Many years ago when we lived in Uganda, we used to go on safaris or other adventures in the nature at least once month. Several of these Friday afternoon drives from Kampala brought us to Queen Elizabeth National Park (please also see my earlier post Elephants and Decisions). This park is located in the Albertine Rift and is the home of a rich variety of wildlife: mammals, reptiles and birds. Among its top attractions is the tree climbing lion, which we spotted once but did not manage to capture on film. It is also marked by several large craters and crater lakes formed after volcanic explosions. It is a wonderful place to visit if you want to be a guest in the wild kingdom. This particular Friday afternoon we were traveling with another family in two 4-wheel drive SUVs. On our way to the national park, we stopped at the equator for some pictures and arrived at the main gate just in time before it closed at dusk. Our first encounter with the wild on this trip came while driving from the park’s main gate to Mweya Lodge, where we always stayed. About half a mile before the lodge, we saw a huge lion walking on the gravel road right in front of my truck! She was walking calmly, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. She just walked and walked – and we remained at a respectable distance, until she decided to take a “side street” into the high grass. Early morning the next day we decided to go for a drive we had not done before. We looked at the map and saw that a small trail, marked only by a dotted line, led to a dry crater where we might find elephants. We set off driving and soon found the hardly visible trail leading to the crater. But we had no idea about the adventure waiting for us. The trail went up and up on the side of the crater wall…and then suddenly there was no trail! Just smaller stones mixed with big boulders…how would we drive there and how would we come back down? We couldn’t turn as we were in between big rocks and going forward was clearly a hazard. We quickly realized that we could get stuck right there. With no one knowing where we were and (of course) we had no cell phones at that time. So we navigated on up the crater’s side by the help of our spouses who stepped out of the trucks and showed us, truly inch by inch, how and where to drive. We stopped briefly at the top take a few pictures, with no elephants visible in the carter. Needless to say that we were no longer chasing Queen Elizabeth’s elephants. That would be for the next day. The whole effort was entirely focused on getting us out of there and safely back to the lodge. After a “drive” of about four hours, at less than walking speed, and moving carefully between the boulders, we came down and found a small trail to follow. Lots of gratitude right there! Our reward came when we approached the lodge. We spotted a young elephant, probably a teen male who had already left his mother’s herd. He was calmly eating from bushes just a stone throw from the lodge entrance and didn’t mind us observing him for quite a while. The next morning when we woke up, we noticed that we’ve had an overnight visitor. All the rubber lining around the windows of our friends’ Nissan Patrol was missing. Eaten up. The lodge staff told us it must have been the young elephant who had been staying close to the lodge for some time. They also told us that the trail we had followed to the carter was not meant for driving…that’s why it was marked on the map by a dotted line. Always something new to learn. On Sunday, we went on a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel and saw many more interesting sights from rare birds to hippos, water buffaloes, birds and crocodiles. The channel is an amazing sanctuary for so many spices of wildlife. I hope you can visit this park some day. If that’s not possible, there are wonderful pictures from the park, including of the tree climbing lion, at the web-site of a National Geographics photographer, Joel Sartore (www.joelsartore.com). In any case, it has been wonderful to relive the memorable adventure we once had. If there is any tiny lesson I learned from this trip, it would be that we need to ensure things are what they seem to be. Because that’s not always the case.
Paradise is a very old word and we can trace it far back in time in many different languages, such as Old Iranian, Greek and Latin. It is originally a religious term generally believed to denote a higher place of peace, contentment and happiness, with more specific attributes attached to it in practically all religions, yours and mine. I will not attempt to describe where the spiritual paradise might be, but rather ponder the fact that many of us at times may feel we have been in paradise right here on earth.
At least once a week I hear people exclaim “this is paradise!” about the area where we currently live. They are mostly visitors who love the tropical beauty and the general warmth of our area. And sometimes we as residents also show our appreciation that way – in moments when we don’t take the clear blue waters, the swaying palms, many flowers and birds for granted. But of course it really isn’t a paradise, it’s not unspoilt and it’s not free of life’s miseries. But it’s close.
I have seen many beautiful places that I’ve thought could be described as “a paradise on earth”, at least that’s what I’ve felt right there and then. One of the first times I remember thinking that I truly was in paradise was many years ago on a very tiny island, Ile aux Cerfs, on the east coast of Mauritius. It was pure nature at its most beautiful. Absolutely sparkling clear turquoise water, white sands sprinkled with palms bending over the ocean greeting us when we approached it on a catamaran. That was a day in paradise!
Another island that gave me the same peaceful awe was the small island of La Digue in the Seychelles. It is only reachable by first island hopping in a small plane and then by boat. The island has many wonders such as exotic birds, beautiful gardens, dense forests and famous coconuts. Not to speak about the beauty of its shores of glistening sand and the magnificent old stone formations. Again I felt like being in what the paradise could look like.
I have had similar experiences in many other very different places, like high in the multi-colored mountains in northern Uganda close to the Rwandan border where the mountain gorillas live, or on the savannah watching the huge red ball fall into a river at sunset.
And I have been wondering what the common element is between these very different places that all made me feel I was in the paradise. I believe that it is the feeling of oneness with nature. Kind of being completely part of it. If that’s the case, then the paradise can be found anywhere we feel the oneness, on our own beach or in the neighboring forest. Anywhere we feel peace, contentment and happiness – and that’s quite marvellous.
This is not one of my usual light-hearted tiny stories, but I felt I should share the story of these flowers. And it seemed like a good time to do it now.
A few months ago my son had a terrible accident that sent him to the ICU for days. As real flowers were not allowed there, I decided to send him virtual flowers directly to his phone. I would go out to look for a different flower every morning, snap a photo and send it to him right there and then with my loving thoughts and prayers for healing.
The other day when I had to change phones, I saw these photos again and decided to keep them. Although the photographic quality is not much to be proud of, these pictures were taken at a time when the beauty of nature was a great source of comfort to me. These particular flowers became to symbolize life, love, renewal and healing. And being nature’s perfect expressions of creation, they are also worthy conduits of my gratitude as my son is doing much better now. Hope you’ll enjoy them too.
Truth comes out from the children’s mouth. Right. I trust we all have our experiences that confirm this old saying. Our parents may have told us what we said when we were kids, we tell our children what they said, and so it goes. Sometimes this truth may be easy to hear and sometimes it can be a bit embarrassing, mostly for the parents.
I have been told I was a straight shooter when I was a kid. That was particularly true when I was visiting my grandma’s house. I might have figured out there was more lattitude when not at home, more freedom of speech. My grandma was a wonderful person, loved by everyone and her door was always open to visitors. The coffee pot was continually on the stove and cookies baking in the oven. Or so I remember. It seems that I was a keen observer particularly when it came to her visitors. On one occasion, an older “auntie” had been talking about other people’s looks, apparently in a critical way. You know, so and so is fat or not looking good. I listened to her ranting for a while, then went to the rocking chair where she sat, looked her in the eye, pointed to her face and said and you have a very ugly nose. I guess I wanted her to look at herself first before criticizing others. Poor grandma, lots to smooth out.
On another occasion, I’ve been told, my grandma had a tea party. I’d been sitting silently at the table when her friends had tea and pastries. Grandma was serving the second round of tea and offered the pastry tray again when one of her visitors said no thanks, they are so good, but I already had one. To which I immediately replied you are lying, you already took three. Guardian of honesty there, and apparently had learned to count to three, at the minimum. I actually remember getting a lecture from my mom about not talking that straight to strangers, to keep a few observations to myself. I’m not the right person to tell whether or not that taught me a lesson, I might not be completely objective.
However, when I hear this old saying, I tend to think of our first safari in Zambia (See Lions out of Focus). We were on a nice morning drive in Mwufe National Park. I sat in the back of the large “safari jeep” on the highest, 3rd row with my friend and our son, who was about three at the time. A nice British couple sat in front of us. My husband was video filming as usual and sat in the front, next to the driver. We saw large herds of antelopes and water buffaloes, and a small family of giraffes. Very beautiful.
Then we drove quite a while without finding any animals. Our son had his new miniature car with him and started playing with it on the seat while we were trying to spot something in the wild. And soon we did. A little bit to the right of our vehicle, close to some shrubbery, we saw a lioness with three cubs! How wonderful and rare was that? We were careful not to disturb them, so we didn’t go too close. They were clearly visible to us, the mom lying on the ground and the cubs climbing on her, falling down and climbing up again. Fascinated and completely silent we watched them play…until we heard an ear-piercing scream: mommy, look a lion! My son had lifted his head from his toy as he realized we had stopped…and had spotted the lion. He didn’t want me to miss it! And poof, there were no more lions. The lioness hid her cubs and herself in a second. Luckily our fellow passengers were of the forgiving kind. Later on during that same drive we were happy to spot another lion, and we all got our memories on film. Like pouring balm into the wound…there she was.
Now I’m just waiting to hear what memorable truths my granddaughter might tell me in a year or so. I can only hope she likes my nose.