Due to the fact that both of my co-pilots had missed the fact that I had written on the itinerary that there were 2 Tuesdays in the first week, we had an extra day to fill !! So we took the relatively short drive to a town called Masindi and checked in at the Masindi Hotel – initially. Masindi, well the Masindi Hotel, is famous for two things: apparently every Ugandan Prime Minister has stayed there and more famously, Ernest Hemingway stayed there whilst recuperating after having been involved in two separate planes crashes in the space of a week. So this was the first place where we were going to go our separate ways: Paul checked into a room and the younger contingent were camping. Karl realised that he had forgotten his tent pegs…………………..in Ireland. A minor point. So we put up our tents and Karl did his best to tether his tent to a tree in case there was a storm / rain. He then decided that he would be better off at the New Court View Hotel in a banda, just down the road. Given that it was an extra day we didn’t really have a plan, so we sat at Karl’s hotel and had a drink and asked the owner, who had come to Uganda 18 years ago, liked it and stayed, what there was to do. She explained that there were a couple of things we could do: we could go for a walk in the Budongo Forest Reserve and then after that we could go and see some chimps !! We asked further about the latter and she explained that the chimps were in the middle of a huge sugar plantation on a strip of land that hadn’t been touched – it was virgin rain forest. She said she could arrange a guide for the forest and also one for the chimps. All seemed too good to be true but we went to bed in anticipation of a possibly exciting day ahead.
Awoke the next morning, had breakfast, picked Karl up and headed off down a dirt road for about 3 miles to pick up our first guide. There he was, at our pre-arranged point and we picked him up and headed to another location to pick up yet another guide for the second part of the day. Our first guide led us through one road after another til we finally came to a huge forest: Budongo Forest Reserve.
We parked up, got out and went for a long walk along what is called The Royal Mile – apparently the best place for bird-watching in Uganda – so Paul was happy. We spent a great couple of hours walking through some huge mahogany and iron trees, as well as various other species, and of course being told about various different birds that were flitting around. It really was a beautiful place, completely untouched apart from the road along which we walked. After our walk the second guide took over and we headed back to the sugar plantation. It was massive and must have been about 30km by 20km. He directed us along several roads that seemed to be in a grid system and all looked identical due to the fact they were all flanked by sugar cane. Eventually we came to a patch of forest and he got out. He said he was going to see if he could see where the chimps were and disappeared into the forest. We all got out except Paul and could clearly hear the chimps calling to one another. About 20 minutes later he emerged to say that they had moved to the other side of the forest. Back in the car and drive round to the other side of the forest and this time the ranger said that he could see them. Out we got and there, high up in the trees were 3 chimps sheltering from the new slowly falling rain.
We stood there in awe. Sadly the rain was getting heavier and the ranger said that they would descend the very trees to look for better shelter – he was right. But we had seen chimps – something which we had not dreamed off before setting off. The rain was falling heavily now so we all headed back to Masindi for a drink and dinner all very satisfied with the day’s events. Karl wasn’t able to stay at his previous night’s abode as they were fully booked so he stayed at the Bates Motel, or something similar. He was the only guest in a big hotel !! If you read this and are interested in getting to see wild chimps without trekking, contact me and I’ll give you the details of the lady in Masindi.