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Kirstine

Kigali to Entebbe - December 2017

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Hello everyone, 

 

Having been a silent member of ST for way too long, I have decided to try and catch up on my trip reporting. A few words on me/us to being with. We are a couple from Copenhagen, Denmark in our mid-30's who caught the safari/wildlife/birding/photography-bug in the summer of 2017 when we went on our first trip to Namibia. Since then, we have been lucky to visit an array of wonderful locations around the world. 

 

This first trip report is about our journey to Rwanda and Uganda in December 2017. I hope you will enjoy it though it should have been posted a while ago. :)

 

We booked the trip with the local travel agency "Wild Excursion Safaris" and had the founder Franklin Seth as our guide. Our itinerary was (approximately) as follows:

 

December 21:Arrival and check in to a hotel in Kigali.

December 22: Visit to the Genocide memorial in Kigali, then transfer to Kabale. Overnight at Lake Bunyonyi Lake Resort.

December 23: Boat trip at Lake Bunyonyi. Overnight at Lake Bunyonyi Lake Resort.

December 24: Gorilla trekking. Overnight at Lake Bunyonyi Lake Resort.

December 25: Local Christmas Service. Transfer to Queen Elizabeth + Afternoon predator tracking with local vet. Overnight at Bush Lodge

December 26: Drive to Lake George + Afternoon boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. Overnight at Mweya Safari Lodge.

December 27: Queen Elizabeth. Overnight at Bush Lodge.

December 28: The Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary. Overnight at a dreadful motel in Fort Portal.

December 29: Kibale Forest National park. Overnight a Isunga Lodge.

December 30: Chimp trekking. Overnight at Isunga Lodge.

December 31: Transfer to Entebbe for departure.

 

Looking back, I realize that our guide had made quite a few changes to our itinerary compared to the only one I have in writing (including two nights at different lodges than agreed upon) - so I had to really try and remember what we actually did on the specific dates. Ha ha! To be fair, we did not mind most of the changes. The only disappointment was the fact that we had to spend a night at an extremely boring motel in Fort Portal, when I had explicitly requested that we did not spend any time there. 

 

The main stars of the trip was (of course) the mountain gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. However, we were lucky to see so much more...   

 

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But let's begin at the beginning. :)

Edited by Kirstine

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wilddog

Welcome to Trip Reporting! Looking forward to hearing about your travels.

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Chapter 1: Kigali and Lake Bunyonyi (Dec 21-22)

 

Travelling from Copenhagen via Frankfurt to Kigali, we touched down in Rwanda quite late in the day (after carefully leaving all plastic bags on the plane - yeah!). After a bit of trouble remembering the name of our first hotel, we managed to get through immigration and met up with our guide Franklin, who took us to our hotel. After a hearty dinner and a cold beer, we went straight to bed. 

 

The next morning, we visited Kigali Genocide Memorial. A heart breaking experience that I no less would recommend to all.    

 

From Kigali we headed towards Kabale. 

 

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I can see why Rwanda is named the Land of a Thousand Hills: 

 

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The difference between Rwanda and Uganda is striking. Though both countries have similar laws e.g. the ban on plastic bags and a requirement to wear a helmet, the actual enforcement differs quite a lot. In Rwanda (at least in Kigali), the streets were clean, the city lush and helmets were on people's heads.  In Uganda - not so much. 

 

Crossing the border between Rwanda and Uganda: 

 

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After being on the road for some hours, it was a bliss to arrive at the Lake Bunyonyi Lake Resort. The resort is located away from the other lodges surrounding Lake Bunyonyi and is a very peaceful and tranquil place. We always request to stay at small lodges preferably catering to no more than 15-20 guests at a time and this lodge really impressed us. From the nicely decorated rooms, to the garden and the deck by the lake from where we watched kingfishers dive for their dinner. 

 

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I do fear that Lake Bunyonyi won't stay as pristine for long - we saw many many new lodges being build along the shoreline. Fingers crossed that some kind of regulation is in place.       

 

Edited by Kirstine
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michael-ibk

Welcome to active Safaritalk life, Kirstine, I look forwatd to your report. Agree about the memorial, it is a very profound experience which deeply affected me.

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monalisa

Welcome! Trip reports, especially ones that include gorillas are most welcome by me! :D Also pleased to see that you did your trek in Uganda. I can't wait to see more!!

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Thank you for the warm welcome! I will continue my trip report with...

 

Chapter 2: Lake Bunyonyi (Dec 23)

 

On the morning of our second day in Uganda, we headed out on a boat trip with a young local guide. Lake Bunyonyi (aka "place of many little birds") is a volcanic lake, about 25 km long and 7 km wide - absolutely perfect for a day trip. During the trip we manage to get our only picture of Uganda's national bird: the grey crowned crane. Not exactly a close-up. :) 

 

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After a short while, we did our first and only stop at Bwama Island, from where this picture is taken:

 

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In 1921, a Scottish missionary by the name Dr Leonard Sharp founded a leprosy hospital at Bwama Island and by 1948, Bwama had 1,000 residents - including parents to sick kids. Luckily, leprosy is no longer a threat in the region and the island is now home to a secondary school.

 

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From the northern shore of Bwama Island, it is possible to see the infamous Punishment Island. 

 

Punishment Island has a gruesome history. This island used to a place where unmarried, pregnant women would be dropped off to either starve to death or die while trying to swim ashore. In the rare case, a woman would be save by the man who impregnated her in the first place or by a man unable to pay the otherwise expensive dowry - a custom that is still very much alive in Uganda. Now you may think that Punishment Island is one of the lush island on this picture. Think again. It is the tiny island with the single tree. 

 

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Back at the lodge we continued to watch the kingfishers - one of my favorite birds - until the sun settled behind the hills. 

 

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Edited by Kirstine

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Chapter 3: Bwindi (Dec 24)

 

The day had finally arisen. We were going to the Ruhija Sector of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to trek and spend time with a family of mountain gorillas. What an amazing Christmas present! 

 

The early morning drive to Bwindi was absolutely beautiful with a low hanging mist covering the forest. After a short introduction, we were assigned our designated gorilla family and off we went.

 

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We trekked for about 1,5 hours before we met "our" gorillas: The Bitukura Gorilla Family. This family was named after the Bitukura River and was habituated in only 15 months from July 2007 to October 2008. It is supposed to be one of the friendliest families and though I have nothing to compare with, I must agree. The gorillas did not seem to mind our company one bit. 

 

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An amazing one hour sped by and before we knew it, we had to leave the family. Our guide had warned us that we would be perceived as fit (ha ha) and thus, be assigned one of the gorilla families that would be hardest to trek to. But wow - what a hike! You do not really realize how much you have walked downhill until you have to get back up. A grueling 30 min. of climbing, slipping and sweating followed until we finally emerged from the forest. 

 

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On that note, please do employ porters to help you. Though it may seem weird to have someone carry your bag, it is extremely important that the local communities get their share of the benefits from protecting the forest and the gorillas. At the same time it is VERY nice to have someone help you while you are sliding down slippery hill sides - or trying to get back up. Every time my foot slipped, I got a supporting(?) "upsiii" and a hand to hold on to. :) 

 

Driving back to the lodge we had a look at the striking difference between the untouched forest and the cultivated land:

 

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Edited by Kirstine

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Atravelynn

Punishment island as you described it and photographed it is chilling. 

Great hour with the gorillas.  These guys are a friendly bunch after their approximately year of habituation.

Welcome to safaritalk.

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Kirstine

Chapter 4: Christmas in Uganda and an afternoon with a leopard (Dec 25)

 

I had asked our guide Franklin whether we would be able to attend some kind of Christmas celebration in Uganda since we would be away from our families at home - and he had said yes. So on Christmas morning, we drove to a nearby village where we had been invited to attend the Christmas service and a Christmas lunch with the family of one of Franklin's friends from school.

 

Arriving at the village we were met by Agnes (in the middle) and her father (to the far left) who happens to be one of the church ministers. 

 

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Quite an impressive church though some of the constructions were a bit dodgy

 

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We were greeted warmly by all and assigned seats at the very front of the church, right by the alter (the blue plastic chairs). Clearly we were honored guests. 

 

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Slowly people started arriving. Half an hour into the service, the church was nearly full and an hour later, extra chairs were being brought in to accommodate the ever growing crowd. Since everyone travels back to their villages for Christmas and all go to church, there was an overwhelming number of people attending the service in the end.

 

The service in itself literally goes on for hours and hours (hence it is not really a problem showing up late) and is a good mix of prayers, songs, well-wishes, news about the local families and requests for donations. At one point we were asked to stand up so we could be welcomed properly. Later we took part in the blessing of the children after which we left the service - along with all the kids, who were clearly unable to sit still for much longer. 

 

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Beautiful teachers and curious kids.

 

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Being Scandinavian, we did get a bit shy from all the attention. But still, it was really an experience of a lifetime. 

 

After the ceremony we went to the home of Agnes' parents to have a traditional Christmas lunch consisting of chicken, goat, potatoes, rice, matoke (boiled and mashed green bananas), beans and gravy. It felt very homely with all the food and the kids were calling me aunti. :)

 

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The family Ndaaba. 

 

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Filled to the brim with food and impressions, we headed towards Queen Elizabeth National Park ("QENP").

 

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Along the way, we met this handsome vervet monkey sitting by the road. 

 

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Not long after, Franklin suggested that we take a small detour to look for leopards. Leopards! Sure! Slowly, we drove down a narrow gravel road eyes scanning all the trees nearby and then - we almost missed it - a leopard in a tree taking an afternoon break in the sun!  We were the only people for miles and miles and thus got to enjoy a completely peaceful and quiet 30 min. with the leopard, until we left it to its business.  

 

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lmonmm

@Kirstine  Welcome and what a great TR so far. Awesome Christmas experience.

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Atravelynn

What a Merry Christmas!

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Thank you @lmonmm! And yes indeed @Atravelynn. It is always a privilege to be invited into someone else's home and traditions. 

 

Chapter 5: QENP part 1 (Dec 25-27) 

 

The next three days, we spent in QENP. Though QENP may not have the best reputation, we did have some great sightings. 

 

On our first drive we were accompanied by a local vet. This meant that we were allowed to go off-roading, since the vet had to check on all the lions that we came across (and note down the well-being of the animal, any cuts etc.). The ability to go off the road really paid off. In the grass, we saw a lioness and her two cubs enjoying the afternoon sun. But they were quite far away and slightly hidden. Since we obliviously did not want to disturb them, we drove off the road, turned off the engine and enjoyed the encounter from the distance.

 

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After a while, the lioness got to her feet and started to walk in OUR direction. Instructed by the vet, we did not move or make a sound. My heart started to pound faster and faster. Sheer excitement! And quite the adrenaline rush trying to get some good pictures of the trio!

 

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I do not remember how many months the vet said the cubs were, so if you have a guess, please do share! 

 

The same afternoon, we also checked in on this handsome fellow and a couple of good looking waterbucks.

 

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In QENP, we spent two out of three nights at the Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge. The tents are nice and clean and I always love an outdoor shower. The lodge is quite basic though, so if using a compost toilette sounds scary - this is not the lodge for you. 

 

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From the lodge we spotted a big group of giant forest hogs:

 

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And we were payed a visit by a very special friend! (me: "surely hippos cannot walk up a flight of stairs... right?!)

 

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We were definitely off to a great start!  

Edited by Kirstine

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Chapter 5: QENP Part 2 (Dec 25-27)

 

The two other activities we did in QENP was to drive to Lake George and take a boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel. I really enjoyed and would recommend both.

 

Driving to Lake George:

 

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We were accompanied by a ranger named Belinda for the drive. She was really sweet and fun - though she and Casper tried (and failed!) to look all serious for the pictures. Later we did see Belinda in action though. A car had illegally driven off road, so Belinda jumped to action and promptly escorted the car out of the park. So great to see the rules being upheld. 

 

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At Lake George we paused for a while to enjoy the view of the salt pans and to eat the most classic breakfast dish in Uganda: a Rolex. Rolexes are sold at almost every street corner and consists of a Chapati filled with scrambled eggs and optional vegetables. Quite good actually.

 

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At the Kazinga Channel it is possible to choose between small and large boats. Normally, we would opt for a smaller boat, but I remember it as being quite expensive. So we were on one of the bigger boats. Luckily, we were very few people on board, so it was not a problem to move around and find good spots to take pictures. 

 

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The Nile Monitor Lizard

 

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We were supposed to stay all three nights at the Bush Lodge, but our guide had booked a night at Mweya Safari Lodge, so we ended up with Bush Lodge - Mweya - Bush Lodge (perhaps the Bush Lodge had sold out and he did not want to tell us). Anyways, our guide clearly felt that he had done us a favour by booking Mweya - and surely, it was more luxurious and I would recommend it to people who are travelling with kids. However, it was not the kind of luxury that we look. For us luxury means few people in a secluded place. This hotel was big and had lots of guests including big groups. But anyways, the view was fantastic!

 

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And we met plenty of these guys:

 

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Edited by Kirstine

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Atravelynn

Interesting discussion of "luxury" and what it means to different people.  Mweya does have a a nice presence of warthogs and banded mongoose at least.

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xelas
On 5/4/2019 at 10:56 PM, Kirstine said:

 if using a compost toilette sounds scary - this is not the lodge for you. 

 

After being introduced to "shovel toilet" in Botswana, that one looks pure luxury to me :).

 

Nice trip report, reading them all before our trip to Uganda next year.

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Kirstine

Ha ha @xelas - I could imagine. I actually did not mind it at all. Sounds exciting with a trip to Uganda next year! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. 

 

@Atravelynn - indeed. And it can be difficult to explain, if your idea is very different from what the other person perceives as such. 

 

Now on to the next chapters! :)

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Chapter 6: The Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary and an unexpected night at Fort Portal 

 

My memories become a bit blurry around this time of our trip. Not from drinking too many Clubs or Nile Specials, but because we pretty much only did stuff that was not part of the original plan and thus took us a bit by surprise. 

 

However! I do remember that we went to the Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary. I had read about the place in my guide book and insisted that we go since we seemed to be improvising. Our guide did not talk about it fondly ("it is just a walk?!"), but at that point I must admit that I did not trust him to know what we would be into or not. And as it turned out, we really liked it. In fact, I would recommend the 4,5 km walk to anyone who goes to Uganda. 

 

On the way we stopped to savor some of the local produce. If only I could grow such fruits and vegetables in my garden!

 

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The Wetlands are home to a bunch of different mammals and birds including the great blue turaco. In particular, I enjoyed spotting the many different kinds of monkeys.

 

Black and White Colobus monkeys with their beautiful tails: 

 

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L'hoest monkey:

 

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Red Colobus monkeys doing some grooming:

 

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Red Tailed monkeys: 

 

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A Grey-cheeked Mangabey

 

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As I have already alluded to, we ended up spending the night at a dreadful motel in Fort Portal (though I had been very explicit about not wanting to go there at all). That being said, we went for a walk and found a super nice market. We were not really up for it, but I think this could be a good place to buy fabric and clothes. I saw quite a few shops on the first floor selling garments.

 

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I also ended up getting a pedicure. It was impossible for me to resist and wha ta fun experience! I got to chat with the other customers and ended up paying extra because of my dirty feet. Ha ha! But really, it was completely fair. My feet were embarrassingly dirty. 

 

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Edited by Kirstine

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Chapter 7: Chimp trekking and the gorgeous Isunga Lodge (Dec 29-30)

 

Again, I must apologize for not remembering our trip in details. Normally, the pictures help, but for some reason the time stamps are completely off. But anyways. We spent the last days in Uganda at the incredibly peaceful Isunga Lodge. I highly recommend spending at least a few nights there. You won't want to leave.  

 

The lodge is located on the edge of the Kibale Forest National Park and only has 7 cottages, each with a private veranda and stunning views of the surrounding nature. The cottages are spread out to give as much privacy as possible. Lighting is provided by solar power and they have their own filtering system to reduce the use of plastic bottles. 

 

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Food is freshly prepared and they grow their own vegetables and fruits:

 

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Everything was so relaxing that we almost felt like just hanging out at the lodge, looking at the pretty birds:

 

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However, we did manage to gather enough energy to go chimp trekking.

 

Like anything that has to do with unpredictable animals, the experience varies from person to person depending on - well - luck. And for once, we were not so lucky. The chimps were on the move. We walked and walked and walked. Took a break. Listened. Walked really quickly. Stopped. Walked some more. Since I was wearing my hiking boots, I was able to just concentrate on looking for the chimps. The people wearing sneakers seemed more preoccupied with the dense and sometimes muddy bush and ended up slowing us down quite a bit. 

 

At the end we did find the chimps, but they were really far away and we were quite a lot of people scrambling around the forest to get a good look. It seems our group was not the only one in difficulties that day. So all in all the experience could have been better. 

 

Me at the end of the hike:

 

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Luckily, Isunga awaited with lots of tranquility and coffee. 

 

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Edited by Kirstine

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

Chapter 8: Going home (Dec 31)

 

On the last day we drove to Entebbe to catch our flight home. We did not make any stops along the way, but I will still share a few slightly blurry pictures of the trip to give you an impression of Entebbe and its surroundings.

 

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At midnight, we toasted for the amazing adventure and for a Happy New Year! 

 

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Edited by Kirstine

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lmonmm

A very enjoyable TR....thank you for sharing.  I went back to look and I actually stayed at Mweya when I did my Rwanda/Uganda trip (yes, it was a group as I was solo). Yes, a bit touristy, but a very fond memory of mine while there....I woke up in the middle of the night....windows open ignoring the air co (I'm a flaps open girl which is always a bit of a struggle at camps as they love lowering all the flaps) and I heard a noise...lying there trying to figure it out and finally looked out the window and there was a hippo doing his/her lawn-mower imitation past my window (which literally was at face level). I smiled, climbed back into bed and went right back to sleep. And as @Atravelynn mentioned....great mongoose sightings.

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Atravelynn

That's a New Years you won't forget!  Nice monkey pictures.  Yours may be the first safari pedicure reported.  You're a pioneer.   Nice aerial shot of the market.  You had a great trip!

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LarsS

Sounds like you've had a great time! Thanks for sharing your TR with us.

 

What do you actually mean with QENP not having the best reputation? I'm not aware of it. Visited it a few years ago and liked it. Had a great experience being surrounded by a herd of elephants when it was already dark. About 200 ellies walked around us. Also had quite a few good lion sightings, including my first cubs. I think they were about the same size as the ones you spotted. I estimate them about 3 or 4 months? Have to say I'm not an expert though.

 

I found your Rwanda story interesting as I want to go there one day too. The genocide center would be something I would visit, despite the horrors it is about.

Punishment island sounds horrifying. No words.

 

To end on a more happy note: I'm glad you had a really good sighting at the gorillas. Great pictures!

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Kirstine
Posted (edited)

@LarsS - Thanks a lot! I am so happy that you liked the TR and the gorilla pictures. It was an incredible experience.

 

I think that I got the impression of QENP from some of the trip reports I read. Perhaps it has something to do with the quality of the lodges, the amount of roads criss-crossing parts of the park, the distances etc. But I could have also just gotten the wrong impression.

 

As I wrote, I personally enjoyed visiting QENP and felt incredibly lucky with our sightings and the exhilarating encouter with the cubs. It sounds like you had an amazing time too!

 

I would love to visit Rwanda again. In Uganda we heard many stories about how Uganda and Rwanda differ, and I would like to see this for myself. The point most people - in Uganda - seemed to be making was that Uganda is a bit chaotic (rules not between followed, laws not enforced etc) BUT people are free to speak their mind, also about politics. In Rwanda, they told us, there is much more control with everything (e.g. the plastic bag ban, people wearing helmets) - BUT people cannot and will not say what is on their mind. I do not know whether this is true, but I know that the two countries looked very different on different on the surface.

 

I highly recommend the genocide memorial center. I think it is important to know what happened and to remember. Though it is completely heart braking to visit (it is also a memorial center for the survivors, so you are really faced with the consequences).

Edited by Kirstine

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