The long walk or Don’t give up!

We walked and we walked and we walked in the dense vegetation in the tropical forest, uphill, downhill, very rarely on paths, stumbling on roots, getting stuck on thorny bushes and avoiding safari ants. We were a group of photo enthusiasts trying to find chimpanzees in the Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda.

We heard them, suddenly close to us, chatting, screaming and banging on tree trunks. Chimpanzees are very noisy animals! With the help of our skilled guide we tried to get close, moving silently and calmly. No luck – they just flew between the tree tops, away from us.

We walked on. And on. And on.

There they were again, just close by! Maybe this time we can get close to them and actually observe them, not only hear them!

But no. Same story again. And again. And again. The guide never failed to lead us in their direction, but the chimps always won the race.

We walked on in the beautiful forest.

Eventually, we spotted a male high up in a tree. Great excitement and all cameras out!

iPhone photo by Annelie Utter

But … was he laughing at us standing there clicking away and getting neck problems while trying our very best to get a good shot?

Silly humans, I’m sure he thought, while resigning to being photographed.

After seven hours of walking we gave up on the group we had tried to follow and set out to look for another group of these clever animals. Now we were lucky and rather soon found some that we could observe – and they could observe us.

The one here below was a rather philosophical guy, I thought, as I watched him sitting down to contemplate the interest in him and his pals.

Chimpanzees love fruit and this specimen feasted on some with red seeds that stuck to his lips.

When we were back at the jeep that should bring us back to the lovely Ndali Lodge where we were staying, 10 hours had passed since we set out in the morning. 10 hours of walking in the tropical forest. Was it worth it? Yes!!! Would I do it again? Without any hesitation!!! The experience of being close to chimpanzees in their natural habitat has no price and is worth all efforts.

It had been a wonderful day. I admit that I was a little tired though – just a tiny bit.



Not an ordinary stop on the way

Driving in New Mexico from Santa Fe to Taos (or going in the other direction, of course) you can choose to pass through Chimayó. Do! And take the time to make the very little detour to visit El Santuario de Chimayó. This little gem, a  National Historic Landmark, is an important pilgrimage site and I read that it gets some 300,000 visitors every year.

The morning I was there it was virtually empty (the figure on the left in the photo is a statue, not a visitor).

It was so peaceful.

There were many indications that this peaceful morning was an exception: the area was lined with little shops and stands that sold rosaries, candles, crucifixes, religious art work of various kinds etc.

But somehow I’m sure that the charm of the little church and its surroundings is still there even when the place is full of tourists and pilgrims.

My stop was meant to be a short one, an extended coffee stop with some culture on the side, but it turned into an uplifting cultural stop with some coffee on the side. The coffee, by the way, was enhanced (?) with chili powder. Not quite to my taste but maybe to yours?

Please stay with the group!

Before visiting the US Southwest, I knew very little about pueblos, Puebloans or ancient pueblo cave dwellings. In brief:  Puebloans are Native Americans who share agricultural, material and religious practices. There are currently 19 Pueblos that are still inhabited.

The Puye Cliff complex, not far from Santa Fe, New Mexico, is situated on Santa Clara Pueblo land and comprises cliff dwellings and, on the mesa top, the ruins of a big village.

These dwellings were inhabited roughly from 900 to 1580, and the site makes for a very interesting glimpse into ancient pueblo culture.

The location is beautiful, with stunning views of the Rio Grande Valley and mountains in the distance.

The two levels of cliff dwellings and the mesa top can be accessed by paths, stairways and ladders. Since I’m afraid of heights, I didn’t feel particularly attracted by the prospect of having to climb tall ladders, so I was very pleased to hear that the guided visit that would suit us best time-wise started with a jeep ride to the mesa top.

The first thing our guide said was “Please stay with the group!”

It seemed quite difficult to get lost on the flat mesa top, so someone said something witty. “We have quite a few snakes up here”, the guide continued. Everybody stayed with the group.

We didn’t have to climb any ladders to get up, but we were supposed to use the ladders to get back down.

I had taken it for granted that transport would be provided also downhill, so I panicked a little. You can see an example ladder in the photo below. This is one of the least scary ones, and had it been only for this one, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

But I did get a ride down and I wasn’t alone in the jeep either.

Whether you are fond of climbing ladders or not, I warmly recommend a visit to the Puye cave dwellings to learn about ancient pueblo culture and to marvel at the vistas from the mesa top. But remember to stay with the group!