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Africa » Uganda » Western Region » Fort Portal
January 16th 2014
Published: June 16th 2017
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July 8th, 2014

Today was a travel day from Fort Portal to the Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge in near Queen Elizabeth National Park. This will be our home for the next 4 days.

We took the Link bus from Fort Portal to Kasese, which is less than 2 hours with several stops along the way. In Kasese, we hired a car to drive us to the Lodge.

When tourists get off a bus, we are a spectacle because it is not super common, and we are hounded by offers for boda-bodas (motorcycles); matatus (van taxis) and, to a lesser degree, hired private cars. As I mentioned before, people are not super aggressive but they are vying for your business so there is lots of activity and assurances that theirs is the best way. We finally hired a driver who said he knew where the lodge was but we were not very far out of town before it became clear that he either thought we would stay at any bush camp along the way or, that we simply didn't know one from the other. In any case, we had to keep telling him not to turn here or there and keep going until we finally got to our true destination.

Once settled in at the Lodge, we met with a local driver/guide, Mohammed, who the lodge had called on our behalf and turned out to be the same man who a driven a couple we had met yesterday. They had highly recommended him. We made plans for the next 3 days and now just sitting on our veranda, overlooking the Kazinga Channel and listening to the birds chirping and rhinos grunted down at the shoreline.

The Queen Elizabeth Bush Camp/Lodge is, so far, a great place. We are in a self-contained chalet, which is a simple thatched and wood framed building on a raised platform. The toilet is camp style – no running water but with a lime/sand mixture to scoop into the container to minimize odors. It is quite effective. We have a double shower in the back, rock walkway leading to it and it is surround by a bamboo privacy fence. The water is in a tank that is kind-a, sort-a warmed up during the day but it is not truly solar so no hot showers here. It is actually ok because it is hot and humid here so the cool water feels good after a day driving around on very bumpy, dusty roads.

Dinners are served outdoors at tables lit with kerosene lanterns and since the camp is set on a hill above the Kazinga Channel, we have a view of the water and can hear hippos almost non-stop. Other meals are served in an open canopy tent to provide shade and it also faces the channel. The food here is really good. There is a set meal for lunch and dinner but nothing has been disappointing.

July 9th

Today we headed out for a morning game drive through the northern part of QENP. This is one of the best game viewing parks in Uganda. It is the second largest park after Murchison and has lots of variety. We once again saw lots of Uganda Kob, bush back, water back, buffalo, elephants (in the distance), warthogs and a plethora of birds. We had an amazing look at a pride of lions. There were 6 – 8 of them. Females and some young males and they were finishing off the previous night's kill. One young male was still busily chewing on what remained and he was not giving it up to anyone else. If another lion even came near he would warn it off and he eventually picked his meal up and carried it off to the cover of some low bushes nearby. The others lost interest in him and lazed around, cleaning themselves and flopping over to rest in the sun. One by one, they started moving further away, most likely to look for cooler spots to spend the day. We watched them for a long time as we had a really good view of them.

We learned later in the day from travelers who had seen lots of lions in many countries that this was as good as it gets. We were happy regardless.

After lunch back at camp, we headed back across the channel to do a late afternoon boat trip up the channel. The Kazinga channel connects Lake George and Lake Edward and it is about 40km between the two. The banks along the way are full of animals and water life – we again saw lots of buffalo and had our best view of elephants so far on this trip. It was a large herd of maybe 15 that had come down to the waters' edge to drink. We also saw crocodiles, a big monitor lizard on a tree branch hanging out right below a huge African Eagle. Lots and lots of birds. Lots and lots of hippos including a couple of babies swimming with their moms.

January 10th, 2014

Up early again and off to Ishasha to see the tree lions. This turned out to be a very long day with disappointing results. Of course, there is no guarantee of what you will see or not see so we get that. It is a long drive, from where we are staying to the area of the tree lions on roads that were ok to really crappy. It is not that far distance-wise but the road conditions make it slow going. Richard drove part of the way there and back. He had been poking with Mohammed about driving and finally wore him down.

Once in Ishasha we found a pride of about 6 lions lying in the tall grass. We only knew there were there because of the odd ear flapping or tail flip. One stood up and walked a few feet but plopped down again. It was very hot and usually that is the reason the lions head up into the trees but we waited a long time and there was no movement so we headed back to our camp. I would not recommend taking the time or spending the money to do this because it is so hit and miss. Many people travel from QENP to Bwindi and if that is the direction you are going, you can take in Ishasha along the way.

We also did an afternoon game drive which was also pretty uneventful. The hope was to see leopards but they are very elusive and it was not in the cards for us.

January 11, 2014

Today is our last day in QENP and it will be a quiet one. Richard plans to walk into the little village of Kataburu. I am taking the day to be still, read and catch up on the blog. We do not have internet access here so when I will get these last few days posted remains to be seen.

January 12th, 2014

Today was a travel day from QENP to Buhoma, the jumping off point to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and gorillas! This was the start of the only part of the trip we booked ahead with Nkuringo Walking Safaris. Our driver, Ivan, picked us up a 9am sharp and the drive only took about 3 1/2hours. Once again pretty rough roads – dusty, lots of pot holes but Ivan was a very good driver and it seemed easier than it might have been. As we got closer to Buhoma we drove through a few villages that were really pretty. Front yards swept clean of any falling leaves and pretty hedges and flowers surrounding the edges. Some homes are painted bright colors, while others are kept basic red, brown of the brick from which they are built. The bricks are made on the spot – a mix of mud, straw etc. and dried in kilns made of the same bricks.

In Buhoma, we stayed at the Community Rest Camp. The banda was large and we had a big bathroom but once again, no hot water. We spent the night here.

January 13th, 2014

Today we hiked the 14 km from Buhoma to Nkuringo Gorilla Camp. The trail is through the forest and then through tea plantations and on to the town of Nkuringo. The Gorilla Camp is just outside of town.

We walked through the forest and crossed two rivers. The water was clear and very clean looking which was nice to see given that there are villages up higher. This part of the trail was up and down. Up for a spell before descending to the river and then up again and down again to the second river. Then up, up, up again through tea fields on the hillside and then up, up, up to Nkuringo. We started at about 1900m and ended up at over 2600m – total walking was 14km. I was tired but I did it! I am happy we planned a rest day between this and our gorilla trek.

The Nkuringo Gorilla Camp is lovely. High up in the hills of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest we have 360 degree views of everything below us. We can see the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda and we can see into the DRC. The Congo border is only about 40km from here.

The accommodations are really nice. Large rooms and the shared bathroom facilities are large, very clean and we have hot water!

January 15th, 2014

Gorilla day! We headed to the meeting point at 7:45am and got signed in for the gorilla tracking. We only had one other couple with us which was especially great once we got to the gorillas. No people pushing around to get camera shots. There was plenty of opportunity for everyone.

We hiked downhill for about an hour – to the river and our guides had already heard that the gorillas were just on the other side. How lucky are we! Sometimes it can take hours to find the group and a lot of rough terrain to cover because nothing stops the gorillas from moving where they want to move.

The Nkuringo group has 15 gorillas in it with 3 main silverbacks. We first saw a silverback in the distance and then the bushes started rustling around us and there were 4 – 5 adolescents making their way, pushing down the undergrowth and making a nice spot for them to stop and eat leaves. The other two silverbacks were nearby and we got great looks at them as well. One silverback passed by us so close you could have reached out and touched him.

The adolescents are the most bold with people. One came right up to Richard and gave him a push. Another tried to reach out to me – almost like he wanted to shake my hand. The ranger step in immediately when things like this happen because the gorillas will continue to pursue a wrestling match to play. We saw one large adolescent and one smaller on tussling around for several minutes.

Tourists are allowed one hour with the gorillas and the time flew by. It was an exhilarating experience to see these amazing animals. The good news is that the conservation program here in Uganda is actually seeing good increases in the population. There are now about 800 gorillas in the Bwindi forest.

Females only have one baby per year and one in three babies doesn't live to the age of 3. The ones that stay healthy can live up to 50 years.

After our time was up we slogged back up the hill to our transportation. Richard and I rode in the back of the truck with the rangers. Lots of people along the way thought it was very funny to see the masungas (white people/tourists) standing in the back of the truck.

We saw lots of children along the way as there are many subsistence farmers along the hillsides. The children all come to the trail and wave and say hello. They will respond with hello as many times as you say hello to them. I wonder how long they would keep that up if you just stuck around. We bought some pen drawings from two little boys along the way. They are quite good.

As we were walking along we heard singing and clapping and then saw a group of women heading down the trail towards us. It turned out to be a celebration walk for a new mother going home with her new-born baby.

All in all a very, very satisfying day and a dream come true!


Additional photos below
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Looking over the Kazinga Channel


16th January 2014

Carole, your trip sounds absolutely amazing! Love reading about it and your attention to detail makes me picture it in my mind! Safe travels!
16th January 2014

Glad to hear from you, I was getting a little worried at not having a post for so long and enjoyed catching up with your travels this morning. Thanks
16th January 2014

Carole - also glad to hear from you after several days. What a trip for you and Rich. Can't imagine how incredible it was to be so close to the gorillas. Want to hear more, and in person if possible!
16th January 2014

What a thrill to see all of this up close! Ammaaazzzing!!!! I've been waiting for your next excerpt since the last one was on the 4th: I trust that Richard got over his cold.
18th January 2014

Me too, worried like a parent when there was no update for a few days. Phew, feel better now. Love hearing about your time there and so want to see some photos. Are you able to post photos on this or do you have to wait and do so on shut
terbug etc. One of my clients is flying to Uganda today on business but he has been several times and we had a lively discussion about the places you mentioned. Have fun, be safe!
22nd January 2014

Amazing experience. so glad for you both and can't wait to hear more when we next meet up. Safe travels homel
23rd April 2014

What a great narrative! The photos are fabulous too. Enjoy these memories and wow - 14 km hike - pretty amazing for you!

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