Uganda – Part 2 – Gorillas, QENP, smugglers, Muchison Falls

Authored By Brian

[Brian note in Dec 2020: these notes were taken on my iPad during our trip to Uganda in 2012. They were notes intended to be used to write a longer travelogue entry but it never happened. As such, they probably don't make a lot of sense to anyone other than me, but they serve as little reminders of this amazingly great adventure. This Part 1 was finished on August 15, 2012.]

OLPC works! Just in nick of time before leaving Kasiisi.
Ant lecture nerds, teddy bear ant, ant crawling on wall during talk

From fort portal to bwindi:
Kazinga channel and QENP were awesome, mad wildlife, 10 ish elephants, water buffalo, monitor lizards, birds, tons of hippos sometimes right under our boat.

Left from there and rained the rest if the day. Drive 190km of dirt roads to Bwindi dodging lightning. Never seen so much lightning where I am looking directly at where it strikes. Bolt goes. White, purple, white. One strike was less than a quarter-mile ahead a d there was no separation between the light and the noise. Unlike thunder which rolls thru, this was a crackling snap sound like a tree being split in two. The air was charged momentarily and we could feel the electricity in the air. We continued to see lightning for the rest of the drive, though thankfully not quite as close.

Joseph cracking us up with check the internet euphemisms like “high speed ” and “wireless” when referring to the bathroom.

190km of rough roads is the “African massage”

Arrived in Bwindi to a phat hotel. Learned bill gates is staying across the dirt road. Hoping we will trek with him tomorrow. Either going to pretend I don’t know who he is and talk about Linux all day or tell him about my anti-Mac skin.

We are split for trekking tomorrow so Jennifer and I get up at 5and drive 2hours while everyone else gets up at 7 and walks to their start point.

Gorilla trekking

2 hour drive followed by 2.5 hour hike, one hour of watching gorillas in thick bush followed by 3 hour hike and 2 hour drive. Left at 6, returned at 6. Dense vegetation and steep inclines at 2400m. Sharal and Rahim trekked on flatter terrain at 1300m. Walking along the incline all day took its toll on our ankles and I fell once navigating a downed tree and pulled my calf.

Very cool to see some of the remaining mountain gorillas but hard to compare to our chimp experience. Group of 8 included 6 commonwealth kids n an overland safari of which 3 were unfit for the terrain. Thankfully they had a positive attitude but It was frustrating to hike 15 minutes and then wait for 10 for them to catch up.

We elected to skip our second day of trekking and instead have a down day at the sanctuary gorilla forest camp which was perfect. I caught up on email and checked in with my team while Jennifer read and we enjoyed some time together.

We were a little shocked when one of the other Trekkers came back at 10 having only had to hike 5 minutes to the briefing area and another 5 minutes to see the gorillas up close. With two long days of transit ahead, we were relieved we skipped another long day.

Had a school group from victory national primary school come perform for us right as it started pouring. We brought the kids ranging from about 6 to 15 up onto the lodge patio where they sang and danced for us to promote their school and indirectly raise funds. They shared a post-performance coca-cola with us before a truck took them back to school since the rain had not let up.

We finished with a very nice group dinner inc, using some new arrivals from Florida. Originally Michigan natives, they once had been on the Today show after they discovered a wedding day note-in-a-bottle on the beach from a couple married the same day but 28 years later. After sending a note via mail, local newspapers picked up on the story and eventually it landed them an on-air meeting with the couple in New York. Serendipitous.

Sunday, aug 12
Today was a transit day as we head to Murchison Falls. We returned from Bwindi to Fort Portal at the Rwenzori View Guest House for the night and tomorrow we head our early for an 8 hour drive to the park in the north.

We backtracked thru queen Elizabeth national park again and saw banded mongoose, elephants, water buffalo, cob and many birds. We also encountered a couple of unusual vehicles: very large, very modern tractor-trailer rigs out in the park not far from the Congo border. Joseph insisted they were run by weapons smugglers who, “are the only ones who can afford such trucks”. I was skeptical of this allegation but a UN representative at dinner tonight confirmed it is likely as a report last month documented the Rwandans are shipping guns to the DRC through Uganda.

We stopped at the queens pavilion before leaving the park to wait out the on-again off-again rainstorms we have been encountering. I wanted to stop for a photo at the equator line but the rain was coming down sideways so we had lunch at the small visitors center. The rain finally broke and we were treated to a mixed sky over Lake Edward (?) and the surrounding hills under dark clouds set against bright sky.

At dinner tonight we spoke with two people, one of whom just moved to Uganda for the next 6-12 months as a camp manager for two research projects. The other was the UN representative who is managing 120 staffers in eastern DRC where the security situation is continuing to
degrade and he’s afraid the country is less than a couple of years away from another major conflict as the various rebel groups escalate the violence without being able to align their opposing objectives.

Relative to the number of white people here we have met a high percentage of people who are working, researching or volunteering here in east Africa. We have also been painted opposing pictures of a people who see hope and change despite hurdles like poverty ad corruption and outsiders’ opinions like the owner of the guest house tonight who thinks Uganda’s leaders are a short while away from losing power and things getting substantially worse.

The UN has poured 1.2B$ into the Congolese project to reopen roads and repair infrastructure but the rebels just killed the two construction company foremen forcing an evacuation. (check to find this in the news). What are we fighting for in this region if the region won’t fight for it themselves?

Mon, tues, weds:
Paraa lodge, murchison national park, the falls, game drive with so many giraffes.

Used to be 14,000 hippos and after ediemeen and poaching there were only 1400 left. 17,000 elephants with herds of 500+ reduced to 1700.

Lodge had a pool
Nile in background, boat ride to falls was a bit far away but saw lots of wildlife to the point where it was, “oh, just another hippo?” visit to the top the next day was awe-inspiring. Joseph lost two friends whose boat capsized above the falls. People commit suicide there frequently.

Return to Jinja:
Ate some chicken on a stick, WAY tough to eat but seasoning was delicious.

Stopped at Ziwa rhino sanctuary, Joseph’s grandfather owns the land it was given to him by the king for fighting back in the day and now the sanctuary leases 70 sq km for the rhinos.
Saw Obama the rhino beating up on another rhino, roughhousing and knocking horns like a loud cracking noise.
Mom dad and baby all together

Long drive, totally different world when outside of Kampala with huge factories and wood-based shanty towns, perhaps the worst conditions we have seen. Gleaming new factories and warehouses for chinese companies.

Stopped for cokes and people came sprinting up to surround the jeep to sell us bananas, meat on a stick, drinks. Lady selling bananas was pregnant and when second bus pulled up, everyone out ran her to the next bus. Jennifer felt saddened.

Pretty crazy traffic due to so many semis on the road, something we just didn’t see out in the west really minus the gunrunners in QENP.

Theme thoughts:

Uganda is facing many of the same challenges that we are: political divide, security, energy issues and conservation of natural resources while still allowing economic progress. Were Uganda to develop to the level of the United States, it would likely devour all of the natural resources and emphasize money first. But looking at the people, despite high unemployment, they seem to be providing for themselves thru self farming, taking care of themselves, living sparingly. As the Brit asked, will we need to regress to this level in order to save ourselves and our planet or can countries who skipped landlines and went straight to ubiquitous mobile leapfrog our industrial revolution and take advantage of new technologies to grow in a clean, harmonious way? Or will corruption and regional unrest continue to plague this part of the world for the foreseeable future?

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