Uganda was another highlight of our trip as we were there to trek Gorillas. To keep the cost down we had booked a non direct flight to Entebee, so although our first flight was at 8.30am we arrived at 4pm and were met by the airport transfer we had arranged to take us to Kampala.
Looking out the windows of the car, the first thing that struck me was wow this is really Africa! It was totally different to South Africa, the roads were generally not tarred and the paths were dust and mud. The shops were shack huts put up with what ever material they could find and there was people everywhere! We got to the hotel that had been arranged by our tour company and were impressed with how nice it was considering where we were, even if half of the lights or the tv didn't really work! We thought we'd brave a walk around the area to see where we were, but quickly changed our minds as we got about 2 minutes down the road to realise we were in the middle of nowhere, and were attracting a lot of attention being the only white people around!
We were in Uganda to do a 4 day tour but as we had been moving around so much, and wanted to be in good shape for the Gorilla trekking, we had booked to stay in Kampala for 2 nights before being picked up to start our tour. Our first evening was spent in the hotel bar, where the TV did work, watching the football, then chilling in our room on our nice big bed with the free WiFi relaxing after the hectic week getting up at 4am while in Kruger.
The next day we wanted to at least see something of Kampala so asked about a taxi to take us into town about a mile away. We were quoted £20 return taxi which would have been expensive at home, let alone in the middle of Africa (like most other poor places there are 2 prices, one for locals and one for tourists. They assume tourists are so loaded that they can quote ridiculous prices for things and you won't batter an eyelid) and so decided we would brave it and walk the mile into town. That would have been fine if we didn't just get outside in time for the heavens to open and absolutely piss down on us! We had to hide in various shelters along the way waiting for it to ease off. At one point we got stuck on a road that had totally flooded, and literally hundreds of people were trying to get across, wading their way through the dirty water, it was chaos! We eventually squeezed through the middle where the water was only a couple of inches and managed not to get too wet, welcome to Africa!!
We wandered around the streets in town, sticking out like a sore thumb and constantly staying "no thank you" to everyone who came near us trying to flog us something, or offering us taxis or just begging, and eventually found a nandos to seek refuge in while we worked out where we were and where we wanted to go. We didn't want to make ourselves look vulnerable and get a map out in the middle of the street so weren't really sure where we were, but luckily when we checked the map we weren't too far off where we wanted to be! We needed to get some supplies so wanted to find a shopping centre but judging by shack shops that took up most of the town it wasn't going to be easy finding somewhere that either had decent stuff, or you weren't going to have to haggle to get a decent price. Luckily the Lonely planet did list one place on the other side of town that was supposed to be decent so we headed off in that direction, only getting lost once :-)
The shopping centre was surprisingly decent and we managed to find everything we wanted with little fuss. With our shopping done we braved the walk back, wanting to slowly stroll and take in everything that was going on around us, but in reality steaming past everyone to limit the amount of hassle we got, taking a wrong turn at some point and taking a back street detour route before arriving back at our hotel proud of ourselves for our little outing, but pleased to be back safely at the hotel. As there was nothing else to do, the evening was again spent in the bar eating an over priced and not overly exciting dinner, before heading to bed ready for our early start in the morning.
We were picked up by our tour guide Dan at 7am. We had booked a private tour, so although they did say that sometimes they grouped private tours together, we were pleased that we were the only 2 people.
The drive that day was supposed to be 9 hours, taking us right to the South West of Uganda where it bordered with Rwanda, and where the Gorilla mountains were. The first stop was the equator for a few pictures and all was going well until the van we were in (which had seen better days) decided not to start again and Dan suggested we had a cup of tea in the cafe while he looked at it. He then prompt drove off after some locals helped him kick start it, with all out stuff in the van, not to be seen again for 2 hours while we were sat in the cafe panicking that he was never coming back and had disappeared with all our stuff! 2 frantic phone calls to head office and 2 hours later he reappeared again having driven to the nearest town to get a replacement fan belt, and not considered it would be a good idea to let us know what was going on! Not a great start to the tour and as you can imagine we let him know we weren't at all impressed by the time we eventually got back in the van!
Assuring us that all was now good with the van we carried on going, stopping for a buffet lunch along the way while he sheepishly hid in the van, and it appeared that we were back on target. That was until the van started over heating and he asked us to get out on the side of the road next to a construction site, while he waited for the van to cool down and filled it with cold water that he'd paid a local boy to go and find for him. Although I felt a bit vulnerable standing at the side of the road, with all the locals who didn't have much else to do staring at us, it was actually nice to see how many people stopped and tried to help Dan with the van. Ugandan people are lovely, despite how poor they are they seem happy, with a real community spirit. Eventually we were back in the van, and after another stop at the side of the road later on for more water, and an unscheduled stop in a cafe in a town while Dan went to a mechanic to check out the over heating problem ( under strict instructions to come back and tell us if we were going to be sat there for another 2 hours) we eventually got to our guest house, a mere 4 hours late and just in time for dinner before the restaurant closed.
The guest house was lovely, basic but we couldn't believe how nice it was compared to all the local hotels we'd seen along the way which were basically shacks with a spare room. We ate a nice dinner then chilled out on our room, knowing we had an early start the next day, it was Gorilla day! :-)
We were picked up at 6.30am the next day and driven an hour and a half, over very bumpy dirt tracks through local villages and quite often at the edge of cliffs, to the Biwindi national park, home to 4 different families of Gorillas. We were directed to an induction area and were split into groups, our group being only 6 people, us and 2 other young couples, one Japanese which although we tried to chat to them about our Japan trip we didn't get very far as their English wasn't that good, and a lovely young German couple who had just started a years travel and were keen to hear about our experiences in South Africa.
During the induction we were given all the instructions of how to behave and what would be going on during the hike, including the warning that you might not even see the gorillas, lovely, and were told that the terrain would be touch, impenetrable they called it, and that we should expect a hard time! We were told that the trek could be anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours depending on where the gorillas are and that trackers had been sent out earlier that morning to find each gorilla family so they could let us know where they were. The gorilla family our group were trekking were 1 hour away the day before so we set off in that direction, along a relatively easy path for about 30 minutes and I was thinking this isn't so bad... until our guide gets a call on his radio with some news about where the gorillas are and starts chopping into the jungle with his knife and in we go walking on god knows whats, sometimes walking on nothing but a hole covered by leaves, that we promptly fell through, or walking up what felt like vertical slopes of loose soil that gave way as soon as you tried to climb up it so you had to grab onto tree's or plants a with thorns all over them (I spent a lot of time on my bum sliding down slopes that were too slippery to walk down) All the while dressed head to toe in thick clothes to protect you, which in the blistering heat wasn't fun at all! To say it was hard work would be an understatement!! Still we were all determined to get through it as we all wanted to see the gorillas. After about 2 hours of trekking our hard work was rewarded as we had finally reached the gorillas, we were not only relieved to be having a rest, but after the warning we were given about possibly not seeing them, that there they actually were!
We all stopped in our tracks as we saw a massive silver back sitting less than 5 meters away munching some leaves, he was massive, it was awesome. He wasn't overly impressed about being watched and after a few minutes wandered over to where we were sitting and went for the guide who was standing right next to me! It almost knocked me off my feet! Luckily the guard remained calm and smacked the tree with his knife to warn to gorilla off, not before I nearly had a heart attack tho! After that the silver back and his family weren't too impressed with us being there and we spent the next half an hour following them, with them moving on every time we caught up with them. I was thinking to myself that it wasn't what I was expecting and in my head they would just be sitting there while we sat near by and watched, not that we were going to have to chase them to get any sightings! When they finally decided enough was enough, they escaped up a tree and just sat there eating. Our guide chopped down some tree branches and bushes in between us and the tree the gorillas were in and at last we had our uninterrupted view! We all sat down and just watched the gorillas (and took a million photos) for nearly an hour while they chilled in the tree, staring at us most of the time just as interested in us and what we were doing as we were with them! It was amazing!! The silver back was at the top of the tree, grabbing branches and eating the berries, while the others (there was about 8 of them in total) sat in lower branches all taking it in turns to come into view and check us out. At one point one of the bigger ones came right into view near the bottom of the tree and did the banging on his chest thing!! Awesome! It was so cool just sitting there watching them, they were so human like with human stances and face expression (except for a baby one the kept swinging about, I don't think we're quite capable of doing that!)
After nearly an hour we were told we had disturbed the gorillas enough and it was time to move on. I asked if it was the same way back as we had come and was relived to be told that it was just a short trek down to the edge of the jungle then we could walk through the village back to where the van would pick us up. Brilliant I thought, having no energy to go back through the jungle, only to find out the 'village' was a series of steep hills and farm lands for about another hour back to the road. God knows how the villagers do that everyday! It was an amazing day but I was absolutely shattered by the time we got back to the hotel! Luckily all we had to do that evening was shower and nap and wait for dinner to be ready, then pass out!
The next day for some reason we had booked a hike up a volcano nearby. It must have sounded like a good idea at the time but after the gorilla trek we were absolutely done in and had no interest in another (12k and 8hr!) hike. We explained this to our guide, who although was somewhat reluctant, with some persuading agreed to speak to the hike guide and see if there was an easier version we could do. When we got there we were told that we could do an alternative nature walk to a gorge that was only 4 hours, with little elevation that was supposedly a lot easier, so obviously we jumped at it! Even that we struggled with! No elevation wasn't exactly accurate as we huffed and puffed our way up the fairly steep slopes of the gorge, stopping every 5 minutes to catch our breath and give our dead weight legs a rest. Finally we made it to the top and collapsed on the rocks to eat our lunch. The way back was much easier and was actually quite enjoyable, but the walk itself was a bit pointless, think we would have much preferred to just chill at the hotel for the day! Luckily as it was only a 4 hr walk we were back at the hotel just after lunch and had a lovely relaxing afternoon and evening chilling in the hotel garden catching up on our blogs.
In the morning we were picked up by Dan and drove the 9 hours back to our hotel in Kampala, this time with a working van, where we spent the evening relaxing in the hotel, in a room where the TV actually worked, and getting an early night absolutely shattered after getting up before 7am for the past 10 days.
Our rest was short lived however as we were picked up at 5am by our airport transfer and taken to Entebbe to get our flight to Nairobi.