Uganda: Chimpanzee Trekking

January 5, 2019
Start: Johannesburg, South Africa
Stop: Kampala, Uganda

Another early flight which lands skimming over the waters of Lake Victoria into Entebbe, Uganda. After a visa glitch I’m relieved to find that my driver is still waiting for me. The drive to Kampala takes about an hour through the craziest traffic. We even go the wrong way on the highway and it seems that we are making up our own route. We zip past red soil and the air is filled with a hazy smoke. Storks glide overhead as we finally arrive at the hotel. I change dollars into Uganda shillings and enjoy a few beers at the hotel restaurant.

January 6, 2019
Start: Kampala, Uganda
Stop: Isunga – Kibale National Park

The room has AC but I still sweat all night long. Then there’s the smoke smell. All night I thought it was people smoking but once I go outside in the morning I realize it’s just the smoky air quality. Nassar is my guide and after a quick breakfast we hit the road. We roll and bounce and thump our way through village after town after village. After 4-5 hours we stop for a lunch buffet. I spend some of my precious schillings on a couple souvenirs.

After a short drive we arrive at the Chimpanzee Forest Lodge in Kibale National Park where I’m welcomed with a cool wash cloth and passion fruit juice. I only have about an hour to settle in before I go on a nature walk with Godfrey. We walk down and around Lake Nyabikere, one of the many lakes formed in the area by volcanic activity. I see farming families and lots of wildlife while the local kids say hello and give me high-fives. The Chimpanzee Forest Lodge is lovely and dinner is enjoyed while viewing the rolling terrain of tea throughout the valley below.

January 7, 2019
Isunga – Kibale National Park

Up early for Chimpanzee trekking and Nassar drives me a short distance deeper into Kibale National Park. The large group gets a briefing before being split into smaller groups. Our guide is Gerard and we start to slowly pick up the pace. All of a sudden I think an elephant in crashing through the forest behind us but it’s just one of the members of our group tumbling to the ground. At first we’re on trail but we soon venture off pushing through the forest toward the sound of chimpanzees. Their calls are loud and ruckus and I’m thinking this must be the soundtrack of Jane Goodall’s life. We see several chimpanzees in trees but they are quite far away.

We push deeper into the forest and at one point our guide is breaking down tree limbs so that we may pass. There’s something sharp that grabs at my pant leg and then my hand is slashed and then my hair is caught in thorns. The guide at the back of the group helps free me from the bramble and I rush to catch up with the group. We cross a road and then come to a giant tree full of chimpanzees eating breakfast. They are picking fruit and some falls to the ground. But chimpanzees don’t eat the fruit once it has fallen on the ground. Several of the other groups are there at the tree too but they all leave before us. Patience guide Gerard says. I’m lucky to be filming as a chimpanzee pees and poops not very far from me. The ultimate golden shower. We wait and one chimp comes down out of the tree. We follow him immediately and after a long while he stops. He does pose after pose, just like a model. The Thinker, showing all his teeth, yoga pose exposing his belly.

And then he decides to move on and we follow. Dang, they can move through the forest very fast. A lot faster than me that’s for sure. We hit a trail and wait while the chimp is up a tree. He descends in amazing fashion, moving to an adjacent tree before thumping its resonant base all while calling to his family. We hike a short distance back to the road and our guides appear in our transport vehicles. We actually take Gerard and his intern back to the ranger station before we return to the Chimpanzee Forest Lodge for lunch.

My afternoon activity is a 3 hour Bigoti Swamp Walk. Noah is my guide and even though he seems very young, he does a great job. We see lots of monkeys – Black-and-White Colobus, Red Tail, Red Colobus, Grey-cheeked Mangabey. And then there’s all the birds. There’s a very young boy selling clay figures and after talking to him a bit I can’t resist buying one. On the opposite side of the trail he has a small fire going where he roasted the corn that he’s munching on. Nasser drives me back to the lodge where I have a nice warm shower that’s heated by wood. Pizza and beer dinner overlooking the stretching landscape.