Uganda: where dreams come true
“For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa.” Winston Churchill wrote these words in 1908 and quite remarkably they still ring true today.
Since I was a little girl I dreamt of visiting the forests where mountain gorillas lived. I didn’t only dream about it, I obsessed over it. All I wanted was to be Diane Fossey and spend my days amongst primates but life’s twists and turns took me in other directions. For years I imagined the incessant shrill of the cicadas interspersed with the calls of monkeys and mangabes and the way light might filter through the canopy. I dreamt of the rising mist that shrouds moss-covered trees and I imagined families of gorillas living in that mist.
You might think then that with such high expectations, Uganda had the potential to fail these self same but thankfully it did quite the opposite.
Uganda is a country of extraordinary beauty with dense forests, snow capped mountains, expansive lakes and savannas. It’s a friendly nation and it’s teeming with wildlife. My guests, Paul, Erica and I, hiked to see the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that even in the name summons a sense of the adventures it promises and ultimately delivers on.
The highlight for all of us was finding these iconic apes. There is a startling familiarity that is felt when a gorilla and a human lock eyes. They are so human and yet not quite and we are so gorilla and yet not quite. The result is a bizarre insight or sense of what it might be like to be the other.
Spending time with the groups felt as if we were among friends. Mothers nursed their babies as the silverback munched noisily beside them. Youngsters scrambled up trees and played rough and tumble, jostling between the adults dotted around the squashed vegetation; some resting, some grooming, others feeding.
On our second day, a female walked right up and sat in front of me with her 3 month old baby hugging her large chest. The little youngster peered at me inquisitively, sun falling onto it’s face and close enough for me to see the intimate detail of its brown eyes, whiskered lips and human-like ears. After resting and feeding there a while the mother then wandered right past Erica sitting beside me, the gorilla’s baby scrambling up her side and onto her back, before they meandered into the forest.
I also had some minutes alone with the largest silverback in Uganda. He comes from the Rushegura group, which was the very first group of gorillas to be habituated in the country. This animal commands your attention just with his sheer size and presence. To watch them move is to marvel at the intimidating.
We were also lucky enough to see a group of our closest relatives, the chimpanzee, in Kibale National Park. We got a habituation permit, which allows you to spend the day with a group of researchers who trail the chimps in the area and record their day-to-day behaviour and movements. Despite the sighting being difficult from a photographic perspective with the chimps high up in the trees, it was fantastic.
We watched some of the bigger, dominant chimps chase less dominant males through the canopy screaming and swinging from one branch to the next. We watched them grooming one another, napping and feeding their young as great blue turacos weaved though the trees amongst them shouting their distinctive call. The forests are also teeming with other wildlife and we were spoilt with sightings of primates such as the red colobus monkey, red tailed monkey, black and white colobus, Olive baboon and the shy L’hoest’s monkey.
Although we chose not to visit these on this trip, other gems include Murchison Falls, Uganda’s largest park, which is home to elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and hippos as well as the gorgeous falls forming part of the Nile River. Queen Elizabeth National Park also has a strong leopard population and is famous for its tree climbing lions that rest in the reserve’s massive fig trees on hot days. But if nothing else, you need to visit for a taste of the local gin made from bananas.
Women and children from the local community dancing. The clothing as well as the people and culture are incredibly vibrant.
This photo is possibly my favorite of our entire trip to Uganda. Captured on our last day; it is exactly as I took it, completely unedited, which I love because it looks the total opposite of that. It looks fake, almost too good to be true. It represents a moment where my breath caught because I remembered that life is capable of creating in a way that’s even more beautiful and more unreal than I imagine in my wildest dreams. How surprising for the real to be more unreal than you imagine. How wonderful!
“One of the most endangered phenomenon of our times is the experience of wilderness.” - Ian McCallum
Gabon is a last chance to see how the entire coast of western tropical Africa once was. It’s a magical window into long-long ago, when elephant and buffalo wandered the beaches, gorillas and chimps cavorted through the rainforest and when giant fishes ruled the waves.
Founder, Private Guide and Safari Planner
Being born the daughter of David Attenborough (it’s true but he’s probably not the one you’re thinking of) I don’t believe I ever really had much choice about what direction my life would take. I grew up in the city of Durban, South Africa but for as long as I can remember nature has called to me. Whenever I could I would escape to the forests around my home barefoot and in search of chameleons and red duiker to befriend.
And so in 2010, after completing my Journalism and Media Studies degree, I followed that calling to the wilds of Southern Africa to become a game ranger. I planned to stay for a year but it turned into ten. During that time, I worked at Phinda Private Game Reserve, Ngala Private Game Reserve and Londolozi Game Reserve, some of South Africa’s most prestigious lodges and immersed myself in the natural world. I learnt to track animals with Zulu and Shangaan trackers and spent as much time as I could on foot approaching animals with my guests. I also put my photojournalism degree to use by becoming a specialist photographic guide. I travelled to Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, India and throughout South America in search of wildlife. My greatest adventure was living in Gabon training local guides for the WWF and Smithsonian Institute, where we spent weeks at a time living like early nomads in the dense and remote coastal forests, fulfilling a life-long dream of tracking and habituating wild gorillas. Seeing how embodied and present animals are inspired me to begin practicing yoga. I am a qualified vinyasa and yin teacher and spent six months training under a Hatha master in Boulder, Colorado. I am also a certified Martha Beck life coach. With this mixture of knowledge, interests and skills, I started Wild Again to help others really experience the wild places I know and love so much. Through my specialised Wellness Safaris that incorporate yoga, meditation, mindfulness and personalised life coaching I continue to grow more conscious safaris that return people to nature and to themselves. As we re-wild ourselves we hear the earth, our common mother, again. It is only then that we can co-create with her healing.