May 2001
Africa Part 5 - Kampala, Kibale, and Chimps - 5-21-01
Jess Posner

Yes, I know I write too much, but it's been six days without email and I've seen so much. Also, I type much better than I write in a journal so this is partly for me. If you get bored, just scroll down or delete.

Before I go on I would like to state that Uganda is an awesome country. So beautiful, not too full of tourists and the people are really great. In Kenya everyone is trying to badger you to buy something or go on some trip, etc. In Uganda, they wave and are polite but don't expect too much from the "mzungus" (white people in Swahili). I feel very safe here too which is a nice change. So, that's my bit for the Ugandans...

Well, I saw the mountain gorillas on Wednesday May 16th. That was almost a week ago. The next day I headed up north to Fort Portal with Katrina and Chad as the others had to head back to Nairobi. We were told we had a two hour bus ride to Rukungiri from Butogota (similar style bus to the one we rode in from Kampala) and then we could change to a matatu (similar to a dalla-dalla - a minivan really with lots of people stuffed in and goes at terrifying speeds down the high way or dirt roads). The matatu would take us to Ishaka, then Kasese and then Fort Portal, and would take about 3-4 hours. Well, as you have now read, take the amount of hours expected to travel, add three and double. That's pretty much what happened.

We took three hours to get to Rukungiri on a dirt road with a very full bus. fortunately, my seat companion was very informative as he was a high ranking official in the area and told me about Idi Amin (the dictator in the 70s) and how life is going in Uganda. We got off and were quickly herded into a matatu heading to Kasase, the town after Ishaka. Up until Ishaka it's a dirt road but they drive like it isn't. You just pray and go along. To give you a basic idea of the matatu, let's just say that even sardines would complain of little room. It's packed and they drive like banshees. You sometimes wonder if you are supposed to drive on the left or right side of the road. Hmmm... Well, I would go on about this lovely adventure but you've heard enough bus stories. It took much longer than expected of course, and instead of going straight to Kasese we had to change at Ishaka and then again at Kasase, making it much longer. In addition, the driver, who has all the authority stopped to talk to friends on the way and to get milk. Not too funny this time. We arrived about 10 hours later to Fort Portal. There went our 'short' travel day. One highlight was seeing impalas and baboons as we passed through the Rift Valley. Katrina said she even saw an elephant.

So, we stayed in Fort Portal for the night. A cute town really. I stopped by a fabric store, bought some pretty cloth and had the tailor sitting outside with his sewing machine make me a skirt. His name was John Batiste, a very sweet man and good tailor. We were off the next day to head to a hostel near Kibale Nat'l Forest where we heard the hotel owner was once a chef in Kampala. Charles was his name and his place was cute. He offered us tea and fruit upon arrival, took good care of us, or rather his four daughters aging from 3 to 11 yrs. did. His wife is expecting another kid any day now.

The important thing really is the chimpanzee tracking in Kibale. Supposedly it's one of the best places to view chimps and you have about an eighty-percent chance of seeing them. We were hopefully but not as expectant as with the gorillas. At least I wasn't. Our guide's name was Tom, a very bright and cheerful guy, and Paul was our guard. Luckily this time the forest wasn't as thick nor as steep. I was a happy hiker. We tramped through the forest as Tom pointed out plants with medicinal purposes and trees with hard wood. I was interested but more keen on the chimps of course. We walked and Tom would suddenly stop, perk up his ears like a dog and listen. We watched on. This happened several times over the next hour or so. He told us they were probably eating and for that reason we weren't hearing them. I was just hoping he wasn't playing around with us and making us think we would see them. Was he for real with this listening like a dog approach or was it an act? After all, we had heard the chimps early on.

So, as I was getting a bit dubious and frustrated again they started to make noises. And man did they make noises. It was INCREDIBLE!!! Shrieking like they were being attacked and within the forest there was a slight echo too. It added to the effect. Plus, Tom told us chimps can move up to 8 km (around 5.5 miles a day) so if they were on the ground, which they were, they move fast. We just started trampling through the bushes, which luckily weren't as dense but still difficult to manage, following the shrieking. He told us that it was probably two groups communicating to each other, one in a tree and the others on the ground trying to meet up with them. It was just crazy how they went on and on with their high pitched noises. After 20 minutes and the noises growing louder we fell in between the groups. It was crazy and hilarious. It felt like all of the sudden the chimps would just fall right on us and attack us or something. It was even better.

All of the sudden Tom had us crouch down and within seconds there they were passing us on the ground. They would look at us and then swiftly walk on, screeching all the way. We probably saw from 8-12 chimps walking to meet the other group. Then within another five minutes we came to a clearing where there was a huge fig tree, and I mean huge and there they were way up above. It was wonderful. Tom told us to not stay directly below them as they can throw food, feces or branches at us.

We probably saw about 40 chimps in total, moms and babies, the old ones with gray backs like the silverback, juveniles, girls, boys, etc. We watched on in awe for over an hour. They were so much fun to see and so agile as they walked the branches. Supposedly when they mate they do it in the trees too. I wish I could explain the feeling of watching them but words cannot express. The excitement was high. We even saw a few fights where they noise reached high levels again.

We headed back and had a great discussion with Tom about AIDS in Uganda, which is one of the lowest rates thankfully, and marriage, family size and so much more. He also pointed out birds and other plants that cure different ailments. The African people are very resourceful. After four hours and one of them being with the chimps we left Kibale on a high. We were talking about how we hadn't seen any monkeys which are also popular in the park...sure enough as we reached the road that cuts through the park we saw some in the trees. It's so cool to seem them in their natural habitat, eating and swinging from branch to branch. Monkeys seems to do a lot more high and long jumping from tree to tree. Chimps did more walking along the branches and then swinging. We stayed on at Charles' place another night, ate good food, including his famous pineapple pie, and even went for a swamp walk the next day. There we saw some cool birds and three types of monkeys. I could have seem more.

The next day, since it was Sunday, we had a little trouble flagging down a truck or matatu heading to Fort Portal. Luckily, a pickup heading that way picked us up. I mention this ride because not only did we see tons of baboons along the road but we stopped to pick up two soldiers and what looked like a wounded man. Little did we know he was a rebel. We didn't know where he was from; Rwanda, the Congo or Sudan, but we were told he was a prisoner. Traveling back to town was so beautiful. Mountains and hills, all green with banana trees and tea leaves. I love seeing the rolling tea plantations, the tops of the leaves an iridescent green.

So, Monday, yesterday we hopped on another bus. To our amazement it left 8 minutes early. We were in disbelief. And it only took 5 hours, the quoted time! Now I'm back in Kampala, finishing up my emails, resting and heading to the Nile tomorrow to river raft on class 5 rapids. I'll write you in a week or so from Arusha. I'm hoping to do Kili next week before my parents arrive.

Hope you're all well and thanks for reading my book of an email.



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6

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