I finally got back to Africa this summer. I say finally, because anyone who has been to Africa will probably tell you that getting back there is pretty much all you think about when you're not there. I started this trip in Kenya (which I'll post about soon) then on to Uganda for the first time. I think I was a bit unprepared for what a wonderful country Uganda is. I've been to several countries on the continent, and all are great in different ways, but the Ugandan people are among the nicest and happiest I've met. That's saying a lot. It was especially striking considering the level of poverty in the rural areas. Everyone was just great.
I met my good friend and guide for the trip, Paul Kirui in Entebbe, and we drove across Uganda to settle in for some chimp viewing in Kibale forest. My first time to see chimps in the wild. After a morning tour of a local swamp to check out some of the other local monkeys, Paul and I did 3 treks in Kibale forest over 2 days, and had some really nice sightings. It had been drier than usual in Kibale, and most of the chimps stayed in the trees looking for food. A few came down to look around or find some water. Trekking time to the chimps or the gorillas can vary wildly from just a few minutes to several hours. The rangers keep track of where they've last been seen, and there's really no way of knowing ahead of time what you're in for. And even after finding them, you have to keep up with them. The chimps were especially mobile, and made us work a bit to stay with them. All worth it - chimps are amazing to watch, and I wish I could have stayed there another week.
Kazinga Channel & QE Park
Part of the standard itinerary for this part of Uganda, is to make your way to The Impenetrable Forest from Kibale via QE Park with a stop in Kazinga Channel for a quick boat ride and game viewing. Kazinga is a channel that runs between Lake Edward & Lake George. Lots of great bird life, elephants, buffalo, and a few endemic species. It's a nice way to break up the drive, and bring some variety to the trip. We didn't happen to see too much wildlife on our game drive through QE Park.
Bwndi & The Impenetrable Forest
Well, the best was saved for last. After driving through beautiful countryside, villages, banana plantations, tea fields and terraced farms, we made it to Bwindi, where our lodge overlooked a beautiful mountainous stretch of jungle. The Impenetrable Forest. At park headquarters in the morning, trekking groups were assigned to the different gorilla families in the area. There is a ranger assigned to each group to lead the way and to keep the gorillas safe. Lots of protocols for the one hour of time allowed with the gorillas, including wearing masks to protect them from any diseases we might bring along. And the most valuable thing of all - porters hired to help carry our gear and assist us if needed! We were scheduled for 2 days of trekking. The first day was ummm... difficult. It was about a 2 hour steep hike up to a mountaintop - about a 1300 ft elevation gain -then down into a very steep valley on the other side, through a tea field, until we finally arrived at the Rushegura gorilla group. The good news after all of that trekking was that this gorilla family stayed in a relatively confined area eating vegetation. We had great encounters with silverbacks and the younger ones kept us entertained swinging around and playing. We had a terrific hour with them. It was an exhausting day for me, but not so bad for the 20 somethings in my group! In context we were actually lucky, as some other groups had much more difficult treks. The next day we ended up driving about an hour away to a hilltop for what turned out to be a shorter trek, on the way to see the Habinyana family. Although easier to get to, we found the gorillas on a steep slippery slope - difficult, wet, and heavily vegetated - and they were not content to stay still. So they made us work a bit harder for our encounters, but we still managed to get a some nice images and decent sightings.
It really was an amazing adventure, and it's hard to describe how it feels to be so close to both the gorillas and chimps. Pretty special. Believe it or not, this is the reader's digest version, let me know if you'd like more info! Enjoy some of my favorite images from the trip. ( click on any image to stop or start the slide show)