An Ugandan Urge- Gorillas & Chimps in the midst

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Apr 5th, 2017, 01:03 AM
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An Ugandan Urge- Gorillas & Chimps in the midst

Here I go again.Leaving for Uganda. 12 Days this time.3 Nights Bwindi ( Buhoma sector ), 1 Night Ishasha, 3Nights QE NP and 3 nights Kibale.Still working on logistics, almost done.Hiring a 4x4 with driver and guide for the whole trip.Its off season and will be expecting heavy downpour. Tips , suggestions , recommendations welcome.
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Apr 10th, 2017, 09:19 PM
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Oh, I am jealous Inquest ! i LOVE Uganda!! In fact, earlier today was reminiscing about it. There's something about its warm, welcoming, down to earth "vibe" that reminds me of India.

Have you chosen your accommodations?
In Buhoma, I stayed at the excellent Buhoma Lodge (NOT Buhoma Community Rest Camp). The lodge is right IN Bwindi, a quick walk to where you start the trek, if you do it.

At "Queen" as they call it, of course you'll to take the Kazinga Channel trip. Closest lodge to where you get the boat is Mweya. I went there for drinks and wished I'd stayed--the place I stayed was too far from Kazinga, which is the highlight of the park.

Have a fantastic time--you can't avoid it!!
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Apr 11th, 2017, 12:44 AM
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Thanks Cali. Been wanting to do Uganda,so its next month. Its said to be 'off season'. I believe in building my 'nest' first, before setting off, looking for the gorilla's.Though I can rough it out if the need arises, I admit I have a weakness for comfort and wouldn't compromise,if and when its available.

Yes of course I'm staying in Buhoma Lodge in Bwindi (3 nights, a standby day if one trek gets washed out). One night in @ the River Ishasha Lodge.3 Nights in Mweya Safari Lodge and 3 nights in Primate Lodge, Kibale.

Need to know more about the gorilla trek. Its said that its likely to get soggy wet and slippery. This the reason I was recommended the Buhoma sector,said to be less ardous/strenuous.Would you recommend layered clothing? How cold can it get?

Clothing - Thermal inner wear,a full sleeve shirt/ Tee, trousers 9 water resistant material, rain wear poncho, garden gloves and hand-towel.

Backpack- Camera body with 2 lenses, 18-105mm and a 80-400mm(birding),binocs, water,energy bars,nuts and raisins for protein & instant turbo.
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Apr 12th, 2017, 10:17 PM
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I found that the gators were great to keep mud off pants etc. It was very slippery where we were, the porters and walking sticks were a must in my opinion.
You have to leave your packs with the porters when you get to the gorillas and it is so exciting I didn't think straight.
It started to rain and I was worried about my camera. You can't have plastic bags but a dry bag or something to put over your camera in case of a downpour is a good idea.

I took off my raincoat and wrapped it over my camera. It was more important than me getting wet. the downpour only lasted a few minutes I think.

Not for the trek, but we brought almonds and protein bars for the rest of the trip which was a great idea.

I was there in Feb and it was not cold. I layered however and peeled off during the hike. I always had long sleeves though. It seems when ever i took off my rain coat it would rain a bit again.
We hiked Ruhija so not sure how it compares to Buhoma.
IT was amazing none the less and your hour is up in no time.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 12:53 AM
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I thoroughly enjoyed your blog and your photo narrative on Kenya,Uganda and Ethiopia.thanks for the tips. I'm concerned about my camera and the rain.Changing lenses would be a problem and carrying 2 bodies for the 2 lenses is going to be painful,apart from juggling the backpack. Your suggestion of hiring a porter is a very practical option.Think I'll consider it seriously.

Any idea if one could carry a small umbrella (convenient to shoot from under one) or it would possibly alarm the apes.There is no mention of it in any ' dos& don'ts '. Or is it simply a stupid idea.

Ruhija,I'm told is a steeper and an arduous sector as compared to Buhoma.

Live42day, which is the lodge you stayed in Queen Elisabeth.The camps looks very nice.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 05:35 AM
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I think an umbrella is a silly (not stupid) idea. You're in the rain forest, of course it's going to rain and it'd doubtful they'd let you take the umbrella anywhere near the gorillas. You can't even take your walking stick or bag. Just wear a rain jacket with a hood and get a sleeve for your camera. I had this with me in case I needed it:https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...in_Sleeve.html There are much cheaper ones than that; this one came as part of a package when I bought my camera. Ultimately I didn't need it. All three days we trekked it didn't rain until late afternoon after we'd returned to the lodge.

Hire a porter even if you don't think you'll need it. Many of them are former poachers and this is a legal way for them to make money now. For all you've paid for the trekking trip, another $10 for the porter is nothing. Plus, when it gets muddy or steep, they will quite literally pull you up that mountain. Not to mention they'll carry your stuff. One of mine kept reminding me to drink and eat along the way. He didn't want me getting dehydrated!

Also do not forget to tip the trackers, the guys who go out long before you get there to find the gorilla groups. Without them, you'd be trekking a lot farther looking for them. That was one tip I wasn't told about ahead of time.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 04:01 PM
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I gave my porter double, he earned it. Inquest I can't imagine any hike steeper than the one that we did. We booked a year in a advance and thought I had asked for Buhoma, we were staying in that area, and found out the day prior we were hiking Ruhija which I was ticked about. I think they didn't get around to booking it till later or something.

We stayed at Bush Lodge in QE park. We were supposed to be in Kasyeni but for some reason we ended up in Bush Lodge, not sure why. We met some people who were staying at Kasyeni and loved it. I would be happy in either.
Thank you for comment about my blog.
I don't think I would consider, nor probably need to, change lens on the gorilla hike really. I just took an 18-200 Lens and really didn't need to zoom much we were so close.

And as Amy said, I doubt you can bring an umbrella. and it would be more of a pain anyhow IMO>
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Apr 14th, 2017, 11:38 AM
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Live42day, I'd have been beyond "ticked" about the apparent delay and not booking you into the hike you'd requested a year before. Who was in charge of this--the agency? That wold b e a future red flag for me, although that agency does have a generally good reputation. Would you use them again?

Inquest, at Buhoma Lodge, ask if Frank Turuhuki is on staff there. A member of the local Batwa tribe, he's a wonderful young man whose kindness will add greatly to your time there. All of their staff were excellent in fact,, and the chef at the time ( summer 2012) turned out fantastic meals.
The lounge there is a great place. Employees of nearby Bwindi Community Hospital (an amazing community effort) in "downtown" Buhoma village sometimes stop there in the evenings, so there's a warm, welcoming local "flavor" there.
Gorillas occasionally wander on to the grounds at Buhoma and another nearby lodge!! Have you seen the video of the man being nuzzled by a baby gorilla ? If not, I'll post it here next time.
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Apr 14th, 2017, 02:55 PM
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Cali. Yes, I was very ticked . I sent numerous requests over the year to the tour company to make sure we were booked in, but never got an answer. Would I use them again? Hmmm.....not sure. There were a few things that I was not happy with but none of it ruined our holiday. I guess if I was a different person I could have let it, but we were in Uganda and seeing gorillas so in the end it was fantastic. After our amazing driver guide in Ethiopia the bar was set very high anyhow.
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Apr 14th, 2017, 04:36 PM
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Thanks, Live42day. The thing is, most people are there only once or twice in their lives, and pay a large amount of money for the trip and the trekking. So to have that happen, even if the overall experience was good and you wisely don't want to remain angry, is disappointing. I know from your blog which company you used, and I, based on your experience, would not use them. Besides, that company's Uganda driver sounded kind of iffy as well.
My driver later that yr (2012) in Kenya was NOT good--quite arrogant in fact--and because of it, i would never use or recommend the company I went with. He was a "contract" driver...but the company chose him, and failed to tell me that the driver I'd specifically requested was not available. Heck, once you are there, ti a bit late to do anything about it!
Even if an overall trip is good, there are so many companies in the East African tourist economy that is hurting. feel strongly about not using a company that dropped the ball. It is great that you had the amazing Ethiopian driver guide, but I'd expect no less from a well-reputed company in another country to whom you've given your $ and your trust.
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Apr 14th, 2017, 06:30 PM
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yes, you are right.
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Apr 14th, 2017, 08:41 PM
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It wasn't just you, Live42day. Read the company's Tripadvisor review--the one rated "poor"-- and you'll see the same driver mentioned, as well as similar but more serious "ball-dropping" by the company.

Inquest, what company are you using?
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Apr 15th, 2017, 01:04 AM
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This is what I like about the fodorites. Always helpful coupled with the detailing, makes planning so much more easier.You guys are fantastic.I feel completely prepared.Thx Amy,live42day and especially you, Cali where your contribution to the asia board is invaluable & immeasurable. All finer points noted.I feel so confident and its seems it'll be a perfect trip.

You see, my planning has always been in the last minute ( a month or two before departure) as my profession prevents me from thinking or planning too far ahead.Time too, is critical, so a 2 week break is my upper limit.Practically everything has to fit into the period.Then again I don't believe in cramming.I love lolling around in leisure travel, pace it in a way so that I also have the time with the locals, their culture and cuisine.Though I can do Murchisons, I've decided to skip it.

In this case I have not uses a travel company but an 'individual'-a guide, driver and a chimp/birding expert who is based out of Fort Portal. Kibale seems to be his backyard.He owns a 4x4 and drives himself.On his request,I have only sent him money to book the gorilla permits.The rest (lodges) he says is already arranged and can be paid on arrival( he has used his 'good offices').I have also spoken to the individual lodges and reconfirmed bookings.Strange as it may seem to many of you,I presume, because its 'off season', I think I'm getting away with it.Not to mention huge cost cutting( I've listed the lodges )

I have spoken to him several times(the distinctive & heavy Ugandan accent is hard to follow),so we had settled down with Whatsapp. Communication has never been better since.


This man came with recommendations from a reliable source.I'll be back here with my experience before i recommend him.
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Apr 15th, 2017, 10:06 AM
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That sounds great inquest. That is what I did in Ethiopia, booked an independent driver and it worked so well. Please report back on your experience. I am not a birder, but my friend and I both remarked how Uganda was a birders paradise for sure.
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Apr 15th, 2017, 10:19 PM
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Inquest, you are wise to skip and not try to cram in Murchison,within your time frame.The drive between Murchison and QE is an entire longggg day. While glad I saw the Falls, as well as the animals, I had longer for traveling then. Now, like you, I have a two week limit on trips, and if I had to choose one of the two parks, it would be QE instead of Murchison. Incidentally, did you know the great movie "The African Queen" was filmed at Murchison Falls?

Also, your plan sounds like mine for a (fingers-crossed) future trip. Is the driver/guide perhaps Ivan Kaganzi? (If so, it would be a wonderful "small world!") I met him at Bigodi Swamp, where his personality, interests, knowledge, and skills as a guide, were most impressive. His grandparents live in Fort Portal, and he is an expert on spotting and describing birds and chimpanzees. I email him since the time he guided me at Bigodi.

The accent will seem less heavy once you meet your guide in person. There's something about seeing the lips move, and the facial and other expressions, that makes it easier to understand than via phone where you have only the voice, and not the entire person, to go by!

Finally, thank you very much for saying you find the info on the Asia board (India specifically) useful. Reading that means a huge amount, as it keeps me motivated. (I'm still slowly but surely posting about Gujarat--added another album of photos a couple days ago.)

I'll wager you will love Uganda!!!
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May 29th, 2017, 02:10 AM
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Just back from an incredible 14 days in awesome Uganda.Arrived on Rwandair, Bombardier, from Kigali,a small aircraft with 30 people on board mainly Ugandans getting back home.As we descended from the skies through heavy clouds, got a glimpse of the huge Lake Victoria dotted with islands.The vastness was a sea of water as far as the eye could see.

Touch down at Entebbe was at 10.30 am, immigration was a breeze. Barely any air traffic barring an Emirates on the tarmac,so the airport was practically empty.As i normally do, I picked up some South African wine in the duty free and made my way out.There was Howard, a young man in his late 30s, in a red tee with the silhouette of a silver back printed on it.Identification on arrival was predetermined with previous exchanges of photos on WhatsApp. Communication too had eventually become a lot easier.Loaded my duffle and my camera pack into the Toyota HiAce 4x4, a large safari van with pop-up roof and plenty of room.I was the only other occupant.
I had booked to stay in Alison & Dave's guesthouse.Its in a suburb of Entebbe, winding through the traffic into shanty town, a steep mud road led us to the guest house. The couple were very warm, showed me to my room. Ensuite and rather small with a double bed,it was part of a remodelled house with 3 rooms on the ground floor,which is the B&B.The owners themselves live upstairs.Well kept garden and plenty of avian heterogeneity.

A good catnap and a hot shower,got going,to stock up for the journey. The first stop was to top-up currency for the MTN sim card,Howard had got me.I needed big bytes for work related communication.Once done, headed straight to Victoria Mall.Changed currency in the forex counter at the entrance. Got UGX 3600 to a U$D, much better than UGX3410 quoted by Barclays.Soon after bought flipflops from Bata. I found them great to wear while travelling, especially in a car/van. Shoprite was down the passage where we stocked up some fresh fruit,cookies,instant coffee/tea, mugs and a thermos for the pit-stops on our long road trip.A late lunch at a local restaurant was flavoured rice and goat curry washed down with a Nile Lager.The evening was spent around town,early supper by the Island Beach Cafe & restaurant on Nambi road, on the shores of Victoria.

Early to bed for a 6 am departure to Bwindi......more to follow..
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May 29th, 2017, 05:05 AM
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An early rise,some toast and hot coffee served by the hostess,packed our bags and were off.As per the plan we were to take the Kampala Byepass and hit the Masaka- Kampala road which take you south-west towards Kabale and Bwindi.The traffic in and around Kampala is notorious,stuck in one of them means loosing valuable time. Hit upon a plan. I had 2 different downloads of the map of Uganda of which one would work off-line too.So convinced Howard to hit the dirt track,of which he was reluctant and finally conceded.I was feeling adventurous.The effort paid off.The added advantage was we got to do a lot of birding driving in the hinterlands.

Uganda is a birder's haven.Well over a 1000 species recorded. I myself got to see and tick around 250 during my whole stay.Howard himself is a good bird guide.He has downloaded over 150 bird calls onto his mobile which came in handy,as birds would come to us as he re-played through the bluetooth speakers!! Among the notable species were Shoebill,Green-breasted Pitta,African Green Broadbill,Great Blue Turaco,Goliath and the Purple Heron,Fish eagle,Crested Serpent Eagle...plenty more.

We approached the Masaka-Kampala highway.A single road twin track had lots of traffic.The average speed was around just 50-60kmph. The total distance to be covered that day was around 600kms. Approached the town of Masaka. A little hungry, so stopped by a wayside cart making 'Rolex". Rolex is an omelette rolled into a Chapati (an Indian flatbread). In other words,I guess Rolled Eggs were corrupted to Rolex !! 2 eggs are beaten with chopped onions, tomato and cabbage,a pinch of salt and poured onto a hot pan.Once the "Spanish Omelette' is done a chapati is placed over it and rolled over.A rather filling snack.We packed ours and moved on to find a picnic spot by a riverside.We had our instant coffee too.Re-energized and on our way towards Mbarara. Mid-way to Bwindi.

Uganda is truly a 'Banana Republic'. Bananas and Bananas every where.Everyone were carting bananas,on their heads,on shoulders,in trucks,on cycles.There is Banana Whisky, Banana wine.Food too is served with bananas.The Gorillas & Chimps love Bananas.I too went went bananas over ananas (pineapple) and bananas.I'm convinced 'Man' first originated from the heart of Africa, i.e Uganda. No wonder the country has a rich diversity of primates apart from the great apes, there are the Olive Baboons, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, Blue Monkeys, De Brazza's Monkeys, L'Hoest's Monkeys, Patas Monkey, Red Colobus Monkeys, Red Tailed Monkey, the Mangabeys,the nocturnal bushbaby and the potto.....Now you see,its all because of the bananas !!
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May 29th, 2017, 10:48 AM
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Inquest, I'm savoring eery word of your report--as much as you savored the "rolex."!
Mbarara--"M7" country. I loved how that's the nickname for Pres. Museveni!
Glad to hear it was a great 14 days, and looking forward to more stories.
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May 30th, 2017, 01:07 AM
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Thanks Cali. Glad you are enjoying the report.Of course Mr.M7 as he's called has notched up 7 presidential terms. Probably will soon be called M8. Interestingly another,irrelevant fact,when in Mbarara, that was told to me was about the BAHIMAs. This tribe is found in western Uganda in Mbarara, Kiruhura and neighbouring districts and they are known for their biggest 'behinds' LOL !! The trivia that you collect while travelling.

Rolled into Mbarara. A bustling town,the traffic was chaotic.Filled up fuel.A sit down lunch of chicken curry and rice at a restaurant which seemed popular with locals.We left Mbarara 'behind' and proceeded towards Rushenyi. From here we did have to head west towards Buhoma.Rain and slushy mud tracks slowed us down.The hilly terrain of countryside was beautiful. The landscape changed to terraced fields towards Rukungiri and Kihihi,almost close to Ishahsha.

It was half past 6 pm when we reached Bwindi. I had booked to stay in Bwindi Guest House and particularly at the Lower Gorilla House,just at the entrance of the Bwindi Np. This property belongs to the Church of Uganda and is managed by Bwindi Community Hospital,which is doing a commendable job in health care in Buhoma.The Lower Gorilla house has 2 double rooms with a common pantry and dining. The rooms open out to a large deck which overlooks the forest. Daniel,a young American along with his wife have been involved with the hospital for over 2 years.He has been entrusted with the task of hospitality while his wife looked after the affairs of the hospital.Sarah,a young girl was the care taker,was assigned to the cottage.Breakfast,lunch and dinner would be cooked at the community centre brought here and served by her.I was the only guest for the next 3 nights.

http://www.bwindiguesthouse.com/

The view from my deck is the photo on the homepage of the website.Daniel showed me to my room.Its was large,with a queen size bed and 2 single beds.The view from the deck was magnificent.Tired after a long day.A hot shower,laid down on the hammock on the deck watching the full moon rise over the hills.The the night in the jungle came alive.A chorus of insects and frogs. The smell of the rain forest was unforgettable, the fragrance of the bloom floated in atop the earthy, composty jungle odours.
Melody and cacophony.
Time for dinner and bed.For tomorrow is to be a big day!! A date with the big apes.
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May 30th, 2017, 05:39 AM
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Up early,the next morning, some hearty breakfast on the deck.The sky was a little overcast and it had rained during the night.My spirits were low when it started to drizzle again.My much awaited trek could be washed out I thought.Sarah assured that thing will be fine soon.Its the rain forest after all.Lo and behold the sun was out in about 30mins. The assembly at the Park headquarters was at 7 am for the briefing. Packed my camera gear and all the other required paraphernalia and reached. We were split into 4 groups and were assigned the Habinyanja Group. A dominant Silverback Makara, with his family of 18 gorillas.Soon after the briefing, we a group of 6 drove for 45 minutes to reach the trail head at Nyamishaba village. Just off the road was the steep track taking us down to a gorge.The going was tough,slippery as it had rained. The weather was brilliant,the skied had cleared and the moss covered the sun-dappled floor of this ancient forest,we trudged on for close to an hour and a half.Streaks of gentle light filtered through the openings in the canopy.The morning mist cast a magical veil over the contrasts of green.

Anticipation and anxiety was high,it was getting warm.The greenhouse effect was evident,removed a layer of clothing.By now the beads of sweat had to be constantly wiped off.Not a whimper from anyone,till we herd a strange howl at a distance.Immediately our tracker,cupping his hands answered. The advance party had tracked the Habinyanjas. The calls went back and forth.A good one hour later,as I climbed just over a small embankment saw the tracker as he pointed out to a massive Silverback barely 15 ft away. My heart skipped a beat.Pulled out my camera and got some great pics.He was soon joined by more of his troop. there was this female with a baby. Absolutely adorable.We saw 12 in all or maybe more, lost count,as they would vanish into the thicket, then to surface again.

By this time we had followed them for close to an hour and a half. I could sense that the big boy was occasionally getting irritated.There were 2 charges,when on the second occasion he was peacefully enjoying his time in the bush about 20ft away.Then all of a sudden with a might grunt and a chest thump, came straight for me, I froze. If it wasn't for the tracker,who came in between,he would have had knocked me flat. In a flash,he tugged at the trackers trousers and tore it.Good Lord that was close...and that was as close as one can get to wetting the pants.These incredible apes are extremely powerful.Like they say..in the wild, expect the unexpected..and i lived to tell you the tale
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