Carefully pushing my way through the trees and bushes, I stepped over the fallen trees, vines and roots that reached out to trip me. It was early morning and my fellow travelers and I were on a chimpanzee trek in the Kibale National Park. Moses, the ranger, led our small group of four through the dense vegetation. We’d been dropped off along the road and led into the forest. It was as if we had left civilization behind. If Moses had taken me 100 yards in, had me close my eyes and spun me around, I would have been totally lost and unable to find my way back out. The sheer variety of shades of green was incredibly beautiful as the sunlight filtered down highlighting leaves here and there. Sometimes, you just have to smile.
Let me backtrack just a little. After I’d left Ngamba Island, Francis, who was our guide for the duration of our Uganda trip, picked me up and delivered me safely to the hotel in Entebbe. I was looking forward to meeting my three fellow travelers. Two of them, Beth and Paul, were from Charlotte, North Carolina and Amy, a fellow solo traveler, was actually from Denver. After a good night’s sleep, Francis drove us from Entebbe to Fort Portal. The driving tours are less expensive than flying from one place to the next. The advantage I’ve found is the opportunity to really experience the country from eye level and to meet people along the way. This was my first experience with squat toilets and a definite workout for my quads and glutes.
As we arrived at our lodging for the next two nights, I was surprised to see all the stairs. There were 100+ steps to get to the main building. I was so grateful that someone else was transporting the luggage. When I arrived at the top and stepped into the lodge, it was clear that the climb was well worth every step. We were on the edge of a caldera and looking down on the most beautiful crater lake. We’d arrived at Kyaninga Lodge. Wow! It was the perfect base for the chimpanzee trek.
There was time for a quick walk before dinner and while it was overcast, it had stopped raining and I couldn’t wait to get outside.
Up on the hill behind my head is Kyaninga Lodge. I wasn’t the only one on the trail. Beth and Paul had decided to stretch their legs too.
Where are they? The little white and black dots in the bottom left of the photo. I decided to just enjoy the view, so I stayed at the top of the hill and was soon joined by a young boy who was watching his family’s cattle while they grazed. He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak the Ugandan language, but we had fun trying to converse. He let me pet one of his cows that didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I was. I think this is the closest I’ve been to a cow since I tried to corral a few in my early days as a patrol officer in northeast Denver. They weren’t very cooperative then either.
I’m not so sure the cow…or maybe a bull…appreciated the view as much as I did.
Now that we are caught up, let’s get back to the chimpanzee trek, which is the main focus of this post.
The tropical forest was beautiful. With all the mosses and huge tree roots, it felt very ancient and undisturbed. It wasn’t too long before we heard things hitting the ground and as we looked up, we saw a chimpanzee eating some kind of fruit and dropping the leftovers. He/she was high up in the trees and not focused at all on us.
As we moved around to get a better angle for photos, Paul ended up getting attacked by red ants. Their bites can be painful and the ants are very large. Moses helped remove them all. It was Paul’s day for added adventure. He also got baptized walking underneath a chimpanzee relieving himself. After that, we all paid closer attention by looking up as well as down.
Not long after, we were joined by several groups of people with other guides. Considering how large the forest is, I was a bit surprised. There was a male chimpanzee in a nest on the ground and before long, he was surrounded by tourist paparazzi.
There were probably between 20-25 people in a circle all the way around him. He didn’t seem to be too bothered and was probably entertained by all the attention. There was a tree he could have easily climbed. Maybe I read too much into one of the messages he sent.
People were moving in closer and snapping away. No one was leaving and I finally had enough. It may not have bothered him, but it bothered me and so I told my guide I was moving away. I didn’t want to continue to be part of the paparazzi group. For me, it was one thing to take a photo and move on, and another thing to crowd a habituated, but still wild animal. It bothered me more than I expected and brought tears to my eyes. To me, it was about respect.
My small group left the area and soon it was time for those other groups to move on. Shortly thereafter, we were alone in the forest once again and could observe and learn about the behavior we were watching. I looked into the eyes of several chimpanzees at Ngamba Island and was so touched by what I saw there. To follow up that experience with one where I could see the chimps in their natural home was really special.
The only ones that seemed curious about us were the babies.
Snares are still an issue and this chimpanzee looks like he may lose his hand if he doesn’t receive medical care soon.
I’m fascinated by their fingers…
We stopped and had lunch while sitting on a log in the forest. It was peaceful and relaxing.
I managed to catch this guy in mid yawn.
And then we were back to the road. We crossed over to follow, but the troop was moving quickly and outdistanced us. We’d spent about six hours with the chimpanzees and decided that we should call it a day…an amazing day for sure.
Special thanks to Moses whose expertise and passion made the experience even better. Let’s do it again sometime soon.