17. MUTWARE & THE BABOONS
The road down to Lake Ihema was really steep and curvy but finally we levelled out and lo' and behold, up ahead of us ran a BABOON across the road.
For some reason I had never imagined actually seeing a baboon because I had always thought of them as living deep in a jungle so it was a very pleasant surprise. We expressed our dismay at having probably scared it away with the dust and the noise of the car but our guide told us they were all over the place so don't worry about missing that one. And sure enough, just a little ways farther down the road we came upon probably the most perfect baboon in God's creation sitting regally in a little clearing under a tree and he didn't even move when we ooohed and aaahed and passed the camera around, almost dropping it in our haste to snap his photo.
I had never realized that baboons were such majestic animals, or that they were so large, nor that they had such beautiful coats, this one looking as though he had just got back from the pet groomers.
Coming around the next corner brought us out of the bush and into a huge clearing which was the beach and the lake, with long buildings that were a fishing camp. But where was Mutware? A baboon who was now accompanying us seemed to know and no sooner had we parked the car and turned a corner around the cabins then what should suddenly appear before our eyes but MUTWARE!
He was standing all alone snuggled up to a trailer under a shaded storage area. He pretended he didn't see us, or didn't care to see us, but I saw his ears twitch, although nothing else about him moved. We walked up closer to him, saying "Hello Mutware" but he just ignored us, throwing out vibes that said "I'm sleeping, please go away".
I was happy to see that Mutware wasn't wallowing in the lake, needing to be bribed out with cassava flour and leaves, or wasn't away on one of his escape missions from the Park, trampling villagers' gardens for food.
I was wishing he'd move out from under the shelter so we could take a picture of him out in the open but it didn't look as though he had any intentions of that. It was getting very hot and that was his only source of shade, other than the option of heading for the lake, or the forest. I got as close to him as the guide would allow and Mutware tolerantly faced the camera.
Notice the words "Lac Ihema" on the trailer he's leaning against, which is so appropriate, as he's Lake Ihema's elephant, world renowned for his cute personality traits. And he is very cute, even though he's big and old by elephant standards. He's 38 now and the average age for elephants in the wild used to be 50 to 60, reaching their peak at 40, but nowadays they don't live quite that long. I noticed that his tusks are quite short, but very white.
I'd read somewhere that mild-tempered male elephants usually have the largest tusks because they tend to avoid behaviors such as combat and tree ramming which break tusks. I suspect that in one of his infamous wanderings Mutware broke his tusks. He was resting his trunk relaxedly on the ground, and the ridges encircling it looked accordian-like, which, in fact, elephant trunks are. They contain at least 40,000 muscles (possibly up to 100,000) and can hold up to 2.5 gallons of water. No wonder elephants cool off by giving themselves their own shower, and that must be one of the reasons Mutware enjoys wallowing in Lake Ihema.
Before leaving the area where Mutware was standing I took a picture of him from the baboon's perspective. He'd been a very good intermediary for us, in our meetings with Mutware, "The Boss".
After waving good-bye to Mutware we headed down to the water's edge where we could get a better look at a traditional fishing boat that was anchored there.
You can see the old boat in the distance behind us. Our guide explained that those kinds of boats - dug-out canoes really - are very hard to balance and manouver and aren't the ones that visitors to the fishing camp use. Lake Ihema has very good fishing although there are rare risks of being challenged by crocodiles who are competing for some of the same fish, including, if they're lucky, the fishers themselves. Lake Ihema forms part of the eastern boundary of Rwanda and the other side of the lake borders Tanzania. I saw a broken paddle lying under water close to shore and reached in to retrieve it. I brought it home with me as a tangible reminder of Lake Ihema and Mutware.
I handed the soggy, slimy paddle to Bob to put into his backpack for safekeeping and we all started walking toward the car when lo' and behold, what do we see but MUTWARE walking briskly toward us. He was obviously heading toward the lake for a swim:
I took a picture as he passed behind Bob, who was pretending to be a traditional fisherman, paddling out to sea. I excitedly ran toward Mutware, wanting to touch his leathery hide and whisper in his big, floppy ears how thrilled I was to see him, an elephant in the wild.
But our Park Ranger caught up to me and used a restraining arm to dissuade me from getting any closer. Although Mutware wasn't exhibiting any aggressive signs - flapping his ears or stomping his foot - he was still a monstrous creature, as evidenced by his size compared to the huts, and could pick me up like a toothpick and smash me to the ground, if he so chose. I knew Mutware wouldn't ever do that, but I gave him the respect he was due. I waved goodbye to him from that distance, saying "Thank you Mutware for letting us see you" and we reluctantly headed for the car.
In the last look we got of Mutware, he had just about reached the lake. The next tourists who arrived would find him there, cooling off in his favourite spot.
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