ejigayehu (her uncle’s exquisite chef and maid) and I would make some lentil sambusas. Basically, this means making misir wot and sticking them inside some dough and frying them. The filling is quite a bit different than Indian samosas, but the process is almost exactly the same.

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Ejigayehu and I making lentil sambusas

Cooking School

After my friends departed early from Lalibela, I had a day to myself in the beautiful city. I signed up for Lalibela Cooking School at Sisko’s Unique Restaurant on the other side of town. Sisko is an absolute gem of a human being and she has her daughter and nieces helping her run her cooking classes.

Before we started, they had to do a special repair of the injera stove. The solid metal plate doesn’t really need any fixing up, but the structure holding it does. They use a mixture of cow poop and ashes to smooth out any part that is crumbling. This apparently doesn’t have to be done all that often, but I happened to show up on stove repair day.

Anyways, for the class, I was supposed to learn how to make a yetsom beyaynetu, basically the veggie combination plate you get at any Ethiopian restaurant in the states. Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which means eating only vegan food. As you can imagine, fasting beyaynetu is particularly popular on these two days of the week. We made seven different dishes and I got to try my hand at making one injera on the stove.


Sisko and our yetsom beyanetu, my first injera, the stove with her niece

Injera is made out of teff flour. It’s basically teff combined with water and then has a fermented starter added to it. Injera has a sour taste and is full of holes from the fermentation process. Some say it’s an acquired taste, but I think it’s delicious. It’s allowed to rise for 3 days and then that batter is pour into a small container. From there, it is poured in circles (from the outside in) until the entire pan is covered in batter and then the lid is placed on top. After 4-5 minutes of cooking it’s ready. You can see from my photo that there are lots of bumps on mine. That means I didn’t pour too evenly and those bulges are places where I poured too much batter on the stove.

We were cooking over two fires that were constantly being fed by small logs. The room was smoky, so please forgive my not so brilliant photos.


top: qey kik wot, key sir alicha, kik alicha
bottom: tikel gomen, shiro, gomen

Most of these dishes aren’t very involved and you can make them easily if you can get your hands on the ingredients. Here’s a brief overview of what we made:

  • qey kik wot – split peas and berbere
  • key sir alicha – beets and carrots
  • kik alicha – split peas, onions, and garlic
  • tikel gomen – cabbage and carrots
  • shiro – chickpea powder and berbere
  • gomen – spinach (can also refer to a dish made of collard greens)
  • misir wot – lentils and berbere (the brownish green dish pictured only in the photo with Sisko above)

Tigrayan Food

One area of the country where the food is substantially different is in the north. The Tigrays share a lot in common with their Eritrean neighbors to the north, including language and some food traditions. I have a good Eritrean friend who has made some delicious food for me, so I was looking forward to food in this region.

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all from Aksum: tegamino shiro, special ful, fata

Tigrayan shiro is just better than shiro everywhere else in the country. That’s because they add tomatoes and it just makes the whole thing delicious. Sometimes shiro is watery or has a terrible aftertaste, but the photo above shows the best shiro I ate during my entire time in Ethiopia. Tegamino shiro is a special kind of shiro that has been cooked for longer, so it’s thicker. Yum!

Other fun Tigrayan food specialties involves putting yogurt in breakfast foods. In the middle is ful (beans), mixed with eggs and yogurt. Other parts of the country have ful and it’s relatively common, but nobody else adds yogurt. The last photo is of a dish called fata which is bread fir-fir (bread soaked in berbere sauce) mixed with egg and yogurt. It may not look that appetizing, but it was delicious!