Uganda: The Pearl of Africa
On March 2, 2017, I departed Philadelphia, PA, for Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. After a day of travel, including a short layover in Qatar, I arrived in the Pearl of Africa to begin an 11-day adventure with my best friend Jeremy and our guide Ronnie, a seasoned safari veteran with his own extended Land Cruiser and a head full of experiences and facts that would help us survive – and learn way more than we’ll ever remember – over the course of the next week and a half.
These are just a few of the memorable wildlife moments I captured over the course of those 11 days as we learned why they call it “the Pearl of Africa.”
Monkey Mischief in Lake Mburo
In America, our pests pale in comparison to Uganda’s two biggest problem animals: the vervet monkey and the olive baboon. These primates are known for their mischievous ways, especially when it comes to disrupting the nonchalance of humans. Whether it’s forgetting to shut a window or leaving your food and drink unattended, these guys will not only seize the opportunity, but they’re almost guaranteed to leave a mess in their wake.
On our final day in the bush of Lake Mburo National Park, we learned the hard way. As we were eating a delicious lunch of fish stew and meatballs and other Western-friendly fare, we noticed how the local troop of vervet monkeys had taken a liking to our safari vehicle, and we watched as they swarmed it playfully in the mid-afternoon sun. I think one of us even said, “It’s a good thing we closed the windows!” Or so we thought…
Suddenly, we hear the familiar sound of a car horn. We look at each other in confusion as we crack furtive, slightly pained smiles, realizing that the only thing capable of beeping the horn as we sit 75 yard away is those damn vervet monkeys. Without saying a word, we jump from our seats and run toward the car as I, being the documentarian that I am, whip out my phone to film the ordeal. What we witnessed is a scene none of us will ever forget:
Yes, I shot that with my phone in a vertical position. Yes, that’s a monkey beeping the car horn and jumping out of the vehicle. And no, they didn’t drive away.
What this video doesn’t capture is the fact that these monkeys stole something like 10 avocados and a dozen small bananas. They seamed to eat these and shit them out all in one sitting, as evidenced by the mess we had in the Land Cruiser.
Even more hilarious and disturbing is how one of these monkeys – “a grown-up vervet monkey,” as Jeremy said – stowed itself away under the backseat until Ronnie started driving the truck away. Once the creature jumped up onto the seat right behind us, Jeremy, the monkey, and I all stared at each other for one terrifying monkey moment before it proceeded to depart through the open window.
We laughed for two straight hours as we contemplated what could have been between us and that stowaway monkey. We cleaned up its troop’s mess and decided to try for a quiet night at camp, which was later complicated by a hippo charge and a nearby prowling lion. I guess that’s life in the Ugandan bush.
Monkey Magic at Lake Nkuruba
Lake Nkuruba Nature Reserve is a small park in the fertile foothills between Kabale National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains. The reserve offers lodging in spacious bandas as well as camping for a very reasonable price, and the best part is how the place is literally infested with monkeys, including the vervet monkey, red colobus monkey, black and white colobus monkey, and red-tailed monkey, all of which we easily spotted during our stay.
Here are just a few of my monkey memories:
This ended up being one of our best bird sightings of the trip, the Great Blue Turaco
Hyena and Nile monitor lizard were also spotted, but they evaded my camera.
Leopard, Zebra & Lots of Antelope Species at LMNP
Our third-and-final national park stop was Lake Mburo National Park in south-central Uganda. It’s a small and compact park on the way between QENP and Entebbe, so it made sense to stop there for a couple days to stay in the UWA’s permanent tents out in the bush. It was definitely a worthwhile stop, and, being low season, we had the whole park to ourselves. Best of all, we were able to check a few more animals off our list:
Bush baby, genet cat, African hare, and bushbuck were also spotted. The only lion in the entire park was also heard groaning nearby our campsite at night.
The Mind-Melting Chameleons of the Mountains of the Moon
Since this is a wildlife-centric blog, Rwenzori Mountains National Park is kind of an afterthought given our trips to two different safari parks, but that’s not to say we didn’t have any mind-blowing sightings on our three-day trek. Our best up-close-and-personal sightings were of the forest’s various chameleon species:
Bonus: one beautiful giant earthworm
Blue monkey and red duiker were also spotted, and we heard chimps during the day and rock hyrax at night. The Rwenzori turaco was another highlight.
The “Trip of a Lifetime”
Before I left, nearly everyone I told about the journey said it would be the “trip of a lifetime,” which is a bit depressing considering I’m only 27. As such, I choose to reject that notion and the expression in general, mostly because of the singular nouns. From here on out, I guess I’ll have to make every vacation the “trip of a lifetime.”
And if you’re still reading, you might still be wondering why they call Uganda the Pearl of Africa. Frankly, I still don’t know, and yes, I know how easy it would be to look it up. Instead, I’m just going to assume it’s because of the wonder and the wildlife. I think the Pearl-ness should lie in the eye of the beholder, and it’s really not that difficult to behold in Uganda.