Friday, August 24, 2012

21 Day Safari - Uganda

Another beautiful African sunset

For nearly 10 years we have been enjoying bumping around Ugandan roads, exploring the country and often going where few people go. Our recent 21 day safari was the longest to date and gave us a chance to revisit some favorite spots and poke around some new ones. Over the years we have seen so many changes and improvements and seem to do less "bumping" on the roads these days due to highway improvements (unless speed humps count). Uganda is evolving as a tourist destination and it's wonderful to witness. During our trip we experienced outstanding professionalism from the Uganda Wildlife Authority staff and guides wherever we went and the smiles on their faces when they heard that we were spending so much time in Ugandan parks was a joy to see. Their amazement also extended to our roof top tent, many of whom had never seen such a thing. It has taken us many years to build up our arsenal of camping equipment to be able to take such long trips and stay in remote campsites with only basic facilities and we have concluded that it has been well worth it. One of the most rewarding factors of sitting in one place for several days is the chance to see and experience things that you don't get on a rushed journey. The full safari experience really can come to you, often when you least expect it.

The best example of that on this trip was the presence of two lionesses in our campsite one night. We were relaxing around the fire when we heard an unusual noise not far away, we shone our flashlights around and spotted two lionesses. This came on the heels of driving around earlier that day for over four hours looking specifically for these sensational cats. We retreated to the vehicle where we sat and watched and photographed them until they got tired of our bright lights and moved on. An exhilarating experience for sure and one that you're only likely to get when you are the only people in a campsite as we were that night.

Two lionesses in our camp

Even though every day is special and unique in its own way, there are definitely moments that stand out. Our favorite camp spot was the Ishasha River campsite. This beautiful shady spot right on the banks of the Ishasha River gave us the opportunity to spend several days living with a pod of hippos and learning about their lifestyle and habits. Every night after sunset we would listen as the entire pod traversed upriver against the current with relative ease to their favorite grazing spot, grunting and splashing all the way. Early in the morning before dawn's first light we would hear them again as they ran and floated back down river to their favorite pool to spend the day. 

Ishasha River Camp

Hippos in the Ishasha River

Ishasha River campsite was also a haven for insects which seemed to keep us in constant amazement as well as home to a pair of Cassin's Grey Flycatchers, relatively rare birds that we watched for hours catching butterflies and building their nest only to witness it get flooded by the rising river after a storm. Those little birds didn't let the flooded nest ruffle their feathers, instead they cleaned out the soggy grass and sticks and began construction again. Nature can be cruel but it's an easier pill to swallow than seeing the effect that man can have on animals. It was heartbreaking to see an injured hyena lying on the side of the road that had been hit by a vehicle struggling for its life and should be a lesson to all not to speed inside the park. On another occasion we met a lone hippo that had separated itself from its pod to nurture a large wound that had been inflicted by a poachers spear. We went back to check on the hippo a few days later and were happy to see that he was still in solitude and the wound seemed to be improving.

An insect that looks like a leaf in our camp

Cassin's Grey Flycatcher

Uncharted territory for us was the Semliki National NP which held us firmly in its grip for several days. Although the campsite was very basic it had everything we needed to enjoy life in the jungle. Various species of monkeys entertained us by swinging through the trees in the campsite while birds called out from all directions. The guided walks through the forest with our guide Tadeo were both beautiful and fascinating as we admired our surroundings and learned the intricacies of the forest ecosystem. 

Butterfly in Semliki National Park

The trip ended on a high by seeing the elusive Sitatunga in the Katonga Swamp. The sitatunga is an aquatic antelope that lives in papyrus swamps and is incredibly secretive making it hard to see. We had a brief moment to admire this creature before it disappeared deep into the reeds. Mystical.

Looking for Sitatunga in Katonga

Our trip made us fall deeper in love with the Queen Elizabeth NP and its surrounding areas like Pelican Point and the Exlplosion Crater Drive and eager to revisit Semliki National Park to explore the forest more extensively. With every trip that we take we learn of more places of interest from safari guides and UWA staff that we meet along the way so instead of getting shorter, our list seems to get longer. Uganda has so much to offer and with each journey take we understand more why Sir Winston Churchill called Uganda the Pearl of Africa.

Uganda - The Pearl of Africa