We are back into lockdowns and travel restrictions throughout the Gorilla Highlands region, so we remember last month especially fondly.
May 2021 was the go-time for nine eager Dutch boys to fy into Uganda, tired of the one-year wait for their Ultimate Hike — a combination of Volcano Quest and Parks Reunited — to finally take place. Due to Covid testing requirements we had to adjust their program a little: instead of seven days of hiking (including gorilla tracking) they did five. Then, while waiting for the results of a test done in Mbarara, they got a taste of the savannah of Lake Mburo National Park.
Their team leader, Rob Ploeg (pictured above), called it “the best trip in years” and said they enjoyed the combination of different environments — every day was different. Even the unruly nature of his gang couldn’t sour his Ugandan memories! But he did mention the visual suffering inflicted on him by an irresponsible member who disappeared in the middle of the night near Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, only to come back with a new haircut. Yes, he literally found a local barber to give him an appropriately bad look at 2am!
Another shock was was one of the boys being slapped by a silverback … Either he came too near the gorilla boss, or the hairy cousin moved too close to him — the debate goes on, and the shaky video footage is inconclusive. Despite the enormity of the beast’s hand (see below), no permanent damage was done.
Rob at least knew well in advance (decades of accumulated experience with these men) that sufficient supplies of cold beer would keep his men content. And he warned us! In remote areas we tried to keep the supplies frosty with cooling bags and lake water, but the results were so-so. They appreciated being provided a selection of local beer brands the first evening, but they quickly agreed that Nile Special had no peer. (Or is that the leader imposing his taste on the rest?)
The great thing about the trip, says Rob, was that it had an upwards trajectory, in terms of not only beer temperature but also accommodation standards. The first night they slept (or tried to) in an overnight bus from Entebbe Airport to Lake Bunyonyi. Then they camped at two village homestays, followed by two nights at a community camp with more facilities. The comfy rooms at Mutanda Lake Resort were a treat, a motel in Mbarara came in handy (city nightlife was an enjoyable extracurricular activity) and the peak was reached in the luxury of Mihingo Lodge.
They loved their guide Owen, whom they first nicknamed Slowen and finally Telefowen. There was so much to organise on the phone — above all a Covid test that would happen within the time brackets required by Uganda and the Netherlands. It all went well.
…. But let the boys’ photos tell the rest of the story!