Africa Uganda

Getting to the heart of Uganda

The flight from Kenya to Uganda is short, so short we’ve barely had time to enjoy the snacks provided and return our trays to the upright position before we’re touching down.

Di and Ade get stopped at Entebbe airport and grilled on the location of their drone.

“You must have one,” says the woman in security, eyeing off Ade’s ridiculously oversized camera bag.

“We don’t,” they assure her, she lets them go, eventually, but urges them to bring two next time – one for them and one for her.

We meet up with Brooke who ditched us in Kenya after that night at the bar with the blokes and Joe’s earlobes.

At Entebbe Zoo we go behind the scenes and feed the giraffes, but Ruby the Impala, decides she’s hungry and keeps pushing her nose into the bucket, we feed the chimpanzees, stroke a rhino and Ade gets attacked by an elephant.

We meet Sushi, the Dodo bird, who watches us with interest, but is more intent on nesting on Pete’s backpack than bowing to us all.

And so goes another missed photo opportunity.

While the rest of the group go on to the shops, Di and Ade and Elyse and Dave, decide there are more photos to be taken and sites to be seen and head into Entebbe Botanical gardens where we swing on the vines made famous by Tarzan, search for colobus monkeys and bats and stop for a drink in a local bar on the banks of Lake Victoria.

Our guide stops at every tree to explain its botanical name as Dave and Ade photograph every tree and every vista.

We watch as a trio of monitor lizards has a menage-a-trois on a tree branch hanging precariously over the Lake and giggle like schoolkids as they eventually tumble into the water below.

Read more: Braving the roads to shop in Kampala

The group reconvenes at a coffee shop in a nearby shopping complex where Joe tells us he’s just had the best zinger burger ever from KFC. And it’s too bad for Steve, who’s missed out and will spend the rest of the trip in search of KFC.

We go for dinner and wait hours and hours and hours for our meals to come at the European bar next to our guest house.

The owner buys us all a drink to say sorry, but strategically waits until half our group has departed before making the offer.

Diane and Julie can’t get back into the guest house. The gates are locked and they’re too short to be seen over the top by the security guard, they jump up and down and eventually get in.

At Murchison Falls we watch a boy grab hold of a gecko, right in front of a sign that says don’t touch the wildlife, take a cruise along the river where Zoe sees yet more hippos and finally admits that she might have seen enough.

Read more: Searching for lions and big happy smiles in Uganda

We walk to the falls, get sprayed by the might of the water and pray that our guide Benson is there to meet us at the end.

He is.

And we take the long drive back to meet Donna and Joe who have waited patiently for us all at the river crossing.

We get there just in time for the final barge of the day to take us across the water and watch in horror as tourists get closer and closer to the river’s edge, and a hippo family bathing just offshore.

That’s too close, even for Zoe.

Benson tells off a school teacher who has let his students get too close and we all nod along in self-righteous agreement.

Meanwhile the setting sun shoots orange and pink colours across the skyline.

Ade gets up early for a sunrise safari, but not even that satisfies his photographic lust. Steve shakes his head, hoping that this solo safari might bring an end to Ade’s constant calls of ‘stop the van’ so he can photograph yet another Kingfisher.

We finally make it to Amari Community Development Organisation where the kids perform a concert, we eat a hearty lunch and Joe entertains the students with his gimble.

We split into two groups to visit the local families and walk through the dry brush in Buliisa, drink soft drink with the families and learn a little more about life in a Ugandan village.

The first group is back early and has handed over all the sporting paraphernalia that has travelled through Kenya and from Australia and are ensconced in four different games of footy by the time the second group gets back.

Diane and Zoe try to get in on the act, but none of the kids want to play with them they so they go back to playing with the puppies instead.

Marita, the school principal, takes us on a tour showing us her new house and the kitchen that they’ve recently added to the school grounds.

Diane and Julie get emotional at being reunited with their old friends and seeing the school they have been raising funds for and spent three weeks volunteering at, once again.

Steve forces Di and Ade to walk him to his room, where he can’t quite figure out how to lock his door. Meanwhile Di and Ade bunker down in the storage room, home to bats and insects that come alive at night.

Julie and Pete adopt a young student and we all fight back the tears when it comes time to leave.

We make a short overnight stop at the Kasiisi Project where we take a tour of the school and learn some of the greatest snippets of life advice from the colourful paintings across the school walls. Sayings such as: “Life has no spare parts, avoid sex” call out to us.

The pre-schoolers sing for us, the older kids suffer through our stories and we all end up in the principal’s office.

Our homestay gives us free loose-leaf tea to take home, which excites Di. Julie tries to get romantic with Pete. Steve keeps calling for more coffee, and stops everyone else from getting any tea, which definitely does not excite Di.

Joe flashes Steve in the middle of the night, which kinda, sorta makes everything alright.

And Donna and Joe wander around in their matching dressing gowns, because they can.

We take the long trek to Queen Elizabeth National Park and find ourselves with heavenly views perched on the edge of a mountain overlooking the park.

As the rain begins to fall, again, we take a quick swim to make use of the swimming pool and to take in those views.

Seven of us trek to see the chimpanzees. Julie and Elyse use gaffer tape on the bottom of their trouser legs to protect their ankles from jumping ants, and the fashion world cries.

Ade and Dave battle the trees to photograph the chimps and Zoe struggles to stay upright along the track.

A quick stop back at the lodge to pick up the rest of the group and then we’re off on another safari. Elyse gets her fill of elephants, Zoe sees more hippos than she ever thought possible and the whole group watches as a gaggle of mongoose runs from car to car.

Yet another boat ride, slower than the first, reveals the African wildlife at its best and Ade and Dave fight to get the best photo of a hippo with its mouth open. But Ade gets distracted trying to capture just one more photo of a Kingfisher.

An early morning game drive, our last in Africa, reveals the committed game drivers as half the group elects to stay in bed and misses the final lion sighting.

The road to Kisoro is long and very, very muddy, we slide our way down the main road and reach our destination in time for dinner.

But along the way, Steve makes us all pull over; he’s lost his Apple ear buds on the couch at Queen Elizabeth. Brooke calls the lodge, no one has seen them.

We push on.

Another four-hour drive takes us eight hours. We’re on Africa time after all.

We split into two to trek for gorillas, group one is back at the lodge before group two even begins their trek. They’ve had their fill of gorilla porn, been rushed at and sat with a gorilla family for an hour.

Read more about trekking for gorillas in Uganda here.

Meanwhile group two – Di and Ade and Dave and Elyse – are still driving to get to the part of Bwindi Forest where their gorilla family is located. They pass a pygmy family, and walk, enter the forest, and walk, pass a pygmy hut and nest, and walk, have a rest mid-morning and walk. Finally, they come across a silverback hiding in the bushes. There’s no sex in this family, just an inquisitive, gorilla who spends his time watching the humans.

Back at the lodge we compare stories and photos. And marvel over the magic of spending an hour with these beautiful creatures in an African forest.

We’re back together for a visit to a local village where Donna gets to be a groom and marry Diane and Diane gets to be queen for the day. Ade takes way too many photos, again. Joe finds a new admirer, Julie looks for a gift shop and Steve pretends he desperately needs the toilet so he can get out of the walk, but jokes on him we were just about at the village when he chose to turn around and start walking back.

Steve gets us all invited to a wedding, but the rest of us go canoeing on Lake Mutanda leaving Steve to make an appearance as the only ‘Mzungu’ at the wedding.

We cross the border into Rwanda and make a quick stop at the Kigale Genocide Museum, and suddenly we all fall to earth with a thud. The reality of human nature, what one human can do to another, and history hits hard.

But nothing can replace the fun, the laughter, the memories, the wildlife and the views, the many and varied experiences that Africa has thrown our way.

It’s weaved its magic into our lives and delivered us an adventure destined to be remembered forever more as the most fantastical adventure there ever was.

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