The name Uganda is wrapped in the fragrance of legend, from daring explorations in search of Lake Victoria, the sources of the Nile or the Mountains of the Moon. In particular, the magic of mountain gorillas, although those who passed through the fog while zoologist Dian Fossey conducted her studies live on the other side of the border, in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda.
The volcanic appearance of these mountains is always on the horizon when adjacent to Bwindi Park is an impenetrable jungle, two habitats that communicate at other times less affected by deforestation, facilitating the passage of primates, who never understood boundaries. However, when the plane approaches Entebbe airport at night, the few lights shining in the dark reveal that the degree of exploitation of the Earth is less intense than it is elsewhere on the planet.
What are the unlimited road transportation, all of them concentrated in the short distance separating the airport from the capital, Kampala. One path running and another lane constitute an ordeal that must be endured to continue north-west, to the legendary Murchison Falls, where Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn filmed several scenes. Queen of Africa And that’s where Stuart Granger looked King Solomon’s mines. A first view of the waterfalls, which are still far away, was obtained after crossing the Kurama Bridge and leaving behind various villages of bungalows and villages of thatched-roofed huts in which pigeons roam, and they are as abundant as pigeons in Europe.
Elephants, lions, antelopes … and giraffes that were about to perish at the time of the dictator Idi Amin
Then nature explodes: several elephants appear before the gate to Tangui National Park, wandering through a swamp covered in white roses. The picture is of absolute plastic beauty. It is only appetizers. A little later, a pride of lions awaits and in the distance runs the Ugandan kug (a kind of antelope), and as night falls, a herd of hippos flee in terror, strewn across the waters of Lake Albert. They will retaliate with a howling party until dawn.
When the sun shines, it’s the time to see Rothschild’s giraffes. It looks like they negotiated timelines with the elephants, and were more active at sunset, not to take away the paparazzi’s attention. Seeing them with their gait, it is hard to imagine that during the times of coup dictator Idi Amin they were about to disappear at the hands of his forces, along with the rest of the animals in the country’s first reserve. And that Amin declared himself “the master of all the beasts of the earth and the fish of the sea”, as well as the heir to the throne of Scotland.
It was the army that took the captives to Murchison Falls to throw them into the void. Today, the quiet navigation up the White Nile to the waterfall is only disturbed by the escape of a goliath heron or a crocodile’s shadow in the water. The last portion of Murchison’s summit is covered in feet, which is where the sun’s weight is felt more than the unevenness. Blue tents hanging from the trees are effective traps against the tsetse fly.
Dripping water from a height of over 40 meters and doubles its roar in a second hop, Uhuru, freedom in Swahili. This waterfall was formed when a rock split in 1962, coinciding with the independence of Uganda from Great Britain. The Murchison was named after Sir Samuel and Florence Baker, who had promised explorer John Hanning Speke – discoverer of the sources of the Nile and Lake Victoria – that they would investigate other channels to dispel any doubts about the true home of the world’s longest river. Africa. They are named after the president of the Royal Geographical Society, as did many Victorian adventurers in their quest to conquer the place by changing its original name.
Trails of red dirt stretch to the southwest, delineating Lake Albert and past the ancient Kingdom of Bunyoro to Kibale National Park. Along the way, Pudongo Forest is famous for its giant mahogany trees, where chimpanzees nest. Its wild cries contrast with the warmth of the locals: a short walk is sufficient for anyone crossing the road to invite the stranger to their home.
More than 50 ethnic groups live in Uganda, although roughly half of the country can be said to be Bantu and the other half are Acholi or belong to different Nile tribes. The first comes from the livestock traditions, as opposed to the agricultural traditions of others, which for centuries gave them greater economic power, access to studies and power, a status that is the basis of many of the current and recent African armed conflicts. “One country, one race,” he declares in Kasane and laughs at a group of wedding drivers (Ugandan motorcycle taxis capable of transporting entire families), dispelling any disagreement.
Deforestation and crops have reduced the habitats of gorilla communities, but they can be seen
From there, the path passes through endless tea fields, with the Rwenzori or Mountains of the Moon in the background. Ptolemy mentioned their peaks of up to 5,000 meters, although explorer Henry Morton Stanley is credited with discovering them in 1889.
Already in Kibale, the area is filled with lakes that formed inside the cones of volcanoes that became extinct 10,000 years ago, as in Ruygo, as well as in tropical forests from which lands are taken to grow banana trees. Matuki, a cooked green banana wrapped with leaves from the same tree, is a staple of the country’s diet. The Kibale Forest has continuity within Queen Elizabeth National Park, although once you cross the equator, the landscape changes to a savannah forest covered with acacia trees.
There are two large lakes, Edward and George, connected by the man-made Kazinga Canal, giving life to fishing villages that coexist with wildlife. They receive about 28% of the park’s income, which is a reason to stay, although a visitor becomes suspicious of seeing lions’ tails swinging in the bush. In the southern part of Queen Elizabeth, in Inchha, there is the unique phenomenon of climbing lions in the world. The lionesses seem to imitate the cheetahs, a habit of raising their young to the top, which is a safety measure so that the dominant male does not kill them to avoid future competition. Young people enjoy the quietness to take a nap and the best place to watch the game.
With the Congolese border a short distance away, the road heads south to reach the impenetrable Bwindi Forest. The name sounds buzzy until you walk through it from the town of Bohema, where giant ferns, waterfalls, and prehistoric trees sprout from the moss-covered land. Mountain gorillas can be found here, but there are better chances of spotting them on the Rochaga side. Deforestation and poaching have pushed the mountain gorilla communities eastward, reducing their habitats. The cuts between crops and forests are radical: You can even find some small gold mines exploited in a very primitive way. However, efforts to conserve wildlife are bearing fruit; It is estimated that between 800 and 900 gorillas remain alive, and some have been naturalized, i.e. zoo keepers have become accustomed to the presence of humans. Only in this way can groups of eight be approached.
The Trackers They locate the animals at dawn and then guide visitors, making their way through a scythe. Mud, scratches, and falls are part of the experience. A good dose of adrenaline too, because when you communicate with primates, they are supposed to keep their distance from you, but they are the ones who decide if they want to stand a few inches away from the camera. This is why the maximum time you can spend with monkeys is 1 hour. Then Silverback, the chief of the pack, starts chasing the visitor with about 250kg and guides a few friends. But you won’t realize until later, as you relax on the shores of Lake Bunyoni with a Bogart-style drink, that you have a glimpse into the wild heart of Africa.