DAY EIGHTEEN Linda, Ian and I got up at 5:30AM, had a hot drink, then set out to find the gorillas. We walked the 1½ km up to the end of the road then followed the track up to the ranger station and lodge at the top of the hill. While we were waiting for the ranger to get ready, a Canadian woman told us to wear long pants as the ants were pretty bad. I didn’t have any so I utilized my footie jersey as pants & tied them up with a bit of string.
The guide led us into the jungle along with 2 German guys, and, amazingly, we found the gorillas after only 5 minutes!
What amazing and beautiful creatures they are. There were about 20 in the group, the Silverback male, huge, amazingly powerful, with an ever-watchful eye on his family; several juvenile males; several females, smaller by half than the male but strong as well; and youngsters ranging in size from small babies to young juveniles. The silverback spends his time eating and keeping an eye on things, the females sit and eat as well as playing with the youngsters, and the little ones put on a hilarious display of tumbling, wrestling and swinging on branches and vines.
We spent an hour and a half watching them as they moved slowly through the jungle, then left them and walked down the hill, stopping for lunch ½ way down.
Later in the afternoon, Ian, Craig, Skip & I killed & plucked the chooks which we roasted in the 44 gallon oven along with spuds and onions. Yum!!
DAY SEVENTEEN We had a leisurely 9:00 AM start and headed back towards Rutshuru. We stopped at a road-side market along the way and were besieged by people with veggies to sell while we negotiated in French for what we needed. It was great fun and we stocked up on a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as three live chooks.
We took the turnoff near Rutshuru and headed up into the mountains along a rough track leading to Jomba where we would find the gorillas. Most of the trip up towards the mountains was in heavy fog.
We arrived at the campsite in the late afternoon and were immediately surrounded by hoards of people. Scotty negotiated with the chief of the village who owned the land for 2 “security guards” to keep a 24 hour watch. We had a big feed of sausages & mash for tea then went to bed.
Oh! Before we had tea, Scotty, Ian and I went to a local’s hut for a beer. The guy who invited us told us all about his family & what he did for a living and generally babbled away in French which half the time we couldn’t follow. It was quite an experience though, and the house wasn’t as squalid as I thought it would be from its outside appearance. It was dark inside with a dirt floor, about 4 rooms with table, chairs, a tape player and some photos on the wall. Humble but homely.
DAY FIFTEEN Ian and I got up at 5 a.m. and got the fire going with some effort and cooked fried eggs for breakfast.
We were packed up and away by seven, driving further up into the mist-shrouded hills. Three volcanoes reared up out of the fog as we twisted and wound our way over the last range of hills before the border. The border post was no more than a sign saying “You are Now Leaving Uganda and Entering Zaire”, a crude barrier across the road and one building housing the border officials. There were no armed guards or any visible security. It took about an hour and a half to get through and we were in Zaire.
Immediately we were through the barrier the road turned into a rugged track. We bounced along for about half an hour then stopped for lunch. About 400 yards from the road, a huge lava flow lay broken and lifeless: a remnant of the last eruption that had occurred on one of the several volcanoes in the area in recent years.
We stopped to buy some crates of Primus, the local beer, in a one horse town called Rutshuru then drove out to a campsite beside a huge waterfall. We all had baths in the river then had tea.
A sudden rain shower had us all scurrying for our tents at about 9:30.
DAY FOURTEEN Our campsite was pretty wet after the heavy rain during the night. We packed up while a crowd of natives watched us, then headed down the road again.
We had only gone about 5 miles when we came upon a line of trucks backed up behind two trucks bogged in the mud. We all stood round watching the comical efforts of the locals to dig them out, as well as push the odd passing car around the stalled trucks. After about an hour, they finally extricated the truck that was blocking the road, the other one will be there for weeks, and we went on our way.
The country became more heavily cultivated as we travelled up into the Highlands and we stopped for lunch near the top of a pass through hills clad in pine trees. We traveled all afternoon until at about 4:30 we pulled into a small quarry and yet again set up camp with a crowd of onlookers. It rained again at night.
DAY THIRTEEN We drove all day, taking several wrong turns and then having to retrace our steps. The only point worth noting about the day was the first checkpoint we encountered. It was manned by evil looking guys who, in their tattered and sloppy uniforms, unserviced weapons and undisciplined behaviour, constituted no more than a rabble that two men with a bit of discipline could slaughter in 30 seconds. These idiots are what props countries like Uganda up?
DAY ELEVEN Linda and I got up early and went into the Y.M.C.A. (we camped the night behind the building) for a cold shower in the stinking urinal that doubled as the shower. We had breakfast then drove into town and spent all morning hanging around the market.
Because Scotty’s contact had wanted US$10 each to forge a stamp on our currency declarations, we all had to go to a bank and change money officially. Linda changed US$5and got 193SHILLINGS/$, and I changed £5 and got 312/£. Quite a difference to the black market rate!
With our official business done, we hung around the truck. Skip and Bron arrived with 2 live chickens, which they had bought in the market, and then they paid a couple of Bernies 200 shillings to kill and pluck them.
We finally left Kampala at 2:30 and drove out to Entebbe Airport, scene of the daring Israli hostage rescue in 1976, to try and track down the three people we were supposed to meet in Kampala. No sign of them so they are going to have to find us! We drove out of Entebbe past a platoon of heavily armed soldiers, and headed up into the hills.
A wonderful pageant of life rolled past us as we travelled through the lush, fertile and intensively farmed hills. As usual there were crowds of smiling, waving adults and half naked grubby children screeching at us and we waved back to their great delight.
A roadside scene in Uganda.
Our campsite for the night was at the top of a hill overlooking a lake with a glorious sunset and the cool evening air full of the smell of the rich land and the music of cicadas.
DAY NINE We had a pretty leisurely departure from the camp and headed for the border. As we got closer to Uganda, the roads worsened, with huge potholes and several places where we had to drive off the road to avoid great rifts in the road.
We stopped for lunch on the side of the road and a horde of children appeared from nowhere to watch us. Skip got out the frisbee and we kept them enthralled with that while we were there.
After lunch we continued on along the rutted road and at one point, along a stretch of really big holes and cracks, there was a road toll booth!! These Africans!!
Shoe shiners, Kenya.
We arrived at the Kenyan side of the border at 2:30 and spent an hour there then drove out of Kenya and along the ½-mile of no-man’s land. Money-changers approached us with huge wads of Ugandan notes and Mike changes a bit for fun.
The Ugandan side was patrolled by heavily-armed guards, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, but the officials were friendly and most of us didn’t have any trouble. Unfortunately, the two Israelis, Uri and Yaid, were refused entry. The officials said that Uganda had no diplomatic relations with Israel and they would have to go back to Kenya. So, we left them standing in the dusty, wind-swept yard of the customs compound and drove away. They seemed not too surprised at what had happened and I guess that being Israelis, they would be used to getting the shitty end of the stick.
Anyway, we drove into the countryside, crowds of people waving at us, the country green and fertile. We stopped for a beer at a wayside bar, then found a campsite in a quarry.