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Published: March 17th 2010
There are highlights I've got one my wishlist, and some I simply don't have on my wishlist. Few months ago, Uganda was nothing close to my radar of things to do. But than, after a drink with a friend, the idea of Jinja came...followed by a visit to the Gorillas.
There are currently only 720 mountain gorillas left in the wild. The good news is that this is a serious increase from few years back.
You can today find the gorillas in only two places. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, fully in Uganda, and the Virunga Volcanoes National Park shared by Uganda, Rwanda and RD Congo. The Mountain Gorillas do not survive in captivity, so this is the only place to see these nice giants. They live in groups, of which there are a few, with the smallest one counting 5 gorillas, and the largest one, having a total of 34 gorillas.
I was lucky to track the Nhsongi group, with a total of 34 individuals, the biggest group. I did stop counting at 25...but the rangers confirmed to us that the 34 were indeed all around us. Let me tell you, this was an amazing experience.
You first wake up around 5am. There is around 90 minutes drive on a dirt road to reach the National Park. You get a proper briefing on what to do and not to do, and on we went. They do allow maximum 8 people per group, we were 3! Imagine that in Uganda, they sell a total of only 6 times 8 (48)permits per day to see the gorillas...a truly unique experience.
They send trackers first to cut the time you will...trek or track between few minutes and few hours in the forest. This can result of up to 6 hours cutting through a seriously dense rainforest. As usual, I'm on the lucky side. We just had to walk/trek 45 minutes from the road to the entrance of the forest, crossing a nice little village on the way...and than only 30 minutes against this crazy rainforest, to reach the gorillas.
They are amazing. Had one rushed by us, running right in front of us, maximum 150cm from us. Later on, a blackback, around 10 years old decided to have snack just behind us. The rule is we should not get less than 7 meters from them...but if they
approach, we should not move...he came just 2 meters behind us for quite a while.
You are allowed to stay one hour with them...trust me, we try to push it longer as much as we could! But it is also interesting to see that after an hour with us, ignoring us most of the time, the gorillas simply start to move on, continuing their games and spending most of their time eating.
Oh, and if you want to know, it isn't cheap, but what a day.
To get there, I first landed in Entebbe. One night at the Airport Guesthouse...and an early wake up to head in a LandCruiser for the 510km to Kisoro in the Southwestern point of Uganda. On the way we stopped by the Equator for the traditional picture! I've crossed this line tens of times, but it is my first one doing so by road.
At the middle of the trip, as I was alone with our driver, we stopped to pick up Georgi and Steve in Kabale. The fun part is that two weeks ago, we were sharing the same raft on the White Nile. They are both in their early
thirties, working in charities in London...and very well travelled too. It's always tricky when you know you will spend 4 days with a very small group, but I was very lucky and happy to meet this great couple!
We arrived in Kisoro at sunset and settle in the Travellers Rest Lodge, a place that Diane Fossey used to call home. Nothing extremely luxurious, but a very nice place to stay. Our second day was for the gorillas. Third day, we chose to trek the Mt Mgahinga, with a summit at 3427 meters.
The question is always the same....do you choose the tuffest volcano to hike/trek, not being sure you will make it, or do you chose a safe choice....enjoy some challenge...and make it to the top. I guess we made the wiseman decision!
We took 7 hours to go up and down Mgahinga. This is 1100 meters difference between up and down...rainy seasons...euh, maybe, but we had 7 hours of full sun! And yes, crossing this bamboo forest was amazing.We saw two buffalos...yes, one of the big 5...didn't see the elephants...maybe it is better like this while on foot...and hear, but did not see the golden monkeys.
What a day!
Our last day was spent on the road back to Entebbe. I spent 1 more night in the guesthouse, play one more round of golf...enjoy some more sun...and it was time to head slowly to home.
Uganda...81 countries on the list...quite an experience...and seems I may have to come back here soon...we'll see...
Next entry will be my last list stop of this pan-african trip. I'm back in Bangkok...not for long...running like hell and already preparing our next little tripS....this time with Ma'ri and Leslie!
With love, from Asia!
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