Published: September 23rd 2007September 1st 2007
the chimps were in there somewhere. At least that's what the man who took our money said.
From Kampala we had a fairly uneventful bus ride to Fort Portal in Western Uganda on our way do the Chimp tracking in Kyambura (Chambura) gorge in Queen Elizabeth Park. In Western Uganda the countryside is much more hilly and the road wound its way through terraced farms and tea plantations.
Fort Portal itself isn't much to look at, and there is no fort, but there is plenty to see in the surrounding area. Situated at the Northeastern tip of the Rwenzoris, Fort Portal is a good base to explore the 'Mountains of the Moon', the various national parks like QE, Kibale, the Crater Lakes, and the reason for our visit, the Chimps of Kyambura gorge.
With a supposed 85% chance of seeing the Chimps, Kyambura gorge is a 19 km long gash in the plains of QE park just South of Lake George. The park itself has several areas including lots of palces for big game drives and wetlands and lakes with hippos and crosocdiles. But we were here for the chimps. The park is a bit off the beaten track for backpackers as the tours that run out of Jinja and Kampala tend to go to the
other parks like Murchison Falls, and to get to QE ideally you need your own vehicle, which we don't. But we thought we'd have a go. So Matatu it is then...
After an incredibly slow lunch in Fort Portal (we had been warned), we headed off to find a Matatu which would drop us off in the middle of nowhere at a town called Kichwamba. The Matatu we got shoehorned into was going for the South Western Uganda All-time Most-People-in-one-Matatu-at-a-time-with-livestock award 2007, and I would say they were likely contenders for the trophy.
We had both got quite good at Matatu Yoga and having reached Matatu Level III we were confident of our ability to squash ourselves painlessly once again into the back of a Toyota Hiace (I always think that should have an exclamation mark after it..). And so with a dozen trussed chickens and a spare tyre under our feet, the seat frame shaving slivers of bone off our lower vertebrae with every bounce, Adams' knees beginning to leave clean smears on the back of the seat in front, and his bag compressing a couple of things it really shouldn't we set off towards Kasese with the 30 other victims.
At Kasese we had to swap Matatus to keep going in the right direction which promptly ran out of petrol and couldn't fill up because it hadn't got the required number of passengers. They soon found a few more suckers to get in and we were on our way into 'Last King of Scotland' territory, passing the equator markers for apparently the third time on our trip - needless to say we only glimpsed them between the head of the 57th passenger and his chicken.
We had decided that to get the Mweya peninsula was going to be a bit pricey for our budget (Park entry fees, car entry fee, guide fee, food...etc), you can camp but ideally you should have your own car 'just in case' as various animals are freely wandering around and you need somewhere safe to go if they do. We opted for Kingfisher lodge in Kichwamba which is promoting itself as a luxury lodge with a self-contained banda arrangement. There will be camping facilities in the future but for the time being they just let us pitch up on their lawn which I thought was jolly nice of them, and their food wasn't half bad at all. Beautiful view across the plains of the game park.
From Kingfisher we had a stroll to the town (constantly getting pestered by the local kids more than anywhere else we had been to so far). It struck me that most visitors to the area arrive and leave in nice 4WDs and the locals get very little interaction with them through the car windows, so being on foot we were prime targets.. "Give me Pen" "Give me money" "Give me Sweetie" followed us all the way to road...500m away, where we had to wait for a Boda Boda or taxi to take us to the Kyambura gorge park warden office to arrange the chimp tracking. You have to get used to being stared at walking around anywhere in Africa, but we felt like celebrities as we stood waiting on the road to murmers of "Mzungu...Mzungu" and being once again surrounded by the local kids. At least these ones were being told off by their parents for trying to beg for things from us.
We got fed up waiting and decided to start walking towards the gorge, which is a good few km away, hoping we would get there in time for the trekking. About 1km down the road we spotted a Boda Boda and a taxi at the same time, which initiated a rather public battle as to who would take us. We opted for the taxi (luckily as it turns out) who promptly booted his entire family out of the car and off we went (we did feel a little bit guilty about that but he didn't seem to mind... not sure whether his missus did though...)
It turns out that when hiring a car for chimp tracking you need them to drop you off where you enter the park and wait until you come out to pick you up and take you out of the park as walking is possible but not advisable, and can take about 5-6 hours... we were beginning to think this guy wasn't going to be getting any for quite some time after...
So anyway, we arrived in time for the chim tracking, and descended into the jungle with our AK-toting guide and began searching for monkey signs. Chimp turds, half eaten fruits, more turds, and chimp nests. Lots of footprints. A couple of the footprints and turds we spotted belonged to Water Buffalo. Fine... Hippos. OK... and Elephants. Right. All of which are quite large, prone to extreme voilence if spooked, and present on paths slightly narrower than the width of all of them...Nice. When you come across a fresh'un thats big enough to trip over on a path thats about three feet wide you start to get a little concerned if you know what I mean.
Unfortunately poos, half eaten fruit and some freshly made nests were all we managed to see, as the Chimps proved to be far more elusive than their very optimistic and I'm sure very expensively advertised 85% claimed. (There will always be more Tea adverts to keep the advertising campaign going I'm sure). There had been a fairly large scrub fire the night before which we're sure didn't help as it blazed right up to the Eastern side of the gorge near to where we found the new nests and we're guessing this spooked the chimps away from where they had been sleeping/feeding.
Oh well, the Gorillas are 100% I just hope we don't piss one of them off because you get pretty close to them...
Before that, we're going to head to an island on Lake Bunyoni in the South of Uganda which was recommended to us by a couple of Israeli lasses we met doing the Rafting. Then over the border into Rwanda for the Gorillas (hopefully not Guerillas)...