I took the Postal Bus from Kampala to Fort Portal, the nearest town to the Kibale Forest National Park. It was a fun journey, lots of women dressed in the brightest, most glamorous clothes and headdresses I’ve ever seen got on the bus in party mood. It turned out that their children were graduating from college and they were preparing to celebrate. The two hour journey flew by as I was interrogated about my marital status and life in London.
Kibale is a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time, ever since I read about it’s chimpanzees, humanity’s closest relatives. The park has much more to offer than just chimpanzees though. It has thirteen species of primates, one of the highest diversities of primates in Africa, some of them highly endangered. It is relatively easy to spot at least four or five types of primate, and, in-between sightings, there are over three hundred species of birds and sixty species of mammals to keep an eye out for.
The National Park office is the starting point of the chimpanzee trekking, it is also home to the conveniently located Kibale Primate Lodge. I’d booked something called an Elevated Banda, which turned out to be a lovely place to stay in an opening in the forest. At night monkeys could be seen in the trees and the noise of insects was deafening. Once the sun set, it was one of the darkest nights I’ve ever experienced, made slightly traumatic by the sound of creatures walking across the roof.
While I sorted out permits to track chimpanzees, I spent a day walking the 7 or 8km to the nearest village, Bigodi. On the outskirts of the village is the fabulous Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. This extraordinarily biodiverse swampland is host to eight species of primates, several mammals and numerous bird species. This is a birders paradise, including the spectacular Great Blue Turaco. The sanctuary is managed by a local association; the local community is invested in the sanctuary, and this has ensured poaching has been dramatically reduced.
A knowledgable local guide takes you through the sanctuary, the day I was there I was the only person on the tour. Despite all the attractions, this area still doesn’t get huge numbers of tourists. It was a lovely couple of hours, exploring the swamp and spotting a number of animals, including four primates – Baboon, Vervet, Red Colobus, Black and White Colobus – and the Great Blue Turaco.
Afterwards, I walked into the village and had lunch before stumbling upon a local business, set up by a women’s association, making delicious local peanut butter. It turned out the woman who ran it was the wife of the National Park’s head guard, both of whom came from Gulu, so we had a long chat about the situation in that part of the country. I bought a couple of jars of the sticky brown stuff and headed off on my walk back to the Kibale Primate Lodge.
Unfortunately, I came across a troupe of Baboons, three or four kilometres from the lodge, completely blocking the road. Laugh if you like, but I have a terrible fear of Baboons. I was once chased and attacked by Baboons when I was in India, an experience I didn’t particularly want to repeat. I was on the verge of walking back to the village when a man on a motorbike came along. I flagged him down and, despite laughing when I explained my predicament, he drove me past the Baboons and back to the lodge.
I imagine that story did the rounds in the village for quite some time.