Discovering the beauty of Queen Elizabeth National Park for an artist like me was a great adventure. I have always thought of a woman’s body as God’s most beautiful creation. But that was before last month when I joined s group18 travelers for a 4 day Queen Elizabeth National Park Tour with Uganda Trek that turned out to be the most exhilarating adventure at Kyambura Gorge and the Kazinga Channel.
Both are situated in the western Rift Valley of Uganda, which stretches through Queen Elizabeth National Park. At these two spots, I got the real feel of perfection in beauty.
We took an exhausting six-hour drive from Kampala along the Bushenyi-Kasese highway under the scorching African sun. After that, nothing sounded so sweet and relieving like the sound of “we’re finally here!’ as said in the husky voice of our guide Paul. We were 38km away from the Congo border.
One after another, we stepped out of the tour bus, with our feet firmly on the rich soils of Kyambura that was densely covered by dark green grass. Naturally, it was not long before most of us punched the air in triumph as we were filled with the excitement of having arrived safe and sound.
After a brief by our guide, whose name I might have forgotten as soon as it was mentioned, the tour boat was ignited to flag off our trip along Kazinga Channel to the mouth of Lake Edward.
On the map of Uganda, Kazinga Channel is that thin strip of water that connects Lake Edward and Lake George. As the boat made its way through the tranquil channel, I climbed up the upper deck, joining nine tourists there to get a clearer view of the wildlife on either side of the boat.
Birds and Game
We espied a kingfisher that had successfully hunted out a medium sized tilapia fish, which it swiftly ferried onto the nearest branch of a whistling acacia tree by the water banks.
What a pity it was to witness the helpless fish poked lifeless like it was its predator’s last meal for months.
Thankfully, it was not long before my spirits were fired up again upon the sight of elephants mating in the open as some white egrets kept flying above them. If my guess is right, they must have enjoyed every bit of the uncensored act by the elephants.
It was also a blessing to discover that while some tourists spend hours and hours peering in vain for game, we were fortunate to experience lots of wildlife after another, especially along the banks as the boat sailed on; all courtesy of the good schedule of the boat ride, which takes place at 5:00pm when most animals are relaxing by the banks as they enjoy the warmth of the golden brown sun as it buries itself in the horizon.
Some of the game to be seen here include water bucks, elephants, antelopes, a school of 12 hippos, crocodiles, birds and monkeys.
Like most of the bird lovers aboard, I cheered aloud as I relished over 150 bird species of 319 in the park.
At the end of such a fulfilling exploratory day, nothing felt as good as devouring lunch at Mweya Safari lodge. We watched the calm waters of Lake George and listened to waves gently brush the branches of the trees surrounding the place
The icing on the cake was the different species of birds that soon conquered these trees and put up energetic aerobic performances as they whistled different sweet melodies that pierced my heart with the sharp end of their vocals.
Discovering The Secretes Of Kyambura Gorge
Suddenly, our attention was stolen by the roaring sound of a waterfall. However, it was confusing to discover that even with all-round turns of 180 degrees, our eyes could not see any falls. It then dawned on us that the roar was coming from a river down in Kyambura Gorge.
From what I saw, I can define a gorge as a sunken forest in a wide valley. In the particular case of Kyambura, the valley was 100 metres deep, the reason our eyes could not sight the waterfall we were hearing.
Being the coward I am, I kept my distance from the gorge’s elevated viewpoint which was situated on the edge of the land.
But I guess I have little regrets over this decision because those who dared to go there seemed to develop cold feet immediately. They deserted the place as soon as John, the Kyambura guide who would take us for chimpanzee tracking, appeared.
Chimp tracking is one of those activities that Uganda is famous for and it was something I looked forward to doing.
However, the fact that John armed himself with a panga before the tracking began almost made me reconsider trying it out. To me, this was a clear signal that ahead of us lay immense danger.
Luckily, 10 minutes into the tracking, I discovered that his only reason for carrying the panga was to trim off the branches of the wild thickets to open a path on our way into the dense forest.
That is when my speedily pounding heart normalised as I took a deep sigh. My gaze kept dropping on every tree branch we approached because my heart was quivering with immense anticipation.
To see the subtle primates, we calculatedly walked down the slippery slopes into the dense tropical rainforest that covers the gorge’s floor. John Byamugisha advised us to resort to whispering if we found it impossible to keep mute because the primates often turn violent if their peace is disturbed with noise.
Save for the roar of Kyambura River and the tweeting of crickets, it was absolute silence down there, probably more silent than a grave.
When all my attention was inclined upwards, having heard the sound of a chimp, I felt a smooth creature as cold as a snake slither up my legs. In micro seconds, my knees began wobbling dangerously and I found myself yelling my grandmother’s name.
In a flash, I was already three feet up the huge mahogany tree before me, only to discover that it was a prank that Karl, another tourist, had pulled off.
He had come up with the brilliant idea of sliding a wet shoe lace around my legs and got the effect he was looking for.
Yes, I felt like sinking my fist into his head. In fact, I folded my fists like I was going to knock him down, but my fists just froze in space before I painfully chickened out because the chap was almost three times my height and weight.
Minutes after I had composed myself, the guide pointed us to a family of five chimps nestled in a tree branch about 180m from our track.
“That is Brutus, the leader of the chimps with his family, John explained. “They are part of over 25 chimpanzees that live here.”
It should not matter, but there was something about the way Brutus tilted his eyes sideways and flashed a smile at us that I found fascinating.
“Brutus, together with his team, prefers living in the corridors of the gorge in fear of being confronted by other wildlife like leopards and lions, which live on the Savanna grassland surrounding the gorge,” John continued.
It soon dawned on me that there is a lot more to see in the gorge than just chimpanzees. Such included gigantic tropical trees, beautiful flowers, unique chains of spider webs, a variety of birds, colourful butterflies and different species of monkeys.
Fortunately, everything about the tracking was happening so fast. While I expected to spend hours walking and straining to see the chimps in vain, here I was getting a better feel of the forest with every tick of the clock.
I was also swept off my feet by the rays of sunlight that filtered through the forest canopy. In effect, my camera clicked more than once as it took pictures to retain memories of the visit to the unforgettable gorge.
Contented with what we had witnessed, we soon found our way out of the forest and headed for our next destination The Maramagambo Forest, a 30-minute drive away.
As far as my visit to Maramagabo forest was concerned all I recall was beautiful rain forest, the wooden cabin with a nice balcony overlooking the green lake.
Article by Sam Anderson for The Awesome Uganda Trek,