July 10, 2013

Diary of a Muzungu Visits…

“Day breaks over the Rift Valley and my early morning coffee has arrived, a wake-up call for my morning safari game drive in Queen Elizabeth.

Game drive or lie-in? Game drive or lie-in? I ponder. Hmmm…

Too many decisions, too early in the morning. I lie there in the huge double bed, the smell of the wonderfully aromatic Omwani coffee filling the room. My friends depart for the game drive and I decide I’ll opt for the birding walk along the top of Kyambura Gorge – and drift back to sleep.

Everyone clambers onto Julia’s new Safari roof rack to watch a lion feeding on a freshly killed Kob on Kasenyi Plain.

So far our Safari has taken us north from Kampala for a few days stay in Kibale Forest. From there we drive the magical back route, through the crater lakes and on down south, descending across the Savannah floor of the Rift Valley and into central Queen Elizabeth National Park.

After a few days sleeping in a cold treehouse with no electricity and no phone network, we’re looking forward to a couple of days of luxury. I briefly looked around Kyambura Gorge Lodge while passing on a previous trip and couldn’t believe my luck that I am about to spend a couple of days there with my group of 11 friends. We pass the journey pondering what to try out first: a massage or dip in the pool? Will we have time to visit all the community projects? Will we see elephants from the lodge?

As we navigate around the potholes on the low-lying roads crossing the Rift Valley, I point across to Kyambura Gorge, site of the chimp trekking. I wonder if the baboons will be waiting for us at the bottom of the hill?

The Lodge is perched high up on Kyambura Gorge, 1050 metres above sea level, with a 180° view across the Rift Valley with the Rwenzori Mountains in the far distance. On a clear day you can see across to the Blue Mountains of the Congo. Kyambura Gorge Lodge sits just outside Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda’s most popular park.

And so we arrive en masse: two very dirty vehicles chockablock full of tired and dusty travellers, a hungry toddler and assorted baggage. What a lovely welcome from the Kyambura Gorge Lodge staff! Even before we’ve reached our rooms, we feel at home. After a glass of fresh juice, the staff pick up our bags and we are quickly settled – even though we are a big group.

The view in every direction is breathtaking. The clever positioning of a telescope in the breakfast area immediately grabs this twitcher’s eye. The layout and decor are quite unlike any other lodge in Uganda. Many lodges tend to adapt the same style but Kyambura Gorge Lodge is in a league of its own. Each banda has its own colour scheme and ours was a mixture of blues. I loved the recycled MTN kiosk bedside cabinet! We stayed in Lumumba, so named after one of the Gorge’s chimps.

Each Banda is cleverly divided into sections to suit your every mood: a huge window seat cum day bed, a verandah with a wicker hanging basket chair – and a bed which is HUGE by any standards. I vote this possibly the most comfortable bed in Uganda.

To me there is nothing worse than going to a beautiful lodge in a natural setting and finding a load of Chinese-made plastic fittings in the bathroom. This couldn’t be further from the case at Kyambura Gorge, where there’s attention to detail in every aspect.

The refurbished coffeehouse is a fantastic living space. The eclectic décor provides something interesting for the eye, everywhere you look. The upholstered furniture in bold African prints lends a nice twist to European style furniture. Even the ceiling is funky! The attention to every detail is second to none at the converted Coffee House main living area at Volcanoes Safaris’ Kyambura Gorge Lodge.

Activities from Kyambura Gorge Lodge

Despite its remote-seeming location, there’s a whole list of activities to choose from!

Game drives
Afternoon boat trip on the Kazinga Channel at Mweya: elephant, hippo, Buffalo and many of the park’s 600 bird species
Chimp tracking in Kyambura Gorge or Kalinzu forest
Wildlife Gorge Walk, accompanied by one of the lodge’s trained staff. We saw lots of birds and Black and White Colubus Monkeys. You might see a chimp!
Community Coffee Tour. The Kyambura Women’s Coffee Cooperative, developed by the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust gives local women a much-needed source of income. The Omwani coffee is served at Kyambura Gorge and many other lodges in the area. You can also buy Omwani Coffee to take home. The project recently featured in Uganda’s national Monitor newspaper.
Search for the Tree Climbing Lions in Ishasha
Track Mongooses on Mweya with the Uganda Wildlife Authority
Birding in Kyambura Wetland, a habitat that is recovering well thanks to the work of the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust
The Omumashaka Drama group performs for guests at the lodge. The group puts on monthly performances of educational plays, songs and dances for the community
Visit the bee-keeping project. At certain times of year, you can even suit up with our local beekeepers for this unique hands-on experience!
The Blue Lake at Kalinzu
UCOTA, the Uganda Community Tourism Association, helps develop and manage a series of community-led tourism projects across Uganda. One of my favourites in Queen Elizabeth is Katwe Salt Lake, situated past the Equator crossing.
We took turns to lie in the hammock and gaze out across the savannah and into Kyambura Gorge. The pool, massages and all your meals and alcoholic drinks (oh yes) are included in the cost of your room

There could be no better setting for a honeymoon. Note to self: look for a husband ;)

Spectacular views of sunsets and mountains, attentive but discreet service, a gentle welcoming smile, wonderful food, a real commitment to ecotourism and community development, a beckoning swimming pool, a bed I never wanted to leave and a whole range of activities on your doorstep, I can wholeheartedly recommend Kyambura Lodge.

The spacious bandas rooms are full of light with floor-to-ceiling glass along one side. The thick curtains should make sure you’re not woken up too early in the morning however.

I loved our banda bathroom. With its double basins and open plan design, it had a decadent feel to it, softened by the use of natural materials to give it an understated elegance. Standing under the hot, powerful shower I enjoyed the sweeping views out onto the Savannah. Oh why did I stay for just one night? I didn’t even try the outside shower!

The cone-shaped thatched roof of the converted coffee house, Kyambura Gorge Lodge. The planting of the lodge’s gardens complements the original decor throughout the lodge. It really is a special place.

At the breakfast table I’m joined by my excited friends. They’re all chatter and laughter after their game drive – and ravenous. We dive into a huge breakfast of fresh fruit, 100% organic Omwani coffee, locally produced honey (another Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust initiative), brown bread toast, a ‘full English’ cooked breakfast and pancakes.

They recount stories of the Lion with its adolescent cubs, a huge herd of Buffalo and a Hippo watching them all in the distance. Not bad for a morning’s work! I’ve been spoiled though: three years working for the Uganda Conservation Foundation have given me many days in the bush.

Beyond the gardens of Kyambura Gorge Lodge are the wetlands, previously used as an illegal brick works. The Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust has rehabilitated 30 acres of wetland. The area is now rapidly regenerating to its natural state.

If you want to stay in a real ecolodge, look no further than Kyambura Gorge Lodge. Ecotourism is a word that’s often used in Uganda but very few lodges or operators live up to the title. Volcanoes really deliver. Investments such as solar energy, rainwater harvesting, a salt water swimming pool and low Flushing eco-toilets are just some of the environmentally friendly lodge features. Active development of conservation and community projects are key to the company’s vision. As an active supporter of conservation and community development in Uganda, I was seriously impressed with what I saw and read.

Upmarket tour operator Volcano Safaris specialises in safaris in Western Uganda and trips to the mountain gorillas of Uganda and Rwanda.”

by Charlotte Beauvoisin from Diary of a Muzungu | Uganda travel blog

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