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Well, that's not true. There was something there for us. Perhaps she couldn't hear our accelerated heartbeats or our panting as we chased around on the jungle floor as the chimps flowed effortlessly in the canopy, mostly unseen. She didn't sense our wonder, our awe, when the entire troop of an estimated 25, began vocalizing, stunning us with surround sound. We stopped dead in our tracks, jaws agape, eyes roaming the canopy.
What do chimps sound like? Here's a 15 second video-soundtrack recorded in the same place, but not the same time: Chimp sounds/video. It's similar to what we heard, but the crescendo that enveloped us rose like a giant wave that stopped at its crest, shimmered like crazy, then evaporated. This happened three times and each time we were immobilized with wonder. Enjoying chimp tracking as much as we did came as a surprise.
Let's start at the beginning. A few days earlier, PK and I had seen gorillas. In the jungle. From about 10 feet away. Accompanied by nine Ugandans, several carrying rifles. An account with photos is here. We LOVED this. In fact, we didn't quite see the point of going for chimps as it meant getting up at 5:30 a.m. and driving for a couple hours and then...chimps? Not gorillas? That just goes to show we're not immune to the shallow/callow Western tourist gimme-more-bang-for-the-buck crap. As usual, our trusty volunteer tour guide—and so much more—Kara Blackmore, heard not our low whining but used her considerable eye beams to transmit this message: Why on earth would you want to miss anything Uganda has to offer?
|Here's a little chimp texting on his cellphone. Just kidding.|
|Chimp with wild figs, a favorite food.|
|Our guide shows us the innards of a wild fig. One that the chimps|
are not going to get.
|There's one, getting outta here.|
|Here are a few, so near and yet so far.|
|The guide making chimp vocalizations. He also interpreted the chimp sounds. They were talking about crossing the road, apparently, as the road became the goal of our haste.|
Impressive guy, our guide. He really was.
|I only fell once after tripping on a vine. |
Thankfully, I landed on hands and knees in soft grass.
PK remained upright.
|Our guide was correct about the chimps wanting to cross the road. We made it in plenty of time and got to see a dozen streaking across the red dirt to join the rest of their troop.|
Note: When I started this series of Africa-travel posts, I mentioned that three of the most memorable days of my life occurred there. The chimp-tracking day was one of them. But wait! It was just the start of an incredible day, all facilitated by TIA Adventures. We were finished with chimps by 10 a.m. and then Pete Meredith, TIA owner, drove us over yet another red dirt road into the great unknown. Smiling, he was.
|Pete Meredith of TIA Adventures.|
For a comparison between chimp and gorilla tracking, keep reading.
There are several spots to track gorillas and chimps in East Africa. I can only address the places we visited, both in Uganda.
GorillasLocation: Biwindi Impenetrable Forest in southeastern Uganda near Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Driving distance from Kampala: at least 16 hours
Cost: $500 per person (not a typo)
Guides: One head guide, three more assistant guides with either a machete to chop a path or a rifle to protect us, or both, a porter for each tourist, plus three additional trackers ahead in the forest.
Guarantee of seeing gorillas: None
Length of trip: We were lucky as we ran into our gorillas a half hour from the road. Some tourists walk up to eight hours and never see a gorilla.
Starting time: Show up by 7:30 a.m. for briefing, start soon thereafter
Difficulty: The terrain is steep and there are no set trails. The more physically fit you are, the better.
What to wear: Long pants, boots or hiking shoes with socks pulled over pant legs. Bring rain gear.
Where to stay: There are many places to stay. We were at the Silverback Lodge in Buhoma which was, oddly, about 32 miles from where tracking began. The drive over truly hideous roads took THREE hours. We had to get up at 4:30 a.m. We could have done our tracking a short distance from our lodging, but got booked into a more distant starting place. There was no changing locale on permits purchased months in advance.
Fun meter: 10 (including the long, difficult but spectacular drive)
ChimpsLocation: Budongo Forest just outside Murchison Falls National Park
Distance from Kampala: at least 3 hours
Cost: $50 per person
Guides: one per group
Guarantee of seeing chimps: None, but likely
Length of trip: If chimps aren't seen by 11 a.m., tracking is called off.
Starting time: Same as gorilla tracking
Difficulty: Easy, unless you choose to go off the trail. The terrain isn't steep, but the forest floor, in places, is a tangle of roots and vines.
What to wear: Same as gorilla tracking
Where to stay: Again many places, but the Murchison River Lodge is highly recommended. It's about a hour's drive from the Budongo Forest.
Fun meter: 10