Uganda & Kenya - 2009

I decided to fly to Uganda a week ahead of mum and Ben so I could hang out with my father, who had begun work on collections at the local museum several days earlier. Unfortunately, I spent much of this week holed up in a hotel room working on CHI camera ready papers. Sporadic internet meant PDFs often required an afternoon of nursing to get uploaded. Sigh. Despite this, I managed to get out and explore a good swath of beautiful Kampala, mostly by boda boda - 125cc motorcycles you ride "back seat" on. I also went all over the city getting logistics in order for the trip: hotels, transportation, money exchange, tracking permits, and so on. Overall, Kampala was amazing - the weather, people and food.

On December 19th, the rest of the Harrison clan arrived. 36 hours later, we hit the road for Murchison Falls National park, in the north. We made good time on new tarmac and caught sunset over the falls, the most powerful in the world, and the Nile. The following day, we headed up the Nile by boat, seeing lots of wildlife along the river banks. We also detoured to Pakwach and another smaller village on the shore of Lake Albert, where we got to see the locals bringing in their catches of the day. There were also significant forest fires raging in the park, which made for some pretty unique night driving.

After two nights in Murchinson, we departed for Fort Portal, a pleasant little town in the far west of the country. Road conditions were atrocious, causing the ride to take all day. On Christmas, we went for a hike in the magestic Rwenzori Mountains. Lush vegetation, fog draped peaks, and the occasional primate sighting made for a very memorable day. After enjoying wonderful food in Kampala, it became clear in Fort Portal our luck had turned for the worse. Christmas dinner involved a bizarre double-decker African burger that tasted as weird as it looked.

On Boxing Day, we went Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale National Forest, which was awesome and consumed most of the day. Using Fort Portal as home base, we also visited Semliki National Park. The park was curious with its geothermal activity, but otherwise nothing special. The highlight by far was meeting the Batwa (pigmy) people that lived in the area - essentially a group of hunter gathers from the central African jungle that are very petite, perhaps only 4 feet tall.

From Fort Portal, we headed south, relocating to Kasese, and hitting up Queen Elizabeth National Park for an evening game drive. We spent the entire following day in the park, seeing all the classic African fauna like elephants and zebras. The real treats were lions and a Jaguar! The next morning, we went to the southern most part of the park to catch the famous tree-climbing Ishasha lions. By evening, we had pushed another hundred miles south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, another National Park. Gorilla tracking was crazy expensive, so we opted for a hike through the jungle to a rather nice waterfall instead. From Bwindi, we headed further south to Lake Bunyonyi. I was skeptical at first, but it turned out to be positively stunning! We decided to stay until the Near Year and kick back. We entertained ourselves swimming, drinking, paddling around in traditional dugout canoes, and visiting local markets by boat.

As the first light of 2009 broke, we began to pack up and prepare to hit the road once again. After a failed attempt to get across the Rwandan border, we began our very long and very bumpy haul back to Kampala. We arrived in darkness, crashed in a seedy hotel, and got little sleep. Despite the promise of good food, we stayed a single night, and pushed into western Kenya. Kisumu was actually pretty cute, and we scored good accommodations and food. We took full advantage of the Nyanza Club pool and squash courts. The following day was spent unsuccessfully hunting for an obscure fossil site. Although a bit of bust overall, we did get to interact with lots of friendly locals and roam around an active lime mine. On our last day in Kisumu, we visited Kakamega Forest for primate watching.

After three nights in Kisumu, we departed for Nukuru, poised to hit the adjacent National Park, which was absolutlely incredible. All of the classic animals were there, but also rhinos, everywhere. Amazing! Unfortunately, everyone began to get horribly ill. Simultaneously, we managed to get our car stuck on the flats near the creater lake edge. After flagging down another car and much digging with paddles purchased at Lake Bonyonyi, we managed to get moving again. By this point, most of the crew had been incapacitated. Despite illness, we also managed to visit the surprisingly spectacular Menengai Crater.

January 5th marked the start of our multi-day haul back to Kampala. Engine troubles plagued our assent to Sipi, where we sent one night, before hiking to the falls the following day. We also spent a night in Jinja, where mum, Ben and I indulged in a white water rafting trip down the Nile. Our last day in Kampala involved shopping, enjoying the sun, and catching up on lost calories with some delicious indian food. Our final day in Uganda was spent in Entebbe, relaxing with a drink poolside and wandering the botanical gardens.

© Chris Harrison