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Our wonderful trip to Uganda and Rwanda

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We have just returned from a 12 day trip to both Uganda and Rwanda. Thanks to all on the board for the input, as I have been working on this trip since we returned from Tanzania last year at this time. We had booked through our Canadian company here even though I had initially planned to use Travelust based on the good reports from here and the excellent communication from James. However, for insurance and other considerations we chose to book through our Canadian company (Tourcan) here...our first mistake...more on that later.
We flew into Entebbe and were met by Meddie from Travelust much to my delight. We spent 2 nights at the Speke Hotel. I would say fine for the price but thank goodness for earplugs. I tried for a quiet room, but think perhaps there is no such thing at that hotel.
We started out on our trek to Murchison Falls and ran into a problem with the oil filter on our Land Cruiser about 2 hours into the trip. We were helped by some local villagers who were very mechanical and all went well. We spent 2 nights at the Nile Safari Camp which was quite fine. The cabins are quite nice, if a bit dark and difficult to see in and the service was a bit sleepy (as one travelling Kenyan lady put it)but we enjoyed it. We had a game drive (didn't see loads of animals, but that is because I am sure we were completely ruined on the Serengeti last year), did the river trip up to the base of the falls (loads of hippos, crocodiles, some elephants, buffalo, wart hogs and antelope at the water's edge and then drove to the top of the falls. We felt very happy that we put Murchison on our itinerary.
It was there that poor Meddie had to break the news that our chimp and gorilla permits for Rwanda did not match the dates that we would be there. We were completely shocked as I had booked close to a year before. He didn't have much trouble changing the day for the chimp trek in Kibale, but could not get the change for Parc des Volcans, meaning that we would have to trek in the morning (praying for a short one)and then drive to Kigali to catch a plane. I was very annoyed as I knew the trek would be a "watch the clock constantly" day and there would be no chance for a day's rest and sightseeing in Kigali. Meddie asked me not to think about it until closer to the end so that I would not spend the whole trip fretting....good advice.
We left Murchison and drove to Ndali Lodge. It was kind of charming..reminded us a little of Gibbs Farm...just a little more tired. We did the chimp trek the next day and it was FANTASTIC. We found them after about an hour and the put on quite a show. They swung in the trees, they fought, they mated, we heard the pounding on the trees and we even saw one clean off a branch to make a tool and poke it in a log to catch the bugs and nectar. Really worthwhile !!!
We went from there to Queen Elizabeth Park and stayed at Mweya Lodge. It is a much larger place and very well run. I tend to like the smaller places but must admit I was ready to check internet and blow dry my hair. We went on a safari drive with Meddie again in the morning and while on it spotted a salt operation low in a valley where people were working. My husband asked if it was possible to go down in and we could. It was incredibly interesting as the man in charge gave us a demonstration of how they take the salt off. To see how it is still done the same way it has been done for centuries was amazing. Such a difficult life for all involved...even children as young as 8 were working there ! Another one of those "how lucky am I moments". The next day we took the boat trip up the Kazinga Channel. We saw another load of hippos,8 elephant, scores of buffalo,some crocs, a huge monitor lizard, all kinds of birds. About half way along the channel was a fishing village, with women doing the laundry and men in their fishing boats after a day on the lake. They apparently cannot fish in the channel itself.
From there we headed to Bwindi. We stayed at the wonderful Gorilla Resort, which is actually owned by Travelust. The cabins and tented cabins overlook the gorgeous mountains where the treks take place. I must admit to a bit of trepidation when I first saw the terrain we would be entering. The resort was wonderful, very well run with Milton in charge. He was with Abercrombie and Kent at the Gorilla Forest Camp for years, so he knows what he is doing right down to the hot water bottles in the bed at night.
We got soooo lucky the next morning as were assigned the "R" group. One hour of walking from the ranger station (on the side of a hill and a bit slippery but oh so much easier than I expected)we were there. They were in the trees when we got to them, but the guide said they would come down soon. And they did...at times dropping within 3 feet of us. It was incredible that this huge silverback could be so well hidden in the trees and then suddenly appear. We saw about 8 gorillas in that group...including a new baby on his mothers back. Our views of them were terrific as they were so close, however the pictures didn't do justice as it was quite heavily forested. Because our trek was so easy and finished so early, we had time to take the village walk that afternoon. I must say we enjoyed it as much as the trek and it was even a bit more tiring. We saw the production of the local banana alcohol, visited the local healer, hiked along a gorgeous stream, through fields and finished with a visit to a pygmy village. They put on quite a show of singing and dancing (even encouraged us to get up and dance with them)and of course displayed their handmade crafts. It was all wonderful. We then visited the orphanage before dinner and they sang and danced for us as well. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. They had their drawings on display for sale, so we have now a new art collection.
It was at Bwindi when Meddie was ready to discuss what to do about Rwanda trekking. He always had a couple of options for everything and this was no different. He suggested that we could spend the next night at Bunyoni Lake and then go on to Gorilla's Nest for the last days trek. I was upset that we already were only spending such a short time in Rwanda and if we went that route it would be down to only 24 hours there. Because someone at Bwindi had cancelled their second day of trekking I wanted to take a chance that the same thing might happen there. So our choice was to spend 2 nights at Gorilla's Nest...take a chance that there would be an opening and if not do something else that first day and trek on the last one.
We drove through to Rwanda the next day..with a short stop at Kisoro and at the border. Thankfully there were no issues there and we were over quickly.
The Gorilla's Nest was a bit of a surprise...beautiful setting and grounds, lovely stone buildings on the outside, but in some need of updating on the iside. It was better than I was expecting however.
Meddie met us early for breakfast the next morning and we headed right away to the ranger's station. Because the dates could not just be changed we would be in a wait and see position. If someone came without a permit and wanted to buy one for that day..they had priority over us ?? So..we waited..3 came and bought..and we waited some more. I could have brained Tourcan !!! At the very last moment they came and said there were 2 spots left and away we went. We drove for about 20 minutes on rocky roads and then hiked through potato fields to the edge of the forest. Up over the wall into a bamboo forest....easy trekking for less than an hour and there we were again with gorillas. They were a group of 10 and we saw about 8. The giant silverback, a couple of very young with their mothers, a couple of year olds who fought and chased each other around a bamboo pole endlessly...just a wonderful show. We moved down a hill after about half an hour and found more of that group. Two easy treks...the gorilla gods were with us.
We came back to the Gorilla's nest, packed up and left for Kigali. The drive there was about 2 1/2 hours along paved roads. Even though the roads are paved there, in some ways it seemed more stressful driving as the design of the roads ..narrow with very sharp drop off ditches means the people are actually walking right on the roads and don't have anywhere to move to when traffic comes. I found it very unnerving and can't understand why they didn't design in a shoulder for the pedestrians to move on to.
We stayed at the Serena and once again have to admit I was ready for a bit of luxury. We said our goodbyes to Meddie, as although he would have stayed in Kigali as per itinerary it seemed silly for him to have to be away from his family any longer just to take us to the airport. It was difficult to say goodbye..he is just what everyone on this boards says...kind, calm, very knowledgeable of his country, the fauna, animals, tribes, politics etc.
We wandered about Kigali, enjoyed relaxing around the pool the next day and headed to the airport for our flight to Entebbe that night.
We had only a single entry visa and were in the line to buy another as we were spending the night and flying to London the next morning but when we got to the cashier, he said you need an "in transit" visa, went to get the price and came back and just waved us though.
The nicest surprise at arrivals...there was Meddie all smiles to meet us as well as some new clients about to start their trip. They were a lovely couple from Holland who didn't mind a bit that Meddie wanted to drop us at the Lake Victoria Hotel. The hotel was fine..it seemed we were in a newly renovated room and it was a quick trip to the airport the next morning for our flight home..BA to London and then AC to Toronto.
Our trip was so interesting. It was thrilling to see gorillas and chimps in the wild, but it was the smiling faces and kindness of the Ugandans which struck us the most. In spite of the grinding povery, which was overwhelming at times... when you would drive by miles of children walking miles barefoot to school or women carrying unbelievable loads on their heads for miles to the markets there was always a smile for us when we waved.
How lucky are we that we can visit their beautiful countries and come back to the luxury we so often take for granted.
We would highly recommend Travelust for anyone who is considering a trip there. They certainly made our adventure a memorable one.

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