Like many people, going on safari has been a dream of mine since I was a child. I’ve always been in awe of nature, wild places and wild animals. No where else quite captures this spirit like Africa. When the opportunity to visit Uganda on Nat Hab’s Great Uganda Gorilla Safari came up, I was thrilled. Never having been in a place this exotic, these experiences surprised me the most.
1. The chatter of chimps in the forest
When I picture the forest, I think of insects buzzing and birds calling while a gentle breeze rustles the leaves. It’s a very calming image. The forest in Kibale National Park that the chimps call home is quite the opposite. Chimps are so loud! The moment we stepped in their forest, I was shocked by their howls and their weight on the branches above. It was a bit scary at first, the feeling that we were invading their home. As we quickly walked through the forest trying to keep up with chimps in the distance, adrenaline pumped through my body. Finally, after several intense minutes everything calmed down and we were able pause and observe our distant cousins.
2. The hike to find mountain gorillas
The term “hike” can represent a wide array of physical exertion. In California, where I live, a hike is basically an easy walk outside. I knew this trip was categorized by Nat Hab as moderate to difficult, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The neat thing about hiking in Bwindi National Park is that it’s not there for tourists, it’s there for the gorillas. As a result, you’re not always hiking up switchbacks. Instead, there’s someone with a machete guiding you through the dense jungle down a steep valley. You hop over or under fallen logs or try to keep your feet dry in a marsh. The adventurous hike made the gorilla sightings even more special. I felt like I really earned sitting in their presence.
3. The diversity of life around the river.
One warm afternoon, our group loaded on to a small boat to explore the banks of the Kazinga Channel. It was teeming with wildlife – elephants, hippos and water buffalo all conjugated together. Birds were everywhere as well – African fish eagles, yellow billed storks, kingfishers. The highlight for me was seeing a huge crocodile sunning itself on the bank of the river, then slowly slithering into the water.
4. The warmth of the people
Tourists are happily greeted by the Ugandans. We had the fortune of being entertained by a local after school drum club while staying at Mahogany Springs Lodge. This group teaches traditional song and dance to students starting at two and a half years old. The older kids took the lead, clearly more experienced, while the small toddlers happily tried to keep up. Suddenly, the we were invited to participate and we joined in and happily danced on our last night in Uganda.
By Elizabeth Duncan, WWF