Fantastic drive from Lake Bunyonyi to Kisoro, great road, great scenery and good tunes playing. Although it is only about 70 kms from Kabale to Kisoro I was advised it would take 2 hours - make that 2½ in a beetle as the road winds up and down the many hills in the area and I had absolutely no interest in over testing my brakes.
On arrival in Kisoro I made straight for the office of Gorilla Org where I met the district manager Sam Nsingwire. Sam has worked in conservation since 1997, having previously worked for Care International, IUCN, Ministry of Environment and since 2006, Gorilla Org.
Gorilla Org is a British registered NGO and I have known the Executive Director, Jillian Miller for a number of years. Although a relatively small organisation with limited funds, Gorilla Org makes a worthwhile contribution to the conservation of mountain gorillas. Much of the pressure on conservation comes from the dense population surrounding the national parks.
The average woman in Uganda bears 6.1 children, in Kisoro it is closer to 7. Add on to that a population growth of about 3.2 - 3.5% and the socio economic pressure on national parks becomes even greater. It is estimated that 98% of people living in the Kisoro district use wood fuel with electricity being either limited or prohibitive because of cost. And where is the best place to find fuel ? In the forest.
Another pressure is that of crop raiding. Whilst this is not necessarily done by the gorillas themselves, they can be vulnerable to traps set to catch the offenders. Buffalo are prevalent in Mgahinga NP and are some of the worst offenders, with other being monkeys and baboons. Gorilla Org are currently undergoing the completion of a 'Buffalo Wall', a rock wall 1 mtr wide x 1 ½ mtrs high that will hopefully minimise the raids on the crops of the local people who live along the boundary of the park.
Before Mgahinga and Bwindi were declared national parks, they were gazetted as forest reserves and as such people were allowed into the protected areas to gather basic needs such as wood fuel, water, grass, snakes, mushrooms and bush meat. The Batwa, or local pygmy and the oldest inhabitants of the area actually lived inside the parks as hunters and gatherers. But the declaration of 'national park', changed all that and the Batwa were forced off their ancestral home. Looked down upon by the farming population and having no land or source of income they were left subject to exploitation.
Gorilla Org works hand in hand with local organisations to try and improve the lives of not just the Batwa, but also other residents in the area by developing community conservation programmes, teaching organic farming, bee keeping, tree planting and educating children in sustainable conservation.
Leaving Sam I headed off to find another resident of Kisoro, Sheba, a man I knew only by phone but had worked closely with for a number of years. Along with Sam I found Joe and Angelo, two of the crew who work for Absolute Africa. The photo had to be taken, the Absolute truck with the Absolute beetle !! A quick coke followed by a short call and it was time to hit the road again.
I had initially intended to spend the night at Mgahinga NP with Volcanoes Safaris as I wanted the chance to track the golden monkeys and check out the Batwa Trail, but more and more people kept warning me about the volcanic rock road and how even for a 4WD the 10 km journey was over 1½ hours each way. Even if I had made it there I would not have had time to include the activities - oh well, will have to make more time next time.
I made my apologies to Volcanoes and opted instead to head for Lake Mutanda to spend the night at the newly refurbished and re-opened, Mutanda Lake Resort owned by other friends who also own Matoke Tours. Sheba gave me directions on how to get there and warned me that the 17kms would take me at least 1 hour. He was right but at least it was headed in the direction of my next stop.
Leaving Kisoro the road to the resort is also the main road to Nkuringo and for the first couple of kms as it winds out of Kisoro town it is literally the road from hell. It took me over 20 mins to negotiate less than 2 kms of volcanic rock that was supposed to be road. Calling all members of the tourism industry in Uganda - private and public sector - surely something can be done. It's the road to a major tracking destination in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP. Seriously, I am sure those 2kms put another 10 years on Percy's age. In those 20 mins he went from being a classic car to a vintage car !!
Once we were over the volcanic rock, the road certainly did not get that much better, but it did get more fun. Apart from one small stretch of road works where the workmen very kindley helped me remove any large boulders that were in my way, the rest of the road surface was a fine dust, over a foot deep in places. The result was like driving on the beach and Percy and I were both covered in dust by the time we reached our destination. I was glad I had not had to drive that section in the rain.
I had been pre-warned about the access road down to the resort and advised to leave Percy 'up top'. The advice was right, the road down was steep and definitely 4WD. We might have made it down but it would certainly have been a problem getting back up. What I had not been warned was that parking 'up top' would actually mean leaving him on the side of the road.
With the help of a member of staff from the lodge we removed the picnic box from the back of Percy and secured it on the front seat. Grabbing the rest of my valuables and bag we then made our way down to reception. The road was steep and rocking and I was glad there was someone to help with the carrying.
No sooner had I reached my room than the thunder began and the race was on to shower and get to the main restaurant before the downpour began. As I showered nagging thoughts started entering my head - had I locked the driver's door ? Had I closed and locked the sun roof ? But it was too late to head back up the hill.
I made it to the restaurant with about 30 secs to spare before the downpour began. An open fire, cold 'Club', hot meal, generator power and internet awaited me. Also awaiting me was a FIFA World Cup match between Australia and Holland and as it turned out I was the only Australian surrounded by Dutchies. I decided to keep my origins quiet just in case.
Before leaving Percy I had taken photos of all the dust he was still covered in. As I downloaded the photos of the day I could see quite clearly that although the sun roof had slid shut, probably from bouncing on the road, it was not locked. The storm continued and there was little I could do but hope that no-one else would notice. With the roof rack on top it would not be easy to get anything out of the car without unlocking the doors with a wire, still I fell asleep with a feeling of apprehension.