I now know what made Winston Churchill say Uganda is the pearl of Africa, and he was right. It was our first trip to Africa. We booked through 4×4 Car Hire Uganda and were thrilled. We felt absolutely safe at all times and warmly welcomed. We rented the cheapest 4×4 car with roof tent we found on the market, we had a quite old but still strong car.
The country is a wonder of nature, a treasure chest for nature lovers. I hope that it will be possible to preserve the diversity and to build up a soft tourism. The people and the country would be to wish it. I hope that I will soon get the opportunity to travel there again
This is a brief review of my experience doing both the habituation walk and the “normal trek” in Dec 2022. I was with my son, who is in his mid-20s. Bear in mind that this is simply a slice in time, and experiences with weather and other group members, as well as the route taken, can vary tremendously. A word about me – I am 64 and walk in mountainous terrain quite regularly.
The Habituation walk: We were the only two on the habituation walk. We left early, at 5:30am, and we moved relatively quickly through a fairly remote part of the park, meeting up with the trackers after about 2 – 3 hours of fairly vigorous walking. We both wore hiking shoes (“low tops”) and used gators. We were provided with sturdy walking sticks and I brought lightweight gloves along, which I highly recommend, as you don’t want to grab a bunch of nettles when you slip. Our gloves had a lightweight rubberized palmar surface with a breathable back, and they were perfect.
We had four hours with the gorillas. We were mock charged several times and we found the whole experience to be quite wonderful. The walk out was fairly tough, and unfortunately my son developed a blister in a bad place (bottom of his foot), so he was hobbling toward the end. We ended up popping the blister with a monstrous looking thorn that one of the trackers found, so that was an added “bonus” for our trip. In retrospect, I think my son’s shoes were not quite broken in as fully as they ought to have been, but otherwise our “low tops” served us just fine.
Normal Gorilla Trek: The next day I did the “normal” trek. My son was unable to come on account of his blister. There were five in our group. One gentleman, in his 50s, had to stop every 100 feet or so whenever we went uphill, and he consistently said that he was not going to make it. He told me that he had done two other gorilla treks that week, with no issues. “This is much harder,” he said. I ended up giving him most of my water, as he did not bring enough for himself.
Be aware that these hikes seem to vary considerably. In fact, when I first showed up for the “normal” trek there were about 20 people there, and some people had on tennis shoes, and were dressed as though they were going for a stroll around the reservoir in Central Park. They were evidently sent out to find a family that was quite near, on an easy footpath with no scrambling involved. I was told that they were back within two hours, and that included the one hour spent with the gorillas.
Our gorillas were much further away, and we found them after a very long walk, up and down slippery terrain. We were with them for an hour, during which time the guide and the trackers talked and joked amongst themselves incessantly. It was in no way a “private and quiet” moment with the gorillas, as the habituation experience had been. The walk out was excruciating, as we had to stop every 100 feet or so on account of the one gentleman, and there was discussion about calling in some porters to carry him out (they call that a “Uganda helicopter”).
It really didn’t seem like he would make it, but with repeated and frequent stops, and traveling at a laboriously slow pace, we were able to do it. Total distance covered, per my iPhone: 7.2 miles. Terrain was admittedly rough at times, but this was slow walking. We were gone for about 8 hours.
Some thoughts: For us, the habituation walk was truly terrific, the regular trek was far less so. For the habituation walk we just drove to a trailhead at 5:30am and started walking. For the regular trek I showed up at 7:30, but didn’t leave till close to 9:00. There was an orientation talk and then dancing and singing performances beforehand, which I was not expecting.
I know this will not be the last word on footwear, but my thoughts on footwear are: it depends. At Rushaga, it seems you can get away with flat-soled tennis shoes if there is a group nearby and you only want to walk a short distance over easy terrain. Flat-soled tennis shoes would not have worked on the route we took – you needed good footwear with good tread. Ankle support is up to you – I was totally fine without. Gators were a real plus in my mind. Gloves a must.
I have seen stuff about porters, and I simply cannot imagine it. It’s a day pack with some water, some food, and some rain gear. Having someone carry the slow guy’s day pack would not have made a difference for him – he was just too de conditioned to do the walk and a porter would not have changed that.
If you are coming from sea level and are unaccustomed to walking on unsteady terrain, you could have a problem with this. But do be aware that these hikes vary considerably and take any advice (including mine!) with a big chunk of salt. Hope this helps someone!