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Travel Experience – Uganda, a Dream Realised
By Jacinta Anderson
Travelling provides so many amazing experiences in many different ways but none more special then when you realise a lifelong dream. For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved primates, in particular gorillas and so when a rare opportunity came to participate in a once in a lifetime trip to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, I can’t tell you how excited I was.
Flying in to Uganda’s capital Entebbe, situated on the equator and also on the banks of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, which also borders Tanzania and Kenya. It was so lush and tropical and so different to what I was expecting.
My accommodation was the beautiful boutique Hotel No 5 where we met our guide Moses who had a wealth of information and helped us discover his country, the people and the wildlife.
My first day was spent visiting UWEC, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. Known as “Entebbe Zoo”, UWEC is a learning facility where they take in rescued animals from birds to primates and everything in between. We did the “behind the scenes” tour which I would recommend: it gives a great insight into what they do and gets you up close and personal with some amazing animals, including lions, rhino, giraffe, chimpanzee and lots of birds. Coming face to face with a rhino, taking a selfie with the giraffe and dancing with a Shoebill stork were highlights, not to mention watching the cheeky chimpanzees.
In the evening we were taken for a Sunset Cruise on Lake Victoria, definitely a must do. Our speedboat took us out towards the equator line and we viewed the local island fishermen casting their nets towards the horizon.
The next day we travelled west approximately 385kms (6hrs) to Kibale National Park. Our accommodation was Primate Lodge, the closest to the Visitor Information Centre which is the starting point for the Chimpanzee Trek.
The trek lasted for around 3hrs. The chimpanzees were tricky to see in the trees above us, so sometimes we ventured off the track and through the dense bushland to get a good vantage point. Hearing them screeching and talking was like nothing I had heard before. You often knew they were above you when you were unfortunately peed on. The butterflies were also beautiful to experience.
From Kibale, we ventured along roads lined with tea and coffee plantations on our way to the stunning Ndali Lodge, situated on a mountain range with one side bordering a crater lake and the other offering sensational mountain and valley views.
We then travelled south to Kazinga Channel, where we enjoyed a relaxing scenic cruise between Lake Edward and Lake George, witnessing a massive amount of birdlife along with hippos, water buffalo, crocodiles and monitor lizards.
Our journey continued south to Ishaha Wilderness Camp, in the Southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Accommodation for the next two nights was a beautiful tented safari camp located on a riverfront, where water buffalo and elephant visit the camp during the night. We enjoyed a full day safari where we were lucky to see the climbing lions that QENP is famous for, herds of elephants, buffalo, Ugandan kob and warthog, along with a vast array of birds.
Travel to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which was approximately 60kms, took 2-3hrs due to the roads. We stopped enroute at Agartha’s Home Tour, where a beautiful Ugandan lady has opened her home to teach travellers about her community. She showed us how they make millet and sorghum flour to use in bread and a traditional porridge. We were able to purchase local handicrafts to help her community obtain water tanks. It was an enjoyable experience and the interaction with local children was a highlight.
At Bwindi, our accommodation was at Buhoma Lodge where we were accommodated in tents on the side of a hill overlooking the mountain we would be trekking the next day to see the gorillas.
Our morning briefing was followed by a lovely prayer and dance performance by local woman wishing us a safe journey. We were then set up with hiking boots, raincoats, gators, water, snacks and and hiking poles. Porters were arranged at the starting point and my porter Joab was such a lovely peaceful young man, he looked after me from start to finish and saved me from falling quite a number of times.
We started off following a river and then started ascending the mountain to around 1700m above sea level. It was steep and muddy, and slow going due to heavy rains during the night. Head Porter David was in constant contact with the trackers as we zigzagged through the forest to get into position to wait for the gorillas. It was the most emotional feeling, finally getting our first sight of the gorillas including a huge Silverback named Kabukoj.
We saw a total of 13 gorillas from the family including a mother and new baby. It was such an unreal feeling just watching them moving around on the ground and up in the trees. You only have one hour with the gorillas once they are found, but we were lucky to have a little longer as they moved away from us.
I am not going to say it was easy, as even the fittest of our group struggled, but the excitement kept me going. Back at the visitor centre we were presented with certificates and, after a short walk to our hotel, I had a lovely massage, provided by the accommodation after completing the hike.
The day after our hike, with sore and weary muscles but still all on a high, we did the short drive to Kihili Airport for our flight back to Entebbe.
On arrival, we were taken to Boma Lodge for my last two nights in Uganda. I decided to take a full day tour to Ngamba Chimpanzee Island, which is an island sanctuary on Lake Victoria. It provides a habitat for injured and rescued chimps as well as an education centre and accommodation to stay and assist the staff. This was an amazing experience with a personal guide showing me around the sanctuary and helping with the chimp feeding.
I cannot begin to explain the overwhelming sense of happiness I felt seeing the gorillas, but also discovering such a beautiful country full of diversity, colour and smiles from the children, stunning scenery and an abundance of wildlife to rival any other African country. Uganda had it all!!