Into the Forest
Flying into Entebbe airport in Uganda, I was filled with childish excitement. I hadn’t been in the country for 9 months and I was itching to get back into the tropical rainforest. The fact that I had my new Sony 400mm f2.8 to test run only added to excitement and I was ready to tear through a few shutters and give my new bad boy a good run. It was also the start of a tough 6 week run where I would only be home for 28 hours in that time and I had back to back primate trips and then on to a cool private trip.
The first evening of the trip was our customary first dinner and it was clear that we were going to have a boat load of fun over the next 10 days. The guests were all extraverts and as excited as I was to start the trip. The next day would be a day of travel and we would fly to a small town called Kasese and then drive to Ndali lodge. On arrival at the lodge the infinite view immediately stole the show and the sight of great blue turacos flying all around us was the perfect welcome.
The first morning was a chance to stretch the legs and enjoy a walk through the Bigodi swamps where we looked for monkeys and birds. It was a greatly successful walk and in the short two hour walk we saw 5 species of monkey and countless birds. One of the highlights being a long crested eagle that chose to pose in a tree allowing us time to photograph it as the breeze raised its crest as if it was being blow dried.
It was then on to a touch of lunch at a home stay place called Tinka’s where we got served an amazing local lunch. It is always my favourite meal of the trip and this time would not disappoint. Matoki covered in ground nut sauce, beef stew with rice, avocadoes in a tomato sauce, all finished off with a lemongrass tea and fresh pineapple and jack fruit. As Tinka describes it, there are no fridges so the food is kept fresh on the tree until needed, and boy does it make a difference. As the food was passed around small mountain ranges were built on each plate and duly scoffed as if it were the first meal in a week and the last for the rest of the journey.
With full overfed bellies we took the short drive to the start point of the chimpanzee treks. As we entered the forest the sounds of the birds enveloped us and the smell of the moist humic soil filled the air. We navigated the pathways, stepping over encroaching vines and ducking under fallen trees until that first awe inspiring moment when we bumped into the first chimp. He sat on the floor staring at the forest canopy before giving a strong screeching call which was quickly responded to by part of the community and he then ascended a fig tree as if he had a pulley system assisting the climb.
We marched on toward where we had heard the other calls and we quickly found the alpha male being groomed. There were a few others all scattered through the forest undergrowth and they all carried on as if we were part of the family. A female came over inquisitively with a baby riding her back. She sat close and let us look at her as her baby tried to figure what our role in the forest may be. She stuck around just long enough for her baby to get a good look and then she slipped away into the green undergrowth.
Being able to spend such quality time with these close cousins of ours is a privilege that can’t be described. They let you into their world with not even a second look, allowing us to view their most intimate moments, share in their battle cries as they drum their dominance on the buttress roots and introduce us to their young. After the hour was complete we floated on a cloud of excitement and out of the forest.