Monday, January 30, 2023

Boda Bodas in Uganda: January 2023

As we left Entebbe and soon found ourselves in Kampala traffic, I was fascinated by the motorcycles and the people/merchandise carried by them. Every time we had a long drive, I tried to capture photos of my view from the window of our vehicle. Motorcycles, pedestrians, bicycles use a small lane at the edge of the road. In the US, this would be the breakdown lane. 

Our guide in Entebbe, Lovy, mentioned that the motorcycles and bicycles are called Boda Boda which is a corruption of Border to Border. Initially, in the late 1980s early 1990s bicycles were used as a quick and cheap way to transport people and goods through the no man's land between the Kenyan-Uganda border. Eventually, motorcycles became the go-to vehicle for this transport. Now, Boda Bodas are everywhere. They move people, animals, cargo, and riding a Boda Boda looks very risky.

Several ride sharing companies have set up shop in Uganda. I saw a Boda Boda driver wearing a high visibility vest that said Uber Boda and another for SafeBoda. Ride sharing companies like these provide training and helmets to the drivers that access fares through their app. They have a spare certified DOT helmet for customers and are identifiable and trackable through the ride-share system app. 

However, it looked like the majority of Boda Bodas operate outside of the ride-sharing companies or any regulation. We saw Boda Bodas transporting multiple people or moving steel beams, bags of cotton, bags of charcoal, slaughtered animals, animals perhaps bound for the slaughterhouse, goods for sale. Here are some of my favorite photos taken during our time in Uganda on some of the long drives. 

Transporting large fish

Transporting a Live Calf
Close up of earlier photo

Underwear Salesman

Four guys and a handsaw
Multiple passengers reduces the cost per person.

A homemade scooter for transporting heavy items

Transporting a Live Goat

By the way, if you click on the top photo or any photo in my posts, you can view the photos in a slideshow.

Tomorrow, we fly back to Entebbe for one overnight and then the long trip home. We will be home on January 21. 

It has been an amazing vacation with a chance see and photograph animals, to learn about people of Uganda, and see how they live. I know now why Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. Uganda has so much to offer to the visitor.

Our Adventure Consults guides Lovy, Richard, and Eric were easy to travel with and very knowledgeable regarding the flora, fauna, and Uganda. They were a delight to spend time with.

Our luxurious trip arrangements were made through Mandy at DPP Travel.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda: January 17-18, 2023


We began both Gorilla Trek days with a morning lecture from the Park Service explaining what to wear, how to act, and that once the gorillas were located, we would have just one hour together. When we were near the gorillas, we all had to wear masks for protection of the gorillas. We would be with habituated Mountain Gorillas who had already been located by the park's trackers. The location could be 1-4 hours from the start of our trek. 

Mountain Gorillas have never been able to survive in zoos. They have specific habitat needs and only live in the rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Today's forest is a mere remnant of a very large forest which once covered much of western Uganda, Rwanda, and eastern (DRC). Because of conservation efforts, the number of Mountain Gorillas has grown to about 1,000, and almost half live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Eric drove us to the start of our trek where we found a line of porters waiting to be hired. Because it is school break, there was only one professional porter and the rest were university kids on school break. The cost to hire a porter is $20 plus tip. Porters will carry your bag, push/pull you up a hill, steady you, and make sure you don't fall or hurt yourself.

Porters for hire
The group consists of 8 Tourists (only 2 of us were from the US), the porters, the guide, the ranger (with gun), and trackers which are keeping track of the gorillas' whereabouts.

On this first day of trekking, we were tracking the 10-member Binyindo Group. The Silverback's name is Binyindo. He was born in 1988, and his name means "big nose." This trek began with a hill climb. I think it took about an hour to meet up with the trackers and the gorillas. The porters do not continue once the tourists get near the gorillas. They stay back with our packs and walking sticks.

Once we met up with the trackers and gorilla group, the gorillas were still moving which meant that we were moving through ferns, downed trees, vines, up and down hills, and I was worrying about fire ants and snakes.

Our photographic targets did not stand still and pose, leaves were often in the way, and it was really low light in the dense (impenetrable) rainforest.

Adult Female
Binyindo, the Silverback, in the center
Kagunju and baby Ihihizo born June 2021 

Near the end of our time, Binyindo lay down in an open area in a relaxed pose to allow us to admire him.

Shockingly, some of the people in our group moved in too close, took off their masks, and posed in front of this magnificent creature. Even Binyindo scratched his head and looked embarrassed about that one.

We survived Day 1
The second morning we visited the Habinyanja Group. While yesterday we were probably the oldest trekkers in the group, today, we might be the youngest or at least fitter than the rest of our group. 

For this gorilla trek we found one member of the gorilla family very quickly. The group has two Silverbacks and the second Silverback was grazing in a leafy meadow when we arrived. Others were hidden under foliage munching on leaves. As male gorillas mature, they develop a silverback. Males are called black backs before they mature to silver.

The 2nd Silverback
The 2nd Silverback
We worked our way up the hill and found more family members. The first Silverback was lounging with the group, but he stayed in the background and let the others be our focus. Mostly, we saw an Adult Female with her 6-month old baby. Also visible was an adolescent male. The young male was quite smitten with the baby and cuddled it whenever he could get the baby away from Mom.

Six-month old Baby Boy

The young male was very playful. At one point, he ran toward us. Since we were maybe 20 feet away, it didn't take very long for him to reach us. He tapped one guy on his leg and retreated. We backed away a few steps, but he came again and tapped Dan on the leg just to show he could do it. 

Adolescent Male Gorilla
Besides all the other issues in photographing gorillas in the forest, on this second trek I also had to contend with Gorilla Flies. Trackers know they are close to the gorillas when they see the flies. The flies showed up later in our hour and were between us and the gorillas so photos during that time came out with fuzzy spots from the swarming gorilla flies.

And, then our hour was up and we walked back to where Eric was waiting for us. Our Gorilla treks were exciting and neither was as hard as we imagined they could be. This is a once in a lifetime experience that we will both cherish.

Afternoons in Bwindi, Uganda: January 17 - 18, 2023

 (l-r) Mugisha (A Blessing) age 54; King of Batwa age 78 named Konyamugara (Hairy body) the name inherited from his great grandfather; Musinguzi (winner) age 33; Mbele (someone in front) age 40 

The Batwa are an internally displaced group who until 1991 lived in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. As hunters and gatherers, they lived off the land. To preserve the animals living in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, the government at gun point removed the Batwa. The land that the Batwa live on was purchased by a foreigner who recognized the plight of the Batwa. As a people they have been hunted and killed, endured slanderous names, and discrimination. The government has yet to compensate the Batwa for the removal from their ancestral lands.

As we came near the land where the Batwa now live, we were met by the King of the Batwa and three other men. We had to ask permission to enter their land. Permission was granted.

The Batwa have established kind of a living village tour to keep their traditions alive and share them with outsiders. We saw how they once ingeniously trapped animals and how they are now making bows, arrows, and spears. They didn't have a history of smelting, but now are making spear points from scrap metals. They showed us how they lived in the forest. Often they made their beds from ferns. If one of their group died, they moved to another part of the forest. 

Life has changed for the Batwa, but with the help of an NGO they are building huts and other housing, they have a sewing room, basket weaving is being learned, they have a school room for the children, and tourist dollars come their way through the tours and charitable contributions. They no longer wear just animal skins and the sewing room is used for making crafts to sell and also clothing for the Batwa.

I asked the King if there was a meaning to his regalia. He said that each small mask is in memory of someone he lost, his fur crown was fashioned from the hide of a duiker (a small antelope), and his shorts were created in the sewing room.

Konyamugara, King of the Batwa
The School Room
The land that now belongs to the Batwa stops halfway up the mountain. The thick forest at the top of the mountain is the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.

The main street in Bwindi between most of the tourist lodging and the entrance to the park is crowded with restaurants and other business that cater to tourists. I took a photo of the restaurant that caught my eye every time we passed.

Farm to Table Dining
Another afternoon we visited another local Non-governmental organization dedicated to helping women and saving wildlife. Ride 4 A Woman began in 2009 as a mountain bike rental company. The money from renting bikes would be used to empower women and assist the community. The initial purpose grew into eight programs: sewing, bike mechanics, agriculture, safe water, domestic violence prevention, education, microfinance, and baking. They also have dance classes. Once a woman perfects her skills, she becomes a trainer. Women are paid for their work and get a daily lunch at the center. The center has installed a water filtration system and over 1000 families come to fetch safe drinking water. 

Most of the sewing machines are operated by foot pedals as the availability of electricity is not guaranteed.
Treadle Sewing Machine

Basket Weaving
The next morning at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park headquarters, some of the women from Ride 4 A Woman entertained those of us preparing for another Gorilla Trek.