These are my last few days in Kampala so mainly I have been souvenir shopping and hanging out around the hostel talking with folks. For example, I met “D”, and ex pfizer guy who mid-life quit his job and is traveling around the world freelance writing for some papers in the midwest. He’s about to go to Sudan and spent a week in Congo interviewing some general last week. He was there when the latest group of gorillas were killed (more on that below).
I also spent a couple of evenings with “T” a med student from Sheffield England who has been volunteering here for a month but lost his money (left his money belt behind in a bathroom) and was stuck at the hostel for a few days sorting things things out. Plus a couple of Aussies who have been teaching in Kenya for seven months and were visiting Uganda for a week before going home. I spent a fair amount of time telling them about my trip to Australia about a year ago, as one of them was from Melbourne, where I was. I met various and sundry other people from the US, England, and one even from Slovakia, but too many to give details on.
Speaking of gorillas, for more information about that situation in Congo check out this link, which is a blog kept by the rangers and an NGO working to protect the gorillas: http://www.wildlifedirect.org/blogAdmin/gorilla. Though it gets less news, Congo also has a lot of slaughter of Chimpanzees, as they are hunted for bushmeat or voodoo items by the locals. Orphaned chimps are often kept or sold as pets.
On that very topic, today I went to Ngamba Island, a Chimpanzee sanctuary that houses these chimps that were orphaned in the wild due to poaching, or were kept as pets and otherwise cannot be returned to the wild. They have a mandate that allows them to take custody of any chimpanzees from people. They do not have jurisdiction to go into Congo, but they have people stationed over the border b/c if the chimps are brought into Uganda, these folks have the right to take them.
The sanctuary is an amazing place. I don’t think I’ll get my photos up for some time, so check out their URL: http://www.ngambaisland.org/ which not only tells what they do, but provides a profile of all the chimps there. It is located on an island about a hour from the mainland, and has a symbiotic relationship with the locals, helping provide them schools and work and other forms of revenue to keep them feeling positive toward the sanctuary and what they do there.
I got up early so I could travel by matatu to Entebbe (about 1.5 hours and 2 separate matatu rides). I got there early and the boat launch point happens to be near the Imperial Beach Resort Hotel (it’s marketing incessantly notes that “Bill Clinton Slept Here” kind of stuff) so I went in for breakfast so I could take my meds (left too early to do so at the hostel). However, this is a hotel that caters to wealthy tourists or business travelers, so it was a pretty expensive buffet-only option. But, the food was good and as they don’t serve food at the sanctuary it was just as well that I stuffed myself with my expensive breakfast.
The boat to the island offers 2 options, a regular motor boat that takes an hour+ or a speedboat that takes about a half hour less, for $15 more. I opted for the speedboat thinking if it rained, I’d rather get back quicker. On the boat with me were M and P a retired couple from New Zealand and a family of 5 from Canada. The three kids were 9, 11, and 14. I talked with the mom about how great it was they brought their kids to Uganda when so many people in the US and Canada don’t really know anything about it and think it’s this unsafe, terrible place. I did think the 9 year old didn’t have the attention span to be at the sanctuary though. He kept wandering off during the talks and had to be kept being directed away from the electrical fence.
Apparently they were to go white water rafting about 5 days after I did, on a specialize program of rapids grades 1-3 for families with older kids, but the day before they went an 11 year old girl fell out of the boat over a rapid (it didn’t flip, she just fell out) and drowned. So they didn’t let them go on that trip until they figured out what happened (one person speculated that because she didn’t speak English well she hadn’t followed directions) and instead they did a day of “floating” on the calm parts of the river. Seriously, I can see how easily it would be for someone to drown doing there.
Anyway, back to the sanctuary. First we were given a 30 minute “education session” where the guide tells the group about Chimpanzees, their social structure and use of politics, as well as their increasing extinction risk as their land is encroached and the local populations of humans expands so rapidly. It was a very professional setup, much moreso than I have seen elsewhere in Uganda. At one point they have the 20+ of us go around and say where we are from. The first person would say “Australia” and then everyone else from Australia would raise their hand, and so on as each country was covered. By the time they got to me they had already gotten to the handful of Kiwis, Cannuks, and Brits, and German. I was toward the end and when I said “United States” there was just silence. I then said “I’m really sorry about the war, I didn’t vote for him” and then everyone laughed.
I bought a t-shirt that says “98.7 Chimp” (humans and chimpanzees have 98.7% of their DNA the same). I’m happy to have another shirt to wear, and glad I got one with something I really like on it.
After the education session we walked up to the observation decks to look at the various enclosures they had. Introducing unrelated chimps of varying ages and social skills (from a chimp perspective) is a very tricky business, you can’t just release them into an enclosure together. We saw two of the enclosures and watched the chimps being fed. It was really cool. Yes, in some ways it is like a large zoo, but nonetheless it was really cool to see.
Really, go check out their website above, it’s worth looking at. Here’s a direct link to the profiles section,it’s a fun read: http://www.ngambaisland.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=326&Itemid=111
My one regret is that they offer the ability to stay overnight with additional interaction options, but I was not able to arrange for that to happen. It looks like it would have been amazing!
On Friday I leave early for Lake Bunyoni and then on to Bwindi for Gorilla Trekking, which I expect to be a highlight of my trip. I am not sure how much email access I will have though during that time, so there might not be another update for a while.
Tomorrow I will again try to upload photos, but my u3 drive is again not working correctly and I’m not sure I’ll be successful. But in addition to that I am going to get a pedicure. Woohoo!!
Tags: Africa, gorilla, Ngamba Island, Travel, Uganda