We wake up at 4:15 AM to get ready for our 5:30 departure. We leave our two suitcases in storage at the hotel and take the 50 minute trip back to the Entebbe airport. Our small plane has only five passengers. There is a woman pilot with a male co-pilot. She turned around in her seat and gave us the safety talk and, in gest, offered mints as the in-flight snack. We have 3-point harness seatbelts. Interesting. The flight was only one hour, eight minutes. It was pretty, as we were relatively close to the ground. I took a time-lapse sequence – one photo every five seconds. My arm was sore, from trying to hold the camera steady, but I think we’ll enjoy the video we put together. The pilot carried my bag off the plane when we landed at Kihihi Airstrip. One of the other passengers was a guide, and after a phone call it was decided that he would take us to meet our guide in his vehicle, at a nearby hotel. The guides are friendly and helpful to each other. We waited on the veranda at the hotel, until Rogers picked us up. He will be with us until the end of our trip. He’s a nice young man, with a quick smile and chuckle, maybe in his thirties. He’s married with three kids: Dennis (age 10), David (age 7), and Desire (age 3). As we drove along the way we saw tea plantations, and small brick making operations along the side of the road. Many of the small houses and buildings were being built with these bricks. Rogers says it’s becoming the norm away from the mud huts, and the men make the bricks from the red mud and that are fired in a kiln for a couple of days. There are piles of them in many places. I imagine that they are for sale. I see a few people transporting bundles of goods on bicycles that are entirely made of wood and is called a tsukudu. They have no seats or pedals. It has two wooden wheels and wooden handlebar for steering. The goods are supported on the wood plank between the front and back wheel and it is pushed along. Wow! When I first saw it, I thought that it was one-of-a-kind, but by the end of our visit to Uganda, I had seen several. The towns were so poor and our vehicle had large lettering, stating, TOURIST VEHICLE, so I didn’t get the camera out. Little kids ran to the road yelling, Mzumba! The word Mzumba means, someone who wanders without purpose and comes from Kiswahili, where ‘zungu’ is the word for spinning around on the same spot. That dizzy lost look was perfected by the first white people arriving in the African Great Lakes. The term is now used to refer to “someone with white skin.” It can be affectionate or insulting. We are greeted with big smiles and shouts of hi, hi, hi, Mzumba! Or bye, bye, bye, Mzumba! We drove south through Butagota and Buhoma and made it to Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, at the end of the road. It’s actually located in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. What a beautiful location. There are only eight tents. Our tent was called Kingfisher. As usual, there are canvas walls but there are pretty, carved double, wooden doors. There was a big gap at the bottom of the doors, and I decided that it wouldn’t keep out creepy-crawly bugs, so I would be stuffing something underneath at night so that I can sleep without wondering. There was a thatched structure that protected our tent, two queen beds, night stands, comfortable chair, a place to hang our clothes, and storage cubbies . There were slippers and robes for us to use. The bathroom was separated from the living area with double wooded doors. The main bathroom was more open as it had mesh windows up high, which made it chillier than the bedroom area which had zipper canvas windows to keep the chill at bay at night. The bathroom had a nice sink with mirror, a toilet in one cubicle, and a stone-lined shower next to it. There was another door leading to a room with soaking tub, complete with candles. We didn’t take advantage of the tub, as it was chilly and once again, only mesh windows. On the porch there was nice furniture, and we had a nice view of the forest. This place was nice! Our permits to see the gorillas cost $350 each to spend one hour with them. Wow, extremely expensive. We had decided to spend two days with the gorillas, instead of one, just in case the first day didn’t go well. To justify the second day we had decided to go at the beginning of the rainy season in order to get the discounted permit fee. The normal fees are $600, the average per capita income of a Ugandan, and presumably helps protect the forest and its animals. This was expensive, but not as expensive as seeing the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Those permits cost $700 for one hour. It was hard to justify the expense, but since it was a bucket-list item, and we were satisfied with our decision.
Once again, we discovered that we were the only ones there, at least for a couple of days. Jackson was the manager and made us feel at home. Shallon was our waitress. She was friendly and took good care of us. After lunch, we walked to the little village, Buhoma. There were about 50 craft stalls. Most had the same carved gorillas and masks on the walls. There is an orphanage here and the girls are taught to weave baskets, placemats, and make paper beads and the boys are taught to carve. The shop keepers were desperate for business and they tried very hard to get us to buy something. We were so limited by weight that we decided not to buy anything, but enjoyed looking. I probably should have checked into how to take souvenirs home with the weight limit restrictions. We walked back to Sanctuary and while Mark took a nap, I sat out on the porch and took a 360 degree time-lapse video to document our location. It was thundering and cooling off, and began to rain. While I was sitting on the couch on our porch, I saw smoke coming from beside our tent. I went to investigate and discovered the stove that our room attendant kept stoked with wood so that we had hot water, day and night. He also picked up our laundry to be washed. The rain had stopped and Mark and I headed back to the restaurant and found that they had set up a campfire with a couple of chairs by it. There was a man wearing a straw hat there, and he was playing music. We discovered that it was Mr. Warren and he was a professional African harpist. The music was very sweet. He was also telling us a story, but he was so soft-spoken that we couldn’t understand him with his accent and the crackling of the fire. Instead of asking him to speak up, we smiled and nodded a lot. We should have moved our chairs closer! Had we not been so exhausted, we might have engaged him more. Mark gave him a tip and we headed up to the restaurant. We saw an L’Heost’s monkey but it left before I could get a photo. After a nice meal we were escorted back to our tent and as usual, a nice hot water bottle was warming our bed. I had a hard time sleeping. I must have been excited about tomorrow! ~ Mary & Mark
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