July 5, 2013

Uganda Uncovered – Roxy’s First…

Uganda is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully diverse countries with forests and plains, primates and game with the most welcoming friendly inhabitants. There is so much variation in the country, not just the landscapes, but also the different species you will find out there.

My first stop was to Kyambura Gorge Lodge, situated outside Queen Elizabeth National Park. With each room overlooking the Kyambura Gorge, I was ecstatic to hear chimp screeching and swinging between the trees somewhere below my room. The following day I descended into the gorge to see if I could find them in their natural habitat. It was most exciting to suddenly find myself face to face with a chimp through the branches. I followed for a bit and met her partner, the alpha male and her baby.

Day 2 took me on a boat trip across the Kazinga channel, which was a lovely afternoon with plenty of birds along with elephant and buffalo, plus watching the fishermen set off from their villages. There is myriad of birdlife, I have never seen so many kingfishers in just a few hours. A game drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park and a visit to Ishasha Wilderness Camp did not disappoint. Ishasha is famous for its tree-climbing lion, one of which I was greeted by moments after I entered through the gate. She didn’t seem too bothered by the vehicle, but nodded nonchalantly from the tree. The drive on from the rolling plains of Queen Elizabeth was a beautiful journey as I slowly started to ascend towards Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The drive is quite something as you see the rich dark green of trees enticing you up the mountains and into the depths of the forest.

Volcanoes Bwindi Safari Lodge is set right in the heart of the forest, where the gorillas are often found wandering through the camp. The outside deck is the most magical spot for birdwatching and watching mist rising from the river. There is a lovely little river walk around the lodge and a most refreshing natural pool for cooling off in the forest.

After a 3 hour trek through the Impenetrable, I was collected and taken to my next destination Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge. A stroll to the viewpoint, to look over at the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, wandering through the village set me up for a delicious dinner and retiring early to my room with a cosy fire lit by ther butlers. The following morning after an early hearty breakfast it was time to go to the gorilla station for a briefing with the guides, then with porters allocated to help me on the way it was time to descend deep into the Impenetrable Forest to track the Mountain Gorilla.

During a steep downhill climb tackling rocks rivulets and rain, the porters were amazing at navigating through the forest. After just over 2 hours we scrambled up a bank, peeping through the trees to find an open space of silverback gorilla, with mothers and babies welcoming in the sunshine that, right on cue, had peered through the clouds. Those that think the term ‘gorillas in the mist’ is a cliché are absolutely mistaken, as it was one of the most mesmerising sights to see these vast creatures among the greenery with the backdrop of the mountains and the mist rising. What an experience it was to spend an hour with these beasts, observing every move and watching them looking straight back at me in equal awe.

The hour seemed to go too quickly and it was time to leave them in peace as we watched a mother breast feed her baby, in such a familiar way to human behaviour. Back at the lodge I then embarked on another little stroll to visit the Batwa Community (pygmies) and was taken back in time as to how they used to hunter-gather their food, plus the villages they built to live in. I arrived back in the lodge to watch the sunset over the mountains in the distance, as the cloud had cleared and the views were yet again, reflective and breathtaking.

I have to say, the first few days of the trip will forever live in my memory as it is absolutely one of the most awe-inspiring excursions I have been on. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone that has ever felt any connection with wildlife, adventure, and more importantly Africa, as this is yet another glowing example of her diverse and unique beauty.

As a final treat I took the boat to Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary for feeding time of the orphaned chimps, which was a very humbling visit. Listening to their carers tell the story of how they were rescued and how they got to the island was fascinating and moving, and to hear how they have to earn the respect of the others before they are accepted is heart-wrenching.

So, that was the end of Uganda for me, but I look forward to returning, not only to track down those shoebills, but also to be welcomed back by the Ugandan people, who are some of the friendliest I have come across on my travels so far. I would urge anybody to go.

by Roxy Voorspuy

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