Golden Monkeys and a Deep Lake

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Published: September 9th 2023

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When you can hear raindrops on your roof, you know it is raining. When all those drops become one big wall of sound, you know it is insanely torrential, especially when it wakes you up at 4am. I didn’t get much sleep after that which is ok, because we were getting up at 5am anyway.
Also, Glyn started writing today’s blog last night. How is that even possible without a Time Machine? And then in the jeep this morning, before anyone (that’s a typo, I meant to say ‘anything’ but ‘anyone’ probably is correct) had happened, his fingers were on fire on his iPad, getting irate about something or nothing. After an adequate breakfast, we left Ikaze Cottages to go to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park for Golden Monkey Trekking. It’s one of the smaller parks in Uganda, but unique due to the golden monkeys. Our guide, Herbert told us that 20% of what the park takes goes back into the local communities and some into funding other parks. There are a lot of wildlife parks in Uganda but only a few let tourists in, however, the tourists’ money helps maintain all the parks. There were 11 tourists trekking today, plus

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Herbert and we were bookended by two rangers with guns. We were reassured that no, they are not marching us off to the Congo and no, they were not shooting wildlife. It’s to scare away any potentially charging elephants or buffalo, by firing over them and the noise scaring them away. I think they said they’ve not had to fire for over four years. We were asked if we wanted to hire a porter for $20. They would carry your bag and help you if need be. It could be quite a trek, we were told and some of it uphill, we were on a mountain after all! Now I was in two minds. No, a lot more minds than that. 1. I’m perfectly capable of carrying my own bag.2. I don’t want to hold anyone up 3. The last chimp trek was hard work, but I kept up.4. No one should have to carry all of my camera gear, I don’t want to be like the white people in old Tarzan films who hire the locals to carry excessive gear through the forest.5. Hiring a porter gives the locals a way to earn money.6. It’s only the price of

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3-4 beers, depending on where you are. So I hired Jackson, a 25 year old guy, who’s worked there for 4 years and an all round nice guy. I doubt he’s even seen an 1940’s Tarzan film. Another lady, far younger than me, also hired a porter, just to give to the community and her backpack was quite small. Jackson pulled the short straw! As the name suggests, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is also home to gorillas and you can go gorilla trekking there. Some of their gorillas go over the mountain to Rwanda, so conservation costs are divided between both countries. You can also go hiking up the mountains, but with a guide. Before a briefing, a local group of young women performed some traditional dances for us. There was singing, drumming, a lot of jumping and even more hollering. I enjoyed it. I think we got an extra one whilst we waited for two more of our group to arrive. They left a basket with a lid on it and I was terrified it would contain a snake, but it was for tips. There are three troops of golden monkeys at the park, each with 80-100 monkeys. One

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of their predators are golden cats, which are the size of a medium dog and very elusive. I think they only hunt at night as the guides have never seen them except on camera traps. One guy claimed they’re not very pretty – how dare he! All cats are pretty! The monkeys are territorial and one troop regularly crosses to the Congo. We were not tracking those. Typically when tracking wild animals, trackers have been out since early in the morning looking for them. Without them, we could have spent all day, all week even, without seeing them. So Herbert knew which direction to take us. After insisting we all have a bamboo walking stick, we were on our way, leaving base at around 8.15am. The rain had stopped but it was still a bit misty and very damp. We climbed uphill, in some places very steep and I cannot deny it was nice having someone else carry my back pack. It contained my full frame camera and 600mm lens, so I apologised to Jackson for the weight. The bamboo sticks were quite helpful getting up uneven and slippery places. No one fell over. I saw worms the size of

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small snakes. I meant to photograph one on the way back but they’d all hidden by then. The group was a mixed bunch including a German who’d been everywhere already and his description of Botswana and Namibia made me want to go there too. Many of the others already have been gorilla trekking and said it was amazing. The rumour is that the permit passes are doubling next year. I’m so glad we came now because if it is true, we could never afford double, it’s already very expensive. We had a few brief breaks where Herbert told us about the surrounding mountains and monkey stuff, mainly for people to catch their breath I think. At around 10am, we found ourselves surrounded by the monkeys, all up above. They are rather small, the biggest about the size of a large lemur. They do not sit still! We left our back packs and sticks with the trackers and two porters, as we were allowed to walk through the trees for an hour, watching and photographing the monkeys. It’s quite dark under those trees, with pockets of light breaking through the leaves intermittently, so getting good photos was hard, if even possible.

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We also had to wear face masks, to protect the monkeys, so my eye piece on the camera kept steaming up. The monkeys were picking fruit and making a racket breaking all the dead branches, no attempt to be stealthy was ever made. By the time I could get focus on one, it would move. Also, the recent rain that had settled in the leaves poured over us as the monkeys ran over them. The whole experience was wonderful and over too quick. The hike back down seemed to take longer. Jackson found a couple of chameleons for me and one got quite angry making itself big, but it was still very small. I think we got back around 12.40 pm. My watch says I walked 12.6 kms. Jackson had been very helpful and good company, so I paid him a bit extra. Zedius says that when we left, a few golden monkeys came to the base as well as some tree Hyrax! So he got a free show. The drive back to Kisoro (which means animal) was bumpy and full of kids waving madly, shouting “hello”, “give me money” or “give me sweets”. I noticed that despite the road

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being nothing more than a very bumpy mud road, the kind only a jeep or tractor can cope with, many of the houses were rather nice. This is because some locals have earned a good living from tourism, but it is illegal to build a road. So if the locals decided to build their own road, they would be arrested for doing government work without permission. They can build themselves nice drives though. I also noted that there’s no women drivers. It’s very rare I was told, they either walk or depend on men to get them around. It is rather depressing in 2023. Women here are still bought with cows and other stuff for marriage, so traded like animals themselves. If you pay a lot, you know they will work hard apparently. At least there are female rangers on the chimp treks and hopefully things will improve, but there’s still a lot of religion here, which doesn’t help. Lunch was at the Travellers Rest again, like last night. Glyn had ordered curried veg and rice but got chapatis instead. He asked about this, but said it was ok. But after he finished, the waiter bought him some rice, noting

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he no longer had curry, so he was brought more curry. So Glyn got two lunches. Nicely done Glyn! Next was a 80 km drive back over the mountains to Kabale, which means Little Stone. The rain came down hard and the thick mist reduced visibility. But the mountains looked mysterious in the fog. Parts of the road were flooded and people were running from the rain. From Kibale, we drove 8.5 km up another dirt track, up and over to Lake Bunyoni, which means Bird Lake. The lake is the second deepest in Africa. We had a warm welcome at our accommodation, Bunyoni View Resort, which has a lovely view over the lake. The view can be seen from the bar and we have a balcony! This is also the HQ for Mambo Safaris, we saw the room where it is based. As I was typing this, Zedius asked me if I’m left-handed. He was surprised because in Uganda, it’s still not allowed. My grandmother was left handed and but was forced to be right handed and her writing was appalling. Mind you, my writing isn’t that good either.



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https://www.travelblog.org/Africa/Uganda/Western-Region/Mgahinga-National-Forest/blog-1079539.html

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