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Uganda Thoughts and Memories
Post: #1
Having recently returned from a holiday in Uganda (not with JY as I’d booked this tour before JY announced their itinerary) I thought that I would add to Hils’ excellent recent posts and share my own tips and views on why people should visit this remarkable destination. 
By choosing to visit Uganda you will help to change the lives of so many people who live there for the better; the local guides, park rangers, trackers, all the staff who work in the lodges and restaurants, together with those who run a souvenir stall should you choose to purchase a reminder of your visit. Whilst the cost of a trekking permit to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is expensive, the money goes towards the protection of the National Park and of course the gorillas that live there. In addition, 20% of the money raised from trekking permits goes to the local community to build schools and hospitals as well as funding other community projects. I chose to visit 2 of these projects along with 3 of my travelling companions whilst in Bwindi - a domestic violence hostel for abused women and a centre for vulnerable children, mainly orphans, due to the scourge of HIV/AIDS. None of this would be possible without the funds provided by your visit. Consequently, Ugandan people are delighted to welcome visitors - I was greeted by a smile, a wave and ‘hello’ everywhere I went - and they go out of their way to thank you for visiting their country. At the same time, begging is actively discouraged so you should not think that this is a problem.

As for tips on trekking in Kibale and Bwindi National Parks, I can only endorse Hils’ excellent recommendations and have little to add on that score. If I had to give one single piece of advice it would be this: Look where you’re putting your feet! Tree roots, fallen branches and creepers which attach themselves to your trouser legs can all combine to trip you up. As Hils has said, it’s not about who arrives first - more haste, less speed!

I found a walking stick essential in Bwindi (they were available to borrow in the lodge reception for free) as was the hire of a porter. A porter costs $15 but please tip well as they are worth their weight in gold. They will carry your bags, help you negotiate the more difficult terrain and assist you across stepping stones that traverse many streams in the park. One lady in our party declined to hire a porter and ended up taking an early bath! I mention this, not to embarrass her, but to indicate what can happen if you choose to ‘fly solo’. In the end no harm was done because she was fine, but a porter really is invaluable.

My party tracked the Mubare gorilla group (one of several inhabiting the park), the oldest and largest gorilla group in Uganda consisting of 16 individuals. After 2 and a half hours we found the group, together with its resident Silverback, and spent an hour with them. It was a truly unique and memorable experience that will stay with me forever. Please remember to observe all the do’s and dont’s that will have been explained to you at the start of your trek during this time. Also remember that although you stand a very good chance of meeting the gorillas, it is not a forgone conclusion. I heard of one party who trekked for 4 hours to find a different gorilla group on the day I was there...only for the gorillas to get up and leave the moment they arrived! 

In conclusion I would share with you a conversation we had with a lady serving behind the bar at our lodge in Bwindi. We told her that she had a beautiful country and that the people were lovely. Her reply was very simple...’Please go home and tell people’. Consider it done.

If you have any questions, please ask and I’ll do my best to answer them. 

Cheers
Mike
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Post: #2
Hi Mike,

Thank you for a fascinating and thought provoking thread.
It sounds like your trip left its mark on you. And quite understandable ! I’m expecting similar in June.
The fitness regime will begin soon, once I’ve recovered from a minor Op. Makes me glad I didn’t get around to booking any trips in Feb.
I’m curious to know how physically demanding you found the trek(s) and how severe it got, particularly the steepness of the climbs. The length of the trek isn’t so much of a concern as long as it’s not climb, climb, climb ...

I’m looking forward to my Uganda visit immensely and your thread has re whetted my appetite.
When I think of more questions I’ll get back to you !

Cheers,
Roger
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Post: #3
Hi Roger,
Thank you for your reply. The trek in Kibale Forest to see Chimpanzees is on fairly level ground - no steep uphill climbs. Consequently I didn’t find the walk too demanding (maybe 3-4 miles in total) but as I mentioned, just be mindful of where you tread.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is rather more challenging. Once you get away from the main route through the park, the terrain has some steep uphill and downhill sections as well as stepping stones across streams. In my opinion it’s essential that you have a walking stick which may be available from your lodge reception (although I notice that JY aren’t using the same lodge that I stayed in) and that you hire a porter. We walked for 2 and a half hours to find the Mubare gorilla group but thanks to my porter I didn’t find it too severe. Without him it could have been a very different story. The weather also remained dry which was a bonus. Bearing in mind that Bwindi INP receives up to 2390mm of rain annually, I’m sure that the trek would have been a lot more arduous in the pouring rain!
I notice that you are going in June (a dry period) so I hope that you’ll be equally fortunate.
But as our tour guide/driver said to us on the evening before we set off...’Have courage and you will do it!’

Any other questions, please ask.

Cheers
Mike
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Post: #4
Very interesting Mike.

I must admit my initial thoughts were that a walking stick and a porter looked a ‘no brainer’.
It sounds like you were very lucky with the weather. Going in drier June was part of my cunning plan, but there are no guarantees obviously. I’m sure avoiding the downpours would be a great help.

How did you get on with the currency ?
I’m not sure what’s best .. take Uganda Shillings out with you (if allowed), exchange over there. Also, how widely used are US Dollars, are the porters an exception ?

Thanks again for the insights Mike.

Roger
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Post: #5
Im going in June, how wet will it be,

do i need water prof boots, water prof coat, water prof trousers,

also did you take a suit case or big back pack for all your stuff, just thinking about all the room in the jeeps,
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Post: #6
Hi Roger,
I think the Ugandan Shilling may be a closed currency but I’m not 100% sure about that. USD are widely accepted - I took 300USD, 50 of which I changed into local currency whilst in Entebbe. There’s an exchange shop not far from your first hotel which I’m sure that your local guide will be able to take you to. Ask for low denominations (5,000 and 10,000 notes - a little over £1 and £2 respectively).
My tour was full board (as is JY’s) but I found it useful to have some local currency for drinks, tips for guides & rangers etc. You may also wish to leave a small amount in the tip box at the different lodges which is shared equally between all the staff (housekeeping, restaurant, bar, reception etc).

Drinks are inexpensive - a large bottle of local beer (Nile Superior) costs just over £1 and a glass of wine about £1.50. I settled all my bar bills in cash but credit cards are also accepted - they usually add a 5% surcharge for this.

I believe porters at Bwindi are an exception because we were told that the cost was $15 plus whatever tip you want to give them. Having said that, there’s no pressure to give them a tip but believe me they’re worth it.

Hope this helps.
Mike
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Post: #7
Hello Craig,
Uganda has two main rainy seasons; March to May and November through December. So in theory you are going in the dry season, but that doesn’t mean it won’t rain. See one of my previous replies to RogerT on this thread regarding the amount of annual rainfall received in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
My advice would be to take waterproofs with you, together with a good pair of walking boots - plimsolls or trainers just won’t do! I bought a couple of long sleeved shirts from a local charity shop before I went, specifically to use on the chimpanzee and gorilla treks, on the basis that if they got thrashed it didn’t matter. Also, I would recommend that you read Hils’ excellent tips in a recent previous thread on what other items to take with you. She pretty much has this nailed on!

I took my normal suitcase which weighed a tad over 19kg when packed.

Hope this helps
Mike
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Post: #8
Hi Roger,

To add to Mike's tips etc. (sorry to hijack your post Mike!)  I have just re-read my travel journal for my Ugandan trip, and in terms of money - I took US dollars. However, I would strongly recommend that you take large denomination notes - $50 and $100 - as you get a much better exchange rate. We had Brian as our guide from Speke Uganda Holidays (the local guides that you will also have) - he is the "main" man, but the other 2 guides were brilliant also!

If you are a coffee lover, the gorilla coffee is superb, but in Bwindi very expensive to buy - I think it was about $19 for a bag of beans! I bought them a lot cheaper elsewhere! Another tip - they never have change in Uganda, so hang on to every small note that you can!

In terms of wildlife - we saw The Big Five all in one day! The only thing we didn't see were the "tree climbing lions" despite going round and round the park where they normally are. However, I was not too bothered, as I have seen them in Tanzania!

You are really in for a treat doing this amazing trip. Be prepared for lots of very early mornings!

Enjoy!

Cheers,
Hils
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Post: #9
Hi,

Just to add to the currency-situation! I cashed far too much into local currency ($300!) - I know I like shopping and I did have a 2 night extension where I had to pay for meals etc. but in fact you really don't need an awful lot. As Mike said, you are full board, which I was too on the main tour, so it is just really drinks, tips, souvenirs etc. that you need. US dollars were widely accepted, so I would reckon you only need to cash $50 or $100 at the most. Make sure you have some small denomination $US for tips too - I inadvertently gave an enormous $ tip by mistake to a bellboy - those darn US dollars all look the same!!

Cheers,
Hils
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Post: #10
Hi Mike

Thanks for your very informative excellent review, a really interesting read

cheers

Dave
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