Visiting the Ik, Uganda's "lost tribe"

Our trip to Kidepo Valley was splendid in many ways, but what really set it apart from other trips around East Africa was our New Years' Eve visit to Uganda's "lost tribe," the Ik.  In a region dominated by the Karamajong tribe, a people group still living very traditionally, the Ik (pronounced eek) have set themselves apart from their neighbors both in geography and in language.  After being forcibly removed by the government from what is now Kidepo National Park, the Ik supposedly wanted to avoid the violent clashes among the Karamajong, so they took to the hills.

And to those hills we went.  Eric's mother, Cathy, and I hiked with a few others through the mountains and valleys, an incredibly stunning scene in a remote corner of Uganda, for 5 very long hours.  We set out in the morning and began to walk, first among the lands of the Karamajong.

The hike was not easy, and after several hours of our guides telling us we were "close," we finally reached a small village where our hosts, the Ik, were waiting for us.  They greeted us with a song and a dance and later took us around their small village, showing us their granaries, and letting us observe their lives. Communication was sparse; .even our Karamajong guides could not understand the Ik language, but it was fascinating to discover what kinds of communication were universal among us.  A thumbs up?  An "ok" sign?  If nothing else, a smile!

As we left the Ik, a people so remotely tucked away, I reflected on how that night the rest of the world would be ringing in the "new year," yet the Ik lived not according to our calendars and wouldn't see any difference between that day and the next.  Our visit to a culture so vastly different from my own brought up several thoughts about who we are as humanity, what we share, and how our differences came to be.  This unique tribe will sadly, but likely disappear in the next few decades, leaving the world a little less aware of our human diversity.

The wilderness of Kidepo

We lucked out with a trip over New Years a couple years ago to Uganda's most remote and highly-lauded game park, Kidepo National Park.  Situated in the corner of the country between Kenya and South Sudan, Kidepo Valley required either a couple days' drive from Kampala or a flight.  Part of our lucking-out included a stunning flight over the country.  When we landed, we were escorted to Apoka lodge where the remoteness of the landscape met luxury.  We had bathtubs overlooking the savannah and an infinity pool overlooking a watering hole.

Kidepo is a place where the most well-safari-ed come to safari, and with good reason.  Each day, we came across a pride of lions, once just after they had killed a water buffalo for breakfast.  The park also has all the other big game, along with one of the best variety of birds in Africa.  Our time at Apoka was my favorite Ugandan get-away so far, and that's saying a lot!

A flight to Kidepo valley

As December marches on toward the end of 2015, I'm reminded of how we ended our year in 2013 - the last time we stayed in Uganda for the holidays.  We had nothing out of the ordinary planned for the last week of the year, but we ended up winning the lottery, so to speak, of New Years trips.  To make a long story short, we finagled our way into a flight to Kidepo valley, location of the most remote game park in Uganda, with a 2-night stay at one of the best lodges in the country.  Others had dropped out of an all-expenses paid trip and through a friendly travel agent and a generous mother-in-law, we were offered their spots.

More to come on the game park, lodge, and the people of that region in the coming weeks, but for now I share with you the beauty of the flight across Uganda and into Kidepo valley.  We flew low in our small plane over the shores of Lake Victoria spotting island fishing villages, followed the Nile River up to Murchison Falls National Park and convinced the pilot to circle the famous falls, then landed in the remote valley spotted with the huts of the Karamajong tribe.  Flights like these are always a treat, reminding me of the great beauty and diversity of this country.

Gracia, El Raval, and La Rambla: Barcelona, Day 4

Day 4 in Barcelona: Gracia, El Raval, and La Rambla

Like on our second day in Barcelona, we again took to the streets and explored a few different areas of the city.  It was a Saturday, so we bumped into a few different street markets, lively with friends meeting at cafes and families strolling together.  We first took to Gracia, an area of the city that used to be a village unto itself until it was swallowed up by larger Barcelona.  Gracia was a relaxed neighborhood with lots of families and small shops and a neighborly feel.

Next, we walked a few of the streets of El Raval, an area close to the well-known La Rambla street.  This area was a bit more hip, a bit more multicultural, and had hundreds of photogenic little nooks.

As the evening set in, we joined the lively street of La Rambla.  We had dinner and sangrias and stayed around to watch the artists and street performers show off their crafts.

La Pedrera and Casa Batlló: Barcelona, Day 3

Day 3 in Barcelona: La Pedrerea and Casa Batlló

By day 3, we were tired; long travels and lots of walking in the previous days wore us out.  We spent lots of time walking the streets of the city on day 2, so we stuck with a couple of tourist sites on day 3 and called it good enough. 

Of course, La Sagrada Familia is Antoni Gaudí's most famous work, but there are plenty other marks he left on Barcelona that are worth seeing, so we set off to tour La Pedrera (AKA Casa Mila) and Casa Batlló.

Admittedly, when I saw photos of Gaudí's buildings before our visit to Barcelona, I didn't love them; his style seemed a little over-the-top for my taste.  But when touring his works and learning more about the inspiration behind his designs, I gained a true appreciation for his genius and his unique contribution to Barcelona and the world of architecture.  Nearly everything he did was inspired by nature.  He is quoted as saying, "Nature is a large book that always lies open and which you must try to read."