Celebrating Earth Day in Calgary

It is no secret that the natural world inspires us here at Zen Travellers and what better way to show it than by celebrating Earth Day and supporting causes that aim to protect it.  That is why on this Earth Day 2017 in Calgary, we are challenging ourselves to climb the staggering 1,188 stairs in the Bow Tower to raise funds for the Alberta Wilderness Association’s conservation efforts.

Moose in Kananaskis Country
Protecting wildlife like this Moose in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Continue reading “Celebrating Earth Day in Calgary”

The Zen Travellers Manifesto

The awesome folks over at BootsnAll Travel are hosting the 2015 Indie Travel Challenge to encourage travellers to think about what inspires them to roam and to share their learnings with others with the #DoYouIndie hashtag. By answering thought-provoking questions posed by BootsnAll, travellers are reflecting on and sharing why they travel, how they got started, and what there is to do in their hometowns. Today’s challenge is to come up with your top ten values for life and travel in order to create your own manifesto. Continue reading “The Zen Travellers Manifesto”

Baboon Theft and Hippo Threats at Murchison Falls National Park

After a peaceful first day driving and animal watching in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, Philip and I were excited to explore the park both by boat and by foot.

We started the day with an early morning game drive and then headed toward the boat launch where we had crossed the river the day before. As we went to eat our packed lunch under a tree, our driver Bosco warned us to “watch out for the baboons!” How could baboons be so bad? We thought naively. 
Cute? Don’t be fooled. 
We had not been sitting on the bench under the tree more than a few minutes when a baboon descended on us fast. I spotted him out of the corner of my eye so I tucked the food back inside the bag and folded it over thinking that would stop him, while Philip held the rest of it up high. The baboon was smarter than my ruse and just grabbed the whole bag, taking the samosa that I really wanted to try. The pancake that was in the bag too fell on the ground so I snatched it back while Phil swung his leg at him in a last ditch attempt to not lose our lunch. His kick was in vain because the emboldened ape just reached back and grabbed the pancake too. He then perched himself in front of a tree opposite us, flung the plastic wrapper off in one swift movement and smugly enjoyed our lunch as we watched helplessly. 
We used to think baboons were kind of cool, now we thought they were jerks. The jerk baboon came around one more time until the locals finally showed us how to dispatch him by throwing rocks at his feet. We enjoyed what was left of our lunch in relative peace until I went to throw our garbage but the can was being guarded by our old world monkey nemesis. Bosco saw what was happening and took the garbage from me. “Let me throw it out,” he said, “they’re not afraid of white people.” Nevertheless, he armed himself with a stick for good measure and the baboon scrammed at the first sight of him.

Yeah you eat those leaves and leave my samosa alone. 
With the lunch hour unpleasantness behind us, we crossed the river to wait at a boat launch on the other side. Eventually, two boats arrived at the same time. One two-storey booze cruise type thing and one understated, dented aluminium beauty pulled up too. Ours was the latter. I climbed somewhat reluctantly into the small boat not entirely sure it could handle the trip to Murchison Falls, some of the most powerful falls in the world. Our skipper James reassured us that the boat called “Hippo” was safe and not to worry about the hippos in the water since “hippo + hippo = hippo”. Well that settles it, or does it?

From the boat we were able to get so close to the animals on the shore and were plenty impressed by drinking elephants, creeped out by basking crocs, and threatened by hippos.

Elephant comes down to the river to drink
Perspective shot as the boat pulled away. 
Creepy croc just hangs out on the bank with his mouth open. 
Hippo to humans: “Soon.”
The Nile boat cruise was an incredible way to do some wildlife watching and our excitement wasn’t over yet. Our captain steered us to the closest point where we could safely view the impressive Murchison Falls.

The water gets a little too turbulent after this to let our hippo boat go any farther. 

As our fun Nile River boating adventure came to an end, our Skipper dropped us off at the beginning of a short hike to the top of Murchison Falls. The hike is straightforward and not too strenuous so most people could enjoy it. It winds through lush forest and climbs up a cliff to various viewpoints along the river. After our game drive the day before, getting out to hike and move was most welcome and the views were very rewarding. 

A closer look at the Murchison Falls. 

The famous Murchison Falls is where the mighty Nile squeezes through a 7 meter gorge and then falls 43 meters below. The result is one of the most powerful waterfalls I have ever seen. Other falls may seem more majestic, but Murchison Falls is a worthy competitor in demonstrating moving water’s awesome power.

Thea, between two falls. 
Philip admires the falls from close to the top. 
From the top the mist from the falls floats up and provides welcome reprieve from Uganda’s daytime heat. Despite our exhaustion, the hike was the perfect way to cap off our second day in Murchison Falls National Park. While MFNP might not be the first destination that comes to mind when one thinks of game watching and hiking in East Africa, it proved to be a very worthwhile destination on all fronts. The park is quiet, teeming with animals and dedicated to conservation. A must see for any adventure-loving traveller. Just be sure to watch out for the baboons!

Karma and Rhinos

As travellers venture out to enjoy the many sights and scenes the wide world has to offer, it is important that they to try to give back while on the road. Many tourist destinations are such because they are home to something special or rare. This is the case for the rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda.

Photo credit: www.greenlivingproject.com

After our blissful, and at times harrowing, experiences in Zanzibar, Philip and I hopped on a Rwandair* plane to Uganda. After one uneventful night in Entebbe, we headed toward our first safari destination in Murchison Falls National Park with our driver Bosco early the next morning.

*Travel tip: If you ask the Rwandair stewardess nicely, she may give you two refreshing Rwandan beers to enjoy during your flight!

We quickly made our way out of Entebbe, but became stuck in Kampala’s infamous “jam“. Thankfully, we spent less than an hour moving through traffic at a snail’s pace and made it to our first stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

Jam first, then rhinos. Photo credit: www.live-offtrack.com

Our tour organizer Jason  had given us the option to stop at Ziwa while we were organizing our itinerary and after doing some research, Philip and I thought it was well worth the $40 USD to go.

We pulled off the main highway and drove down a heavily wooded area for only 20 minutes or so before arriving at the Sanctuary headquarters. There, we lined up behind an angry tourist berating the poor desk clerk about the tax he had to pay on his admission. Seeing as he is not a citizen of Uganda, he felt very strongly that he should be reimbursed and was making a giant scene to get that point across.

Philip and I on the other hand, thought that since we had enough money to fly to Uganda in the first place, we could probably afford to let the sanctuary keep our taxes, especially if it went toward a good cause such as repairing Uganda’s infrastructure. So we quickly paid our fees and filled up our water bottles thinking we were about to embark on a gruelling trek through dense forest to get close, but not too close, to a wild white rhino with our guide Opio.

Much to our surprise, we only drove a couple minutes before Opio instructed us to get out and not to run if a rhino chased us, but to climb a tree instead. I asked him if he ever saw it happen and he said no, but was telling us just in case. Suddenly, I felt less sure about this rhino tracking business.

White rhinos were poached to extinction in Uganda in the 1980s, but the 7000ha sanctuary began reintroducing them in 2005 starting with the first six. Since then, the population has grown to about 15 and mothers are giving birth to babies within the reserve.

He then went on to explain that at at the sanctuary each rhino has an armed guard watching it 24/7 to curb poaching. Opio had simply radioed the guards to ask where the closest rhino was, and we came up on this amazing scene after a few short minutes of walking:

Oh hello rhinos

Not only were we so lucky to see both a mother and baby, we were lucky to see them up and about during the day since they are usually most active at night. The mother (thankfully) couldn’t be bothered by us, but the baby sure seemed curious and photogenic as well!

Look up, Mama!

We stayed and watched these two beauties graze while Opio answered every one of our questions expertly. He demonstrated tremendous knowledge and care not just about the rhinos, but about the whole sanctuary’s ecosystem. When I asked him how many rhinos had been poached since they brought in the armed guards, he proudly stated “none”.

After I ran out of questions, we watched the beautiful creatures in silence for a few moments before they started to get ready to lay down.

Just as they were settling in the tall grass, the angry man that had been yelling at the ticket clerk pulled up and barely got to take one picture before they had both laid down in the grass and all you could see was their ears sticking up. Instant karma I thought.

Keep calm and rhino on .

The work that Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary does is instrumental in preserving the survival of these magnificent giants and people like Opio are demonstrating true stewardship through their professional pursuits.

If you’re travelling in Uganda, consider visiting the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where your admission fees will be put toward conserving the habitat of many animals and protecting the lives of endangered white rhinos.