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Uganda - a dream come true


ShirleyD
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ShirleyD

Despite travelling independently for many years and visiting some fabulous countries, this is the 1st time I've ever done a trip report, so apologies in advance if I go on a bit but saying my trip was amazing would be seriously underrating it!  

 

Uganda, what an an amazing place and somewhere that I never thought I'd visit. Seeing the Mountain gorillas was a bucket list experience but due to the expense never thought it would be realised. In fairness at the beginning of  2022 I was booked on a tour to Madagascar (another bucket list tick) I'd decided that after all covid lockdowns and restrictions to treat myself. Sadly that dream wasn't meant to be (just yet) and it was cancelled, which left me in a dilemma, where to go. It didn't take long for me to chose Uganda after contacting a few local tour operators.  I chose Home to Africa Tours https://hometoafrica.com I liked the quick response to my numerous questions. 

I chose their standard 10 day gorilla and chimp tour then we did a bit of changing as the more I read about the country and the wildlife I felt i needed to see as much as I could within the time available. 

Flight Manchester UK with Ethiopian Airlines

Day 1 Arrive Entebbe morning day at leisure - Airport guesthouse 

Day 2 Travel to Murchison via Ziwa (optional extra) - Pakuba Safari Lodge

Day 3 Morning game drive and afternoon boat trip to the falls

Day 4 Drive to Kibale - Isunga Lodge

Day 5 Chimp trek and afternoon Bigodi excursion (extra) travel onto Queen Elizabeth NP - Irungu Safari Lodge 

Day 6 Morning game drive. Afternoon boat trip on Kazinga channel

Day 7 Drive to Ishasha sector for game drive then onto Bwindi - Broadbill Forest camp 

Day 8 Mountain gorilla trek afternoon drive to Kisoro - Travelers Rest

Day 9 Golden Monkey trek at Mgahinga NP. Travel onto Lake Mburo NP - Eagles nest. Night game drive

Day 10 Walking safari, Drive back to entebbe....and home.

To say I excited about this trip in the lead up would be an understatement 

 

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Edited by ShirleyD
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  • ShirleyD changed the title to Uganda - a dream come true

An exciting itinerary and a lovely photo to start us off.

What time of year was your trip?

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ShirleyD
Posted (edited)

Day 1 - August 29th

 

The flight from the UK via Addis Ababa (and Brussels) with Ethiopian airlines was good. No one sat on my row so got a good sleep as it was an overnight flight. 

Arriving at Entebbe, covid passport and yellow fever card checked then a very slow queue to get our tourist visa.

My Home to Africa guide was patiently waiting and we were very soon on our way to the guesthouse only a short drive away. 

The Airport Guesthouse was very nice set in lovely gardens away from the main road. 

I had debated about the option to visit the Mabamba Wetlands but after doing research thought that an afternoon trip probably wouldn't get me to see the shoebill stork, so I took myself off to the Botanical gardens, and after reading some reviews went with a very open mind. I was pleasantly surprised as there were no cars racing through the park, and no large groups playing loud music. I opted to guide myself and saw plenty of birds, some beautiful flowers, monkeys, insects, watched families playing in the lake, children collecting firefood and generally marvelled at the flora and fauna.  I guess going on a monday afternoon is much better than a weekend. 

 

I spent a good couple of hours wandering around taking pictures and while walking back I heard a lot of crashing about in the tree above me and looking up saw a stunning Hornbill. I think it was a Black and white Casqued but I'm not a birder so excuse my ignorance. I was so fascinated by this magnificent bird I hadn't realised in the next tree were several black and white Colobus monkeys, what a great start to my 1st day. Took lots of photos of both and set off back to the hotel, just down the road there is the victoria shopping mall and I was passing a troop of vervet monkeys were crossing and taking advantage of the nicely planted flower beds. 

Back at the hotel to chill and relax in the garden while listening to the rumble of thunder before the 1st of many overnight down pours. 

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Edited by ShirleyD
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Some lovely images. Looking forward to hearing and seeing more about your trip.:)

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michael-ibk

Looking forward to this. We had a pretty similar itinerary this February, and absolutely loved Uganda.

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ShirleyD

Day 2 - 30th August

 

An  excellent nights sleep in a very comfortable bed after a very nice evening meal at the guesthouse. Nice hot shower and a very tasty breakfast of a fresh fruit platter and made to order pancakes. My guide and driver, a lovely guy called Vianney arrived early and we set off on my Ugandan adventure. I couldn't have wished for a nicer man. He was an excellent driver, polite, very knowledgeable and would be proved to have a great eye for wildlife. 

 

1st stop was to be Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary (an addition to the standard tour). Well you can't go to Africa and not see a Rhino can you? The only place to see Rhino's in Uganda now is at Ziwa. Uganda last rhino was 'murdered' back in the 80's and in 2005 Ziwa re-introduced the Southern white rhino  into this heavily protected area. With initially 6 rhinos, two being donated from Disney's Animal kingdom, they are now up to 30+ individuals., with the ultimate aim to have them in the National Parks, sadly that won't be in my lifetime.

 

Once we'd negotiated the chaos of Kampala we drove for several hours until we reached the sanctuary, off the main road and bumped along to the main gate to meet these magnificent beasts. It was a 1 -2 -1 tour and we donned our rubber boots as it had rained heavily overnight and we set out  on my one hour walking safari. We found a group resting under the trees. How such huge animals can hide in the grass is a mystery! The group consisted of a male, two females and calves. We watch them snooze as my guide tells me about the sanctuary and the individuals in front of me.

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We then move off to find more, as the rhinos are under constant guard 24/7 and the guides and rangers are in constant touch we head over to a pair of young males out foraging (nice to see some up and moving :)).

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Sadly my hour ends way too soon and we have to say goodbye to these amazing animals. $50 well spent I think, as they are doing a brilliant job....just a shame that we live in a world where they have to have armed guards!!!

 

Lunch was at the on site restaurant, excellent veg curry and rice. Quick photo opportunity with the resident crested crane and it's back to the jeep and on the road to Murchison Falls NP.

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My lodge was Pakuba, with views out front of the Albert Nile and as it is within the park lots of wildlife viewing on route. 1st view of the majestic Rothschild Giraffe and who doesn't love to see an elephant. As we drive up to the lodge Pattas monkeys are sat by the road, a monkey i've not seen before. This  holiday was to be many firsts for me. 

 

The lodge was very nice and the room spacious, if not a little dark and again a nice hot shower. The buffet evening meal was excellent. The only downside was a large and loud tour group but their were plenty of places to sit and look over the days photos or just chill so not a major issue. Early to bed as day 3 was to be a very early start.  

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@ShirleyDWhat a great start to your trip and we are only on day 2!

Looking forward to hearing more about your Uganda adventures.

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ShirleyD
Posted (edited)

Day 3 - 31st August

 

Another good nights sleep in a very comfortable bed. A very early start as we want to be out to catch the nocturnal animals before they disappear. An excellent breakfasr, lots choice at the buffet and much quieter than the previous night.

We were the 1st jeep out and headed in the direction of old Pakuba Lodge which is now in ruins. Two hyenas ran across the track right in front of us. Sadly as it was still very dark I was unable to get any pics of them but as I've never seen them up close before it was still quite a thrill. They soon disappeared and as the track was blocked as the area is restricted we turned round. Sadly the following jeeps missed the hyenas but that's wildlife for you.

 

We drove around viewing lots of Ugandan Kob, the odd giraffe plenty of birds my guide spotted a jackal, we stopped and was rewarded with 3 more side striped jackals. Ahead was a tree full of restless vultures (Ruppel Griffin - I think) so we guessed that there must be a kill close by. Binoculars out and we saw a lone lion in the distant not wanting to leave her kill but not wanting to let the scavengers have it. Fascinating stuff. We moved away as more jeeps arrived.

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The next lion encounter was to be even better. We realised that something special was ahead as several jeeps were lined up...and oh boy was it special. A lioness with 4 cubs and a kill. One of the cubs walked next to the jeep and behind crossing the road. I looked at Vianney and beamed with delight. No matter how many times I see big cats it still fils me with such joy. The cubs played and rubbed faces with mum. The earlier jeeps had witnessed them feeding but they'd had their fill and mum was moving the carcass. A bit gruesome but that's nature. We spent quite a while watching this adorable family moving up the line as the earlier jeeps moved away.

 

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Our next mission was to see if we could spot the Spoonbill stork so we headed off to delta. Sadly no sign of this iconic bird. A quick stop off at the delta point to stretch our legs. A delightful warthog family obligingly posed for photos.

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Time to head back. By now the giraffes and elephants were in evidence and the first sighting of the very sweet Oribi. How to elephants hide so well? Close to the lodge were a pair of impressive Ground hornbills and the pattas monkeys again.

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Back at the lodge Vianney pointed out a beautifully coloured male Agama lizard.

A quick freshen up and time for lunch. Again it was a buffet with plenty of choice and very tasty. 

After lunch it was back out for the boat trip to the falls. Unfortunately you can't visit the top of the falls from the boat trips anymore and we had no spare time to go up by jeep....Good reason to go back!

The boat wasn't overly busy and we set off upstream to the falls following the bank. It wasn't long before we came to a 'bloat' of hippos. Fabulous sight as they bobbed up and down and one even yawned loudly or was it a growl.

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We saw so many pied kingfishers, fish eagles and beautiful bee eaters (red throated?), an African darter catching a fish.

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A Nile crocodile basked in the sun but as we approached it slid in the water and disappeared. A lone male elephant was feeding. The falls are impressive, not particularly high but the power of the water is immense.

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We make our way back with the odd slow down for photos.

Back on dry land we head back to the lodge. So many giraffes are around now. Such graceful animals. Hiding in the grass Vianney spots a stunning Bateleur Eagle 

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A fabulous day game viewing comes to end. I hoped to get a few Nile sunsets but it was very cloudy and again later on a torrential downpour. 

Another excellent buffet and an early night after a fabulous day.

Edited by ShirleyD
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@ShirleyDI have moved your very welcome TR from The 'Hisorical Trip Reports' thread to the current Africa, Uganda section.

Great job to date 

 

 

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ShirleyD

@wilddogthanks. I wasn't sure if i was posting in the right area 😊

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Day 4 – 1st September

 

A leisurely start to the day as we travel to our next destination today.

 

The dining area was very quiet, I assume that people were out on game drives or had already departed. The breakfast buffet again was excellent with plenty of choice of fruits. cereals, cooked items and a chef cooking eggs to order.

 

Lodge summary – I would definitely visit again. The location is fantastic, but disappointed we didn’t have any wildlife wander through as a few months ago two lions wander into the grounds! The staff were helpful, polite and always had a smile for you. The rooms were clean and spacious, with a good shower. No power in rooms until 6 but if you needed to charge anything up prior there were plenty of charging points at reception.

 

Next stop Kibale, back onto the main road which was under construction. I do fear for the animals having a major ‘fast’ road cutting through what is their habitat. But money talks and the prospect of oil sadly out ways the needs of nature.

 

We passed through lots of towns, which I was told the names of and about which tribes and languages were relevant to them but I should have written down as I’ve forgotten them. The children happily waved and the thing that struck me most was the lack of litter along the road side, having travelled a lot in India I’m used to seeing so much discarded plastics almost everywhere.  We stopped off for a comfort break and refreshments at a roadside restaurant, there so many weaver birds that were busily making nests to attract a partner. I think they were black headed and Vieillots, but apologises to the birders if I’ve identified them wrong and more than happy to be corrected.5C0A8854.JPG.24c143e3d4b0757ab3aa26731c2a7efc.JPG5C0A8853.JPG.99ccca1513c9baef5b71e67f74541cf5.JPG

 

One more stop to eat our packed lunch, made by the lodge, a quick toilet stop and to stretch our legs, then passing through Fort Portal until we  left the main road and onto an ‘African massage’ road, we then turned onto a track just wide enough for the vehicle. The locals moving aside into the shrubs to let us pass. It seemed an unlikely place for a lodge but it eventually led to a small carpark where we met by the lodge staff. The path led down through a garden and opened out onto a fantastic area, big restaurant leading to spectacular viewing platforms of the forest below. Simply stunning.

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The owner was there to meet and greet us new arrivals and we were given fresh fruit juice while we completed the paperwork. The bungalows are very private and are surrounded by gardens and were fabulous. The path was a bit steep and I was glad I wasn’t having to carry my luggage (and certainly back up again). There was a separate lounge, a walk wardrobe area and a lovely big bathroom, some lovely touches too, glass bottled spring water, handmade soap (which smelt divine) and a fully charged torch. A very private seating area looking out to the forest below,  but travelling alone I opted to go back up to the main area. Enjoying the view and more busy weavers flitting backwards and forwards, while enjoying a nice pot of tea and a wander round the well-stocked gardens. I think I also saw a speckled Mouse bird though if I’ve identified this one wrong please let me know as it took ages flicking through my bird book…always happy to be educated.5C0A8886.JPG.25e0a049b612b6998a33612eee962923.JPG

 

The evening meal had to be ordered in advance and the guides/drivers ate together rather than as previously evenings with their clients. It probably was a nice break for them and they were served with local dishes, which I was told was excellent. The food was superb, very fresh   and it was a good portion too. I had hoped that due to the location I would get great views of the stars and the milky way but once again it was too cloudy. Off to bed as we had a reasonably early start ….and I was super excited at the chance of seeing wild chimps.

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Atravelynn

Glad your dream come true trip was amazing.  The darter catching a fish is quite a catch for you.  I like how your photos cover a wide range.  Your comment about the old Pakuba lodge being in ruins got me googling--an Idi Amin luxury getaway.  Looking forward to the chimps.

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Day 5 – 2nd September

A.M

Up while it’s still dark as I hoped to capture a nice sunrise over the forest before breakfast and I was super excited to be going of the chimp trek, though if I’m honest I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

 

I sat at one of the tables outside rather in the dining room as the views out were too good to miss. Breakfast, which was ordered the night before was excellent. A lovely fresh fruit platter and omelette and toast, while watching the sun come up! We left the lodge at 7.30 to get to check in at Kibale for 8, with our packed lunch (also ordered the previous night).

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Hotel summary – a fantastic place for the money. The staff were lovely and the owners were very hands on and happy to help with any queries. The bungalows were wonderful, though anyone with mobility issues may struggle. The location was brilliant and so peaceful. Just wish I’d had more time there to really enjoy the surroundings.

 

A short(ish) drive to the reception of Kibale Forest and the carpark was nearly full. A quick check in and went to wait in the briefing room which was filling up fast. The briefing didn’t last too long, an explanation on the environment we were about to visit, how to behave etc. and remember your masks! Our names were called (or tour operator names) and we filed out to meet out guide for the trek, mine was Benson. There were 9 in our group and we were to start our trek away from the reception area. We got in our respective vehicles and followed the van with our guide in. we pulled up on a quiet track and prepared ourselves for the trek. Plenty of water and the all-important mask. Off we set into the forest, we’d only been gone a few minutes when we heard a call from the drivers as they had seen a chimp. We headed back but sadly it had disappeared. The forest its self was beautiful but we were on a mission and any lingering meant you fell behind and then had to rush to rejoin the group. It’s not a place you want to get lost. Benson spots a lone  chimp and we move quickly to keep up with it (while desperately trying to take pictures – in hindsight it might have been better to video then do a screen grab)  The chimp climbs up a tree (which I managed to capture before he went too high). We are joined by several other groups as we all stared up into the trees, hoping that this wasn’t are only chance of seeing the chimps. There were  a couple of other chimps and they start to make nests so it wasn’t looking great.

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The guides go off to see if there are any more around, while we all furiously click away and hope that they will come out ok…except those with big zoom lens. Benson returns and we head off further into the forest. We eventually find a male sitting eating fruit and drooling fruit juice down his front…marvellous. But before we can approach we all have to put on our masks and keep a decent distant. When he moves away we follow, Benson had my phone and got some great video footage of him walking through the forest. He stops for a rest and we take loads of photo’s. He eventually tires of us and moves away, further into the forest. We can’t follow as this is entering Elephant territory, so turn back, happy with the sightings we had.

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We’d been out for several hours and I’m  sad to say that due to an illness earlier in the year I wasn’t as fit as I would have like and I struggled to keep up with my much younger group. Benson spotted a group ahead and told us to mask up, that gave me a bit of an adrenaline rush and I could see the female and baby ahead. Then the calling started, the whooping got louder and louder and we were all very excited as we were obviously surrounded by the troop. Suddenly a male appeared and rushed passed us kicking a nearby tree with such force the thud echoed….I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that. Benson shot off after the troop as did the my group. It was uphill and still wearing my mask I struggled to run to keep up. Thankfully it was a short run, as the family had settled down and the alpha male required grooming which he loving received. Time to get my breathe back and marvel at these fabulous mammals. It was privilege to be so close and watch how they interact. A lovely moment, when the chimp who was grooming turned and tapped his shoulder and the alpha male picked off whatever was irritating  him, then back to his grooming the alpha. There was a sad looking male sat alone and we were told he’d lost his brother. There was only one other group that joined us and all too soon we had to leave and head back.

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It was a struggle walking back through the forest and thankfully one of the other members stayed with me as Benson was moving too quickly for me, and without her I probably would have lost the group., but I think he was preoccupied as he had no signal and no way to contact our drivers to collect us. Once back on the forest track several members tried to contact their drivers but no joy. Unbeknown to us our drivers were also having trouble getting a signal and had positioned themselves on the road were they were getting an intermittent signal. Eventually someone got through and our drivers were on the way.  It was gone two when we got back to the reception area and we had missed the ceremony and we just had our certificates handed to us….being last out of the forest so to be a recurring theme. We ate our packed lunch at the restaurant  and watched the baboons  who had stolen someone’s waterproof jacket pack.  What an amazing morning and so much better than I imagined it would be, though I was told by the lady who stayed back that the guide did boast that we woule 100% see chimps with him! 

 

Next stop and afternoon at Bigodi Swamp.....but more of that later !

 

Edited by ShirleyD
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Day 5 - 2nd September 

Part two - PM

I was still buzzing from the chimp encounters, when we set off to the Bigodi Swamp Community. We picked up my guide from the office and drove further down the road and parked up. Next to the car park was the 1st monkey sighting - Vervets. They were hiding away in the trees so my guide moved on, describing the plants around and what uses they had. Above was a troop of Red Colobus monkeys, apparently not the most social of primates and particularly not towards other primates. One lone male appeared to be less social than the rest.....he was proper grump and the troop kept well away. 

 

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My guide is very informative, and I could have watched them for ages but it was time to move on. We hadn't walked far and yet more primates were in the trees. It was the beautiful Black and white Colobus, I just love they way they rested,  dangling their legs down and their lovely tail tuft. There were a few babies up to mischief, running up and down the branches high above us. What a day this was turning out to be. 

 

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We followed a path, some times over a board walk. Stopping to learn about the trees and shrubs when we spotted that there was a monkey in a tree ahead, It was a red tailed monkey Luckily it wasn't just one but lots of gorgeous little monkeys, with such a comical face and a fabulous tail.They moved towards to us and actually moved down the trees and they crashed around above us, moving quickly...lots of pics of monkeys behinds.  Vianney told me he'd never seen them come so close.  What a fabulous encounter 

 

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Shortly after seeing these gorgeous creature we came to the end of the walk. I think it was a bit late in the day for any decent bird sighting, I did see a few but they moved too fast for any pics. Next stop was the community walk. They had chosen the medicine man and coffee producing. a short drive back down the road and we pulled up next to a church. A service was in full swing and it sounded joyous. I think if there was singing like that in churches locally to me  they would be much better attended, It sounded wonderful. 

 

A steep walk up to the village and my poor legs were like lead. The medicine man was sat in his hut and I'd learnt  how to say hello in Luganda language which made him laugh. He picked up various dried plants and explained what ailments they cured (translated by the guide). I thanked him (again in Luganda) he chuckled loudly. Next stop the coffee lady. She was roasting coffee beans on a open fire, then they were pounded and sieved, while water was heating on the fire, I don't drink coffee but i was assured it was very good. It's a great project which benefits the entire community. 

 

Back on the road again, destination Queen Elizabeth National park, and we head off the main road back towards the lodge. It seems a bit weird, had something been left behind? But rather than turning up the track we continue along the bumpy road, Vianney then explains that it's a short cut, rather than driving all the way back to Fort Portal. Again lots of children waving as we passed. The journey was uneventful and we crossed back over the equator. We pull into the lodge after a few hours. It was to be home for the next two nights. We were met by the very friendly Manager of Irungu Forest Safari Lodge, Innocent. Evening meal booked and I was led to my bungalow. The reception, dining room and a few rooms were on one side and across the local football (?) pitch is a secure compound where there were several lovely bungalows. The staff walk you across when it's dark as it is situated in park. When I'm escorted back by torch light dozens and dozens of eyes (waterbucks) glint back. An excellent meal and an early night after a fabulous day.

 

Every day I said I thought yesterday was good but today was even better and oh boy what a day it had been.....and the best was still to come.  

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Towlersonsafari

really enjoying your report and the vivid description of the chimps encounters   @ShirleyD

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offshorebirder

This is a very enjoyable report to read - thank you @ShirleyD.     You had some great sightings and experiences.

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Thank you @ShirleyDfor your very entertaining trip report. Looking forward to the next episodes.

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Day 6 - 3rd September                                                                                                                                                                                     Morning game drive Queen Elizabeth NP                               

Another thunderstorm and downpour over night and it's quite overcast as I make may way across to the main area, all the water bucks have disappeared, Breakfast and it's off out into the park. As I'd had such a good lion sighting the plan was too try and find leopards. The tracks were quite muddy and we left the main track to hopefully find an elusive leopard. in places the track was so muddy that even in the land cruiser we were sliding about. The track was well churned up so Vianney tried to navigate alongside in the grass....bad move. We hit a hole and the vehicle ground to a halt. we tried reversing back, We were well and truly stuck in the mud and the more attempts the muddier it got. Many phone calls later, and quite a while later , a land cruiser with eight chaps all beautifully clean arrived. First they tried to tow us, then they attempted to drag us. Plan C, jacking the back wheel and putting leaves and wood.Another attempt at pulling us with 7 men rocking and pushing (and getting covered in mud). After several attempts of piling wood we finally moved. What a relief. There was mud everywhere and I I was so gratefully to the locals who weren't quite                                                                                       We drove around for a while just seeing the usual savannah animals and a pair of eagles, one flew off before I could get a decent picture 

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Ahead two jeeps had pulled over, I hoped it was something exciting. The jeep closest were lokong at a tree and we thought maybe a bird....but that wasn't the main attraction. The other jeep were watching a handsome male lion, with his kill a very impressive buffalo. He had obviously had his fill as he was resting in the grass, We watched him for a while, through the binoculars as he wasn't that close, He returned back to his kill reluctant to leave. But finally retreats into a shrub so we take that as our cue to leave.

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Making our way out Vianney spots a lovely owl. Can anyone tell me what owl it is? 

 

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We didn't see a massive amount of wildlife and we ;ost quire a bit of time but these things happen, Back to the lodge for lunch and a rest before the afternoon boat trip 

 

 

Edited by ShirleyD
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michael-ibk
20 hours ago, ShirleyD said:

spots a lovely owl. Can anyone tell me what owl it is? 

 

A Verreaux´s Eagle-Owl.:)

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Thanks @michael-ibkI thought it might be but wasn't sure 

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Day 5 -  part 2  

 

A freshen up at the lodge as i was completely unscarhed in the mud incident. My bungalow was at the back of the compound and the view was fabulous, It's not everyday you can watch an elephant from your bedroom. The garden on both sides was full of birds and i spent some time after lunch watching (and trying to photograph some stunning sun birds.

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The afternoon excursion was the a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. The lodge has its own boat and It was only a short ride away. I was joined by a trio also staying a the lodge, so we had plenty of room.  We'd only just set off and we spotted a lone pelican...sadly the only one we saw and which took off as we got close. Lots of yellow billed stalks, on the bank. As you would expect it was hippo city.

 

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Oher boats were all in front of a little island which was full of weaver birds but it was the snake that had drawn the crowd, who was obviously intent on stealing eggs. Further down the bank we spotted our 1st monitor lizard, It quickly disappeared up the vertical bank.

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A few lone buffalos came cautiously down to the waters edge as there were several crocs around. Lots of birdlife as you would expect, a pair of Fish eagles, a couple of Hamerkop, black headed gonolek (?) and a tree full of pied kingfishers. A lone African Darter sat of tree in the water and a sly monitor lizard tried to steal eggs, which made the birds very agitated.

 

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I was a bit disappointed that there were no elephants on the riverbank but that's the downside of going at the start of the rainy season, they don't need to go to the river. As we turned back, but our boat captain had spotted a couple up on the top, that were making there way to the channel. A very pleasant few hours.

 

Back at the lodge i passed a bit of  time taking pictures of the flowers and birds in the garden, before making my way across to the main area just as the waterbucks were stated to wander in for the night, The lodge had arranged for the local children  to entertain us. the other guests were still out on the game drive so it was just me which I initially felt a little uncomfortable with it,  but the children genuinely looked like they were having a great time singing and dancing encouraged by Innocent the lodge manager. He has sent up a charity to help the local kids and he seemed to be having as much fun as the kids. a genuinely lovely man. 

Another very nice evening meal and an early(ish) night

 

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Day 7 - 4th September 

 

A more leisurely start to the day and its much brighter than yesterday and I didn't hear any thunderstorms overnight . Tasty breakfast and time to say goodbye to Irungu Lodge.

 

Hotel summary - great lodge as it's classed at a budget lodge. The room was big with 2 decent and comfortable beds (and obligatory mossie nets). The bathroom was spacious with a decent shower, outside had a nice seating area with fantastic views, though I can't guarantee always seeing an elephant. The gardens on both side are full of birds and I could have spent ages there. On the 1st night I didn't pay attention and ended up wandering up and down the paths which was quite pleasant but i bit disconcerting. The staff were excellent and the Manager was a genuinely lovely man and does an excellent job in helping support the community, The food was good and decent portions too. 

 

Back on the road, and as most itineraries, we are heading to Bwindi via the Ishasha Sector. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from to day as it stated we were just driving through the sector and possibly being able to see the tree climbing lions. But we were soon spotting wildlife on route, and there was plenty to see. Numerous birds of prey, several Long crested Eagles, Black shouldered Kite, Whalbergs Eagle(?) and as always the African Fish eagle.

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A beautiful woodland kingfisher that as always moved way too fast for me...still mastering the new camera. A lone blue monkey ran across the road in front of us, so we pulled over to find a tree full but they were an nightmare to photograph as they were high up and moving quickly - lots of back ends and tails. The black and white colobus monkeys were much more obliging by dangling their limbs off the branches and just being chilled. As always plenty of baboons along the road side. 

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With the rain the previous few days there was plenty of watering holes and the buffaloes were enjoying having a wallow.

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Three elephants were also enjoying wading through the swampy area, and there was a massive herd of Topi with some splendid colours.  All the while looking out for the tree climbing lions, which were proving to be a bit elusive. But we pulled into the gate to enter the off road part of Ishasha sector. Vianney was given instructions as to where a lion had been seen and we set off. We arrived at the tree (and we had the place to ourselves). It must be a favourite spot as the track runs around the tree. One lion was in the shrubbery, but one was in the tree. It didn't look very comfortable as it was squashed up against the branches. Not quite what I envisioned but a lion is a lion. Though both had collars on but I suppose if they wanted to hide out of sight they could. We were soon joined by plenty of other jeeps, some of who were incredibly noisy and one woman was banging on the side of the jeep trying to make the lion look up......a few of the drivers shook their heads in disbelief. Thankfully we had we a good 15 mins alone to watch them both. Needless to say the one on the ground disappeared even further into the shrubs. Can't say I blamed it!

 

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Next stop was lunch break  and we had our packed lunch from the lodge, and as always plenty of food, I'm surprised I didn't put on so much weight as the portions were huge...at least by my standards. Next stop Bwindi, we pass some fantastic tree ferns and its definitely much cooler up here. As get close the local children lined the road waving hand drawn pictures and hand crafted wooden gorillas. Vianney pulls over quickly and several children drop something and run away. Vianney picks a stick up and brings over a stunning Jackson's Chameleon. 

 

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Moments later we spot a L'Hoest monkey but it quickly disappears into the forest. We leave the main road heading towards the lodge and its a so muddy that the jeep is sliding around as we make our way down. A quick check then head off to our tents, for a bit of a rest before our evening meal. I was joined by a trio who were also using Home to Africa. The tent was lovely and the view of Bwindi forest was fabulous, with low clouds moving down. Definitely gorilla in the mist area. Back up in the dining area/reception a fire roared away and it was appreciated as it felt cold and damp, just like being home in the North of England. A local man sat by the fire playing musical instruments and singing for us. An nice evening meal then off to bed, as it was an early start and I was super excited as tomorrow was the big day, the reason I was in Uganda!!!

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Day 8 -  Sept 5th 

 

Today is the day - The chance to  fulfill a dream that I never thought I could or would! 

 

I awake early as I was so excited and Vianney wanted to get there early to try and bag us an 'easier' trek as I knew that I wasn't physically fit. I slept well in a super comfortable bed and the hot water bottle was a lovely surprise and very much appreciated. It was a cold, damp and dark as I made my way up to the dining room for breakfast, I was first to arrive  and I tucked into my breakfast, while trying to calm my nerves...could today live up to my dreams?

The other group arrive and one of the ladies is complaining of being out of breath and said she had struggled to get up the steps. A little concerning considering that they were obviously there to do the trek.

 

Hotel summary - Broadbill Forest Camp is a very nice place to stay on a budget. My tent was Steps and yes it lived up to its name. But what a view from the veranda. The attached  bathroom was spacious. good hot shower and even a bath. The bed was super warm and snug. The staff were friendly and very helpful. Good food and good size portions. The fire in the evening was great and the entertainment was memorable. Once again I wish I'd had more time there as I'm sure the grounds held all sorts of delights.  Recharging of phones and batteries had to be done at reception but a minor inconvenience as I plugged them in before starting evening meal and they were pretty much fully charged before going to bed as there were plenty of sockets 

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Straight after breakfast  we set off up the muddy track, after a quick stop for a pic of the sun rising...thankfully we have no problems getting up and in no time we're on the main round heading to the Mountain Gorilla trekking reception area. When we arrive there were lots of groups already there and the local community group were already performing with great enthusiasm. More and more arrive and our guides check us in, Once the group had finished and we had the briefing  I go and Vianney and he tells me I've got the Mukiza group. I'm super happy with that, as that's the group I'd really wanted to see as I knew that they'd had a baby only 3 weeks ago and it  was a family of 16, so a good size. I went off to find a walking stick and when I came back the other group told me that they would be trekking with me but there appeared to be an issue.  \A large group (the same noisy group from yesterday) who had just arrived wanted our family. The two Home to Africa guides stood there ground and said no, we were there early etc. More to and fro-ing for what seemed an age, and  we were told that we were still had the Mukiza family and there would only be the 4 of us as the big group didn't want to split over several groups....suited me just fine. We were introduced to our guide Maureen, who was a lovely and enthusiastic lady. We were asked if we needed a porter, I'd read that they were invaluable getting you up and down the slopes as well as carrying your bags. Bag passed to my lovely forest assistant, garden gloves on and I waved Vianney goodbye and we set off into the forest behind the reception area. Leading the way was one of our two armed rangers the second at the rear. Initially the walk was fairly easy going. One of the ladies of the group and was suffering from a bit of altitude sickness, I had worried about the altitude as only a few months before I had a very severe attack of vertigo and been completely debilitated for several months,  so the last thing I wanted was to feel dizzy on top of not being very fit. She was to be our pacemaker, and she apologized profusely, but we didn't mind the slower pace. Eventually we left the track and crashed through the ferns down a steep and quite muddy slope, my porter was fantastic, holding onto to me and guiding me down safely. Eventually we stopped, told to mask up, only take our cameras and leave everything with the rangers and porter. We were about to meet a family of Mountain Gorillas 

 

In amongst the shrubs was a young gorilla rolling around. I looked at Maureen as she pointed it out, with tears in my eyes, just seeing these magnificent creatures was so emotional. ''Happy tears'' she asks....I nod as I'm unable to speak. It was so incredible. Just ahead we see Mukiza the alpha (and only adult male) crashing through the forest and disappearing out of sight.

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The trackers point out more of the little ones (he has quite a lot of infants). The trackers pull us up the slopes and there is only room for two at a time but being a small group it worked well as the family was spread out in different clumps of foliage.  Maureen then points out the new mum, which I'd completely missed, her tiny infant clutched to her chest. I watch her for a while, looking into those amazing eyes as she then rolls onto her back and the baby clambers over her chest, a gentle hand pulling it close if it moved off her, Two little ones roll around playing.......just magical. One of the trackers motions to me to climb up the slope, which he practically had to drag me up as it was so slippy. Lying under the bush was the main chap, with his back towards me, one of his ladies and an infant by his side. Maureen then calls the last of minute and we have to leave as our hour is over, just as Mukiza rolls over onto his back. What handsome guy he is!  Words cannot convey what an amazing experience this had been. 

 

 

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We walk slowly and stop regularly. which was nice as we can now appreciate the forest and how stunning the scenery is.  My porter was invaluable pulling me up and holding my hand to help me climb down the steep muddy slopes , we have a lunch break but I 'd left mine behind in the jeep but it's just nce sitting in the forest and catching my breath.  We finally arrive back at 2 and the car park was now completely empty except our two vehicles. We are given our certificates and pose for pics with our team and thank them, for what to me was the most memorable experience of my life  Time to say goodbye to the other group as they were going to Lake Bunyonyi. Vianney has already had his packed lunch, and as we still have a way to go to get to our next destination I munch away on my sandwiches as we drive.  It takes over three hours and we pass through some lovely scenery. We are travelling close to the borders of both Rwanda and DCR and as we arrive in Kisoro it appears to be a lively market town. Sadly it is the home of a the Congolese refugee camp. I won't lie at brought a lump to my throat seeing lines of people queuing up at the reception area and massive tents spread over the area, I can't imagine, thankfully, having to pack my essential belongings and leave my home and rely on charity to help me survive. The backdrop to this sad affair was the stunning Virungu volcanoes, shrouded in mist.  Shortly after we pull into the lodge - Travellers Rest. It has an impressive pedigree as Diane Fossey stayed here many times and called it her second home. I was the only guest staying so the evening meal was ordered and I went to check into my room. It was a bit dated but very pleasant.  I sat in the bar area and reviewed the days photos over a cup of tea, Despite me being the only guest it was quite lively and the room was heated by a roaring fire. There seemed to be a bit of a power issue in the bar but the staff brought an extension lead from reception so I could charge my phone. The dining room wasn't quite so lively as it was just me and Vianney, but the three course meal, soup, veg curry and dessert was super tasty.

 

I was still 'fizzing' from the mornings encounters and I struggled to get to sleep that night and once again the sky was too cloudy to see any stars  Eventually I drift off happy that today did live up to all my expectations 

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@ShirleyDThank you for sharing this with us! I've been following along silently enjoying your reflections and photos. I'm so pleased your encounter with the Muzika family was everything you wanted and more! The photos certainly look magical. And I've really enjoyed the way you recollect your days. Thank you!

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What a wonderful experience! Definitely a day you will never forget.  I love your photos.

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