Tuesday, 3 February 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: Karma Chameleon

How does a country expecting hundreds (thousands?) coming across its borders from anywhere and everywhere try to keep itself safe from Ebola? It takes their temperature! By employing “thermal scanners” at each border crossing, they hope “to detect elevated body temperatures and possible infectious diseases."  

And I woke this morning still feeling like crap. Great!

We again crossed the border at Malaba. Leaving Uganda was considerably less painful than when we entered. then again, I wasn't trying to palm off a trillion shillings worth of $1USD bills. The customs official was jovial and quick, which in the searing heat was much appreciated. When we reached the Kenyan side it was like a scene akin to a Doctor Who episode complete with sonic screwdriver. I was feeling safer already!.... Hmmm. Where do they stick these things again? Some researchers claim these scanners are merely "reassuring" and not much else. So, more like scammer then? My scientific self was already twitching. 

After being exposed to heat in the truck, queuing at the Ugandan customs and again for my "Ebola screening" I began to ponder that in all likelihood most people will have skin temperatures alone that are well above an expected fever. Skin temperature is not core temperature. The scanner is placed, somewhat thankfully, against your forehead and then, if you are below 37 degrees, you're given a piece of paper meaning you can proceed to go and get your stamp. I have to admit I was a little nervous given that I wasn't feeling 100%. And wait a minute.... 37 degrees?!?! That is merely an average of what's classed as normal (at least what I learnt in physiology and I had a Dr. confirm). Normal body temperature can fluctuate by as much as 0.6 degrees throughout the day, depending on time and activity level. "A fever is usually 38 degrees or above isn't it?" I frantically thought to myself. Quite clearly I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure about this - fevers are also symptoms of loads and loads of things. So there non-scientific scanner type thing!

I was 36.2. 

One person in my group however had a reading of 37.2 and was immediately flagged. Did this mean men in white suits and masks were going to appear?  No. Instead a waiting period of about 10 minutes, in the shade, ensued. And of course upon retesting the temperature was passable.  Oh and get this, checking body temperature isn’t a sure-fire way to find individuals infected with Ebola. People can carry the virus for up to three weeks before showing symptoms, and are not contagious during that period (via the WHO website).

How's that for reassurance?

A return to the Naiberi campsite in Eldoret and we had the pool to ourselves. Well almost. As a couple of us were swimming around we saw we had a guest shading itself under the slide. A Trioceros hoehnelli, commonly known as Von Höhnel's chameleon (and the helmeted or high-casqued chameleon), was lounging there as though it was waiting for a piña colada complete with umbrella. 

Both sexes have a small blunt horn shape lump on the snout, larger on males. Large spikes are present on the throat, smaller spikes run along the back to the base of the tail. The colour varies from shades of dull green, green-brown, light to dark grey or yellow. Reaching a maximum size of 16-17cm (6.5 inch), averaging out at 10-14cm (4-5.5 inches), this is a small species. They live together in the wild and are not territorial. This chameleon is found in high altitude, cooler temperate regions of Kenya and Uganda.

It was incredibly cute, believe it or not, and after sort of making sure it wasn't dangerous (by asking a campsite staff member - who quite frankly could have told us anything) a few of us gently held it. It didn't seem to mind as apparently the species turn black when threatened and it stayed green-brown. It had the cutest little pincer-like feet (some reference it as zygodactyl, others as didactyl) and of course the coolest eyes in the animal kingdom.... Ever. 

Nothing quite matches being watched by something that isn't even facing you... With one eye. A chameleon "without conviction"? 

Monday, 2 February 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

I'm a medical Doctor! Well, that's according to the mighty Google! This morning I awoke feeling slightly feverish with a low grade temperature, bunged up nose and a bit of a cough. By breakfast I had self diagnosed myself with everything from Ebola to Malaria with a dose of Bubonic plague, smallpox and Spanish flu thrown in for good measure. Thankfully there is a (real) Doctor in my group who was able to quickly check me over and I wasn't quarantined.

I had originally planned to do a village walk this morning but I decided to stay back. It was nice to spend a couple of hours just chilling in the shade . The location of the camp on the Nile is really beautiful, and the wildlife is prolific and diverse - ranging from fish eagles to kingfishers, monkeys, monitor lizards and otters.

By mid afternoon I was feeling a lot better, thanks in part to a dairy free smoothie perhaps. I decided that I wanted to get closer to the wildlife and so rented a kayak for a couple of hours in the early evening. I wasn't quite ready to brave the whitewater rapids that the Nile has to offer but a couple of hours of paddling seemed like a good idea. The aptly named "Kayak the Nile" has their office on the campsite grounds. We even got a deal on the kayak rental for the 3 of us that had decided to go out.

I've never used a sit-on-top kayak before but certainly liked the sound of just being able to hop on and off one. No need for a skirt - just throw on clothing you don't mind potentially getting wet and/or sweaty and off you go. Winner! They have similar hull shapes to the traditional counterparts, but instead of sitting inside you sit on a molded depression on top. Apparently this makes them more comfortable than the sit-inside, although I found my hip flexors weren't the biggest fan plus I personally could do with a "bit more padding".  Apparently it is also easier to do self-rescues..... Hang on a minute, I wasn't planning on needing to do one of those!

Whilst the water was not choppy, paddling upstream was certainly quite the workout. We stuck quite close the the river bank to begin with under the watchful eye of the birds that called the area home. Upon coming across a rope swing, Tim decided he wanted to attempt not only swinging on it but swing on it ONTO his kayak. Hmmm. Ok. This should be fun to watch. I'm pretty sure that someone somewhere was yelling a slo-mo "Nooooooooooooooo". It looked promising, well at least in theory. Problem was likely because Tim didn't let go when over his kayak ("I didn't want to get wet") and I think I was cringing before he even struck the steep embankment on his return journey. There was quite the crunch, even though he seemed to primarily strike it with his backside. You know when you have that nervous laughter because you think it will hide the fact that someone has just hurt themselves? That was Peter and I. It was hilarious on so many levels, all of them wrong. Let's face it, really the only way to deal with something unbearable is to laugh at it... Although it's probably preferential that the victim is doing the laughing and not the bystanders. He did manage to place himself back in his kayak, dry yet most likely with a bit of a bruised ego and backside.

Needless to say, no one else tried.

A curious otter briefly popped up to say hello as we paddled towards the middle of the river and one of many islands. There were many cormorants and kingfishers around looking for food which was highly entertaining to watch although I'm certainly they were just as entertained in watching us struggle against the current. As we made our way around the top of an island it got easier and soon we were caught in the downstream current. We cut through another waterway in between two smaller islands just as I started to smell smoke and hear the crackling of fire. Admittedly for a moment I was a bit worried that we had stumbled upon an uncontrollable fire but then we saw a boat and someone on the island. They use a controlled burn (prescribed fire) to clear away foliage so that they can then use the land for agriculture. Controlled burning can also prevent uncontrolled and more destructive fires as well as help maintain biodiversity. Still, I was a little uneasy at the thought of any animals that might be caught. The birds however seemed, for most part, unfazed and stood on the waters edge presumably for a quick getaway should they need to make one. Interestingly the fire went out as quickly as it was started and we soon saw a man leaving in his boat.

As we made our way back to shore there were two huge fish eagles standing on a rock, seemingly without a care in the world. We were able to get quite close to them before they decided they had had enough of us gawping and took flight. There were very majestic to watch and it was a great way to end an afternoon on the River Nile. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: The Jewel of the Nile

The past two nights haven't been the greatest sleep-wise and trying to sleep on a truck driving crap roads, which have potentially given me whiplash, is no mean feat. Also add the combination of being too hot to the variety of noises heard during the night. At Bunyonyi it was a howling dog... I wanted to throw it in the lake and I'm an animal lover! Back at Red Chilli, Kampala, this morning the church bells were going off well before 6am. Well, it is a Sunday after all, however I wished the wannabe Quasimodo would bugger off. No amount of ear plug/covers over head was going to truly dampen either of those noises.

Yesterday I was up at 5 and packing the tent & hauling it up a couple of flights of steep stone steps before having a quick breakfast. We wanted to get on the road early in a bid to try and avoid the Kampala traffic again as we spent another night at Red Chilli. The views during the drive were.... Interesting. First up were the coffins being made and sold on the roadside. I guess you can never be too well prepared and now you needn't worry with the ease of drive-thru funeral arrangers! Next there was the tall naked Ugandan in the middle of a field. I'm going to hazard a guess that perhaps he was bathing himself. You can apparently get away with being naked in a field in these parts because no-one batted an eyelid. Whereas back home you would attract the attention of the boys in blue pretty quickly. I was half tempted to wave.....

Traffic in Kampala was, as predicted, nuts on both days. People this time were driving on the wrong side of the road and headed straight for us. May be Sunday is a day where anything goes? Thankfully I was sat up high in a huge truck so really never had anything much to worry about. I think what concerned me about the entire experience was those in their little chicken chaser-Toyotas didn't seem worried either.

Camp for the next few nights is at the Nile River Explorers in Jinja. Jinja is the second largest town in Uganda, after Kampala, and is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, near to the, often hotly contested, source of the (White) Nile River. The nearby Owen Falls Dam regulates the flow of the White Nile and generates electricity. You are not allowed to take any photos on or anywhere near the Dam nor are you allowed to stop. The actual "source" of the Nile was the Ripon Falls now submerged after the construction of the Owen Falls Dam. Englishman John Hanning Speke was accredited with the discovery in 1862 as the first European to locate the source at Ripon Falls, however in 2010 an exploration party went to the source of the Rukarara tributary giving a new length of the Nile believe to be 4199 miles. It is still not agreed upon which is the most distant source, Lake Victoria has feeder rivers of considerable size and some still believe it to be in either Rwanda or Burundi.

The White Nile offers grade 5 white water rafting. I've been told, should I wish, that I can partake in that tomorrow either in a white water raft or in a kayak. I have to admit the thought of every upper body muscle aching and swallowing half the Nile isn't really appealing to me, having already white water rafter I think I would rather do another activity. But it is certainly popular amongst those that stay here as well as options to horse ride, quad bike, mountain bike, kayak (on calmer waters), SUP, village walks and volunteering.

A Nile sunset cruise certainly seemed like a tamer idea after watching a member of my group enter the Nile alternatively, courtesy of the "Flying Fox" zip line (he admittedly screamed like a girl but it was hilarious to watch). I would have entertained the idea but my rib cage is still really sore from the water polo accident and holding onto a bar really hurts. You have a considerable amount of hillside to clear before you are overwater and I've no desire to face plant into solid earth. I did go into the water for a quick swim to try and escape the heat then of course began worrying about schistosomiasis. A quick shower "with a view" (meaning the front side of it was open) over the river was a better way to get wet in my humble opinion. I chose the "waterfall" themed shower and it literally was just like that.

The cruise was about 2hrs in length and there was a bar and appetizers for the duration ($45USD all inclusive with a considerable discount if you're signed up to one of their rafting excursions). It was a great place to be if you're an avid birder and some of the species seen included: great cormorants, long-tailed cormorants, African darters, several species of heron & egret, several birds of prey including fish eagles and some vulture species, swifts, moorhens, jacanas, greater-painted snipe, malachite kingfishers and pied kingfishers, to name but a few (posters were on the boat to assist you). I also got to see two river otters frolicking around. No signs of Kathleen Turner or Michael Douglas however.....

 $45 was a little steep if you're not a meat eater or looking to drink (and I wasnt to either) but the sunset was, of course, stunning with a vast array of red, orange and gold before night finally fell. This kind of made it worth the price tag.