Uganda - Magical Mountain Gorillas and more! Part one

May 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

First impressions and thoughts of Uganda.

The Journey to Buhoma.

Getting to Uganda from Australia involves a relatively long but easy journey. From Brisbane one either flies to Perth (approx 6hrs) and then on to Johannesburg (approx 9hrs) or one can fly from Brisbane to Sydney (approx 1hr) and then to Johannesburg (approx 14hrs). One must then take a flight to Entebbe, Uganda and usually a night stopover in Johannesburg is necessary due to the flight connection times (we generally stay at the City Lodge OR Tambo airport hotel which is right in the terminal you only have to walk for 5 min in the building to get there and although it is nothing special it is comfortable, clean, convenient and not too expensive).  Then before continuing our journey we had a night stopover in the capital of Uganda, Kampala, again due to flight connection times. We just stayed in an airport hotel there in preparation for leaving early the next day. 

Our first day in Uganda dawned and it was finally time for us to get onto the light aircraft flight that would take us to the Kihihi airstrip. This was the closest airstrip to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - our ultimate destination. This one forest is the home of over half of the world’s population of the highly endangered Mountain Gorillas. The total world population numbers only approximately 900, this has actually increased over the last decade or so from half this number. These incredible animals came terrifyingly close to the brink of extinction, in fact they still teeter scarily close to the brink but at least there is some improvement in their situation. The majority of the rest of the Mountain Gorillas live in Rwanda, with just a few left in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the DRC unfortunately their survival is tenuous at best due to the extreme political instabilities and resulting wars, poverty, hunger and desperation in this country. In fact some of the Gorilla families from Bwindi, which is right on the border with the DRC, have crossed the border and never been seen again, likely having fallen prey to the rebels who live in the forests over the border. Reportedly the rebels kill a lot of wildlife, partly as they rely on bushmeat to survive and partly because they do not want the government to garner any revenue from tourists coming to see the Gorillas and other wildlife (as happens in Uganda and Rwanda). There is, sadly, little chance of the latter any time in the near future due to the danger and political instability in the DRC. 

The 1¼ hr flight over Uganda was quite an education. This small country is home to an incredible 40 million people and almost every inch of land is covered by farmland (mostly subsistence farming but with some plantations) and villages. The land is very fertile so a lot can be grown in a small area. This, and the huge number of people living here, does mean that every available piece of land is cultivated with tea, bananas and coffee to sell and crops to feed the farmers and their families. There are also quite a lot of goats and cattle (a kind of Longhorn / Brahman looking breed mostly). What really struck me with sadness and concern when passing over this landscape was that (apart from the small areas set aside for the national parks) there is quite literally nowhere for any wildlife to live and nothing for them to eat without raiding farms. This results in a veritable disaster in terms of human-animal conflict and the inevitable poor outcome for the animals. What is also of great concern is that there is no possibility of any kind of migration of animals. This means that each population is essentially an isolated island with the resulting loss of genetic diversity, population pressure and inability of the animals to adapt to changing conditions by moving.

On arrival at the airstrip we were greeted by a friendly local guide and driven the 1.5hrs through the countryside and villages to Buhoma village on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The roads were pretty bad, full of bumps and huge potholes but the drive is pleasant anyway because there is so much of interest to look at along the way including tea plantations, villages, locals walking along the roads, in the villages and working in the fields, homemade wooden bicycles, banana plantations, birds of all shapes and sizes, rivers, streams, coffee galore, goats galore, cattle galore and ducks and chickens (you got it – galore!), the border with the democratic Republic of Congo complete with nearby army barracks and patrols on the Ugandan side to guard against the rebels…..

When we arrived in Buhoma we diverted off the “main” road down a track that looked rather like we had taken a wrong turn but which happily delivered us to the beautiful lodge where we stayed – Mahogany Springs. 

Some photos from our journey are included below.

Uganda-4Uganda-4

Our light air craft for the flight to Kihihi

Uganda-7Uganda-7

Flying over Lake Victoria - a fishing boat moving through the green waters.

Uganda-5Uganda-5 Uganda-6Uganda-6

Villages and farms from the air.

Tea Plantation HarvestWorkers in tea plantations on the way to Buhoma Workers harvesting tea in a plantation on the road to Buhoma.

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Tea, coffee and bananas growing on a hillside subsistence farm on the road to Buhoma.

UgandaUganda A little boy and his father smile from their mud brick house where they are drying coffee beans on the ground.

 


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