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Heading To Gorilla Country

Kabale and Kisoro

semi-overcast 25 °C
View Grant and Helena's world tour on Grantandhelena's travel map.

We left the cocoon of our organised tour to Queen Elizabeth National Park on Sunday and we were on our own in Uganda. We had to make our way from Chimpanzee viewing to the far south west of the country. We would use just about every means of transport on offer, starting with motorbike taxis or boda bodas to get us from the chimpanzee gorge to the main road. After a short wait, a matatu or shared taxi van picked us up on the main road and took us to Mbarara, where we changed to another matatu to Kabale, near the Rwanda border. The road was not brilliant, the matatus cramped, smelly and dusty, and the journey tiring.  The scenery was beautiful, though, especially passing the tea plantations on the way to Mbarara and the people on board friendly.

Scenes from a Ugandan matatu and scenery glimpsed from the window

We got to Kabale quite late and found a room in a fairly dingy local hotel. Our room looked out on to the back of the hotel bar, where noisy games of pool were being played by locals and very loud music was playing. After showering, the manager knocked on our door and told us that there was in fact a big local concert next door that night. "I don't know what time it will finish; do you have ear plugs? I know you people don't like noise much", he told Grant. Damn right - we decided to hot foot it out of there to another hotel, where we spent half an hour madly swatting mosquitos on the ceiling of our room, but at least it was quiet.

Kabale proved to be a charmless town but it did have one thing that we had been craving - a place that serves decent curry. The many Indians who were thrown out by Idi Amin in 1972 (many of them had been there for generations, having been brought there by the Brits to build the railway), have been coming back since the 1990s (promised that their property would be returned). You hence see many businesses run by Indians all across Uganda. We ate our curry while watching the final of the East African Pop Idol, and thought the guy from Rwanda was best.

The next day we found a guy with a very decrepit Toyota Corona to drive us up the road to Kisoro, further west and the true gorilla tracking base. The drive to Kisoro took us along a surprisingly good road that wound through spectacular mountain scenery, and was pretty eventful for a few reasons. First, we met some very large baboons on the road which our driver stopped for us to admire, only for the dominant male to aggressively circle the car. We kept the windows firmly closed and drove on!

Local baboons on the road to Kisoro

Next, we drove past a huge UN refugee camp which seems to have been a permanent fixture since the mid 90s, serving those fleeing Rwanda, and then DR Congo - a reminder of the volatility of this region. Then on a high mountain pass our driver was flagged down by a soldier in blue khakis with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder. It turned out he was a local policeman called Moses who wanted to hitch a ride to Kisoro. Since he was holding a machine gun, we gladly shifted our bags and let him jump in the front. Well, he turned out to be full of the banter and explained that he had been at the roadside all night watching over a truck that had crashed and waiting for his superiors in Kisoro to send a replacement. Eventually he got tired of waiting and hitched a ride with us!

Just after we dropped off the local cop, our driver pulled over at a mud hut by the road and proceeded to offload commercial-sized barrels of home brew from the boot of the car, assisted by some guys who came out of the hut. It explained the regular alcoholic whiffs circulating in the car up until then; something Moses had not felt inclined to investigate before getting out!

Kisoro is a decent town and we spent a couple of nights here checking the place out. There is a big twice weekly market in town that attracts people from Rwanda and DRC - no tourist wares on sale but plenty of plastic flip flops, metre long blocks of soap, "Gorilla" matches, fruit and veg, cheap transistor radios, and anything else a local Kisoro resident could need.

Kisoro market - we were somewhat of a novelty here

Africa: the continent of amusing adverts. This one was outside the local doctor's surgery, and the doc had a laugh when he saw Grant posing next to it

On the Tuesday we took a walk out of town to a nearby lake, again enjoying a lot of attention from local people intrigued that the white people were out for a wander. Our passage was accompanied by cries of "Mazungu!!", meaning "white person" and occassional shouts of "give me money!". It took a couple of hours to get to the lake and we convinced a guy to give us a lift back to town on his motorbike - three of us on his 90cc bike; typical practice round here!

Scenery from our trip to the local lake

We felt we had earned a decent feed after our excursion and treated ourself first to a beer at the Traveller's Rest Hotel, Diane Fossey's old hangout, and to some fried pork and matoke (savoury banana) at a local hotel that evening.

Local fare at a local hotel after the hike to the lake

On Wednesday we took a car from Kisoro along the 30km dirt road to Nkuringo, our base for gorilla tracking. The scenery around here is simply incredible: sheer, lush valleys and dense forest everywhere you look.  The scene was set for going gorilla tracking.

Posted by Grantandhelena 21:14 Archived in Uganda

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The country looks very lush and green which is good to see in Africa. Your journey to Kisoro with the stop for the baboons and the policeman was a good read! Fried pork and banana looked tasty! xx

by Anne and Bill

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