After years of lurking on these forums, it's time for some payback! Here's a quick report on our recent safari with Primate Watch Safariis.
We have travelled fairly extensively in Africa and knew pretty much what we wanted. I sent out some email 'feelers' and connected with Flo at Primate Watch Safaris. She was a joy to work with. We knew 'pretty much' what we wanted but I still kept rearranging the itinerary and lodging choices. I probably drove her to distraction but you certainly wouldn't have guessed it. She was so patient and accomodating.
We arrived in Entebbe on the KLM flight from Amsterdam. As we were coming from the US and we were planning on starting at a fast and furious pace, we spent the night in Amsterdam to break up the trip and help a bit with jet lag. This was the first time we did this and I really think it helped. We quickly made our way through Customs, retrieved our luggage, and headed out. We travel fairly light and had carried our luggage on the MSP-AMS flight but I got nabbed by the gate attendant in Amsterdam. I was 'persuaded' to check my bag, even though it was smaller than my husband's (or anyone else's for that matter!). It wasn't until we were approaching Kigali that I realized the gate attendant had not asked me what my final destination was and she hadn't looked at my ticket. One of the great KLM flight attendants offered to run interference for me and she assured me my bag would not be left in Rwanda but would be in Entebbe when I arrived. Sure enough, it was. I hate to even think of starting a safari with only the clothes on my back so I am extremely grateful!!
Bags in hand, we walked out, immediately finding our driver and guide. Ben took us in hand and escorted us out to his vehicle. We were back in Africa! It's always a relief to find, after wiring huge amounts of money to someone you've never met, that there really is someone at the other end!
We spent our first night at the Boma so, within a matter of minutes, we were checking in. A quick email to the kids at home and we were off to sleep.
First on the agenda: Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and Murchison Falls. But first we had to get through Kampala. Ben took the back roads around the city. No doubt now-we really are back in Africa. After 90 minutes or so, we made it through the traffic and were on our way. Ziwa was very interesting and it was great to be out on foot. We saw 3 of the rhinos lazing under the trees. Guess that comes with being out and about at nearly high noon! The sun was hot! The mud was deep It was great!
After Ziwa, we stopped for lunch and then proceeded on to MFNP. Once we hit what Ben called the 'safari roads', it got interesting. That's when the reality of the rainy season set in. I can maneuver through icy roads with the best of them but mud? I was awfully glad Ben was at the wheel. It was a long but very scenic drive. On the map, it looked oh so close but that was deceiving. We had opted to stay at Nile Safari Lodge. I loved the idea of being right on the river. I had hoped to hear the hippos grunting and I was not disappointed. The lodge was gorgeous and well run. I loved, loved, loved the bucket shower. And the verandah overlooking the river? Absolute heaven. We weren't real concerned about not being on the other side of the river and getting out on a game drive first thing in the morning. We enjoyed the ride to the ferry - it really was a pretty drive. And by 7:30 we were on our way on the first game drive of the trip.
We had explained to Ben that we love game drives- but, for us, the fun is in the looking. Seeing is a bonus. Feeling the wind in my face as I look out the popup top. Seeing the lovely African savannah. If that was the extent of it, I would go home happy. But, being Africa, of course there was more. Lions, kob, giraffe, elephant, all the usual suspects. If this was your first 'safari' experience, you could be disappointed. Where are the zebra, the wildebeest, the hoards of animals. But we came prepared and enjoyed each and every sighting.
The boat trip was nice but came no where near our Kazinga channel experience. I wish we had remembered to sit on the left side. We also spent several hours exploring the top of the falls. That was great fun. We had quite the run in with tsetse flies on the way back to the lodge. Nasty little buggers!
After 3 nights, it was on to Kibale Forest. We had opted to stay at Ndali Lodge. Another great choice! The chimp tracking was amazing. The sounds! All too soon the hour was over and it was on to Bigodi Swamp. Thee skies were threatening so we delayed 15 minutes or so. Good thing we did because the heavens opened up, complete with hail. It pounded down for a good half hour. We didn't see a whole lot on our walk, probably due to the rain. The trail was blocked by downed trees in several places and we ended up wading through thigh high water at one point! All part of the experience!
The trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park was mostly on Tarmac. That was a relief. After a quick photo stop at the Equator, it was on to the park. We started with a walk at Marimagambo Forest. Once again, it rained but this time it waited until we were returning to the vehicle from the bat cave. It's only water and we dried off quickly. Once again, not much animal action due to the rain.
We stayed at Mweya. Much much larger than Nile Safari Lodge or Ndali but the location was great! The Kazinga channel boat trip was a highlight. We went on the 'small' boat -there were only 7or 8 of us. It, once again, started pouring while we were on the channel. We pulled over and the guide pulled down the rain screens and we waited it out. We were all soaked but it didn't dampen our fun. It was wonderful!
The roads cooperated and we were able to drive to Bwindi via the Ishasha sector. Try though we did, there were no tree climbing lion sightings for us. We proceeded to Bwindi and our lodging at Buhoma Community Bandas. We loved the bandas but I can see they aren't for everyone. We had an en suite tent. Being the rainy season, the canvas had a bit of mildews smell but it was clean and safe and had everything we could possibly desire! The food was good (not great but good) and the beer was cold. What more could you want?
We were on tap for the 'R' group the following morning. We were looking forward to an arduous trek in the Impenetrable Forest but it was not to be. We started out at 8:30 and by 9:00, we were taking photos of gorillas! We found them hanging out right by the cement water trough at the base of the hill! We did go into the forest a bit to search for the Silverback. We found him within 100 paces or so inside the forest. It really was magical but I almost feel like a cheat! It was way too easy!
After two night at Buhoma, we headed for Rwanda and Volcanoes National Park. We continued in our penny pinching by staying at Kinigi Guesthouse. Once again, it had everything we needed and I would not hesitate to recommend the place. We drew the Sabyinyo group. I am so glad we were able to swing two visits to the gorillas. This was such a different experience from Bwindi. Here we were in the bamboo zone. It was lighter and much better for photos. We had another magical hour with the gorillas and it passed way too quickly!
We ended our time in Rwanda with a golden monkey trek. Back into the bamboo zone. This was great fun. Highly recommend!
Ben drove us to Kigali after the golden monkeys. We flew back to EBB while he drove. We had a very moving stop at the Genocide Museum. Hard to take but definitely a must do. Our flight on Rwandair was right on time and we headed back to the Boma. Or last activity was an afternoon trip to Ngamba Island. The island was great and being on the water wasn't hard to take either. I wasn't sure about doing the day trip to Ngamba-I basically booked it to fill time but it ended up being a nice way to wrap up the trip.
Primate Watch was great! I know they are a small company but they are justifiably proud of their business. We were in great hands with Ben and Flo. We did meet Flo the last day of our trip when she came to the Boma and it was so nice to be able to put a face with the name. Ben is a true professional and we were fortunate to have him as our guide and driver for the entire two weeks.
We did run into rain but it didn't really matter. We were able to complete everything on our itinerary. We got wet now and then but no big deal. If you do go in the rainy season, good footwear is a must. Mud is everywhere and it is really slippery!