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bushbaby

Another Uganda workout (Kibale, QENP and Buhoma)

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SafariChick

@@bushbaby too bad the Kazinga Channel cruise was a bit disappointing but I love the two photos of baby hippos! Those would have been a highlight for me. But glad you did finally find lions and so close to your camp - fun when that kind of thing happens!

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Atravelynn

What a nice gesture to have the mgr take you to the lions in his car.

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pault

Love those hippos - with both kingfisher and calf.

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bushbaby

Early next morning we started off towards the southern sector of QENP crossing the Kazinga channel again. The sector is ofcourse well known as the Ishasha sector - made famous by the tree climbing lions. Many have seen em climbing up the medium height fig trees at Ishasha and hence we too were excited to potentially see them. In 2014 during a mara trip I had seen lions climb trees at the Marsh and hence it would definitely not be a first time for me; still seeing Lions where ever they might be - on land, in water or trees - is always exciting and pulse racing.

But before we reach there we ofcourse had a long drive - must confess it was a beautiful drive, slight drizzle, cool breeze, dense forest on both sides ; potential to see some monkeys. And it was relaxed also because we had the whole day to cover Ishasha and then hit Kihihi onwards to Bwindi. its about a 100km to Ishasha and then a further 120 odd km south to Bwindi with Congo on your right. The drive to Ishasha is through the park - hence you get to see kobs, water bucks, monkeys and odd elephant if you are lucky.

 

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We were once stopped by an ele blocking the path which slowly moved into the thicket. Also saw a few BnW colobus high up in the trees, olive baboons in large numbers on the ground throughout the drive.

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Soon we reached Ishasha at around 11 am. We met an oncoming car which gave info about lion pride sighted on a tree - but was on a fig tree far from any route. With offloading not allowed, it was not possible to go see them close. We parked along with couple of other vehicles on the main road which presented the closest viewing point to these lions. I put on a 2 tc on my 300 but still could not get any good shots. But nevertheless a high crop to show I did see them climbing the trees in Ishasha ! We waited for close to an hour and soon they got down from the trees and decided to rest below in thick grass and we hence left them.

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We did drive around to see if we could see Topis - they are present only in southern sector of QENP and not in the northern. But today there was no luck with them. We stopped at a forest check post and decided to have lunch while chatting up with UWA guards who were also having their lunch.

 

Then we started the much awaited drive to the rain forests of Bwindi - the Bwindi Impenetrable forests. Honestly, one of the reasons that I wanted to do Uganda and not Rwanda on this Gorilla trip was just the fascination and sense of adventure the name brings to you. IMPENETRABLE FOREST - as if challenging humans to try and get in / out.

The drive is quite uneventful and in part boring - but there is a moment when you leave Ishasha's savannas and enter the rain forest. Its almost abrupt and one moment you are enjoying the plains grass and figs and acacia and the next you can sight the dense forest clearly marking the entry into another realm.

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Soon we reached the lodge - I was staying at the silver back lodge overlooking the forest. The drive from the road upto the lodge is backbreaking hardcore 4x4 stuff ; giving a stern indication of upcoming treks over the next couple of days. Lodge itself is very nice and one of the few places that Ive been where you can put your leg up, enjoy a cold Nile / Tusker while looking out into a dense, reasonably pristine rain forest.

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After a nice dinner, decided to retire early to bed. Its also only one of the only occasions that I can think of where I felt tense about the next day. Typically you feel excited, curious - even have a sense of mystery about what the next dawn would bring in African bushes. But with Gorilla trek I think its mixed with a bit of tension / apprehension - must be because there is lot more physical exertion compared to normal safaris / bush walks, its expensive and if you fall sick / cant make it you do stand to lose quite a bit - not just the chance to see these almost mythical creatures but the dollars as well ! Unlike the other safaris you have probably done lot more research, bought specific cloths / shoes, done some kind of exercise / light training to be fit etc. adds to nervousness. Anyways, I slept after keeping the alarm and ensuring all gear was ready to go so I wont forget anything on the D Day (as it happened I forgot the gloves and packed lunch for the first trek and the walking stick on the second). As they say one cant prepare enough !

 

 

 

 

 

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Atravelynn

It is easy to forget stuff when you are excited about what you will see and carrying different things. I'm sure others shared their lunch. There's usually so much in those packed lunches anyway. But no stick could be more troublesome.

 

Tree! Climbing! Lions!

 

You have described the Gorilla Trek eve feelings perfectly.

 

I see you are airing your toes in preparation of the big hike, or maybe relaxing afterward.

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JulieM

Waiting with excited anticipation for the next instalment! We head off in two days time and will be doing two gorilla treks so I really want to hear how your trek went!!

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optig

I have to say that what I enjoyed most when I was in QENP in 2011 wasn't the elephants,the lions in the trees,nor the boat trip-it was seeing a baboon in the cabin of a Macksey Ferguson crane on the side of the road. The baboon was obviously trying to figure out how to work the crane. It was one of those many sightings on safari which one will never forget.

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bushbaby

Waiting with excited anticipation for the next instalment! We head off in two days time and will be doing two gorilla treks so I really want to hear how your trek went!!

Sorry that I could not get back earlier since I was out without much net connection. Im sure you'll have a great time !

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bushbaby

The day kicked off with me waking up even before the Alarm went off. Quickly ensured I had most of the essentials, batteries were charged and I was not forgetting my lenses! Had a quick breakfast – could not eat in peace due to the excitement of the trek. My driver came to pick me on time and in about 15 minutes, we were at the HQ of Ugandan wildlife authority.

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I gave my passport to driver who went to the counter for formalities as I walked up through the gate onto the office where all trekkers are shown videos and then given a lecture on do’s and don’ts. Though first day, I did not find the lecture to be a bit too long, the second day (and on reflection now) I found it to be 10 minutes too long. But the sincerity of the UWA rangers cannot be doubted. They take their job seriously and that includes making sure everyone is having a good trip. Thats when I realised something. Ironically even with all planning I forgot my gloves and packed lunch (which thankfully someone from lodge gave me at the HQ before I went up the mountains). Gloves were not missed but the lunch would have been!

After video, we were allocated groups. I was in M or Mubare group along with 5 others (Three less than maximum allowed). We all tucked our trousers into the socks as directed, asked for porters (optional, but I definitely wanted one given the gear), got sticks (I got mine from lodge, but you could also pick it up at HQ for free).

At this juncture they also check for any communicable diseases among trekkers. So if someone is down with flu, cough etc. they are refunded their fee and asked to go back to lodges.

Once that was done, off we went at around 830 am. Mubare group trek takes one through some of the most beautiful parts of Bwindi (Part of upper waterfall trail). We would cover two of the 3 step waterfalls and would also see orchids, monkeys, big ferns, streams, loads of butterflies and overall amazingly beautiful rainforest.

We were provided with one guide and two rangers with AK 47. The guts of the ranger who walks upfront to make way through the dense thicket is commendable. If he were to confront forest elephant or venomous snake, there is pretty little the AK can do from such close quarters. But rarely do they encounter these dangers. Neither is the danger from the Congo rebels considered a viable threat anymore. But the message is clear - Ugandan tourists are no longer soft targets.

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Anyways, the beauty of the forest takes your mind away from any misgivings as soon as you leave the trail and step into the unknown (this happened after a leisurely 45 minute walk in clean trail). Now the forest takes a different form. There are vines below that can catch your leg and then there are the slippery slopes which are probably worst in this trail given streams / water falls.

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After trekking for less than 2 hours (only around 1 hour in dense forest), we hit the first signs of Gorillas. Freshly broken branches and faeces less than 24 hour old meant the group was near. Everyone were asked to keep their bags down with their respective porters. You are allowed to carry only cameras - no water, no food, no sticks- for the “last mile”. That make the trekking more onerous. But the adrenaline rush of being close to the Gorillas make up for it. This was the only time I felt the trek was onerous. Especially since I had 300 2.8 on my full frame 6D. But thankfully, in 15-20 minutes we saw the group. It was one of the most memorable moments of life - looking at these magnificent primates which are almost human like. First view was of Kanyonyi, the silverback of Mubare group – what a beautiful primate and what a start to my Gorilla viewing! His life story (as narrated by the guide) is fascinating. He is the son of the most famous silver back of the region Ruhondeza who passed away at 50 in 2012 - alone and suffering after the Mubare group was taken over by a wild gorilla who threw the old man out. Almost as if fulfilling his father's last wish, Kanyonyi fought to get back the group just days before his dad breathed his last - maybe Ruhondeza died a happy man after all. He was calmly sitting and eating.

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And I was shooting with 7D and 200mm. That’s when it hit me. The light was so bad that the 7D could not produce anything. Or nothing reasonable clicking at over 6000 ISO. I had imagined it is going to be difficult but never thought how bad it is going to be. That meant most of my shots have to be on my 6D+300 2.8 combo and that meant mostly head shots. Which was fine, since wider shots would mean blowout of parts due to sun light filtering in through foliage. (That also explains why many pro shooters prefer the green season for Gorilla photography). Anyways, it was great to just view them even if it means one doesn’t get all the pic one imagines.

 

 

Soon we saw the rest of the group – mingling about without a care in the world. Mubare group has no black back but the lack of BB is made up for by many females and babies. I don’t remember exactly what all happened in that 1 hour. Sharing some pics which gives you an idea of the experience though the atmosphere is really not captured by still images. The dense forest, the sounds of gorillas eating peacefully, babies climbing on mommies and then falling down, playing with each other, aunts grooming. Though the one hour went quick, I felt it is a right balance between seeing them enough and not disturbing them a lot.

 

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Once our hour was up, we went back to where the porters were seated. Here we had water. Then we walked for an hour to hit main trail where there was a seating area. We decided to have an early lunch there. After that we were heading back when a large mixed group of monkeys decided to cross our path after the water falls. It was brilliant since we could sight and shoot L Hoest / mountain monkeys, red tailed monkeys at close quarters. We soon reached HQ back extremely pleased with the day by around 130pm.

Honestly, it was an easy trek – easiest of the day from what I could gather. I had enough energy to do another trek in the afternoon as I went on Batwa trail to understand local life and especially meet Batwa pygmies. I learned how locals make coffee, banana beer (tasted local brew, Waragi). Saw Pygmies dance, bought some artefacts, tried my hands on bow & arrow, dancing etc. By end of the day, I was indeed too tired. I found some sections of Batwa trail trek to be harder than Gorilla trek. At that particular moment, I of course did not know I would get Rushegura group for my second trek the next day!

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SafariChick

@@bushbaby beautiful photos - you might think it was difficult to take good photos but to me yours are super! And I also like your description of the experience, really brings it to life. Can't wait for my own gorilla experience in February, but in Rwanda!

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pault

Love the shots of the ranger and the forest in general, and the gorillas look really good too, despite your issues - and it's good you mention them.You were well weighted down too.

 

You are brave and a bit reckless doing the Batwa walk in between two gorilla treks. You have more puff than me (or it seems so, but let's wait for the next installment.)

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lmonmm

Oh this is bringing back so many memories...did the gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda- Uganda being my last of 3 treks. I was so taken by that area- the picture of you with your feet up looking at the forest was so incredible. That's what I'd see from my room. I tell everyone that the Impenetrable Forest is called that for a reason...it is so dense and lush and beautiful. You had much better pictures than I did. When we came across our group (and sadly, I do not remember which group it was), they were in such a dense area that it was really hard to photograph, but there was a young BB in this group that was apparently aspiring to be "top model". Literally, he'd lean up against a tree and raise his arm over his head in the most vogue position :) Gorilla trekking really is a soul touching experience. I too did the cultural walk (though not on the same day as a trek- kudo's to you:) ) and learned how to make banana beer, met pygmies, etc though I learned how to weave a basket and let's just say, I wasn't very good at it :). I always hired a porter for my treks and on the Bwindi one- oh he was this young enthusiastic kid and I'm not sure who helped who up the hills with so much laughter....just an unbelievable experience that will always stick with me. Thanks for dredging those up :)

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Zubbie15

I'm impressed you brought your 300/2.8 with you @@bushbaby, I left mine in the hotel for our treks in Rwanda. It seems yours were easier than ours, we definitely weren't doing anything but sitting around after our treks! And we were on a mission going to and from the gorillas, I didn't have time for any forest pictures at all. Lovely pictures though - I can sympathize with the low levels of light overall and the spotty sunlight was a challenge.

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bushbaby

Oh this is bringing back so many memories... Gorilla trekking really is a soul touching experience...just an unbelievable experience that will always stick with me. Thanks for dredging those up :)

Could not agree more..I think there is something magical about being in a dense rain forest and finally seeing our cousins that are so similar to us that is bound to move us.

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Atravelynn

You overcame your camera and low light woes. Proof is in the photos. The vegetation shots are beautiful too. Easy trek--lucky you, unless you were hoping for a challenging workout.

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bushbaby

Some final images from Mubare group before we move on to Rushegura !

 

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Edited by bushbaby

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bushbaby

The next day was more or less a repeat of the previous in terms of the morning. But I was decidedly less tensed given I pretty much was already happy enough with the Gorilla experience - not too bothered with what ever might happen today. I think the plus of having couple of treks is that you kind of enjoy the small things the next day and is also much more in the flow rather than be worried about what might happen. Today I made sure I did not forget the lunch - neither the gloves. But I did forget the walking stick from lodge (not a big deal since you can get one from HQ free of charge along with your porter).

I was allocated what was generally agreed as the most difficult trek -the Rushegura group. Since most of the people today seemed a bit older they were all allocated M and H (Habinjyanja) and that left only 3 of us for Rushegura (R group). Which was nice in a way since that meant it would be very easy for shooting without too many people and lenses to be bothered with. The two teenagers with me anyways were not too interested in photography per se (other than selfies with Gorillas :-). They were a generation younger and doing their first gorilla trek and were suitably enthusiastic with questions - both novice and expert ! :-)

 

After group allocation (which excited me since I wanted a bit of longish trek to enjoy more or the forest and also R group had so many black backs which I had not seen even one in M group. We were first driven for 20 off minutes to the foot of a hill around 4-5 km away (I think, could be a bit more). There was a church which also backed up as class rooms when needed and a school. We parked at the church yard and started the first hill climb.

 

The reasons R is regarded as difficult is that you have to go up a steep hill through farm / village land, then enter the forest. After that you have quite a bit of up and down trek then a very steep descent into a valley where the group typically is. One typically goes above 2k m and then descent down a few hundred. We started the hill climb and it pretty soon became monotonous and hence more difficult. With Mubare there is always something happening right from word go given the beautiful trail around water falls. But with R you just have plain hills, Eucalyptus, other commercial plantations, villages - and you are gaining altitude pretty fast. We had to take breaks every 15-20 minutes even though one might consider all in the group reasonably fit. I had a strong woman porter for my equipment bag but I decided to share some load since it was clear that even for her this was not a "walk in the park" ! :-)

 

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Soon we hit the top of first hill from where we had to enter the National park. There over some large trees we saw a few black and white colobus far away. We lost our way a bit since there were couple of routes to get into forest and we took a more circuitous one which meant there were some onerous climb - was glad I had gloves since I had to latch on to some pretty thorny vegetation to pull myself up even with the stick for additional support.

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Once inside the forest, pretty quick the steep descent start. Its relatively ok since you have plants and vines to act a foothold. We thought we might meet the group half way down but no such luck. We trekked down all the way to the valley and soon hit a large field of stinging nettles and other creepers / scrubs. It was then excruciatingly slow moving with no path in the sea of nettles.

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We soon were told the group is a bit ahead and asked to drop bag and baggage. Have a last sip of water, which was very much welcome. It was now pretty hot and we were pretty tired and hence the announcement came as an elixir ! The total time of trek to the group was still not that high (just less than 3 hours) but was much more tiring than M group. We finally met the gorillas - starting with two mommies and their babies sitting and relaxing in the nettle field. The light was ofcourse really bad - sunlight falling on the gorillas partially with high contrast green leaves shining and blowing out all exposure taken on Gorillas. After a while I just decided to enjoy the scene rather than bother with pics.

 

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Soon however, we found the SB Kabukkojo who was resting peacefully eating some foliage. In order to show him better, the ranger cut a few bush in front which he did not like and he came out snarling and shouting ! With pounding hearts we stepped back and he reverted to being a peaceful cuddly Gorilla but not before letting us know who the boss is.

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The whole practice of cutting of plants / bushes so tourists can see the gorillas I think is a bit of necessary evil. Though the purist in me might not like it, but honestly for tourists who spend so much and fly all the way to see them, it is necessary. And tourism is the last recourse to ensure the locals have some reason to protect these amazing forests.

 

Soon the group was joined by couple of black backs and females. And then there were Gorilla sounds from all around us - though we could not see them through the large nettles / brush.

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Soon we were met with two babies who began playing on a tree next to us - jumping, playing, kicking, falling on mammas, getting kicked away by mommas.

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It was all major fun and the 60 minutes today felt a bit insufficient indeed ! We left the group soon with aunts grooming each other as kids jumped on them from trees !

 

We met up with porters in 10-15 minutes in the nettle field somewhere (how rangers understand directions standing in the middle of this is difficult to comprehend - they do make some noise / calls to let others know but even then it is soo darn difficult to get your bearings right where every direction looks similar)

We climbed back the steep hill - getting to 1800m from something like 1400. Thankfully we decided to break for lunch in the middle of the forest track. Which was a bit of different experience from M group yesterday. More wild - also we were ofcourse more hungry ! Ants were a big issues today and many a times we had to retuck our trousers inside socks to avoid their frequent attacks. So obviously we were careful where we sat for lunch ! After lunch started the walk atop the hill to get to the hill outside the forest which we had to descent. By this time, physically we were really spent. And the temperatures just kept climbing high. Soon we hit the edge of forest and again lost our way a bit. But soon enough we get to the right path and started the descent. It was now evident that we could not keep the steady pace we had so far in the day. Even with sticks for support the steep descent under the beating sun was becoming quite laborious. My idea of a difficult trek was definitely not walking on rock strewn village path with sun beating down on you with vengeance. It was walking through huge rainforest trees under their cool canopy ! What romanticism !

I think the two treks of previous day (Mubare and batwa trail) plus everything today was becoming a bit too much for the knees. With tired thighs and knees we were delighted when we saw the church and our cars parks from afar. Soon we would be in the "cosiness" of car seat and then in the park HQ for trekking certificates and good byes.

Overall I found M group trekking to be more pleasant but R had its own high points - like the babies, black backs, faux attack by SB. At a high price albeit. Overall it would have been better I think if I had done R first then M. But no complaints since every moment with those animals are amazing.

It was time now to rest for a night and then morning bush plane back to Entebbe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by bushbaby

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lmonmm

So loved reading about this trip. I had to go dig through my stuff and found my papers from that trip and it was the Mubare group that I tracked in Bwindi as well. You got much better pictures than I did :)

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pault

Personally I preferred your time with R group, but I didn't have to do the work. Definitely not all shots are negatively affected by the bright light. Some beaties there - the last one is lovely.

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