Kalinzu Forest chimpanzee tracking

Kalinzu Forest chimpanzee tracking

WITH a couple of very memorable days at Lake Bunyonyi behind us, it was time yesterday to pack camp, jump aboard our faithful G Adventures truck once again, and point our noses towards another special area of Uganda, the Kalinzu Forest, in the hope that we may track down and have an encounter with some chimpanzees!

A fairly typical town main street en route to Kalinzu Forest.

Getting on the road early, the relatively short journey had us arriving at the Kalinzu Ecotourism Centre just in time for a 1pm lunch. We expertly and efficiently, or so we thought (more on that later), erected our tents on the large grassed area to the rear of the centre office building while George set about working his magic in the pop-up kitchen preparing a now familiar feast of sandwiches, tuna pasta salad and fruit.

Tea Plantation tour

With tummies filled, it was time to start exploring the area. First up, a tea plantation situated literally just down the road from the Ecotourism Centre, butted right up against the forest. A local guide came to pick us up from the campsite and walk us down to the neat rows of tea plants which seemed to run from the edge of the road, over rolling hills to “who knows where” way off in the distance.

Not going to argue with either of those directives...

Our guide took us right through the 6 varieties of tea, the process of seasonal growth of tea plants, and how and why the prized new tea leaves are picked and harvested every couple of weeks in rotation, to produce the best quality tea.

Learning the ins and outs of picking the best tea leaves.

Inevitably, our presence in the area drew a crowd.

We wandered throughout the fields, under the hot sun for about an hour, followed by an inquisitive posse of kids and their mischievous herd of goats. Along the way, we heard more details about the harvesting process, where the leaves go once they are plucked, and also what happens once the leaves reach the drying/processing sheds.

So green and lush. Can this really be Africa?

Hanging out in the tea fields with some 4-legged friends.

No idea where the tea plantation starts or ends!

By the end of the hour, our water bottles were empty and the heat wasn’t subsiding any, so it was with swift heels that we made our way back up the hill, back to camp and into the shade, completing the tour loop.

Afternoon entertainment

As a bit of a treat in the afternoon, we were lucky enough to be entertained by a group of local youngsters. The collection of orphans (largely due to HIV) arrived all dressed alike in bright green t-shirts and patterned blue pants. The had us all sit in a large semi-circle as they assembled in front of us performing a couple of musical numbers in a mixture of English and their own tongue.

A little 'down time' before lunch.

It's showtime, with a performance by a group of kids from a local orphanage.

Singing, dancing and always smiling!
Singing, dancing and always smiling!

It's showtime, with a performance by a group of kids from a local orphanage.

It's showtime, with a performance by a group of kids from a local orphanage.

Kirsten getting amongst the action and fitting in costume-wise.

It's showtime, with a performance by a group of kids from a local orphanage.

They followed this up with a couple of plays, the first one depicting the life of farmers in the area attending to their cattle day-to-day, and the second depicting the tourists coming to their home in search of chimpanzees.

Next up, a little theatre.

Next up, a little theatre.

That chimp is struggling a little for camouflage.

Just a couple of backpacking tourists.

The kids really got into their roles and appeared to get a real kick out of performing for us. At the conclusion of the show, a young woman, presumably the kid’s teacher, lined everyone up and proceeded to introduce each child and what part they played in the last play.

Following that, we showed our appreciation by gifting each of the kids their own small “goodie” bag of stationery items and stickers etc, thoughtfully put together by Canadian sisters Sarah and Laura before coming on tour. The smiles flashed upon accepting their gifts was all we needed to know that they were well received.

Our group gets individual introductions to each of the kids.

Chimpanzee tracking

A fun night of cards-by-headlamp, due to the lack of electricity in the campsite, gave way to a good night’s sleep – exactly what we needed given the early start this morning. By 6:30am we were up, fed and breaking up into smaller groups ready to tackle the Ugandan forests once again, this time in search of Chimpanzees!

It was a beautiful morning to be descending into that mist.

We started off by walking along the edge of the road that led uphill from the campsite. As the altitude increased, the views became more breathtaking as the early morning mist hung over the forest in the valleys below.

Eventually, our guide for the morning gave the signal for us to leave the road and we diverted onto a track that headed straight downhill through some pretty heavy foliage that we had to hack our way through at times.

Single file, let's go!

The plan was to find a chimpanzee “nest” where we would hopefully find a group of the apes rising from their night’s sleep. Chimpanzee nightly nests consist of a number of leafy branches bent and laced together to form a solid base, high in the tree tops, which they then line with soft twigs and more leaves. Sounds comfy!

While we did find a couple of nests over the first hour or so of “tracking” along the muddy, slippery trails, there was still no sign of any chimps. Our guide seemed to be quite active on his mobile phone, however, so we were still hopeful that between him and his fellow scouts, an encounter was still on the cards.

Mum and bub.

A little further into the forest and we got our chance! It was a very different experience to that of the gorillas a couple of days ago in that our visual targets were way up in the trees above us, rather than on the ground around us.

Well hello there...

Our group was the first to find the chimps, so we continued to track them along the face of the mountain while the other two groups, who were quickly notified by phone, caught up.

All-in-all we spent a couple of hours with the active and super cute chimps, our necks straining upwards the entire time. Just like the gorillas, the experience was hard work, but very rewarding.

George searching for the perfect shot.

My best effort.

You have to be quick to keep up with these guys.

Making our way back to camp along a further forest trail as opposed to making our way back up to the road, we had one last chance to enjoy the beautiful surrounds of a Ugandan rainforest. Kirsten and I are really in our element on forest trails, so it was a really nice way to spend the last of the morning before arriving back at the campground, breaking down the tents, packing the bus and heading off down the road once again, in search of the next adventure.

A couple of happy trackers after a great morning.

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