Bird watching in Mabira forest

Mabira is the largest tropical forest nearest to Kampala which makes it a great choice to visit. It is one of those places that has great activities to indulge in, namely bird-watching, mangabey tracking, zip lining, nature walks etc. On this particular day we were interested in bird watching with 2 clients who had come for a conference in Entebbe.  The good thing about birding is that you get to enjoy the birds and other activities, you will be bird watching and still sight other animals and primates as they go about  their business. You are also able to enjoy the forest in the form of a nature walk, learn about the  different tress, culture of the people and certainly the beautiful butterflies.

We set off from Entebbe botanical hotel at 6.30 am and drove towards Mabira forest. Our first stopover was near the new Entebbe highway where we sighted some birds. After that short stop we continued on our way to Mabira. Our next stopover was a brief one in Mbalala – the mini forested area which is a great habitat for birds.

Eventually we arrived at the Eco tourism center in Mabira. There is not much activity and the staff are rarely in their offices. The staff on duty arrived after the cleaner informed her of our arrival. This was a bit frustrating because we wanted to start birding immediately but lost time waiting for about 20 minutes. Birding is best early morning before the sun is hot and the birds get into hiding, which means that next best time is evening. Eventually the staff arrived but unfortunately the site guide was away, which again required us to wait some more. Eventually he also arrived and we set out to explore the forest in all its fullness.

We started with birding near the office area, our attention was taken on by some red tailed monkeys jumping form tree branch to another.  After a short while we continued our birding walking deeper into the forest. We eventually decided that the trail we were on was not as fruitful so we decided to drive to another area which is said to usually have more bird activity. This was true but unfortunately it is also a road leading to the community which means there is a lot of activity of boda bodas and cars to and from the community which makes birding difficult. You sight a bird only for it to quickly fly away because of an approaching truck or car or bodaboda on a high speed.

All in all the day was good, we had lunch at the beautiful Rain forest lodge in Mabira after which we continued birding and left for Kampala about 4 pm. The different colorful butterflies were another  highlight for the day including the freshness of the forest. The birds of the day were the Great Blue Turaco,  Pygmy Kingfisher, White spotted fluff tail, White throated Bee eater etc.

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Kagulu rock climbing challenge

On 11th May 2013 Busoga Tourism initiative and Uganda Tourism Board opened up Kagulu rock officially as a tourist and cultural site in Uganda. Kagulu Rock is located in Buyende district which is 30 Km off Kamuli town approximately a 3 hours’ drive from Kampala the capital of Uganda. The hill rises at approximately 3,500 feet above sea level with great 360 degrees’ views around it.

We left Kampala early at 6.30 am and left via Mukono to get the ferry instead of driving via Jinja which would be a longer route. Our group was made up of mainly tour guides from the Uganda Safari Guides Association. On arrival we got our names registered and got our badges, however the president was invited for the ceremony which made it more complicated with his guards refusing us to carry our cameras. This way we were unable to capture the beautiful views at the top of the hill after the grueling climb which some found easy as always.

One side of the hill has several steps all the way to the top for someone not keen on going the rough way but do not be fooled taking the many steps is equally strenuous. At the top is a spectacular 360 view with an expanse of green vegetation and views of Lake Kyoga found in northern Uganda.

According to the Busoga Tourism Initiative, Kagulu Hill is a mystical wonder, which marks the first settlement area for Basoga people who migrated from Bunyoro led by the then Prince Mukama. This is believed to have been his settlement and later his Kingdom seat due to its high altitude that allowed him have great views of the surroundings. Although the cultural value of Kagulu extends to cover a wide area, the remaining and visible landmark is the Kagulu hill.

If you are keen on an adventure, you can add an experience of Kagulu rock climbing on your Uganda safari, I recommend this experience for anyone interested in adventure, scenery and photographic moments with the main activity being rock climbing.

Safari in Hwange National park and Matobo national park

We were on a marathon of sorts on this safari but it all turned out well eventually. Our destination on this day was Hwange national park which is about 4 hours drive from Victoria falls. The drive is boring because there are no exciting features to see along the way save for  dry grasslands and few villages along the way.

We arrived in the evening and left immediately for an evening game drive in the Hwange conservancy near the Hwange safari lodge where we were staying. The best part of this evening game drive was the numerous bird life that I enjoyed. Unfortunately the animals were not so much in vicinity except for occasional sightings of Baboons,  Elephants, Zebras and a few Kudu’s on the way back to the hotel. The Sunset was a good consolation as we had our sun downer in the sight of Zebras.

The next day we had a 6 o’clock game drive in the Hwange national park which did not yield much except again for great birding and few sightings of Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeests, Impalas and Warthogs. A number of people were disappointed but personally I know that seeing wildlife in their habitant is luck. We had a stopover at the water hole in the hope of sighting more animals but alas they were well gone – another group informed us that they found a huge herd of elephants which left before we arrived.

In the afternoon we left for Matobo national park which is past Buwalayo – the city of Kings. The drive was long and uneventful just like the one from Victoria falls but longer. We arrived in the park towards the dark. The park has breathtaking rocks giving it that ancient African look that film makers would love. It is also home to Rhinos which are available for trekking on foot. I was too tired to engage in this activity but I saw pictures from those who dared take on the challenge.

Our last stopover was Antelope park on our way to Harare. It is also managed by ALERT an NGO which did the Lion encounters in Victoria falls. We only stopped here for lunch and proceeded to Harare. I left with a big chuck of Zimbabwe undiscovered and for this I will return and I do recommend nature lovers to travel and explore this beautiful country.

 

Exploring the Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe

We had a morning flight to Victoria Falls from Harare using the Air Zimbabwe, again it is amazing that amidst the economic melt down Zimbabwe still has a national airline, how they sustain it is still a mystery to me. Of course there are signs of age catching up with it but they have tried with all the issues. After 45 minutes we arrived in Victoria falls to a newly constructed clean beautiful airport which has made travel into Vic falls even better allowing international flights to land directly at Vic falls.

We were welcomed with temperatures that were much higher than we had experienced in Harare the previous day.   This I decided would not dampen my spirits because after all I still had my focus on visiting the Victoria falls, nothing else mattered.  We gathered and as we prepared to exit the airport, we found a group of young and old men outside the airport singing and inviting us to join in the music. This was such a surprise and a good welcome to Victoria falls and certainly Zimbabwe. You are expected to tip them at the end which I thought was a good initiative of getting unto the tourism value chain in an area struggling with unemployment. The atmosphere was like a scene out of those cliché movies depicting tribal African lives. What was obvious though is the fact that they are surely gifted with amazing voices and drama skills.

We traveled and checked in Elephant Hills Resort a midrange property in Victoria falls. This large property has over 200 rooms and the kind of place which is good for large groups of people who would like to stay in the same area. It also gives one a bit of both worlds i.e. the feeling of being in the middle of nature and yet have all the modern amenities one needs. You will have views of part of the River Zambezi from a distance. That evening we took an sundowner cruise on River Zambezi with all manners of drinks for those who wanted and we breathed in and enjoyed nature. We rode to the Zambia side and eventually got back to the Zimbabwe side. We sighted a few hippos in the water and Buffaloes, Giraffes across on the mainland but the views were bad because it was beginning to turn dark.

Eventually the time came for a visit to the world famous Victoria falls which are shared between Zimbabwe and Zambia. We assembled after breakfast and took a bus to the briefing point of the tourist. I was really anxious looking forward to seeing these falls. The total walk around the falls can take about 2 hours depending on how many stops one makes along the way.  Because we visited during the dry season the falls are not as strong but they are still beautiful and magnificent. You are able to visit the different viewpoints of the falls which makes this experience worth it.  It was not as out of this world as I imagined but it is the kind of place I would visit again. It is good outdoors activity for a family and is manageable for people that are not that energetic because it does not have high points to climb.

After spending the day exploring the different viewpoints of the Victoria falls, we returned to the lodge for lunch and prepared for afternoon activities. There are a number of activities that one can engage it ranging from Helicopter rides, canopy walks, elephant rides, bungee jumping, white water rafting, zip line, tandem gorge swing, flying fox, lion walk etc. I chose the lion walk experience because it was an out of this world for me. We were picked up by the lion encounter bus and transferred to this location which is about an hours’ drive from Victoria falls. The lion encounter is run by an NGO known as ALERT – Africa Lion and Environmental Research Trust. I was curious to know how different they were from stories I had read online from south Africa about breeding programs for lion hunting. We learned about their 3 stage program – 1st the breeding program where lions are kept in the area we found them. 2nd stage – they are allowed to mate and their off springs are kept in a semi-wild place and 3rd stage – the offspring of those kept in the semi wild place are released in the wild. It is hard to know who is telling the truth but if this their strategy then it should be supported and not taken down because of how others are doing their program.

Over all – the trip to Victoria falls was successful and certainly it was my highlight on this tour of Zimbabwe. I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Zimbabwe, you can do it in  addition to other areas.

The Botched Night life of Harare

When I travel I like to visit the famous places before I can check out the ones “off the beaten track”. For me the bucket list will always have some of the world famous destinations in addition to the hidden least talked about attractions. With Zimbabwe it was very obvious that the Victoria falls would be part of the places I wanted to visit. With dates confirmed we were ready to leave for Zimbabwe from Uganda as part of the Sanganai/Hlanganani travel expo that happens every year.

For any trips in Africa we have to travel between different countries before arriving at our destination, we do not have direct flights out of Entebbe to most destinations. Thankfully because of COMESA we do not need visas to Zimbabwe which was such a breath of fresh air. We arrived in Harare in the afternoon excited to visit a city and country which has been the centre of controversy for years in the media, it was exciting to see life happening in more ways than the media wants to admit even amidst the difficult economic times.

After check in at the Rainbow Towers in Harare we prepared for dinner thereafter were ready to explore the night life. Unfortunately the night life was such a disappointment because we could not locate any good hang out spot. Efforts to ask the hotel people for recommendations were futile, in fact we took a taxi and the guy literally knew nothing of Harare – I mean which taxi driver does not know the happening places in town? Anyhow we eventually gave up and came back to the hotel. On return to the hotel we found one of our hosts dressed ready to rock the night – we quickly joined her and set off once again to explore the night. One wonders why I insisted even after the earlier attempt but for me where possible I want to explore both the night life and day life of a city.

Harare though it was a short stay, I loved the town, it is greatly organized compared to most African cities I visited. The roads are quite wide, I cannot imagine how it was before the economic downturn. Amidst all the issues,  the Zimbabweans are such a resilient people pushing on amidst very tough economic times.

The grueling Mt Bisoke hike

I like hiking but I am certainly not that good at it. I get tired quite fast owing to the fact that in my everyday life I do not exercise except for occasional walks as I go about my day. However I like adventure and doing activities that out of my ordinary life like hiking. I imagine the satisfaction from great views when I arrive at the top of a hill or mountain therefore I encourage myself to keep on. It is because of this back ground that I decided to hike Mt Bisoke one of the Virunga volcanoes shared between Rwanda and DR Congo.

I previously had the idea of hiking Mt Bisoke but had no concrete plan until the day before I took the hike. I had taken clients to trek gorillas in Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and I needed to wait for them to finish the trekking later that afternoon/evening and transfer them back to the hotel. Then I got the idea, instead of sitting around why not use to the time to hike the Bisoke volcano. With a plan, I prepared for Mt Bisoke the next day as the rest of the group spent time trekking mountain gorillas. We received briefing early morning at the park headquarters before we could drive to the starting point of the trek. The drive to the starting point is about 1 hour on a bumpy road filled with stones. It is the kind of road you prefer to walk on but not drive on, nevertheless we arrived at base where the cars park and we started the trek. We were a group of 4 ladies with no gentleman except for the porters, ranger guides and army men. We were advised to walk at our pace because the hike can be difficult and no one should lose breath trying to keep up with other peoples pace.

I am a slow walker weather on flat land or otherwise. I knew for sure the hike would mean that I would even be much slower and therefore I did not expect to hike at the pace of anyone else. The hike was gruesome in every sense, at some point I could not feel my legs but I told myself that whatever happens I would reach the top and enjoy the views of the lake. The group was later divided into 2 groups i.e. the one ahead and me who remained behind with a very kind ranger guide. I did not appreciate one of the ranger guides who attempted to pressure me into walking faster. At some point he radio called the ranger I was with asking us to stop and not proceed so they find us there on there way down but this ‘ranger guide’ persisted with me. I was grateful to him for keeping with me encouraging me to not give up, in typical African style he continuously told me that we were left with a few minutes to reach when clearly it was several minutes.

After 3,5 hours I arrived at the summit, I was told the rest arrived after 2,5 hours and others at 3 hours. I was really happy to make it even though my legs were not that pleased with me. The way down proved to be even more painful but at least it was faster. The previous days rain made the way very slippery which was worse off on the way down. After about 1 hour we arrived where the cars were parked ready for the drive back to Musanze which was about 2 hours because of the road. The pain in my legs lasted for about 4 days, I promised myself to exercise more to avoid such but alas apart from occasional walks this has not happened and yet I look forward to hiking Mt Gahinga and Nyiragongo volcano in the near future.

My day trip to Akagera national park

The day trip to Akagera national park is popular for many visitors to Rwanda because of its closeness to the city.  Akagera park has been restored to close to its former glory of being home to the big 5 after it lost animal populations to poaching.  My tour guide informed me that to explore this park on a day trip we needed to leave Kigali as early as 5.00 am. I was up at 4.00 am  and prepared to start the tour at 5.00 am.

We set off for Akagera national park and enjoyed views of a beautiful sunrise on our way. We stopped and I quickly got my camera to capture this moment. I normally miss out on sunrises because I like to sleep in, so on rare moments like these I endeavor to take them in and celebrate the gift of a new day. Apart from the sunrise there was not much enroute to capture my attention except looking forward to arriving at the park. We arrived some minutes after 7.00am and went through registration for people and the car before entering the park. Honestly for me it was more of visiting the park and knowing what it is about but not for the game I could sight here.

But alas I was pleasantly surprised when we started the tour that we were able to find schools of Hippos resting by the papyrus near the water. For the other people on the tour they were fascinated by Giraffes, Zebras, Baboons, Impalas, Buffaloes and one lone Elephant which was a distance away. There was no sighting of Lions or the newly introduce Rhinos but again, this is nature. There is a joke among tour guides that if you want to see animals you need to go to the Zoo or probably make an appointment with them, otherwise what you see on a game drive depends on so many factors that tour guides have no control of.

We had a picnic lunch at the hippo pool – a place that usually has Hippos bathing in the area. I was impressed by the Hippos there but unfortunately could not get close to get good photos, I only managed photos of their backs. However continuing on the safari, we found another school of hippos in better location so we had a field day with the photos. After this we continued on towards the northern gate which would be our exit back to Kigali later that evening. The landscape driving along the Lake side truck is beautiful, this was another highlight for me while on this tour. For anyone in Kigali on business or attending a conference without much time, I recommend a day tour to Akagera national park. This you can take if you have a night flight because you will get back by 6.00 pm to Kigali in time for your night flight. The drive back is usually not that adventurous except for views of Lake Muhazi.