September 29, 2010
Uganda – Day 7 – Kibale
We were supposed to go Chimpanzee Tracking in a ravine near Simba Lodge the next day, but Dominic told us near the end of the day that he had been unable to get us in. They were overbooked as it was. He had called around to several places, but wasn’t sure if there was a place we could see Chimpanzees. Kristi was upset; she had really been looking forward to seeing the chimps. Dominic told us that we might be able to get to see them at Kibale, but it was several hours away, and he couldn’t guarantee it. We told him that we trusted his judgment, and that if he thought there was a reasonable chance, we’d go for it, and if it didn’t happen, c’est la vie. He said he really appreciate that we trusted him, and that he would do his best. It occurs to me that he must deal with distrust all the time in his line of work, ferrying American and European tourists around. I remembered how nervous we’d been about giving him all the money for gas at the beginning of the trip. He said he’d call around, and text us if we should be ready early.
In the morning, we still hadn’t heard from Dominic, so we got up and went for breakfast around nine. Dominic was already there. He had texted, but we didn’t get it in the room. We ate, then drove to Kibale. We arrived at about twenty minutes to one, and Dominic told us that we should be ready to go at one. The trek didn’t start until two, but the word from his contact was that they might be able to squeeze us in if we were ready then. We went to the restaurant to see if we could get anything quickly for lunch (ha!), but there were already a dozen people sitting there who had been waiting for some time. We ordered some sodas and ate the snacks we had with us: two bags of airplane nuts, a bag of corn nuts, a packet of “glucose biscuits” (look for the blurry picture of a little girl on the label) and a tin of sardines. Nothing like an insulin spike for prime chimpanzee viewing.
Then we waited around until two.
But we did get in. At one moment, they were collecting the permits from people, and at the next, we were signing in and forming up into groups. We managed to be part of step two. The rest of our group were mostly in their fifties, with one woman in her thirties, all Dutch. After talking a bit, we realized we were on the same flight out of the country in a week, and we would end up running into them in the airport. Small world.
Our guide was named Charles(“like Prince Charles”, he said). The walk was on trails, and was much easier than the gorilla terrain had been. We found the first chimpanzees in less than an hour. They were up in a large fig tree, eating and occasionally running around and shrieking. The tree was high, and it was often hard to see, but it was clear we were right underneath them because one of them started throwing his fig scraps at us. Every few seconds a piece of fig would come sailing down from above. He did manage to score one direct hit on one of the Dutch.
We walked around as the chimps moved from tree to tree. You had to watch your step, since they aren’t really discriminating about where they drop trou. I don’t think anyone got hit, but you never know. I did see a recent deposit being divided up by some dung beetles, but missed the chance for a picture.
Eventually, the chimpanzees came down, and we got surprisingly close to them. Less than five feet, I think. We saw several on the ground, including a mother with infant riding on her back. She didn’t really want us to get too close, so we only saw her at a few dozen feet, and always headed away from us when she noticed us. I accidentally turned the flash on my camera back on at one point, and felt really bad when I frightened one of the chimps away, but Charles told me it was ok.
Eventually, we used up our time with the chimps and went back to the cars, then started our drive to the Rwenzori Backpackers Hostel in Kilembe, where we’d stay the night before starting our hike in the mountains. But, first, we ended up in Fort Portal, Fort Portal is not on the way to Kilembe.
Here’s what happened. We had been planning to go to a pharmacy in Kasese (near Kilembe) to pick up some more decongestants, because we were both still a bit sniffly, and wanted to make sure we had them for the hike. I asked Dominic in the morning whether they’d still be open in Kasese by the time we got back, and he said “It will be OK.” I was just asking for information, but he interpreted it as “it is important that we get the medication”, and made it happen. So, a cultural misunderstanding resulted in an extra few hours of driving.
And then we got lost. There are several places you can start hiking from, and Dominic thought we were going to the other one. So both our major miscommunications happened on the same day, and resulted in us not arriving until after nine pm, having eaten very little all day. We had to call ahead so that they wouldn’t shut the kitchen down because we hadn’t eaten and would be there at nine thirty and would have dinner ready for us? But it was all worth it when we got in at nine thirty and they didn’t have dinner ready for us. That came in about forty-five minutes. I think they had to go dig up the potatoes.
We met some more Dutch people at the hostel, a couple who had bought a truck in South Africa and were winding their way up through the continent, and a young guy who was traveling on the cheap. I thought our flight home was bad, but he was going back to Amsterdam by way of an 18-hour layover in Turkey. They kindly offered us some of their pineapple dessert they hadn’t finished, and I ate it much faster than was polite. They asked us how long we were hiking, and their astonishment when we told them it was five days did more to psych me out than reading in the guidebooks how sometimes the mud comes up to your waist.
We were shown our rooms and the facilities, and experienced my favorite story of Ugandan culture. The bathroom next to our room had only cold water, so if we wanted a warm shower, we had to walk across the yard to another building, where there was a row of individual shower stalls with doors. The doors had a gap at the top and bottom to let in light, but there was no light back there. There was a bulb, unlit. The woman who worked at the hospital showed us this, and we had the following exchange.
Her (explaining): The light has burnt out, but we are replacing it.
Kristi (hopeful): Will it be replaced tonight?
Her (chuckling, but matter-of-fact): Oh, no.
Ha ha! Replacing a lightbulb right now? Surely the lady jests.