Waltons In The Mist

To give you an idea how close we were, take a look at these: 


The Gorilla trekking tour was with 8-guests, 3 tour guides, 3 trackers, 2 porters and one policeman).


The trip should have been called ‘Walking with Gorillas’ – we were surrounded by up to 14 of these gentle creatures for an hour+ as they munched on their leaves and their babies played in the trees. It felt like Ben’s relationship with the guides (and fact that they were all Manchester United fans) meant we got extra special treatmeat, cutting individual routes for us to the center of the Gorillas and educating us constantly.  Front seat, National Geographic stuff, an experience unlike any other. Please enjoy this video of the whole Gorilla family.

I shared by WhatsApp this once in a lifetime experience with my Brother and got back “I see you lost a bit of weight and need a shave”. Wise ass. 

The enormous male silverback knew he was boss and we knew that our guides were keeping us just our side of the line. Difficult to describe why he let us come so close and the best I can come up with is he liked the company. Plus I thought he took a liking to Natalia with her floral head-band.

From a Gorilla encounter perspective we hit the jackpot. But this marked the pinnacle of an unforgettable experience in Uganda. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is 300 sq/km of forest guarded with great pride by the Ugandan people. The name is very appropriate as the foliage is dense and lush, and it reminded me of my fathers wardrobe: old (this forest survived the ice age) and a kaleidoscope of greens and browns colors with a faint musty smell. The walk to the forest was incredible.


Knowing how remote these mountains are (remember it was a 12-hour drive from Entebbe) I was expecting basic accommodation. But the lodge was a collection of private wooden chalets, perched on the ledge of a cliff with floor to ceiling windows on 3 walls overlooking the valley and the Bwindi Forest.  The main lodge hall, lawn with deck chairs and fire pits were at the top with panoramic views. 


When we arrived Big Ben and I had our much talked about beer (under the disapproving gaze of Mrs. W) but failed to make a night of it as we were all tired from the drive. But although it was very tempting to return to the luxury of the lodge after the Gorilla trekking I saw an opportunity for a more authentic beer experience and asked Ben to find us a local bar. There was only us three and the two tour guides, Steven (the tour lead) and Isaac (who had taken such great care of us) in Ben’s van so we didn’t feel like obtrusive tourists.

Ben encouraged me to challenge the girls in the bar to a game of pool and, after a few beers, we were all having a blast. It was so enjoyable to spend some social time with Steven and Isaac who seemed to truly enjoy the detour. And I was good, winning my first two games and prancing around like pool hustler. So the girls called the local champion and it went down to black ball and I was robbed, unluckily potting the cue ball. I love these pictures;


Uganda is amazing. We’re coming back. 

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Uganda

We landed at Entebbe early afternoon and after the usual mix-up with the hotel shuttle we were in our next Protea hotel by 4pm. Maybe I’ve been off the hotel circuit too long but what a treat (thanks again IS.com and the many nights and points from the Denver Marriott). A stunning room overlooking Lake Victoria (largest lake in Africa) including one of best breakfast buffets I’ve ever had for a fraction of the points of a hotel in the USA. 


This whole adventure was the inspired by Ronnie, our buddy from the Chinese Food Restaurant and part-time ambassador for the Ugandan Tourist office. A measure of our affection and trust for a Ronnie was we wired a volunteer’s fortune to his friend (Jan Van Droogenbroeck) who runs a Tours business (Goretti’s Tour and Travel) with no questions asked.

We hadn’t heard from Jan in the days leading up to our departure but my concern was more to confirm he had received the wire. Ronnie had suggested Jan would meet us at the Entebbe airport, which was unnecessary as I had researched and booked the hotel shuttle. So when we landed and no shuttle or Jan I started to wonder if there was a problem.

But as soon as we checked into the hotel I was able to call Jan and everything was set and in motion for an early start the next morning. Jan had been sick the previous few days, hence the radio silence, but still invited us to his wife’s restaurant (Goretti’s Beachside Pizza) where we were under strict instructions from Ronnie to order the grilled Tilipia and drink Nile Special lager. I can do that.

Jan sent his son to pick us up and his restaurant was just spectacular; on the beach amoung the palm trees, with waves lapping the shore 10 yards away, and all lit by candles. Poor Jan was obviously under the weather but for the next 3 hours we asked a thousand questions about his journey to Africa (from Belgium over 40 years ago), life in Uganda and the real story about the genocide in Rwanda. 


On the later, Jan gave a very personal account as Jan’s wife, Goretti, is Rwandese and lost most of her family to the atrocities, many in harrowing ways. Amazingly Jan and Goretti where on a brief stint in Belgium but were due to return to Rwanda a month before the war started. But Jan’s employer asked them to stay a little longer by which time events in Rwanda spiraled out of control. As Goretti is Tutsi, both of them would have been killed. There were times during Jan’s recounting of the events that I stopped breathing. Originally for my education, I now feel a sense of duty to visit the war memorials in Rwanda on Saturday and Sunday. 

And the Tilipia and beer were sooooo good and a touching gift from Jan (which I suspect Ronnie may have been behind). But the conversation will be our last memory – you only meet people like Jan very rarely and only when you explore the world. 

Thursday morning we stuffed ourselves at the buffet, and were in the minibus and on our way to Bwindi National park with only our driver/guide, Ben. 

Our first stop was the equator and a marvelous photo opportunity (and some souvenir shopping) – see title picture. Ben explained that toilets on the north side of the line flush clockwise and south flush anti clockwise – they even have twice basins either side to prove it.

I’m typing this after 5-hours of  the 12-hour bus journeÿ and Ben is a joy to be with; son of a police commissioner with 19 siblings, half Rwandese (Tutsi – although it is now law not to describe someone using their ethnic group) and half Ugandan, he speaks SEVEN languages and is an encyclopedia of information ranging from the history of Rwanda genocide, the Ugandan opinion on Idi Amin (and the pros and cons of dictatorships), the progress made on Gorilla conservation and the challenges of taming Zebras (after we spotted some).


Unfortunately Ben is a Chelsea fan but I’m able to overlook that as Ben is a lover of beer and plans to join me on my thorough research of this subject tonight.