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-   -   The Safari (Kenya) and Gorilla (Uganda) Trip Report from August 2021. (

Heimdall Oct 10th, 2021 12:22 AM

Love the photo of the river with oxbow bends, and the beautifully framed photo of the steps at Trackers Safari Lodge. I’m looking forward to reading about your gorilla tracking experience.

I had to laugh about the obsession with crisp new US dollar bills, as I had the same experience several times in East Africa and Rwanda. Total contrast with South Africa, as no one wants US currency, and nearly everywhere you can use your credit card.

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:00 AM

Day 10: Monday – Bwindi (Trackers Safari Lodge)

We were up at 6am for breakfast at 6:30. It was a combination of cereal, fruit, toast, eggs, and bacon. At 7:30, we departed for Bwindi National Park - a quick 10 minute drive. (this is a great hotel location - we are so quick to the park!)

We checked in and sat down - the first thing we saw was a group of local dancers. This is a local NGO that supports women locally and did two dances from specific regions of Uganda. We then were divided into groups and assigned to our gorilla groups. We were given the Mubare group - the first group to be habituated in Bwindi.

At 8:30, we started hiking. First, we hiked up trails (for over an hour), then we went into the rainforest following a guy with a machete who was hacking his way through the jungle. We had hired 5 porters (they carry your bag, pull you along, and one pushed me from behind). In addition to helping us, it also is a way to support the local economy. We started in short sleeve shirts, but when we were bushwacking, it was recommended to put a rain coat or long sleeves on because there were a lot of thorns. There were times you walked through the little ants and the guides pointed them out and had you walk quickly through there. I think all (except Dad) got bitten by ants and I also got stung by a wasp (which took over a week for the circle to go away!). The thorns were very prickly and caught on your clothes. We all wore safari pants, carried rain gear, and wore gaiters (they are to help prevent against the ubiquitous ants in your pants - apparently debatable if they actually worked).

During this time, the lead ranger was in contact with the trackers, who had gone ahead to find the family. As they got closer, they didn’t use the walkie-talkie, but started hooting to the trackers. At 10:20, we were told to leave water, bags, and walking sticks behind and pull out cameras and whatever else we needed. At 10:30, we saw the gorillas. They were shy though and kept moving, so we chased them through the jungle. (I had been given some great advice from photo enthusiasts - in addition to your camera, put an extra battery and an extra memory card in your pocket. While I didn't need them, in case of a card or battery issue, you had a backup. Once you leave your bag, you don't get back until your hour is over.)

The Mubare family has the largest silverback - 180 kgs ( which is about 400 lbs.). Although large, he is not fierce, as evidenced by the fact that he is missing two fingers from a fight. The family has 9 gorillas, including 2 babies - who were about 1 1/2 years old.

After a few minutes, they stopped walking and were just eating - we had a great view of the silverback eating. The babies were funny and fell off the trees and branches they were climbing a few times. They were ok though. Photos were hard because of the leaves and bugs and sunshine and shade, but I got a few.

After an hour, we had to leave, so we walked through the jungle and met our porters. The hike down was easier, but harder on the knees. We stopped to eat our packed lunches from the hotel. We returned to the visitor center about 1pm.

We came back to the hotel - we were muddy and dirty! The kids and I walked to the pool and put our feet in, but no one swam. We all showered, cleaned up, and downloaded photos. At 4pm, we went to the bar for “high tea” which for us, was cold drinks (D1 saved us by having actual tea). They also brought a small plate of meatballs and potato chips to munch on… and then eventually a plate of cookies.

We had some chill time after this - before dinner and went to dinner at 7pm. Dinner was avocado with honey mustard starter, cream of mushroom soup, main was sirloin over mashed potatoes with vegetables, and dessert was a vanilla pudding cake. They also brought us a “farewell dinner” of local food, which included sweet potato, millet corn, mashed banana, spinach, and goat soup. We felt bad not eating it, but we had eaten a full meal already. I felt like I was saying "too much food" constantly! We retired to our rooms and were in bed by 9 pm.

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:10 AM

TPAYT thanks for the nice comments! I write these for family at home - who know nothing about the area we are visiting. So I put in many random details in the hope they can visualize along with us.

As for the testing positive question, that was probably the great stressor during the trip. We had booked this in January 2020, pre-covid, so our trip insurance would have covered quarantine. The problem would be the actual quarantine. Before we left, we had the family discussion, "what if Dad tests positive - do we go? (yes, he will catch up)." "what if Mom tests positive - do we go? (maybe - she is the travel planner/photographer)." "what if a kid tests positive?" And we, as a family, had those tough discussions about who or when we would go. Our first response would have been "get another test - make sure not a false positive".

We are all vaccinated, so felt better about symptoms if we tested positive. I did something in the gray area - I had the J&J (one-shot) when it first came out, which, in tests, was proving to be less effective against the variants. I did a lot of research and talked to a few friends (doctors/experts in the field) and went and got a Pfizer 'booster' two weeks before we left. I know it wasn't what the CDC recommended at that time, but I also knew - from pharmacologists, etc. - that they were starting to stock extra vaccines because a booster would be soon recommended. I just jumped the gun a little.

Heimdall yes, we had been warned about the crispness of dollar bills, but we were digging into the "emergency" supply for even change and had to pull out a few fives that hadn't been pre-checked. Husband and I each carried a few hundred in US Cash and we gave an enveloped with $200 or so to each kid to carry. They were the 'backup' in case we needed them. The annoying part was that it said "visa accepted" in big letters behind the receptionist. Except they didn't.

Loved the bends of the river - that was a quick iphone photo from the plane as we flew above. Felt like I was in middle school geography and millions of years caused the river bends!

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:18 AM
our room at Trackers. was so nice to have room to spread our gear out!
the view from our balcony. we climbed almost all the way to the top!

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:22 AM
screenshot from kiddos snapchat stories. ◡̈
another screenshot. ◡̈

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:28 AM

and now for the fun photos. I had heard it was difficult to get good pictures - but the moving, the branches, twigs, leaves in the way, the change between shadow and light, and trying to expose for dark gorillas without overexposing the sunlight - all difficult! (you will see, some of these are overexposed and need a little post processing - but these are as I shot).
I feel like this could be a meme!

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:30 AM
this baby was so sweet being carried on the back.
clearly watching baby to make sure they were ok.

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 04:31 AM

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 07:11 AM
coffee and tea fields in Uganda

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 07:18 AM

Day 11: Tuesday – Bwindi -> Entebbe -> Brussels -> NYC

We were up a little later this am - 6:30 for 7am breakfast. Breakfast was the same cereal, fruit, yogurt, tea and coffee. They brought a bowl of potatoes - which the boys enjoyed, but no one was really hungry for eggs.

We left at 7:30 for gorilla trekking day 2. We sat through the local dancers again and were assigned the Rushegura group. This group is 18 gorillas with a dominant silverback and two other younger silverbacks.

Instead of starting on foot from the visitors center, we drove to the drop off point and started hiking. The beginning of the path was a gentle slope up, but it quickly changed to a track through a dirt field (farmer’s field). It was extremely steep going up and very slippery in the loose soil. We then reached the jungle portion - the first portion was also a track. Also almost straight up and difficult to get footing on. There would be branches in the ground to use as a step and rocks - but we learned to be cautious of the rocks, because sometimes it would slip and go tumbling down the hill. We had hired 5 porters between us and two helped me and Dad on the up portion. One held my hand from in front pulling me up and the other pushed from behind. I’d like to say the help wasn’t needed, but it was a brutally steep climb. We all had to stop and rest - not only from the climb, but we were also at a higher elevation, so more difficult to catch your breath.

The final portion was through the jungle - with the leader and his machete forging a path. This - while not always straight uphill - is treacherous, because it is easy to step in a hole, step on vines that slip, or slide down the steep slope. At the same time, there are nettles and thorns to avoid, vines that catch your feet, and trees, vines, and branches to duck. There were also times the porter would say “ants” and you walk quickly through them to avoid having any climb up you. I think we all fell at least once (some of us more).

Eventually, we were told to get our cameras out and prepare to see the gorillas. Usually, you leave the porters behind at this point - along with bags, sticks and everything else. But since the terrain was so treacherous, they were allowed to help longer. One of the reasons that you don’t take the walking stick is that gorillas were previously hunted with spears, which look like the walking sticks.

During the climb, we were allowed to take masks off, but when it was time to get close to gorilla encounter, we all had to put them back on. We share 98.4% of the same dna with them.

We found one of the younger males - about 9 years old - who was content sitting and chewing on leaves. We watched him for a few minutes, and then moved to find the rest of the group. First, we found about 5 or 6 females chasing one of the juvenile males - basically putting him in his place (he isn’t the dominant male). There was lots of anger at him - shouting and aggression and charging. It felt like they were charging us – particularly Dad. One even walked past us and brushed up against Dad and I. We followed them along up a big hill and then over again. The group of 18 had divided, so they were communicating with each other to join back up again. We eventually saw the big dominant silverback as well as the second in command silverback. We also saw a baby that was about 6 months old. She didn’t have much hair growing and our guide thought it was because her mom is older and the milk may not be as nutritious. They expect when she starts eating real food that she will be healthier and grow hair.

They gave us extra time to watch the gorillas since we spent so much time chasing them. They were a very active group and totally habituated and not scared by humans. In fact, one of them stepped on the foot of another trekker while we were watching.

The way down was easier on the calf muscles and the lungs, but harder on the knees and ankles. Every step was a little precarious, never knowing how much you would slide down or how secure your step was. We also went through a little village - there were people lined up selling carvings, baskets, and many many drawings. Dad had D2 pick the friendliest little boy and gave him $5 for a drawing - he was really really excited with a big grin. (the porters with us even got a kick out of his smile!)

Once we got down, we drove back to the visitor center and then returned to the lodge. The lodge is called Trackers Safari Lodge and is built on a hill. All the rooms are connected by wooden walkways and many many stairs between rooms and the main lodge. Sadly, we are the only ones staying here and they don’t have anyone else coming for almost a week. Wow, tourism is really down. After gorilla trekking, we were filthy. Luckily, we had enough time to shower, clean up, and pack and organize for the flights ahead.

Yesterday, we climbed about 500 meters - or 1,600 feet (ish). Today, it was about 350 meters or about 1,100 feet. Yesterday was more elevation, but more switchbacks. Today was straight up.

Our hotel driver took us to Kihihi airstrip. This one actually had a building with indoor bathrooms and we walked through the building to depart. This was a private flight - we were able to arrange it so we could get out tonight. Otherwise, we would have to wait until tomorrow 9am or 2:30 pm flight and get home a whole day later. We are currently in the Entebbe airport waiting for our 11:20 flight. No one knows how we will make it that late since not only are we exhausted, we are used to going to bed much earlier.

After our flight arrived from Kihihi to Entebbe, we were met by an airline representative who had printed out our negative Covid tests (our lodge had emailed them ahead). She also printed out the US form we need to arrive back in the US. She walked us through the arrival steps (including a bag scan when you enter the airport) until the exit - where she said good bye.

To get to departures, we had to walk on the road up a level. We had Covid test results checked and then through security. The check in counter wasn’t open yet, so we had to wait. There was no seating - so we sat on the floor for an hour or so. We have checked in, gone through immigration (fingerprinted again) and security. We found the business class lounge where we are currently sitting and waiting. This lounge is pretty decent – we were able to sit on a big couch and plug electronics in for charging. The food is all individually packaged and while not exciting, we were able to find something to munch on. The best part is that it is air conditioned, while the rest of the airport is not. We went for a walk and were surprised how stuffy it felt outside.


We boarded and got settled (flight is full). Flight was uneventful. I think we slept all or most of it to Brussels. Landed on time.

In Brussels, we found the Lounge and a big table to sit at. We were glad we did, because about an hour later, the Lounge got really full. There were a lot of breakfast offerings – the croissants and chocolate croissants were particularly tasty and we may have eaten quite a few. I found that, as the Lounge got more full, people became more disrespectful. I was surprised at multiple people on facetime with family and friends at home – mostly grandparents - who didn’t use earbuds or headphones. Not only could we hear the kids screaming at home, the grandparents were *loudly* talking to them. Not just a 2 minute call – after 15 minutes, I finally got up and asked someone to be a little quieter. Unfortunately, this is the downside of technology – they learn to facetime, but not to put in headphones to respect people around them. (rant over).

We boarded the flight to JFK, and arrived home. We were incredibly thankful for three things: (1) business class – we were first off the plane, and way more comfortable during flights. Lie flat beds are the bomb. (2) global entry. We were quickly through passport control and customs. (3) carry-on bags. Since the other two disembarking procedures were quick, we didn’t have to wait for checked luggage. Our ride was waiting for us, so we were on the road home quickly.

more photos to come and a final wrap up and thoughts/comments also.

jamiewilliams9064 Oct 10th, 2021 08:12 AM

Loved reading about your trip. Just curious, what were your travel dates? Did Gamwatchers plan the entire trip? How much did this trip cost?

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 08:30 AM

jamiewilliams9064 Thanks! We traveled August 7th - 17th. Gamewatchers planned the whole thing - and did a great job. DM me for cost - not inexpensive, but definitely a wow!

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 08:33 AM
clearly, I was intrigued by feet!

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 08:35 AM
this was me. and the gorilla walking past me.
someone's SM post!

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 08:36 AM

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 08:38 AM
probably my favorite pic.

surfmom Oct 10th, 2021 08:49 AM

I asked the family for a debrief and this is what I got:

Favorite memories:
- sunsets and sundowners
- family time and playing games every night together during happy hour
- the gorilla charging Dad
- everyone stepping up and being good travelers and rolling with it.
- the leopard
- the gorillas
- I liked watching all the elephants and lions and gorillas.
- I also liked the sundowners and being a family and having a lot of funI
- really liked watching the leopard the second time and just seeing it looking around was really cool. I also liked the fact that we were the first ones.
- business class flights
- leopard climbing the tree
- lion carrying the wildebeest

- Dr. Peter hunt (for covid tests)
- our first sundowner with the great pictures
- being the first to spot the cheetah in the bushes
- the last sundowner being silly and taking goofy family pictures
- card games
- the big gorilla trying to kill me (not really, just our family being odd)
- the little gorilla killing me with laughter and falling out of the tree

Most surprising thing?
- How accommodating everyone was. People really want to please you – whether it be food, or extra hot water bottles, or ushering you through the airport. They want to see things work. (I had forgotten this!)
- the most surprising thing was how different the two gorilla families were. The one was so shy and the other was much more comfortable with humans which was really interesting to see
I was surprised by how close we were able to get to the gorillas.

What to do again?
- The whole trip. Wish we had an extra day in Bwindi to explore, or relax, or do the monkey trek.
- if I were to go again I would like to see the great migration but that is not really something we can control, I also would go to Amboseli again to see elephants

What not to do?
- overdo it. Eat too much. So easy to do with good food and large quantities.
- I would not do the gorillas again not because it wasn’t cool but it was hard and I think seeing them like that once was very snazzy and my memories are good from that
- would do it all of it again, other than maybe the camel ride because I got hurt (and we didn’t really see anything)
(note: he fell off at the end climbing down and hurt his knee. athlete he is.)

What you missed at home/looking forward to when returned home ?

- Paved roads (heard on the trip back to the airport at Kihihi)
- brushing my teeth without paying attention to how I got my toothbrush wet

- Waking up in the middle of the night and getting out of bed without getting tangled in mosquito netting
- I was looking forward to taking a long hot shower without worrying about water running out, eating not only bread and fruit for meals, not being dirty
- making my own schedule
- AC (even tho it wasn’t too hot on safari)
- driving myself

- making my own meals

odie1 Oct 12th, 2021 09:18 AM

Wow - a great read! I am in the initial stages of planning Kruger and Uganda. Did you think it worth the effort and expense to see the gorillas twice?

bon_voyage Oct 13th, 2021 07:15 AM

Surfmom, thanks for this highly informative, entertaining trip report! What’s next on your travel drawing board?

amyb Oct 13th, 2021 09:01 AM

odie1, I'm not the OP but in Rwanda, I did two gorilla treks and I'm very glad I did. We had two different families in two very different environments (one was bright sunshine and low bushes, the other very dark bamboo forest). One group was sleeping and not very active, the other was very active and interested in us. Both experiences on their own were amazing but it is great to have had them both to look back on. I think the more active group was my favorite though, but I got better photos out of the more sedate group. The only thing I will say is it is a LOT to trek two days in a row (and we'd done a golden monkey trek the day before that) so we were exhausted by the time all the treks were done.

I also agree with surfmom that I likely won't do it again. It's one of those things in life where if it was really good the first time, I'd not want to try to recreate it. I would like to trek for chimps though!

Surfmom, I laughed at your comment about brushing your teeth. I carry several new toothbrushes now because of the number of times I "forget" what I'm doing and rinse them with water I'm not supposed to! You had a wonderful trip, such a great reward after the wait due to the pandemic!

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