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The Uganda Workout (Kibale, QENP and Nkuringo)

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pault
And at last, I will resume......


We very briefly (Remmy well, us a flash) saw a Serval and of course there were plenty of ground birds. It's a bit of a blur between here and Ruaha in my memory, looking back now, but between them I must have collected over a dozen ground birds, and I wasn't even trying.


Most disappointingly, we saw no bush pigs or Giant Forest Hogs. But since we really only did a couple of proper game drives with everything else we did, we shouldn't be too surprised, and we weren't really looking in the right areas - more relying on catching them coming for a drink.


We were supposed to be going mongoose tracking here, but even though we booked months in advance they had basically said to call them when we arrived and they would set it up then. But our researchers were at a convention or symposium or something in Kampala and we couldn't do it. Another big let down and I have to wonder how often they actually do it. I think they would if they were there and I don't think booking will help much unless you are really insistent and basically bombard them in advance. Apparently the lion tracking is more popular - who would have guessed?


Remmy knew he'd need to find some mongooses himself now - and not just a flash of a few tails in the long grass. He was much too cocky about it though - the weakness of a young man- and when he took us to a "dead certain" location, they were not there. Telling my wife "but they have always been here when I have been here" doesn't win points back! Luckily for him, his second choice of the Mweya campsite was a better one. I don't think it is very difficult to see Banded Mongooses around Mweya.


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The next part sounds like I wrote it before, but it isn't in my report and it doesn't seem to be on my iPad, so perhaps I only drafted it in my head. Apologies if not!


We also visited a fishing village, as my wife had mentioned she was interested in how people could live so close to hippos at some point on one of our first drives. She didn't mean she wanted to do a PhD thesis on it, but Remmy found it interesting too and was really enthusiastic to show us, so after one morning game drive we let him take us. I suspected that this wasn't going to be quite as friendly as the visit to the village near Kibale National Park and I was not disappointed (if that is the right word). We didn't quite get the finger as we arrived (we did actually when we were watching the quaint fishermen going out in the evening from the boat at the end of our second Kasinga Channel Cruise, so Remmy clearly did pick the "friendlier" village :) ) but there were certainly no children running out to have a look here. People were supremely indifferent in general and sometimes rather scowlingly so. It isn't that surprising given where they live, the conditions they live in, the number of outsiders coming into the area to do tourist-related business, all the tourists around rubber-necking them, and the number of NGOs and well-meaning church groups that seem to be active in this part of Uganda. Plus they are very traditional fishing folk - not the most blithely welcoming of groups to outsiders anywhere in the world in my limited experience, although there are exceptions. Certainly the benefits of tourism have not tricked down to these folks. Nobody was selling us anything, except a hopeful roti salesman, who was himself clearly an outsider. Even the mangy dogs blanked us.


We weren't here to bother them though, and Remmy was not in the slightest bit worried by it all, so we dutifully followed him down to the waterfront to see the hippos. They were initially indifferent to us too, but huffily submerged when we got too close. Seeing Marabou Storks strolling around I had the quite poetic thought that we were about as welcome as them - tolerated.


Leave no footprints, take only pictures..... of boats, not people though!

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After a while I was getting a bit bored of this, and found a few kids who were at least interested in the camera, although the lower I went to get an interesting angle on the shot, the lower they went too, and as I moved back to get them all in, they came closer - I think they wanted to see themselves reflected in the lens! So all my shots ended up with the focus a bit off.


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Then Remmy found a house selling some "really nice" mini-bananas that we really should try, and so of course he had to buy some, and while we were waiting outside, out of the blue a little girl came over and latched herself on to my wife. No talk, no real smiles, just held her hand and wouldn't let go. In her now (bleached by sun over the years) near-white clothes maybe she looked like a Hollywood star looking for an adoption. I certainly thought so, but my wife was not amused by my thought.


Okay, that hat and those boots are not all that Hollywood....


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Then this little boy appeared out of nowhere and started doing a really strange dance and rather warlike routine in front of me. A kind of Ugandan Haka, except a bit more improvised. It would have been a bit scary if he wasn't barely 3 feet tall and dressed only in baggy underpants. That was when the latest Maribou decide to stroll by, and I only wish it had come into frame, but this picture is surreal enough - managed thanks to the wonders of the articulating rear screen on my camera, as this kid was really weird and I didn't dare to take my eyes of him!


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But as soon as we had the bananas we were once again "kid-friendly" and even baggy underpants managed to be charming until he got one - after which he did some monkey impersonations and then ran off cackling. The little girl let my wife go so she could have one for each hand - it was the only way - and we made our way back to the vehicle, Remmy still happily philosophising about human-wildlife coexistence and my wife giving me the "no more of this" eye.


Still, I am glad we did it. I'm with Remmy on this touch it and feel it and get up close thing - whether it's good or bad there is no other way to know and to learn.... and a couple of the pictures are beauties for the album I think!


Marabou Stork and cloth sellers (outsiders like us, so I dared to take their photo)


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I have been saving the best for last. While Queen Elizabeth National Park is definitely worth a trip on its own, in the end it us the Kasinga Channel boat cruises that make it worth going out of your way for. I'll actually post quite a few of my more interesting pictures later (long story why, related to my computer switch) but I need to crack on with this or I will never finish!


We did cruises on two afternoons, and after much indecision and a couple of changes of plan we ended up going on the UWA boats at 2 pm both days. A private boat was my first choice, and there is no doubt that Mweya lodge's own boats look nicer and more stable, but in the end I am not unhappy with our choice. One of the reasons for that is that if We had chartered our own boat I would almost certainly have gone out at 4 and we would then have had really poor light and a lot of the animals and birds may have already left the area. In different weather that wouldn't be the case, but. It was pretty murky, especially the second day.


I didn't feel we had made the right choice the first day though. Remember our monkey-scaring, enthusiastic Northern Europeans? We were sitting on the boat the first day, having arrived early to get our choice of seat (on what is considered the correct side) and it looked like it was going to be fairly empty, which was excellent since there was a roof and I wanted to shoot from there, but not if the boat was listing as a result. I could tell the weather wasn't going to be great, but I was "cautiously optimistic". Then, five minutes after the scheduled departure time,there was a sudden swell of noise and the boat rocked and shook as if a herd of cattle were boarding. The boat filled up in a minute, and our poor UWA guide's interesting introduction to the formation and nature of the Kasinga Channel was drowned out by people asking each other for sunscreen and various other things that of course I didn't understand, but from the fact that a couple of the quieter members of the group were squirming and looking very embarrassed seemed to be along the lines of "Are those red shorts in case we get lost in fog?" and "This life vest won't fit me unless I get some drastic breast reduction surgery. Help! Is there a doctor on board?". As soon as we left the jetty all of them except the embarrassed couple (that was over half the boat) tried to rush upstairs, forcing the UWA staff who was supposed to be offering information and help with spotting on the upper deck to come downstairs and stop more people trying to get up top. The poor UWA guide was gamely carrying on with his commentary, but he was getting shouty and a bit shrill as he tried to speak over all the distractions. This was going to be awful! I felt sick.


But then we arrived on the interesting side of the channel (the other side has a few interesting areas, especially for elephants, but is mostly dense bush down to the waterline), and there were 10 Pied Kingfishers, no that was 20, or 30.. and there was another dozen.. and more... And.... Wow, this place is unreal! And I completely forgot about what was happening behind me and just focused on the action in front of me. Birds and birds everywhere. Hippos galore. Buffaloes chilling in the water, some submerged up to their necks, just like water buffaloes do in the heat of the day or to seek relief from heat, flies and other pesky insects. Water monitors all over the place if your eyes were sharp enough, but don't miss the crocodiles. There's a monster, and then a young one and then a really small one. The guide was announcing various sightings, but you honestly couldn't follow him and do your own spotting. - you'd have needed two pairs of eyes. Fish Eagles are common as crows, Cormorants like flocks of sparrows, and all sorts of everything thrown in. Is that a Pelican? Is that a Malachite Kingfisher? No has has a white head. No it doesn't... oh, we're looking at different Kingfishers! It was like that all the way, except around the fishing village.


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What to focus on?

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It's scrubby and ugly along the banks of the channel; there is unidentifiable gunk in the water; there are plastic bags lapping the shore. But it is amazing. Wait for the other pictures and you'll see better.


As a side note, I have to say that in my opinion (and as someone who is definitely not a bird photographer) it isn't the best place for bird photography. I am not referring to my own results, but you are often shooting from above the birds, the backgrounds are ugly, the light is often very mixed (well, it was just weak when I was there, but there is a lot of shade and bright spots) and there is so much going on that it is difficult to pick something out and make it look good. A 600mm lens would certainly help, but even then I think you'd struggle a bit to get the pictures you want and feel you should be getting. I am not saying you won't get some good or even great ones (I am sure a skilled bird photgrapher will) but I found it harder work than I imagined, given that it looks about as difficult as shooting ducks in a swimming pool! The pictures above are all with my longest lens, so they're the ones I was trying to isolate something. Some of the kingfishers in flight are from the top deck of the boat on the second day, which had a much more sedate (and I am sure typical) group of tourists, including a pleasing number of Ugandans.


I'll describe the top deck experience and the fishing village when I have some of the "wider" views of Kasinga Channel ready.


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Edited by pault

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Safaridude

@@pault

 

I have somehow managed to miss this until now. You have some real incredible photos in here of both wildlife and people. Congrats.

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Kitsafari

beautiful pix of the kids, love the one with the 5 kids bending for your pix.

 

when the boy was doing his warrior dance for you, the little girl was smiling at you.

 

amazing last pix - it's a bit eerie with the big bird shadow behind the kingfisher. what bird is that behind?

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TonyQ

@@pault

I am very pleased you are able to post again and that we can revisit Uganda.

 

The section on your visit to the village is really interesting and thought provoking with some excellent photos.

 

The cruise - Despite what you say, some of these are realy good photos especially the kingfishers in flight.

Your description brings back a lot of memories of our trip - it was much better than we had expected it to be.

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graceland

@@pault, so glad you are back with your humor, delightful and honest insight- and your bollywood wife (she is lovely). Of course a mention of Bibi is always intriguing. When my DH quits safari life with me; I may have to recruit Bibi.

 

I am just now pouring myself a fine red, and will settle in on a rainy night to read your exploits with Remmy (who I now imagine is writing a book on his exploits with Pault and company, imagining ~Brad Pitt "maybe" as the crazy tourist he is guiding) Or...Jim Carrey.

 

I am really impressed with Mrs. Pault on this adventure. The actress to play her has not yet arrived on the scene. ;)

 

Will get back to you on this I am sure :D

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Marks

amazing last pix - it's a bit eerie with the big bird shadow behind the kingfisher. what bird is that behind?

 

Agreed, that last one is quite surreal.

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pault

 

when the boy was doing his warrior dance for you, the little girl was smiling at you.

 

amazing last pix - it's a bit eerie with the big bird shadow behind the kingfisher. what bird is that behind?

 

Yes, she was smiling. Cute smile too. I was probably being funny in response to the boy, or maybe it was the power of the camera. Obviously the Hollywood star adoption theory is a joke and I have no idea why she decided she would come over and hold my wife's hand.

 

I am not sure what the bird was. Shall I put it in the bird ID thread? Heh heh.

 

Thank you @@Marks @@graceland (Are you sure you had the glass of wine after posting - more Jim board bent than Brad Pitt here) @@TonyQ (thank you!) @@Safaridude (another thank you!)

 

Hopefully I will get the thing finished this time around - although there is still Ruaha to come.

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pault

@@johnkok. How was yours? Would love to compare notes.

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twaffle

Well, I was enchanted by the children staring down your lens, but then you threw all the Kazinga channel photos at us and I almost forgot the children. Excellent work and I'm grateful for the extra information on photography challenges.

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SafariChick

Ah, so glad you're back to this report! I've been hoping to read more before I head off on my trip (even though my trip is not to Uganda, it's a top contender for me for 2016!) As always, love the humor and the photos are great. Keep it coming please!

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michael-ibk

Great to see you continue. Love the bird pics of course (especially the Kingfishers), but your captures of the kids are even more special.

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Soukous

I've just started working my way through this TR @@pault, what a treat.

I'm only as far as post #21 but the photos are absolutely enchanting.

 

I particularly like on in post#21 which shows a line of chimps walking almost single file - shot from behind, with one youngster turning to look back. simply beautiful.

 

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Sangeeta

Super people pictures, Paul. Love the B&W ones especially - they are very atmospheric. The shaman - esp the 2 Mzees - would even call some of these compositions poetic! Not sure why you don't like the bird pics - the one with the looming shadow behind is fantastic.

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pault

Haha..... Thank you... but it's not that I don't like the bird pics @Sengeeta - it's just that I thought it would be easier to get some more "classic" bird shots, given that there were birds everywhere! I have maybe 20 that might be worth keeping, but I took hundreds, and I wasn't just blasting away (except at the Pied Kingfishers to test certain features on my new camera, which was a brand new model). I would have expected it to be much harder to decide which to keep.

 

The arty ones don't count as any guidelines or rules are being ignored anyway. Look at the last one from the bird photographer's perspective.... underexposed, subject too small and some huge, foreign, oiut of focus object in frame. :P

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johnkok

@@johnkok. How was yours? Would love to compare notes.

 

@@pault

 

Arrrhhh - I'm way behind on everything, including reading your TR. Work, business trips and a myriad interests (not to mention trying to maintain all that mountain trekking goodness) sure chews up time. But I'll get around to. Promise. :-)

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kilopascal

I love reading this trip report and your approach to travel. I'm anxiously awaiting more.

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pault

@@kilopascal.... Thank you. Wait no more!

 

Starting with the visitor centre at Mweya. I can confirm that at least two of these do appear to have been created from real animals, although I am not quite sure how. @@twaffle Are these the lions and cheetahs you remember from your youth? :lol:

 

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A couple of notes about the UWA boat. It is quite old and not particularly comfortable, but really it is okay. You have to wear a life vest, which is understandable and not as restrictive as I thought it would be for photography, albeit still restrictive. I thought the worst when I saw we were going to get commentary through speakers, but actually it isn't too loud and it is quite good. You get a lot of information and a lot of help with spotting interesting things. The lead rangers are very knowledgable. Their assistants have somewhat variable knowledge, but they can identify most birds and are decent spotters and keen, so I was glad they were there on the top deck.

Actually I suspected both assistants (trainee rangers) were on the top deck on the second day to keep away from the ranger, who was truly fearsome. Perhaps he had heard about the previous day's excursion but he got right into the rules and sternly walked around checking everybody had the life vests on and was being quiet and listening before he started his (very knowledgable) commentary. He made it clear we would be going nowhere if we weren't quiet and vested first. Felt like I was back at school, and was pretty annoyed at first; but after the previous day I kind of understood him. My wife was on the main deck the whole time and thought he was very good throughout in terms of the guiding.

The second day we skipped the Pied Kingfisher colony. Still saw a lot of kingfishers, but there is a colony which we started the cruise with on the first day. Didn't dare to ask why, but I guess it was to see more at the other end, which was truly spectacular. This time around though I was on the top deck and shooting the birds from there, which was very successful. Near to the colony, the are Pied Kingfishers following the boat permanently, and diving to fish in the wake, I got some wonderful shots of them catching fish, but unfortunately by the time I mastered how to predict their movement, it was so dim that I didn't have enough shutter speed to make them worth keeping, even bumping the ISO. But now I know how, and that my camera can manage it. Next time.... and even this time a bit, in Ruaha, as you will see later.

BIF in general would of course have been better without a white sky, but it's probably 50-50 here whether you are going to get blue. Not complaining though - lucky just to have the chance to shoot in this environment.

Top deck gives a very different perspective. One should definitely try both, but if you like the guided tour as my wife did, you may prefer the main deck.

 

Here are some slightly wider pictures of Kasinga Channel. Note these are not necessarily from the second outing - division is purely by camera system and order of processing.

Some crocs...

Big one

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Smaller one...

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Plenty of hippos of course

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Buffaloes, looking a bit lighter than usual sometimes, and just enjoying the water as an environment..

Some like it shallow...

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Some like it deep...

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We only saw one elephant on this bank, but there were a lot more on the opposite bank. Just where the elephants were at that time I suspect.

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And apart from the hundreds or thousands of Pied Kingfishers there are the only slightly less remarkable number of cormorants. First seen in groups.

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And then, at the end of the journey, before we headed for home..... a colony.

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But it's not just cormorants here. I can see 9 types of water bird in this photo (counting the storks as water birds!!) and I know for a fact there were at least two more, plus the hippos.

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And as the fishermen set out around 3.40, so did they... with much splashing and flapping of wings.

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One of the reasons the boat leaves at 2 pm is to catch the fishermen heading out in the evening, it is quite a sight, although of course It felt a little voyeuristic and there was that element of watching them, watching you. Nobody waved and as I mentioned before, there was at least one clear "center digit" from someone taking a nap in a boat. Very subtly done and definitely designed to ruin a photo rather than directly offend. Didn't ruin my photo though, since I wasn't shooting that day - was planning how to shoot the second day without getting in people's faces; and just taking a bit of a rest after all the bird action. Fortunately, the idea of mooning hasn't reached these parts yet. But really, people were mostly quite relaxed about the daily intrusions. The boat doesn't stop, just putters past; and it isn't so close to shore. I don't think I would like it, but perhaps I would get used to it.

 

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Assuming the second day was more typical, the UWA boat trip can be recommended.

On the way back to Bush Lodge, on boith days we came across elephants returninhg from a late afternoon drink. One day they were holding up what little traffic there was. The other day, they were calmly browsing near to Mweya Lodge.

 

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And now it is time to leave Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge behind and head for the mountains.

 

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Edited by pault

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pault

Before I start the next part I just found a better view of the Kasina Channel cruise, from the endpoint of the trip along that shore. The Pied Kingfishers are around the other side of the distant peninsula.

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It was likely to be a long drive from the Kasinga Channel to Lake Mutanda, and so we left immediately after an early breakfast. We drove first through the Ishasha section of the park, which was quiet in every sense, although of course we did not have the time to take detours. We didn't see another vehicle on the two hour drive through this section, but we did see a nice herd of Topi who we stayed with for a while as this would be our only chance to see them this trip (no Topi in Ruaha).

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We also stopped for a rather large Scarab Beetle that was crossing the road. I never really tire of huge insects.

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The grass was long and green even towards the end of the dry season and we drove relatively quickly at times, so we no doubt missed quite a few things, but I didn't really feel we had missed much (except for the wonderful peace and lack of people, which is not to be under-valued in Uganda) by not scheduling some time in Ishasha. Very pretty though.

We stopped off for a coffee at a resort just outside the park on the southern side and then headed south and upwards, with the scenery improving with every few kilometers, until it was just beautiful.

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A lot of tea plantation in this area.

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Even with low clouds and little light, the views were so striking. The fields got steeper and steeper as we went but despite the near vertical slopes in places, the number of farmsteads actually grew, as did the number of people by the side of the road.

The kids were there. These ones sweet and just interested; some others miming hunger or a desperate need for spare change or sweets (tut, tut tourists driving to Buhoma!) but even the worst of the "beggars" (the one who said something rude that Remmy would not trranslate) was more funny than annoying. Someone might see it as sad but it never occurred to me that they were in a particualrly bad situation. There is of course real poverty, but the people in this area are generally (broken families, drunken fathers aside of course) blessed with penty of rain, a great abundance of fresh food and very fresh water, and at least some access to education. Those living by the road, who we met, are probably best off of all since they can also raise a bit of cash selling produce to passing motorists.

Sweet, innocent, genuine kids... honest, mister!!!

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And they had given Remmy a bit of a quizzing about who we were and what we were doing, while in turn Remmy tried to explain to the littlest boy that shouting "Money! Money" at tourists wasn't all that polite. Little guy had no idea what it meant. .

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We reached the turn off for Buhoma just after lunch (which I do not remember for some reason, although I am pretty sure we had a packed lunch from the lodge and then picked up some fresh french fries and something else hot from the lodge at which we stopped for coffee. I guess this absence of memory is due to our stopping to eat somewhere rather nondescript when the scenery most of the way was so spectacular. Thanks to photos, I do remember we stopped at the post office so my wife could send her postcards, some of which only recently arrived at their destination.

Do you have stamps? (This was not a given at rural Ugandan post offices - twice we were told the stamps would be arriving in a day or two)

 

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If you have travelled only to Buhoma, you’ll rightly think that it is a really pretty drive and that you are quite high up now. In fact, you are just starting the climb and the drive really – albeit one that involves a lot of downs as well as ups. We drove on for over 4 hours after that turn off, although we did stop along the way quite often, and didn’t dare to take a shorter route because we were not sure of road conditions since there had clearly been recent rain.

One of many stops - this one for a river.

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The kids were a lot shyer out here, although they still hung around and looked.

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Lake Bunyoni

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We arrived in Kisoro just before 5 and Remmy showed us the site of the refugee camp (now closed) used for many years for refugees from the genocide in Rwanda and other regional horrors. It was really worth a photo or two, but it just felt too ghoulish for me and we drove on. The weather was really closing in now – in fact for the last half hour before we descended into Kisoro we had been almost driving in the clouds. As a result, the final climb to the road around Lake Mutanda was no longer pleasant. We couldn’t see much, it was getting dark and not even Remmy was really sure how far we had to go. It was supposed to be not much more than 30 minutes out of Kisoro, but the first stretch of the road had been washed away and was just bare volcanic rock with the odd patch of soil to slip on and lots of people carefully navigating it by bicycle, motorcycle and on foot to avoid. That few kilometers alone took 20 minutes and then in the conditions the rest took much longer than it should too. You shouldn’t rush this road. I thought Remmy was being a bit over-conservative, but a couple of days later a group at the lodge would show up on foot having left their vehicle and driver hanging over the edge of the road after sliding out of control on a patch of wet black cotton soil and grass. The road itself is fine and all weather, but just touch the verges at certain places and the driver is no longer in control. So Remmy did good by us, ignoring the children’s frustration at not being there yet and just making sure he got us all there safely.

 

As we reached Lake Mutanda Chameleon Hill lodge, the clouds started to part a little bit and it actually got lighter as we moved towards sunset. The view was (as I knew it would be) lovely.

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I’ll discuss the lodge a bit more later, as we would spend four nights here; but I was going gorilla trekking the next morning and was mainly concerned about controlling my excitement enough that I could get a really good night’s sleep. Breakfast was set for 5.45 am with departure at 6.15 since there might be rain overnight and if it was heavy we would have to take a very circuitous route that would involve going most of the way back to Kisoro. Of course they would bring us coffee to our room at just before 5.30, which would mean switching on the generator a little earlier than usual, but they didn’t mind (and we didn’t realise until a few days later when we were chatting with the manager about the lodge in general). Service is very good here.

 

Wow! The gorrilas are coming.

 

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Edited by pault

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twaffle

Those views are spectacular and you captured them very well. The view over Lake Bunyoni is very different to the photos I have from our time there in the early 1960s.

 

I shall, of course, ignore any reference to moth eaten animals. :wacko::lol:

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graceland

Love the landscape shots and the locals.

Really looking forward to your gorillas.

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madaboutcheetah

Beautiful ....... that's a cracker of a view!!! Look forward to the gorillas ......

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Kitsafari

those lake views are gorgeous, especially lake Mutanda in the evening light. you capture the atmosphere so well. and love the pix of the children once again.

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SafariChick

That view is just stunning! And the gorilla is charming - can't wait to see more gorillas! And interested to hear about this lodge too.

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pault

Thanks all. All ready for the gorillas now in terms of photos but I still have to write it up. Here is a map showing how everything relates as the area can be quite confusing. Coming in from the north (of course the map is upside down) you can see how much further it is to drive around to Lake Mutanda than it is to go to Buhoma (and to Nkuringo for that matter, although there is no way you would go to Nkuringo via Kisoro. The view over the lake above is all the way to Rwanda and Congo, with those being the three volcanoes on the border and the other two partially hidden being well outside Uganda. One of those is the active one that you can see glow at night if it is clear enough (obviously it wasn't while we were there). Not sure if you will be able to click on the map to see it at full size.... or whether it might even show as full size below.

 

i-63NJSWc-X2.jpg

Edited by pault

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Marks

That is some disturbing taxidermy! But I think those incredibly beautiful views make up for it.

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