Trip Start Sep 22, 2003
62Trip End Dec 13, 2005
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Earlier this week I typed up a logue as well as several personal emails to family and friends and saved them to a disk only to find out today that the disk was currupt so unfortunately we'll have to try again. So here's a quick hello for all of you who should have gotten an email this past week.
Anyways... Rebecca Jason and 8 other volunteers just spent an amazing 2 days in the National wildlife park Penjari. It is pretty close to our post in northwest Benin (around 50 miles) and it was such a good time. The park logo is Penjari 100% natural which describes it really well. There are established dirt roads that the vehicles drive on but besides these few roads and a small hotel there is no development at all and it's wonderful. We started early from Natitingou all of us piled into 2 range rovers and our first wildlife sighting was a pack of baboons sitting underneath some shady trees. This was followed up by a family of warthogs and red monkeys. We drove for a long time along the side of the Atacora mountain chain (not really tall mountains but still really pretty with lots of nice cliffs). Then we got to this really large watering hole. The park has set up a raised covered lookout platform just on the bank of this large lake where all sorts of animals come to drink. The lake was filled with crocodiles (very yellowish brown with dark brown stripes) that blended in really well with the muddy brown marshy water. We saw one come up to the surface with a 3 foot fish flaping on both sides of its mouth. All of the commotion cought the attention of two other crocs and they converged on the one with the fish and all dissapeared underwater to square off. Then we saw a Roan antelope which was just huge. The french call it a horse antelope and its around the size of a large horse or elk. The face had a black mask and long pointed antelers. We also saw smaller antelope all thoughout the park as well as small deer. The pond had a large population of baboons and red monkeys as well as many many birds. We were smart and borrowed a bird book and spent a lot of time identifying all the beautifully colored species. We saw huge crowned cranes, egrets, gray herons, several west african fish eagles (similar to a bald eagle but larger), red throated bee eater, a beautiful bright blue rollier, several enormous Marabou storks, hammerkocs, and several species of parrots that we couldn't identify but there were a few gray and others that were green, and a number of hawks and vultures. It really was a birdwatchers paradise. That evening we went out to a different watering hole and saw a ton of hippos just eating and lounging around in the water. This lake was surrounded by trees and was really beautiful lush and green. A striking contrast to the previous lake. This part of the trip was really cool because the driver put a matress on top inside of the roof rack and a bunch of us got to ride on top of the car. During this time we were driving a long when we saw a large dark sillouette. Next thing we knew a large elephant dashed into the trees. The people on top actually saw it raise it's trunk at us before it bolted but it was a really neat experience. After this we went back to the hotel and had an astronomy sharing session with everyone. It was cool to see and share everyone's honed astronomy skills due to their PC experience. Rebecca even got to show off the constellations that she's invented. We set off at sunrise the next morning on top of the car and soon we were staring at two elephants right by the side of the road. These were too busy eating tree branches to be bothered by us so we got to watch them for a long time. This was so cool because they were so large and so beautiful. They seem really at peace in their natural environment just strolling around munching on trees and it was such a different experience than seeing them in a zoo. We also saw lion foot prints in the sand but no lions unfortunately. Another group at the hotel said they lucked out and saw a mother lioness and her 4 cubs. We think the foot prints we saw were theirs because there were a large set and then a bunch of small ones. So that's almost as good as seeing them. Another thing that was neat was seeing all the elephant tracks throughout the park. During the rainy season the elephants stomp through the mud and when the mud dries it leaves their dinner plate size prints. After this we stopped by and ate lunch at teh first watering hole. The thing that was so amazing about this palce was that unlike a zoo where every species is seperated by walls, there were all sorts of animals all interacting with eachother. You really got a feel of daily life in the park where there's almost no human influence.
After leaving the park, we stopped and saw some waterfalls that were closeby. We didn't know really what to expect, but we got out, and walked up this rocky area, and look up and there's this bezautiful rushing waterfall free falling from a cliff covered aith green mosses and tree roots, falling into this huge blue green pool. It didn't feel like we were in Benin, more like Hawaii. So we swam in this cool refreshing pool for a few hours. It was great after riding through hot dusty roads. Then we saw some people come in and begin collecting water from the falls in jugs, and Jason talks with the man and he says he came up from Cotonou just to get this water because it's sacred medicinal water that he's going to sell for a good price. We askeed what kinds of illnesses this water helps with and he said that with prayer and this water, lots can be cured. And he informed us that this was the best place in all of West Africa to get water for this purpose. So we didn't question him anymore, he was on his way, probably making a fortune off this water (which is unfortunate since this money could be spent on a trip to the doctor, but thats culture for you).
So it was an amazing experience for all of us. We had a great time seeing other volunteers as well.
Well, we'll leave you with this for now. There's always so much more to tell, but thats by far the biggest and best thing for now. We hope everyones well and enjoying some spring weather. Oh, and there was a little return of the harmattan for a few days last week, and Rebecca was COLD and Jason was trying to act like he wasn't cold, so we got out the thermometer and it was 72!!!! What will we do when we come home???? Its amazing how your body adjusts....
Love, Rebecca and Jason