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Sep 15 2013

In and around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

After exploring the gorge in Mgahinga National Park, we could let the excitement mount for our visit to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and our gorilla tracking activity.

There are quite a few gorilla groups, and the group you are visiting determines which park gate you start from.  We were tracking Nshongi group, and so we were starting from Rushaga.

The drive from Mgahinga through Kisoro up to Rushaga was magnificent – although the road in places left much to be desired.  The further we drove, the more we climbed and wound our way through green hills and trees with views across the valleys every so often.  The landscape is a patchwork of shades of green – the various farmland demarcations visible from afar.  Everything looks lush and fertile. The villagers watch us as we pass by, some waving, some just staring.

About 2 hours outside Kisoro , we glimpsed the edge of the magical forest.  It is such a contrast of natural beauty, rising above the farms and cultivated plantations.  It seems so majestic, so regal, so mysterious.  It is beautiful to behold, and sad to think that this forest use to cover so much more of Uganda.

We had booked into Nshongi Camp, a community run campsite just near the park entrance.  Unfortunately for us, the camp is about a 500m walk from the car park – so really not set up at all for our rooftop tent.  There was absolutely no way for us to move the vehicle closer.  The campsite and bandas were very picturesque, and great care had been taken with the gardens, but it was not to be.  We had to find alternative accommodation.

We headed about a kilometre down the road to Gorilla Safari Lodge, where we were told there may be camping.  We were welcomed with smiles and assurances of a place to camp, for a hefty fee of US$30 per person!  This would officially be the most expensive camping on our trip in Africa – more than double the next most expensive!  And, for this princely sum we would camp in the carpark and use toilets and showers in some random building.  We offered US$10, but they weren’t interested.  The owner wasn’t on site, so any negotiation required phonecalls.  We gave up.  But suddenly one of the staff told us we could camp at Nshongi Gorilla Resort, 7km down the road in Rubuguri.

Off we went, late in the day, tired, but still in need of a place to stay.

The little village of Rubuguri is tiny, but has a small local pub and a few shops selling the bare basics.  We were welcomed at Nshongi Gorilla Resort – yes, we could camp.  We could have the use of the bathroom in one of the chalets (why didn’t they just give us the chalet?) and park outside reception.  At only US$10 per person, we couldn’t really argue.  The best was yet to come, though, and after dinner as we prepared for bed, we were brought 2 hot water bottles to keep us warm in the cool mountain temperatures.  Heaven!

The next morning – only a day before our tracking – we wandered around the village in search of eggs and a few vegetables.  We managed to stumble upon the beginnings of the setup of a clothing market – we are quite adept by now to recognise the racks being set up to display clothes.  Brilliant – we returned later in the afternoon to have a browse.  This was great fun!  Clearly, the locals are not used to muzungus in the market, and we had a little following, and small crowds gathered where we stopped to make purchases.  These clothes all seem to arrive from North America – there were lots of university branded T-shirts and sweatshirts.  I managed to find a piece of material I quite liked, and Viking Explorer bought a replacement T-shirt for one which has been retired.

 

On our wanderings, we stumbled across an NGO called Big Beyond.  They were celebrating planting indigenous trees, and are involved in a number of other projects and initiatives in the village – all aimed at empowering the locals rather than giving handouts.  One project in particular is to process the coffee beans they are already growing: rather than sell the beans for very little to middlemen who then sell it on, Big Beyond is working with a community to grind the coffee beans, package them very simply, and sell the package.  The NGO are helping the community to promote the coffee to the local lodges (of which there are numerous) rather than the lodges buying other coffee.  Great idea, and what a fun bunch of people!

After our gorilla tracking, we headed back down the mountain to Kisoro.  We took the more scenic route this time, passing by Lake Mutanda.  As we twisted and would our way towards the lake, we kept catching glimpses of very colourful buildings near the lake.  Eventually we arrived at Chameleon Hill – a new development overlooking Lake Mutanda.  It was gorgeous!  We stopped in – as you do – and were given the grand tour.  It was so tastefully done, with each chalet a different colour on the outside, and beautifully decorated on the inside.  It is owned by Koos (South African) and Doris (German).  Although they both live in Cape Town, they were on site, and we spent some time with them.  We told them about our travels, they told us a bit about the trip they had done a few years before, and told us all about the dream of building this place.  Sadly, due to the lay of the land, they didn’t have any camping facilities, although they had always wanted to include some.

Time was marching on, and we continued our way towards Kisoro.  This would be our last night in Uganda before crossing into our 21st country on the trip: Rwanda.


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