|UPDATE FROM KRYSS 11/8/2013:
The eclipse over, we retraced our steps across the Nile and south to Kampala. I had originally planned to stay in Kampala and visit Entebbe but decided to stay in the latter and get away from the crowds and noise of the big city.
Fred negotiated Kampala's back streets, thus avoiding the crowded centre and its traffic jams, and we arrived in Entebbe, a surburban town by Lake Victoria.
I gave Fred the day off and spent Tuesday exploring on foot and with local transport.
The Botanical Garden was extensive and beautiful. I saw a troop of vervet monkeys scurrying along the ground and in a tree. There were herons, egrets and various other birds that I have yet to identify.
Lake Victoria borders the gardens and it looked great shimmering in the equatorial sun.
Not far away was the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre, a large area with wildlife and with exhibits.
I saw a leopard here, asleep on the ground. The other interesting animal was a bird called the shoebill which looks like it has half swallowed a slipper. The chimpanzees were fascinating as I observed a troop of them for ages while some used branches as tools. There were a pair of white rhinoceros which you would not want to annoy.
Other animals seen included the spotted necked otter, a bush duiker (another of the small antelopes) and a noisy black and white colbus monkey that arrived as I was quietly stalking the rhinos. They thought I had made the noise and gave me a nasty look and a snort.
That night the rain was heavy and the wind blew metal items outside my room.
Fred picked me up on Wednesday and we headed south. We stopped for the obligatory photos on the Equator. My travels had taken me from zero longitude to zero latitude.
The scenery got hiller and more fertile. We saw egrets, a long crested eagle sitting on a telephone pole and some beautiful impala. Finally after eight hours we descended to the lovely volcanic Buyunyi Lake at 1840m. I was the only guest staying at the lodge as it is rainy season. I had a cabin overlooking the lake and the view was stunning.
I prepared for the next day by getting out my hiking boots, rain proof poncho and other items for a long walk through rain forest. At this altitude I even needed by jacket.
We set off at 6am in the dark. It soon got light and we ascended through the most dramatic scenery so far. The soil was volcanic and fertile. Volcano cones dotted the horizon. The mist flowed across valleys and ridges painting a magical morning scene.
I felt a little dizzy from the altitude as we arrived at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The park offices were at 2340m. I had my passport and permit checked, ate a banana and drank a coffee and felt better.
I was part of a group of four accompanied by a ranger, two trackers and two armed guards. We drove for about 15 minutes then we were on foot. I had borrowed a hiking stick so I looked like a proper trekker. The ground was wet without being too muddy. Parts of the trail was steep and left me breathless.
The rain forest here is dense and is about 25,000 years old, one of the oldest in Africa.
After about 20 minutes walking, we were instructed to leave our sticks and bags and switch off our camera flashes.
10m further on in a patch of the rain forest floor, was a troop of nine mountain gorillas. This was one of 16 troops of over 400 individuals in the park, half the world's total.
There was a mother with a newborn baby clinging to her and clambering all over her. If we got too close she glared at us and growled. We got the message. Several juveniles were eating, playing or climbing a tree. Occasionally one would bang his chest at us.
Surveying his domain and ignoring us was the massive silver backed alpha male. He looked deep in thought when we arrived. He then went and sat close to the mother and baby. He frequently outgassed and the smell was noticeable. Finally he lay on the ground and stared at us.
Gorilla hands are very similar to human hands and their mannerisms looked very familiar. Each individual had their own distinct face and expressions. It was a fascinating experience to spend an hour in their world.
Like the 22 seconds of the eclipse, this hour passed all too quickly. Reluctantly we made our way back to the road and drove back to the offices where we were given gorilla spotting certificates.
We had been lucky that this group was nearby and they don't move far during the rainy season. We were also lucky with the rain. It poured as soon as we began our drive back. The sun quickly asserted itself as we descended. We even saw a pair of sacred ibis by the side of the road.
Today (Friday) I returned to Entebbe after a nine hour journey. We even saw zebras and a yelloe beaked stork. Now my journey home via Qatar begins.....
Mari went here today...we came on the 16th with her since she was only able to squeeze in the Zoological Park where they keep some recovering animals for various reasons, kind of zoolike but Mari says they have lots of room!
When we came it was mainly to see the Botanical Gardens which turned out to be just a large estate with huge, old trees some of them labelled but most not. It was a nice walk along Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. We also went to the Imperial Botanical Resort where Pres. Clinton stayed when he visited the country...you can stay the nite in the very room he occupied for only $531 US a nite! Such a deal, we could hardly miss it but we did. On our way to Entebbe (known for the Israeli deal some years back as you recall if you're old enuf), we noticed lots of military along the route and enquiring later we found out that Moammar El-Gadhafi from Libya was coming to address a World Muslim Youth Conference in Entebbe. He also inaugurated a huge Mosque he contributed which was attended by 10 African leaders(Mari read this in a paper the next day), from Ghana, Chad, Niger, Ethiopia, Rhuanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Cameroon, and Sudan! Quite a list of leaders! No wonder we found so many military and police in town that nite as well. Maybe my comments on safety walking the streets at nite are only due to circumstances!?? Actually, I don't think so but there was a lot of security going on while we were there. There were posters of the Ugandan President and Gadaffi all over and even lots of youth wearing T-shirts with a picture of Gadhafi on the front. We tried to buy one but no one was selling!
On the way back to Kampala there was a huge traffic jam going out of town towards Entebbe which was good for us since no one (well, hardly anyone compared to the usual) was going our way...saw two or three police and/or military escorted caravans of VIP vehicles pass by. Mari was swearing a blue streak each time cause her camera wasn't firing up in time to get any pics, ha!