Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Wild West (cont)

So, back to reporting on our travels. As I write this we've just got back from eights days upcountry, babysitting Red Chilli Rest Camp in Murchison Falls National Park, so there will be more tales of the road to tell.

But for now, it's back to day two of our travels out West at the end of September. We'd stayed overnight at CVK, a budget community focused tourist spot on the edge of one of the crater lakes south of Fort Portal.

We left CVK after a walk round the lake shore, heading for Kibale Forest National Park.

Just down the road, past lines of tea pickers working the plantations, we entered the forest.

Tall trees towered over either side of the rocky track, and as R looked for potholes in the dappled shadows on the road, I peered into the greeny black darkness either side of us to look for monkeys.

Kibale has probably the highest concentration of primate species in the world, so it was just as well that we were eventually rewarded with the sight of a big black shaggy Uganda Mangabey sat on a branch overhanging the road. He swung away into the trees before I could get the camera out, so here's a shot from wikipedia.

We then headed for the sumptuous Kibale Primate Lodge, tucked away behind the Uganda Wildlife Headquarters at Kanyanchu, where the ever popular chimp tracking starts out from.

Given R and I are on local salaries, we chose not to stay in the $280 luxury en suite tents offered by the lodge. Instead, we'd booked ourselves in the $30 a night treehouse, hidden 800m away down a dark forest track. We sat among the real guests, amused at how our Nissan Micra squared up against their shiny stretch Landcruisers, as we waited for our escort to the treehouse.

Advised to bring a minimum of stuff for our overnight belongings, we settled on a bag containing our key valuables, clean pairs of pants, a pack of cards, our torches and our toothbrushes, and set off after our man down the track. It twisted and turned through dense canopied forest. We heard a monkey shriek to the left, and some chimpanzees hooting in the distance somewhere ahead of us. Winding our way through the trailing trees, we crossed boggy patches filled with huge round waterlogged holes. So uniform in size, could they have been the footprints of forest elephants? There are certainly meant to be elephants in the park, although probably not the small, hairier, more agressive forest elephant species, but nonetheless, elephants in a forest, and that's enough for me.

After about 800m of the tiny track, suddenly it opened out into a small clearing with a far bigger, lighter, forest clearing to the right of us with clumps of tall palm trees dangling weavers' nests like a Christmas tree dangles baubles, and bright green, chest high grass which was gently moving in the pre-storm breeze.

A basic wooden ladder stretched up above us to our room for the night. Twenty metres up, with grass mats for window blinds and a roof, was a tiny room for two. Inside it smelt of tree and contained nothing more than a single bed, a second mattress, a narrow bench with a paraffin lantern, mosquito nets and bedding.

It was perfect.

Rolling up one side of the treehouse's window covering gave us the most exotic view out over the forest clearing. If we were going to see forest elephants anywhere, this would be it.

We didn't.

See forest elephants that is.

But nonetheless, this was it, and it was great.

We whiled away the afternoon gazing out over our forest, playing cards, reading and snoozing. The evening came and saw us splurge $20 each on a four course meal back at the posh lodge. The equivalent of spending two hundred pounds back on a meal for two in London, this felt like true decadence... and it was worth it. It was one of the best meals I've ever had in Uganda. Tomato and herb bruschetta to start, followed by a warm and spicy pumpkin soup, with fillet steak, roast potatoes and vegetables as a main, finished off with what they called 'apple crisp' but what I would have called a crumble.

It was now about 9pm and long dark. We got chatting to Amos, the owner of the lodge, who must have assumed we were staying in a $280 tent. As after twenty minutes of polite chit chat, when we let slip we were in the treehouse, a look of panic crossed his face.

You must go now! he said, looking around wildly for someone to help us.

If you are in the treehouse you must go there soon. Otherwise it will be too late!

What? Why?

It's okay, it's okay. But the elephants. If they come, they come at night. So you must go soon. And I must find someone to go with you.


A man with a stick was duely located and we trooped off again, saying our goodbyes, feeling like children being sent to bed early. We had assured Amos we would be fine making our own way there - we had torches after all and could listen ahead for sounds of elephants. Surely elephants marauding their way through a forest would not be that quiet about it?

But apparently, the man with the stick was an essential accessory for late night forest walks, and once on the tiny jungle track we were actually quite grateful. It certainly seemed a lot further at night, and the turnings and twists looked different under torchlight.

Nevertheless, elephant-free, we made it safely to the treehouse and up the ladder. Once inside we lit the lantern. A warm glow lit up the dark corners of the little room, suspended above the forest floor. Then a periphal flutter caught our attention. We had a bat for company! The tiny creature flew around our heads for a monent or two as we raised the grass mat shutters and gave it an escape route, which it found after only a couple more circuits of the roof.

Then we pulled the shutters tight down, preferring to spend the rest of the night bat-less, and tucked in for the night.

And despite all the weird and wonderful sounds, and waking up several times to the pitter patter of feet on the roof (birds? monkeys? elephants?), we both enjoyed one of the best night's sleep we have ever had.


Marie said...

Sounds wonderful! Much nicer than a $280 a night tent.

Bette said...

Hey where ya been? No need to publish this post but hadn't heard from you in a couple of weeks - are you still on holiday? Maybe you have no Internet? Drop me a line when you Xo Bette