Uganda 2015 (Part 2)

This is the continuation of the Uganda trip report. The first part with events of days 1 – 6 is on a separate post.

Day 7: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Craters


After leaving the Queen Elizabeth National Park we drove to Kyambura Gorge, a 150 m deep narrow valley with thick rain forrest. Approaching it from the flat savanna like surroundings seems rather uneventful until the earth opens up and reveals this deep chasm. This is where a group of Chimpanzees live that we tracked. Although, tracking is a bit of a misnomer in this case. Our guide did set up an impressive speed to try to find the chimps. Loaded down with photo gear we struggled along the hot humid rain forrest until we found them. It was worth it, though. While the gorillas are massive and impressive that way, the chimpanzees are impressive by their “humanness”. And we were lucky to get a fairly large group with infants.

After the hike we drove on to the Craters campsite nearby. The campsite gets its name from the many volcanic explosion craters in the area. Even though we were pretty much done from the chimp hike, we decided to hike up the Grasshopper Hill with a local guide. It was a great walk through the fields and with the guide explaining how the different vegetables and fruits are being grown by the locals. The great views from the top more than made up for our fatigue.

Day 8: Craters – Ruwenzori Mountains – Fort Portal

That day did not work out for me at all. I ate something wrong or the boot camp style chimp hike did me in. Either way, I was not a happy camper. Fortunately, this day was mostly just a long drive. We did stop at a village near the Rwenzori mountains and walked for about 1 hr along the road. The mountains themselves are snow covered at the highest peaks, but we since it was overcast we did not get to see that.

Along the way we crossed the Equator for the second time and took the effort to take the tourist group photo we missed the first time around. Our resupply stop a bit later reaffirmed that we were the main attraction to the kids around. The day ended at the Kluge guest farm. It is a great place run by a German ex-pat. Nice pool to relax and very nice food. We then went to bed to a our first real rainy day.

Day 9: Fort Portal – Budongo Forrest

The most excellent ginger pumpkin soup at Kluge’s did wonders and whatever ailed me was gone. That said, we were in for another long day on the road to reach the Budongo Forrest south of the Murchison Falls National Park. We arrived a bit too late to hire a ranger for a forrest walk, unfortunately. So we resorted to take a short walk along the main road in hopes to some animals. Besides the ubiquitous amount of baboons, we had an equally generous number of giant spiders on trees. The photos do not do them justice. Their bodies were about 2 inches long with plenty of baby spiders to boot.

Day 10: Budongo Forrest – Murchinson Falls National Park

This day was African safari at its best. The day started with a visit to Murchinson Falls where the Vitoria Nile falls ferociously through a 10 m gorge. It looks fairly tame on the photos, however it was everything but. A little way downstream the Nile forms a wide slow moving river and we took the ferry to the other side. Remarkably the landscape completely changes on the north side of the Nile. While the south side is essentially a lush rain forrest, the north side is dry african savanna with temperatures to prove it. It was quite uncomfortable.

After setting up camp, we spend the rest of the day with a long leisurely game drive. There were just too many animals to count, but amongst the most memorable were huge herds of giraffes and elephants. Finally, we had almost given up hope, we had a lioness up and close. Words cannot really describe the majestic landscape and the photos barely come close.

This night is the first night without a proper shower and in an area that one would consider more wild. Fortunately, the park service did provide a big drum of river water and so we decided to have an open-air shower (no photos).

This night did bring one more surprise. I could not stand the heat of the campfire and started to wander off a bit. Once my eyes adjusted from the fire and I looked up, the whole Milky Way presented itself. Fortunately for me, my team mate Laura did get curious about me crouching down on the ground with the camera pointing up and came by to check if I finally succumbed to a heat stroke. I always wanted to do some light painting with a human subject and she patiently volunteered herself as model. The result is one of my favorite photos of the trip.

Day 11: Murchinson Falls National Park – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary 

Started the day early with boat ride along the Victoria Nile and beautiful sunrise. The ride was a feast for any bird lover. Besides lots of other birds and the eagles, we got to see a rare Shoebill. It is a somewhat funny looking bird, but our guide was quite excited to spot it. However, along the way came the bad news that our truck had broken down with a defective water pump. Back on shore we had to make due with alternate transport, which turned out to be a standard sedan. So the 4 of us plus luggage squeezed in and drove on. Fortunately, it only took 1.5 hrs to get to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

Once there we got ready for the last trekking of the trip, which luckily was only about 20 mins over flat ground to see two female white rhinos. This was my first rhino and I was surprised as to how calm these huge animals are. The only thing really bothering them was Patti, a tame warthog. Patti lives at the headquarter and had decided to join us on the trek.

We were the only guests at the sanctuary, which also offers a campground and a couple simple rooms. After dinner we stayed up quite late to enjoy our last night out. At about 10 pm a rhino came slowly grazing right up to where we were talking. It was magic seeing the 2 ton animal slowly graze along, completely unfazed by us being only feets away. Later that night I heard a funny sound and when I looked out my window, the two rhinos we trekked earlier decided to also make themselves at home right there.

Day 12: Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – Jinja

After a late and lazy breakfast we drove to Jinja. Jinja is called the source of the nile as that is where the Victoria Nile flows out of Lake Victoria. On the way there we had to cross over Owen’s Dam, of which you are apparently not allowed to take photos. Well, I tried anyway and promptly ended up being interrogated by police and military. After a couple minutes of “reminding” me that that is not permitted, they let me go. The night was spend at the Adrift camp, which is the base for many tours. For us it was time to relax at the bar with a gorgeous view of the Victoria Nile and reminisce about the last 12 days.

Day 13: Jinja

Since we has some time before heading to the airport, we decided to take Boda-Boda to town. Boda-Boda is a motorcycle taxi and rather an adventure. No helmets, no place to hold on while running over dirt roads. We survived and did some souvenir shopping after trying 3 banks to change some money, which is a lesson in patience all by itself. As a side-note, there is Island time and then there is African time.

Thank you!

Thank you Laura, Yannick, Simon and Takalani for this unforgettable journey with the best travel mates one could imagine. With more than 1500 photos taken and pages of memories, this is a trip of a lifetime.

Uganda 2015 (Part 1)

Uganda is a fascinating country of contrasts. From bustling, almost westernized cities of Kampala and Jinja to simple settlements all over the countryside and vast untouched wilderness in the national parks. From dry savanna in the north to lush mountain rainforests in south-west and rolling hills in between. I was lucky to have been able to spend 13 days in this roller coaster of sights and impressions.

After having been to Botswana, it is almost a shock to travel through Uganda. Nothing of the emptiness. Instead Uganda is very densely populated and, for lack of a better description, very much in your face. You can’t escape it, sights and smells are relentless. Every last bit of space is used up by small plots of banana, coffee and beans, which are the main staples of Ugandan cuisine. And then, drawn with a ruler, is the boundary of the parks and tea plantations and the quietness and peacefulness within. However, once giving in to the friendliness of the Ugandan people, it is the best part of the trip.

 The Trip

Trip was an organized tour through Drifters. It is a barebones camping tour with a couple nights in simple rooms. The barebones part is actually a plus as we get to stay in the middle of what we came to see rather than isolated in some posh hotel room. We lucked out with a small group of 4 and our guide.

Uganda Trip

Day 1: Kampala – Lake Mburo

The trip started in Kampala after a very short night as we only got in at 2 am after 20+hrs of flying. Kampala is a very interesting city and sort of a condensed version of Uganda in itself. From modern buildings to ramshackle outskirts, which are much more like the rest of Uganda as it will turn out. The first night was at Lake Mburo national park. On the way there, we crossed the Equator and had to do the obligatory selfie. As with all the other stops, camping at Lake Mburo was in a established campsite. There is no wild campaign in Uganda as there simply is no space left. So we went to sleep to the sound of the hippos, which would follow us throughout most of the trip.

Day 2: Lake Mburo – Lake Bunyoni

In the morning we had to fight off a couple baboons, a warthog and a vervet monkey which were after our breakfast. During the game drive leaving the park in the morning we found a deeply wounded hippo in a drying pond. It seems he took on the wrong male and paid dearly for it.

The drive to Lake Bunyoni had us crossing many villages. All of Uganda it seems is completely developed. All of it are roadside villages, some more upscale, some less so. The area in between is divided in small plots of agriculture. The panorama below shows the mosaic of little fields. In Lake Bunyoni we spend the night in a private campground with more upscale showers and facilities. The lake itself is very deep with steep slopes. This makes the lake free of Bilharziasis and hippos and thus one can swim. It is the only lake where we could swim if we dared as the water was rather on the cold side.

Day 3: Lake Bunyoni – Bwindi

We started the day with a boat ride on the lake with a local guide. He explained a bit about the various islands, especially punishment island. That’s where they used to abandon pregnant unmarried women. It’s a very small island without any food or shelter. Quite a few women supposedly died there, while others were rescued by their lovers. Today the little island is home to a large number of birds, including Uganda’s state bird, the Grey-Crested Crane.

Before we moved on, we paid a quick visit to the orphanage just above the campground. It is a small collection of simple buildings with 40 children up to age 10 (roughly). We were treated to a couple dances and songs from the children, but I think we were a much bigger attraction to them.

The rest was a fairly quick trip to the Wagtail eco safari camp in Rubuguri where we abandoned our tents and upgraded to private rooms with showers. That would come in very handy after the next day. To close of the day, we hired a local guide to do a village walk and visit a family of the pygmy people. They are known as Batwa and are mostly considered sub people by others and are rather neglected. What they might lack in social status, they more than compensated in attitude in dance and song. We then continued through the village to see public and private schools. With about 100 students per class, public schools are somewhat overtaxed.

To add to the excitement, the end of that week was election day in Uganda. So everywhere we went there was a political rally.

Day 4: Bwindi (Gorilla Trekking)

This is the Gorilla trek day. Trekking Mountain Gorillas, also known as Silverbacks, is an arduous tour up a steep mountains. First all visitors meet at the ranger station for a briefing by a national park ranger. Then everyone was divided into groups of 8 and drove to the starting points for the individual gorilla groups. Ours was to be the Busingye Gorilla family. That is where the actual hike  started. Seeing the steep hill we had to climb, I broke down and hired a porter for the backpack with all the photo gear.

The gorilla trek
The gorilla trek

Going up the road and then a path, one can really appreciate the density of development. Every last square inch is used for fields. Then, all of a sudden, a line drawn in the field marks the start of the national park and the fields become a wall of trees and thick grown underbrush. That is where we learned why Bwindi forrest it is called the impenetrable forrest. So on we went. After 2 hrs of hiking we found the gorillas. At that point we left the porters behind and the real fun started. We left the path and two rangers using machetes cut a way through the forrest. We started with a silverback happily munching on the vines. As he started moving, we slowly followed and were treated to a mom with an infant a bit further away. Sorry, there are a lot of photos here, but I just couldn’t decide which ones I liked best.

After returning pretty shot, we spend some more time with Gordon, our local guide, and his youth soccer team.

Day 5: Bwindi – Queen Elizabeth National Park

After an early start we made our way to Queen Elizabeth National Park. QE national park is famous for its tree climbing lions. And sure enough, on the way in we saw several lions on a tree. However, once we paid and got to the point we saw them, they descended from the tree and started hiding. In order to make up for it, we saw a couple elephants up and close.

This night we set camp in the Ishasha wilderness camp, which like all the other sites, is a campsite with showers and pit toilets. It was right on the river which defines the border to Congo and thus we had 2 armed guards posted at night. That said, I am not so sure they would have been of much help should a raid come over the river.

Day 6: Queen Elizabeth National Park

The day was spend entirely within Queen Elizabeth National Park on game drives. The goal was to find the tree climbing lions again. But no luck. Not a single lion to be seen. Nonetheless, the rest of the flora and fauna is still very pretty and interesting. We were treated to a huge herd of buffalos. Of course, since we were camping by the river, we got lots and lots of hippos. I can still hear their grunts.

To be continued with the events of days 7 – 13 on a separate post.