Sunday 8th April 2012 we finally touch down in Entebbe Airport, Uganda after a near six month saga trying to sort Timi’s new Hungarian passport (though that’s another story for another day).
The airport is most famous for an incident in the 70s where dictator Idi Amin decided it would be a good idea to allow a hijacked Air France plane flying from Israel to land there, safe to say it didn’t turn out too well for him (more info). This also inspired the scene in Last King of Scotland where James McAvoy gets strung up in the duty free shop!
The view upon arrival was amazing as you see the mist gathering on the surrounding green mountains flying over Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest lake).
After 2 days relaxing on the outskirts of the capital Kampala we departed to our first stop for 2 nights in Queen Elizabeth National Park stopping en route for the mandatory photo shoot on the equator. Here we did a game drive in the national park where we spotted various animals including hippos, wilderbeast, elephants and ugandan cobb (a type of antelope) whilst taking in the amazing scenery.
On the afternoon we headed to Kyambura Gorge for an alleged chimp trek. While it was amazing to head into the jungle in the gorge and made you feel like you were entering the lost world unfortunately after nearly two hours walking the chimps proved elusive though we did see hippos, various monkeys and evidence forest elephants had recently passed through. Only solace from this was the hope we couldn’t get unlucky twice with the gorillas coming up in the next couple of days.
After 2 nights at Queen Elizabeth National Park fighting with the mounds of insects choosing to commit suicide in our dinner we headed off for the drive to Lake Bunyonyi. To say this place looked amazing does it an injustice. We pitched our tents on the shore of this massive lake (Uganda’s deepest at 6500 ft) and took in the amazing views of the surrounding lush green hills and mountains. Bizaarly it reminded me of the lake district in England, others say it’s the Switzerland of Africa.
After taking in the magnificent views and having dinner it was time for an early night as we’d just been given the news that we’d need to be up at 4.30am for the 2 hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for our gorilla trek the next day!
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to approximately 300 mountain gorillas nearly half of the world’s population. The remaining mountain gorillas are found in surrounding areas on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity. Gorillas seen in zoos are most likely the smaller Western Lowland Gorilla whose numbers in the wild are approximately 100,000 across Western Africa.
We were quite apprehensive prior to this trek having read several blogs with horror stories of arduous 6 hour hikes through the forest sliding down hills and being attacked by fire ants. With this in mind we hired a couple of porters ($15 each) who would not only carry our bags, but would also push and pull us to make sure we made it.
We set off on the walk making the steep ascend to the entrance of the jungle with our guide and flanked at the back by a security guard sporting an Ak-47 machine gun which we were assured was to shoot rebels and not gorillas. Luckily the whole exercise is very well organised and a scout group is sent ahead to where the gorillas were spotted the day before to start the tracking two hours before we head out.
Much to our surprise and relief after only 90 minutes of walking our guide informed us to put down our bags as we were very close. In my mind I still thought we’d have another 30 or 40 minutes walking to go. So much to my amazement after walking round some bushes we spotted the first gorilla high up in a tree munching away on some leaves. I really can’t describe that moment but safe to say our hands were all shaking making photos almost impossible!
Our gorilla family The Mishaya Group, consisted of 12 gorillas and was an offshoot of another family. Apparently one day they just decided to split the family in two and go their separate ways with no bloodshed.
We moved further into the area each time seeing more and more gorillas including the massive silverback leader of the group. It was a surreal experience watching the gorillas go about their daily business (mostly eating) while we stood in amazement on precarious ledges making our way through thick undergrowth to gain better views. They generally seemed to ignore us as the group has been habituated to not feel threatened by our presence, though at one point we did get a bit too close to a couple of gorillas just below us and they let out the loudest most high pitched screech I’ve ever heard. Safe to say that everyone got pretty scared at this point and served as a timely reminder these were wild animals and best to be cautious.
Our 60 minutes with the gorillas was over in a heartbeat but an experience we will never forget.
Uganda is a beautiful safe country contrary to the instabilities it suffered in the 70s and 80s and somewhere we’d love to visit again in the future.
View all photos on flickr
The trip we booked was Troop to the Gorillas with Acacia, 6 days, 5 nights camping starting and ending in Kampala, Uganda. £295 plus $500 for gorilla permit and $225 local payment.
Flights were direct with British Airways from London Heathrow to Entebbe, Uganda, £650 approx.