Ugandan and Rwandan diary

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618Travel Africa reader Debbie Strauss goes on a journey to these two amazing countries. Exploring rainforests, coming face to face with gorillas and meeting some wonderfully hospitable people helps her to find her inner strength again

On the way to the airport, I could hear my heart beating. This trip had been playing on my mind for two years, and finally I was travelling as part of a group with an excellent guide from Eco Field Tours. For several years, I had been struggling to find some inner peace and to keep my inner fire alight. Let her talk, sing and dance again!

Uganda, the ‘Pearl of Africa’, is home to residents with incredible human warmth, great biodiversity and lush rainforests. There are diverse landscapes to explore and a series of lakes that constitute the perfect habitat for birds as well as mountain gorillas and chimps. Rwanda, the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, is a fertile, mountainous country with tropical rainforests and amazing reserves, including Volcanoes National Park, where Dian Fossey’s research centre lies.

On this journey to both of these countries, I hoped to experience nature and reignite my feelings.

Day 1: Entebbe and Entebbe

After landing at the old terminal in Entebbe, I went to the beach of Lake Victoria, where I saw three ladies with children playing in the water and sand, laughing…

Later, I continued to Kampala, Uganda’s capital, explored the city and visited the local market, where again I came into contact with the atmosphere of real Africa and its people.

Days 2 and 3: Murchison Falls Reserve and the White Nile

We drove through this huge nature reserve, a region of savannah and forest along the Nile River. We sat and watched the strength of Murchison Falls itself. So much power! We bumped along roads of red earth, past little villages with their local market, children playing barefoot or hiding in waterways…

The next morning, we cruised on the Nile, watching the animals and birds drinking from the river. I had never seen so many birds before, flying and dancing a beautiful ballet in the sky. The hippos and crocodiles were immersed in the surrounding water. Out on the river, I found silence inside me and listened to the sound of nature. I felt happy.

Day 4: Murchison Falls to Fort Portal

We rolled along the Western Rift Valley, passing through a green landscape of lush vegetation and past tropical fruit stalls, villages and agricultural fields, slowly climbing towards the city of Fort Portal.

Day 5, 6 and 7: Queen Elizabeth National Park

QE is impressively beautiful. We began by entering the jungle on a walking tour to observe chimpanzees and monkeys. All the branches and leaves were full of water droplets like diamonds… In the reserve, there are giant lakes, small lakes and volcanic craters. In the afternoon we cruised the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake George to Lake Edward, and is known for the dense population of hippo, buffalo and waterfowl.

Later, driving through the savannah, we spot, impala, waterbuck, buffalo and elephant. We even observe lions lounging in trees, typical of this park but unusual elsewhere. At night, we slept in tents by the river.

Day 8: Lake Bunyonyi

Next we travelled south to Lake Bunyonyi, a gem in the heart of the mountains. It is spectacular, with colourful villages and fields on the slopes around the lake, and a series of small islands dotted around. We visited a small village called Ruhija, where there was an orphanage. Our guide asked permission to enter and we danced and sang together for a while… But despite the joy of that moment, my soul was sad to know that there will be no future for those children.

The days were passing, and soon I would return to the routine of life. I tried to memorise everything I learnt from the amazing people I met.

Day 9: To Rwanda

We passed through scenic mountain villages to the town of Kisoro, where we crossed the border into Rwanda, the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’. With its rainforests, mountains and lakes, it is considered one of the most beautiful countries in Africa.

Day 10: Volcanoes National Park

Early in the morning we went off in search of gorillas who live here at altitudes of 2200-3800m, where living conditions are ideal for them: cool, foggy and rainy. The park became famous due to Dian Fossey’s studies there and her book Gorillas in the Mist. Tracking gorillas is one of the most exciting encounters in nature that one can conceive.

Days 11-12: To Kigali

In the morning we drove to the Rwandan capital, where we visited the genocide memorial site, an emotive but amazing experience.

I was at the end of my trip, but my inner journey had just begun. I felt hugely satisfied and lucky to have experienced so much. My fire was restored. Thanks to all of those who engaged with me on the trip and who have supported me from near and far throughout my life.

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