Thursday, January 27, 2011

Uganda - Gorillas and waterfalls!

Once in Uganda I settled down just outside Kampala in a hostel called Red Chilli Hideaway. It was time to start work on getting my gorilla tracking permit. I headed to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and began checking things out - luckily I was being careful as the first date they tried to give me a permit for, the only accomodation in the area was a massive $60 per night! The UWA people insisted I should be able to pay this (being a muzungu of course. . . no problem!) so eventually I gave up for a bit and decided to nip over to Jinja while I thought about the best way to approach this expensive part of my trip.

Jinja is about 70 kilometres northeast of Kampala and famous as the source of the Nile where Lake Victoria's waters start the long journey to the Mediterranean. While there I found a very quiet relaxing place near the Bujagali falls where white water rafting was being offered for a very decent price. Having not done much of note for a while I decided to give it a go resulting in an awesome day, some new friends, muscle ache and sunburn!

A few days later it was back to Kampala for my second attempt at co-ordinating my gorilla tracking permit with accomodation availability. Kampala is a beautiful city with some pretty insane traffic. The best way to get around is on the Bodabodas (bike taxis) which can be pretty scary. Helmet laws do not exist as far as I can tell, and while I love bikes, I do much prefer to be the one in control when squeezing through rush hour traffic! Every tree in the city seems to have Marabou storks nesting on them - they look pretty weird and not unlike modern day pterodactyls watching over the city. As I was there over the weekend I took the time to check out Kampala's famous night life and was not disappointed. There are many massive clubs dotted around the city, with a great many of them located in an area known as Kabalagala. There were a few crazy nights with some other people staying at Red Chilli - on the Saturday we left Kabalagala at about 7am and the party was still going strong!

A few days later I had managed to get my permit to track gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest near a small town called Ruhija. There was a new campsite that had opened up with very reasonable prices of ten dollars a night for a small room. I caught the first bus I could down to Kabale near the Rwanda/Congo border and found a Bodaboda driver willing to drive the two hours it would take to get to Ruhija. Within twenty minutes we were on a dirt track and heading away from any signs of civilisation. The variation in plant life in this area is pretty incredible and I started to understand why it is called the 'impenetrable' forest. Everywhere you look there are miles and miles of trees covering a very mountainous area. Between the trees are smaller plants of every variety and covering all that a mass of vines and creepers. Even with a small army of people and machetes it would take hours to get anywhere in this kind of landscape if it wasn't for the one track that we were haring along. I was almost at my wits end from hanging on to the bike when we finally saw the sign indicating we were at Ruhija and I went to settle in for the night.

The morning brought the realisation that I was now in new territory. It was raining lightly and the valleys were filled with mist as I enjoyed some tea and toast before setting off to the UWA post a kilometre down the road. On arrival there were six other tourists there (a Swedish and Danish couple, two Australians and two Americans) and once the briefing was over we set off down the road. The guides were in radio contacts with the trackers who had set off an hour earlier and we soon turned off the road and onto a small path into the forest proper. Within minutes we were trekking up and down hills as the trackers gave us directions and we got slowly closer to the gorillas. They would stop to eat fruit at one location, then double back on themselves while we were negotiating our way round the thick undergrowth and avoiding the really steep areas. After about four hours we found them relaxing in the bottom of a valley. Our first sighting was a silverback sitting with one of the younger males in a tiny area they had cleared.

They pretty much ignored us and it is very clear they are used to people popping by to have a look. One of the most interesting things to me was hearing the other gorillas grunt to alert each other to their position. It was clear that there was a few of them around but due to the foliage one can only see a few metres in any direction if that so they remained just sounds to us. A few metres further on we found another silverback and the oldest male of the group who was heavily scarred on his head apparently from fights for dominance. The one hour we had was over before we knew it and we headed back.

At this point I got a lucky break as I was discussing the tiring bike ride from Kabale to Ruhija when Jurgen and Anita (the Danish gentleman and Swedish wife) kindly offered to drive me back to Kabale in their hired 4 wheel drive. We left at 9.30 am the next morning and before I knew it I was back in Kabale ready to find transport to Rwanda.


  1. OK Bryan white water rafting, Kampala night clubs, gorilla tracking ....what next???

  2. How much more exciting can this get! Take care of yourself and keep WELL...

  3. I am running out of things to do now it seems. Now I am back in Malawi I may have a part time job at a backpackers to keep my costs down. Free food and bed cannot be a bad thing! :)

  4. Dude, still really enjoying the stories and pics. Hope you managed to catch the L'pool game at the w/end? :)

  5. Hehe, if you mean the Chelsea game yuhuh I saw it! The room was mostly Chelsea fans and the banter was good with them taking the piss over Torres at the beginning. Needless to say by the end there was a room full of red faced blues while the rest of us were singing YNWA. Great fun, now roll on the next game. . we need to reclaim fourth spot!

  6. Ah, good. back in Malawi, and away from the election "fun" in Uganda.