Uganda
Western Region

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  • Day113

    Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP

    August 27, 2017 in Uganda

    We were sure that nothing could be better than our gorilla experience in Rwanda – we were wrong! Seeing the gorillas for the second time in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda (BEST name for a park, ever) was even more incredible…we feel beyond lucky.
    The weather was clear and it was a short hike to where the gorilla family we were tracking had decided to hang out for the day. It took the forward trackers some time to find them as they kept changing direction and we had to wait for about an hour before they knew for sure where they were settling in for breakfast. Again, like Rwanda, we knew we were close when the forward trackers appeared out of the dense undergrowth and our guide told us to leave everything with a couple of the porters, except cameras.
    We approached the family, with a female and young baby appearing first. Next, the massive alpha silverback appeared and sat on the edge of a small clearing. This silverback was huge, but calm, which somehow made him more imposing than the silverbacks we encountered in Rwanda. The group was made up of 3 silverbacks (2 did not appear as they are older and tend hang out on the outskirts of the group), several females and juveniles, and a few little ones -including a 6-month old. Slowly, most of the group appeared in the small clearing and started to feed, climb and play fight. The silverback quietly sat in the background observing and occasionally trying to nap, but also making periodic, low pitched rumbles to make sure we knew he was there and to communicate with the family. From the photos and video you get a sense of how close we got to the gorillas. Officially, you are supposed to only get within 7 meters of them, but it is impossible to maintain that distance because of the tight, dense undergrowth, but also because the gorillas often approach you, sometimes quickly, and decide to sit and do their thing just a few feet from you. After a quick hour, we started to reluctantly retreat back up the mountain and leave the gorillas behind.
    No one leaves this experience unhappy. When you are with the gorillas you occasionally look around at your fellow trekkers to observe their reactions and everyone has smiles, sometimes tears. What we also noticed with this encounter was the reaction of the porters, guide, trackers and researcher that was present. They were as excited as the paying guests even though they probably see gorillas most days. They were all taking pictures, laughing at the young gorilla antics and talking excitedly with each other about the behavior. What an amazing job!!
    When we returned from trekking, we were told by our guide that a chameleon had been located in the nearby village (we’d mentioned wanting to see one), so off we went in our LR with one of the porters to see a chameleon. We climbed through the village into a back garden and were able to see 3 (a male, female and young one) in a tree. What an incredible day!
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  • Day108

    Lake Bunyoni

    August 22, 2017 in Uganda

    It was with some sadness that we left Rwanda and headed into Uganda. Visiting Rwanda has been a bit like visiting Singapore as a break from SE Asia’s chaos. It’s safe, clean, orderly, and seems to work. It has also been educational, emotional, and inspiring given how resilient, hopeful and hard working the people here are.
    The border crossing into Uganda was reasonably straightforward, but not as well organized as it was coming into Rwanda. Fortunately, we are now experienced enough that we can usually make sense of the disorganized group of unconnected sheds and find our way through with minimum stress. As soon as we crossed into Uganda, the road instantly turned to potholed dirt and was crammed with trucks. We also noticed trash/rubbish on the side of the road, which is non-existent in Rwanda.
    We only drove a few hours to Lake Bunyoni, a very picturesque lake, dotted with multiple islands. While here, we took a boat trip and learned about one of the most interesting islands - Punishment Island, where unwed, pregnant girls were sent as ‘punishment’. We gather that many died here, as it’s a tiny island with no shelter, no fresh water and no food. This practice apparently continued up until the 1950s.
    We have definitely hit rainy season. We were hoping we would miss it, but apparently it has come early this year. This means we are likely to experience torrential rain most days – not fun when camping. This also means we will be adjusting our plans in Uganda and Kenya (basically we’re planning to stay in an airbnb for a week or so). A friend of John’s texted him saying she had just spent a month in Japan on a food tour. As we were sitting in our tent in the middle of the afternoon, with deafening rain lashing the tent for hours on end, imagining and looking for leaks, we had to ask ourselves, “what the hell are we doing sitting in the tent in the middle of Africa during rainy season when we could be sitting in some Onsen in the Japanese mountains eating great food and sleeping on dry tatami??!!” Oh well, it’s all part of the adventure!
    You may have noticed over the last couple of posts, that we are tending to stay in guest houses more often and stopping to take a few days off from driving and camping. We’ve definitely had an amazing time and great experiences over the last 4 months, and are looking forward to the next 3-4 weeks, but we’re also looking forward to not driving ourselves, and not camping – especially now that the rains have arrived.
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  • Day114

    Ntungamo

    August 28, 2017 in Uganda

    Because we’d finished trekking by 2pm, we decided to head towards our next destination to break-up a long drive, planning to find a hotel along the way. Jackpot! A new hotel/conference center/spa had been built in a smallish town at the crossroads between Entebbe, Queen Elizabeth NP and Bwindi. We stopped to have a look, and three days later, here we are! It’s just so nice, quiet and reasonably priced that we haven’t been able to tear ourselves away just yet. We’re the only overnight guests, which is a shame. We’ll have to write some great reviews to get the word out about this wonderful place.Read more

  • Day117

    Kibale National Park

    August 31, 2017 in Uganda

    Stayed the night at a campsite/lodge just outside the park boundaries, which used to be a tea estate. The views out over the tea plantations, the lush gardens in full bloom, and the many resident birds made for a very pleasant stay and reminded us that camping can be absolutely fantastic.
    During the drive here, we crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere (John was super excited, Christy felt a bit indifferent). John hoped for some sign to mark our official crossing, but as we were not on a main road, we saw nothing. For those of you who care, we will cross the equator again on our way to Kenya, so John will be on high alert for an official sign, then.
    We visited Kibale NP to see chimpanzees. The day before our trek, we stopped at the info center to ask some questions. Arriving at the security gate, we asked the ranger if this was where the chimpanzee treks left from. With a wry smile, he pointed to the gate and said ‘read the sign’ (see the photo). We felt very excited to do an all day hike to track and hang out with wild chimps in the rainforest. It started out great after being assigned to a small group of 5 (park information indicates a maximum group size of 6) and getting an early start (6:30am) as we headed off into the dense forest. There are 2 options for trekking to see the chimps: 1) the traditional 1 hour chimp trekking or 2) an all day chimp habituation experience. Soon, we realized that the habituation group’s job was to track and locate the chimps so the traditional trekking groups coming later knew exactly where to hike to see the chimps. This became clear when our guide announced after ~3 hours of searching for chimps that another group had found a family and we would be joining them. When we arrived there were ~30 people already there. Fortunately the chimps didn’t seem to mind and the other traditional trekking groups left after ~ 1 hour.
    Once we found the group, we followed them for the rest of the day – until we were exhausted at about 3pm. It was fascinating to see the chimps exhibiting a wide range of behaviors from eating, nest building, play-fighting, and resting. The good was we were able to see the chimps up close and be with them for several hours. The not so good was there were too many people being relatively noisy and getting too close to the chimps. Feeling part of the exploitation, yet enjoying the experience left us conflicted. Of course it’s critical to chimp protection that Uganda reap financial benefit from tourism around them, but it seemed much less regulated and respectful than the gorilla trekking had. However, it was another incredible wildlife experience and our ranger did a great job making sure we were usually away from the occasional large group making it a more personal experience.
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  • Day3

    Kabala

    July 7, 2017 in Uganda

    We had a long journey today, tent down and away by 6am and not arriving until 7pm. It was an enjoyable ride as the scenery changed to be more rural and hillsides covered in crops. We crossed the Equator again, had a roadside lunch stop and played a few games of cards.

  • Day7

    Lake Bunyonyi Overland Camp

    June 15, 2017 in Uganda

    I thought Red Chilli Camp was the best but this one definitely takes the cake, I cannot believe how beautiful this place is and we get to spend four nights here! We have set up our tent right on the lake and have an amazing view as you can see from the photo.

    The facilities here are pretty good, three bars (one at each level which is handy when the stairs are as steep as they are, you can stop of for a beer at each level), good showers and toilets which is important if you haven't noticed I'm always commenting on them haha.

    The next few days are going to be really busy and pretty exciting, I am going to have early mornings and long days because I going to look for chipmunks tomorrow, gorillas on Saturday and then visiting Rwanda on Sunday!
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  • Day9

    Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

    June 17, 2017 in Uganda

    Today we went trekking for gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, it was an early start having to get up at 4:45am to have breakfast and get on the transfer bus. It was about a two hour drive before we got to the starting point where we met our guide for the day.

    They provided us with a briefing and explained that there were five families in the national park, they only take a maximum of eight people to each family, each day and those people are limited to one hour with the family. They then allocated us a guide and two armed guards with AK-49 assault rifles that carried 39 rounds in the magazine. The armed guards were there to protect us from potentially aggressive animals as there are other animals living there as well, they stated that they would fire warning shots first and that shooting an animal was the last resort. In the briefing they told us that we were tracking the M family, which is one of the largest families with approximately twenty gorillas.

    What happens is professional trackers start two hours earlier, return to where the family was last seen and begin tracking the family of gorillas from there as the generally will only move approximately 1km overnight. The trackers then communicate the location of the gorillas to the guide who lead us to them. We had received the same family as the other half of our group saw yesterday so I knew we would be trekking for at least two hours.

    After the briefing we all got back into the bus and drove for another forty minutes on a dirt road and then we all piled into the back of a ute with our guide and armed guards where they drove us for another five minutes to where we would enter the national park. The first forty-five minutes of the trek was all up hill on a relatively cleared path, we continued to trek for another hour were we walked up and down hills before we reached a really dense part where we had to pretty much make our own path down to where we could see the trackers. Once down with the trackers we were briefed again on how to behave and what to do if a gorilla approaches you (crouch down and turn away) and given an opportunity to drink some water before trekking further to see them.

    We all assumed that we would have to walk about ten minutes before seeing a gorilla but they were literally five to ten meters away from where we were sitting. The first one I saw was the silver back and he was barely five meters away from me. I sat down and just watched him, I couldn't take my eyes off of him he was incredible. I then looked up to see several babies playing just above us and then the mother twenty meters away the the tree top plus a couple other family members in nearby bushes, everywhere I looked I could see gorillas surrounding me. It was just breath taking that we were able to see such an amazing creature in its natural habitat, I just sat there and appreciated how beautiful they were and how lucky I was right in that moment.

    The trek was about two and a half hours each way, it wasn't as difficult as I was expecting from talking to the other group so that was good. Don't get me wrong it was still challenging but I think once you see the gorillas it makes it all worth while. I would rank this as one of the best experiences of my life and would recommend it to everyone.
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  • Day52

    Red beans and a pickup truck

    February 22, 2016 in Uganda

    Considering my excitement for the chimps themselves, I didn't elaborate on how this all came about. We knew that Kibale National Park was the place for chimp tracking. We also knew it was expensive. It's 150$ for the permit, entrance fee to the park, and they supply the guide. So kind of a package deal for chimp tracking. There's other parks in the country who offer "primate walks" for about 60-70$ on which you have roughly a 30% chance of seeing chimps. Jack and I discussed and decided I would be way too disappointed if I was to try another park and not see chimps, so we decided to bite the bullet and go big! A lot of tour companies offer something with the chimp tracking and crater lakes in a day, but those tours were 550$US for the two of us. One company did offer this crater lakes and chimp tour to us for 390$US, but that basically means you're paying 90$ for transportation there and around the lakes. We decided to do the crater lakes ourselves.

    We took a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) out to where we thought we needed to go buy the tracking permit. This was at 630am, because since I'm a nervous wreck about making sure this happens and I'm convinced something will go wrong, I wanted to be at the park office as soon as it opened at 730am to reserve for the next morning. That's right, we were planning on doing the hike the next day, but I was determined to make it there before yesterday's group started, in case it was full today or something and I had to go another time. Who knows.

    The boda ride is an hour long in red dirt roads with speed bumps and potholes. We were covered, along with our bags, in a full layer of red dust once we arrived at the park's head office, only to be told the permits are sold at the headquarters, not the office, 10km back up the same road. I panicked. What if someone had woken up just as early and was at the right place just in time to buy out all the permits? Exhausted from the bike ride, we decided to go check in to our hotel before going back to the headquarters with this boda-boda.

    We chose the Primate Safari Lodge simply because it was the only lodge walking distance to the head office, which is where the chimp tracking walk starts from. It's actually right next door, but there isn't another option close enough to walk from. And of course, the idea of missing the hike simply because of ill planned transportation would make me cry.

    Turns out, the lodge was 14$US per PERSON to camp, not per tent like we thought. Picture this : super nice, fancy lodge, advertising private cottages with stone showers and hers and hers bathrobes, and a "full board" option or meals of 19$US each... EACH. That's more then our camp site price. And here we are, two girls hanging up a hammock tent under the not so well kept shelter because we don't have a rain cover. Granted, why would they upkeep their camp ground site, I don't think they've ever had campers... They didn't really know what to do with us. Of course we attempted to argue the price, but we weren't getting anywhere. So we made sure to get our 28 dollars' worth. Keep in mind - this is the most we've ever paid for a room in Uganda, and this wasn't a room! This was simply the permission to put our tent up. Getting back from our crater lakes walk yesterday, they let us use the empty room's shower. The cottage was gorgeous! I didn't want to leave. Part of me was angry we were sleeping two girls in one hammock when this cottage was going to be empty!

    Having seen the prices of the meals in the morning when we dropped our bags off, we knew groceries needed to be done. So after "checking into" our hotel (dropping our bags off in the office), our lovely boda-boda driver took us to the headquarters to buy our park permits which acted as reservations. The man must not have known about my anxiety, because we expressed what we want, 2 permits for tomorrow morning, and he looks down at his computer and starts typing... Something... And not saying anything... A good 5 minutes of torture later I break the silence and ask "is there still permits available? Are we good for tomorrow?" to which he replies ever so casually "oh yes yes, that's OK long time ago". Damn him! Making me sweat! So it's confirmed! I hike tomorrow! (well today).

    All that to say we managed to do it on our own! Insert blog from yesterday - we walked the lakes on our own. Then boda back to the Primate Lodge before dark to set up our luxurious accommodation for the night. I've never drank so many hot drinks in my life! Like I said, we wanted our 28 dollars worth... And hot drinks were included, buffet style. That night, I had a hot chocolate (my first since I've left) and 2 teas. Today, I had 2 coffees and 3 teas. Why not! We had bought a bunch of fruit and mini breads from the little towns along the lake, so we got them to supply us with bowls and cutlery to make a fruit salad. We bought Rolex from the town to have for diner (eggs rolled into chapati). We didn't order a thing from them for the 3 meals we were there, and I was never hungry! This wonderful American older couple took pitty on us I guess, they bought us lunch today! Never say no to free. They wanted to buy us each lunch, but the kitchen prepares the food ahead of time, so they only had the one plate, so we shared. Super appreciated.

    It was clear that the people who stay in this lodge have money. Most of them had their own guide following them in the country. Mostly an older crowd. I guess with the price of the permits, not very many backpackers do this... After our briefing at the park office, our chimp tracking guide goes "OK, everybody in your vehicles and we meet you at the trial". Jack and I look at her and respond "what vehicles?" so the lovely American couple who had their own guide for a week gave us a ride... Apparently tours are a big thing here... Lol.

    All that to say, we did it! We relaxed at the lodge after returning around 1130am (left at 8am), and hung up the hammock in the front lawn for Jack to read from. I don't think they've ever had guest quite like us, they didn't really know what to do with us... I asked to lay my clothes on a chair to dry, and they offered to put it in the dryer for me. I didn't think dryers existed here... We asked for a knife, they would bring a whole place setting. We made our way back to town today riding in the back of a pickup truck full of bags of red beans... Covered in dirt again on arrival. Jack was facing forward so had the outline of her sunglasses marked in dirt. Sexy.

    I get to sleep in a bed tonight. I don't have to calculate if my hip bone is digging into Jack's leg, or if I want to move my leg I have to ask Jack to roll over, or contemplating if it's really that important for me to have sensation and circulation in my right leg since I'll wake Jack up if I move... Two people in a hammock is not recommended... FYI.
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  • Day52

    It happened.

    February 22, 2016 in Uganda

    Yep. Amazing morning. I'm overwhelmed with random emotions that are kind of funny... All brought on because I've done something today I never thought I would... I saw chimpanzees! Lots of them! Like 20! For those who have known me for a while, I've been absolutely head over heels in love with chimps since my childhood, reading everything I can about them whenever I could. I remember I would rotate through renting out the chimp books at my primary school library over and over again...

    I was in a world of my own all morning. And now I'm emotional. It's making me wonder where did I go right in life? How did I deserve all this? I'm even getting as philosophical as going all the way back to how did I land such amazing parents? They gave me a sense of responsibility, they made sure we knew how important school was, and I made something of myself because of the values they taught me. I have an amazing job, great schooling, I'm incredibly happy in life, I have an amazing partner who encourages me to be confident and partake in making decisions... I've always been a follower and now I know I can make decisions and reach for goals of mine and be selfish sometimes... I say selfish because I just spent my morning running in front of the group of people on the hike to be the first one in line to see the chimps. Lol. Selfish because I asked Jack to carry everything including the camera so that I could be free to enjoy the experience.

    Yes, seeing chimps has made me rethink of my life and be incredibly proud of where I am. Best of all, and those who know me well will understand, I'm at a point in my life where I can actually say that I deserve all this. I deserve a good, supportive partner. I deserve to treat myself to these crazy adventures and expensive day trips. I worked for it. And I'm loving it.
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  • Day47

    Back to Uganda, so happy!

    February 17, 2016 in Uganda

    We walked back to Uganda! This is after a full day of activities at Red Rocks.

    Yesterday Harriet had taken us along with this other girl to tour around the different homes and families their organization was helping. It was pretty much a bunch of village home visits because this other girl was starting her own organization with homestays and wanted to check out what they had running in the local community. We were just bored so we joined.

    So today for our cultural walk, we said we wanted less of a house tour and more of a cultural experience. Instead we got more of a nature walk, with milking cows at the end (to my request). It was funny, we were asked what kind of experience we were looking for, so we expressed that other then the recent history of the genocide, we haven't gotten to know the true Rwandan culture, and that's what we wanted. Along our walk, we didn't talk to a single local person. Just walked through their town to get to the fields behind it, walked through beautiful greenery and nature, visited a power plant from the river waters, and that's about it... We actually really enjoyed it, we got to ask the guide a bunch of questions about their education system, their politics, they have quite a few women in the government, on coming elections in Uganda, their alcoholism problems, etc. We got followed by quite a few kids on our way back. I had asked to milk the cows because they had mentioned it as an option yesterday. It's a very odd, intimate thing to milk a cow... As you get wacked in the face by its tail...

    Get back, sweaty and hot, take a classic cold bucket shower, eat, and learn to make some banana beer! It's a local classic in Rwanda. You basically crush a bunch of bananas into a log with the help of long grass. Eventually you get quite an impressive amount of liquid out. This almost clear liquid taste really sweet, and obviously quite banana-y. Mix in some freshly crushed sorghum, and voilà! In 5 days, you get beer. Really sweet, strong (13%) beer. Not a fan, but meh. Like Uganda, Rwanda has its fair share of drinking men... They like their banana beer. Our guide from this morning was saying, as an example, the women work all day long and make 1000RFr. They spend 300 at the market to feed their family. They save 700. Their husband take 500 to go drinking. Only 200RFr left at the end of the day. Men. Pft.

    Once all is done and drank, what else does a girl due but cross a border the day before elections! This is, believe it or not, a different yet smaller boarder then our first border crossing. Quick minibus ride drops you at the gate separating Uganda and Rwanda. You walk across to the Uganda side where the "exit Rwanda" stamp office is right next to the "entry Uganda" stamp office. 5 minutes and we successfully walked across. There's a funny car gate with Rwanda written on one side and Uganda on the other. There was one armed security guy standing at the "gate" (rope across the dirt road) asking to see your passport. Then one armed army guy on the Uganda side once you get to the other rope across the dirt road. Very official business people!

    Kisoro is the closest town to the border and yet already we see so much more life and excitement. The difference is striking. Ugandans are all smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves. We hear music coming from the shops, street food being sold (it was illegal to have street shops in Rwanda, only legit store fronts). We went for a beer, and elections were being talked about all around. We'll keep our heads low and political opinions to ourselves for the next few days until the winner is announced and we see what that brings. If anything, we'll avoid Kampala. Easy. I for one am quite happy to be in Uganda again.

    We didn't know if we would spend the night in Kisoro or make our way to Kabale tonight, from where we could head to our next destination easier. By the time we were done exploring the town, and eating diner, it was 5.30pm, sun going down, so we decide Kisoro for the night, and Lake Bunyonyi for the morning via Kabale. It's been super easy to find accommodation during our trip - so it being 530pm, easy peasy. There's tons of options, our waiter gave us a suggestion which turned out perfect. Every second door seemed to be a bar and hotel. How they make money, no one knows.

    FYI : we're half way! If you make the quick count, we left on January 7th and are coming back for March 29th... We're half way! I feel a mix of excitement for what's to come, pride for what I've done, wanting to continue for ever and yet missing my people and wanting to see them... A whole mix!
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Western Region

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