Exploring Uganda – trekking with primates
After our first adventures on the Nile River and an extensive ‘African massage’, we ended up in the Kibale Forest National Park. The journey in was through a hilly area with small farms and domestic animals. Once we got into the forest proper, we started seeing baboons, and lots of them, especially on the road to the accommodation for the evening at the Primate Lodge, Kibale.
After a long journey, we then had the opportunity to check in to our little cabin, chill out, and prepare for the trekking the next day. Chilling and dinner were done as the sun set, and as our cabin was stashed in the back, we had an escorted walk back (in case we were accosted by chimpanzees or baboons on the way. We were given the pretty standard ‘stay in your cabin until sunrise’ warning that was becoming familiar as we moved through areas that had other residents.
We had an early start the following day, so spent the evening relaxing and making sure the husband’s arm was fit enough for some mild trekking.
Chimpanzee trekking on 29th December started a little odd. We rallied with the others at the registration lodge (which was surrounded by baboons) and were taken through a briefing. We all jumped in the 4WD and headed off to the drop off point where we would start trekking into the forest for our encounter. We trekked for a while and then heard the chimpanzees before we saw them. They stayed up in the trees, moving across the canopy, and we followed them on the ground. There wasn’t a lot of instruction from our guide, and we were a little confused as to what was going to happen.
Suddenly they started to descend, as as the chimpanzees had been familiarised to allow people to walk with them, each group was assigned a chimp to follow and we took off for an hour. We were assigned the alpha male, where we found ourselves in close quarters with him as he doubled back and crossed in front of us. At one point, we were less than 2m from him as he started screaming. We thought he was angry but he was just locating other members of his community. Spent an interesting hour walking with him and his troop as they gathered food. Wonderful.
Following the morning expedition with the chimpanzees, we drove from Kibale National Forest to Queen Elizabeth National Park. A solid 3 hours, during which we crossed the equator. We drove around the Katwe-Kikorongo explosion craters. They are a group of volcanic craters within Queen Elizabeth National Park. There are several that form crater lakes, which we could see from the 4WD as we headed for our next destination, all the while receiving an African massage – which is a reflection on the quality of roads in Africa (and not some sort of mobile relaxation service). 🙂
We then headed into Queen Elizabeth National Park. On the driveway to our safari camp at Queen Elizabeth National Park, we encountered a number of wildlife… warthogs, water buffalo and the Ugandan Kob… a taste of things to come.
We checked into Kansenyi Safari camp, where we would be for a couple of nights. Our accommodation was a big hall for dining and gathering, with a fire pit (also for gathering, but it had the additional role of keeping the wild animals away), and tents. The tents were glamorous, with attached porches and baths as well as furniture with all the creature comforts. The food was great, and we were slowly getting stuffed as we ate and drank our way through Uganda.
The verandah at Kansenyi Safari Camp overlooked the fire pit, but the entire camp looked down into a crater lake – which was a salt lake. As the sun set you could hear the flamingos as they settled in for the evening. Unfortunately, we didn’t get close enough for some great photos of those, but it was enough to hear and see them from a distance. At night, we were again required to be escorted from the central building to our tents, as the border for the Queen Elizabeth National Park was on the other side of the carpark behind the main building. Funnily enough, animals don’t always stick to those borders. We found this out both nights as we could hear a hippo having a snack outside our tent. Seems we were right next to a popular late-night hippo dining spot.
Most days started with hearty breakfasts at sunrise – we had two days of safaris at Queen Elizabeth National Park and mornings and evenings are the best times to see things. This was our first safari day of the trip and we were excited. But not too excited that we didn’t notice the local domestic residents. We seemed to find them everywhere, and just like home, the resident cats have a knack for making themselves comfortable everywhere.
Our first leopard – we later spoke to the ranger and he said it was likely 12-18 months old. You can’t see him clearly but he’s taking some shade in the tree. Mum will hunt for him and bring him back food to eat.
After our luck with the young leopard, we saw 2 lions. They were literally 4m away from us. Just wow.
We were driving back and decided to head to a track where there were apparently never any sightings. We decided to explore it as we noticed there was a lot of traffic on other tracks, while this one seemed a little deserted. Our luck for the day held and we had the privilege of seeing a second leopard. Apparently, that is rare! And I spotted it. A definite brag here, but it was so exciting as she was hunting!
Totally awesome first day of safari and one I will not forget soon.