10th – 12th July: Kontiki Hotel, Hoima.
Our next destination after Murchison Falls was meant to be Albert Lake Lodge for few days R&R.
The direct road there was taxing and bumpy but doable. We were informed later that many avoid this road, preferring to take tar back to Kampala and tar to Hoima, especially when it’s wet and muddy.
Our GPS led us a merry dance. I was concerned when we started to descend a very steep and rocky incline, from the top of the escarpment near Hoima. I stopped, thinking “this can’t be right”. I was assured by the locals that the route was correct and they showed me the correct but challenging way down. It was quite colourful, the escarpment is dramatic and there were plenty of interesting obstacles along the way like herds of Ankole cattle (the ones with the huge horns).
It was only when we arrived at the lodge that we were informed the tar road (the one we turned off to go down the steep incline), leads straight to the lake!
Albert Lodge is perched high above the lake. It has a small swimming pool overlooking the lake and a row of cottages. We were astounded at what they were asking for Camping – $80.00 incl. breakfast. That’s pretty scandalous in Uganda. And to boot the facilities were almost non existent, no shade, no electricity and ablutions in a disused cottage, a fair walk from the main lodge. For the first time on the whole trip, we declined and moved on.
Back to Hoima where we found Kontiki Hotel. It was a pleasant oasis with lovely gardens, pool and exotic birdlife and great value for money. We holed up here for two nights to catch up and just have some downtime. Highly recommended as a stopover to Fort Portal and the Chimps.
12th July – 15th July: Chimpanzee Forest Guest House.
This is a really beautiful location, half way between Fort Portal (nice place to visit) and Kibale Forest where the Chimps are. They grow tea, coffee, bananas, avocados and there are lovely walks in the area. This is the Crater Lakes area, mountainous and scenic with incredible birdlife. We managed to see the Africa Grey Parrot, a first for us both and so lovely to see them in the wild, instead of inside a cage. There was a flock of >20 of them and they entertained us with their antics in the palm trees.
The Guest House has great facilities for camping, we even had our own dining and kitchen area. It was very well run and managed and everything worked! It’s also excellent value for money and highly recommended.
On arrival, we set about getting our permits to see the Chimps. The HQ for U.W.A. is right next door to the Guest House, this where we met Pius, responsible for the bookings. He was most friendly and helpful and even ensured us of a small group and the best guide in the area for our walk – Bosco. We decided on a full day Habituation Day with the Chimps at $220.00 and I’m so glad we chose this over the more popular 3-hour trek.
The following morning, we were in panic mode. We were meant to be at the Chimpanzee rendezvous at 06:30 but we missed the sign on the dark (it was not well signposted) and only just made it before Bosco and the group left. There were only 3 of us in the group, us two and Stephanie, a characterful American lady. We got lucky, we found the Chimp troop early on; they were foraging for food up a tree. We waited for them to come down. When they did, another group (of humans!) just barged in front of us; we were agasp, we’d been waiting around 45 mins, quietly; only be jostled out of it by around 12 very eager trekkers. Bosco was great, he defused the situation with just a look, he knew we would get our chance once they had all left. He was so right. The Chimps do not come down from the canopy until it gets hot.
In our case, that was after 11:00am and after the trekking groups had left. The three of us had the Chimps all to ourselves! The males came down first. They were grooming, playing and generally making a racket, as Chimps do! The Alpha male was not around, but his contender – Totie was. Totie is tipped to become the leader soon, he’s young (21), strong and showing contempt for the Alpha male. The other males show him ultimate respect and he’s clearly the Boss Man in waiting. I was amazed at how unfazed the Chimps were, we were able to get fairly close, cameras pointed straight at them, and they didn’t bat an eye. If you did get too close, they would just move away. There were families in the canopy, the females staying very close to their young.
Bosco had warned us that the females are very protective of their young and wouldn’t venture down from the canopy to the forest floor whilst were there. To everyone’s joy and amazement they defied him and all came down, swinging through the trees with their babies. One even gave a baby Chimp a ride on her back, right in front of us.
The whole experience was just fabulous and quite humbling; a real privilege and something I’ll never forget. There is something primeval in us all and we naturally relate to these other primates in a sense that is different from any other animal experience. They are just so much like us in so many ways. I think the photos say it better than I ever could.
15th to 16th July: Cephas Hotel, Kabale
We had a day off, just enjoying the area and birdlife before moving on to the next stopover before entering Rwanda. We pushed it and made Kabale, the border town by 4pm on 15th July. We stayed at Cephas Hotel, not a lot to say apart from the burgers were just awful!
16th to 21st July: Inzu Lodge, Lake Kivu, Rwanda
It was original intention to stay in Kigali but there was a big convention taking place and all the hotels were full.
Our time in Rwanda was to be centred on seeing the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. However, after meeting some Dutch travellers who had been to the Congo to see the gorillas in Virunga national Park, we decided that would be better for the following reasons……..they need the money to protect the gorillas and tourists shy away from this war torn place, it’s a more personal experience (a max of 4 people versus Rwanda’s 8), not as regimented as Rwanda, it offers both Mountain Gorillas in Virunga and Lowland Gorillas in Kahuzi-Beiga and less expensive i.e. $400 for a permit versus $750 in Rwanda.
So…….onward to Gisenyi on Lake Kivu, the border town with Goma in the Congo.
The GPS had a laugh at our expense again. This time, it sent us up high over the mountains of Rwanda. We were driving on single dirt tracks at over 2200 metres with sheer drops. Now, we have become quite used to being stared at by locals on this trip, but this was different. You’d have sworn the Martians had landed! As we passed through tiny mountain villages, people would rush out, eyes wide and jaws dropped! The kids didn’t even shout and scream like they often do; they were just in shock. The very hairy drive took around 3 hours and we didn’t see another motorised vehicle in that time. So presumably this is a road nobody in their right mind takes. Must say though, the vistas were stunning and it’s another story to tell 🙂
When we eventually got to the bottom, we realised that there was a tar road all the way from Kigali. The GPS in its ultimate wisdom decided to divert us before reaching Kigali and take us via the road to hell.
We made it Lake Kivu, Inzu Lodge late afternoon. It’s a beautiful setting, overlooking the lake and the surrounding hills and valleys in the surrounds. Inzu is a small characterful place with bamboo cottages and safari tents and colorful gardens – seems like just about everything and anything grows in Rwanda. Everywhere is so lush and green and the hills and mountains make for fabulous scenery.
We’ve been to Waterfront Resort, just down the road for lunch and dinner. The food is the best we’ve had since we left South Africa in March! Absolutely delicious and highly recommended. On our second visit, they even laid out a VIP table for us, together with palms and flowers!
I’ve never been to Rwanda before but obviously have lots of experience in Africa. I’m not qualified to make judgments or offer educated opinions about Rwanda but my initial observations are as follows:
It’s clean and tidy, unlike most of Africa – no plastic bags allowed! The infrastructure is very good and everything seems to work, unlike most of Africa! The standard of living appears to be higher and housing seems far better. There does seem to be more order and discipline than is the norm and I understand that each Rwandan has a responsibility to clean up their neighborhood every week / month. They have clearly made a great effort to recover from the days of genocide. It’s hard to imagine that such a peaceful and contented place was the scene of such horrors. However, it does appear a little sanitized and perhaps some of the original characters has been removed, as in the original market in the center of Kigali being moved on.