pault

The Uganda Workout (Kibale, QENP and Nkuringo)

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Although this is the first installment of my trip report. It'll be a long time before I finish as the photos from later in the trip won't be ready for quite a while. I have so many of birds, chimps and gorillas that it'll take weeks for me to get through them and get to Ruaha. And rushing through them would take away part of the pleasure. So, you'll have to bear with me, and if a break becomes just too long, I'll just start a part two. Ruaha will be a separate report anyway, so that it is filed under Tanzania.

 

"Now how does that Robert Frost poem go?"

 

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Briefly, and contrary to my usual style, I will take away some of the suspense by giving a quick summary.

The Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (stop singing "I'm a Voodoo Chile" - it is no relation at all... and you're not!) was "superb with huge caveats". Contrary to expectations there are hills in there, there are massive bloody elephants running around that are distressingly easy to see, and those early Tarzan movies were not making it all up - there are vines that wrap around your ankles, plants that grab you and try to rip your clothes off like an over-eager teenage beau, and even swamps of black mud that would suck German tourists down to their doom if there wasn't a ranger and porter there to pull them out. And the chimps really move! I was assured even by the rangers as we started out that the chimps wouldn't move that much, but both days we were like Alice running after that rabbit down his hole and through the looking glass, again and again. Most pictures involve feeding since most of the rest of the time they were loping along with us in hot pursuit. It was great, great fun, the chimps were amazing, the photo ops great as long as you can shoot f/2.8 and ISO 3200 or equivalent (f/4 and 6400) happily, and we were really lucky with the weather. It didn't rain either day. But while the first day was as expected people-wise, on there second day there were six doing the habituation together and then another 20 pr so showed up for the hour-long viewing. With four rangers and a porter in there too, among ten or so chimps it was bloody chaos for an hour or so and I nearly went home. However, then a small group broke away and we habituationers followed them, leaving behind the larger group, and as we followed more and more chimps came out of the forest to join the conga line and it was one of my best wildlife experiences ever, which I won't spoil just yet by telling you about it. Meeting an elephant totally by surprise in dense jungle was one of the most disconcerting and comical wildlife experiences I have had and I will also save that for.a full description. The rangers are good with the chimps and armed, but they are not properly trained walking guides and somebody is going to get hurt if they put that number of people in there at the same time. Primate Lodge is very well located and the tents are far apart and spacious , providing a good refuge from the over-excited tour groups that sometimes use the place. I had excellent sightings of monkeys and some birds from the lodge of which the value shouldn't be underestimated.

The mongooses were seen but not in the company of researchers, and seeing the otters generally requires you to remain on shore, quiet and still and wait, but Lake Mutanda will deliver for the keen.

Queen Elizabeth National Park was a shock, even after reading about it. We saw what it had to offer and a couple of special sightings for me, but it is a crazy place and the only park in Africa that has left me speechless with horror and in angry dispute with my guide (we made up quickly - we were both just doing the male chimp tree-beating thing really). However, do not miss it. Take a Valium and tape up your mouth until you acclimatize, but don't miss it. Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge is a good, bad option (there are only bad options). There are nice people there, it has nice views, and it is not too far from the park. We visited Mweya and were instantly certain we would have really disliked it, but it is definitely much more comfortable than Bush Lodge, The driving to and from the various bits of the park is boring enough even from these two locations so I wouldn't really consider staying elsewhere unless I were there just for a boat trip.

You really should drive Kasese to Kisoro if you go to this part of the world, it is a fabulous drive (as long as someone else is at the wheel). So, so beautiful and unexpected in Africa. It takes much longer than going to Buhoma but almost every minute of travel is pure pleasure until it gets dark (when it gets very hairy). The walk from Buhoma to Nkuringo gets great reviews, but I would do it Nkuringo to Buhoma, after having driven the other way. I definitely think there is a lot more to this area than the gorillas. Sure, there are a lot of people, but remarkable and interesting people and the scenery is so, so good. If only it weren't in cloud much of the time. My own trek was uneventful and very successful. We lost one tourist to exhaustion on the way back (it is a wee bit steep) but were back at the ranger station for lunch. Piece of cake I mouthed at the end as my lungs struggled to function. Porters are as-advertised great. Take one for the company and so you don't damage your cameras when you do a "Laurel and Hardy and a banana skin" type pratfall on mud that is as slippery as ice in places.

Uganda is a photographer's paradise, which makes Tanzania and Kenya look a bit dull and frumpy. Full of colours, lines, light and characters. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to stop every five minutes, and I wished I could. It is also unfortunate that the rains were coming and the sun broke through the clouds only infrequently. A special mention to the road from Lake Mutanda to Nkuringo at dawn, when there is a sea of fog all the way to Congo, and to the charming people of Uganda (even the six-year olds who call you a stupid mzungu or something even worse that your guide refuses to translate).

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Accommodation and activities and the way they are organized is all a bit "meh" and the sheer number of people is disorientating at times even if you are from Bangkok, but it's very much worth it for the things you see, hear and smell.

So that's the trip report done then - ther rest is mere frippery and navel gazing, but I like my navel. :P

What a very fine navel!

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Can't wait for the rest of this enlightening peek into Uganda. Love that first chimp photo, so moody and the crazy good colours of the crowd. Keep working at the processing.

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very informative, intriguing, mysterious and promising. I guess I wont get to see much of the rest before I leave, so I may as well keep it well locked up, to be savoured when I become depressed, withdrawn and despondent upon my return and I need TRs such as yours to keep me afloat. i love that first photo too - looking towards the sky for the light.

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Fascinating start! A couple of captivating shots to start us off. Looking forward to the good, bad, and ugly of your report. You always make it interesting!

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Oh yay, have been eagerly anticipating this! Your brief summary above does much to whet the appetite!

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Posted (edited)

I (amazingly) do not have a decent picture of a crowned crane, so the ubiquitous Cattle Egret can stand in as Uganda's national bird for now....

 

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We spent one night at 2Friends in Entebbe, 3 nights at Primate Lodge in Kibale Forest, 3 nights at Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP for finger-saving purposes) and 4 nights at Lake Mutanda Chameleon Hill, which is midway between Kisoro and Nkuringo.

 

 

We booked local for Uganda and on a whim we chose Kabiza Wilderness Safaris. Fortunately that turned out to be a more than decent choice and our guide (Remmy Kityo) was very good for this kind of trip, where you get a guide assigned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for most activities and your personal guide ends up more as a driver, local companion and fixer than a traditional safari guide, I am sure Remmy would rank pretty well on the Uganda guide list for that kind of safari too, but we appreciated most his good company, effort to listen to us and find stuff we'd find interesting based on that, and his encouragement to us to touch things, talk to people, put things in our mouths and generally have a nice time. Best thing for us was we just had a completely normal relationship with him - including the odd argument. Kabiza did return us to the world of the 4WD safari minibus but this was not a problem for Uganda, where we only used it as a safari vehicle briefly in QENP and couldn't have off-roaded anyway. It handled the mountains just fine, and was always very clean and well maintained.

 

 

So, everything went smoothly then? Of course not. How could everything go smoothly?

 

 

I started our trip by leaving my ATM card in the machine at the airport in Bangkok. Duh! That was a bit of a blow because I was going to use that to get money with, and it left me with a grand sum of $130 to spend! Fortunately my wife had quite a lot in her purse, and after a series of objections she finally agreed to lend me some of it at 1000% APR, so that I could pay for her drinks and the very occasional meal that wasn't already paid for.

 

 

The good news was that Kenya Airways are flying Dreamliners on our route now. Great plane and a complete shock Kenya Airways bought some. With the improved service I mentioned a couple of trips ago, improved food and wine, and a proper entertainment system at last (not that I use it - I am just trying to sound like an educated consumer) it's like a new airline. The cracks still show from time to time of course, but compared to the gaping holes of the past this is pretty good.

 

 

But you don't want to know about planes. Let's fast forward to Entebbe, via a four hour stopover in Nairobi and a plane that departed from the new terminal.

 

 

The new terminal photographed by me from the steps of the Nairobi-Entebbe plane.

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Terminal looks very nice and should be fully operational soon, but who really knows?

 

 

We arrived in Entebbe 15 minutes early after a 50 minute flight, found our bags waiting on the belt after painless immigration and went outside to look for our driver from 2Friends - I had booked direct with them because we added the night in Entebbe on front of our original itinerary when Kenya Airways changed their schedules at the last minute without telling us (told you there were still cracks - I only found out because I checked our seat requests) and so if we traveled to Kibale Forest on arrival day we'd be getting there late and still be a bit dizzy for the chimps at 6 am the next morning. We didn't want that - we wanted to be fit and full of beans.

 

 

Anyway, the driver wan't there. We waited 10 minutes and no sign. Great start! No money, no driver. Welcome to the Pearl of Africa.

 

 

Rather than wait around I asked one of the taxi drivers there how much to 2Friends and $US10 didn’t seem so bad in the circumstances so off we went. Of course 5 minutes after we arrived at 2 Friends we were reported as missing at the airport by the tardy driver. Hakuna matata… although we soon learned that Swahili isn’t in common use in southern and western Uganda – only in parts of the north and in the armed services and police forces. Park rangers use it too.

 

 

2Friends is a really nice place to stay and highly recommended. It’s like a really posh little guest house with very good service rather than a hotel and the location across the road from the beach cannot be beat. We ate there and sat in the pleasant garden or on our lake-view balcony, leaving only to explore the beach a bit. I had planned to visit the botanic gardens, but was quickly overtaken by a loss of the urge to do anything much. Some people here are a bit more bother than further south and west, but it feels very safe hanging around on the beach, listening to the lake, watching the bird life and fishing life, and watching Ugandans enjoying the same. The occasional tout came along but nothing annoying.

 

A dugout

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There is a bit of algae in the water perhaps?

 

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A Hammerkop foursome quickly disintegrated into a squabble.

 

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There were a number of Black Kites overhead throughout the day, jpoining the Pied Crows.

 

Feeding in mid air...

 

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In the evening a group of drummers from Rwanda came to the beach pizza restaurant across the road to entertain and I went down to listen and people watch for a while.

 

On the beach

 

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In the Water

 

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Enjoying the drums at sunset

 

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Next morning, Remmy came to pick us up at around 7 and we drove out to a ferry departure point where we (and van) would cross to visit Mabamba Swamp to search for the Shoebill. I had planned to take a boat from Entebbe, but since we were driving to Kibale Forest anyway, we decided to use this ferry so we could take the van with us and then just drive on from there – no need to return to Entebbe.

 

 

We were there in time for the 8 am ferry but it was already full. Fortunately they just seem to go backward and forward across the lake and so we could get the next one, which would be in about an hour. There was a really lively market next to the ferry stop and so we dived right in. Worth a visit on its own and the time just flew by looking at what was for sale and all the people selling it.

 

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There were even a couple of lay preachers complete with bibles and fingers pointing to the heavens, walking around and shouting out the good news (and the bad news for those who missed the good stuff). One of them approached me at one point and switched to very good English, so I gave him a little “hallelujah” or “yes, brother” for every revelation he shouted at me, and after a while he stopped and confided “I’m just a normal guy really. Not mad at all. You been here long?” I was a bit taken aback since I had been sure he was mad as a hatter. I should have really asked him if appearing to be a raving, foaming at the mouth lunatic was necessary to get his message across or something that “god had ordered him to do”, but instead I asked if I could take his picture. He was a little reticent as he had to consider what God might think of that, but decided it was okay in the end.

 

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The Modern Mule

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The Boys are Back in Town

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I’d asked Remmy whether it was okay to take photos of people, generally-speaking, in Uganda or whether I should expressly ask permission first. He told me it was fine if they were wider angle street shots but I should ask if I was taking a picture of a specific person (pretty much the same as anywhere then, but a lot more relaxed than Kenya or Thailand) but I should never take a picture of a soldier, policeman or anyone else carrying a gun, even in a street shot, without very clear permission, which he didn’t think I should ask for. I assured him I was aware of this and it would be no problem – I would be careful.

 

 

Thirty minutes later……

 

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I just didn’t notice the gun – saw the folders and thought office. Remmy is clearly exasperated at my lack of a brain, and the chicken man (he had approached us to try to convince us to buy the still-live chickens – us being my wife and I) is fearing consequences for poor Remmy having to look after such idiots.

 

 

We did make it on to the ferry alive, to experience the life of the canned sardine for 20 minutes, because they really packed every square foot of the ferry. I suppose it was no worse than the subway in many countries, but there aren’t cars and motorcycles and stuff on the subway. Fortunately nobody had cows to take across right at that time.

 

Exiting the ferry

 

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Shuttle boats to other destinations

 

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After the ferry had spewed us out onto the other side, we drove 15 minutes or so to Mabamba swamp. To cut a long story short, we went out for two hours but had no luck finding the Shoebills. Our guide spotted one flying far away at one point, but it was gone before we could locate it. A bad omen?

 

 

We did see some other nice bird life, but this trip is nothing without the Shoebill! They did offer us a photograph of a shoebill as a consolation, but we declined that offer with thanks

 

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At least we had a good Goliath Heron sighting

 

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Wood is a prized commodity in Uganda. A nice bundle of it ready to take home.

 

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Edited by pault
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Wow, fascinating report so far. Love the anecdote about the lay preacher.

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Wonderful start, Paul! Love the birds, the primates and the people photos too - but most of all, I love the writing :)

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The cattle egret head shot is just lovely

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Wonderful start and love your photography- the potraiture of slices of local life are enlightening and beautiful. Your text accurately conveys your cynical humor while pulling the reader into the story.

 

Thanks for sharing this, @Pault

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Thank you everybody for reading.

 

Cynical? Me? I am a naive wanderer into confusing situations! :P

 

 

The drive to Kibale National Park took a bit longer than expected as we stopped for a Ugandan set lunch of stew, ugali and matoke (a heavy, almost ugali-like dish made from green bananas which is a staple of the area - very good with stew, and to change some dollars to Ugandan shillings, which instantly made me a millionaire; I changed $50 more than intended just so I could get a nice round million. We also took a bit of a roundabout route, as we would frequently, since we had said we were interested in seeing the country and Remmy took that to heart. That was just fine as we really weren't in a hurry.

 

 

We arrived at Primate Lodge around 6 and went to bed soon after dinner as we had to be up just after 5 the next morning. Being at this lodge allows you to get a proper breakfast in the morning if you can face it at that time, since you don't have to leave until 5 minutes before the scheduled dawn Habituation briefing time (this was 6.30 when we were there but I believe it can be 6).

 

 

The briefing seemed to be a short version, although it did include the warnings that the forest contained elephant, leopard and so and, although we were extremely unlikely to be lucky enough to encounter them, the ranger was armed for that reason and we should not be alarmed. We and the German woman who was going with us were not. We were also warned that we should not approach closer than 8 meters to the chimps to reduce the risk of disease communication and for our own safety as some of the boys out there could toss us around between them like a rag doll until every bone in our bodies would be crushed to a fine dust... or something like that. Everyone looked suitably serious but I could tell what everyone really wanted to know was the same as me - would we be frog-marched from dawn to dusk and forced to beg for mercy? Had we been really stupid booking the whole day experience? We didn't dare to ask but someone must have done so previously because the next part of the briefing was that it was up to is how long we stayed out. We could stay out until sunset, but if we wanted to come back earlier we could. Collectively relieved but determined to stay out until the chimps made their nests (well, unknown to me two of our party were not thinking quite that) we set out.

 

 

Contrary to preconceptions, we did not go out with researchers already going out to study the chimps. The ranger who took us out was involved in the research project and knew the chimps well, but certainly didn't take any notes that day. He was going out solely to take us and studying us kept him busier than studying the chimps ever would. I think it wasn't always like this, but actually we would have probably just been a pain in the bottom for researchers, so it may be for the best (or for the cash!).

 

 

We drove to the starting point for that day, close to where a group had set up their nests the evening before. It was still barely light, but as soon as we got out of the vehicle we could hear the chimps howling and shouting. We were spellbound - what a fabulous noise! We looked in the direction of the noise and set off towards it, took three steps, and then all ran back to huddle beside the vehicle because huge elephants were crossing the road heading right where we had been heading! Fantastic! These were savannah elephants up from QENP for one of the Kibale fruit festivals, rather than forest elephants, and all the noise was because they had not received invitations from the chimps for this one, which involved a rather tasty looking orange fruit.

 

My not very good ISO 16400 shot of an elephant.

 

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After a minute of marveling at the elephants crossing the road, the consequences sank in. Well, we wouldn't be going to that tree after all (although I bet it would have been fantastic to see) and so we would have to head out the opposite way from that in which the elephants were traveling and try to find another group. The safari purist in me was thrilled that we'd have to track our own chimps, but the unfit slob in me thought this might be a bit taxing.

 

 

We found the chimps an hour or so of walking, listening, walking, listening, running, walking, listening, cursing, listening (listening is the best way to track chimps as they are not quiet creatures) and a couple of circles - the chimps were on the move already and high in the trees according to my one good ear. Our first sightings were neck straining and somewhat blinding at first, as the sun was getting up above the thick canopy now and would occasionally blast through a gap, temporarily blinding us.

 

 

It starts like this. Is that a nest and was it made last night?

 

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Then you hear branches shaking and you get a bit excited, and finally you begin to see something like this, which gets everyone pointing and making rather chimp-like faces.

 

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And that finally resolves, as your eyes adjust, into a scene of young chimps playing in the trees. Then you go "Wow!" And everyone is quiet for 10 minutes looking up through binoculars, when they realise their neck is really sore and the talk starts again.

 

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Through this the ranger sits, casually picking his teeth or polishing his gun, or sneaking in a bit more breakfast (everyone has completely forgotten about him of course) and then he jumps up and says "One on the ground." And we all turn and jog after him, and indeed we find one or two males on the ground, enjoying some of the soft fallen fruit, and we are all bug-eyed, chimp faced again. Wow!

 

 

Then we remember we have cameras, and it's like a Vogue shoot for a couple of minutes, before we all stop and "wow" again. Those males are so relaxed in front of the camera! They don't even look at us - we are as significant and interesting as a dead leaf.

 

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to be continued.... work permitting

Edited by pault
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Amazing photos and narrative - really makes me feel I am there! And I too love your writing style.

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I am writing in general as both CHEX (yes that horrible acronym really is used by the Uganda Wildlife Authority) had a lot in common, since we were of course looking only for one thing all day. The males are realtively easy to find and view on the ground, but the females -especially those with young - are much more reticent and tend to stay in the trees or retreat to what they consider a safe distance when the CHEXers appear. Since the main activity of the morning is eating as much as possible, there was a lot of movement from tree to tree and area to area, with teh females heading off first, the males tfollowing (sometimes a while later) and us taking up the rear. Do keep in mind that I am not very fit, and my wife hasn't walked anywhere further than from her hotel to the night market in Darmstadt Germany in years,a lthoguh she does claim to have walked thousands of miles every time she flies. User experience will vary!

 

Of course the forest is dense, with few clearings, and you cannot see that far in front of you usually, especially at chimp height. It's a bit like being in thick fog - visibility is great up to 10-15 meters and then there is just green. For much of the morning you are looking at this if you are head of the ChEX column.

 

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And if the ranger takes the lead, as he would often do of course, you will be seeing this...

 

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If you are any further back then you are looking mostly at someone else's back-pack and, as fatigue kicks in, at their bottom, their boots or (time for a rest) your own boots. I did not take photos of any of these things.

 

Thankfully, when a target tree is reached or for reasons not clear to anyone but the chimps, they stop moving and sit down for a while. It might be a minute or it might be considerably more.

 

This is a male who lost part of his hand to a snare as a baby, but he gets around pretty well. Apparently just stopping to let us CHEXers catch up, but I think he was also kind of blocking our way to where the females and young were feeding, as was the second male in the background.

 

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Although he handled himself well, he did walk on hind legs sometimes.

 

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And he was a bit sulky - they do seem to have very distinct characters, although we didn't stay with them more than a few hours.

 

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His older friend was a much more chilled character...

 

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The group we found on the first day were one of the least habituated of the habituated groups and so we didn't even see a female or young chimp except high in the trees until fairly late in the morning. Before that we had to quite a lot of walking and jogging to keep up - and even then we lost them oin a number of occasions and had to relocate them by sound and the ranger's knowledge. They were pretty noisy though, with some big shoutings and lessons for the ladies from the three boys, and even some tree thumping. Very difficult to photograph, or even see, all that stuff though because of teh thick vegitation, so don't get your hopes up if you do go. You might be lucky and they do it in a clearing when you are already within viewing distance, but more likely you will go running through bushes and arrive, beaten up, just in time to catch the tail end of something.

 

There are some paths in there and some are quite well maintained, but many are just elephant tracks that the chimps follow, and sometimes you just have to make your own way through - a machete isn't needed but you can still get very mucky and tired. At one point on the first CHEX, the chimps went across a swamp. I am not sure exactly what it was, but it looked like a peat swamnp to me - very prehistoric. Anyway, we had to follow as this was the group we had now - sounds from the other side of the forest had sugegsted the elephants had not left our original targets completely in peace. The ranger realised the peat bog (let's call it that - black muck basically) was goign to be tricky to cross at the point we had arrived at and told the German woman "Don't go! Don't go!". Whether she was tired and just didn't understand, or whether she panicked a bit at that urgent call and jsut wanted to be snug up against the man with the gun I do not know, but she did go. And there was a "plop" sound and a whiole German woman instantly became half a German woman. She really did start to panic a bit then, but it wasn't quicksand so the ranger was able to pull her out fairly easily. I want to say I did not laugh. Not even a smirk. And that is just as well because despite following the ranger's careful instruction to step exactly where he stepped and there only, half my right leg soon disappeared too. I just couldn't keep my balance with my camera in my right hand. Fortunately, my left was still on relatively solid ground and I was able to pull myself out quite easily. My wife also took a misstep, but she had both porters with her and they plucked her out before she even got her ankles dirty.

 

After the bog, which was quite big, we were getting tired and hungry (and so was the ranger). So we diecided to head for a spiot to eat and hiope the chimps didn't travel too far. And in fact we found one of the males right on the path next to two nice logs to sit on, and that seemed like a sign that this was the place, And that kind old guy sat there for one whole hour - more than triple the longest break we had had before. And as soon as we had finished packing up the lunch boxes, he got up and went on his way, with us again following. Could it be? Surely not!

 

Ranger and chimp guarding us as we have lunch and much needed rest.

 

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One thing that I passed over was the visit of the one hour visitors around 10. On the first day there were about 12 of them, with two rangers, arriving at slightly differtn times, but with visits overlapping. We stepped back a bit to let them have a better look, and to sneak in a quick rest. However, the ranger soon let us know that we CHEXers shouldn;t be making way for the hour-visitors and he led us off path and round the other side of the chimp group, where we finally got a glimpse of some females, but it was too dark, steep and dense to take many photographs.

 

Hour visitors

 

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It was clear that it had been our duty to find the chimps for the hour visitors that day, presumably since the elephants were around. If we made it through to 10 without meeting the elephants again, then it would be safe to bring in the rest.

 

Anyway, after llunch on the first day we headed out after the chimps into what was relatively open space. It was nice, and a relief, to see the sky at first, but eight-foot tall elephant grass presents its own problems when tracking chimps. At least we eventually caught the youngster without his mother for a minute.

 

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The chimps led us on a merry dance through the elephant grass for a while, but in the end we decided the best thing to do was to head back into the forest and wait for them there. Of course when we got back in the forest we realised they were all already in there and walked towards where we could hear them. It was really dense here, with some thick bushes in between the already thick trees and vines and we literally could only see the person in front of us at times. Suddenly the ranger stopped, turned and shouted, "Go! Go!" We all stopped and turned and ran, like good little soldiers, although we had no idea why. Unfortunately the German woman caught her foot in one of the thousands of vines sprawling accross the forest floor and couldn't get it out. My wife was on me as I turned and gave me an encouraging shove to let me know that I was not to play the gentleman and let her go first. So I ran as fast as I thought she could run, dodging between trees as I had guessed by now what must be behind us and that trees were our cover. I got about 40 or 50 meters and then a vine caught my left foot and sent me flat on my face. I wasn't sure if I had saved the camera as everything shook so hard, but my wife says I did and found it hilarious I valued it more than my face. Instead of running over me like she should have done (she is quite scared of elephants) she stopped and helped me up and we staggered on down the slope after the two now disappearing porters. We were followed shorty after by the ranger ushering the rather shaken German woman, which was a relief as it meant the elephants had not followed us.

 

The ranger explained he had pushed aside the branch of a bush and found himself looking at an elephant part in close up. There was no point in using his gun to scare it at that range and so he had backed up a bit and then told us to run for it. I am not sure if running liek that was quite the right thing but it did get us out, and I guess the elephant couldn't see any further than us, so running wouldn't be quite the invitation to chase it might be on the savannah. Why teh chimps hadn't warned us is a puzzle but perhaps like the ranger they just hadn't heard it.

 

Anyway, after that the ranger wanted us to wait on the path to see if the chimps came. I thought this would present a good photo op and was enthusiastic (also my knees really hurt so I wanted to sit down) but as it was already after 2 pm my wife and the German woman decided they had done enough running after chimps and meeting elephants for one day and we headed back to the ranger station.

Edited by pault
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What an amazing trip you had @@pault! Great style of writing and stunning photos (both wildlife and people)! The images of the chimps are out of this world! Looking forward to seeing the rest of the report plus the one about the Ruaha portion of the tirp (whenever you are ready with the photos).

Edited by FlyTraveler

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Fascinating Paul. It looks like one of the paths is made of wooden planks, is that the case?

 

Love the look of the forest.

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Tarzan jungle sounds about right :o Thanks for this very candid and engaging description of the day, Paul. Who'd have imagined so many eles in Kibale?!

 

Looking forward greatly to day 2 and the conga line...

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@@pault - speechless!!! This is brilliant stuff.......

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@@twaffle Yes, there are wooden plank bridges over the swamps/peat bogs in places. The chimps use them too, When possible we would use these of course. You'll see a lot more paths and clearings in my shot than there actually are, because of course it was easiest to photograph then. The forest is great. There are paths and roads cutting through it, but large portions are really just like the jungle I imagined as a child. I planned to return the next day just to photograph bits and bobs and maybe spot some birds and insects, but I had two more walking activities that day and in the end I just didn't have the puff. I could have spent much longer there quite happily.

 

@@Sangeeta I certainly wouldn't have imagined meeting any elephants. I had read all I could find and there is rarely a mention of them as being encountered. I guess we were just "very lucky" as someone tried to put it at the lodge.

 

Thank you everyone for reading and commenting.

 

@@FlyTraveler Ruaha will be a while. Uganda has a lot to photograph!

Edited by pault
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@@FlyTraveler Ruaha will be a while. Uganda has a lot to photograph!

 

Your photographs from Uganda are superb, we can all wait for the Ruaha images and narration, no problem at all. :)

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You may not have found the shoebill but you did gather some humorous insights and tales plus some great photos.

 

"Great start! No money, no driver. Welcome to the Pearl of Africa," said the confused wandering cynic, naively.

 

Tremendous bird shots. Those hammerkops are outstanding. I have not joined you for the chimps yet.

 

I liked the preacher shot & loved the story behind it!

Edited by Atravelynn

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I really apologise for the number of typos in the last post. That was horrible, even for me. Will try to do better, but as I am writing this on my iPad again, I might let you down.

 

 

I'll tell the tale of my second Chimpanzee Habituation Experience first, even though there was an interesting day between the first and second CHEX, mainly because it doesn't require many more photos, but also because I have covered some common elements already and they are fresh in your mind if you are reading this as it is written.

Second time out we had a different guide, and to our surprise there were four more people doing it with us. Six seemed a large number, but since we could stay out only half a day this time (we had to set off for QENP after lunch) we weren't particularly bothered. It would present additional issues for photography as there would be at least two people to share spots with rather than one, but I thought that would be okay. More worryingly, the two couples were probably 20 or more years younger than us and looked pretty fit even for their age. I thought I would definitely have to slow things down with some questions about flora along the way, but as it turned out we weren't a burden until we hit the hills at the end, when I started to wobble (I had been out on two walks the previous day as well, and I was injured a bit in my fall).

Anyway, same routine. Into the vehicle, off to near where the target chimp group had nested (considerably further away than the previous day) and then all out of the vehicle to get our gear in order, ready for the day. Then "Go! Go!" because a big elephant cow had stepped out of the forest onto the road just 10 meters in front of our vehicle! Since "go!" made no immediate sense, I encouraged people to get back in the vehicle, and got a couple in but my wife was heading behind the vehicle, and so we ended up all a bit confused and bumping into each other. Fortunately nobody panicked though. The ranger had gamely stayed in front of the vehicle facing down the elephant. However, although she had a calf with her, after a couple of head shakes she left us in peace and disappeared into the forest again, in the direction of our chimp group. Is that fair? Again?

 

No picture this time. I was focused on helping and anyway my wife would have hit me hard if I had gone for my cameras.

So again we were forced to abandon our plans and go in search of our own chimps. Fortunately it again didn't take too long to do this, although today we had to satisfy ourselves with seeing them in the trees for quite a long time before some decided to come down for some fallen fruit and a bit of sitting around. Those that initially came down did so some way from where we were watching them in the trees, and it took a bit if brisk walking to get to them. But eventually we were there with them again... If only for a moment as this group were moving...and moving.

 

Female with young coming down from the trees

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Vine

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Fruit-stained male

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Making faces (and noises) in the trees

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And they kept moving - so much so that by the time the hour visitors showed up at just before 10, we still had no idea how many chimps there might be and very few photos. Because of the movement of the chimps the hour visitors who we had found the chimps for actually got to the then-static chimps slightly before we did, and there seemed to be rather a lot of visitors today for one ranger.

It then got really confusing when a third group of humans showed up. This was a 14-strong Scandinavian ( I think from their language - although I am not a language expert and didn't speak to them) tour group who had been scaring off the birds and monkeys since their loud and enthusiastic arrival at Primate Lodge the day before. It turned into a mess now as the groups were intermingling and some of the Scandinavians (most of whom didn't seem to speak English) seemed to be completely ignoring their ranger. For a while we had a couple of strangers with us, and our ranger had to send them back to their own group, although I felt sorry for them as I think the reason they came with us was that we were the only group moving as a unit, acting with some purpose to observe chimp behavior, and actually listening to our ranger. The other two groups were all sort of milling around in chaos, with some more intent on getting pictures of themselves with chimps in the background than listening to the ranger or actually looking at the chimps. I was past thinking "only an hour, only an hour" and really beginning to boil a bit. Quite seriously, I was ready to go back. I am a tolerant person about this kind of stuff, but I was tired and it was really just too much. I even thought an elephant might be quite welcome at about this time - perhaps just the sound of one trumpeting. Selfies were being sent around the world. The chatter was beyond annoying.

Fortunately our ranger was thinking similar, and as soon as he saw a group of 3-4 chimps heading off, he called us over, sternly sent back the lady from another group who wanted to come with us, and we set off in pursuit. As we began to catch up we saw that the group (of chimpanzees!) we were following was actually 8-9 strong now and they were moving into less dense bush. They even used the wooden planks to cross the peat bog! Puff puff, but my mood was improving.

 

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There was no way we could keep up with them, but we tried and at worst usually managed to catch up when they stopped to snack or socialise. And as time wore on we noticed that the long line of chimps and humans snaking through the jungle was growing in size all the time, as chimps seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Some seemed to be waiting by the side of the path already and some came loping through the tress past the slow humans to join the conga line. With a bit of light it became easier to get photographs, although since they were moving so rapidly you had to be quick.

 

The line grows...

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I was tiring but it was a wonderful experience and there were flashes of chimps greeting each other, playing, and boisterous young males jumping into trees and shaking them before jumping back down and haring off towards the front of the line. Lots of stuff going on, but we were running and photographing - as soon as you stopped the moment was often gone. They led us out into the open for a little while and then we lost them, but we had a short rest before resuming our search. The ranger was very good at tracking them and we found them before long.

 

Mother and child

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Once or twice one stopped to eat and our ranger had to decide if we could wait to take photos or needed to get on in case we lost the group. Once he felt we had to carry on, but another time he thought we could wait a couple of minutes - and I needed that break to get my breath, although the photo op was nice too!

 

Numbers grow

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Delicious

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And after what must have been nearly two hours of this, although I wasn't clock watching, we came around a bend in the path and there were probably 20 chimps sat in a fairly open grove of immature trees, in rows and circles, for all the world like a meeting had been called. The old alpha male (a smallish but very wise and brave chimp according to our ranger) was even facing them all like the mayor at a town hall meeting, and most of them seemed to be looking at him. They were probably just deciding what to do next, or perhaps they had reached the edge of this territory and they were deciding whether to carry on into that of a rival group. I don't know and the ranger said he couldn't be sure either, but it was magical and we all stood well back and just watched. I shot a few photos, but I knew there was no way to do it justice that way. The chimps were too spread out and there were trees in the way, and anyway, you had to be there! Even the ranger was impressed.

 

At least 13 in frame but there were more out of it

 

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The old male and his audience (actually he is pictured in the previous day's post but this was the day we met him - I haven't really been 100% strict about where I posted the pictures other than when it is describing a specific sighting)

 

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After a few minutes, one, two, three and gradually all of the chimps got up and walked away into the thicker growth on the other side of the grove, and since it was already 12 and we were now far from any road, it was decided that we should call it a day there.

 

Leaving us behind

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I felt sorry for the Swiss couple who wanted to carry on for the whole day as they had to walk with us the long way back to the road and then the ranger would take them out again. I thought that was rather unfair on them. However, I felt sorrier for myself half an hour later, because the route we had to take was very hilly (quite steep in places, although not for prolonged periods like with the gorillas) and I was already running on empty. I even had to ask for a couple of breaks to get my breath back and rest my knees - they had taken quite a banging in my fall two days before and going uphill just hit the spot where they hurt the most and the pain really sapped me.

Fortunately for me, there was no final elephant twist as I couldn't have run if my wife's life depended on it.

Fortunately for the Swiss, we learned later when we met them again in QENP, they had turned back into the jungle with the ranger, five minutes later found another group of chimps at rest, and were able to sit quietly in the sunshine and observe them at close quarters for the rest of the afternoon. Just like my fantasy of a CHEX.

Life just isn't fair I guess.

By the way "go" and "don't go" are the very simple commands the rangers consistently use for emergencies - we were briefed on that at least once. I suppose because everyone will understand them if they have any English at all. More specific commands will presumably follow if German tourists aren't already thigh deep in muck, elephants are not already a few meters away and the ranger dares not turn his back, or the ranger does not have to focus on getting same poor (but happy!) German tourist untangled from vines as he imagines an elephant might be bearing down on him from behind. We will never know I hope.

 

Good excuse for a short rest....

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And I found this intriguing picture in my files. I am really not sure how it was made (it appears there is severe motion blur in the foreground and background but very little in the middle - I would like to know how that happens to reproduce it!) I don't even know whether it was deliberate, but I like to think I snapped it by accident as I was falling. ;)

 

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I should add that nowhere do the UWA claim that the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience will be of a specific nature. I think everything they advertise is true and is delivered. We go out all day tracking and staying with the chimps as they go about our business. We go out with researcher(s) because the rangers are involved in research. We are joined at around 10 and 2 by the hour-long viewing group, and they stay an hour. If my (or your expectations) were different to what we experienced, then this is really due to our inferences and our expectations of what "should be". I think on reflection that our days were not typical, but when you think about it would there be a really typical day? The more I think about it (and look at what happened for the Swiss couple after we had to leave) the more I believe that if we went again it would be different again. Maybe we would be in a group of 7, maybe alone. maybe nobody would come at 10 that day. maybe you will find yourself out with a full research team from the US. Maybe the chimpanzees would stay in the trees all morning and maybe they would gather fruit, eat termites and mate in a clearing with beautiful light. Maybe it would rain all day (we had only a few drops that penetrated to the forest floor) or maybe you would only catch a few glimpses of chimps high in the trees and hear a lot of noise.

 

I've already made it clear what aspect i am concerned about and I think UWA are being very reckless about that. Money-grubbing or not wanting to disappoint already smaller than usual numbers of tourists? A bit of both? However, this is a pretty unique experience and there was some real magic. I'll never experience that again. I am very, very glad I did it twice and on balance it was the highlight of my trip. I would do it twice more and hope for the best. Uganda is so frustrating and so fabulous... this theme will recur and it's a theme raised before by others.

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Wow, continuing to really love this report! Again, your narrative is so engaging and fits so well with the photos, and I really feel almost like I've been there. I say almost, but I do want to experience this myself now so of course it can't be 100%. So interesting to hear that on balance it was the highlight of your trip. I'd have thought the gorillas would be, so I'm very interested to hear about the gorillas too of course. Carry on when you can!

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Your chimp and elephant encounter is exhilarating. Running for your lives! Wow.

 

-------

I finished reading page 2. You really did an outstanding job of describing your experiences and putting them in context. Despite some disappointments and less than ideal practices by the park staff, you had some marvelous sightings and pictures. That baby chimp on its own must have been a challenge as they rarely stay still. Your images are so good that they rival those often seen from Mahale. You really got close!

 

The #s of visitors worries me. Back in 2002 there were no add-ons to the chimp habituation visit. Like your experience, in theory we were supposed to find the chimps walking up on their nests, but in practice it did not happen. I've wanted to return to Kibale. Your honest account of what happened gives me pause. Maybe in the rainy season there would be fewer add-ons, but conditions would not be as good.

 

Your candid, exciting, and humorous account of your CHEX has been a brilliant read. As for the typos you mention, I was so engrossed that I noticed about 1.

Edited by Atravelynn

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You've certainly brought this chimp experience and the forest to life. It's like nothing I've read about before. Sounds a bit typically haphazard in the execution but not totally unexpected and some may say charming in a strange way. Some safari experiences are starting to sound more about rules and bureaucracy than trying to catch a plane. Maybe just a little more thought and control from UWS and it would be ok. Love the forest photos, not just the chimps but the close ups and your ziggly falling one too.

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