The Pearl of Africa

After a 3am wake-up, we flew to Uganda via Johannesburg. When we landed in Johannesburg we still had to go through customs and security, even though we were just transiting (gained another stamp for the passport). Landing into Entebbe was very scenic with all the lush green trees and grass (very noticeable after dry Namibia), and of course the expansive Lake Victoria dominated most of the landscape. We had a driver waiting for us, arranged by our airbnb. After checking in, we went for a stroll through the village down to Lake Victoria. The local people were very friendly and the children super curious of us …we bought two balls from a local shop and gave them to some children.

 

We ordered dinner through our airbnb hosts and enjoyed an early night in their peaceful complex.

The next morning, we were up before the crack of dawn, ready for the commencement of our 7 Day Ugandan Tour:

DAY 1:
We were met by our safari guide in his green Toyota Landcruiser. He was our own private guide for the next 7 days. We had a long drive away from the city, passing through many small villages (each rather similar to the next).

The roads were once again giving us that infamous “African Massage.” It actually got so bumpy that the bar holding the spare tyre broke (causing it to swing around) so we had to stop to get it fixed by a local man with a welder. While we were waiting, a large group of children gathered. They stared with great interest and slowly inched their way towards us. The older children kept pushing the smaller ones out in front. As the time went on, they built up enough courage to say “How are you?”. Throughout the rest of our trip, children were constantly running out to the roadside as we drove past their villages; waving, smiling and saying “How are you?” or often, “Mzungu!” (White person). They were very cute and gave our hands a workout; constantly waving back through the window.

Back on the road, we found ourselves travelling through mostly cultivated land and tea fields…

After a quick stop for lunch we made our way to Kibale Forest. On the road we came across a troop of baboons…

We had an afternoon booked with a local guide for the Bigodi Community and Wetland walk. We started with a walking tour through the local village, giving us an insight into the daily lives of the local people. We were shown how they make banana beer and gin, coffee, medicines, and woven baskets.

Our local guide then took us through the Bigodi wetlands, where we spotted many birds and three different species of monkeys; red-tail monkey, black and white colobus, and red colobus.

We checked into the Isunga Lodge just after sunset. Our private ensuite room, nestled on the hillside, had an incredible view over the forest which was later lit up with an impressive lightening show. We feel asleep to the sound of rain on the thatched roof and rumbling thunder in the distance.


Animals Spotted Today:  Ankole Cow, Olive Baboon, Blue Fly Catcher, Speckled Mouse Bird, Red Colobus, Red-Tail Monkey, Black and White Colobus, Red-Chested Cuckoo, Safari Ants

DAY 2:
We had an early start for our first activity of the day; Chimpanzee tracking. We reached the briefing centre before 8am where we were split into groups of six and assigned a park ranger. After a short briefing we headed into the jungle in search of a chimpanzee family.

It took about 1.5hours of trekking before we reached a group of about a dozen chimpanzees. It had rained the night before so they were all high up in the trees to escape the wet ground.

We stayed with them for about an hour and towards the end they decided to climb down and move off to another location. Kadin made a few gifs from our video footage, which shows how incredibly fast and skilful they are when moving in the trees.

On the return trip back through the jungle, we took a few photos of some of the plants along the way.

We returned to our lodge for lunch. It gave us an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful views by daylight and wander the gardens which were home to many interesting birds.

We farewelled the lovely staff at the Isunga Lodge and started our drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). We travelled through banana plantations and many small communities…

Late in the afternoon we reached QENP. We stopped at the main gate where we were treated to a beautiful view over the savannah. It was a spectacular sight when we spotted a herd of elephants below us…

Our guide decided to deviate from our itinerary a bit, and run a game drive before heading to our lodge (due to a tip off from his friends). So, we headed towards the park, dodging a small shower.

DSC_0753DSC_0753_1200
Bless the rains down in Africa!

As soon as we entered the park, we spotted the Cape Buffalo! -this marked the last of the African Big 5 (if we included the Leopard at the Africat centre in Namibia, which we weren’t too sure if it counted or not…)

We popped our top up on the Landcruiser and had lots of fun spotting the various animals…

There were lots of Ugandan Kob (antelope), which we learnt are Uganda’s national animal…

As the sun began to set, we finished the drive with a viewing of a leopard who was laying in the thicket after consuming a recent kill…

We checked into our new home for the next two nights, Bush Lodge. We were sleeping in a tent! But this time it was a ‘glamping’ rather than camping. There was a permanent roof structure over top and a private bathroom out the back, where we showered under the stars. The tent also had a King Size bed inside. It was very private (about 300m walk from the lodge restaurant and reception area). The lodge had a system where we had to be escorted by a staff member when walking to and from our tent at night, in case we encountered any of the African wildlife. We enjoyed our dinner by the campfire before heading to bed.

DSC_0872DSC_0872_1200
Dinner campfire

Animals Spotted Today:  Baboon, Red-Tail Monkey, Butterflies, Chimpanzee, Pin-Tailed Whydah, Black-Headed Weaver, Buffalo, Elephant, Waterbuck, Ugandan Kob, Lapwing, Vulture, Warthog, Mongoose, Leopard

DAY 3:
Another early start for a morning game drive through QENP. This time our guide picked up a Ugandan Wildlife Authority ranger to come with us. The ranger has the authority to deviate from the tracks and get closer to the wildlife, as he needs to check on the health of the animals in the park. Not far into the park, we had our first Hippo sighting. It was a lonely Hippo still grazing on grass. Hippos spend their days in the water and at night walk about 10kms, then turn and graze on grass all the way back to the water.

DSC_0877DSC_0877_1200
Lonely hippo

We went back to the leopard from the night before, this time she was awake and more playful for our camera…

We saw plenty more animals including many birds during our morning drive…

We stopped at the lake which had a heap of Hippos, including many babies. The ranger let us get out for some photos…

Then we headed for the hills to get amazing views over the crater lakes and the park below. Before we started the steep climb, our guide instructed us to close the pop-top because there would be these biting flies in this area. They were called Tsetse flies and they swarmed the Landcruiser. First, we drove to the lookouts over the crater lakes. The views were incredible and there were several eagles soaring from above. One of the lakes was thermal and the buffalo came for their spa treatments (they can’t drink the water but enjoy a hot soak instead).

On the other side, we enjoyed the view across the park. The best part was we had this place to ourselves! Our guide and the ranger explained that many people don’t visit the crater lookouts because they only want to do the game driving. We think that those people have missed out…

After lunch back at our lodge, we headed out again for our afternoon activity; a boat safari along the channel between Lake George and Lake Edward. Along the drive to the boat we came across a few more African animals…

When we reached the check in office for the boat (at a fancy lodge’s reception) we were treated with a great view over the water. One of the islands looked just like a crocodile…

We enjoyed a 1.5 hour cruise along the Kazinga channel, a well visited spot for many animals. First, we got close to the many buffalo in the water and on the banks. There were also many different birds too…

We saw many crocodiles from the boat. They were lounging next to the buffalo, birds and hippos; apparently not a threat to these animals due to the large fish numbers keeping their tummies full.

The hippos were plentiful along the cruise. The baby hippo was definitely the star of the show…

Another passenger at the front of the boat with a high-power camera lens and a very sharp eye, spotted a leopard hiding in the thicket. After a short wait, it scattered away. Kadin managed to capture this super-fast exit…

After the boat tour we were driving back through the park when we had to stop suddenly because a herd of elephants crossed the road right in front of us. One of the younger bulls got a bit excited and started to blow his trumpet at us; our guide swiftly reversed the Landcruiser, and we waited for the herd to pass from a safe distance.

We had an early dinner and retired to our tent for a much-needed sleep. We slept with only the insect net zipped up (instead of closing the canvas doors and windows) due to the warm evening temperatures. During the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning we were visited by some rather larger visitors. First a herd of elephants and then some hippos. We could make out their shapes in the darkness as the moved past our tent (about 10-50m away), but didn’t get a photograph.


Animals Spotted Today:  Elephant, Buffalo, Ugandan Kob, Vulture (Lappet Faced, Permanent & White Backed) , Hippopotamus, Waterbuck, Leopard, African Fish Eagle, Pied Kingfisher, Black Bellied Bustard, Swamp Hen, Warthog, Black Kestrel, Kite, Snake Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Forest Giant Hog, Bushbuck, Tsetse Fly, Egyptian Geese, Egret, Yellow Billed Stalk, Grey Heron, African Spoonbill, Crocodile, Glossy Ibis, Monitor Lizard, Malachite Kingfisher, Sunbird, Starling, Red-Throated Bee Eater, Pelican, Velvet Monkey, Woodland Kingfisher

DAY 4:
We checked-out of our lodge and headed south towards the impenetrable forest. On the way, we headed into the Ishasha region for a game drive, spotting mostly birds…

After a while, we came across a few other vehicles parked up with all eyes on one particular tree. On closer inspection, our guide spotted a ‘kill’ in the tree top and after chatting to his friends, we found out there was a leopard hiding in the grass under the tree. The leopard, had been spotted going up and down the tree to its kill. So, we joined the wait… After a while, the leopard appeared and timidly climbed up the first part of the tree. But then one of the other vehicles started their engine scaring it off. We continued to wait… the road was quite busy and many of the other game drivers kept pulling over, losing patience and then noisily moving off – we started to think it’d never make a move. Just when I decided to step out and go to the safari toilet (behind the truck not in the bushes) a vulture flew near the kill, forcing the leopard into action. The leopard did not want to share its hard work, so had to climb up and remove its kill before the vultures took over. I quickly (and very quietly) got back inside the truck and we enjoyed the incredible show…

After watching this, we felt like we had well and truly seen Africa’s Big 5 at work in the wild – An elephant nearly charging the Landcruiser (and seeing large herds with babies at the waterholes); A lion and lioness attempting a hunt; buffalo relaxing with the crocodiles; black and white rhinoceros with calves at the waterhole; and now a leopard retrieving its kill from high up in a tree!

The Ishasha region is well known for tree climbing lions. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to spot any lions in trees during the remainder of our drive, but we enjoyed the scenery nevertheless. Our drive took us very close to the Democratic Republic of Congo, driving as close as 500 m from the border.

We then made the very steep journey up to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It was a long, slow and windy ascent; eventually reaching an altitude of about 2300m. We were blown away by the crops growing on the mountainside and more so the villagers working in the fields.

DSC_1505DSC_1505_1200
Working hard

Our lodge was nestled at the top of the mountain with a view over the forest and cultivated land. We arrived early in the afternoon and enjoyed some downtime in this scenic spot. Being at a higher altitude meant cooler temperatures, we weren’t complaining when we saw the open log fire and discovered the hot chocolate in the dining room.


Animals Spotted Today:  Hippo, Warthog, Buffalo, Baboon, Elephant, Hammercop, Long Crested Eagle, Leopard (with kill; Kob), Saddle-billed Stork

DAY 5:
The next morning was our gorilla tracking day. After breakfast, we had a short drive to the briefing centre. While we waited to be placed into groups some local women entertained us with singing, dancing and a small skit.

After a short briefing we were directed into groups. There are only four gorilla families that are available for tracking in the Bwindi park. There are strict rules which allow only eight visitors to each gorilla group (we also had to apply for our permits almost a year in advance). Our park ranger introduced us to our Gorilla family by showing us an identification card, we were super excited because our gorilla family (The ‘Bitukura Group’), included two silverbacks and two infants.

When doing the gorilla tracking you can’t be sure of how long the hike will take (it can range from 10 minutes to all day), so we decided to utilise the service of a porter. There was a large group of local men and women to be porters for the tourists. Our porter worked in the crops (like many others), and he explained to me that they get the opportunity about twice a month to do the trek (which provides an excellent income). He saved us having to carry a heavy backpack of drinking water, and readily offered his hand during the hike. There are trackers who are sent out each morning to locate the gorillas and communicate the directions to the rangers via walkie-talkies, this allows the rangers to choose the best route through the forest. After checking in with the trackers, we were told we’d drive further along the road before starting our hike. Our guide drove us, our porter and the ranger to our starting point. On the side of the road our group, which consisted of: 8 tourists, 4 porters, 2 armed rangers (mainly to scare away bush elephants if encountered) and 1 ranger, got prepared for our hike. It was all down-hill through a beautiful jungle.

It took us about half an hour to reach the bottom where we came out into a large flat marsh area. We were pretty surprised when the ranger informed us that we were already close to the gorillas. They were in the jungle up on the other side. We scrambled through the overgrowth and observed the family through the branches. One was up a tree … when he decided to come down, we could see he wasn’t as graceful as the chimps. One of the baby gorillas entertained us by twirling around on a branch…

It was hard work gaining a clear picture of the gorillas in the dense jungle, so we were relieved when they made it to the marsh area. We enjoyed most of our hour down in the open space, standing incredibly close to the gorillas…

Our return was a bit more challenging, as it was all uphill. We were back at our lodge and showered by lunchtime. Once again, we had some downtime to take in our surroundings (while modelling our first souvenir t-shirts for the year!) and time to reflect on an amazing day.


Animals Spotted Today:  Gorillas!!!

DAY 6:
We checked-out of the lodge, ready for a long day of driving. We gave one of the Bwindi park workers a lift. The drive took about 6 hours. We took a few photos out of the window on the way… we slowed down through one village with fruit and vegetable sellers lining the roadside. They bombarded our vehicle all trying to make a sale, the park ranger bought a few different items, it was interesting watching the exchange through the window.

We reached our last lodge in the afternoon, located on the edge of Lake Mburo National Park. We had another ‘glamping’ tent with a view of the park. We could see Zebra’s from our balcony. There were also many beautiful birds in the nearby trees. On the other side of the lodge was a dairy farming and banana growing village – we had a very tasty banana milkshake for dessert.


Animals Spotted Today:  L’hoest Monkey, Crested Crane (Uganda’s National Bird), Sunbird, Lilac Crested Roller, Zebra

DAY 7:
We checked-out early and went for our last game drive. We discovered the Mburo park is predominantly home to zebra and impala with several velvet monkeys.

We also spotted the Topi (another antelope), including a mother with a newborn calf.

This was followed by a rather unusual encounter… an eagle owl on the side of the road with its kill.

We got quite close to a herd of giraffes with juveniles, who were slowly on the move throughout the park, eating as they walked. With the Landcruiser parked on the edge of the road for photographs, they crossed right in front of us…

Throughout the game drive we also saw many more birds and different coloured warthogs (some standing out against the recent regulated burn offs). Just outside the park gates we also saw the Ankole cattle with oversized horns.

We left the park and spent the rest of the day driving, taking a few more photos out the window along the way. We only stopped for lunch, which we enjoyed at a café on the Equator.

Back on the road we were slowed-up in a bit of traffic due to a turned over truck. Then as we neared the city of Kampala the traffic increased significantly. The city itself was the most insane place we’ve visited; with chaotic dusty streets packed with people trying to sell absolutely everything, constant gridlock traffic, and the ‘boda bodas’ (motorbikes) weaving between it all. After we farewelled our guide who dropped us off at our Kampala airbnb, we were feeling completely exhausted, so our last day in Africa was spent resting in our apartment.


Animals Spotted Today:  Zebra, Impala, Velvet Monkey, Topi, Warthog, Eagle Owl, Rothschild Giraffe, Brown Snake Eagle, Long Crested Eagle, Ankole Cow.

 

Have fun at work!

Gemma

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s