Monthly Archives: August 2017

Wild Animals!

In this post I’m not going to say very much because I think that the pictures of the animals speak for themselves. All of these photographs were taken by members of the Queen Elizabeth Parks Project team on this 2017 trip to Uganda, so you will understand how lucky we have all been to see these animals in their natural habitat in the wild.

While it always makes us really happy and privileged to see these animals whenever we come across them, we always remember that the whole point of us doing this work with our friends in Uganda is about CONSERVATION. We are working together to share ideas about how to look after our world and the animals in it, and that includes our work with the Rangers of both parks, and with the teachers and the children in all of the schools.

Gorillas seen at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in the south of Uganda, one of the few places left in the world where you can see Mountain Gorillas.

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At Kymbura Gorge the team have been lucky enough to track chimpanzees on several occasions, alongside the very talented and skilful Rangers who know the chimps like they know the members of their own families!

Chimpanzees at Kyambura Gorge

Some animal are more difficult to see and require an eagle eyed Ranger or Project Team member to spot them.

 

A leopard hiding in a Candelabra Tree.

Other animals are more easily spotted as they graze across the plains or beside the main roads of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

 

Uganda Kob

 

Waterbuck

 

Topi

We are always delighted to see elephants passing by our vehicle in their family groups, especially if they have little ones with them. If they do have babies then you have to be careful to go be them plenty of room so they don’t feel threatened. You don’t want to mess with an enraged mother elephant!

 

Beside the Kazinga Channel

Near the road on the Mweya Peninsula

 

It it was a rare privilege to see lions!

Ishasha game drive track- no lions on that day! ☹️

Lion with kill

 

And there is always a multitude of birds! Uganda is truly a birdwatcher’s paradise!

Marabou stork – lots of them always living close to people so they can scavenge for leftover food.

Weaver bird

Speckled mousebird

Sunbird

A venue of vultures- if they are found gathered on the ground. If they are circling it is a ‘kettle’ of vultures. (I am reliably informed by my collective noun Google search!)

I’m no birdwatcher, so if I’ve made any mistakes in labelling these pictures I do apologise! (Help me out here Mr Peach or Ranger Jan!)

 

We were also very fortunate to see many hippopotamuses in the waters of the Ishasha River and the Kazinga Channel, and sometimes by the side of the road on a cooler day, and even one night outside our bedroom windows at Hippo House (hence the name obviously!)

 

Looking across the Ishasha River from Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda to the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with hippos in between.

The hippo outside our bedroom windows late one night, we named Henry. He was so close we could have leaned out of the open window (and it was open) and touched him, but he certainly was not in the least bit bothered by us and our torch beams and our excited talk. No, he was far too intent on munching the delicious purple shrub that was growing around the perimeter of Hippo House to be at all put off by us. We watched him intently as he made his way around the outside of the house, with us moving from bedroom to bedroom to get the best view. And we obviously didn’t touch him because hippos are known to be the most dangerous animals in Africa. Although they are vegetarians, they would think nothing of ripping you limb from limb with their powerful teeth and jaws if you happened to get in their way. No thanks Henry- that was close enough thank you very much!

Of course, I have by no means recorded all of the wildlife that is available to see in Uganda in this blog post. The country is literally crawling, slithering, flapping, stalking, creeping and swinging with life everywhere you look. You will just have to go there some day and see for yourself.

Here are a few more photos……

 

Earthquake!

Every morning at Mweya the whole team would have breakfast together at the canteen opposite Hippo House. The canteen has tables under at canopied roof so that you are shaded from the sun while you eat, but no windows and only a low wall so that we could watch the passing wildlife from our table. Often the families of warthogs would chase each other playfully between the trees, making us laugh at their antics.

The team having breakfast in the sunshine at the canteen.

Beside the canteen is the Mweya airstrip where a small fixed wing aircraft lands each day from Entebbe bringing holiday makers and safari goers to the luxury Safari Lodge nearby. I say ‘airstrip’ but it really more closely resembles a long, flat bit of grass. Each morning our conversation would be interrupted by the loud buzz of the aircraft engine as it passed overhead and then turned to make the landing.

On one particular morning – Sunday 30th July- instead of the sound of aircraft engines we heard something quite different; something that made us look at each other with expressions of alarm and confusion. Everything seemed to go into slow motion and I remember thinking to myself;’What on Earth is that? Not an aircraft coming in to land? No! Not a herd of rampaging elephants? No!’ I looked at my fruit salad on the table before me and it was rattling like crazy. The bottles of coke in the refrigerator behind the counter were clinking and bashing against each other like nobody’s business!

Meanwhile, Calum, one of our team mates, who has travelled the world extensively and had worked out what was going on far faster than the rest of us dummies, had realised the danger and was trying, very wisely, to get under the table!

The only other person who knew faster than the rest of us what was happening was Amy Peach. The most enormous smile spread over her face like she had been given the best and most amazing present, and she said:’Don’t worry everyone- it’s an earthquake!’

By this time it (the earthquake) was over. Calum, somewhat shamefacedly, came out from under the table.

Let me explain to you about Amy. Amy Peach, daughter of Mr and Mrs Peach, (Head Ranger at QECP and Head Cook at CJS respectively) is now 22 years old. When Amy was 7 years old she was a pupil at Clanfield Junior School just like all of you, and when she was in year 5, I (Mrs Buckle) was her teacher. Now that Amy is 22 she has just completed a degree from the University of Plymouth in geology. For this, I don’t mind telling you, she gained a ‘first’ which is the best kind of degree that you can get! Geology is the study of the physical earth, what it is made of and how it came to be like it is. This includes the study of earthquakes and volcanoes which is more precisely known as ‘vulcanology’. This is what Amy is interested in so no wonder she was excited to be experiencing an earthquake!

Amy Peach when she was at Clanfield Junior School

We all went back to Hippo House and Amy quickly contacted her geologist friends around the world to find out the facts about the earthquake we had just felt.

She discovered that seismologists (people who measure earthquakes) had given it a reading of 5.3 on the Richter Scale, and that its epicentre was found to be 15km out and 10km down underneath Lake Edward- the lake right next to Mweya in the Queen Elizabeth National Park!

Now although we were all surprised, and a little more than excited if truth be told, it is not really surprising that an earthquake should happen here. The fact is that this part of Uganda sits on something known as the Albertine Rift Valley, a fault or crack in the Earth’s surface if you like, that occasionally moves and shifts as it settles.

This is a very simple diagram of how the land has fallen between two fault lines to form the valley. In this particular case the mountains on the left are the Rwenzoris of Uganda, and the high ground on the right is the escarpment that we can see rising up to Kyambura.

Mrs Peach looking out at the beautiful view of the Albertine Rift Valley from the escarpment at Kyambura.

Mr Peach at Kingfisher Lodge on the escarpment.

 

The whole area is dotted with extinct volcano craters, some of which have become lakes, some of which support the most amazing flora and fauna, and some of which are barren. They really are amazing to see. Thousands of years ago this would have been a very interesting but dangerous place to be with all these volcanoes blowing their tops! Now, it’s both very interesting and a beautiful landscape.

Working at Bukorwe

On our second day at Bukorwe we wanted to do so many things! I had already spoken to teachers Vicent and Christine about some of the activities that we had been preparing at Clanfield. For example, the ‘Wants and Needs’ PSHE activity that Years 3, 4 and 5 had done, and the work on environmental problems that Year 3 had done. In the end there wasn’t quite enough time to do everything, so Mrs Peach and I decided it was best to have a question and answer session with P7 and a talk to them to explain some of the things we had brought.

Amy and Jan also joined us for the session with all of the P7 class, plus a few other interested children who shyly peered in through the classroom windows from outside. Who were these strange ‘muzungu’ teachers? (Muzungu is the Ugandan word for ‘white person’.) I began by explaining that the children from Clanfield Junior School sent their greetings, and that we continue to think of them and learn about Uganda at our school. Fortunately I had Vicent to ‘translate’ because although they do have their lessons in English, an English accent (from England) is difficult for some of the children to understand. I explained that we are planning to celebrate an ‘Africa Day’ in the next school year, where we will learn about the geography, landscape, wildlife, customs and traditions of Uganda in particular. In return, we hoped that they might celebrate a ‘UK Day’ where they can learn the same about us, and the things that we had brought, we hoped would help them to do that.

We strung up the Union Jack bunting around the room, we showed them how to play the games, we talked about fidget spinners and let some of the children have a go, and we all looked at the pictures that had been prepared showing different aspects of life in Britain. The P7 children were very interested and asked lots of questions. They were particularly interested to see that some of our British sports men and women are black, and they asked their names. They asked about Mo Farah, because they wanted to know how he compared to the Ugandan runner Kiprotich.

We finished with an explanation of how the Flag of the United Kingdom is made up of the cross of St George, together with the crosses of St Andrew and St Patrick, and I was able to draw each separate flag on their blackboard with chalk.

Return to Bukorwe

Warm welcome at Bukorwe

An early start from Mweya allowed the whole team, loaded into Ronnie’s trusty van, a good start down the Ishasha road – and my how it has deteriorated since last time! More pot-hole than road, it is in dire need of resurfacing. Luckily, the views are as stunning as ever, winding a way south through the Maramagambo Forest, rising up over the hill to the splendid views of Lake Edward, then swinging back to the spectacular savannah landscape of Ishasha, dotted with fig trees that the lions climb as they survey the herds of Uganda kob grazing below. Awesome! I always have ‘The Lion King’ music playing in my head as we make this journey.

With one quick comfort stop at the Ishasha Ranger Station, we continued along the familiar track, turning a steep right at the sign for Bukorwe Primary School. ‘Get ready for the craziness!’ said Mr Peach to the team as the van emerged out of the bushes and approached the school. He knows, having visited the school many times, that we are always welcomed with such enthusiasm and affection that it can sometimes overwhelm you slightly. And he was not wrong! His remark was followed by the sound of children shouting and cheering inside the school as they noticed our arrival. This sound gradually increased as the children began running out of the school buildings to meet us, reaching a crescendo as they surrounded the van. It was mainly the younger children that rushed forward to greet us, with the older children remaining slightly more reserved and standing back around the school building and classroom doorways. It was almost difficult to get out of the van for the crowd! Taking care not to accidentally tread on any of the small children, and with four or five of them hanging off each arm, the whole team were laughing and smiling in response to this joyful welcome. It is always like this at Bukorwe- it is a very happy school.

Some of the teachers came out to meet us and we soon recognised Vicent, Felix, Christine, Innocent and Doreen. I had not met new headteacher Posiano before and so we were taken into his office for the official welcome and visitor book signing. This always happens when you visit a school in Uganda.

We all signed the book, then some of the group took a walk down to the Ranger Station where Meg was to interview the rangers. Mrs Peach, Amy and I stayed to watch Vicent teach a maths lesson to P7 class about inverse proportion. (See pictures.) The students listened quietly while Vicent explained and demonstrated, then he set them some tasks and they quietly solved the problems, working them out in their notebooks. We were impressed by their hard work!

    

We were invited to share some delicious watermelon and African tea, which is the same as English tea but made with warm milk. Then Mrs Peach and I met with teachers Vicent, Christine and Doreen to talk about what we wanted to do and to share with them and explain the things we had brought.

After we had agreed the timetable for our visit to the school the following day, we said goodbye and climbed once again into Ronnie’s van. We had planned to stay the night in an hotel (The Suba Motel) in the local town Kihiihi (pronounced Chee hee hee – which always makes me giggle), but before that- a treat for everyone! A game drive around the Ishasha track! Back to Lion King country! (More about that next time….)

Clanfield and Bukorwe: the friendship continues.

Ideas for items to send to Bukorwe to help them understand about life in the Uk.

Most of you will already know that as a teacher from Clanfield Junior School, my main job on this visit to Uganda is to continue the friendship between our school and our twinned school at Bukorwe. Even though I will be leaving Clanfield this summer and handing over to Miss Podger to lead up the Twinning Project activities, we all still very much  value our friendship with our Ugandan counterparts and would like it to become stronger.

Communication between our schools has not been easy, mainly because of problems at Bukorwe  to do with not getting enough power (electricity) for the smart phone and tablet that we gave them in 2014, and even though we raised money in 2015/16 and helped to put a solar panel on the roof of the school, this still doesn’t seem to have solved the problem. Also Clanfield School has changed its curriculum and the topics studied in Years 3 and 5 are no longer in the plan. Instead sometime in the coming school year Miss Staggs plans for the school to celebrate an ‘Africa Week’ where Uganda as a country in Africa can be studied by all children across the year groups.  So, in order to help with this idea, I am to bring back news and photos of the school. In addition to this, the Clanfield School Council and I thought it would be a good idea if we sent to Bukorwe some ideas and resources for them to celebrate a ‘UK Week’. With that idea in mind, the children in year 5 at Clanfield came up with some suggestions for items (that can be transported in a suitcase) that will help Ugandan children to understand what life is like here at school in the UK for us. Here are their ideas:

Things that we play with, such as fidget spinners, football cards and board games, frisbee, bouncy balls, skipping ropes and marbles.

Things to help them learn about our country and language, such as an English dictionary and thesaurus, a map of the U.K., some Union Jack bunting and flags with something to explain how our flag came to be, and a pack of photographs showing what life is like in the UK.

Some typical English food, and bearing in mind this had to be transported over 4,000 miles in a suitcase, I chose to take tea bags and biscuits and not fish and chips or scones with jam and cream! (I did, however, pack some pictures of these.)

They also suggested that I take some of our school uniform.

Lily H from Year 5 (now 6) and her mum kindly donated a big bag of pens and highlighters, and Mrs Cornwell (TA fro year 4/ now 5) enjoyed a shopping trip to Asda where she filled a bag with lots of pens, pencils, chalks, rubbers and other fantastic items that she thought the Bukorwe children might like. Thank you so much!

Year 3 children wrote to their friends at Bukorwe to tell them about the problems we face in our environment, such as the problems of litter and renewable energy. The winners of the litter poster competition kindly donated their entries for the Bukorwe children to see.

Some of these things were purchased with the money raised at the Charity Stalls event, run by the School Council, and all of them were packed into the suitcase which eventually made it to Bukorwe on Monday 24th July, when you all were enjoying your last day at Clanfield of the 2016-17 year.

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Arrival in Uganda

The team enjoying the view from the Hippo House veranda.

After getting settled in Ronnie’s comfortable van (and almost immediately falling asleep) we set off on the long journey to Queen Elizabeth National Park- fondly known as just ‘Queen’. The crazy roadside life between Entebbe and Kampala flashed passed us in a blur of lights, smells and noise. Mile after mile of food stalls, cooking, meeting places, street vendors, hairdressers, and what must be thousands and thousands of people: people talking; people shopping; people dancing, arguing, eating; people up at 5am looking like they never went to bed! This introduction to Uganda always reminds you that it is a very lively place.

Eventually the lights of the city faded as we joined the road west that would take us via Mubende and Fort Portal. A good deal of this road is still under reconstruction, and as skilled a driver as Ronnie undoubtedly is, he did sometimes misjudge the depth of the potholes leading Mrs Peach and me to become acquainted with alternately the roof, or the floor of the van. Who needed sleep anyway?! Far better to watch the beautiful African sunrise, revealing the vast landscape of rolling hills covered in the familiar red earth and rich green vegetation. There is also a particular hot-house, earthy smell that rose up to meet us as the sun warmed up the day. Uganda is indeed a country of smells!

Hundreds of small villages flashed past the windows of the van, and after 5 hours we reached the busy town of Fort Portal and stopped to change our money and get some breakfast. We took Ronnie to The Garden Restaurant- a place we had been to on the last visit. You might be surprised to learn that it is possible to get a full English breakfast here- which we did have! Onwards for another two hours and a stop in Kasese to buy a local SIM card for my unlocked phone, with airtime for the internet so I could contact people at home. Then, the signs for the national park appeared! This always sparks a certain excitement because you know that at any time after that you might see animals: WILD ANIMALS!

Driving in through the security gates of the park and commencing the drive down the long and winding red earth track that runs alongside the Kazinga Channel leading to the Mweya Peninsula, we could barely contain our excitement! We could see several waterbuck and Uganda Kob grazing nearby, and away in the distance a herd of buffalo near the water’s edge. (No elephants yet.)

Arriving at Hippo House (our new home for the duration) at 1pm local time on Saturday 22nd July -hot, dusty and travel weary – we had been travelling for nearly 30 hours! Neither of us looked quite as beautiful as we did in the picture taken at Heathrow, but we were both mightily relieved to have arrived with the rest of the team.

Departure!

Mrs Buckle and Mrs Peach at Heathrow. Happy to be on our way!

After a 6am drive to Heathrow with a very kind Mr and Mrs Negus, we boarded our flight which would take us via Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. The flight was slightly delayed which meant our already short stop-over in Istanbul became slightly panicked, and Mrs Peach and I had a sprint to our next departure gate. We tried, on the way, to appreciate the view of the city that passed us by through the giant Windows of the airport. It looked beautiful with minaret towers punctuating the skyline. It also looked hot!

The second flight to Entebbe (the international airport of Uganda, just outside Kampala – the capital city) took us via Kigali in Rwanda where we picked up more passengers, but did not disembark the plane. Finally, at 4:30am on Saturday morning we arrived! We were met, as agreed, by our good friend and driver extraordinaire -Ronnie. We had travelled for over 23 hours, but we still had a 7 hour journey ahead of us before we could join the Rest of the Twinning Project team at Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda.

Drive on Ronnie!