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Goway’s Africa Expert, Michelle Crabtree recently returned from a FAM trip to Uganda where she spent a week exploring the Pearl of Africa.
I was recently privileged enough to return to my beloved Africa and discover the incredible country of Uganda, East Africa. The beauty of the land, the people, and the wildlife left me thinking it’s no wonder Uganda is known as the ‘Pearl of Africa!’
Our first night was spent in Entebbe, a small, quiet town located on the shores of Lake Victoria. The Boma Lodge offered an authentic African homestay, boasted by friendly staff and delicious cuisine. Only 5mins from Entebbe Airport, this is the perfect place to spend your first night in Uganda. Before we settled in for the night, we had arranged a visit to the UWEC: Uganda Wildlife Education Cetnre. Learning about the Centre’s rehabilitation work, combined with hands-on experiences made for an informative and delightful afternoon.
Day 2 saw us travel to the Kibale Forest region, a 7hr drive taking us through villages and past crater lakes, with green hills as far as the eye could see. After a quick site inspection at Kyaninga Lodge, a 5-star lodge set high above the world, commanding exquisite views, we made our way to our second accommodations of the trip, Ndali Lodge. The property is ideally situated with 360 degree views of the lush hinterland, with crater lakes on either side. An inviting swimming pool, and a local barman with a gift for knowing exactly when it was G&T time made for a wonderful 2-night stay. Each spacious suite has a view of the spectacular Rwenzori Mountains.
We were up early the next morning for our drive to the Kibale Forest, where we were to enjoy a couple of hours tracking chimps. It didn’t take us long and we were sharing our space in the forest with around 12 of them. There was a big commotion and some scuttling around us, then all settled. We spent about a half hour watching a mom and her babies up in a tree whilst keeping an eye on a young male on the ground, simply staring at us. A post-chimp track site inspection at Primate Lodge followed. The lodge is located right at the entrance to the Forest, offering comfortable 4-star accommodation. It was an afternoon at leisure back at Ndali Lodge that allowed us time to take in the stillness, which prompted an impromptu Yoga session at sunset. Fine food and excellent management made for a great stay in this 4-star property.
Day 4 was a most exciting one for me! I knew we were heading to experience two of my favourite things: a boat ride and a safari! Passing through the equator, we naturally had to all get out for the obligatory photo. A few minutes later, we were in the Mweya part of Queen Elizabeth Park. Driving past the park’s famous Euphorbia or ‘Candelabra Tree,’ I got a feel for how vast this park is – 1978sq km of the Great Rift Valley! Reaching the jetty at the Kazinga Channel, we were ready for our gentle 1-hour boat ride. Immediately, we were welcomed by a herd of elephants drinking on the shoreline, with resident buffalo scattered in-between them. I would guess we saw around 15 different bird species, while a crocodile lurking behind a small bush rounded up our tally of incredible sightings. It’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t heard it, the emotion the cry of the fish eagle instills. But it’s a sound I won’t soon forget.
After a picnic lunch back at shore, we boarded our vehicle and headed to the remote southern part of the park, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights at the Ishasha Wilderness Camp. We immediately set out to see if we could find the famous tree-climbing lions, spotted not too far away. A safari first for me, a well-seasoned safari-goer, seeing lions relaxing in a tree had me giddy. Onward to our lodge and wow! Greeted like royalty, a quiet haven with only the babbling river reminding us that the “bush” is truly alive. After a quick freshen up, my first dinner in the bush in a long time was highlighted by a visit from “Bill,” a buffalo who seemed to want to get a taste of whatever the chef had prepared that night.
Day 5, and we were up early for our morning game drive. Our first visitor was a hyena! She came so close to the vehicle, we were able to snap the perfect picture. To my delight, we soon got a second chance to see lions lazing in a tree. Five lions were lying in wait for our visit (okay, they were sleeping), and I am still in awe of the sight of them just ‘lying about,’ arms, legs and tails gently swaying as they kept their balance on the branches. A little while later, a surprise awaited us as we were taken to a scenic view point in the reserve for a ‘bush breakfast.’ A selection of cold and hot breakfast was ours to enjoy. The staff delighted us and were at our beck and call to make sure we wanted for nothing this morning.
Returning for lunch followed by a much appreciated siesta seemed just what we needed. This was cut short, however, as I heard whispers around my tent and much hustling. A leopard had been spotted not too far from the Lodge and we were soon up and out and on the vehicle, making our way to find her. While she could be seen from the roof of the vehicle, we were unable to locate her. All was not lost, even as the sun started to set. As we rounded the corner, ahead of us, climbing out of the valley, were over 100 elephants. Another first for me, the swish of grey in the dusk had us all mesmerized! Another exquisite meal and it was the end of another great day in Uganda.
It’s not surprising that Day 6 was the prelim to what was to be the highlight for us all. The reason most folks visit Uganda, the privilege of spending time with a family of Gorillas. After enjoying Agartha’s ‘Taste of Uganda’ tour where we got to make and try local family staple food, we drove the 4hrs through Kihihi to the Bwindi Forest, arriving at Buhoma Lodge in time for a hearty lunch. The lodge is so positioned, that it rises above the forest, offering views of the rainforest canopy to its guests. The rooms were subtly decorated with the wood theme carried throughout the premises. That afternoon, we would get a glance into the life of a local Batwa community, visit the Kayonza HIV Women’s Center, and be moved by the singing, dancing and sheer joy of the children at St Matthew’s School. An uplifting, heartwarming and emotional experience. Our last visit before returning to our lodge was with Ms Evelyne and her “Ride 4aWoman”/ Women’s Sewing Project, where we were able to purchase crafts created by these talented ladies. Evelyne is an incredible leader and spokesperson for women’s rights. I think as tired as we all were, sleep didn’t come easily as the anticipation of the Trek the next day had us in its grip.
Day 7, and after a good breakfast, we walked to the Bwindi Forest Welcome Centre for our briefing! Backpacks full, gaters, gloves and hiking gear on, we drove around 45mins to the entrance of the forest where our trek would begin. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the largest areas of forest in East Africa and home to around one half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. We had been assigned the “medium” trek which could have taken us anything from 15mins to 3hrs before we located the gorillas. Trackers are sent out early in the morning to locate the gorilla nests and our guide follows the trackers’ instructions and directions. And so, the trek is on! Our group of 6 (max number) plus a porter each (much needed and greatly appreciated) climbed in silence for 45mins and suddenly, there they were. Words cannot express the sheer joy, excitement, overwhelming sense of achievement, and again, privilege, to be in the presence of these incredible animals. We spent an hour with seven or eight gorillas (out of a family of 17) and drank in every moment. In between taking photos (and a few attempted selfies), the time was spent simply admiring, appreciating and enjoying.
Our trek back seemed quicker (it was downhill, mind you) and after handing our packed lunches to our Porters as a thank you, we tipped them and our guide and made our way back in silence to the Lodge. They were not expecting us for lunch but nevertheless created a warm meal for us which was followed by 1hr complimentary massages. What a treat! The day ended with a site inspection at the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Lodge next door. Individual private tents and an inviting communal area makes GFL another good option in the area. Our last night in Uganda was a celebration of a well-managed itinerary and a successful adventure. I packed my bags that night not only of my clothes but also my memories of 7 days so very well spent!
Our drive to Kihihi on our last day in Uganda and our 1hr flight to Entebbe had us back to where it all started – Boma Lodge, for lunch and the chance to freshen up.
Uganda is a land of kindness, gentleness, greatness! Incredible landscapes, amazing wildlife and strong, proud citizens, something we witnessed at our bush breakfast in Ishasha. I am sure the staff’s rendition of their national anthem could possibly be heard across the Country. I look forward to returning one day, for sure!
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