This summer, AWF hosted an exclusive member safari to Uganda and Rwanda. There, the intrepid safari goers formed intimate relationships with each country, trekking through dense bamboo thickets to see mountain gorillas and spying chimpanzees in the rainforest. For guest Colleen, the friendships and memories made won’t soon be forgotten.
What do you expect when you sign on with the African Wildlife Foundation and travel halfway across the world? Who knew? We arrived tired and anxious about who would compliment us three friends from Colorado on such a long trip. I was matched up with Lulu, from Seattle, whom I had never met. My friends Toni and Karen had each other. And the trip began…
Chimpanzees are a major attraction of Uganda, living in communities of 10 to more than 100 individuals. Photo courtesy of Christina Van Winkle.
In Kampala, Uganda, we met up with our guide, our drivers, and with our 10-day family. The drivers were so accommodating, and Stephen Ham, our AWF guide, was patient and cooperative. And the group? Wonderful, despite our diversity of backgrounds. Each and every person provided part of the fabric for the trip: We were all very different, and together, we contributed those things that make for a great event. I will never forget a single one of them.
So, what can I say about this trip? The night at Ndali Lodge (in Fort Portal, Uganda), one of our first, was incredible. We were introduced to Aubrey, a British expat who had reclaimed the estate after his father was run out of Uganda by the late dictator Idi Amin Dada, and his lovely wife, a retired New York City lawyer from Uganda. They showed us a great time, abound with good food, awe-inspiring views of dormant volcano lakes, and delightful lodging.
In Rwanda, AWF safari-goers enjoyed five-star comfort at one of AWF's flagship enterprises, the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. Photo courtesy of Governor’s Camp Collection.
We traveled from Uganda to Rwanda, and were amazed by the difference in road quality between Uganda (washboard dirt) and Rwanda (nice, tidy tar). After the war in Rwanda, we learned, substantial relief funds came into the country and were used, in part, to build these roads. Yet the people of Rwanda were walking everywhere on these roads. There are so many Rwandans… and apparently few vehicles. And so many children and pregnant mothers! One afternoon, we walked from Silverback Lodge - an amazing complex funded by AWF - into town. We heard drums and followed them to find more than 100 orphans performing traditional Rwandan dances. To think that so many children lost their parents and yet were delighting in their performance was heartbreaking. As an aside, potable water is in short supply there, and help is needed harnessing rainfall.
And then the mountain gorillas. Our guide, Stephen, went beyond all our expectations and carefully arranged our hikes to find the elusive great apes. They are just like us, but with no baggage! It was more than I could have imagined. But here’s the best story, and I will end with this: On our second trek, as we were watching a gorilla family, Stephen yelled for several of us to back up and look above us. We did, in time to see a two-year-old gorilla come sliding down a vine and give us a big show, complete with chest pumping and acrobatics.
AWF's exclusive member safaris, like the one Colleen took, give supporters insight into AWF's conservation on behalf of mountain gorillas and other species. Photo courtesy of Stephen Ham.
Only in Uganda and Rwanda. What a spectacular trip of a lifetime. Thank you, AWF.
Colleen is a self-proclaimed “nice” trial lawyer centered in Grand Junction, Colorado. Of all her travels, she says this AWF trip was the best.
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