Rwanda and Uganda Part 4
Uganda Parts 1-3 last year
Last year I spent three weeks criss crossing Uganda and visiting several national parks. Even though it’s a small country I still have several places to visit and this year’s trip is mainly focused around re-visiting Bwindi to see the gorillas and then crossing the nearby border into Rwanda.
We crossed the border from Kenya and after fairly quick border formalities continued to Jinja, a touristy backpacker town on the banks of the Nile River where rafting is the main activity and activities are ridiculously overpriced for Africa.
Having done every activity on the program many times before elsewhere in the world we decided to catch a local taxi to the nearby Mabira Forest which is the second largest patch of original rainforest remaining in Uganda.
Our morning didn’t exactly go as planned. We jumped in our taxi for the 1.5hr drive and after an hour we were stopped by the local police. There were three different police forces involved. The regular police did the stopping, the traffic police did the talking and the other guy watched with his AK47 ready for action. As it turned out, our driver didn’t have a licence, so he was dragged off into a nearby building. Our guide didn’t have one either, so we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately the local police sergeant provided us with a police vehicle and a driver to take us on the rest of our trip and we arrived at The Rainforest Lodge, deep in the forest shortly after.
We hadn’t booked a room, having decided to check it out first. The lodge was listed as one of the “1000 places to stay before you die” and once there we could see why.
We spent the next two days with local guide Herman exploring the dense rainforest seeing Red-tailed Monkeys and a good number of the local birds as well as a Forest Cobra.
The next stop was Lake Bunyonyi which means ‘place of many little birds’. Its nestled close to the Rwandan border, twenty five kilometers long and an incredible 900m deep.
The small island in the photo below is called Punishment Island where unmarried pregnant women were sent to starve to death or die trying to swim back. Fortunately many were rescued by poor local farmers who didn’t have enough cows to otherwise secure a wife.
The Rushaga section of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is in the southern section of the park and is the best section to see Gorillas as well as a good number of Albertine Rift endemic birds. We arrived a day before the rest of our trekking group and spent a good day birding in the mountains.
The next morning we met at the park HQ for our gorilla trekking briefing where we heard how not to get on the wrong side of the big guy with the silver back.
Having met the guides the day previously on our birding trip we managed to secure the head guide as well as the largest and best gorilla family. The only downside was that it meant we’d be out walking all day. The biggest of the Mountain Gorilla families was a forty-five minute drive away from park HQ, followed by a two hour mountainous trek to their jungle home.
We walked over hills and along valleys, crossed creeks and then ascended an overgrown slippery jungle track until we reached a clearing where two female gorillas were feeding.
As we watched them, the silverback walked straight down the track towards us, stopped only meters away and posed for photos before disappearing into the jungle.
Over there next hour we watched four different silverbacks, two babies and twenty members of the family in total. Our guide said it was one of the best gorilla encounters he’d every had.
After a successful Gorilla trek we returned to our safari vehicle, which this time was a 1998 Land Rover and drove two hours south to the Rwandan border.
After two hours of bouncing across potholes, it was a relief to reach good smooth tarred Rwandan roads. An hour later and we reached Masanze and once again changed transport to motor bike taxis for a quick blast across town where we hired a local taxi to take us to Kigali, the capital city, which is two hours away.
Rwanda is a country that jams one thousand Hills and twelve million people into only 26,000 square kilometers.
We arrived at the Hotel des Milles Collines, which in French is 1000 Hills, AKA Hotel Rwanda, where during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the manager Paul Rusesabagina hid 1268 people inside the hotel’s 112 rooms.
We were picked up at 7am by our guide and driver and headed south to Nungwe National Park, situated on the Albertine Rift and adjacent to the Virunga Massif, where we spent the next three days hiking, birding and Chimp tracking.
On the way back to Kigali we past the huge UNHCR Kigeme Refugee Camp which holds over 20,000 refugees from the Eastern DRC.
Our final day in Rwanda was spent in the capital, Kigali where we visted the Genocide Memorial and did some shopping.
Rwanda has certainly achieved a lot since the badness of the 1990’s and it’s a pleasure to travel through a clean African country on good roads where the people are friendly and the scenery beautiful.
To catch up with our Oasis Overland truck we have to fly back to Entebbe, Uganda and from there we’re driving back into Kenya.
Bye for now.