Thursday, 29 January 2015

AN INSIGHT INTO GORILLA TRACKING IN UGANDA




If  you asked anybody what they know about Uganda, the answer will absolutely be the Mountain Gorillas. However many tourists who have visited Uganda have got more than Gorillas. At some point Winston Churchill named Uganda “The Pearl of Africa”. Uganda is one of the few places in Africa that habours the endangered mountain Gorillas. 

The Bwindi Forest impenetrable national park about 331sq.kms is a rainforest that hobours half of the remaining Mountain Gorillas. Uganda also shares a group of mountain gorillas with Rwanda in the mghahinga national park on the extreme end south of the country. This group sometimes crosses to Rwanda side and then later comes back.

The Bwindi forest national park habours half of the 880 remaining endangered mountain gorillas in the world. Yes, there are wild gorillas and habituated gorillas. Visitors are only allowed to visit the habituated groups in this park. There are Four groups in Uganda and each group has got families.
The Buhoma group consists of three(3) families and these are the pioneer families to be tracked.
  • Mubare, seven members including one silverback. Mubare is the oldest habituated gorilla group in Uganda. They were found in the Mubare hills, deep in Bwindi forest, and fully habituated in 1993.
  • Habinyanja, 15 members including two silverbacks. The Habinyanja group was first visited by tourists in 1999. The name comes from "Nyanja" which is the local word for 'body of water'. It refers to the swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the group was first sighted.
  • Rushegura, 19 members including one silverback. The Rushegura gorilla family was brought together in 2002, after one of the silverbacks from the Habinyanja group decided to break away. The Gorilla permits for this group are always on high demand and the permits are usually bought out so fast. If you intend to visit this group, consider booking months earlier. Auto Rental Uganda self drive and car rental can actually help you reserve these permits for you. Buhoma community rest camp , The havens lodge are a good accommodation options here.


The Ruhijja Group also has three(3) families as well and these are the second to be tracked in the gorilla tracking records.
  • Oruzogo are 16 members, available for trekking since 2012.
  • Bitukura are 12 members including four silverbacks. The Bitukura group was named after a river where the family members were first sighted. The habituation process started in 2000.
  • Kyaguriro gorilla group located in Ruhija is for research but can be tracked on  request.
These permits as well need a pre-booking if you intend to visit this group. This group is situated on the northern side of the park and along the route that connects to ishasha. Gift Of Nature lodge and Bakiga Lodge are good options around here.
The Rushaga Group is the biggest group to be tracked with over Five(5) families to be tracked.
  • Nshongi, 25 members including two silverbacks and six infants. Nshongi is the largest group ever habituated and was officially launched in September 2009. It was named after the river Nshongi, close to the place where the gorilla family was first seen.
  • Mishaya, 17 members including two silverbacks and four infants.
  • Kahungye, 15 members including  two silverbacksand three  infants.
  • Busingye and Bweza groups are also for research but also available for tracking by visitors on request.
This is the newest entrants into the bwindi gorilla tracking records. These gorillas are located in the southern end of the park and are a good connection to mutanda lake and kisoro districts. It has been said to be the most friendliest group to be tracked. Nkuringo gorilla camp and Nsongi gorilla resort are good accommodation options. Nkuringo Gorilla Camp and Gorilla safari Lodge are good options here.

The Nkuringo Group is said to be the newest entrants into the Bwindi Gorilla tracking records. Consisting of 19 members, including four silverbacks and five infants  This group is said to be as much friendly as the rushaga. They also have tendencies of touching visitors and tapping their shoulders. They tend to get close to visitors and lick the knees. The tracking trails are abit steep and require good hikers. Nkuringo Gorilla camp is the best accommodation suggest around this nteko ridge. 

The Mgahinga Group is located in the mgahinga national park, located in the virunga volcanoes. These volcanoes are extinct. Uganda actually shares these gorillas with Rwanda. They sometimes cross to Rwanda and then come back at some point. There is only one family to be tracked here. These are in bamboo trees unlike the bwindi forest national park. Golden monkey guest house or travellers rest hotel are good accommodation options around here.
A maximum of 8 people are allowed to visit a specific family. This is done to avoid overcrowding these great apes and a control measure to conserve the endangered apes. Because we share 97.8% DNA with these great apes, there is likely chances of disease transmition. Therefore a minimum number required to visit each family.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority is the government body responsible for issuing out the permits. It requires A pre-booking in full payment of USD $600 per person in advance which Auto rental Uganda can do for you. The UWA body also gives discounts on these permits in the months of Apirl, May and November at a discounted rate of USD $350 for non-residents.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

To The Second Deepest Lake In Africa.



The boat cruise on lake bunyonyi


And yes this place is too cold, the reason its called the the switzerland of Uganda . Lake bunyonyi in a direct translation means “the lake for small birds”. And if you are a bird watcher who actually needs to see these small birds, then this is the right place for you.
After a cold night at the shores of this lake and having breakfast we decided to come up with ideas on what we should do before be headed out of this place. We discussed this and I had so many options to give simone and Gadi to choose from the many. This is the advantages that come with car rental or self drive adventures with Auto Rental Uganda. we did narrow to have a boat cruise on the lake. This was a motor boat as compared to the canoe boat that would require us get involved in the movement of the boat. 

Gadi and simone decided to take on the motor boat, and actually this motor boat belongs to a local guide who takes you around. At about 9:pm, we boarded the motor boat and started our tour on this second deepest lake in Africa after lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Believed to be about 900m deep, with over 29 islands, this lake has some of the traditional islands like the Punishment island and upside down island. We did go to byoona amagara island that habours a local tourist lodge first before we headed to the traditional islands. The punishment island is a small island with a tree in between reeds and grass standing upright. It is believed this island was a place in early centuries that, when a girl got pregnant at an early age, she would be taken to this island when about to give birth, given one stick and left her there with no food and water. So that she starves and when she would try to swim off to the shores of the lake she would die while swimming, reason for its name. the tree in between is a good spot for the African fish eagles and the great commorants. They rest on this tree and you will almost think it is a chrismass tree. 
 
we joined to the local traditional dance
We proceeded as our main target was to get hiking the bunyonyi hills at the extreme end boardering Rwanda to visit the minority tribe short people with great acient culture. We got to the extreme end of the lake about 23kms and left the boat at the bottom and before it actually threatened to rain but the “silver back” GADI made a joke of taking away the rain and bring the sun using spiritual powers, the rain actually disappeared but that wasn’t because of him, it was a concidence.

We started hiking to the top.. It actually took us 40mins before we got to the top of the mountain and reach the minority tribe. These batwa minority tribe are people still living in the great acient life, they represent our ancestorial behaviours. They still live in shark huts, cook and sleep in same place, smoke acient pipes, use herbs as medicine. Nothing like modern life reflects on them. They will dance to the acient local traditional dance and will invite you join them. Ofcourse myself the guide and Simone had to get involved in the traditional dance. After this experience we decide to slope back to the shores for our boat to head back. The views and scenery at this place are tempting to keep your camera snapping. It is breath taking. We proceeded to head back to the hotel but we used another route full of birds, the pied king fishers diving for crayfish will catch your attention.  We used another water route through another island called the UPSIDE DOWN island. The story about these island is that A witch who was denied access to the island to share a lopcal brew drink with the community on that island on chrissmass day got so much annoyed and decided to drown and kill everybody at that island by using his charms to turn the island Up-Side down. The community here still believe this is true and happened in real life. 

Yes and the feeling that your on top of the second deepest lake in Africa, a mixture of fear and excitement. We did arrive back to the lodge for lunch and got ready to transfer to the home of the mountain Gorilas.

After lunch we proceeded to Bwindi impenetrable national park. It had rained the previous day and so the road was muddy. At some point I would have to stop and make calculations where to put the car wheels. Yes simone was always scared at every seeing a muddy ditch hole and I personallyasked her to close her eyes everytime we approached one. Which was a good trick. So everytime I detected a muddy place, I would announce, “Simone time to close your eyes” and she would close immediatly. Yeah the road was ofal after ther previous down pour, it almost looked like a potatoe field, but this all made the trip interesting. I actually like taking such driving challenges, makes my whole job interesting. 
Gadi on his jokes of bringing back the sun


Here we finally get to Buhoma side where we were supposed to track the gorillas the next day.
Now, The lodge we were supposed to go had almost similar name like the old one. It was an extension of the buhoma community rest camp, a lodge owned by the community around the buhoma. The new Havens lodge was a new extention of the old one and I myself never knew about this. So on reaching the old lodge, we met the new manager very excited as he jumped into our rav4 to direct us to the right place. The reason for the excitement is that, the whole team was waiting for us the whole day since 9am in the morning and we were no where to be seen. Almost giving up and maybe thinking we got lost or stuck in the jungles. A team of about 40 persons was waiting at the reception. Even the cooks and cleaners were also waiting anxiously for the first clients to sleep in the new lodge. On hearing this, simone also jumped to excitement because of her being the  first person to sleep at this lodge. Yes, all that comes with something new, the rooms were very perfect with a clear view to the bwindi forest, the dinning neatly arranged and when we got to the food, everything sealed up to perfect. You can guess simone’s “ezi yoffi’s were too many. Uaii uaii uaii, hahahaha. Even Gadi, the silverback said Ezii yofi, uaii uaii. Only two uaii’s.  Ok now the food thing I don’t know the names, but what I know is the food was perfect. We ate and drunk as we tossed to the successfullness of the trip quarter way.. we actually invited another staff member volunteer to join us for dinner. That’s how friendly were were.

Simone and gadi had to go sleep earlier because the next day was for the ultimate mountain gorilla experience. Join me next time as i narrate the ultimate gorilla experience.

Fitting in the African shoes



 
Simone being the african woman
The morning sunrise reflecting in front of the tent was the wake up call, turning yourself because you couldn’t get enough of the sleep is no way you could avoid the colourfull reflections. Had i woken up in the morning and at seeing the beautifull morning sunrise, I couldn’t hold but pullout my camera to shutter that beautifull scene overlooking the park. Hardly had i noticed that Gadi and simone were already up, infact by 6:30am waiting for the sunrise and looking over to the park from the luxury safari tent verander at elevation of 45 degrees. At that angle they could see most of the animals roaming and feeding. All kinds of antelopes, zebras, bucks and hippos in a far distance returning to the waters after a night feeding which they used binoculars to see. The combination of the sunrise and a variety of animals feeding was a good sight seeing start for the day.

Ofcourse saying a waving Goodmorning, we had our relaxing time as we enjoyed the combination of the sunrise and animals roaming the park but softly i overheard Simone saying the “Ezi yoffi, uaii, uaii” words. It was time for us to get ready for breakfast and headout for a close encounter with the animals again. The breakfast was amazing, all sort of fruits available, juice, African tea, spiced and not, coffee mention it all that it has to offer, it was all our choice to make. The omelette was always asked and it was wiered that the 3 of us always had the same omelette, we always had a taste for the Spanish omelette. And the fast eater was Gadi, we nicknamed “The silverback” meaning the family eldest and defender in the Gorilla fraternity. he says that’s how he be during eating. As we got in the middle of the plates halfway, Gadi was always done already.

Because we had booked for half board, that is dinner, bed and breakfast, we decided to check out with our laggage and do the wildlife encounter and head out for our next destination that was supposedly been lake bunyonyi kabale. As we got into the park entrance we did the clearance where foreigners pay $40 per pax  for 24 hrs which we had paid the day before and the 24hrs hadn’t elupsed so we took advantage of it to get into the park but needed to be out by 3pm that makes the 24 hrs and the car entrance a fee was just $12. Residents pay $5, but for my case I always have a special pass for a year which I always present at the entrance to allow me access the park, I pay for that annually. On entrance we were welcomed with close encounters of the herds of impalas before we continued to the park headquarters for inquiry of a possible activity. The advantage that comes with self drive or car rental and guided trips is that your guide will layout for you the different activities to do in the park and you can decide which you prefer than the already packaged iteneries all inclusive. This is the advantage associated with car rental with Auto rental Uganda. So the clients decide to do a nature walk in the park. Lake mburo is one of the few parks in Uganda that you can take a trail on foot and get upclose with the wildlife but this is always in the presence of a ranger guide who is part of the $30 fee you pay for the nature walk. If the guide is impressive, a tip is not mandatory or a must, but is highly appreciated depending on how happy and contented you are with him or not, say anything between $1 to $20 is highly appreciated. As the driver, i had Gadi and Simone with their ranger guide dropped off at the starting point of the walk into the jungles. It was supposedly a three hours walk in the park so i had to pullover my seat and rest till they came back. “We saw all the animals so upclose than you can expect Guma, it was amazing” ofcourse the ezii yoffi uaii uaii words came in at every end of each narration. thats what they told me, the different bird species and the shy Ellands were their favourite, they said. This was upclose. Did you see the lion, I asked? No lion. There are lions and leopards in this park but rarely seen. They were surprised though. We dropped off the ranger to the headquarters of the park and it clocked mid day wen we headed out of the park, so the one day entrance fee was enough for the spectacular adventure. 
getting ready for the nature walk


Yes the three of us were getting hungry and it was time for us to look for the closest restaurant as we headed south to bunyonyi. Gadi had earlier highlighted to me the kind of adventure they are into, they needed more than the normal tourist routes and activities, they needed to know the common Ugandan not just wildlife and scenery. The local common person was part of their wish, Usually with the common routine, we make a stopover for lunch at mbarara Agip motel or Igongo cultural centre. As a guide putting my clients needs before me and trying to make it worth the adventure, i planned to give them an African treat for a traditional African meal prepared by an African Family in a humble surrounding. At first I thought they may not like it that way but seriously this turned out to be the highlight of their trip. It was not easy getting this African meal prepared, 1. Because it was my mother in-law supposed to do that. So you can imagine how tence i felt. In African/Ugandan culture, men don’t get close to their mother in-laws or else call them on phone, she was the only woman I knew who could cook the best traditional meal called the LUWOMBO and a person I could totally relly on so tactically i called my Girlfriend on phone 300kms away from us and I was close to my mum-inlaws home locality in mbarara. After she accepted to do that for his “son in-law” I was excited. So I drive my Gadi and simone to this humble African home, they are not a well to do home with good house but they are a “RICH AT HEART” family, a common characteristic with African homes. Very welcoming, we all got a warm welcome and locally weaved mats were layed for us outside under a tree in a good shade, typical African sorrounding. Sitting down and using our bare hands to eat is a common thing for us Africans. As usual I get to my work of guiding these muzungus (general african name for white coloured people) how we do it in the pearl of Africa. How we sit while eating, how we wash hands in a pan and a woman supposed to wash a man’s hands and get his food plate ready. So simone being the woman got down to being the African woman kneeling down in an african way, washed her husbands hands in a pan and prepared his food. The food prepared contained all the African foods, pumpkins, cassava, matooke/bananas, yams, sweet and irish potatoes, greens we call DoDo, rice yes, posho/corn meal a lot of foods that I also forgot, the soup was the beans and groundnuts/peanuts  with mushrooms or with beef mashed to make a soup but the most interesting is how they are cooked and served, the scent of the food. This type of Meal is called the LUWOMBO. All these foods are wraped row in banana leaves all in one pan and cooked massively, no cooking oil is used, its all natural. Trust me any Ugandan/African can testify to the deliciousness of this traditional meal. We got down to the food and a lot for that matter and we started bringing it down the African way. If any one found us that day probably thought we were under the influence of any catalyst to eat, but noo we were being Africans here, “being in the African shoes” they neither leave food on the plate nor waste resources. It was not a question of them being muzungu/white from isreal but getting a feel of Uganda. To be sincere for the two hours we spent at my mother in-law’s home, Gadi and simone were typical Africans. Because its traditional not to be close to my mother in-law, she decided to give us the food and wait from inside the house as we ate, there is always tension arising from too much respect. If i wasn’t there she would have joined them to eat just the way we do it in Ugandan homes, we eat together. “A family that prays and eats together, stays together”. But that was not possible with me “the son-inlaw present”. So we missed her for the meal. After having the meals settled in the belly, we decided to take our leave since we had a long distance to cover till we got to lake bunyonyi in kabale. We left my mother in laws house and simone with her usual word “Ezii yoffi, uaii uaii uaii thank you Guma for giving us this experience”. Its what they said to me, as usual you are welcome and welcome to Uganda. And yes African food for lunch is heavy.
Enjoying the local traditional meal


It was not long enough before the both cramble to the effects of heavy lunch, slept off as i negotiated the corners and hills heading to kabale being a hilly area, they even didn’t get the chance to view the great scenery, the rolling hills and terraces not until it started to rain heavily than they woke up, but the journey was slower due to the heavy rains.  They woke up to eating chocolate.These two “muzungus”had a lot of chocolates, and we would eat every kind of chocolate often. 

We got to kabale later on in the evening, this whole distance including the game drives in lake mburo national park, we used up $60 , about 45litres worth fuel which we had to refuel for full tank again to be on the safer side. We also did some quick purchase for some cookies and crackers then headed to the re-known lake bunyonyi 10kms away from kabale town. The 10 kms was also interesting as we had stopovers and witness how the young and the women are involved in stone mining.. they practically do this themselves with bare hands, it was worth seeing as it gives you an idea how different Ugandans survive and this is one of the hard ways, They are still having Uganda. We head straight to lake bunyonyi overland resort, suitiated on the shores of lake bunyonyi, an ever awarded tourist lodge in kabale for its excellence in service, is budget and mid range, they have an open restaurant which you pay after eating, great food with a good chef here, but the only problem with this place is the hospitality of the waiters and waitresses, you only need to get used to them because its normal for them to be that way, that’s the best hospitable they can be. The clients accommodation was a cottage self contained overlooking the lake, with a good view of the lake, islands and terraces, trust me its worth a place to spend a time, so many activities to do as I will get up to this in my next article as I continue this spectacular adventure in the African shoes.

Monday, 19 January 2015

THE FLEXIBILITY OF TRAVEL AGENCIES EAST AFRICA





Preparing for a vacation to east Africa takes you an effort. Browsing in so many websites offering almost the same iteneries and packages. It requires time and patience before you finally choose which travel agency to go with. However it is advisable you research on the company you decide to travel with. Yes there are genuine travel agencies so willing to offer you a once in a lifetime vacation and on the same line there are quack companies only interested in making money and not giving you the value for your money, however the respective  governments do a great job in wiping out such quack companies with the help of tourist bodies like the association of tour operators . 

 Most of the companies offer full packaged iteneries where you need pay all amounts that will cater for all the safari requirements, Safari car, Driver guides, Accomodations, fuel, lunches enroute, and all activities to be done and outlined in the  itenery. It is also advisable to note all the activities outlined for you.  Actually have a printout with you when on the safari. Most of these companies are the internationally established and internationally owned. They usually focus on main highlights of the  country like the national game reserves and water bodies. There are also other local travel agencies say in Uganda like our own Auto rental Uganda, a company engeneered by a professional guide and also other companies that are locally owned rilly give you real value for your money. Because they are owned by pioneer tour guides who have worked with many international travel agencies, have interacted with many people from different countries all over the world, these guides who have formed their own travel agencies actually know the on-ground needs of these clients. 

There are things international companies never get hold of, like the cultural norms and practices of the country. “I have come to understand that when tourists from other countries come to Uganda, they actually come to experience and deeply understand what the pearl of Africa is like, not just the nature that the country has to offer”, Guma Alex Tibanyendera  explains. The professional guide and the brains behind Auto rental Uganda. These guides know what is very best for these clients, Uganda has very many tourist activities in each and every destination around the country but not all will be liked by all tourists and that’s why the company never limits you to that particular activity by letting you be as much flexible as possible. 

It is also understandable how some clients need adventure the country on their own on self drives. With this service, clients only pay for what they get. You pay for the car rental only, the car keys handed over to you and you will adventure at your own pace. Also these locally owned companies beat you off the normal tourist routes that many tourists go through and make it a little bit interesting. lets say, visiting local markets, visit the local schools, visit Ugandan humble homes and enjoy a traditional Ugandan dish prepared for you in a humble surrounding, Stay in an african home for a night through home visits in villages where the tourists get a personal one-one feel of our daily life and social setting and the communities will benefit directly from these activities. Dance to the Ugandan traditional dances, be part of the traditional ceremonies like the public male circumsisions, get to know the local person and customs with the community walks and nature walks, yes you will double it with wild life safaris, great scenery, lush green vegetation and have a once in a lifetime wildlife encounter, the Mountain Gorilla tracking. If you need to have a full insight of the country and need a true Ugandan friend, you will just pay for the car rental and the guides allowances of $30 per day. The activities will be decided on your arrival to the specific destination with the help of your guide. However for the Gorilla tracking and chimpanzee tracking or habituation will require you booking in advance for the specified day and paid in full amounts. 
Other activities can be paid on site. So when planning for your holiday vacation or safaris, give athought to the local companies like auto rental Uganda that will give you more than just adventure but will double it with experience. These companies give you the country at the tip of your fingures.