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Smack in the center of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, sits bustling Nakasero Market. The busy market has a live animal section as well as departments for household appliances and clothes and whatever else you might need. There are also plenty of venders selling grasshoppers, a common Ugandan snack. I'm a very adventurous eater but when faced with the prospect of munching on grasshoppers, I suddenly became not very hungry.
My favorite part of experiencing Murchison Falls National Park is the boat ride up the Nile from the dock near Paraa Lodge to the Falls. Along with a variety of birds, views of elephants, wildebeest, antelope and other animals along the shore, hippos are everywhere in abundance. Capturing a shot of a hippo jumping out of the water in protest to our boat coming near was one of those rare photos ops - having the camera pointed in the right direction as the hippo jumped up, then splashed down and disappeared beneath the water.
“You are very lucky!” my guide told me. “You will have the gorillas all to yourself!” He seemed pleased for me in my rare situation of being the lone tracker to see one of the habituated gorilla families in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Typically there are 8 people per outing, and they have booked their permit ages ago, battling other safari company clients to clutch one of the limited permits in their sweaty hands. But through a happy set of circumstances, it was just little ol’ me and 12 mountain gorillas quietly passing the time together in a small ravine. Suddenly a loud crack above me and the brief whooshing sound of air rushing through leaves as my guide and I looked up in time to see the tree falling as if the gorilla had precision-aimed it right at our heads. Fortunately, the gorilla misjudged the length of the tree and it stopped short of our fragile craniums. Then he casually ambled down the slope and sat down a few feet away. He gazed rather stoically at his handiwork and I tried to catch his eyes with mine. He didn’t mind letting me peer into them, searching for his soul. Naturally, I couldn’t quite find it in such a short period of time. But I definitely found something rare and intense, standing in the jungle, eye-locked with a mountain gorilla, and nothing between us but a few swarms of flies.
Sign up with a safari company (see below) to take you on a counterclockwise tour of western Uganda’s national parks. Starting in Kampala, here’s where to go. Murchison Falls National Park The Uganda Wildlife Authority’s riverboat gets up close to hippos and crocodiles. Kibale National Park Thirteen primate species live here, including blue monkeys, gray-cheeked mangabeys, and 1,450 chimpanzees. Rwenzori Mountains National Park The Rwenzoris are Africa’s highest mountains, with multiple 15,000-foot peaks. Queen Elizabeth National Park Hike past crater lakes to the Ishasha sector and see lions lounging in fig trees. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park This park is home to about half of the world’s 750 remaining mountain gorillas. Abacus African Vacations, 256/312-261- 930, abacusvacations.com The Uganda Safari Company, 256/414- 251-182, safariuganda.com Wild Frontiers, 256/414-321-479, wildfrontiers.co.ug This story appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. Photo by Dook.
At the Bwindi Safari Lodge, stay in one of eight bandas (classic Ugandan thatched-roof huts). Trek through tree ferns, red stinkwoods, and tangled vines on a guided nature walk or enjoy the jungle view from your room’s broad veranda. Bwindi’s Rushegura gorilla family frequently visits the lodge, which means the apes might just come to you. From $400 per person, including meals, drinks, laundry, and massage. (866) 599-APES (2737), volcanoessafaris.com This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. Photo courtesy of Bwindi Safari Lodge.
Ngamba Island Sanctuary in Uganda is one of the only places in the world where you can have an up close experience with almost-wild chimpanzees. I’ve taken an hour-long boat ride from Entebbe to the island, for the opportunity to walk and play with the sanctuaries youngest residents. With thirty-pound Nani on my hip, I follow the caretakers, three other tourists, and nine chimpanzees into the 100-acre forest the orphans share with fruit bats and monitor lizards. Surrounded by Lake Victoria, this Island Sanctuary is an ideal place for water fearing chimps to roam un-caged. For Full story go to AfricaInside.org
In Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and other cities, boda-boda motorcycle taxis are among the most popular forms of transportation. But away from the industrialized centers, makeshift—brakeless—bicycles and scooters built out of wood hurtle down hills with a few hundred pounds of charcoal or fruit strapped to their frames. This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. Photo by Kaj Iversön.
The best experiences are those that need no words. At the top of Murchison Falls in Uganda, even if you wanted to throw words into the misty air, you’d need to be very determined to yell them loud enough for anyone to hear over the roaring of the Nile River as it tumbles through the gorge. Perhaps the most iconic river in all of Africa, in the legends of the most ancient civilizations, the Nile River holds a special mystique at any point in its path. But here at Murchison Falls, you can feel its weight rumbling beneath your feet, feel the spray on your face (make sure you have a lens cap for your camera!), and hear the reverence it demands in the overwhelming thunder.
Experiencing the unesting of various primate species at sunrise while visiting the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience in the Kibale National Forest in Uganda. This is a morning ritual as Chimpanzees nest in different places every night.
Spending a morning with this family of gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was not only a highlight of our trip to Uganda, but a highlight of my life!
In February 2013, my husband Michael and I set off on an 8-month trip around the world. Here’s one of the many highlights of our adventure… After going on a safari and gorilla trek where we observed wildlife at a distance, we met animals up close at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. Through my volunteer work with a local NGO (www.cobatiuganda.org), we were treated to a private tour where we fell in love with Sushi, an endangered shoebill stork. When we entered the habitat, the guide instructed us on the proper way to greet a shoebill stork – bow and make a squealing sound. We were so happy that Sushi accepted us and hung around for a while to say hi. We took a video of the greeting behavior – you can see it on our travel blog (link below).
I recently spent 10 days in Uganda working with Outreach Uganda (OU); helping women displaced by the LRA war. Although my third visit to Uganda with OU, this was my first visit to the villages up north. This photo was taken in the village of Agwata where we are working with the women to teach them skills to help them rebuild their lives after the war. Amazing women; amazing land, amazing experience!
In February 2013, my husband Michael and I set off on an 8-month trip around the world. Here’s one of the many highlights of our adventure… I volunteer with an NGO that creates cultural tourism opportunities in rural Uganda (www.cobatiuganda.org). When we visited, Executive Director, Maria Baryamujura, arranged some incredible experiences. One day, we met beer maker Olive Kasande in her Masheruka banana plantation and learned the traditional process to make banana beer. As they worked, the women sang a wonderful song. A few days later we saw a banana beer making exhibit at a local museum. The museum was interesting, but there was no comparison to our real-life experience in the plantation. There are more photos and a video on our travel blog (link below).
My partner and I went on a community village walk with a local guide in Kibale, Uganda, and we were invited into their church. This was during the week after Christmas, when most of the villagers attend everyday. Being the first foreigners to ever step into their church, the kids stared and smiled at us with excitement and curiosity. As I peered through the standing crowd near the front, I witnessed an infant baptism.
Joining www.cardiostart.org on their mission to Uganda means spending your time encouraging patients, visiting wards and generally helping whereever it's needed. You can do outreach to local schools or help the children recovering from surgery. As a non-medical person, you will need to find places to help. As a medical person, you need experience in open heart surgery or the ICU. Apply and then see if you are accepted. Cardiostart goes to Haiti, Ghana, Peru and Vietnam. You will pay for your own airfare and dinner.Cardio covers your hotel and other meals. It is an amazing way to see the culture, to help and to learn. Cardiostart changes people's lives with these operations.
We had arranged to visit a resettled village outside of Gulu, Uganda. The people of this village had been resettled after nearly 20 years in a refugee camp where they were placed for protection from Joseph Kony. About two miles outside of the village, their welcome parade met our vehicles, singing and dancing in a ritual greeting. We felt humbled by their grace and the way they offered virtual strangers the best they had.
Gorilla treks take at least 3 days because it takes 9 hours to drive from Kampala. Stay at a community run ecolodge, like Buhoma Lodge, on the edge of the forest the night before your trek. Buhoma includes a good breakfast & dinner & a packed lunch They have huts with mosquito nets, a dormitory plus tent space. Occasionally the gorillas visit! You can find more upscale lodging nearby as well. Your permit for the one hour tour is $500 and with driver & lodging and it’s around $1000 total. I went in warm, muggy November, but nights were cool. Get in shape for the upward trek that may be 3+ hours. Tip your porter $15 and the tracker team $15. Wear long pants, thick socks over the pants, deet bug spray, long sleeves, hat, bandana, hiking boots, 2 liters of water, sunglasses. I brought gloves but didn’t use them. I had both a small video camera & regular camera & extra batteries. There are many places to buy wonderful souvenirs outside the lodges. Lots of birding groups stay here, too. I would suggest adding Murchison Falls to your holiday to see more wildlife and enjoy the beauty. Remember to breathe when you first see the gorillas! .
I just couldn't stop staring at these enormous birds with their bald heads, long beaks, long, thin legs and magnificent flights.The Marabou Stork is gigantic with a wingspang of 2.87 m making it one of the largest flying birds in the world. As you watch it come in for a landing, you'll be amazed as it glides gracefully through the wind with spindly legs pulled up. A scavenger by nature, they are said to have come to Uganda after 2 years of accumulated refuse from the civil war.These birds consume offal and rotting meat as they pick through rubbish heaps helping to prevent disease. As urban residents, you can walk the golf course, head to the mall, or just look up in Kampala to see these amazing giant birds. Though there are many birds in the jungles of Uganda, seeing 6 Marabous sitting on the top of one tree guarding their nests took my breath away.
Make sure you visit the Ndere Centre on a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday night to see one of the nations most impressive display of Ugandan music and dance. The Ndere troupe has a group of 70+ young dancers who sing and dance showcasing their cultural traditions. Tickets are 30,000 Ugandan Shilling per person. Be warned, to video the show will cost a steep 100,000 UGSH per camera and a buffet dinner is available for 30,000 UGSH per person. You should organise your own transport to and from the centre as there is are no taxi drivers around at 10pm when the show usually finishes.
Our accommodations near Queen Elizabeth Park in Uganda provided a true Lion King moment. The views from Katara Lodge are simply stunning. Perched on a hillside, the lodge provides the perfect vantage point to take in a vast savannah, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori mountains. The only thing better than the beautifully appointed rooms is the huge open air dining area with delicious food.
In Jinja, we hired a boat from Lake Victoria and "sailed" to the source of the Nile. The source is still under speculation, perhaps it originates in Burundi, perhaps it's Lake Victoria. Regardless, the captain took us to a minute island of rocks wherein we swam in both the Nile and Lake Victoria. The road from Kampala to Jinja is about 1 hour, though stopping at roadside bazaars can make the trip a bit longer. Anyone visiting Uganda should take the time to explore Jinja. Accommodation and guided tours are best provided by Nile River Explorers. Outside of their campground gate, a man makes the most delicious chapati in Uganda. It's best filled with Nutella and bananas or avocado and tomatoes.
Not far from the Uganda Int Airport and near the Ugandian Presidental Palace is the Malayaka House. This house is a place of refuge for 30+ children who get provided with love, food, and shelter. Then they get education and vocational training in sewing, jewelry-making, baking, cheese-making, farming, animal husbandry, secretarial work, food service and housekeeping by helping to run the businesses, and also how to manage personal finances once wages are earned (per their website listed below). I can attest to their food service. I have eaten at their restaurant what we called “The Orphanage Pizzaria”. It was the best pizza I had while in Entebbe which had a great backyard picnicy atmosphere to it in addition to the couple of kittens running from table to table. The best part about it, besides the taste, was that it was going for such a great cause. The volunteers there from Germany and Spain are doing a great job and I commend them. If you are ever in Entebbe or Kampala, go and order a pizza and support a great cause. If you want to donate see the below link. http://www.malayakahouse.com/#!support-malayaka-house Any amount donated will go far.
Sunset on Lake Victoria's Ssesse Islands. Why fly to the crowded beaches of the East African coast when these beautiful, quiet white sandy beaches are on your doorstep? This photo was taken on Kalangala, one November. Tranquil waters, lush green countryside, vibrant birdlife, the friendliest people - and oh yes - cheap beer and freshly barbecued Tilapia, straight from Lake Victoria - all make the Sesse Islands Archipelago a great place for a weekend away from Kampala. Three hours by ferry from Entebbe, or a little under two hours from Masaka. Don’t forget your Frisbee!
If you are planning to head to Jinja and go rafting (or perhaps you are the only one not!) then make sure you book yourself in for a minimum of one hour ATV-ing. It's a different way to visit the local villages and a heap of fun. You will have your own private guide taking you through the local community. The scenery is wonderful - red dusty roads, banana plantations, local houses and river views. The local kids love it and you might even be lucky enough to be given a flower by some - just like yours truly! They have the option to record your adventure on a camera that is strapped to your chest. Wear light cotton clothing that breathes and is comfortable under the overalls they supply.
Mgahinga is an inspiring location and a great base if you’re a hiker or walker. On day one, we hiked across cool, undulating countryside between fields of potatoes in delicate purple flower. As we walked, we were told about the traditional life of the Batwa ‘pygmy’ people, previous inhabitants of the Forest. The trek to see the playful Golden Monkeys, one of Africa’s rarest primates, was a highlight of our trip. Our excellent Uganda Wildlife Authority guide really added to the experience. “Golden Monkeys fear Crowned Eagles” he told us. “When the monkeys hear them, they come down from the trees to hide.” As with trekking the mountain gorillas, UWA constantly monitor the whereabouts of the Golden Monkeys, so the chances of seeing them are very high.
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