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The Uganda Workout (Kibale, QENP and Nkuringo)

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pault

Prior to setting out my motto had been "expect the worst and be guaranteed a pleasant surprise". That had worked nicely with the Chimpanzees but it was really supposed to preare me for the gorillas. However, it isn't a negative mindset; it just intended to make it more difficult to be complacent. To make sure I kept active in the days before; ate healthily; took enough water; refused the second beer the night before (well okay, uin the end the evening was so lovely (see above) that I said yes, but a third was was not even considered! :)); made sure I didn't strain my dodgy neck, shoulder or knees in the days before. I chose to do the Nkuringo group because they are the biggest group and have a reputation of being super-relaxed, plus the scenery was apparently best. I thought all that outweighed that they are potentially the most difficult group since you have to get to the forest via a fairly long and very steep descent into a valley. Only once you get to the valley bottom can you enter the forest and start looking for the gorillas. There is almost no way it can be an easy trek unless the gorillas actually come out of the forest and pass through some kilometers of farmland. That wasn't going to happen.

 

I was most worried about my knees, especially after my fall when running from elephants a few days before. And despite all my careful eating, you know what I forgot? Simple salt!! I woke up with cramp at 5 am on the morning of the trek and when the lodge brought coffee in the morning they didn't need to knock because I was already outside, hobbling around trying to walk it off! The cramp got less painful, but the stiffness was still there at breakfast and I was getting more and more nervous. The downside oif the expecting the worst strategy is that if something you hadn't factored in happens, it messes with your mind terribly. I only had muesli at breakfast because I couldn't have held a knife.Pretty silly, but such things happen, and then they pass - and soon the panic ebbed away and I was able to laugh at myself and felt manic but relaxed. Good news came soon after that we would be able to take the short way to Nkuringo because it hadn't rained much during the night. Bad news was that it had rained in the night and the ground even around the lodge was slippy.

 

We set off with the first faint brightening of the sky at dawn. We would be early, but Remmy thought I might want to stop along the way, and in any case there was always the chance of a flat or (god forbid!) a landslide blocking the road. The road was fine, but I could see why Remmy was reluctant to use it after rain. The bends were sharp, it was narrow in places, hilly, rocky in a few places and overall a bit treachorous. At one point I thought we were stuck in some mud, but Remmy was able to engage a lower 4WD gear and we chugged out.

 

As the sun rose, even though it was rather cloudy, fantastic scenes appered to our left, both looking towards the volcanoes and Rawnda, and out over the mountains into Congo. Not stopping just wasn't an option. How often do you see a 1000 sq.km sea of fog? Without any light I wished that I had brought a tripod for once, but I made do.

 

The view towards Rwanda

 

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Sea of fog to Congo

 

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Among this surreal scenery at that time in the morning all my worries just slipped away somewhere, and I arrived at the ranger station relaxed and, if not confident at least ready to do my best.

 

 

And at last, insted of imagining I could actually see where we would have to walk..... down there to those houses, through those trees and then almost straight down the other side.

 

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I asked a ranger if the trees were half way down and his answer was that they were only a small part of the way down. In fact we could consider that to be the starting point, even though we would be walking there.

 

The ranger station prepares for the trek.

 

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We were there first as most others were staying in Nkuringo and so still having their breakfast before they sauntered down. So I had a look around. Nkuringo seems a nice little mountain town - a bit commercialised as you would expect, but it didn't seem too bad. Views are of course nice, and there are all kinds of great walking possibilities from here. Stil, I was happier we were out in the countryside at Lake Mutanda.

 

Once the other six people showed up, we had our briefing, chose our sticks, hired our porters (I wanted one to carry my photo gear, and in case of emergency) and we were off - striding up the road to the point at which we would begin our descent. Once again I was the eldest by some distance. One couple were around about my generation but they looked like they might climb mountains every weekend for fun, so there was little comfort there. I was going to have to punch above my weight again. Puff puff.

 

But talking off puff puff, I had noticed that one couple were stocking up on nicotine while waiting for departure - I thought that did not seem like a very good idea since they might need breath a lot more than nicotine in a couple of hours.

 

The descent is relatively gentle in places and then very steep. While farmland may sound much easier to walk on, there is much less to grab on to, and so you have to use the stick a lot. When the stick slips, you slip, and that happened a couple of times to me. The ground just had no grip in places and although I had good boots, they weren't boots for ice, which is what we needed. Those wearing running shoes were having a much worse time than me, and by half way down into the valley one of the smokers had her porter pretrty much permanently at her side and the constant slipping was clearly tiring her. My porter asked if I wanted him to hold my hand. I thought we should save that for emergencies.

 

This shot doesn't really do justice to the steepness, but it hopefully does justice to a very pretty area

 

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Despite the slipping we were making good progress, and after just an hour we were able to see the bottom of the valley. Still a way to go, but we could see it. It wasn't too warm yet either, but it was fairly clear so I reckioned my heat and humidity tolerance would be a benefit on the way back.

 

At this point we did not know how far we would have to go. Our trackers were out and well ahead of us, but they hadn't reported back. When they did half an hour later it was with what sounded like good news. The gorillas were out of the forest and feeding in an area almost on the valley floor. In terms of energy spent this was really the very best case scenario, although I was actually a little disappointed that we wouldn't be walking in the forest.

 

Then everything happened too quickly. Well before I expected it, the ranger told us to stop and leave all our gear except for cameras. We were close! And then after barely 50 meters - most of which was travelled on my bottom as that was a lot easier than trying to keep upright - we were face to face with the trackers, smiling broady at all the bug-eyed tourists. We were there! The trackers brought us slowly up a stream - it was a lot easier to just walk in this than try to be a mountain goat and spring from slippy rock to slippy rock - and into some very dense remnants of a bamboo forest, which had obviously been cut at some point long ago and weas now full of a variety of different plants and trees. It was also full of gorillas, casually eating. At first we could only see two, but there were clear sounds of more all around us.

 

Space was very tight, since most of the open area was in the water, but the trackers and ranger very calmly are efficiently set about getting us seated or standing or generally in position to observe without disturbing too much or falling over each other. The silverback was coming and we had to be still. I sat in the steam, on a small rock. It was wet, but I did not mind because i had a decent view from there, and it stopped my wobbly legs from affecting the quality of my photos.

 

You will have read about gorrilla encounters before so I won't go into any detail. Because space was so tight we started out 3-4 meters from the closest and when they moved we were all (quite literally) touched as the gorillas walked by. People were beaming like new fathers looking for someone to give a cigar to. The ranger was in charge but once it was established we were obedient he and the trackers went out of their way to make sure we all got a really good look and that we had angles to shoot our photographs from. I was so entranced that while sitting on my little rock I failed to notice that the second camera on my belt was actually in the water (or rather mud and water as this was no crystal clear mountain stream). Fortunately, one of the others noticed and told me before I got more than the lens hood filthy and wet.

 

My first gorilla....

 

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My second...

 

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You sexy beast.....

 

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Youngster (we did see a younger one but he was shy)

 

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After walking among us for a while and a good bit of feeding, the sexy beast felt it was time to reflect on his awesomeness and take a nap among us.

 

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So how close did they get?

 

Closer than this.... shot at 24mm and not cropped

 

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Gorilla rhubarb*

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* not really rhubarb

 

 

And the habitat?

 

Bits of clearing among some very, very thick stuff... naturally, never flat.

 

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And as it does, the hour was gone in 5 minutes. I could have sworn I had just taken a shot of the first gorilla, and there was the ranger gently telling us the hour had passed and we should go, One person begged for (and was allowed) just one more shot of the silverback, but the rest of us trooped out, walking a little bit on air and then all slipping and sliding and generally pratfalling as we reealised that beneath our feet was no longer air but mud and slippery rocks.

 

After 5 minutes or so to get our breath back, we thanked the trackers and started back up. Reailty came back pretty quick as the first part was the steepest part of all, and with very little grip. Fortunately my porter say I was struggling manfully, and rather than let me be a manly struggler he (all 60 kgs of him) grabbed me daintily be the hand and just pulled me up the slope like a child - a thin child. From last we were very soon leading the climb. However, as soon as we got through the steepest part I told him that I would walk myself now, but that it been a very nice experience to fly up a near-vertical slope like that and I appreciated it.

 

My small but indominatable porter.

 

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We continued at a gentler pace and pretty soon I was back in the middle of the group. However, one of the morning puffers was really struggling now. For about 40 minutes we waited every time she stopped, but by then the stops had become more frequent than the walking. We struggled on as a group a little bit longer, but when we reached the first house (still a long way to go to the road level though) the ranger told us we should proceed with our armed escort and he would wait there and help to get the distressed woman out. I asked if she needed a stretcher and he said she might but that he thought what she needed was a good rest and she could have that here.

 

So off we went, and since my legs were screaming a bit I suggested to the others that I take the ranger's place in the lead since I was almost certainly not going to set too quick a pace for anybody. Surprisingly everybody thought that was a good idea, and so we carried on up and up and up for what seemed like a very, very long time. My porter walked with me most of the way and caught me from time to time, but generally it really wasn't that bad. It got pretty hot as it got close to 12 and we neared the road, but that didn't bother me too much; I was more concerned that I couldn'tr really feel my legs any more. Perhaps that was for the best. I could feel my damaged knee though - it was screaming at me to stop.

 

Suddenly, after about 10 heartbreaking false alarms, we came around a bend in the path and there was the road. I'd made it quite comfortably and we were back in time for lunch.

 

Easy! :P

Edited by pault

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pault

If you read this before I posted this apology..... my apologies.. I just corrected about 20 typos and Matt corrected "a couple" for me before that so it must have been bad. :o

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Soukous

stunning views, stunning photographs and a well told story. If you decide to make this a book @@pault i'll buy it.

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TonyQ

@@pault

Firstly - beautiful pictures of the fog!

Your writing about the walking towards the gorillas and your feelings is so engaging, and then your pictures of the gorillas - wonderful.

An hour gone in 5 minutes!

You also make clear the value of having a porter (everyone should take one , enjoy the trek more and boost the local economy)

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michael-ibk

A sensational chapter, Pault, so vividly written it soaks you right into the experience! And great photos as well. Thank you!

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Safaridude

The cormorants and the misty scenery shots are amazing. A couple of great chapters!

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Kitsafari

@@pault echoing the others. Those are stunning misty morning scenes. I half expected to see a castle on a hillside.

 

And the portraits of the gorillas just reflect so well the soulfulness and intelligence in their expressions. I can see how very close the silverback was to a guy with the camera. Hope your knees recovered fully since then.

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graceland

My heart was in my throat as I began the walk with you! As the others have said, most stunning scenery shots and of course so close to the gorillas. I don't know if I would have even been able to use a camera!

 

Such an incredible tale to tell; I also believe it worth a chapter or more in a book. I was out of breath myself as I struggled to walk back with you and your porter.

 

This trip certainly was a workout, but you lived to tell it brilliantly!

 

Definitely hoped you rewarded yourself with that third beer you gave up the night before.

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JulieM

Incredible photos @@pault! I'm not sure I'm fit enough to do that trek so I'll just have to enjoy your images.

 

Can I ask what camera gear you carried down there?

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pault

Incredible photos @@pault! I'm not sure I'm fit enough to do that trek so I'll just have to enjoy your images.

Can I ask what camera gear you carried down there?

@@JulieM. You mean what my porter carried down there? I carried my stick! But from where we left the bags to the gorilla and back again I carried a Sony A77ii with a 16-50 lens on it (like a 7D and 24-105 weight and size-wise) and my 5Dmkiii and 70-200/2.8. One camera was on a belt so I always had one hand free, even when moving on bottom.

 

If you have a porter (and you can take two - no problem) you will make it whether you like it or not! And remember this is the trek that people avoid - there are a couple out of Buhoma and a few more in Rwanda that are almost guaranteed to be easier.at Buhoma now they will usually match people and groups by level of fitness. There is only one group at Nkuringo and because of its rep then (very) generally the people who start from there will be fit (or staying at Clouds, although fit people can stay at Clouds too!) I am not very fit and I made it mostly without my porter. I could have done all of it without him I think. If you had been there we would all have gone slower and waited for you. Nobody was rushing as it is beautiful there - waiting for others to catch up is a real pleasure). Once the porter gets hold of you it is like a turbo boost. With two porters, you would just have to move your legs at the right time - they would take care of propulsion and keep you upright. I weigh over 90kg and my porter was the smallest guy at the ranger station. Just don't chain smoke or try it with a hangover! I suspect the distressed woman did both.

 

My heart was in my throat as I began the walk with you! As the others have said, most stunning scenery shots and of course so close to the gorillas. I don't know if I would have even been able to use a camera!

 

Such an incredible tale to tell; I also believe it worth a chapter or more in a book. I was out of breath myself as I struggled to walk back with you and your porter.

 

This trip certainly was a workout, but you lived to tell it brilliantly!

 

Definitely hoped you rewarded yourself with that third beer you gave up the night before.

 

Thank you. I thought of you with your replacement parts and I though "No Nkuringo is not for @@graceland, but she could do this with a porter or two at Buhoma, where it isn't quite as steep all the way." I still believe that, although I understand your reluctance. We had something much more substantial than a third beer the next evening, as you will hear!

 

@@pault echoing the others. Those are stunning misty morning scenes. I half expected to see a castle on a hillside.

And the portraits of the gorillas just reflect so well the soulfulness and intelligence in their expressions. I can see how very close the silverback was to a guy with the camera. Hope your knees recovered fully since then.

 

My knees will recover fully when I lose 10kg! But yes, they were fine. That silverback is just so incredibly relaxed around people and yes, gorillas are soulful - and so calm compared to the chimps.

 

@@pault

Firstly - beautiful pictures of the fog!

Your writing about the walking towards the gorillas and your feelings is so engaging, and then your pictures of the gorillas - wonderful.

An hour gone in 5 minutes!

You also make clear the value of having a porter (everyone should take one , enjoy the trek more and boost the local economy)

 

The porters are wonderful, and once again you put it so perfectly. Yes, they let you enjoy the trek just the way you want. If you want to prove your fitness they will let you be and be there to catch you if your fall, and if you want to take photographs they will carry your gear, hold you steady or even stand in for a tripod... I kid you not, my porter actually offered himself in that role on the way up, but I had enough shutter speed anyway so I didn't take him up on it. They make your day for sure.

 

stunning views, stunning photographs and a well told story. If you decide to make this a book @@pault i'll buy it.

You have it for free. You'd be e fool to buy it .

(You know how some of us British folks are when faced with a compliment. Thank you.)

 

And thanks Safaridude, Michael and all. It is the place. What a place. Gorillas are just the (huge, beautiful) cherry on top.

Edited by pault

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SafariChick

Just fantastic, the photos and the writing, really giving a feeling of being right there with you - but without the leg numbness! What an incredible experience.

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Double Dare

What a report! Your writing and photographs are superb. I feel like I am right next to you - seeing and experiencing the sounds, sights, and fauna.

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twaffle

Just catching up and you haven't disappointed, either with the colourful descriptions and the gorgeous photos. I never tire of gorilla photos, everyone has a slightly different take on them depending on where they've seen them and what the animals are doing but they are always wonderful. I'm surprised by how many people who say that they don't like apes or monkeys and I don't understand it at all.

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pault

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As you may have noticed, my wife was absent from the gorilla trek. I still don't quite understand why she didn't want to go, but if you ask if she regrets it, the answer is yes. Anyway, she had decided that otters were more interesting and so was supposed to go out on a boat to look for them. However, once we arrived at the lodge we were told that the best way to see them was to sit quietly on shore, since they would tend to avoid boats if they could. In fact we got to see them from our room on our first evening, although at quite a distance. In the morning the staff discussed otters and it was decided that the best thing was to take my wife to the other lodge on Lake Mutanda, Mutanda Lake Resort, which was just a few kilometers down the road and built on the lake shore. So she spent her whole morning there and her patience did bring her the desired results, although it sounds like you would have to be as keen on otters as her to make it worthwhile. I also suspect that although the staff were extremely helpful, they are not exactly otter experts, and there are probably ways and places to increase your chances of good sightings - probably involving staying at that lodge or taking lunch down to the Chameleon Hill jetty. Anyway, tick for African Clawless Otter.

It was quite fortunate that I had a half day off after the gorilla trek as we were booked for the Batwa Trail the next morning, and while this wasn't anything like as strenuous as looking for gorillas, it still involved quite a long walk, and meant getting up early.

We had decided to do this trip for two reasons. Firstly, it sounded quite interesting and it also sounded like the Batwa had suffered quite considerably from the establishment of the national parks (among other things, so something that helped in a very small way towards redressing that seemed a good thing to do. Secondly, the trek was in Mahinga Gorilla National Park, which is a small part of the Volcanoes National Park area, conserved as a gorilla habitat together with Rwanda and Congo, and dominated by the wonderful Mount Sabinyo, which was one of the volcanoes we could see from Chameleon Hill. So it would nice to see the park and see Sabinyo up close

We took another route to Kisoro to avoid the washed out road, and it took us around 90 minutes to get there. The weather was fairly nice as we started out, but there was a huge cloud gathering around the peaks of Mount Sabinyo that did not look too promising. I was certainly glad we hadn't decided to climb it - although that was never really considered. If we had wanted even more of a workout we would have tracked the Golden Monkeys.

 

Mount Sabinyo seen on the drive there, with gathering "cloud hat".

 

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Of course having got there nice and early, the Batwa hadn't. We had to wait for them for over an hour. I am not sure what happened, but there are certainly worse places to be stuck. They have a very impressive and modern visitor center (the map comes from there) that you have to wonder about in terms of cost-benefit since people rarely come here for the gorillas due to the fact that they spend a lot of their time in Rwanda or Congo. The displays are good.

A ranger also suggested we could trek to a viewpoint while we were waiting, but the weather was closing in and we didn't think there would be much of a view, so just wandered around near the visitor center.

 

Giant earthworm near the visitor center - over 18 inches long I would guess.

 

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Mount Sabinyo from inside the park

 

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Eventually our "hosts" arrived. We were alone for this activity and so Remmy came again, and we had two rangers - one as interpreter and the other as our armed guard. So we were well looked after, and this time I refused the offer of a porter. Remmy would help if needed, and I didn't think it would be.

The Batwa Trail activity lasts about 3-4 hours and is a fairly typical show and tell activity. We walk along a pre-determined trail and at certain points (most also predetermined, but some just when one of the Batwa sees something interesting to tell us about) stop while the Batwa either explain something or show us how something was done before they were evicted from their ancestral forest. The irony of this being explained by a ranger from the very park authority that evicted them in the first place was not lost on me. However, the Batwa seemed to have no hard feelings. Two of them were very much old enough to have lived in their traditional way as young men, while the other two (younger) knew how to do things, but were clearly less competent at things like creating fire, identifying useful plants and making fire (yes, I could do without being shown how to make fire again too). There is a hut set up in the forest to help them explain how they slept and moved around - simply abandoning huts and building new ones whenever they wanted to move to follow game, fruit, whatever. We also visited the cave where their King how're his people in older days. As it is completely dark in there, as the person controlling any light, the King must have been able to appear very impressive and even a bit magical. The Batwa used their control of the light to give us a surprise too,as it turned out we were not the only people down there. As a Thai my wife grew up with ghosts as a fact of life and, totally modern woman though she is, figures appearing out of the dark freaked her out a bit. That is actually something I have to mention to the UWA - that they better be careful about this activity with certain groups of people - including a lot of Africans I would think!

Our hosts pray for a successful journey

 

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Demonstrating how to deal with unwelcome animal visitors...

 

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In the cave

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Throughout the walk the Batwa chat amongst themselves and they clearly enjoy being in the forest and have a lot to say to each other about it. The amount of chatter and laughter made us very comfortable and stopped it ever seeming like a totally staged activity - even though it is. They did the hunting demonstration seriously at first, but someone cracked a joke and it ended up as a kind of Batwa Four Stooges routine, complete with one of the younger guy playing the duiker scurry around on all fours and then getting "speared" to death by the oldest guy.

After the cave visit, we were seated on a bench (it felt like a throne) and entertained by the women with singing, and a bit of dancing. I never feel very comfortable with this kind of welcome dancing for honorable bwana, especially not when seated on a raised platform but they sing very well.

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Remmy showed some creativity photographing us - he really caught the scene well – I am very impressed.

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He showed some good dance moves too - you are not allowed to see my wife's moves.

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The Batwa Trail isn't exciting and it is only modestly eye-opening if you have done activities like this before in Africa. However, it is well done, and the people are genuinely keen and happy to interact, so you can easily make it more than it is if you participate actively rather than passively. The forest you walk in is mostly badly degraded, although there was a fairly intact piece of bamboo forest along the way, and the noise you make means you are highly unlikely to see anything.

 

Finally, as we arrived back at the visitor center, the rain started to fall and we gave up on any thought of doing something else in the afternoon. Instead we took our packed lunches to a café managed by a friend of Remmy’s in Kisoro and hung there for an hour or so with a reggae soundtrack before slowly driving back to Chameleon Hill as the rain got heavier and heavier.

Rain, rain, rain

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The clouds started to clear a little towards dusk, but it was cold and we were up in the main building of the lodge by the fire. We had the place to ourselves as the only other guests (four young North Americans) had gone gorilla trekking and were not back yet. So, before dinner we decided to finally try a local speciality.

Before the gin.....

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One of the first things Remmy had found for us (not because we are alcoholics but because that is what Remmy does – find stuff for you to try) was banana “gin” (the “gin” does definitely need to be in inverted commas). We’d saved it for this evening because the next day (our last full day) we were completely free from commitments; and also, to be perfectly honest because we were not sure what we were getting into. Remmy insisted it was “not all that strong”, but since he (and so far as we had seen, all his friends) is a churchgoing teetotaler I was not sure how he had come to that conclusion. However, we did trust Remmy to have got it from a reputable dealer and that it wouldn’t be 15% pesticide.

 

We mixed it with tonic and lemon, as that seemed like a good place to start experimenting, and it wasn’t a bad idea since the lemon took away some of the sweet, sickly smell you get from this kind of moonshine. In fact the taste wasn’t too bad that way. And it improved after the first glass. In fact the whole world improved after the first glass and took on a warm and diffused glow, and after the second glass various objects in the room were actually throbbing a little in time to the background music. Surely it couldn’t simply have been the strength, although it is certainly strong. It does seem to have its own character, and to head straight for the central nervous system.

 

The North Americans arrived back at nearly 7. They had spent 8 hours out in heavy rain tracking the gorillas (successfully in the end, thank goodness) and then about a kilometer before camp their Landcruiser had spun on some wet grass at the roadside and ended up hanging over the edge, completely stuck. Quite a frightening experience as there are very few barriers of any kind and the slopes off the road and down to the lake are very steep. They had left behind their guide and walked the rest of the way as they were just too hungry and tired and cold (Remmy went and got the guide, if you are wondering). However, being young people after a hot shower and something to eat they were all full of beans and yipping and yaying at the photos they had got. And they were on the road again at 6 am next day (two nights here either side of the gorilla trek). They were like a whirl of colourful activity in my soft-focus banana gin dream.

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Marks

You have such a way with words, and I still can't get over those vistas. The shot that Remmy took has a particularly awesome background, in all senses of the word.

 

 

soft-focus banana gin dream

 

 

Just love this; pure poetry! :)

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Atravelynn

Your accounts of QE and Kazinga Channel are so descriptive and true, wrapped in your unique brand of humor.

 

I was cringing at the start of channel launch. I hope all the others settled down and were as enamored with abundance of nature as you were. The commotion did not interfere with your photos, though. Great shots. I recall that crocs were almost nonexistent in the channel years back. I see some croc shots. They must be making a resurgence. Kazinga Channel makes me wonder where else are there waterways of such abundant wildlife, whether accessible or not.

 

Your second village visit is charming.

 

"...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."
I can just envision this see-saw activity. The resulting photo is wonderful.

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FlyTraveler

I am simply speechless @@pault ! I have missed the moment when you have resumed your TR, now lots to read. So many interesting things in cultural, scenery and wildlife aspects, beautiful photos, great B&W-s. Love the people shots, the flying pied kingfishers, the gorillas are amazing, need to read everything more carefully when I have more time. Great stuff, thanks for sharing!

Edited by FlyTraveler

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pault

Thank you so much @@FlyTraveler and @Atravellynn. and @@Marks

 

Lynn, there were quite a lot of crocs, so that sounds like something positive. I wonder the same about waterways. I imagine Kasinga channel would be oversettled by now if it weren'tt for the national park. that would be such a sad thing.

 

 

 

The penultimate chapter......

 

 

Lake Mutanda Chameleon Hill is built in a beautiful location above Lake Mutanda. It is in an area populated by farmers and so it can't be called a bush lodge by any stretch of the imagination. However, that is pretty much the case for anywhere in this region, which is densely populated. It is better to think of it as a boutique hotel, and accepting that makes the decision to colour it bright much more reasonable. Look at its location from the rear and tell me if you could reasonably call it an eyesore? The little bits of colour are dwarfed by the surroundings, and the wild has long since lost the battIe here, except for the few isolated stands of forest in which the gorillas continue to survive. It is certainly striking. Note that from the lodge itself you see none of this - just the view down the hill to the lake and across to the volcanoes.

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Anyway, we elected to stay here because we had decided to stay in the area for four nights and wanted somewhere that was small, personable and made for hanging out - a bit luxurious maybe. We considered Clouds but the price put us off a bit, and it seemed more isolated, which was not necessarily a good thing given that we wanted to do a few things (actually I think I was wrong about that - it does not really appear much more isolated that Chameleon Hill). Other factors were the views from the rooms (Clouds doesn't have them really, although it's rooms are much more impressive and I didn't find anywhere else with comparable views) and the small size. We really wanted to avoid possible tour groups. We'd considered a couple of other places too, but while there is lots of really good, interesting and reasonably priced accommodation around, none of it was as intriguing as Chameleon Hill. They also offer excursions (properly, not necessarily just calling someone else) and so they seemed like a good back-up if it turned out our guide was not compatible or wasn't knowledgable about the area (of course we had no such concerns with Remmy, but we couldn't know that beforehand).

The main buildings - reception, kitchens, offices etc.

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It is an unusual place, with very western style fittings and furniture but it is very comfortable and quite homely. The staff are very personable and friendly and they take good care of you. They also seem a very happy staff and you could easily believe they were all members of the same very extended, cross-tribe family (they aren't). Basically, if you want and they can do, you get. You might want to question why you should have to ask, but then you might not be fond of local management at all, and the basic experience is fine in itself.

We had a light that didn't work and they were not able to replace the bulb because the light fittings were imported and they were out of the necessary bulbs. Why not replace the fittings - it doesn't require rewiring to do that? They offered to move us to another room of our choice, but we already liked our room a lot and so we did without the light - little problem really but I always mention these things that seem to express something about a place - just like my wife's experience when she wanted to see otters expressed something else, and to me more important.

But in fact it is a place of contradictions. There is a pier for sunset cruises on the very nice boat they bought, but to access it you have to descend a very steep slope, which takes 15-20 minutes of careful and energetic climbing. They can't really build a proper path as someone else owns part of the land on the way. So it's kind of a half-finished idea, perhaps awaiting the return of the German owner from South Africa to be resolved. Who knows? I can find charm in such strangeness.

The rooms - ours was the first red one. Note that the length of the lens has compressed the view (look at the steps). The rooms are not as close together as they appear here.

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So yes, we enjoyed it and we'd recommend it. It's a beautiful dream and I hope it succeeds. Just remember to ask if something you want is missing.

On our last full day, I decided to go for a tour of the lake in a dugout canoe. Having seen the very dodgy looking weather, the slope and the dugout my wife declined to join me, but she was actually extremely happy chatting to the staff and writing her postcards, with that view (soon to include me jammed into a little dugout) to entertain her.

After the gorilla trek I certainly wasn't worried about that little slope down to the lake. Steep? You don't know what steep is! I even refused assistance with my camera gear from the camp staff who was going to accompany me and the boatman. It was a bit slippier and steeper than it looked but I was doing fine until about 60 meters from the bottom (as the crow flies, but of course you have to traverse to get down, unless you want to roll, fast) when we passed through an area in which someone had planted some squash. We could see our boatman now, and his fishermen friends, many of whom had gathered in the little bay below the lodge to fish because it was very windy and it seemed a storm might be coming. Then I stepped off the grass onto the mud between the rows of plants and just started sliding on my feet like a skier, falling backwards, and then sliding on my bottom, and finally my back, in very quick succession, unfortunately taking out a few plants too. Everyone was very happy with that, and somehow news of my slow motion acrobatics had reached my wife before I even returned. She thought it so hilarious that after I got back the assistant manager had to rush in to reassure us that it really was very slippy that day and could have happened to anyone! How kind of him. My wife (born and raised below sea level) thought it was karmic punishment for bringing her to an area where she had to have an aerobic exercise just to get to breakfast (the air is thin here and so the walk up from our room was (despite railings and steps in places) a bit of a workout (albeit a very short one).

Fishermen back to work after the entertainment

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The Lake shore

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The canoe trip would have been much better on a clearer and warmer day. There was little light for my camera and the otters and birds were clearly already taking shelter close to shore. The views were mostly and increasingly obscured by clouds, and as the wind got stronger and stronger I wondered if we were going to get caught in a storm, but decided that our boatman would be a much better judge of that than me, and tried to just enjoy the ride, which was proceeding very quickly as the guy from the lodge was a local too and so we had two paddlers.

On the lake

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The "highlight" of the trip was visiting a small island where taboo breakers were exiled to die in times gone by. A small cave full of their bones wasn't really my idea of a good time, even though I was told I could touch (and presumably do a Hamlet speech if I had a repressed ham in me). Both boat and and guide were overly helpful getting me up the 5 feet of rock to the cave, presumably now convinced I was one of those mzungu who could not be trusted to stay on his own feet unassisted.

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Untrusting fisherman

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Papyrus on the lake shore

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After the boat ride (and incident-free climb back to the lodge - perhaps to the disappointment of the watching fishermen below) we had lunch, watching some "brave" tourists from the other lodge, far away, trying to canoe themselves somewhere in now near-gale force winds. At one point they were heading in the opposite direction to that in which they were paddling, but they eventually managed to get back to shore unaided, albeit not quite where they had departed from.

In the afternoon we were lazy and the weather was pretty bad, although it never really got raining heavily. I went for my second walk of the day (I had been for.a quick one after breakfast) while my wife stuck with her postcards, a book and the lodge cat. The previous day we had suggested that Remmy take the day off, so he could go and stay with his friends in Kisoro if he wanted – we had noticed that he seemed to know quite a few people there very well - before his 12 hour drive back to Entebbe the next day after seeing us off at the Kisoro airstrip. Having him hang around in the guide accommodation seemed pointless, since he could be back in 45 minutes or so if we needed him or if the weather cleared enough to make an excursion desirable, and with us being the only guests until others got back from their gorilla trek, we were not short of people to assist us. Anyway, not much to report.....

A few shots from my walks.

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Fields down at lake level.

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Child of the volcanoes

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Three kids came down from the fields to have a look at the tourist... they were very differnt to the kids I had met before. Inquisitive, but solemn and unsure of whether to smile or not. These are real hillbillies I guess though - this area isn't close enough to a town to have been much of anything until recently, and despite the lake making it a desirable place to settle, perhaps the folks here were left pretty much to their own devices, with few outsiders. Perhaps some were outsiders themselves.

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A silent boy. He neither asked for, or was averse to, having his picture taken. His brother/cousin was a eerily beautiful child - I'll post his photo later.

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I’ll save one more post to cover a couple more impressions from my (unambitious) walks and our journey out of Uganda, and then I will be done.

Edited by pault

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michael-ibk

I like the very colourful Chameleon Hill - a bit Hundertwasser-like. You certainly had beautiful surroundings there.

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Zim Girl

Beautiful first picture to that last post. I love the mist and clouds over the distant blue hills.

Great writing, you make me smile at all your observations.

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TonyQ

@@pault

Child of the Volcanoes is a beautiful picture

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graceland

Chameleon Hill reminds me of a "fairytale village" - from your snap taken on the hill. The rooms occupied by the munchkins of the village.

I'd enjoy a day there taking walks. You also always make me smile with your writings - never know whats to come!

 

This was definitely a "slip n slide" adventure.

 

The pics of the children are very special. I imagine they enjoyed you as well.

 

Have really loved visiting Uganda through your words and lens :)

 

This is one to re-read on a cold day, cup of tea in hand; living the journey once again.

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Kitsafari

@@pault

Child of the Volcanoes is a beautiful picture

 

 

x2. it is really a very enthralling picture.

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Kitsafari

I have always enjoyed your reports @@pault. your thoughts, your reflections, your kindness, your generosity to the local residents, and your humour. they make your reports so rich, not only in information and details, but also in emotions even without saying so! thanks for another wonderfully warm and funny report.

 

now on to Ruaha!

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twaffle

The one thing I'll say is that you do find some unusual places to visit, always going somewhere I've not read about in trip reports before. These lake photos and the colourful lodge are just delightful. It's always a regret of mine that I allow so little time to do these 'non wildlife' orientated diversions. The papyrus and the fisherman were standouts for me.

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