I’m sitting here in London, back in the real world, looking for a new job and wondering how on earth those few months of travels flew by so quickly! It hardly feels like I was ever gone, but then, often, my mind drifts off and marvels at some of the adventures we were lucky enough to experience. Seeing all my friends back in Joburg, and now in London, the question that inevitably pops up the most is: ‘Where was your favorite place?’ I generally say it’s a tough one, its too hard to say as we saw so many mind-blowing places, and tell them about three or four of the places that are most vivid in my memory. Some people (and ladies in particular!) get a bit pushier and tell me that I am only allowed one choice. And without doubt, the week we spent in Uganda, for me, was the top highlight of the whole trip!
Perhaps it is because we had some extra special visitors! Woku and my parents, along with my cousin Jackie and her friend Belinda flew in from Joburg for the week. And Skattie also joined us from London! When I saw her face come through the airport doors out into the sea of local Ugandans bustling about the airport arrivals area, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! All in all, it was a great crew for a busy week in Uganda!
Perhaps it was the fact that we spent an hour and a half in an amazing sighting with the Mountain Gorillas, fulfilling a lifelong dream and an enormous tick off the bucket list! After spending one night in Entebbe, a medium-sized city on the shores of Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, we hopped on a small Caravan airplane and headed for the small town of Kisoro in the south-west corner of the country. From there we had a slow and agonizing journey by 4X4 up into the mountains along narrow winding dirt roads to Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge. Our driver did give us a warning before we left the airstrip, and told us to make the most of the free ‘African Massage’ the road was about to dish out! The next day was the big one, the day we had been dreaming of, a day spent with the Mountain Gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest! After a group briefing, we were allocated to our amazing guide, David, and told we would be going in search of the Bweza troop. The troop consisted of 3 silverbacks, 1 blackback, 3 females, 2 babies and a juvenile. ‘Bweza’ means handsome, the troop named after the good-looking silverback leading the group.
After a bit of a walk along a river, we crossed down the gorge, through the shallow water and into the forest, where it was immediately clear where the Bwindi forest gets its name. Thick brush surrounds you from all angles, and along with the steep and slippery slopes, moving through the jungle was difficult, to say the least. A group of trackers had found the troops earlier that morning so we knew they were not too far away, about an hour of trekking through the rainforest before we got to them. Fuelled by adrenaline, we trudged on willingly until we found our trackers. The gorillas were just around the corner, we could even smell them, and we moved in. For the gorillas, it was just another hour of them going about their daily business. For us, an hour of bliss and wonder that raced by. For the older gorillas, their day mainly consists of eating! Munching branches and leaves before moving on to the next bush or tree that they fancy. For the younger ones, rumbling and tumbling through the soft undergrowth of the forest or climbing and jumping through the tree line. Our sighting then took off to the next level! One of the silverbacks spotted one of his favorite trees on the bank opposite the river we had crossed to enter the jungle. This was now outside of the National Park and in wide open tribal farmland. It is extremely uncommon to see this and we were truly blessed to be standing completely in the open with a massive silverback, one of only 800 or so gorillas left in this world.
Our next stop in Uganda was Queen Elizabeth National Park. This place is most renowned for the unusual habits of its lions. The lions here for some reason like to climb trees! The whole pride, including the huge males, will climb up into big trees dotted on the savanna and just have a nap! It is one of only two places in the world where lions display this behavior as part of their daily routine. The other is at Lake Manyara in Tanzania. There are a few theories as to why they do this. One is that it is to evade the numerous tsetse flies on ground level. Skattie might contest my use of the word numerous there! She had many a battle with these flies that have a surprisingly painful bite which even leaves some irritating, itching swelling afterward. The other theory is that the lions climb up trees to escape the heat of the ground and enjoy a cool breeze. Nonetheless, these are just theories and we are not actually 100% sure of the reason. But I think we had used up all our luck in our gorilla sighting. We cruised the open plains of the Ishasha region, scanning all the bigger trees capable of holding a massive lion in its branches, but couldn’t seem to find them. The plains were littered with Ugandan Kob, Buffalo (including ginger looking Forest Buffalo), Warthogs and Elephants, but it was those unusual lions, legs and tails dangling from the branches that we really wanted! We are just going to have to come back!
Woku and I have mentioned poaching a few times on our posts and I don’t really want to harp on about it. However, Queen Elizabeth National Park provided us with an actual sighting of poachers!!! As we were leaving the park, we spotted someone running through the bush to our right, then we saw another, and then a whole bunch, followed by a small pack of their hunting dogs! Chaos ensued, as the poachers, spears in hands, scattered in all manner of directions when they saw our approaching vehicle! Our guide phoned one of the rangers who arrived on his motorbike. We moved on when the ranger put on his bike helmet, got his AK-47 ready and headed off in the direction we had indicated to him, not that keen to witness a shootout!
The last stop of our whirlwind tour of Uganda was at Wildwaters Lodge near Jinja – the adventure capital of the country. This was after an absolute nightmare of a drive through the capital city of Kampala. I have never before seen a gridlock of these proportions! Motorbikes, taxis, bicycles, donkey carts, pedestrians, buses, trucks, dogs, and goats to name a few, the streets were absolute pandemonium! So when we finally got to Wildwaters, we were very relieved. And what a gem of a spot! Situated on a little island in the middle of the Nile River, with Grade 6 rapids all around you, the gushing, mesmerizing, never-ending flow of water, along with an ice cold gin and tonic, it was the perfect treat after the chaos of Kampala.
The white water rafting tour here is a rush! Very different to the Zambezi which we had tackled a few months before, the Nile has long stretches of flat water to paddle and relax before getting to some truly intimidating rapids! Woku and I were surprised at the magnitude of the drop offs and power of the water, which was very evident when Skattie, Woku and I were thrown overboard by a massive wall of water on our final rapid of the day!
Or perhaps it was the people. Like the Malawians, the Ugandan people were excellent! Everyone was extra friendly, helpful and just happy with life! For South Africans, I don’t think Uganda often comes up on the list of places to go on holiday and I think that needs to change! Treat yourself to an unforgettable visit to Uganda – you won’t regret it…