Uganda: The Pearl of Africa
I have to admit that if you are expecting big herds with a countless amount of animals (as you would see in Tanzania and Kenya), will be a little disappointed. The wildlife in Uganda still carries the scars of the bloody regime of dictator Idi Amin, during which animals were killed on a big scale because of a big famine among the population. Nature is recovering and in present day, there is a big variety of wildlife in all the parks we visited.
From Entebbe where we landed, our trip brought us to the north of the country. First we visited the Zhiwa Rhino Sanctuary; the only place in Uganda to see the rhino. In this fenced area of 70 square km, rhinos are safe from poachers, as they are protected 24/7 by a team of rangers controlling every movement by foot, by car and by air. During a walking safari, we encountered a few adult animals. They are amazing!
We continued the drive and arrived in Murchison Falls National Park, situated in the north of the country. We made game drives and saw lions, Jackson’s hartebeests, impala’s, topi’s, buffalo’s, giraffes, Uganda kobs and warthogs. Another adventure was a boat-trip on the Victoria Nile to the falls. The landscapes were amazing and during this boat-trip, we could enjoy the wildlife in the water and on the riverbanks. A big variety of animals appeared and we saw hippo’s, different species of waterbirds, warthogs, buffalo’s, elephants and Nile crocodiles. The Murchison Falls are really stunning. At a certain point, people can leave the boat and make a short hike to the top of the falls. From there, we got a beautiful view of the waterfalls, the Victoria Nile and the environment. In the Nile-delta, we could also see the very rare Shoebill stork. From this species, only 70 are still living in whole Uganda. Even our guide was surprised to see one!
From the north, we drove southwest. We passed several rural villages, where we had contact with the friendly local people. Next on our program was Kibale Forest NP in Fort Portal to do chimpanzee-tracking. In the morning, we left through the jungle and after a couple of hours, we experienced some magic moments when the first chimpanzee appeared. It’s really emotional and wonderful to encounter these intelligent animals in their natural habitat; to hear them communicate to each other is really breathtaking. Long before we saw them, we could hear the echoes of their screaming through the jungle. A really thrilling noise!
In the afternoon, there were more monkeys on the program and we went to Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, where lives a different variety of monkeys, butterflies and birds in the jungle. In that beautiful environment, we could encounter different species of monkeys as the Black-and-white Colobus, the Red colobus, the Grey Cheeked mangabey and also many exotic birds. The flora in this lush green forest was exuberant as well. We saw papyrus, lotus and at the outer edge of the sanctuary was a coffee plantation where locals were at work. In the green neighbourhood of Fort Portal, we saw many tea plantations as well.
During the drive to the area of Queen Elisabeth, we asked our guide to make a stop at a local market. We had the intention to buy some second hand clothes that we could donate when visiting needy people. I always love strolling around at local markets and think that is the perfect way to experience the local atmosphere and daily life.
The Queen Elisabeth NP was our next stop. This park was founded in 1952 and is the oldest NP in Uganda. It is situated at the banks of the Lake Edward and Lake George (also at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains). All kinds of landscapes can be seen in this park. There is the Kazinga Channel as well. This waterway forms the connection between the Lakes Edward and George. Here we did mores game-drives and a boat-safari on the Kazinga Channel that is a real paradise for bird watching, as countless species of waterbirds can be seen in this area. During the game-drives were appeared Uganda kobs, waterbucks, buffalo’s, elephants and also the Ankole cows with their huge horns. In the Queen Elisabeth NP is an area called the Ishasha sector. In this area, tree-climbing lions can be seen. We were very unlucky; we made two game-drives but didn’t saw one. Because of a fire, we had to cancel one game-drive and so we arranged an interesting village-walk with a guide from the lodge. Again, we had a lot of nice contact with the locals of the village and donated some clothes for mothers with babies.
The day after our gorilla-tracking (read about my experience here), we visited the Batwa people. To reach their villages, we drove through the Kigezi Higlands, also called the Switserland of Uganda. This region is situated on the border Uganda – DR Congo. This trip was a little risky. When the situation in Congo is restless, many refugees try to cross the border and indeed, we saw many white trucks with the blue logo of UNCHR, we know from TV-news, passing us. At the moment we were there, they were only active for surveillance of this area in case of need.
The Batwa pygmie people were the original residents of the Bwindi jungle. As this area became a National Park, they were forced to move. In danger of losing their ancient culture and voiceless because they are nomadic people who have never settled in one location, they couldn’t claim land. They now have to live on the outer edges of the jungle and the NP. Their fate is not enviable. We learned about their ancient methods for hunting, conservation of food, natural medicines on base of plants, methods for collecting honey, celebration ceremonies and religious ceremonies.
Because these people must live on the edge of society , poverty is a big problem. We donated the rest of the second hand clothes and a package of school materials. The very friendly Batwa were so grateful for our help.
Next stop on our program was Lake Buyonyi, where we had a short stay for a little relaxation at the lakeside. We filled the day with a short walk to the village and watched daily life at the small market. For the rest of the day, we were lazy at the swimming pool.
After that short relaxing stay, we continued the next morning to Lake Mburo National Park. This is the only place in Uganda where people can see zebra’s. More specifically, it is the Burchell zebra that is living in this park. We made a few game-drives and did a nice boat-safari on the lake. We saw many hippo’s, crocodiles, many kinds of Kingfishers and other species of water-birds. The garden of the lodge was home to a large colony of Vervet monkeys. They used to hang around between the cottages and it was lovely to see them playing and socializing with each other.
On our last day, we made an early game-drive, our last one! We would experience how nature awakes and we saw giraffes, many zebra’s, impala’s, buffalo’s, some warthogs and waterbucks.
This was the end of our safari. A last drive to the airport of Entebbe and our Uganda-adventure was history. This magnificent country with its truly friendly and warm people has conquered a place in our hearts forever. I have a deep respect for these people. In the past, this country was the scene for a lot of bloodshed but today, they look forward with a great positive attitude towards the future. There is still a long way to go for this country. I am convinced it is the hidden gem of Africa and I can only say, go and discover it by yourself.