Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2014 EAWE: Batwa Pygmies and Queen Elizabeth National Park Day 1

All right, time to stop being lazy. Here is the much-delayed continuation of my epic East African Wildlife Extravaganza when my mom visited Uganda in August 2014.

After our amazing gorilla trek on Thursday, the plan was to go on a tour of the local Batwa pygmy village. Mom, D, and I - once we convinced ourselves to stand upright again - decided that another two hour 'walk' up and down hills in the rain wasn't in the cards. No problem, our guide told us, some of the community will come up to the visitor's center to dance and tell you about their traditions. So we decided on that.

The Batwa people, traditionally hunters and gatherers, lived in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest until 1992 when it became a national park. Their eviction was then and remains controversial, but they've adapted to a more agrarian way of life and integrated with other local communities. http://www.batwaexperience.com, among other organizations, allows tourists to learn more about the Batwa and their cultural heritage. Think what you will about tribal tourism, but I remember watching National Geographic documentaries as a child about Batwa and other pygmy tribes in central Africa and being fascinated. I was happy to donate to the local school to meet some of the villagers and learn a bit. We were treated to a lively dance show, with children from all over the area joining in to hang out with the muzungu. The local matriarch is 94 and still going strong; after she danced quite energetically for us she proudly told us she lived the first half of her life in the forest and the second half outside and helps keep tradition alive among the new generations. After a quick discussion about traditional medicine and fire-starting techniques, we bought some beautiful baskets and presented a donation of both money and school supplies for the community. A lovely way to spend the afternoon.

After a tasty dinner by the fire recounting stories of the day (growing more exaggerated as we recalled the day's adventures) we retired to bed. Mom and I lay awake for a while marveling that we saw the gorillas and noticing all the new muscle groups who were making their presence known. My legs and feet were obviously tired, but then my arms started hurting from the exertions with the walking stick pushing and pulling myself up and down the mountain. Bruises started to appear within hours, badges of honor.

I slept well, thankfully, and woke the next morning ready for safari! After a hearty breakfast we bid farewell to Bwindi and were treated to amazing views of the rainforest and the clouds and mist. Gorillas in the mist for sure.

We had a several hour drive north to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The first part was on the outskirts of Bwindi so we kept our eyes open for forest elephants and antelope and gorillas. We saw a couple duiker but no big mammals, sadly. The next leg was through mainly rural areas on marginal roads, and we all tuned out a bit. Then the road improved and the towns got bigger, and soon we crossed into Queen Elizabeth National Park!

The southern sector of QENP, the Ishasha sector, is famous for tree-climbing lions. Most of the lions favor fig trees, which are abundant in this area and afford good views of the plains. We circled the main lion trees for an hour so with nary a sighting and then drove down to a gazebo to have lunch. The gazebo overlooked the Ishasha river (if I remember correctly) and feeds into Lake Edward a bit farther north. There was an active school of hippos hanging out, and between us we were the only ones in the area. Two hippos had a mouth fight, the most protracted one I've ever seen, which greatly entertained us. As we were wrapping up lunch our guide pointed that the far bank of the river (and far is a relative term; it was within an easy stone's throw, as you can see in the photos) was Congo. So close yet so far!

We headed back out for another look at the lion trees but finally had to give up and head north. There's a main road running through the park, and we had a lot of ground to cover, so it wasn't a relaxing game drive. Eventually we crossed the Kazinga Channel via bridge, which separates Lakes Edward and George. Soon after that we turned off into the approach to Mweya Lodge. D was eager to see elephants, but Abdul cautioned that we might not be lucky given the area and time of day. We stopped for a few antelope and monkeys, but no big game. We were almost at Mweya when we saw flashes of grey through the trees. And there they were! A small but lovely herd of elephants headed to the river to drink. We marveled for a while and then drove on, encountering a lovely hippo out of the water headed for his nightly foraging.

Mweya is a gorgeous lodge in a spectacular setting overlooking the Kazinga Channel. We checked in, oriented ourselves, relaxed on the terrace with drinks, and then enjoyed a tasty buffet dinner before bed. The next morning we'd head out on our first early morning game drive, of many to come!

Cows on the road leading out of Bwindi

Gorillas in the mist!

Bwindi on the left, farms on the right


Uganda kob

Amazing fighting hippos

Those trees are in DRC

And back to regular life


Baby elly :-)


Hungry hungry hippo

Gorgeous elly


Nomads By Nature said...

So amazing to see and experience - when I go through my photos to organize, though, sometimes it feels like I only dreamed it. Can you imagine that all being your daily life?

Sadie said...

Agreed! I love looking back and remembering awesome adventures. I think in retirement I need to lead high-end safari adventure tours.