RuhijaAs you can see from the map of the Bwindi area, the road from Buhoma to Ruhija is outside the park. This is very fertile land, but clearly very hilly. You can see the individual small farms, all farmed entirely by hand with no machines other than hoes, and no power other than human.
We saw no other vehicles on this drive. We passed through some great bird habitats but it was raining pretty hard all morning, so a bit of a washout for birds.
This picture is about three screens wide, so mouse back and forth to see it all.
We arrived in Ruhija around 12 after a very wet morning. The rest house was closed up - some problem with scheduling that Johnnie cleared up.
You can see the tent of the two British cyclists who were spending a few months cycling around Uganda. Now we have been on extended cycling trips, but I would not have thought it possible to cycle in Uganda. It turns out it is very possible. Most small towns have a Hotel, even if it has only one room. It is possible to get food in each small town as well. Of course, most towns have no electricity so you are limited to a kerosene lantern at night. If fact, this rest house has no power at all - no generator even. We had lanterns and used our head lamps to read.After lunch it cleared up and we were able to go for a short walk down a road along the crest of the hill just outside the forest. It turned out to be quite birdy, including this beauty - Doherty's Bushshrike.
This 1 kilometre walk along the gravel hilltop road gave us a total of 67 species for the day, with 23 new species.Like many countries around the world, Uganda experimented with plantation forestry. They planted many varieties of Eucalyptus as well as other non-native trees.
The managers of the Bwindi NP are trying to remove the non-native species from the fringes of the park. These men are sawing up a large softwood log into planks for use in their village (which is about a kilometre down the road).
They set up this platform, roll the lengths of tree trunk onto the platform, then saw it into boards. You can see some boards standing on end at the top right of the picture, with a young boy just picking up two boards to carry to the village. The platform is near the bottom of the valley, perhaps 30 metres vertically below us. The boys carry two boards at a time through the fields, then up the hill to the village.
Being in rural Uganda is like travelling in a time machine - to the 1800's in western nations, to the time before electricity and fuel oil. As well, for some reason (any ideas?) the Ugandans do not seem to use any animals for plowing or transportation. They have cows, but don't use then to help work the land. Everything is done using human labour alone.While the cyclists cooked their dinner over a fire outside (we asked them to join us but they preferred the hardship of the outdoors), we worked through our bird sighting books and read while waiting on dinner.
Johnnie had arranged that a cook travel to the guest house, bringing our food with him, and cook us dinner while we were out birding.
Most of the light in this picture comes from the camera flash. You can see we are all wearing our head lamps so we can see what we are eating. Heat is from the fire place, which also provides us hot water since it heats up the water in the large yellow plastic jerry cans.Early the next morning we set out on a hike to Mubwindi Swamp.
This is quite a challenging hike - no difficult bits, but long with a 400 metre elevation change. We started out in reasonably good weather at 8 AM and reached this viewpoint over the swamp by 11 AM. Still 100 metres of descent to go.
It had rained on and off the whole way. Generally what you expect from a cloud forest, unfortunately.
This swamp is deep in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, with this the only access route.
There are species of birds, as well as mammals (and surely insects), found only in this type of habitat. This area offers a unique birding and hiking experience. Too bad about the weather.
These mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable if global warming raises the temperature here. With increasing temperature the plants and animals must move higher up the mountains. This shrinkage of available habitat will lead to extinctions. If it gets hot enough, the entire ecosystem along with the many endemic plant and animal species will disappear.Under these conditions (eyes down on the trail, trying to keep dry) it was hard to miss this Gorilla scat. They eat things other than leaves, but are unable to digest the pits.
We also saw evidence (foot prints, brush flattened) of Forest Elephants along the trail. These elephants would be wary of people, and would make every attempt to avoid us. We did not see them.It did not rain the entire trip. It is 11:30 and we are almost to the level of the swamp.
This is an ancient forest - never been logged, rarely visited by people.
You can see Dan and Merrilee, and just the edge of Alfred's shirt on Merrilee's right. The other man is our soldier escort.
I am operating the camera. Where's Brenda? She is back at the rest house incubating a cold that she will pass on to me in a few days!Just before reaching the swamp we happened on a small group of Mountain Gorillas!
This group is habituated - but not for tourists, just for research. We met the researcher just as we left the rest house and once again on the way back up the hill. She makes this trek from the rest house area down to the Gorillas every day. Her rainwear was a cotton shirt - I guess if you get rained on every day eventually you just try to ignore it.Right at the bottom of the trail, where it flattens out to the edges of the swamp, we encountered this Ruwenzori Red Duiker a species of small antelope found only in this chain of mountains, the Ruwenzori mountains, that run between Uganda and the Congo.
We were 5 metres away when we noticed it. It continued eating, but was watchful. It did not seem particularly afraid of us - perhaps having had very little experience with people. After 5 minutes is slowly moved off into the woods.
It does not have horns. What looks like short horns in this picture is actually stiff hair that forms a small crest.
Google Images has no pictures of this animal. It does show two pictures if you search on "Ruwenzori Duiker" but they are of other species of Duiker. How long will it take Google to find this picture and add it to its index? How long will it take someone to steal the picture and claim it as theirs? I uploaded this picture to our website on Feb 26, 2007 at 4:20 PM PST.Its 12:30 now and we have been hiking downhill in the rain for 4 1/2 hours, when, by a logistic miracle, this porter showed up with our lunch in a box he carried from the rest house on his head. He covered the distance from the rest house to here in just over an hour, with the food still hot in the casserole dishes!
Of course, he was not busy looking for birds and animals and things.
So, a hot lunch just outside the swamp - unbelievable. I am not sure what we expected would happen for lunch, but it sure was not this.
Unfortunately, right after lunch the rains started again - even harder than before. We were unable to move closer to the swamp and do any serious birding. Instead, after waiting for a while to see if it would let up, we gave up and headed back up the hill to the rest house.
Even though we spent all day in the forest, conditions were so bad we only saw 37 species of birds, 12 of which were new species for the trip. The trip total is now 348.
We managed to make it back to the rest house, tired and wet, by 4 PM, so we must have spent quite a bit of time trying to find birds on the way down. It was a tiring hike back up the hill, but no problems other than fatigue.As an indication of the quality of the care we are getting, this is a picture of our Chef at Ruhija, in his kitchen. The kitchen is a very small room off the back of the rest house, apparently without a door.
In Uganda with Johnnie you are never far from a good Ugandan meal. Even at Ruhija, which is way past the boonies, in the mountains on the border, where there is nothing for miles, Johnnie makes sure we have good meals.
But good food is not all! We get good food prepared by a Chef in a clean and pressed Chef's outfit as well.
Five Stars!This way to the Uganda page
This way to the Tanzania page
Back to the Travel page