Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lyle Lovett: An R&R Tradition

Another R&R, another Lyle Lovett concert. I love this tradition. This was my eighth concert in my 5.5th state (not sure how to count DC). As soon as Lyle announced his summer concert dates I looked for a good prospect (or two). I would just miss the lovely outdoor venue in Lowell, MA, and my brother's wedding and the preceding week of preparations meant I wouldn't have time to plan a flying trip somewhere. So Bridgeport, CT it was! It was within driving distance and the perfect amount of time before the wedding. I offered to buy tickets for both of my parents, but only Mom took me up on it. (That turned out okay because Dad and I had our own adventure a couple of days later - more on that soon!)

On that Wednesday Mom left work early, and we hit the road about 2pm. We promised Dad we'd stay overnight if we were too tired to drive home, but it was only about a 3 1/2 hour drive away. Neither Mom nor I had ever been to Bridgeport, and I hadn't realized it was so close to NYC. We hit a little traffic around Hartford and switched to a less-traveled road, pulling into town about 5:45. We marveled at the gorgeous houses in a variety of architectural styles and enjoyed the gorgeous parks and landscaping. At 6:00 exactly we reached the parking lot to the Klein theater, just as they were opening the gate. We were the first ones to park and chose a spot near lighting and the entrance of the venue, but we realized later the whole lot was well-lit and close to the venue.

We walked about two blocks to an area where I'd scoped out some restaurants on Google Maps and found ourselves in a nice little Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant. We were the first ones there for dinner, and we both ordered pho and some dumplings. I also introduced Mom to bubble tea - my favorite! The food was filling, and I ate tripe for the first time! (It was an accident; I thought it was a noodle. But it was pretty good!) We finished eating around 7:15 and headed back to the theater.

The Klein is a very nice theater - just the right size and with great acoustics. I had purchased tickets the first day they went on sale, but we still couldn't get center orchestra. We 'settled' for third row left orchestra. They were awesome seats!

The Large Band came on stage and started playing just after 8:00, starting with an instrumental as usual. Then the spotlights turned to the back of the theater, and we all turned around to see the one and only Francine Reed, microphone in hand, walk down the aisle to the stage. I had heard she was part of this tour and was thrilled to see her.

I adore Lyle Lovett in concert any time I see him, but the last few times I'd only seen him with his acoustic group, and there's nothing quite like seeing him with the whole Large Band. There were lots of familiar faces; it never fails to amaze me that some of these guys have been playing and touring with Lyle since the 1970s. And even the newer members fit in so seamlessly. It really speaks to the camaraderie and talent of this group of musicians.

The concert lasted almost three hours and was absolutely spectacular. Just the right mix of songs from across his repertoire and a couple sneak previews of new work by Keith Sewell and Luke Bulla. Absolutely fabulous. There were a lot of fans in the audience, but I think there were also lots of people not familiar with the songs too. It was a nice mix, and the audience was - as always - interactive and appreciative.

We left the theater, bought some merchandise, and headed to the car. We waited a few minutes to let the parking clear out before getting in the car, but it took less than ten minutes for us to get out, which is pretty good for a concert of that size.

The drive home wasn't really a fun one given the amount of night construction going on. Mom drove until Springfield, MA; we stopped at a McDonald's drive through to get soft serve and switch drivers, but it took 25 minutes from ordering to getting our cones. The guy in front of us was clearly ordering for an entire work crew, and they hadn't been ready for him. I took over driving and quickly realized that midnight after a long day was probably not the best time to drive Mom's car for the first time. Luckily that stretch of I-91 is a very familiar one, and we made it home without incident, pulling in at 3:00am. It was completely worth it! I can't wait for the next concert in a new state. Or even a state I've seen him in before. It doesn't matter. I'm a devoted fan.

Francine Reed and Lyle Lovett

Such a phenomenal musician, songwriter, and performer

No zoom - awesome seats!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Still here!

It has definitely been a while. Life has been busy! Work, travel, R&R, family time, and my brother's wedding occupied the last couple of months, and the internet here doesn't lend itself to posting photos or updates very often. But there are stories about Istanbul, Lyle Lovett (of course!), the wedding, and even last year's safaris to catch up on soon. Coming soon!

But here's the latest from Beirut: a sandstorm. A really bad one. We're all hunkering down inside and trying to keep breathing. See here for more information. Lots more going on in Beirut these days, but I'll let you find those articles on your own.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Produce and Groceries in Beirut

It's the little things. I don't have any photographs to accompany this post, sadly, but I wanted to get something up sooner than later. And maybe I'll come up with a less boring title at some point too.

I've been spoiled the last two tours being in places with pretty phenomenal produce variety and quality all year round.

Uganda's bananas and pineapples and papayas (does anyone actually like papaya? I realize I do not, even though it has little taste) and passion fruits and avocados and jack fruits had me in fruit heaven. The veggies were reliable if not outstanding.

Beirut is an absolute dream post in terms of produce. A lot of the items are locally grown and even the imported ones are not too pricey. I arrived here just as strawberries were coming into season, and I bought 1-2 kilos of these huge, fragrant, juicy berries every week. By the time their numbers started decreasing iI had run out of ideas for cooking with them and was a bit tired of eating them at lunch every day. Now stone fruits are coming into season, and the produce stands are overflowing with beautiful cherries and peaches and plums and all of their lovely, delicious cousins. I made a peach and pomegranate crisp a couple weeks ago - a neat combination of flavors. Now it's time to dig out my cold cherry soup recipe from my summer in Hungary/Slovakia. Though as I posted on Facebook recently, I like the idea of eating plums much more than the reality. They're a little too gushy and sour for me.

The veggies here are equally impressive, especially the artichokes. I bought a steamer pot in 2009 for the express purpose of cooking artichokes. It wasn't until 2015 that my pot was in the same country as affordable, good quality artichokes. I've been making up for lost time. Asparagus season was too short for my liking, but I still buy the imported kind. And I snapped up a half kilo of fresh green beans this past weekend that I'm still scheming of the perfect use for.

There's some great fruit stands here (they sell fruits and veggies), and my favorite one gets frequent visits from me and everybody I rave about it to. There's always a helpful young man to help you select and bag your produce, and they're good at helping me learn (relearn, really) the French and Arabic words for all these things. So far we've always been able to match up what I'm looking for. Swiss chard was a tough one, though. As were chives.

In addition to awesome produce, the grocery stores are well stocked. I'm continually amazed at what they stock, though the supplies and selections do ebb and flow on occasion. I also really like that the deli counter attendants are always willing to let you sample a meat or cheese before you commit; sometimes they continue to feed you even after you've made your choice.

Grocery shopping can become a chore, but I'm trying to establish those all-important relationships with the places I frequent (while trying not to be a predictable target, of course), and I'm well on my way. Bring on the summer fruits and veggies!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

London, DC, and Beirut Catch Up

As I relax at home at the relatively early hour of 6:30pm (I'm leaving work as close to on time as I can while nursing a nasty cold that already kept me home 1.5 days last week), I realize it's time for an update. I still owe a lot of safari posts, but my internet has not been cooperative for photo uploads, so those will have to wait.

So. Beirut continues to challenge and reward me professionally (hence the long hours), and I'm trying hard to achieve a decent work-life balance. It's fine when everybody is here, but anytime anyone is on leave (which is often, because we all desperately need our leave and I encourage folks to take it early and often) it means more work for the rest of us. That's just the reality of operating in a place where the infrastructure doesn't allow for additional officers to be here. I really am not trying to complain, because I love it here and look forward to two more years (I extended to get onto summer cycle), but I don't want to gloss over the realities of life here.

I had my own much-needed break from Beirut recently, escaping to London for a few days before a week in DC for training. London was lovely. The weather was absolutely perfect when I was there except for one day, and I spent that day luxuriating in being in a nice hotel with good internet. And raspberries and M&S salads of course.

Being in London meant getting to spend time with my amazing friend L and her lovely family. We spent many hours in the park playing with her toddler and had a great picnic on Hampstead Heath one afternoon with other friends. We also escaped for an afternoon to Belgravia where we indulged in a stunning afternoon tea, recommended by fellow FS blogger In-Flight Movie. Her description is great and entirely accurate, so go check out her recap! We arrived a little early but they seated us anyway in a cozy window banquette, and we whiled away several hours chatting and eating and having a lovely time. I didn't do a whole lot most days as I really needed rest after a long four month stretch in Beirut. But that, in itself, was great. Doing nothing much in London during the springtime is one of my favorite things ever.

After London I flew to DC and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon with another amazing friend, D (of Kampala stories fame!). We walked to Subway so I could buy more raspberries and then ordered Chinese delivery while we gabbed and caught up on six months of news. This recap of DC time focuses mostly on food since almost all I did aside from training was go out to eat, as one does in DC.

After a first day of training on Monday (and running into some friends at FSI, including the awesome Is It Better than a Brownie?), I headed back to the hotel for an exciting reunion with my parents! They had been in PA for a wedding that weekend so drove down to DC to spend the week with me. We had a wonderful time, and they had some even more wonderful long days of sight seeing. Monday night I drove us to Pentagon Row for a Nando's fix. My parents had been hearing about it since I was first in South Africa in 2003, but this was their first time trying it. (Even though my mom came to South Africa for three weeks in 2005, I guess we never tried it then. Huh.) Anyway, I was very happy that it lived up to all the hype, and they are now Nando's converts as well!

Tuesday they covered the Mall's monuments and the American Indian Museum before we met up for dinner and walked up the hill in Rosslyn to Rhodeside Grill. I happily indulged in the traditional reuben I have every time I'm in the United States. Wednesday they went to the Spy Museum and a few others, and we met up with my aunt and cousin at Lebanese Taverna for an 'authentic' Lebanese mezze feast. The food was fine though not nearly as good as what we get here, but we had a wonderful time catching up.

Thursday and Friday I managed to have lunch at FSI with good friends, which is the magic of FSI. It's nice to know we always end up there at some point or another. On Thursday night we met up with D for pho, which we'd taken my dad to for the first time last November, and this was my mom's first time. It was absolutely delicious, especially on a cool, rainy day. Friday night we met D for a quick dinner at Panera and then headed into DC where we met up with another friend, P, and went to a Capitol Steps show. I'd never seen them before but had heard their songs, and I had an absolute blast. It was laughter from start to finish. The great thing about them is they make fun of absolutely everyone, so it's impossible to get offended about one person or party's depiction. I highly recommend this affordable and accessible weekly show!

Saturday was the only day we had where I could go sightseeing too, but since it was Memorial Day weekend we figured the Mall or environs would be overwhelmingly crowded with tourists. So we headed to Eastern Market and spent a few hours exploring the outdoor stalls. I bought a few pairs of earrings and adored the many lovely dogs hanging out at the market. We had brunch at my dad's favorite tavern (Boxcar) and headed to the hotel for afternoon naps. Our last dinner out was at Cafe Asia, where we enjoyed the great weather and ate on the patio.

Sunday morning was an early start since my parents were starting their drive north. We said goodbye (not too tearful since I'll have R&R relatively soon), and I headed to Mosaic for a day of pampering. I had my nails done, got a massage, had a lovely lunch, had my hair cut, and then shopped at Target for a few more essentials. After that it was off to the airport and back to Beirut. The flights were full and uncomfortable, and I was so incredibly happy to get home and see my cats and sleep in my own bed.

And now, after this long, picture-less recap of the past few weeks, I find it's almost time for bed. Probably because I go to bed ridiculously early, but also because I'm still a wee bit sick. Anyway. My next three trips over the next six months are on the books, and I hope I'll sneak in another weekend getaway or two. So more stories and photos soon, I promise!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Beirut: Five Pros, Five Cons

It's that time of year again! Time to start doing post research in eager anticipation of bidding season. I am thankful I am on my second year of not having to bid but have already started considering the projected vacancies list for next summer...

I have two posts to write about for the annual FS blogger 5 pro/5 con roundup headed by The New Diplomat's Wife this year. First up, a post I haven't written about too much yet, although I've been here slightly more than three months: Beirut!

This list comes with a caveat: I haven't been at post very long, and I have yet to get out for a break yet. So if I come across as either/both a bit cranky or overenthusiastic, keep those facts in mind.

First, the pros:

1. It's Lebanon! Not many people get to experience this amazing, tiny little country with a gorgeous location right on the Mediterranean. From the famous cedars in the mountains to the beaches of Batroun to the layers of history in Byblos, this country packs a lot into its small area. Beirut is a rapidly developing city with modern shopping malls, pedestrian promenades, and all the shopping anybody could ever want. You can find something to suit any interest here. And the weather is pretty great most of the year.

2. Food. Do I really even need to explain? Lebanese food is famous around the world, for good reason. And if you ever tire of heaping tables of mezze and grilled meats, there are plenty of French bistros and familiar chains to make sure nobody goes hungry (or loses weight). Plus, the grocery stores are well-stocked, and I don't need to be quite the hoarder I was in Uganda. I do miss being able to buy things like corned beef (for reubens) or whole spiral hams or Italian sausage, but these are minor things. And the bread. Oh, the bread. French baguettes and perfect pitas are just the tip of the iceberg.

3. Work. Whatever your portfolio, the work is fascinating and challenging. You work on issues that are absolutely relevant in Washington and have the attention of the world as well. I am lucky to work in a section staffed by some phenomenal local and U.S. employees, and even on the toughest days we can laugh together and I know I'm surrounded by competent, smart people who love their job.  

4. People. When I was in Jeddah I worked with some amazing Lebanese women, and I am happy to report it wasn't just a fluke. The Lebanese are friendly, hospitable, outgoing, and many other great adjectives, and it's absolutely a pleasure to meet and spend time with people here.

5. Travel. We get four R&Rs in a two year tour, and Beirut has direct flights to some amazing locations for shorter getaways. Cyprus is a twenty minute flight away, and Turkey is a popular weekend destination. I can't wait to explore some of the regional opportunities.

And now, the cons:

1. Security restrictions. The security situation dictates life here. You live and work on a small compound. Everybody remembers the Embassy and Marine barracks bombings in the 1980s, and the security situation in Lebanon and the region has been turbulent ever since. You can't self drive, your off-compound moves are limited, and things can and do change in an instant. If you're considering bidding Beirut, you need to know what you're in for. That said, we have an awesome CLO office, and between CLO and the employee association there's almost always something to do. I am never bored and am often spoiled for choice of things to do or see or (often) eat. In a place like this, people come together to make their own fun.

2. Work. There are always two sides to everything. The work is intense and never-ending, and the hours can be long. Infrastructure and resource deficiencies mean we are always operating with fewer people than we need, and so you're usually covering for colleagues who are out on (well deserved and much needed) leave. The stakes are high here, and you can't easily get away from work. This is the first time in a couple weeks I've left by six pm. I'm lucky, though, that I don't have to work weekends unless there's a crisis or I choose to.

3. Creepy crawlies. My biggest fear coming here was about finding a tarantula in my house. Particularly in my bedroom or shower. I still live in fear of this, especially after a close (outside) encounter with one of these nasty creatures a few weeks ago. Tarantulas, scorpions, and poisonous snakes are endemic on the compound, and everybody has a story. I hope I already have my one and only story.

4. War/crisis overload. Lebanon. Syria. Iraq. ISIL. Israel/Palestine. You name the conflict, we've got it represented. Lebanon - a country of four million people - has accepted and UNHCR has registered over 1.4 million Syrian refugees, on top of 500,000 Palestinian refugees who have been here for decades and the thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of undocumented Syrian refugees who are currently here. This permeates all aspects of life here and, particularly for those who work with refugee populations, can be overwhelming as the humanitarian crisis grows with every day the Syrian conflict continues. And this is all while Lebanon keeps a fragile political system aloft without a President for the last year and a political sphere overwhelmed by complicated history and numerous political, religious, and sectarian issues at play.

5. Smoke. I am pretty sure this was one of my cons when I wrote about Jeddah a few years ago. I am very sensitive to smoke of all kinds, and people here love their cigarettes, cigars, and hookah. Everywhere. Even the token non-smoking sections at restaurants. I go out far fewer places than I might just because of this issue.

Anyway, that's a glimpse at life in Beirut! I definitely recommend people bid here, but please make sure you do your research before doing so. Having people who know what their reality will be and are prepared for the ups and downs of compound life makes a huge difference to overall post morale.

Coming soon, Kampala. Previously: Jeddah.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

EAWE: Lake Manyara

Our start the next morning was late enough that we had time to have a sumptuous breakfast at the Serena, finally getting to see our surroundings after our late night arrival. We rushed through the last cups of coffee and pancakes to meet our driver with our luggage as agreed upon. But then he was in no hurry and took his time chatting with other guides. This "hurry up and wait" mode would, unfortunately, become a trend. We were very much beholden to his own internal clock, which seemed to know no logic. More on that later.

Having loaded the vehicle, we set off towards Lake Manyara park itself, a short distance away. The day was overcast, but it was a dry, dusty day. Before we got to the park we started seeing baobabs, one of my favorite African landscape features. I love their hauntingly empty branches for much of the year when everything around them is in full bloom. We also stopped for a troop of baboons on the road, including a very young baby clinging to his mom with such an inquisitive, hairless face that it was a striking vision.

Lake Manyara National Park is on many Tanzanian itineraries simply because it is located between Arusha and the Serengeti. But it's a lovely, albeit small, park with some stunning vistas, both savannah and forestland. It's famous for its birdlife, particularly the flocks of pink flamingos that are drawn to the lake itself. There are leopards and lions, but they're rarely seen. We first encountered several shy blue monkeys who did their best not to pose for photos. We drove through some gorgeous forests with lots of streams and pools of water and fig and mahogany trees before emerging onto the familiar savannah.

There we found a sleepy herd of buffalo and some very brown/red zebras thanks to the blowing dust and dirt. Soon we reached an oasis of sorts with hippos and many, many, many birds. There were several different species in attendance, but the most spectacular views were of the literally thousands of yellow-billed storks. Wow. With each bird standing up to three feet tall, a giant flock like this one is amazingly striking. Especially when hundreds at once take to the air. With wingspans of what seemed like 4-5 feet, it was quite a sight to behold. And behold it we did. For about 45 minutes longer than we wanted to. Don't get me wrong, it was great, but we did not need to spend an hour of an already-packed day sitting there. We tried, many times, to get our guide to move, but he appeared deaf to our appeals. Finally, we were off.

One thing we noticed immediately driving on was how white parts of the savannah appeared, the result of thousands of these white storks moulting. Fascinating. We passed the closest approach to the lake, which was quite far from the current shore given the water levels, and had a very distant view of pink. The flamingos weren't individually recognizable as such, but the sea of hazy pink told us what we were looking at.

We stopped at a hippo pool lookout and stretched our legs on the raised boardwalk before heading back to the lodge for lunch. On our way, though, in the middle of the forest, we came upon a herd of elephants. There were several older females and more adolescent males than I've ever seen at one time, as well as several babies. We were lucky to have the scene to ourselves for a good thirty minutes before another car happened upon us.

The adolescent males put on quite a display, sparring with each other noisily with tusks, trunks, ears, heads, and even sticks. One had already broken a newly-emerged tusk with his antics. An adolescent female was bullied relentlessly by the boys. The matriarchs were preoccupied with the babies, especially one very tiny, sickly little guy. We wondered if his mother might have died, because he clearly wasn't getting enough good. They kept him well hidden most of the time we were there, but they crossed the road at one point, giving us a heartbreaking glimpse of the malnourished young one. I doubt he survived much longer, sadly.

After leaving our private elephant show we drove back to the Serena for lunch before setting off on our long, hard drive to the Serengeti. (And those 45 minutes from earlier? They would have come in handy on that drive.) We didn't have long at Lake Manyara, but it was a charming encounter, albeit a brief one.


That face.

Blue monkey


Bird/hippo oasis

Yellow-billed stork

And in flight

Hippos, including a sweet baby!

Not an insubstantial bird

Crested cranes, Uganda's national bird!

Showing off their impressing wingspans

Furry brown baby zebra

Flamingos. Really.

Elephant family on parade

Follow the leader

Some of the youngest ones

A cheeky adolescent male, already missing a tusk

Nature's camouflage


Teenage antics

Tiny baby. Too tiny. Not a nice sight to see

Keeping the frail young one close by

Now who's king of the pachyderms?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

EAWE: Tanzania Day 1

I had been planning to write about the next leg of the trip, which I consider my worst air travel day, a couple of weeks ago. But then a pilot steered a commercial airplane into a mountain, killing all aboard, which made me reconsider what I considered a bad air travel day. That said, as far as non-tragic and simply inconvenient and frustrating travel days go, this was a pretty bad one.

After getting in late the night before, we woke up super early (1am) to head to the airport for our 5am flight. Everything was on track, we checked in and boarded and were ready to taxi and take off. Except we didn't. I was trying to fall asleep, but after several rounds of announcements about unexpected delays (I think due to the plane's electrical system malfunctioning, but I can't remember 100%), they finally had us deplane. No problem, we had a three hour layover in Nairobi, and we were still on track.

The first sign of things to come was not the decision to give us vouchers for breakfast at the terminal cafe but the extraordinarily unorganized way they distributed them and the cafe's woefully unprepared staff and inventory. Almost as soon as we sat down to eat, it was time to reboard. Still doing fine on time. We made sure the ground crew and flight crew knew we had a connecting flight. You'll make it, they said, we've called ahead. And then we sat on the tarmac. Again.

You can probably guess by now that we missed the flight. By the most ridiculous of margins. We taxied forever in Nairobi and then were directed not to the gate but to the customer service center. By the time we got to the gate the flight had pushed back. Without us. And the Kenya Airways crew at the gate were, shall we say, not the cream of the crop.

I won't go into the sordid details, but it was a comedy of errors for the next two hours as we waited in line to rebook, talked to our Uganda-based travel agent, and then finally obtained new boarding passes for the only other flight to Kilimanjaro that day. Nine hours later. Which would get us into Lake Manyara long after dark. There went our relaxing afternoon by the pool.

Don't worry, said Kenya Airways, we'll put you up in a hotel for the day. Those of you who have spent time in Jomo Kenyatta Intl Airport know it is not the ideal place for a one hour layover, let alone the remaining seven hours.

So we headed for the hotel. Sort of. We headed for a gate where we waited for a ride to the arrivals hall. When finally directed to said ride, as D stepped onto the bus she was screamed at by the same woman who had told her to get on. "Stop! I forgot! That's the Ebola screening vehicle." Whoops. This was August 2014, keep in mind.

We arrive at the arrivals hall to find others from our flight who had left the terminal hours before us still waiting for someone to help them get free transit visas. Finally we were assisted with this, sped through Immigration, and then were ushered out to a bus. Where - you guessed it - we waited. When we finally left, we were treated to a thirty minute drive through Nairobi in a bus with no air conditioning, which meant the windows were down to allow all the pollution and smog in.

Finally we get to the hotel and are given room keys and a meal voucher. And then we're told that the bus back to the airport will leave in 90 minutes. We wondered why on earth we were leaving so soon when our flight wasn't for another five hours. So much for a relaxing afternoon. The room keys didn't work, so we just used the lobby bathrooms and then headed to the restaurant for an abysmal lunch. We finally got new room keys and enjoyed 15 minutes in our hotel room.

Then we boarded the bus. And waited. And waited. And waited. We had been told in no uncertain terms to be there at the appointed time or the bus would leave without us. Yet the bus waited 45 minutes for two lingering passengers, to the vocal protestations of the 20 or so others on board. Back out into Nairobi traffic we went. The ride back - now in early rush hour - took more than an hour. Nine hour layover, and we got a dismal meal and 15 minutes to relax.

We got through security and Immigration and still arrived at our gate an hour early. Luckily this flight - on Precision Air - boarded on time and took off without delay. There was room to stretch out, and we were treated to gorgeous views of Mt. Kilimanjaro as we descended - our only glimpses of the trip.

By some miracle all of our bags arrived, and we didn't have difficulty with the Ebola screening or Tanzanian Immigration. Our driver was there to meet us, and off we went. The drive to the Lake Manyara Serena was relatively smooth on decent roads. We were stopped at several police checkpoints but didn't have any difficulties.

I had high hopes of some nighttime wildlife viewing on our journey; we saw a few jackals but nothing else. By the time we arrived at the Serena dinner was pretty much over, but they had very kindly kept the salad/dessert bars open and happily cooked us up delicious entrees even as we protested that the salads were plenty. I love the Serena brand of hotels. So reliably classy and service-oriented.

The rooms were well-appointed and comfortable, and we all headed off to sleep at 11:00pm, relieved to finally be back on track after a stressful, uncomfortable day. The best was yet to come.

Friday, March 27, 2015

2014 EAWE: Queen Elizabeth National Park Days 2-4

We had three nights in QENP to enjoy the lovely Mweya hospitality and find some awesome animals. I was hoping for a predator bonanza, but the lions and leopards had other ideas. We did see a few lions, but it was the other animals who made it a fun experience.

Saturday morning we woke up for an early morning game drive, excited to see all kinds of awesome things. It wasn't a very fruitful morning, sadly. I only took about six photos all morning, which is an indicator. The salt lakes were pretty; we saw some nice birds and antelope; but everybody else was sleeping. We headed back to the lodge for breakfast and a nap before the afternoon's boat ride.

The boat launch is quite close to Mweya, and we were able to get there early enough to snag good seats, which ired a group of Italian tourists to no end. They demanded we get up and let them sit where we had chosen. Seriously. Luckily some Brits came along and made up for their attitudes. We set off on a slow cruise along the Kazinga channel. Lots of birds, lots of hippos. A few interesting encounters. My favorite was the buffalo and hippo snuggle fest as seen in photos before. I mean, how incredibly cute was that?

We were also charged by a hippo who thundered through the water and then surfaced at our boat and made some movements to keep going but finally turned around. It happened very quickly, and I only got a photo at the tail end when he was out of the water a bit. A bit scary for a moment.

There's a fishing village in the park where the community interacts responsibly with the wildlife (and vice versa), and so they have not been evicted. It was lovely to watch the men preparing to head out for an evening of fishing as elephants grazed the hillside and meandered to the channel below. We turned and motored back to the launch and reached the lodge just as the sun was beginning to set. It was gorgeous. Or it would have been had the Italian tourists from earlier not driven up and started yelling insults at us as we took photographs. Seriously. Again. Time for dinner and bed.

Another early morning drive on Sunday with very few sightings, though we did see our first lion of the trip. A lovely male reclining a decent distance from the road, presumably watching over his pride we believed to be on the other side of the ridge. We drove to the other side to look but found nothing. There were lots and lots and lots of nervous antelope about, not to mention bones, but no other predators in sight. We stopped at a souvenir market and found a few cute things before heading back to the lodge. I took a much-needed nap while Mom and D read or sat outside.

After lunch and before the afternoon game drive, Mom and I were sitting outside the bar area reading and checking email when we saw a mongoose run across the terrace. Mom and D had seen a few mongooses running through the lobby earlier, but this was my first sighting. And then more came. Moms and babies, lone mongooses, mongooses with radio collars, and more. Some were digging, some were foraging, some were almost running over our feet. I was in heaven. It was amazing. So, of course, I did the natural thing and followed them. I followed them to a gathering point on the side of the lodge and just watched them for about thirty minutes. There were dozens of them, of all sizes. There were a few tiny tiny babies and some adolescents and several with radio collars. I took photos and videos and listened to them squeak and just watched them. Absolutely fascinating. Absolutely a highlight of QENP.

Our afternoon game drive was a search for leopards that was futile. We saw a couple of ellies and a few antelope, but it was mostly a slow day for animals. So a final dinner for Mweya and a good night's sleep.

We left a little later that morning and planned to drive straight through to Kampala and arrive early afternoon and have time to do laundry and rest before heading to Tanzania the next day. But things didn't go as planned. First, Abdul got a tip about a lion in a tree. We headed off in hot pursuit. Sure enough, Luna the lion was up in a euphorbia tree. She did not look comfortable. First of all, she was very pregnant, which made lying down in a tree difficult. Second, the tree was not the most suitable for climbing - no flat branches. Third, there were lots of people watching her. We watched her for a bit and then headed off, enjoying herds of waterbuck and troops of baboons as we exited the park.

We were making great time and were about 50km out of Mbarara, the approximate halfway point to Kampala when all of a sudden, as we were going up a hill and around a corner, I see the rear passenger tire go flying off the truck and behind us. Abdul did a masterful job controlling the car and stopping safely on the side of the road. We got out to assess the damage. The tire was completely intact, no tears or punctures, but the rim was a bit bent. I stayed with the car while the others went in search of the lug nuts. This was farming country, and a few of the locals came down to offer help. A couple young women found a few lug nuts, and before long we had the complete set. Abdul said he had checked the tire before setting off in the am and thought somebody might have tampered with it when we stopped for a bathroom break. From the way the lug nuts had flown - not sheared - off, they had clearly been loosened.

Just then a car full of good samaritans stopped and offered assistance. It took about an hour and lots of effort, but they were able to help Abdul get the tire back on and tightened. The truck was okay for getting back to Kampala, but the whole tire and axle would need a lot of work later on. I was very pleasantly surprised by the gentlemen who gave an hour of their time - and sweat - to help us. They tried to decline the money we offered them but finally took it with a thanks and a smile. We did get a few others stopping and asking us for money who hadn't helped, but they were easily brushed off.

We got back on the road - a bit slower and still in a bit of shock - and limped back to Kampala. We made decent time, considering, but we still arrived several hours after we had expected. That meant a furious bout of laundry (using several of my neighbors' machines that they kindly let us use), a quick dinner, repacking, and then sleep for our VERY early wakeup call the next morning. If 1:30 is really the next morning.

Stay tuned for our horrendous travel day story to follow, but with redeeming animal encounters and photos and stories after that.

Buffalo/hippo snuggles!


Can I help you?

The tail end (pun intended) of the hippo charge

Elephants near the fishing village

Ready for a night of fishing

Right before the nasty Italians showed up to insult us

Pretty Mr. Lion.

Sleepy Mr. Lion


Running across the terrace

Note the radio collar on the one at the top right and the squee baby trying to nurse in the middle

Some of the many, many mongooses in this band

Pretty elly

A very pregnant and uncomfortable Luna the lion in a euphorbia tree

She just couldn't get comfortable

Gorgeous waterbuck

Riding with mama

A main road running through the park