The last tour I escorted was to Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa”. At the time I didn’t anticipate a global pandemic and didn’t realize this journey would be the last I would lead for a while. However, if you’ve ever travelled with me, you’ll know I try to make the most of every day, every opportunity and every new experience in a meaningful way. Uganda was no exception and those who accompanied me were equally eager to make this one of the most incredible and memorable journeys of their life.
We began in Entebbe, on the shores of Lake Victoria, where we were graciously met by our local leader Anjelica and our two driver/guides Vincent and Jude. Together we became travelling companions, sharing stories, laughter, and genuine kindness for each other. Vincent and Jude, provided exceptional guiding and shared their knowledge and expertise as we travelled in 4×4’s through the lush, gorgeous countryside.
At Murchison Falls National Park, we experienced the Nile River thundering through the narrowest part of the river, 7 metres—before cascading 43 metres to the bottom. Beginning on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda and ending in the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt, the Nile is the longest river in Africa. The next day, after observing an array of wildlife in our jeeps, we enjoyed a private safari sundowner cruise along the Nile, viewing the falls from the bottom, and admiring the incredible wildlife from the water’s edge.
In Kibale National Park, we divided into two groups for a Primate Walk through the rainforest to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat. We did have a few sightings of these humanlike creatures and were mesmerized by their shrilling calls within the troop, but we later learned from our expert guides that the heavy rain the night before likely made them reluctant to come down from the treetops.
Later in the day, mother nature did not disappoint while cruising on the Kazinga Channel. This channel hosts one of the world’s largest concentration of hippos, along with Nile crocodiles, buffalo, elephants, and hundreds of species of birds. This was game viewing at its best!
In Queen Elizabeth National Park, the owner at Ishasha Jungle Lodge arranged for a group of young students to entertain us with singing and dancing on our return from game driving. This lodge, like others that I chose for this journey, uses sustainable energy, sources organic food from local farmers and is actively promoting environmental policies, conservation, and community development. The comfortable, tented accommodations, personalized service and owner’s appreciation for our small donations combined to make this a memorable stay, if only for one night.
As we continued our journey towards Bwindi, one of two areas in Uganda home to Mountain Gorillas, the excitement between us was building. Were we going to see these majestic creatures in the wild? How long would our trek take? Would it be sunny or pouring rain? Could we physically endure the trek?
But first, we spent an afternoon with the beautiful women at Ride4AWoman. The founders of this charitable organization, Evelyn and Dennis, whom I had met previously, devote their life to supporting 300+ women struggling with poverty, HIV and domestic violence. They offer programs such as sewing, weaving, dance, sing & drum, and microfinancing, making it possible for the women to learn new skills, provide for their families and have their children go to school. Our group spent a heartfelt afternoon with the women of Ride4AWoman, learning to weave, communicating, sharing smiles and hugs and supporting them through purchases of their beautiful baskets, clothing and bags. It was a remarkable day for everyone, and a few tears were shed as we embraced each other to say our good-byes.
After an evening lecture on the mystical Mountain Gorillas, we were anxious to wake the next morning to begin our adventure at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Our group of women, divided into two smaller groups, trekked two different gorilla families, the Mubare Group and the Habinyanja Group. After a briefing on protocols, the gorilla family members, and options for local porters to carry our personal belongings, the journey began. Depending on where the gorillas stayed the night before, the trek can take from 45mins to 6 hours to locate the gorilla family. Once located, there is a strict 60-minute opportunity to observe these captivating primates. Both our groups were incredibly fortunate to have equally incredible experiences. Standing quietly watching the interactions between the members of the gorilla family is one of life’s greatest privileges. It truly is mesmerizing and as much as I wanted that perfect picture, I had to remind myself to put the camera down and embrace the extraordinary.
With gorilla trekking behind, wide smiles on our faces and a sense of accomplishment in our hearts, it was time for us to give back to the communities we visited. I often partner with the local chapter of Days For Girls and pre-arrange an educational talk and distribution of sustainable hygiene kits to young menstruating age gals, who would otherwise have to stay home and miss school during their period. Lucky for me one of the ladies on my trip was also a volunteer with Days For Girls and she assisted me with the distributions both in Bwindi and in Entebbe. As we left the schools, there was a sense of gratitude for all, the girls and teachers for having received the kits and for us the opportunity to improve the lives of the girls we visited.
A farewell dinner on the beach in Entebbe, with local musicians and entertainment was a great way to reminisce about the people we had met along the way, the experiences we had shared together, the friendships that had developed, the stories we will cherish for a lifetime and most incredible of all—the Mountain Gorilla experience of Uganda!
I’m sad that the current pandemic has prevented us from travelling for now, but I cherish the memories of the last trip I escorted with all my heart. I can’t begin to explain how anxious I am to start travelling again, to connect with each of you, to get out and explore this incredible world, but most of all I look forward to reconnecting with those in destinations that rely on responsible tourism dollars for their livelihood.
For them and for everyone, I hope it will be safe to travel again soon.
If you go…
Uganda is fast becoming a top-drawer destination for travellers from all over the world. With lush green landscapes, wildlife, birdlife, culture, heritage and traditions from warm, welcoming locals there is so much exploration packed into one small country. It is also one of only three countries in the world to observe Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat.
Flight connections through Europe can be arranged to Entebbe International Airport.