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Uganda. Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Ishasha Sector, Ishasha River Campsite No 2. Sunday 9 August. Week 16, Day 118.

Wayne decided to continue with us for the next while.. We were enjoying his company very much and I guess he likewise was enjoying ours, travelling on your own for extended periods can be quite tough. Anne and I were both missing our family more than we cared to admit and, especially for Anne, Wayne was filling a gap left by the absence of our son Peter. Wayne has very similar interests to us and was fitting in very well. Through Bwindi we saw a group of L’Hoests monkeys and a long-crested eagle. Imagine seeing one of the local gorilla families, very unlikely but not impossible. When we passed the Ruhija Gate entering the park again from the community camp where all the gorilla hikers were gathering excitedly.

According to T4A the quickest route to QENP was not to continue on the road to Buhoma, but rather to backtrack part of the road we had used to come into Bwindi, before heading west and north. Our mentors and research had confirmed that the road to Buhoma was slow and bad and the camp manager at Ruhija also confirmed our route. Full details are in Geeks but this was an interesting drive. It appears that the first section is on forestry roads and some of these had been changed and soon had T4A lost. We stuck to first principles and after travelling through windy hillside roads in commercial pine forests we arrived at a road T4A recognized and thereafter it was plain driving. At first we seemed to run parallel to Bwindi NP but reached a crossroads signposted Buhoma to the west – 30km. As we had travelled 40km down reasonable roads with lovely scenery, I do think the route that will be described is the best.

Approaching the Ishasha part of QENP, we travelled through flat well grassed acacia (albida) savannah and so the terrain remained for most of Ishasha, very beautiful. The park boundary begins well before the Ishasha entrance gate at Katookye, this entrance road is dirt and in good condition but appears to be a public road. Here we saw the first Ugandan kob we had ever seen and these were to prove by far the dominant animals in this part of the park. Bookings and payment are done at the gate. The fees, especially the vehicle entrance fee of US150, (only charged once per visit independent of length of stay), are steep. The game viewing times are 6am to 7pm. We bought an excellent map of the park at the gate. There are 2 campsites on the Ishasha River and we (fortuitously) were allocated to campsite 2 as 1 was taken. There are also bandas available but we did not visit these.

We did visit campsite 1 later. It is far larger than 2, also on the Ishasha River but set a little further back and does not have nearly as good a view. It is a larger campsite with about 3 sections and you may well have to share it with other groups. We noticed one of the large overland trucks driving around in the park, where they seem to be allowed and they were at 1. Campsite 1 has water, shabby flush toilets and cold showers which 2 does not have. Both are set in clearings within the lovely riverine trees but 2 was more to our liking. It was not only its proximity to the Ishasha River, with a very close-up view of a large number of hippos, or the fact that it was a little further away from the staff village, but also the fact that you were unlikely to have to share the site with, for instance an overland truck group. However you will have to be equipped for totally independent camping. We mostly preferred to dig a deep hole and burn, rather than using the pit latrine. Camp 2 does have an open-sided hut which we used as our kitchen. Each of the camps has camp attendants who clean up the camp and provide firewood. When we arrived in camp it was a mess, baboons had cleared all the rubbish from the bin and strewn it about as well as that from the nearby rubbish pit. Picnic groups were using the hut for their packaged lunches when we arrived and left the hut in a mess. When we returned from our game drive the camp attendants had cleared it all up.

At night we were guarded by no less than a Ugandan soldier and a policeman, both armed with AK47s. On questioning they revealed that they were there to guard us from the DRC rebel group, M23, who apparently had a base 7km from the Ishasha River, in the DRC’s Virunga NP. The Ishasha River, only about 20m wide, is the border between Uganda and the DRC here. These guards were not intrusive at all and enjoyed it when we shared some of our food with them. The baboons were a bit of a nuisance but are wary of people. In the surrounding trees we were entertained by black and white colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys. We were particularly entertained by the acrobatic abilities of the red-tailed monkeys in the trees. Birds were plentiful and I particularly enjoyed the evocative calls of the woodland kingfisher and was pleased to spot a black-headed gonolek for the first time. To those that have seen the crimson-breasted shrike in Namibia or Botswana, you will be startled at first by the likeness. Campsite 2 was great and I would go so far to say that it is worth visiting the Ishasha sector of QENP just to stay here.

Having arrived in camp at about 14H00 we had time to drive the southern or fig tree circuit of Ishasha. This is where the famed tree-climbing lions are found and most of the fig trees are marked on the map. No such luck for us but others had seen lions earlier in the day, but not in the trees. Kob were plentiful and we saw the odd topi, warthog, buffalo and elephant. Throughout our stay in QENP we were a little underwhelmed by the animal numbers. It seems this park still has quite a way to go before it reaches the glory days that existed prior to Idi Amin feeding his troops from the animals here. Make no mistake though, the park as a whole is beautiful and unique in many different ways. We also drove the seldom visited drive further along the Ishasha River which appears seldom used. Here there was plenty of evidence of elephant and buffalo although we only saw a few.

We were later told that seeing the lions in the trees is almost a given in the wetter season. Then there are far more of the biting flies present. These pester the lions to the extent that they climb into the trees to escape their attentions.

PHOTOGRAPHS:
The main photo is of a Ugandan kob ram. We had never seen kob before.
The thumbs are of the Ishasha River campsite no 2. The Ishasha River is in the background with the DRC on the opposite bank. The resident pod of hippos can be seen in the background.

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