Awaiting Africa: A Quick Look at What Awaits Me in 2020 - Part Two: Uganda

© Simon Greenwood

© Simon Greenwood

On March 5th, I’ll fly from Addis Ababa to Uganda’s capital, Kampala. I’ll check into my hotel, and spend the evening relaxing. The following day, I’m taking no time getting into the adventure. In the morning, I’m meeting a local guide, Grace, for a day trip 100 miles north of Kampala. I’m very excited for the day’s activity: rhino tracking! Upon arrival at the sanctuary, a site guide will take over and we’ll begin tracking the rhinos on foot. The tracking activity is also considered a nature walk, as I’ll get to experience the landscape, as well as flora and fauna of northern Uganda. Grace has informed me that there’s a chance to see some of more than 150 species of birds at the sanctuary as well. After the tracking activity ends, we’ll have lunch at the sanctuary and head back in the direction of Kampala. Back in the city, we’ll be visiting the Bahai House of Worship, which is interestingly known as the mother Temple of Africa. The temple is situated on Kikaya Hill on the outskirts of Kampala and is surrounded by green gardens designed to fit with Ugandan culture. 

The next day, I’m off to the town of Jinja. It’s about 50 miles east of the capital. Jinja is perhaps best known as the source of the White Nile -- and for its river rafting experiences. Any guesses as to what I’m doing? I’m a newbie to the white water rafting world, so I’m hoping they don’t plunge me into a 6 when I’m barely prepared for a 2 or 3 max. After the adventure, assuming we’re not eaten by crocodiles, we, or the surviving few, are celebrating with a BBQ and drinks. The rest of the day, I’m sure will be spent sleeping at the hotel until it’s time to meet up with my tour group and guide.

© Nile River Explorers

© Nile River Explorers

Day three is primarily a scenic drive, so yes, I will be slapping on pair of Depends. I learned my lesson in Madagascar that toilets are often few and far between (though I would like to announce that I did in fact make it to the toilet on time -- well, it wasn’t really a ‘toilet’, more-so a hole in the ground with concrete around it). But we’ll be arriving in Fort Portal, on the outskirts of Kibale National Park where we’ll be spending the night on a guest farm. 

Day four is the day I put on my Jane Goodall hat (not literally, I have a feeling it will be too hot for my beanie) and hike into Kibale National Park -- which has the highest density of primate life in the world in its forests -- in search of chimpanzees! Wildlife is never a guarantee, but I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be lucky enough to see a least a couple. If not, there are few things I enjoy more than exploring tropical rainforests anyway. The park ranger will also teach us about the local ecosystem and help us keep an eye out for other interesting animals. For lunch, we’re being treated to a traditional buffet-style meal prepared with fresh, organic local ingredients. We’ll be enjoying our food in a grass thatched hut  as we learn about Bigodi dining etiquette (which I believe is similar to Japanese culture where you remove your shoes and sit on mats!) Our local hosts will describe how the ingredients used in the dishes are grown, harvested and prepared. The cherry on top, if time allows, will be a wetlands walk which promises monkey, baboon, sitatunga (endangered swamp antelope), bush pig, civet, mongoose, bush buck, and occasional chimp sightings.

Oh god, I hope so!   © Francesco Ungaro

Oh god, I hope so! © Francesco Ungaro

The next day starts with a three hour drive, with a stop at the equator, to Queen Elizabeth National Park. From my itinerary: Queen Elizabeth National Park is characterized by open savannah, large areas of swamp around Lake George, the extensive Maramagambo Forest in the southeast, and the forested Kyambura Gorge along the border with Kyambura Game Reserve. We’ll be doing an afternoon safari, keeping our eyes peeled for warthogs, elephants, buffalo, hyenas, leopards, five different species of primates, and hippos.

Day five begins with another game drive! After that’s over, we have time to explore and, later, take a boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel. Highlights include birds, crocs, hippos, and reptiles. We’re calling the park home for the night, so we’re able to wander (within reason) with park guides keeping tabs on us, I’m sure.

The following day is another long drive, luckily we’re promised stunning views of forests, volcanoes and lakes. Final destination? Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: aka homebase for our gorilla trekking adventure! We’ll arrive at our camp, which provides sweeping views of the surrounding forest, and have dinner. I noticed they have a lobster, spinach, Vermont cheddar fondue with grilled ciabatta bread on their menu and I’m highly, highly looking forward to that.

© Mike Arney

© Mike Arney

It’s the day. The reason I started planning this gigantic, massively expensive trip in the first place: gorilla trekking day! It will also be a longer day for me than the rest of my group, as after the trek has finished, I’m taking a border crossing transfer into Kigali, Rwanda as I have an early flight to Nairobi the next day to visit a friend. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The trek. The outing can vary in length and difficulty, depending on the location of the gorilla family that’s being visited. We also only get maximum one hour to observe the animals in their natural habitat. According to my itinerary, Ugandan authorities are fiercely protective of this natural treasure, and currently permit only a maximum of eight people, per day, to visit a given gorilla family. The group will be split into different sub-groups for the trek. As soon as my group has returned from the trek, which I’m sure will have me absolutely BUZZING, I’ll get cleaned up in my room, grab some food, and await my transfer to yet another country: Rwanda.

Emily Koopman