A Travellerspoint blog

Murchison Falls National Park

From Riches to Rags

semi-overcast 23 °C

According to the guide book the road to Masindi was less than four hours but a man on the Posta Bus told us, to the amusement of all the passengers on board, that we had one hour of bumps and 5 hours of potholes between us and our stopover. He was uncannily accurate so it was with great relief that we piled off the bus when we did.

We had lunch in a tourist cafe in the hope of finding a hitch into the national park. Instead we just found food and soda. We caught the last matatu of the day to a town called Bulisa. Only 100km on the map it took over four hours to get there. Needless to say it was well and truly dark when we disembarked from the fourteen seater mini-van which until our exit had contained 27 souls.

An albino that sat near us had phoned ahead to make sure that some boda-bodas where there to meet us. After negotiating what we though was a good price we jumped on the back. My bike was carrying the driver, me, both Di's and my large packs and my day bag. With only a faint headlight we rode down the dirt road to Murchison Falls National Park by guidance of the moon. We nearly tipped when we hit some thick sand and I let out a half sarcastic half serious phew. The driver laughed and said no problem. The next time this happened we were doing nearly 40 km/h I gasped. The driver asked if it was my first time on a bike. I explained that although I had only been a passenger for the last few years I started riding when I was six years old. I resisted asking him if it was his first time on a bike.

We arrived at the park gates and were devastated to find that they were not marked on our map. They were several kilometres from where we wanted to go. To triple our woes it meant we had to pay unanticipated park fees for the night as well as the boda-boda entry fees, the drivers' entries and the drivers to take us the extra distance. The ATM had been malfunctioning in Masindi so our funds were low enough without this. We tried to coax the ranger into letting us camp outside the gates but he wouldn't allow it. With not many options we decided to wing it. Over sixteen hours after departing from Kampala we arrived at the Red-Chilli Camp. Food was finished for the night so Di asked the barman to boil some water for us. While it was on the cooker I set up the tent and Di set up the plates. We had some left over noodles from Selous so we ate them with the water. A couple of American guys took pity on our disheveled state and asked if we would like to join them for a safari drive in the morning. It was a very tempting offer but as they were leaving through another gate, it meant that we would have to miss the boat ride up to the falls.

Di ate a small breakfast but I refrained for the sake of saving our precious cash reserves. We walked down to the park headquarters and paid our for entry fees for the previous night. We also bought two tickets for the launch ride. We arrived at the dock a bit earlier and watched the workers spill litres of fuel into the protected river. The boat we used was a double decker launch. There was room for dozens of people on board but there were 4 spare seats to every taken one. On the way up the river the provided guide pointed out many birds that we had already seen as well as several species of antelope. Near the falls was crock territory but the dominant animal was the hippo. They filled the waters in their hundreds. Unlike the numerous times we have seen them in the past these ones stood up regularly displaying the entirety of their powerful bulk. The falls themselves were lack luster in my opinion. Apparently the most powerful falls in Africa or Uganda (I can't remember) they were more like a big hydro-chute than a waterfall. The boat didn't get very close to the base of them so in order to see them properly we would have had to pay another $10 to walk to the top and catch the afternoon launch back to camp. Even if we thought it was good value our cash situation would not allow it.

Back at camp our bags were waiting where we left them. I asked everywhere for a ride out of the park but no one was leaving until the following day. It was crunch time. We had just enough money on hand to pay for another set of park and camping fees and nothing else thus relying on a hitch to get away. Alternatively or we could safely get back to Masindi using public transport that day but waste the money we had and endure the reverse of the day before. We chose to play it safe, we waited by the side of the road hoping to grab a ride but no one leaves the park in the afternoon. We contracted a motorbike owned by a park staff member which meant we avoided the park fees. Somehow we managed to fit the driver, Di, me, two bulging backpacks and two day packs onto the one bike. The ride to Bulisa was a test of endurance. The exhaust also claimed the sole of Di's shoe. Even the Vietnamese would have been impressed with our effort.

As soon as we had unpacked the bike a matatu arrived but it was bound for Tororo not Masindi. I was doing some calculations and I figured that we may have just been able to visit the chimpanzees on our current cash, assuming that they were the listed $10 per person. On this basis we both skipped lunch.

We propped ourselves against a shaded wall and waited for the matatu that would never come. The one we had let pass was the last for the day. We tried hitching for 3 hours but no rides were forthcoming. Not that no one was willing to help, it was just that no one was going in our direction. We were just about to give up for the night when a truck pulled over. Bound for Masindi but overnighting in Biso. Fortune was serving us well as Biso is the nearest town to the Budongo Forest where we hoped to track the chimps. We took the cabin seats and immediately got engrossed in conversation with the driver and his colleague. Like so many people in Africa they seemed to think that everything I said was a joke even when I was being serious so we all had some good laughs at my expense.

Night had truly set in by the time our truck's worn out brakes brought our hitch to an end. Still hoping to make the chimps without having to return to Masindi we asked directions to the police station. There, under the watchful eye of Biso's finest we set up our tent in the compound. For some reason the the boys (and girl) in blue thought our tent too pitiful and offered us to stay in the cottage. We could never offend Big Agnes (our tent) like that so we politely declined. Despite our obvious intentions to conserve money some locals who looked no more filthy than ourselves tried to beg. We turned them away empty handed and went to bed with empty stomaches. I listened with horror to the guano raining down on Big Agnes from the overhead tree.

We emerged from the tent in the blue light of dawn. The policemen were doing the same and the personable female officer offered us some tea. We were more interested in the first matatu of the day which had just pulled into town. One of the more junior officers walked us over, guaranteeing us a seat in the already axle scraping Toyota. It was no more than 10 kilometres to the forest entrance where we were greeted by a rather eccentric Australian. We asked him if it was the place for chimp tracking. He responded by telling us in a mix of standard and cryptic English that it might be, there was lots of things to do in the forest and then completed his jumbled sentence by saying it was possible. The slightly less burdened Hi-Ace drove off and a jovial looking ranger walked up. The crazy, I'm guessing bird-watcher, Aussie took it upon himself to talk for us. He knew the ranger by name so he'd obviously been there for a while. The short and long of the response was that we couldn't see the chimps. The venture had ceased 18 months ago as the habituation of the animals had led to fearless behavior and ultimately crop raiding. A problem for the farmers and a danger for the chimps. After all that effort we had been thwarted. With nothing to do we waited for the next ride to town.

The first thing we did was to try and arrange some cash. It was a Monday so the ATM had been brought to a fully functional state. We had money again. No words needed to be spoken to agree on our next stop. The nearest restaurant was the obvious choice. I hadn't eaten for over 40 hours so like shopping on an empty stomache I ordered just about everything on the menu. Well not really but you can be sure I wasn't hungry when I paid the bill.

We called the number of a guy who runs a community based chimp tracking project. He came to meet us with no reason. The project wasn't ready yet. The chimps hadn't been habituated and the forest area wasn't fully developed. This left us with one option. We organised for a boda-boda to take us back into the National Park (via a closer gate) and onward to Kaninyo Pabidi. This meant that we needed to extend our park fees but the driver, to our benefit refused to pay for his.

The ride through the forest was refreshing. The greenery sapped heat from the ambient air, bringing the temperature down a few notches. As the wind gushed over my unprotected head I gazed around content. The light that shone through the branches had a green tinge, softening the usually harsh African landscape. We passed velvet monkeys, baboons and some stunning birds we were to later find our are called Abyssinian Hornbills. We rolled up to an elegantly crafted headquarters where a ranger met us. It was lunch time so we were asked to wait for an hour. They must have eaten quickly because three quarters of an hour later we set off to find the chimps. The trackers radioed their position but there was clearly some communication errors as we crossed our own tracks many times. The forest was divided into a grid pattern with very few identifiable landmarks for navigational purpose so we couldn't hold it against our otherwise agreeable ranger. Half an hour later we found the trackers right back near where we had started. They were sitting down on the path without even feigning interest. They had seen the chimps here but had since ceased tracking them. So we took over their duties, scouring the local area for indicators of the primates' presence. I was starting to worry that we would never see them when another 30 minutes passed by. I thought our ranger was getting ready to give up when a piercing and unmistakable shriek shook the forest to life. It was followed by another and then another. Soon our ears were ringing with the chimps' vocals. To add to the bush orchestra they started up the drums. Beating hollow logs and the bases of the trees they sent forth the trembles of deep bass. In just thirty seconds the forest had transformed. The sounds were all around me and my heart started racing.

We tracked them by their cries and made first contact in 5 minutes. They were walking along the ground in single file. We stood back and watched them from a distance to preserve trust. One by one they filed off into separate trees to begin feeding. Through dense foliage we saw a few chowing down on all varieties of green. We continued on for a better view and found it in the form of a one eyed chimp whose name escapes me. As if to put on a show he swung down low and leisurely across the path. His belly, swollen from a pure vegetarian diet distended in front of him. His big ears, hairy face and beer gut reminded me of Homer Simpson and other such loafy T.V characters. However his confidence when traversing the trees was unparalleled. A few of his comrades came to join the party whilst we stood watching. It was absolutely magical. As we looked on aghast some intern students studying the chimps barged through the trees like kings of the jungle, unsurprisingly the objects of our fascination scattered away into the distance.

We distanced ourselves from the research students and found another group of chimps. These ones were a little higher in the branches but clearly visible. I couldn't believe how quickly the allotted hour expired. On the way back to the headquarters our guide detoured via another part of the forest to show us some different trees including strangler figs and (rich) mahogany.

The clouds were closing in by the time we straddled the bike. We hoped to beat the rain to Masindi but two minutes later we found ourselves riding through a light downpour. We found a cheap hotel in town. The registration book indicated that we were the first people to stay there in 4 months

Posted by jaredlking 07:59 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Not much to report.

semi-overcast 25 °C

The last night in Bunyoni we had a few quiet beverages but it wasn't because of them that I woke up sick in the morning. For some reason it's always bus days when I get crook. Regardless of my comfort we pushed on. We caught a shared taxi to Kabale where we transferred to a bus bound for Kampala. There were no spare seats so we had to stand with our bags for over half of the six hour trip.

The bus arrived in a grubby, bustling part of the city. We were disorientated and somewhat nervous for our possessions so without much though we walked towards the built up district near by. We stopped in at a hotel called the Astoria. It was double what we'd usually spend but the rooms were huge as was the bed but the deal sealer was the fridge. I could finally make jelly (jello for Americans).

We glued ourselves to the precious tv for a news report. When it was over we returned to the streets. The sun had sunk but the streets remained as full as before. We ate dinner in a little greasy food joint and went to Shoprite. We were in heaven, it wasn't quite up to scratch of a supermarket back home but there were no complaints from our corner, they even had jelly crystals. I was ready to spend the night there but closing time came around so we muscled our way back to the comfort of our hotel.

The main reason we had come to Kampala was that I needed some reliable internet to punch out a resume and get started on some job applications. As such I had an uninspiring day in front of the computer trying to promote myself as well as I could. All the time knowing that it was going to be especially hard when I couldn't make any interviews. The only break came for lunch. When I had had enough for the day the hundreds of dvd pirate joints around the place led to us hiring a dvd player and a few movies. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching a range of shitty and quality productions.

Of course the late night meant a late morning, this, in coalition with an enduring power failure meant it wasn't until the afternoon that I sent off my first application. Overwhelming heat inside the cafe and sporadic power forced me from my post. I hadn't achieved as much as I wanted in the two days spent in Kampala but I didn't want to stick around too long. If nothing else we had some good food (especially jelly), watched our second (and subsequent) movie since leaving home four months earlier and I had sent off my most important application.

Posted by jaredlking 07:55 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Laku Bunyoni

Chilling Out, Relaxing, All Maxing, All Cool

all seasons in one day 22 °C

Joseph drove us to the bus in the morning. Obviously we were late because he drove like a man possessed. We screamed in beside the bus and annoyed a lot of people as we showered them with muddy puddle water. We were rushed onto the bus without a chance to say a proper goodbye.

The bus conductor asked us for a large sum of money relative to the distance we were traveling so we refused. He continued to argue that it was the right price but some of the other passengers were laughing. When we asked them if he was charging too much they told us he was. He gave up on us and started dishing out tickets to the other passengers but because of the furor we had caused many of them were skeptical and insisted that they would only pay at the ticket office. In the end we coughed up the fee on the basis that we took his name so we could get some money back at the office in Kabale. When we arrived we went straight to the office and asked how much for a ticket to Kisoro, it was exactly what we had paid. We felt quite bad for the man as we had virtually called him a liar but in reality he was one of the few people who had offered us the right price off the bat.

We stopped in for breakfast at a local restaurant. After paying I told Di I was going to look for a waterproof jacket. My main objective was actually to pick up some chocolate on the sly for Easter. I bought three small blocks from a local store and to give truth to my alibi I went in search of some rain gear. I went to the market and through dozens of shops but in a town were it rains every day no one had a rain coat.

I went back and collected Di who was waiting at the restaurant. We caught a shared taxi out to Lake Bunyoni, the driver dropped us at a place called the Overlanders but it was one of those horrific backpacker haunts pumping out shitty music until all hours whilst overcharging on food and drinks to the people who never leave the compound. We walked around the corner and found a beautiful place which offered affordable camping. Like most guest houses in the area it had a perfectly manicured lawn area, basic facilities and lake frontage complete with diving board and sun baking platform. After pitching the tent and lapping up our surroundings we realised lunch time had snuck up on us. I went in search of some cheap lunch and a local pointed out a little dingy restaurant to me. It was precooked food; beans, matoke, potatoes and eel stew. One massive bowl was 500 shillings, about 30 cents. It tasted ok but the monotony was overwhelming so the last few mouthfuls were a struggle. Di opted to eat chips instead so we sat on the deck of the hotel restaurant looking out to the lake beyond and waited two hours for the chips and guacamole to be delivered.

In the afternoon the beckoning of the kids became too much so I joined them for a swim. The water temperature was as breathtaking as the scenery but it was warm enough to adjust to. When the kids saw Di pull out the video camera they put on a little show of singing and dancing just so they could watch it back. They were so eager to perform that it was hard to get away from them when we were ready to leave. The hotel provided some water for a rejuvenating hot shower. Finally we sat in a little stilted rotunda perched over the water, drinking beers and laughing at the tourists in dugout canoes doing circles until the sun went down. We had dinner overlooking the lake. It took another two hours to prepare so we made a point of ordering well in advance for future meals.

The next morning we walked to the main boat dock where we picked up a dugout that we had organised to hire the day before. We took off with confidence but pretty soon we were looking like the people we had been laughing at. We wanted to make our way to an island for lunch but with the lack of a map and the circles we kept allowing our boat to turn it was no easy task. It's not that I am unfamiliar with paddling, whilst I am no expert I am perfectly capable of rowing and ruddering an ordinary canoe. The dugouts have a mind of their own, I imagine their behavior is a tribute to the fact that they are no more than hollow tree trunks. We tried so many ways to correct the boat but to my absolute frustration nothing seemed to work. Despite all the spinning we were gradually leaving our camp behind. We stopped in to ask directions from a local fisherman and he pointed to a place out of sight. Change of plans, we opted to head to an island that we had passed by earlier. Before we left, the fisherman insisted that he explain in almost incomprehensible English how to fish and then invited us back to his house. We had no idea where his house was or even if we were capable of rowing their so we regretfully reclined. We had lunch on Nature's Prime Island. This time we waited for an hour for the food and as long for the change. When we finally got away we both agreed that we needed more practice so we made for Overlanders. We got there in good time without doing a single corkscrew. After grabbing a beer from the bar we realised that we had dropped a small sum off money. We chose to check back at the lunch spot before returning the boat. Whilst we never retrieved the cash we did get plenty of practice at steering the canoe.

We ate dinner at our restaurant as the staff had gone out of their way to heat up the oven so they could make Di a pizza. We watched a football match on T.V. until halftime when we walked to the Overlanders. They were the only place showing the Everton vs. Westham match and as it was a crucial game so we really wanted to watch it. For the remainder of the evening we sat around the idiot box with the local football aficionados only to watch a draw. Still it got my heart racing and I don't get to watch soccer much in Australia so it wasn't all bad.

My body clock woke me several times during the night but each time Di seemed a little to restless for me to move. Finally at about five I took an opening. I pulled the chocolate from its hiding place and laid them gently on the end of Di's sleeping bag. At about 6:30 I woke again, this time I announced to Di that "The Easter Bunny has been". She sat up as quick as a cobra strike and polished off the first two bars in about the same amount of time. I couldn't believe that Di had forgotten Easter. This special day marked not only the anniversary of Jesus' ressurection but also heralded the launch of our Lake Bunyoni tour. We hired a dugout from the hotel and packed all the gear we needed for the next three days into one bag. The rain kept us at bay for a good while but it began to dwindle in the late morning so we set off in light drizzle. Thanks to our developed skills we made a reasonably straight line for the mouth of the inlet we had been residing in. We passed another mzungu a fair way out and also a motorboat full of gawking, head-shaking tourists. Some friendly fisherman returning with the morning's catch gave us some brief instructions on how to get to our destination, Bushara Island. When we rounded the large land mass that was blocking a majority of the lake we could see what we hoped was Bushara Island just across a short, open straight. We took on a little water from the waves during the crossing but nothing serious. We drew up to a vacant pier but the attached sign insisted we circumnavigate the island until we found the Pelican landing. On our way around we saw some girls on a nature walk and they confirmed that we were indeed at Bushara. We found the public landing point and some helpful staff lodged our vessel in the reeds to stop it being taken by the wind.

We made our way to the reception where we paid our western priced camp fees. It was a long trudge to the designated camping zone and we weren't the only ones there. Two gigantic tents, larger than the average African house, stood proudly in the best locales. We set up between the two monstrosities, if nothing else they would make good wind blocks. When we returned to the main communal area a local orphanage performed a song and dance show whilst we waited for our pre-ordered food. The meals were absolutely delicious, among the best we'd had in Africa. After lunch we took some borrowed, dodgey looking badminton racquets to the volleyball net for some sporting action. It wasn't such a success story though as the shuttlecock passed through the strings as often as it went over the net. In the closing hours of daylight we took a walk around the perimeter of the island. The path was covered by a canopy of trees but we never lost sight of the lapping waters. The calls of birds were the only noises we heard on the walk. Along the way we saw a semi-beached, half-completed dugout a few metres from the path. The number of coin-sized wood chips sitting on the surrounding grass gave an indicator of how long a single boat must take to construct.

At night we met some former Ugandan come Rwandan expats who we chatted with about a whole range of topics. It turned out they were the ones sleeping in the the biggest tent. A little embarrassed I asked if they had heard us joking about it when we arrived. They had but they were unphased, quite believably they were used to it.

After breakfast we walked down to the pier with the bag. Where our boat had been there was now nothing. A little stumped we said nothing for a while. When we did ask around no one knew anything. I went back to reception but they knew nothing either. Apparently the two guys who saw us dock had been found and sent out in search of our canoe. It was distinguishable by it being one of the only unmarked dugouts on Bunyoni. Someone told us that it had probably blown away but unless someone had put it in harms way, that was virtually impossible. Someone else told us that lost boats usually take 2-4 weeks to show up. Against recommendation we decided to sit around for a while just in case it was found. To replace it was going to cost 300,000 Ugandan Shillings so we were over the moon when two nail biting hours later it was delivered safely to our hands. We had been watching the search party return with a boat from a small village on the lake's shore but it wasn't until they were within a few metres that we could positively identify it. Whilst onlookers suggested it had been taken by the wind it was pretty obvious that after an Easter lunch some tight ass had decided to steal our boat rather than pay the 200 shilling passenger fee. Regardless of the circumstances we were both very happy and gave an uncharacteristically high tip.

The delay had not infringed on our plan to reach Byoona Amagara, Itambira Island that night. We surprised ourselves by completing the paddle in just over an hour. Along the way we proudly stream lined past some mzungus we had spoken to earlier that had been adamant their boat was broken. We also passed a primary school on one of the islands but the children were obviously locked away as they didn't rush down to the shore to greet us. Like the pier at Bushara, Byoona Amagara had no chain to lock up our boat but we got an assurance from a staff member that our boat would be there in the morning.

The change of facilities from Bushara was an indicator of the change of clientèle. The Lazer sail boat had been swapped for a book exchange and the volleyball net for a mini-cinema. When we arrived the place was deserted so we sat on the deck and ate what was hands down the best vegetarian meal of my life. As the day drew on the overlander groups arrived in bulk and the place soon became over run with girls in mini-skirts and people getting pissed and noisily airing their views on anything they could think of. It's funny, a couple of times I have been traveling with a group of friends and we would have loved it but with my girlfriend in Africa I couldn't bare to be there. I grabbed a puzzle book off the shelf and we went down to the water front to escape it all. It was a far cry from the bar area upstairs as we chatted away with a German family who came down for a swim.

We had a long sleep as we used the tent for refuge. Before the other tourists arose with pounding headaches we ate and ran. We wanted to get the boat back before it started raining. The trip was just shorter than the two previous days combined so our conservative estimate was just over three hours. It actually took us just over 1. There were two of us in the boat but it was comforting that we were at least quicker than the locals going it solo.

When we got back I relayed the story of the lost boat to the super friendly manager. He gave me the impression that he wouldn't have minded too much, as long as it showed up in the long-run. Di and I were in no rush to leave the lake so I had another swim before we settled down for some cards. In the midst of a round of two-handed five hundred my attention was drawn to some footsteps coming down the path to where we sat. The smiling face of Miguel (from the Tanzanian safari) appeared from above the roof line. We put the cads down and caught up on everything that had passed between our rushed farewell and the present. We were happy to hear that the rest of his safari had gone well. At Miguels suggestion we paced up a hill behind our hotel to catch some good lake views before the threatening skies opened up.

Posted by jaredlking 01:30 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kisoro and Mgahinga National Park

A very warm welcome

rain 19 °C

We caught a mini-van from Ruhengeri to the Ugandan border. We were swapping some money when a man came up and introduced himself as Joseph. He asked if we wanted to do any tours whilst we were in the area but we told him we were going to do it all independently. Then he started with the usual small talk: "where are you from?". "Australia". The conversation veered from the expected path. Joseph proceeded to tell us that he had been there just recently, to visit his friend: Jamie Dury. This caught me by surprise and I laughed out loud (Jamie Dury is a B grade T.V. celebrity in Australia but still a household name). He offered us a cheap ride into town then gave us some time to fulfill our border crossing administration duties.

He swung the car around to pick us up from the office doors and fishtailed his sedan along the mud ridden road all the way to Kisoro. Throughout the drive he filled us in on Jamie Dury's private life and offered us his contact details. We almost took them just so we could warn the man.

Apparently the hotel we had considered was no longer operating so Joseph suggested another one or if we wanted to save some money we could stay in his house. I looked back at Di and she shrugged. He took us to the bank and then back to his place where we were introduced to his wife Susan and son Duncan.

His residence was a mansion for a native African. It had two bedrooms, a lounge room, a random room and a garage/kitchen. There was no ceiling but the roof was made from corrugated iron and the house was furnished. We hung around for a little while before wandering into town for something to do. Walking in the opposite direction was a cow with metre long horns. How it could support them I didn't know.

Kisoro is a tiny little place with very little to see so we just had lunch, bought Duncan a lollipop and read up on Mgahinga in the park's office. We chose a few walks which looked good and worked out the prices. Three or more days in Uganda was the same price as the daily rate in Rwanda. I saw Joseph on the street and asked him if he liked beer, he told me that he and Susan always drink it at night. Di and I decided to pick some up to say thank you. Joseph drove off to take care of some business and Di and I walked back to the house.

Susan had already started cooking dinner and was making enough for us as well. We sat on the garage floor and chatted with her while she prepared the food. Not much later Joseph walked through the door with a bucket full of beers, he'd beaten us to it. It was a really nice feeling to be welcomed so warmly into a new country and a great cultural experience. We shared dinner together but it wasn't all peaceful as Duncan was misbehaving. No wonder though as Susan had given some of her beer to a young girl that was visiting and in turn Duncan had been drinking it. Considering he was only two it was a bit concerning.

We contracted Joseph to ferry us to and from the park as a sort of repayment, plus it was a good price. We left early in the morning and it took about 20 minutes. Whilst we bounced along Joseph told us about his trip to Australia, how Jamie had paid for everything and also bought him the car. They had met when Jamie came to tour the area and before he left he started up his own orphanage.

We had planned to begin a walk at 1pm on the advice of the ranger in town so we were in no rush. We pitched the tent in a campsite near the gates and in good time made our way to the headquarters. We were told pretty quickly that we had not allowed enough time for the place we wanted to reach and that we should consider a different walk. Instead we rushed to get ready and left as soon as we could. Our destination was the Sabinyo Gorge.

Due to time restrictions we were briefed on the go. We started out in what was described as something like stage 1 forest. Which was basically land that had been claimed in a re-gazetting of park boundaries. It was unspectacular but the forest was developing. The ground was covered in buffalo shit but we did not see any culprits. The stage two growth boundary was obvious, even without the signs. The flora was well developed and dense. The area began with a looming bamboo forest which offered a peaceful surrounding and shade from the sun.

The path began to deteriorate until it was little more than a continuous mud bog so we were grateful for the gore-tex shoes. We passed some unfamiliar droppings and I asked what they were. "Gorillas, one week old", I was dubious, they looked awfully fresh but he was the expert not me. We continued to climb towards Mt Sabinyo and turned off near the base. The path to the gorge was overgrown from above and below, so the going was slow. Apparently no one does this climb in the wet season due to the slippery route.

After tackling a few crude but effective ladders and avoiding as many thistles and nettles as possible we reached the river. For the final few kilometres of ascent we walked up the river itself rather than following a path. The rocks were mossy and grippy holds were at a premium but we were never allowed to forget it as our over zealous guide reminded us multiple times every minute. On the way to the top we passed a few nice pools and some little waterfalls. When we dared take our eyes off our feet we could see ferns, nettles with a 1m diametre and other rain forest plants running to the horizon. Looking up the hill the gorge ran into a steep cliff face and far above that were the three peaks Mount Sabinyo.

There were many turn around points that the guide suggested but we constantly refused. The one we finally took could not be ignored. We reached the cliff that we had been watching from the bottom. Now that we were there we could see that it was actually a waterfall which marked the start of the gorge. We ate some chapatti at the base of it, savouring the serenity. It was a truly peaceful place and if it wasn't for the dark clouds developing I could have lounged around and soaked it up for hours.

We made it out of the gorge just before the rain set in. That didn't spare me from two hours of torrential down pour without a waterproof jacket. When we finally got back I was soaked to the core, as was my bag. We changed into some dry clothes and the lodge manager lit an open fire which we hung our clothes in front of in the hope that they would dry. It was a really cosy night and I hated to think what it would have been like without the lodge and fire.

We planned to track golden monkeys on the second day but when we arrived at the office they relayed bad news. Over the past 5 days trackers had been sent out in increasingly bigger numbers but had failed to locate the primates each time. We made a quick change of plans. An assault on the smallest of the three volcanoes in the park, Mount Mgahinga. The name translates to a small pile of stones but from where I stood the 3474 metre high cone looked like a whole lot more than a mound of rocks. Because of our late start or just to prove a point our ranger took off like a rocket and wore Di out in no time. It was frustrating because we still had all day, there was no need to go so fast. We were pushing on but I was already resigned to the likelyhood of not reaching the peak when a call came over the radio, they had located the monkeys. It didn't take much time to decide to turn back.

When we entered the bamboo forest we turned off the track and started bush bashing. After fifteen minutes of fending off branches we found the trackers and in turn the monkeys. They were sitting in the lofty branches of the bamboo eating the shoots. It was hard to get a clear view of them but occasionally we got quite close. Their appearance was not so spectacular but the way they bounded around on the bamboo as it flexed and sprung under their weight was really impressive. They moved so much that we were running to keep up with them. We were allowed only one hour in their company and it flew by. It took about an hour and a half to walk back to base. We had a late lunch and did very little for the remainder of the afternoon.

There was another couple staying in the camp and they had summited Mt Sabinyo whilst we were at the monkeys. On the way they had seen gorillas, without paying the $500 fee! I tried to be happy for them but I couldn't help but be a little jealous. If our original plans had of been allowed, we would have seen the gorillas.

Di was exhausted and didn't want to walk the next day and I didn't want to walk while she sat around the lodge so we called Joseph and asked him to pick us up a day early. He asked if we wanted to stay at his house again so we did. Susan was surprised as she had expected us the next day. We offered to take them out to dinner but Joseph was out until late so she cooked again. When Joseph came home he had even more beers than last time. At least he let us pay for these ones. At dinner time Susan apologised for the food saying that if she had of known we were coming she would have cooked something else. Despite her protests the food was a very nice traditional meal. Matoke, beans and potatoes.

Our phone was flat when we went to bed so Joseph set his alarm for 5am, bus hour.

Posted by jaredlking 06:54 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kibuye, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri

Up, Up and Away

rain 18 °C

It was more for our distaste of wearing backpacks whilst riding a motorbike than tight ass tendencies which led us to take the mini-bus to the top of the hill. We stood by the side of the road as dozens of packed buses passed us by. After 30 minutes and a few side adventures we found one with empty seats. I stuffed the bags in the back while Di clambered aboard. When I got in Di looked me in the eyes and said "we're in a school bus" I turned around to survey the scene and a dozen kids in uniform stared back. I burst out laughing and so did they. In fact they didn't stop until we got out. Actually, with all probability they kept laughing until lunchtime.

The Lonely Planet warned that the Cyangugu-Kibuye route had only one bus per day and nothing else so we made sure we had a seat. Before we took off the driver said a prayer with the passengers. It was delivered with gusto and I assumed he was Pentecostal. As we drove off the bus broke into song and didn't stop for hours. I was astounded that an entire bus load of people could sing so well. The road was bumpy and would probably be considered fit for 4WDs only back home but after 4 security stops we arrived at what the conductor called Kibuye. We were both hesitant because no one else got out. On top of that Kibuye looked like it consisted of nothing more than a tree and a dirt car park.

Still unsure we left the bus. A guy asked us if we wanted to see Hotel Bethanie, per chance we did so we let him take us there. It was a descent hike but well worth the effort. It fronted straight onto the lake and had everything we needed. We had lunch sitting no more than 1m from the lapping lake waters. After our food settled we walked to another part of town which looked slightly more developed. Upon arrival we discovered we were wrong. We had a chat to some fishermen and milled around for a while but the threatening weather and the few thousand metres between us and the hotel called for a retreat. We settled in to some comfy chairs and watched the storm roll in. The rain was practically horizontal and the sky was almost constantly illuminated by lightening. If the setting wasn't amazing enough a rainbow formed with one end striking the water only a couple of dozen metres from the restaurant, we even got a photo. Locked inside by the torrential rain we spent the rest of the day between our room and the restaurant.

Kibuye was a beautiful place, possibly the most scenic destination of our trip but there was nothing to do. With a cheap water-skiing operation or some walking we would definitely have stayed longer, but there wasn't. So after just one night we caught the bus to Gisenyi. Due to being misinformed about departure times and bad alarm setting on our part we waited for over two hours watching the local minors acted like wanna be hoodlums. The trip to Gisenyi was much the same as the previous day's journey, minus the singing and road blocks.

I had just finished unloading our bags when a fight broke out. Ever minute of every day we see some people tussling on the street in Africa but nothing like this. Two guys were beating the crap out of another man while a crowd gathered around to watch and laugh. It seemed so fitting that the only real fight we have seen was in Rwanda, it's not a country that leaves you feeling at ease.

Gisenyi is a known expat weekend retreat so we expected it to be quite developed but the streets were unpaved and the buildings neglected. Our hotel was much the same as the rest of the town but nice on the inside. We walked down to the beach in the afternoon. I had full intentions of swimming but a few plastic bags put me off, although I was being soft because the water was generally clean.

We took a seat on some grass to save getting sand through the few clean clothes we had. A few local guys came up to have a chat and practice their English. It was hilarious because one of them wanted some hot tips on how to pick up white women. He was a human rights lawyer, in super fit shape and well spoken. So we said move to a western country, get a job and dress well. We asked him what was wrong with the local girls and he said that he just wants to surprise his family. We started walking back when the clockwork-esque rains came in. We were refined indoors for the last hour or so of daylight.

Despite having spent less than 24 hours in Gisenyi we decided to leave the next morning. There was nothing wrong with the town, but nothing really going on either. We caught a mini-van the short hop to Ruhengeri where we intended to do some trekking. We went to a tiny little park's office in the middle of no where to inquire about the fees for Parc De Volcanes. It cost something like $50 each per day just for entry and then all sorts of extras on top of that. I considered it just because it felt like we had passed in and out of Rwanda having done very little but knowing that the fees were much cheaper just over the border in the continuous Mgahinga National Park in Uganda we passed it up. The rain came again and we wasted the afternoon and night.

In the end I almost regret going to Rwanda. The genocide memorials were well worth while but beyond that I didn't feel welcome. It was a case of give us your money and get out. It started with the $60 two week visa and persisted at the national parks.

Posted by jaredlking 06:12 Archived in Rwanda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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