One item on our travel bucket list was visiting and observing the wild mountain gorillas in Africa. There are three countries which offer these trek safaris: Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda and Uganda are both currently safe to travel in as long as one avoids certain border areas where militants from neighbouring countries may cause disruptions. Our choice fell on Uganda since there was a non-stop flight available and because they charge (in 2018) 600 USD per person/day to visit (compared to 1,500 USD charged in Rwanda). We booked a 4-day tour with Insight Safari tours which included the drive from Entebbe to the forest and back on day 1 and 4, two days trekking gorillas, all accommodations and food. We can highly recommend them and loved talking to our guide Nasser.
After arriving at Entebbe airport we were picked up by a shuttle from the 2 friends Beach hotel we had booked for the first and last night. The hotel is located a short 10-minute drive (outside rush hour) from the airport and some rooms have a view towards Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world and the source of the Nile river. The beach for all the hotels in this area can be found across a small road, but is for scenery only as swimming in the lake is forbidden due to bilharzia (Schistomosiasis), an infectious flat worm.
We were not sure if we would have time to explore the city. But from leaving the plane to arriving at the hotel less than an hour passed and after a short rest we walked the 10 minutes to the Botanical Gardens and paid 10 USD for two (or 20,000 Ugandan shilling) for the visit. A student gave us a tour (10,000 shilling for 1-1.5 hours) and showed us the most interesting of trees and locations.
The garden looks a bit overgrown and disheveled which is no surprise when there is only 10 staff (4 of them horticulturists) attending to the 40 hectares. Being one of the oldest (founded in 1898) in Africa its rain forest area had been used for the 1951 Tarzan movie with Lex Barker.
A kapok tree and its fruits filled with fibre caught my attention and will be another hand-spinning experiment. Commercially Kapok fibre is used for stuffing pillows. But I like to see what happens when spun or even knit. As much as we enjoyed the tour it would have been better to be a little more prepared with our cash. We didn’t have many small US dollar bills and had not exchanged USD for Ugandan Shilling, yet. Thus, paid more then needed for the fee and tour. But as our guide queried politely: “Do we have to go hungry?” No, definitively not and the people are poor and can use the money for food, clothes and their studies.
It did not dawn on us how little the local people had in life until we traveled through the countryside on our way to Bwindi Impenetrable forest. We saw small children barefoot and in probably the only piece of clothes they owned playing in the red sand on the side of the road. No toys neither or electronic gadgets as some areas are not connected to the electric grid or have access to drinking water from a faucet. Most families own a small plot to grow vegetables to feed themselves and once in a while sell the surplus for a little money to buy other food items. With over 50% unemployment this subsistence farming is their lifeline. We were surprised to see the ingenuity to help make a little money: from cutting papyrus on public land to make mats to making ones own bricks to build a house were just a few of the activities we observed.
Many buildings created a little money by having their walls painted with advertisement. Those slogans and colours were fun and vivid. Every few kilometers one could buy fresh vegetables and fruits. The mini bananas being our favourite with their sweetness balanced by a little tartness (a hint of lemon). Yum! After a good 10 hours on the road and half of it along gravel tracks we were happy to arrive at Bakiga Lodge. It gave us a true being-off-the-grid feeling as the lodge is located about 2,000 m above sea level and in a remote area close to the Bwindi forest. No electricity, only what can be produced with solar cells for lights and charging phones for 3-5 hours/day and water from rain collection. A true Eco lodge which supports the neighbouring area with water collection tanks and employment for locals through their tourist dollars. It did get quite cold in the evening (early March) and we were happy to sleep under a few warm blankets and with a hot water bottle at our feet. With great food cooked over a wood-fired stove we were ready to go on our first gorilla trekking adventure…..
To be continued…
Thank you, for reading my blog! Cheers, Maike