Follow me over the next few weeks on my adventure through Uganda and Rwanda – enjoy the ride!

Day 1 – Kampala

You know you have arrived in Africa when the airport announcements are for Kigali, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Brazzavillle, Bujumbura and Kampala … which is where I landed earlier today.  An hour later I was off to visit an AMREF project in Kawempe, one of the many slums that are today awash in red mud from torrential rain. I have supported AMREF’s work for over 10 years and encouraged others to do the same (see link).   This particular project supports commercial sex workers – teaching them alternative ways to earn money – tailoring, hairdressing, etc.  The woman work in a tiny dark room on ancient sewing machines running up the latest African fashions.  One of them told me her story … from the age of 5 with no parents Jane grew up in the slums and fell in with other street workers, first doing their laundry and housekeeping and when she was old enough turning tricks.  She has 3 children by three different fathers.  But she has not turned a trick for 5 years and at 24 is now working as a mentor to other young prostitutes and making enough from tailoring to pay for her children to go to school.  She is HIV positive but was “happy to find out – I had no more fear”.  On the street using a condom earns $3 – no condom and you make $12 so once she knew she was positive she stopped insisting on condoms and earned way more – she felt she had nothing to loose.  AMREF has 40 woman sewing in three shifts a day and they all mentor other woman. The young woman were snickering as they paged through old magazines and patterns books much like young woman anywhere.   They wanted to make me a dress – I guess I looked a litte travel weary … so off to clean up for dinner with the owners of the fabulous Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala …

Day 2 – West from Kampala

A seven hour drive west towards the Congo and Ruwenzori’s (Mountains of the Moon). The country side so green, so lush, roadside markets piled high with produce, truck loads of bananas and tea carpeting the hillsides. Through Fort Portal, long windy road into Semliki Wildlife Reserve which lies in rift valley on south end of  Lake Albert.  Good company all the way with owner of Wildplaces  Uganda; Jonathan Wright and stories of his return to Uganda in 1990 after 18 years in exile. Semliki Lodge lies on road to Ntoroko, a fishing village infamous for blood diamonds and gold smuggled out by boat of neighboring Congo. Lodge an oasis – thatched tents on platforms overlooking Central African rainforest – black and white colobus monkeys leaping from tree to tree outside our room, birds and forest sounds, thunderstorm coming across mountains. Dinner on beautiful verandah– fabulous steaks, South African wine and more stories – all rounded off with a Semliki slammer (passion fruit cut in half filled with palm wine). Up early tomorrow for chimps

Day 3 – In Search of Chimpanzees

Non stop rain through the night, coffee delivered to tent 5.30am, off shortly after in search of chimps. Vehicles slipping and sliding through black cotton soils to trail head.

Chances apparently high as chimps spotted night before. Trail awash with water and mud clings generously to boots. Baboons tucking in to their morning breakfast at fig tree.

Onwards and upwards steep climb to view point. Guides scan tree line and spot what looks like a chimp. Trek back towards river far in distance was what we had all come to see, a large chimpanzee. Descend, up, down, through heavily overgrown animal trails, grass over our heads, a few more sightings, none up close and personal. Back on main trail, humid, hot and heading home, suddenly chimps yelling alarm, close by? Ranger freezes and points; coming directly up trail towards us – large chimp, followed by 3 others. Just meters in front of us they swerve off trail and melt back into forest. Breathtaking.

Day 4 – South through Uganda

After leaving Semliki and a quick stop at Andrews Brothers in Fort Portal for road trip supplies we were off.  Road is paved and our progress brilliant – the diversity of Uganda is astonding.  In a few hours we have gone through Queen Elizabeth Park with it’s open plains (had to make a fast stop as two lions wandered across the highway right in front of our car).  West snow-capped peaks of volcanoes, glaciers of the Rwenzoris – and east Lake George.  We pass the Kazinga Chanel and turn towards the isolated Ishasha Sector, whose giant fig trees are home to famous tree climbing lions.  Finally descending to Lake Edward and our final destination – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Askari_Africa_UgandaHeaded for luxurious Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge we hike in from Buhoma, a small town on the Congolese border on north end of Bwindi NP – the drive around otherwise is a bone-jarring 4 hours which drivers make with our luggage.  Forest dripping with ferns, creepers and giant trees – primary forest in all it’s glory.  Mist drifts in an out of valleys and sound of waterfalls all around.  Arriving at river our next challenge – a vertigo-inspiring bridge (I use the word bridge lightly).  We decide (to the horror of our National Parks Ranger), to take our chances and wade across barefoot.  One more hour up – at trailhead a welcome sight – vehicles from Clouds with a cooler of  drinks and cold towels.  There is just enough light as we reach Lodge to take in distant volcanoes, rainforest and villages below – feeling like we have arrived at the top of the world.  Clean up, drinks around roaring fireplace, volcanoes glowing in distance across border and drums beating in valley below.  So many varied landscapes in just one day.

Day 5 – Bwindi Gorillas

Blissful early coffee in secluded cottage at Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge after cool night offset with crackling fire, warm duvets and steaming showers.  Gorillas on agenda today.  All precautions taken against nettles, mud, rain and steep terrain – look like overdressed fools heading up to Ranger Station two minutes from Lodge.  Safety briefing and off we set – anticipation high.
Down, down winding mountain paths, villages, bananas, beans, coffee, goats, chickens – children shouting hello.  Final extreme descent over carpet of nettles, roots, long grass.  Suddenly drop walking sticks, backpacks off – Ranger whispers gorillas closeby.  Nervous, excited – out of undergrowth a young adult male approaches, sits down only metres away, tears of branches and begins to eat – we do not exist.  Through thicket family of 19 approach – entire Nkuringo Family – including 3 Silverbacks and 11 month old twins riding on mother’s back.  They surround us – eat, play, sleep – unconcerned.  Permitted hour ends way too soon.  Exhilarated!

Day 6 – Village Wander


Gentle start to witness village life.  School is in session – bright blue uniforms, smiles, 5 classrooms, 452 pupils – 6 to 14 years old.  Local soccer field, highest point in village – only flat ground around!  360 degrees views.  Women cultivating, clearing, terracing, planting…back breaking work.

Next we try our hand grinding millet at local brewery – two 25 gallon drums – enter bar; dank dark room, hand carved stools – $1 buys you a calabash full…

Move on to village blacksmith – bellows: a hollowed out forked log, covered with goat skin and worked by hand – Nicolas, master craftsman forges a knife with precision – 15minutes and $1 later- sale concluded.

Meander down main track through village, ducks and ducklings for sale on grass verge, lodge sponsored community pig project prospering on lodge left overs – two have become eight.

Day 7 – Into Rwanda








Uganda Rwanda border – Left our friends at Clouds, two hour bumpy bone jarring track to Kisoro – overnight in depressing dark, damp lodge, surroundings improved considerably with the amount of Chivas imbibed (no ice)!
Up early to border crossing, picture tells the story, customs and immigration a breeze.
Into Rwanda and Volcanoes Virunga Lodge perched high above the lakes.

Day 8 – Virunga Mountains

Terraces and Virungas

Askari_Africa_RwandaSpent down day on deck overlooking lakes – three hour hike in afternoon through villages. Incredible population density – 480 people per sq km – every inch of land cultivated – houses on impossibly steep slopes – very little livestock – there is no room and seems impossible to sustain. Dinner with couple of Namibian guys just in from Bujumbura, Burundi – many stories. Nightcap listening to absolute silence as Rwanda sleeps – so many people all around and not a single sound – no cars, no music, no voices, no lights just the smell of wood smoke.

Day 9 – Monkey on your back

Left Virungas and lakes for gorilla tracking in Parc National des Volcans.  John our Ugandan driver/guide leaves us to head back to Kampala.  Our tracking companions include head of UNHCR for Africa – just back from Congo and two million refugees.  Anni to UN guys who are wearing deck shoes “Is the UN always this prepared?” – irreverant?

Askari_Africa_UgandaDrive up to the end of track and start making for park boundary fence – 74km of volcanic rock wall. Duck and dive through 30 foot high bamboo forest and foot long earthworms. An hour later, sticks down, packs off and there they are again…longer haired this time as we are over 3000m. Silverback Charles leads the family but Bunyenyeri the young black back steals the show – thumps his chest and leaps on back of tracker, while guides shout “NO PHOTO, NO PHOTO!” I almost pass out. Feisty he comes back for more but with gentle boot on bum finally moved off. Remaining time gives us a chance to watch sub adults play – our heart rates return to normal.




On to new home Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge – 2558m above sea level – roaring fire in room, hot bath and magnificent views of volcanoes from verandah.  Fabulous dinner with Manager and much discussion on Rwanda and gorillas … Ahhhhhhhh !




Day 10 – Batwa and Bathmats

Emmanuel Bugingo from Gorilla Organization (GO) picked us up – visited GO projects around Ruhengeri – organic farms, water reservoirs, seed banks, adult literacy – mandate is to bring people out of forest to protect gorilla habitat.  Onward towards Lake Kivu and north-western border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, to another project; social integration of historically marginalized Batwa Pygmies.  Two hours of rolling hills, pot holes, fields of potatoes and beans, bumping and squelching through mud, rivers of chasing children.  Batwa community lies 200m from the DRC at the foot of Mount Karasimbi – no fences, no border control – just more Africa!

82 people living in huts as they did in the forest – no shoes, hand forged tools – GO bought them land, taught them farming – Emmanuel mentors progress.  Just finished first harvest of potatoes, maize being planted as we watched.  Not one person in community has ever been to school – $800 earned from first harvest will enable kids to start school in January.

Continued on to Gisenyi on Lake Kivu – interesting combination of wild frontier town and colonial getaway.  Lovely late lunch on lake shore at Café Paradis Malahide – fresh tilapia done 10 different ways – yum!  Overnight at brand new Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel, tried to buy bathmat…doesn’t everyone want a bathmat embossed “Hotel Gorillas”?

Day 11 – Kigali & Kanga


Viva FIFA! Breakfast with FIFA delegates at Hotel des Mille Collines – Hotel Rwanda.  Walk from Embassy Row, industrial area, slums to Genocide Memorial.  Visit humbling, haunting.  Could not watch films, final room filled with photographs of children massacred.  Walk back in rain, sky weeping?

Seven year old school girl follows us home, practicing English “Musungu, musungu, (white person), what is your name?”

Askari_AfricaAfternoon spent in search of Kanga (traditional cloth).  Food, plastic goods, electronics, streets divided by wares.  Buses, taxis, motorbike taxis – everyone selling rides – why are the musungus walking?  Finally street of cloth merchants, miles and miles of cloth; local, Congolese, Senegalese, top of the range Cote d’ Ivoire.  Settle on one of each – spread the love.  Retire to verandah of luxurious Serena Hotel; tea and apple pie.  A day of juxtapositions.





Day 12 – Ngamba Island, Lake Victoria

Give me a break – more musungus.
Askari_Africa_ChimpanzeeFlew short 35 mins Kigali back to Kampala last night and early this am to Entebbe Pier for trip by boat across Lake Victoria to Ngamba Island.  Chimpanzee sanctuary about 40 mins away on isolated, densely forested island, home to 44 animals – rescued from various places around the world – suitcases at airports, in national parks with snares around limbs, from poachers across Africa, orphaned when parents killed for bush-meat trade, zoos around the world and private nit wits.  Arrive in time for 11 am feeding – screeching, howling cacophony as they come out of forest – right on time.  Much more aggressive than gorillas – greedily hoard as much of food and then lurk off to spots on edge of forest to eat.  Just as quickly an hour later they disappear –  they have run of whole island except small corner which is fenced off for keepers and visitors.   Chimps share 98% of our DNA – uncanny resemblance to behavior seen late at night where alcohol or ego are involved.  Back to Kampala for last night in Africa.

Day 13 – Fika Salama

Askari_Africa_RwandaOur last day in Africa.  Terrific storm last night coming in over Lake Victoria.  Incredible memories – mission accomplished – fabulous itinerary nailed for those wishing best of Uganda and intro to Rwanda – gorillas and many other things.  Look for full details in a couple of weeks

Celebrating gorillas – Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge

Thanks to The Uganda Safari Company and Wildplaces – Zara, Jonathan and everyone at Emin Pasha, Semliki Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge – John Mugabwa from Volcanoes Safaris – Bernard de Wetter at Sabyinyo Silverback – Emmanuel Bugingo from Gorilla Organization for being inspirational – Paul Ntaganda from Hotel Mille Collines – Wafula from Gorillas Hotel Kigali – and many others along the way.  And mostly to Africa for never letting up on overwhelming all senses.  Fika Salama – travel well.