Link to Uganda pictures

John has finished looking through the photos from Uganda and posted them to an online gallery. He shot almost precisely 1,000 photos this time around – the least of any safari ever, but dragging the equipment up and down hillsides, monkeys hiding from plain sight and a rather dull national park put a limit to it all.

Nonetheless, great photos captured – we hope you will enjoy them!

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Cake walk (compared to yesterday)

Just back from the second of the two gorilla treks. It was pure heaven compared to yesterday. Almost flat the entire time, and other than crossing a couple of streams, it felt like the gorillas were in our backyard.

We arrived while the family of ten gorillas were still sleeping. Eventually they were bothered enough by the ranger and his machete, that they got up and almost immediately started eating.

The silverback was the last to get up. Despite him being only 17 years old, his size is massive and under different circumstances I’m not sure how I would feel being that close. I sat within five feet from him while he was having breakfast, and he acted like he couldn’t care less.

We were lucky to see a ten-weeks “old” baby. He poked his head out a couple of times – enough for us to capture his cute face. He’s the only other male in the group, so he is likely to run the show once the current “president” stands down.

Good times all around and the one hour viewing slot went by very fast. We made it back to the briefing center before lunch and got our certificates for having successfully completed another hike.

I’m writing this from the Gorilla Forest Camp. Just had a monkey trying to steal the banana included in my box lunch. Such manners! Pretty sneaky that one – didn’t even see him coming but I still have the banana and the box.

What remains – other than to clean gear and clothes – is to jump on a small plane tomorrow morning. We fly from Chihihi airstrip to Entebbe, where we get to hang out at some day-hotel, before I’m off to Addis Ababa and Hong Kong early evening. If we’re on time I should be able to make it to the hotel just as the World Cup final starts.

It’s been a trip of a lifetime for sure. I feel very privileged to have seen some of the ~800 remaining wild mountain gorillas in the world, and it’s been fantastic to look into their eyes and watch their moves. I highly recommend visiting them – here or in Rwanda.

Signing off in Uganda,
John

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Looking for gorillas in all the right places

Visiting the chimpanzees was great but I came here to see the gorillas and it was very exciting to finally leave camp for the briefing center. I had slept quite well in the cooler temperatures and felt rested. Still, I was a little anxious as the group of gorillas I wanted to see was far away from camp and the longer hike – as pointed out to me on several occasions – would be no picnic.

After a 20 min. briefing we got divided into three groups. I got my wish and ended up in “H” group. You can visit only three families but there are actually more than 30 of them. They keep the rest away from humans to minimize the risk of diseases being introduced – both ways.

We drove for 45 min. before we got to our starting point. I got a walking stick and found a porter that carried my camera back and my backpack all the way.

More than two hours of pretty serious hiking followed – uphill and downhill at rather extreme angles. Sometimes with footing, sometimes not. Luckily it wasn’t too slippery but because of the dense vegetation, you had to look for where to put your feet at all times. Hardly any of the hike was flat and the walking stick was very helpful more than once. Same with the gloves as you need to grab what’s closest, if you start slipping.

We had an 82-year old Texan in the group that probably no-one thought would finish after the harsh trail revealed itself. We waited for him on several occasions; which in the end worked out in our favor since the one-hour allowance for watching the gorillas didn’t start until he made it there. And he did make it there and back – respect!

We stopped just short of the gorillas and left as much as we could behind. After that we slowly made our way down to a little opening in the forest where we could see leaves and branches move. The ranger who had been there since early morning started clearing the forest floor using his machete, and soon we could see one, two, three and four gorillas incl. a smaller one-year old.

As they consume between 10 and 25 kilos of plants every day, they spend a significant part of their day eating and as such they obviously prefer to be where the food is. So as much as we wanted for them to stay in the clear, they naturally congregated towards the green stuff. I did get great photos though and I have to say that all the trekkers and rangers I have met, have been very helpful and accommodating while at the same time respecting the gorilla’s boundaries.

We ended up spending 90 min. with the family before we had to leave. Time flew by and it was no fun packing up. At the very last minute we ended up sitting close to the silverback, but he did a really good job camouflaging himself and I don’t believe I got a single picture of him. Good to see all the youngsters hang around him. He seemed fairly relaxed but there’s no doubt that if any of us had come too close to the young ones, he would have let us know to back off in whatever tone level he would have deemed appropriate.

We ate our lunch a few hundred feet back. After that it was another two hours hike before we got to the cars. We arrived back at the briefing center just after five – absolutely exhausted, dirty and undoubtedly very smelly. We got a certificate for successful completion and was back at the lodge just before six o’clock. Needless to say this was a day very well spent and one I won’t soon forget.

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Arriving at the Bwindi and the Gorilla Forest Camp

I left Albert, Ben and the rest of the Kyambura Lodge staff behind at 8:00 this morning, and started the journey towards Bwindi and the gorillas. Arthur had suggested a more scenic route; which I happily accepted although it was an hour longer. We found a small group of elephants just after setting out but other than lots of topis we mostly saw beautiful open plains.

We stopped at a supermarket in Kihihi (Pronounced Chi-hi-hi) to stock up on a few energy bars for the walk and made it to the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp by 1:30 p.m. Arthur once again insisted on me eating lunch. I obliged and had delicious Thai chicken salad and sole. Most yummy!

I am very excited to be here, and while I don’t want to jinx anything, some fellow guest were returning at the same time having seen a family of 19 gorillas. So chances of actually hanging out with them are good.

Beautiful lodge that is one of only two lodges inside the forest. Tented style again and it’s quite chilly here. I have just declined the two heated water bottles – we’ll see if I regret it later, but I have been quite warm the previous two nights.

Arthur had arranged “a walk” around the place this afternoon; which unfortunately turned out to be one of the charity runs that we sometimes experience. It wasn’t sold to me that way – more of a practice walk for tomorrow. He left me with a local guide who took me to four places in three hours. The local medicine man was the only one who did not ask for money. While it was fun to visit the local school, the Pygmies and a banana distillery, and while I totally understand why they do what they do, the approach put a damper on the whole thing and it’s another little thing that I think A&K could have handled better.

Returned to camp at 5:30 p.m. and have since tried to get a somewhat reliable internet connection, so I can send the girls at home a sign of life.

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Bugs’n’Crocs

Arthur and I set out for Queen Elizabeth National Park just before daybreak. The mist was quite heavy and we didn’t see anything until well within the park. Even then wildlife was very sparse. We stopped other vehicles who didn’t have anything to report either. Just before losing all hope we saw a car parked and next to it a small pride of seven very lazy lions. Good to see big cats again but we had to leave before the park rangers came around, as we had parked a tiny bit away from the road. By mistake of course.

We left for the fishing village instead – a small village within the park, that to a large degree survives by catching fish and drying them. We were there for the skool of hippos that always hang around there. Got a few shot and left the park to go back home for breakfast.

I had a channel boat ride scheduled for the afternoon. We left the lodge early, to make use of a rare occurrence of WiFi from where the boats took off. Got connected with the outside world at least enough to read the headlines.

The boat took off at 2:00 p.m. and we spent a little more than two hours on the water. Without a doubt the highlight of the day. The shore across from our takeoff point was filled with elephants, buffalos and hippos – that’s at least what we could see from a distance. Once a little closer, there were crocodiles as well and a vast number of birds species. We slowly moved by them all. The elephants unfortunately all took off once we got closer, but the rest were not bothered by our company. It’s the first time I’ve been within meters of hippos and while it lasted it was great to see the elephants getting hydrated.

Back at the camp the evening came to a rather abrupt end when the electricity went out. The generator took over for a couple of minutes but after that all the light in the camp was the candle on my dinner table. It took seconds for every bug in the neighborhood to show, so I called it a night. I managed to get bitten by a tick in the process, but luckily felt it before it stuck its head too deep. Nasty little buggers…

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First visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park

Started the day with a walk about the rim of the crater lake trying to prepare for the gorilla trekking. Very beautiful and peaceful around the lake which remains at a constant 75F/24C degrees because on the bit of volcanic activity at the bottom. Still I wasn’t tempted to jump in as the depth of 244 meters (734 feet) seemed like a really good place for scary monsters to hide…

Arthur picked me up at 11:00 and off we went to Queen Elizabeth National Park and a new lodge. The Kyambura Lodge is beautifully located on a rocky ridge just outside the park. The cabins are tented so all sounds make it through; which – most of the time – is relaxing and it also keeps them tempered. I’m the only guest here. It feels a bit odd given that the restaurant will hold 30 people.

Once I had unpacked and eaten the banana leave-wrapped lunch, we set out for the park. There had been a bit of rumbling in the background while I was eating, but the staff said “no, no” when I asked if it would rain. As we left the lodge the skies around us turned very dark, and we didn’t make it to the park entrance before we have to close the roof top and windows. Lots of rain, lots of wind and lots of thunder and lightning. We decided to sit at the park entrance and wait for 30 min. and it eventually cleared up so much that we could run up to the small hut to buy a permit. But the power had gone, and they sent us 10 miles north so get a permit at a different entrance. The power had gone there as well (surprise!) so we wasted 45 min. going there in the rain. One of the houses beloging to the park had collapsed as a result of the weather, so we ended up helping to clear the road so that traffic could pass. And as an added bonus the equator was just down the road, so picture time…

After the weather cleared and we went back to the post – only to tell them about the widespread lack of power. They luckily let us in. I wasn’t sure what to think about the park in the first place and had done a fair bit of research prior to leaving which for the most part revealed very little info. It’s fair to say that I’ve been spoiled with beautiful areas in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, so maybe competition was a little tough. But Queen Elizabeth National Park was a disappointment and apart from a few antelopes, we didn’t see anything during the two hour drive.

The public roads to get there are in really poor condition, I saw trash such as water bottles in the park on several occasions. Also, there is no off road driving. Or you can choose to pay $150 each time you stray away from the roads (eventually you are banned from entering the park). There is no use of radios to communicate when you find game. So while driving back I asked to forget about the area and just head to Bwindi – where the gorillas are. But that was not an option. So tomorrow will be another drive in the park followed by a cruise on the channel that connects Lake Edward and Lake George.

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From Entebbe to Fort Portal

Arthur and I started out at 8:30 and headed straight for Fort Portal. We stopped at a grocery store to fill up my bean bag with… rice and got a case of water as well. Initially we drove through the suburbs of Kampala and through many village that brought a familiar humbling experience of just how many things we are lucky to have and take for granted. Something that of course isn’t unique to Africa, but of all the places we have traveled, this is probably where we have experienced it this most.

Shortly before Fort Portal the landscape changed into tea fields. Very pretty and very green. The farmers here are focusing on bananas and teas and we did see many of the locals transporting green bananas from the plantations to the market. Often on bicycles.

It’s an odd feeling to have a extended Toyota Landcruiser with me as the only passenger. Arthur is luckily a nice guy, but we both ran a bit out of steam at the end of the drive. After dropping me at Kyaninga Lodge, he had to drive back to Fort Portal to find a room to sleep. There is no space for the drivers here.

The camp itself is beautiful. The pictures on the site doesn’t really do it justice. It’s only three years old but is built in a wonderful rustic style. There are eight cabins – two of them are family-sized, holding up to six people. It’s situated right up against a crater lake and everything has that wonderful safari feel to it.

I’m off to see the chimpanzees tomorrow. I don’t quite know what to think of it. Most locals I’ve spoken to are downplaying it saying that I’ll be lucky to see three or four of them. From what I’m being told they are constantly on the move or in the trees. Arthur also made a comment yesterday about how gorilla viewing is better in Rwanda because the gorillas sit in open fields. Here they seem to hide in the forrest. Ugh. I hope for the best – not much I can do about it anyway…

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