Mountains are often shrouded in cloud, rainforests wouldn’t be rainforests without the rain. Our stay in Bwindi was probably quite typically cloudy and rainy but the day we left was a gem. If you came here every day you could probably expect an experience like this about once every four hundred years.
The mountains in the background are the Virungas which mark the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are eight major volcanoes in the chain including Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano that I climbed last year. See that account <HERE>. The night-time time-lapse is well worth a look.
From here it was a drive to Entebbe and a flight home.
Part of Bwindi Impenetrable forest is at high altitude (up to 2,607 metres or 8,550 feet). So despite the proximity to the equator temperatures are relatively pleasant. There are plenty of birds to be found but because of the dense forest finding them is sometimes challenging.
We were also treated to a brief glimpse of a Black-fronted Duiker. These reputedly make good eating and are consequently very shy.
The boys had seen both Mountain and Lowland Gorillas in the past so they went bird watching.
The Gorilla trackers met at the visitor centre where we were entertained by some enthusiastic dancing from some of the local ladies.
Scouts are sent out early to locate the gorillas. We were briefed and assigned to teams. We would be walking from one to eight hours.
I was in a party of eight. We were driven to our start point which was on the top of a ridge. And over the edge we went. It was steep and because of very recent rain it was slippery. There was no formed track, the guides were cutting a way for us.
Fortunately for me we found our gorillas after two hours. We were instructed to leave our back packs and food with the porters and make our way towards the gorillas. We would be with them for an hour but we were not to touch or disturb them.
The party of Mountain Gorillas consisted of two males, two females and two babies. The males slept or pretended to as we watched, while the females and young played in the trees until they were ready to join the others on the ground. It was an amazing experience being so close up with nothing between us. They did not seem to mind that we were there and moved among us without fear.
Our guide made sure everyone got good photo opportunities and didn’t short change us on the time but it was soon time to head up hill. Now the hard work would start.
I was very glad that I had hired a porter. She was a lovely young lady in her mid twenties named Gertruda. She was very fit and enjoyed her work helping others to see gorillas in the forest. Gertruda carried my backpack and watched my every step down and up the steep and slippery mountain. We were very friendly by the end of the trek and both enjoyed the experience we shared together.
Seeing the gorillas is something you really must do when visiting Uganda. A booking is essential and hiring a porter makes the trekking less strenuous.
Back at the visitors centre you enjoy a celebration with your group of your achievement and a certificate is presented to each individual.
An amazing life-time experience in Bwindi National Park.
Time to say farewell to Kidepo National Park in the far north-east of Uganda and head for Bwindi in the far south-west. It was a two day drive spending another night in the Kampala Metropole.
Highlights en route included …
and standing with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. Oddly enough this was in a little town called Equator.
Bwindi National Park protects 331 square kilometres of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. For species diversity there is nowhere better in East Africa. The forest is home to more than 1,000 species of flowering plant, Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, 118 other species of mammals and approximately 350 species of birds including a good proportion of the Albertine Rift Endemics.
We were staying on top of the mountain at Gorilla Mist Lodge.
Both Pian-Upe and Kidepo National Park are in Karamoja. They are wonderful places and without the protection that they offer to the wildlife Uganda and the world would be the poorer.
But these places were the homeland of the Karamojong, displacing them from the parks reduces the land available for them.
The Karamojong are traditionally cattle herding folk. They speak a Nilotic language as opposed to the Bantu languages of most Ugandans. This group of people include the Masai of Kenya not far to the east. The quest for pasture and water in an unfenced country has led to clashes with their neighbours. Even now cattle raiding is not unknown. As the Amin era descended into chaos they helped themselves to rifles and Karamoja became unsafe to visit.
Think seriously about whether you need to travel here due to the high level of risk. If you do travel, do your research and take a range of extra safety precautions, including having contingency plans. Check that your travel insurer will cover you.
Kidepo would be out of the question …
Within 50 kilometres of the border with South Sudan, do not travel
Inter-communal violence happens in north-east Uganda (sometimes referred to as the Karamoja region) as well as occasional attacks on security forces. Foreigners are not usually the target of the violence but you should remain vigilant and exercise caution if travelling in the region.
It does advise extra caution near the Sudanese border.
The Karamojong have, in the main, been disarmed and tourists are accompanied by armed rangers in the parks. We were advised not to take photographs of cattle, it could happen that the owner is both suspicious and superstitious and might respond violently.
After years languishing behind the rest of Uganda economic development is bringing education, healthcare and new opportunities to the region.
We visited a Karamojong settlement near Kidepo housing people that had been displaced from the park. We were made to feel very welcome. We were shown the interior of a traditional house, shown how sorghum is ground to make flour, treated to a dance which we were invited to join and offered handicrafts to buy.
The birding in Kidepo was rich. Bird photography snatched on the run could never do it justice but here are a few of the more cooperative species.
To describe the Stone Partridge as a cooperative species is quite a stretch but I was particularly lucky with this group. It would be nice to improve on this shot but it would require the investment of quite a lot of time.