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Gorillas and chimps in Uganda, habituation experience 2018

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safarigirl.se

Hi eveyone! 

 

To kick of 2018 we went to Uganda in January, in hope to meet the mythical Mountain Gorillas and noisy Chimpanzees and of course to se if Uganda lives up to its reputation as the "pearl of Africa" :)

 

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We made our travel arrangement with a local tour operator called "Gorillas and wildlife safaris". Ivan at the office was a great guy, who always answered quickly and gave us good advice. They were not the cheapest but far from the priciest. We had a 9 day safari starting in Bwindi NP and ending in Kibale NP, and we added two days of sightseeing in Rwanda. We had a quite "adventurous" itinerary which included: One Gorilla tracking and one Gorilla habituation. We also joined a lion researcher one day in Queen Elizabeth NP, we did the Golden Monkey habituation in Mgahinga NP and finished with the habituation experience with Chimpanzees in Kibale NP.

 

Our itinerary looked like this: 

 

Day one:  Short visit to Amsterdam (we would not do the short transfer time again after our race through Heatrow last year going to Botswana) 

Day two-three: Visit to Rwanda and Kigali for some sightseeing 

Day four: Pick up in Rwanda and transfer to Uganda and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest! Accommodation: Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge

Day five: Gorilla Habituation experience in Bwindi NP. Accommodation: Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge. 

Day six: Golden Monkey Habituation experience in Mgahinga NP. Accommodation: Engagi Lodge

Day seven: Gorilla tracking in Bwindi NP. Accomodation: Engagi Lodge

Day eight: Transfer to Queen Elizabeth NP, and game drive in the park. Accommodation: Bush Lodge, cottage

Day nine: Lion tracking with researcher and boat ride on the Kazinga Channel. Accommodation: Bush Lodge, cottage

Day ten: Transfer to Kibale and in the afternoon we did a swamp walk at Bigodi Wetland sanctuary. Accommodation: Kibale Forest camp

Day eleven: Chimpanzee Habituation experience in Kibale NP. Accommodation: Kibale Forest camp 

Day twelve: Morning walk in Kibale forest and then transfer to Entebbe airport. 

 

I don´t need to tell you how excited we were to go on this trip right? :) We have been to safari in Africa two times before (Tanzania and Botswana) but this trip was going to be something totally different! Bags packed and we were on our way to our first stop in Amsterdam. 

 

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We had one night in Amsterdam and with our plane leaving at 9 AM the day after we decide to stay at a hotel at the airport. We choosed citizenM Schiphol Airport, a really cool, modern hotel with lots of character :) The rooms were quite small :) but the big comfy bed, lots of movies and dinner downstairs made it the perfect place to stay before taking of. 

 

Before we crashed at our hotel we did some sightseeing in Amsterdam and did a boat tour on the channels. The channels was displaying a light show from different artist, that made the tour very cozy and with some gluhwein also warm :)

 

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After a good night's sleep we were ready to board the plane, some more than others... (the perfect travel outfit ;) ) 

 

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Next stop Rwanda, Kigali! 

 

Edited by safarigirl.se

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xyz99

Can't wait to hear/see more about it!

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jeremie

O God! I will go there in next September! There were no space left for the habituation activities. I can't wait to read your Trip Report!!!

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safarigirl.se

Day two - We landed in Rwanda, Kigali at around 22.00 and checked in at Hôtel des Mille Collines. The hotel became famous after 1,268 people took refuge inside the building during the Rwandan Genocide  of 1994. The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina was used as the basis of the film Hotel Rwanda. The movie wasn't filmed at the hotel but somehow you could feel it was an important place in Kigali. 

 

The day after we took a walk through town and stopped at a nice restaurant for some drinks and coffee. Kigali is a very modern city, extremly clean and felt perfectly safe. All in all a nice place to stay. In the afternoon we just chilled out by the pool getting prepped for the next day when we would be picked up by our guide for the rest of the trip. 

 

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Day three - We were picked up at the hotel at 09.00 by our guide/driver Faruk who would be our company on the rest of the trip. We wanted to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, so we had a stop there before leaving Rwanda. We did a tour for about 2 hours and got an audio guide headset which helped guiding us through the center. The experience was very thoughtful, horrible, educating and also beautiful. The memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi, and its main purposes are 5 things: 

  • To provide a dignified place of burial for victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi
  • To inform and educate visitors about the causes, implementation and consequences of the genocide, and other genocides throughout history.
  • To teach visitors about what we can do to prevent future genocides.
  • To provide a documentation centre to record evidence of the genocide, testimonies of genocide survivors and details of genocide victims.
  • To provide support for survivors, in particular orphans and widows.

In the end of the tour there was a display of other genocides throughout history and what was scary is the pattern; they have many many similarities and you should be surplices how easily history repeats itself.  We came out from the memorial sad and shaken, but we were glad we did the tour, its important to spread the word and make sure it never happens again.

 

A few hours later we crossed the boarder to Uganda, we got out of the car and walked over the border and was told by Faruk to stand in line for the migration office. The office was a small yellow brick house, quite worn  down and with no staff. We stood in line for a while when a nice man told us we were in the wrong lane so we quickly switch to the next but still no staff. Faruk came back to us after maybe 15 minutes after parking the car and started to look for the officer but he was nowhere to be found, haha. Having no rush we stood nice and kind in line (as Swedish people do) and eventually we were done with our border control and finally in Uganda. 

 

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Lunch stop in Kisoro

 

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 Rolling hills of Uganda 

 

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Everything is just green, green, green!

 

Another interesting thing was when we wanted to exchange some dollar to Ugandan Shillings, Faruk took us to a little shop, just a hole in the wall with some dresses and this was the money-man, haha. At first it seemed very dodgy but since we had big dollar bills we got a good exchange rate and everything went smooth. Christians pockets on his pants now looked like pigvin wings, haha. 

 

A couple of hours later we finally came to our lodge Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge! 

 

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Here are some photos from inside the cottage, i didn't any more.. But we also had a small fireplace were they placed burning charcoal in the night to make the room warm and comfy  :) Christian was on the other hand not that fond of the "fire", he was worried we would did from hypercapnia, and he opened all the windows to make sure. I thought it was quite cozy ;) 

 

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After a long day in the car we whent to bed early, eager to get up in the morning for our first Gorilla Tracking, and tomorrow it was the habituation experience on the schedule. I was a bit nervous with all kinds of thoughts spinning in my head, would we make the hike? Would we even see them...? We had decided before that we would TRY to keep our expectations low, NOT hoping for the encounters we seen on youtube etc. ;) but you can dream right? 

Edited by safarigirl.se

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mtanenbaum

Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip--we were in Uganda at the exact same time as you although our trip, while similar, was in a different order!

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safarigirl.se
16 hours ago, mtanenbaum said:

Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip--we were in Uganda at the exact same time as you although our trip, while similar, was in a different order!

 

Wow, its going to be great hearing about your experiences as well ??

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safarigirl.se

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Let's go, time for our first Gorilla track and this time it was the habituation experience! We ate breakfast at 06.00 and then drove to Rushaga sector in Bwindi around 07.00. When we got there a whole team was waiting for us - 1 guide, 2 trackers, 2 rangers, 1 scientist and 2 porters that we had asked for on the night before. Faruk drove us as far up as he could and we were a 2400 meters above sea level to start. There were no office or introduction just the guide telling us some basics about the trekking and what we should be thinking of. There where one more guest with us and when i looked at him I started to think I was waaaay over my head, he had just be to Congo and climbed volcanos and looked really fit and all set up with a hydration pack on his back. The porters were two women from the local village and I felt a awful when we handed over our backpacks, mine was quite light but Christians was filled with cameras and lenses, but I was soon to find out that these ladies was stronger than any superhero around! 

 

Okey, the walking stared with a steep climb up a the mountain on a small dirt track. When we had reached 1/3 of the climb i felt like i was going to faint, my head was spinning, my eyes was dizzy and I felt like I was breathing air without any oxygen. The guide saw I was struggling and we took a pause and I was placed in the front to set the pace. I don't know if it was the height now being at 2500 meters or just bad physical shape (and I trained my best for this trip!) but i felt really dizzy. I think it could have been smart to stay a extra day in the area to get acclimated to the hight a bit more, we just arrived the day before and maybe it was a chock for me...

 

I felt better walking slower and stopping for water few times and finally we were at the top. We took a straight right turn in to the forest, and when they call it Bwindi Impenetrable forest,  it really is impenetrable! It was so cool walking behind the trackers when the cut their way through the vegetation with machetes, but most of the time we climbed over and under so we wouldn't damage the forest. Ones we were in the thickets I was doing much better, the pace was slower and you were totally focused on were to put your feet. 

 

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Happy but tired!

 

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Up and down we go...

 

This is also when the madness started. We followed the tracks of the gorillas and they hade been particularly perky this day and had decided to climb up and down the mountain. When the guide and the trackers pointed down the mountain side and said:

- "okey guys they went down this slope, and we are going after them. Try to hold on to things if you start to glide down the mountain, hold on to branches all the time" 

 

I thought he was kidding because it felt like we were about to throw ourself down the mountain... Even now the volcano climber laughed a bit nervous. But down we went and at several times i was sliding on by back grasping for roots to stop the rollercoaster. Since I'm much lighter than Christian I could most of the time walk on top of the thickets but him being 1.94m and over 95kg he went through all the time, it was like walking in thick snow, and the snow got stuck to your feet. At one time he said - 

 

- "it dosen't matter that i brought my PLB, now helicopter or rescue team could ever get here"

Haha, I'm laughing about it all now, but there is a reason we don't have any photos or videos of the trek, we were to busy getting out alive ;) (a bit drama queen but you get the picture) 

 

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On the top, have you seen anything more beautiful? 

 

When we had gone down a bit the trackers looked at us and said - "they went up again" and then the climbed up the mountain started. It was crazy, all of us was crawling on all four and pulling us up with thick roots. This was when I learn that our porter ladies were superheroes, at one time I got stuck in a hole and had trouble getting up and she reached out her hand an literally pulled me up, with ONE hand! Amazing! 

After a long time in the bushes about 4-5 hours we finally came close to the gorillas, the tracks were super fresh and in the distance we could see them up in a tree! We were lucky that they had decided to stop for lunch. We left our bags with the porters and one ranger and carried on with the rest of the group. 

 

We first saw the silverback up in the tree, breaking branches and feeding on small fruits. But when we looked close the whole tree was filled with black furry balls. We were standing close to the tree but not exactly under it as it was growing on the side of the mountain and the other side was facing the very steep and lush side. But we made ourself comfortable in the bushes and took a well deserved pause. Now the guide told us we had done a great job walking/climbing/falling so fast, he was a bit worried we would catch up with the gorillas and you could se on his face that he was very satisfied. We also found out that we were closer to were we hade started and the Gorillas hade walking in a U, jey ;)

 

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Who are you and what do you want?

 

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Black fur ball all over the tree

 

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Perfect couch! 

 

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The team that was with us had been with this group from the begining of 2012, when they started the habituation and there had been some accidens. One tracker had been bitten in the leg and others pushed over several times buy the silverback. The Silverback was a real beauty, he was just enormous and when he reached ut to break a branch you could see all the muscles and how big he really was. The guide told us they think his is above 200 kilos, and I'm the first to take his word for it.  

 

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200 kilos of muscles 

 

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We sat in the bushes, getting company from some wasps :/ and just enjoying the gorillas eating. Then the Silverback decided to come down, and he layed in the bushes below the tree, we could see him but when we tried to get closer he made a charge and we decided to keep our distance. When the silverback came down all the others did the same and we had a great time seeing them climbing down the big tree. Many of them stopped to pose for a while and looked at us very curious. 

 

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Do you see the little on the right? 

 

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The family we visit is named Bikingi and had 26 members, we didn't see them all and the guide told us that the females and the infants had probably hid themselves further down and that was why the silverback didn't liked us coming closer. But we saw black backs and some younger ones. 

 

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We stayed about 1,5 hour with the gorillas and then it was time to head back again. This is something I have been thinking of a lot. We were not sure of the time exactly being "promised" with the gorillas but the habituation is supposed to be 4 hours. We had now been out in the forest for 6-7 hours and maybe that was the limit. The guide sounded like he gave us extra time when we finally found them and had stayed 45 minutes, and we wanted to stay longer. If you have been on a gorilla habituation, how was your experience?

 

Anyhow, it was a very exciting day with the trekking, the forest, the gorillas and we were quite worn out, so we didn't debate the time. We didn't stop for lunch, and to be honest all I could eat was a few raisins and dextrose. 

 

Since the gorillas had walk in a U-shape, we had a quite easy walk back to the cars, and it didn't take much more than 1 hour. 

 

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You just got to get in there...

 

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When we got back the women from the village had put up a whole display of souvenirs for us to buy and I always like to buy something so two gorillas figures is now doing a great job of reminding me of the experience everyday from our bedroom window. 

 

Back at the camp we washed up and celebrated the day with a gin and tonic on the veranda at the restaurant, we were in ecstasy about the whole experience, what a day! 

 

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Before dinner a local organisation that the lodge supported visit the lodge, and invited all the guests to dance and sing. I personally sometimes think these things can feel a bit awkward but my heart melted with all the kids singing and dancing, and even dressed up as gorillas. You just had to get in there and smile. The also sold some local handcraft and now my flower have lovely potts from Uganda ;)

 

Nkuringo gorilla lodge dancing

 

To sum the whole day - CRAZY day! Terrible hard trek, amazing gorillas, lovely people and just a great start to this trip. 

Good to note - buy good trekking boots and use them a lot before travel, use garden gloves, there were a lot of stinging and spiky thorns. 

 

Tomorrow we are going to search for the golden monkeys! (if we make it out of bed ;)

Gorilla 2.jpg

Edited by safarigirl.se

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amybatt

@safarigirl.se WOW!  What an amazing experience.  You are amazing to have done all that trekking just to get to the gorillas.  When we did it in Rwanda we only had to go 90 minutes to reach them, and that was just enough for me!  Yes, it is much harder than expected, I think.  I don’t think you can actually train for it well at home unless you have a muddy mountain to hike in!

 

I would be curious to find out about the length of your experience.  I thought it was supposed to be 4 hours too, and I was wondering what it would be like to stay there that long (how do you eat, how do you go to the bathroom?  Or do you not do that while you’re there?)  I wonder if your long hike to get to the family used up some of your 4 hours?

 

Is it true that the family you see on the habituation experience isn’t used to humans, and indeed this experience is getting them used to humans so that they will become one of the families that people trek to every day?  Maybe that is why the females and babies stayed away?

 

Anyway, you did very well for your first trek and you got some wonderful photos and souvenirs for the experience.  I can’t wait to see the rest of your trekking days!

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safarigirl.se
On 7/29/2018 at 6:58 PM, amybatt said:

@safarigirl.se WOW!  What an amazing experience.  You are amazing to have done all that trekking just to get to the gorillas.  When we did it in Rwanda we only had to go 90 minutes to reach them, and that was just enough for me!  Yes, it is much harder than expected, I think.  I don’t think you can actually train for it well at home unless you have a muddy mountain to hike in!

 

I would be curious to find out about the length of your experience.  I thought it was supposed to be 4 hours too, and I was wondering what it would be like to stay there that long (how do you eat, how do you go to the bathroom?  Or do you not do that while you’re there?)  I wonder if your long hike to get to the family used up some of your 4 hours?

 

Is it true that the family you see on the habituation experience isn’t used to humans, and indeed this experience is getting them used to humans so that they will become one of the families that people trek to every day?  Maybe that is why the females and babies stayed away?

 

Anyway, you did very well for your first trek and you got some wonderful photos and souvenirs for the experience.  I can’t wait to see the rest of your trekking days!

 

Thanks @amybatt ! I agree, a muddy mountain would have been handy, haha! 

 

I´m sorry not to be able to give you a good answer about the time when doing the habituation, we feel a bit lost to :/ If its anyone else on SF who have done the habituation please shine some light to this question. I was in the understanding that the time would start ticking when we got to the gorillas, but that was not the case for us, maybe we should have argued about it? 

 

We went to the bathroom when we left our bags with the porters and I guess that you would have to walk away from the gorillas if it would have been 4 hours. It was not allowed to eat or go to the bathroom close the gorillas. We didn't eat during the trek at all, we didn't have time and frankly all i could eat was a few rasins and water (to exhausted) haha, we had a snack going down and back in the lodge in the afternoon. 

 

I also think thats why the females and babies stayed away, but we were very lucky anyway :) 

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safarigirl.se

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Day four - we started early in the morning to drive to Mgahinga gorilla National Park, this is the Ugandan part of Virunga. We knew upfront it would be a bit of a detour from our next location but I really wanted to see the  bamboo forests and the golden monkeys. We had booked the habituation experience which is an all-day trek and includes 4 hours in the presence of the Golden Monkeys... or that was what we were hoping for. We met up with the guide, a lovely lady and 3 other trackers, we hired one porter and off we went. 

 

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Sorry Christian - he got bigger feet ;) 

 

We liked the guide a lot, she was very informative about everything from plants, trees and small animals we encountered on the way. We saw some fresh forest elephant tracks but no ellies (I'm not sure if we were lucky or unlucky :)

The scenery was spectacular! First we walked through the bamboo forest that was like a giant Mikado! When we got higher the forest started to change into this green wall of thousands of different plants, just amazing! And somewhere up there the golden monkeys hid, we could hear them but it was impossible to keep up or find them.

 

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We walked for hours but every time we thought we was getting close the calls turned in another direction. The walk was not that hard (not compared to the day before) but walking through the thickets up and down for hours finally made us call the day. I was so disappointed but there is no guarantees :(

 

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We did have a great time with the guides and rangers and the really did the very best to try and find them, we could see that they also were disappointed. I put together a video from parts of the walk, it was just beautiful and so worth a visit! 

 

Searching for the golden monkey

 

Searching for the golden monkey

 

Back in camp we enjoyed a drink and starting to get ready for the next day when we would do our next gorilla trek, this time in Buhoma area :)

 

Edited by safarigirl.se

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