Gorilla Hanky-panky

The UWA guide emphatically motioned me over so I left the silverback under the thicket and to my surprise, there were mating gorillas. As in all wildlife breeding, the deed is quick and perfunctory. The male dismounted and abruptly moved away from the female. I was surprised by the total silence, not one grunt, until our guide whispered that only the silverback mates with females in the troop and since he was a few yards away, both gorillas knew if the silverback heard, one or both of them would have been beaten.

The jungle quickie was instigated by the 4th blackback, Mahoozi, meaning there are 3 older blackbacks, which leads me to question if this kind of forbidden copulation frequently occurs and by the other males? Hmm, human-like, you say……

The 3-hour trek to see the Nkuringo gorilla family had been steep, up and down multiple times in muddy, slippery conditions. Of course the pain melts away the moment you see the gorillas! This particular family, headed by silverback Rafiki, has 16 members; I estimate we saw 9 or 10 of them as they move around and look alike. Rafiki stayed pretty much under the jungle thicket alternating between sleeping and eating. The highlight in addition to our hanky-panky pair, Mahoozi and Kiiza, was mother and baby who lounged at the edge of the thicket. Mom is named Kuhirwa; babies are not named until about age 2 when they have developed physical or personality traits. Their interaction was so motherly and sweet – pretty much exactly what you’d expect humans to do. 

Later, I was photographing Rafiki when an UWA guide grabbed my arm and moved me. I turned around to see a juvenile gorilla under a bush behind me. He popped out and smacked the guide in the legs which was funny and the first time I’ve seen that.

This was my 5th gorilla trek and seeing gorillas is as exciting and awe inspiring as the first. It’s so cliché to say how human-like they are but there’s no other way to describe these very large cousins of ours. I always wonder what they think of us watching them for an hour every day?

This is Rwanmutwe, or big head boy! (left)

About 55 or 56 minutes into our hour-long visit, we heard thunder, it drizzled for about 30 seconds then the sky opened up. Our porters came to meet us (they do not follow you once the gorillas are spotted) but we were already drenched by the time we put on rain gear. The gorillas huddled under the jungle canopy to get out of the rain so we were lucky to have our time with them in the open. The trek back was miserable, slipperier than ever and perilous at times going downhill in the mud. I’ve never been the slow one before, but this time, I was “that person” in the group. I’ll blame it on my 7 knee surgeries as every downhill step was agonizingly painful.

I could not have made this trek without my porter and I think everyone on the fam felt the same way. It’s good to hire a porter to support local employment and make sure villagers benefit from tourism. After our 7-hour day we finally made it to the UWA center, received our gorilla certificates, and all was good! Spending time with these gentle giants wiped away the pain of the steep, muddy, pouring-rain and thunder-booming trek back.

This was my first trek in Nkuringo, the southern side of Bwindi instead of the Buhoma side. You fly into Kisoro airstrip vs. Kihihi for Buhoma. It’s a steeper area of Bwindi, more mountainous and quite beautiful. Clouds is the best known lodge here and is a stunning property with incredible views when it’s not raining. Probably not fair to review our stay here as it was the new managers’ 4th day and things weren’t up to its 5* reputation. I trust they will get things working soon as their sister lodge in Kidepo is so well-run.

We drove to Katara Lodge right outside Queen Elizabeth National Park but due to heavy rains and muddy roads we were unable to drive up through Ishasha and look for tree climbing lions. It was still a beautiful drive as Uganda is picturesque whether from the air or ground. One thing you’ll notice is how neat, clean and prosperous the villages are compared to other countries.

Eco-friendly, solar powered Katara Lodge is a lovely little community owned and managed lodge on a hill overlooking QENP. Each bungalow offers expansive views of the Great Rift Valley and the pool has an infinity salt water pool taking advantage of their hill perch. Bungalows have a star bed that rolls out but we were unable to take advantage of that experience due to weather. We went to the Katara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group’s store and bought charming paper gifts made from elephant dung. It’s one of the many creative enterprises helping local communities benefit and peacefully co-exist with wildlife.

As fams always go too quickly, we only had one boat safari on the Kazinga Channel that connects Lakes George and Edward. Do take a private boat as we did which allows you to get closer to shore and spend as much time looking at the plethora of birds, hippos, crocodiles or whatever else you happen to see along the shore.

We flew from the Kasese airstrip to Entebbe, onto Kidepo Valley National Park, one of Uganda’s hidden gems. CNN Travel calls Kidepo the 2nd best safari destination in all of Africa. The park is stunningly beautiful with large Cape buffalo and elephant herds, Rothschild giraffe, lions, leopards, cheetah, many antelopes and around 475 bird species. Another surprise is you’ll see few if any other vehicles….like having your own national park!

Apoka Safari Lodge is the only luxury property in the park and it’s truly a gem! Each room has a verandah with savannah views. In fact upon getting to our room, within 10 minutes we had a cheetah hunting right outside our verandah! Service is lovely and management quite hospitable and helpful. When as a vegetarian I asked the manager if we could not eat pasta for lunch and dinner, she had the chef prepare lentils for protein based meals each day. Much appreciated!

Possibly one of the coolest sundowners I’ve ever experienced was on our second night there. We went to Amudwas Kopje about a 200 foot climb up, and at the top the Apoka staff had set up a sundowner bar. What an amazing surprise and stunning view from the top overlooking the Kidepo savannah!

We started and ended our trip at the oddly named, Hotel #5 which is close to Entebbe airport and lovely with delicious, gourmet food artistically plated that you wouldn’t expect at a hotel in Uganda.

Uganda Safari Chapter, the DMC I represent, has a focus on concierge service and is very specific about the lodges they book. You’ll find their office service prompt with professional itineraries and courteous service. Guides are friendly and are diligent about cleaning vehicles inside and out every night which is much appreciated. Our fam trip was too quick and we really did not get to enjoy a game drive with our USC guide as the only non-lodge game drive we did was the boat safari in QENP. We did a late afternoon drive on the way out with plenty of bird sighting and antelope stops. We did appreciate his expert navigation on some wet, slippery mountain roads! You could tell he was quite proud of Uganda, his heritage as he shared quite a bit of information about the country, the villages we drove through, Uganda’s economy and the friendly peoples. The USC team knows Uganda, the national parks, its hidden secrets, urban highlights, mountain climbing, cultural highlights and can customize itineraries that match your clients’ interests and budgets. Please note that Uganda has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, and the Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi. Uganda Safari Chapter also operates in Rwanda should your clients want to also gorilla trek there.

October, 2019 / Uganda Safari Chapter / Uganda safari

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