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Chimps in Uganda

Follow the multi-adventures of Fyllis Hockman, resulting from her ElderTreks journey through southwestern Uganda, which brought her in close proximity to dozens of animals during both land and water game drives on a safari, carousing with chimps tracking through a forest, and surviving an experience of a lifetime trekking mountain gorillas.

Chimps Ahoy:
In Search of a Brother in Arms…
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photographs by Victor Block

he endangered white rhino. The elusive silverback mountain gorilla. The rare tree-climbing lion. Hippos, elephants, crocodiles. The massive shoebill? Yup, him, too. These are just a few of the multitude of wildlife we cavorted with during our ElderTreks's safari and trekking journey to southwestern Uganda. But the visit to the Kibale Chimpanzee National Forest to see the ever-playful chimps in the wild was one of the more delightful surprises.

chimpanzee at Kibale Chimpanzee National Forest, Uganda

A quick briefing introduced us to the chimps said to share 98.7% of their DNA with us humans. 98.7! Already feeling an affinity, we split into smaller groups with an assigned guide carrying her assigned rifle. Were our relatives in danger? It seems elephants and buffalo also roam these grounds and are more aggressive than those seen on game drives where the animals are more accustomed to people in vehicles. The guides, we were assured, shoot the rifles only if necessary to scare them away

Also armed, so to speak, with a number of rules governing our outing, we were told to stay 25' away, if lucky enough to find them on low-lying branches, to be quiet so that the guides can listen to the calls and not to mimic the sounds of the chimps – as if that were even possible – because you don't know what you might be saying. I couldn't help but think the chimp would probably turn down a date if I made the mistake of coming on to him.

Finally we took off through very dense forest. Lots of tweets and trills, whistles and warbles, cries and caws produced a symphony of sound which accompanied our walk. I knew our guide recognized every note and was thankful she didn't feel compelled to share all that information with us. I'm pretty sure the resident bird watcher in our group would have preferred otherwise.

Our tracker did point out a variety of monkeys in the trees above but they were so high as to be indistinguishable from the leaves unless the branch was moving – and then, of course, it was already too late. Clearly, I would not make a good tracker – or birder.

chimpanzee in tree, Kibale Chimpanzee National Forest

The troop of chimpanzees we were tracking numbered 120 but because it was the end of September, our guide lamented that the chimps were harder to find because much of their nearby food supply had been exhausted. You might want to check ahead of time to see when the fig trees are bearing the most fruit – that apparently determines how many chimps you're likely to see.

Due to this added challenge, we were diverging from the more standard trails and were pretty much blazing new paths. It had been over an hour and we were no closer to finding chimps. I, on the other hand, was more worried we'd never find our way back.

The guide, unfazed, claimed to have found our sought-after prey though those of us less technically proficient in chimp tracking could not yet see any. Still, ten pairs of eyes looked eagerly toward the tree tops, seeming miles away, to catch some movement, any movement, to justify our presence. Suddenly a cry of "There he is" erupted, quickly followed by a disappointed sigh of "Maybe not."

And then an ear-splitting onslaught of a barking/howling/screeching shriek indicated that yes, in fact, they were around. This gave us all hope but still, without any precise sightings. However, the periodic wailings breaking out in every direction were so loud and disconcerting as to be sufficiently exciting in themselves. When all of a sudden two chimps scrambled past within several feet of our group, we knew we had arrived. "Now that's more like it," someone declared!

elderly chimp and young

We literally followed in their footsteps through the bush to find what our guide later insisted was a rare occurrence: an 18-year-old adolescent lying upon the ground in apparent repose, head resting on hand, taking time out to occasionally scratch and snort, totally ignoring our large semi-circle of astonished gawkers. We all forgot how frustrated we had been just moments before. Watching this young lad – whom the guide identified as Enfunzi – so close up did make me question a bit that 98.7 DNA statistic. Not that we don't scratch…

chimp lying on the ground

Although our overall excursion took three hours, a number of very satisfied "wows" punctuated its end. And I was wrong about the tracker – she did indeed know the way back!

And if seeing the chimps in the wild only whetted your appetite for a little more chimp exposure, an hour-long boat ride to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Entebbe just might do the trick. Home to 48 chimps rescued from a multitude of adverse conditions, whether as orphans, victims of illegal activities, or needy of medical attention, these guys roam free on 95% of the 95-acre forest. The other 5% is devoted to feeding the chimps and keeping them safe at night.

chimpanzee making face

Our approach to view their 2 p.m. feeding was vociferously announced by loud guttural screeches, either as a chimp welcoming committee or an entreaty to leave – it was hard to tell. As it turns out, the greeting wasn't for us at all but for the large alpha male approaching from the opposite direction. I was relieved we had not been the ones to elicit such a thunderous response.

Okay, you're not seeing them in the wild exactly but you're seeing a lot more a lot more openly – and they are indeed fun to watch. In between eagerly devouring their lunch of carrots, oranges and pineapples, they scratched themselves and each other, chased each other around, fought over food and generally entertained their human luncheon guests.

young chimp being dragged by adult chimp

Another rowdy fracas erupted when a larger chimp stole food from a smaller companion who loudly called out to his friends for reinforcement – and they rapidly responded forcing the perpetrator to relent and give back the food. Hey, they're just like people.

As soon as the guys had ingested a sufficient amount of munchables, they headed back to the forest to play, gambol about, climb the branches or rest free of human intrusion. And we got to leave with new respect for our closely aligned cousins with whom we share so much DNA – except, of course, for all that scratching… For more information, visit eldertreks.com which promotes "Exotic Adventures for Travelers 50 and Over."

Related Articles:
Uganda Safari; Namibia: Where Arid Desert Meets Frigid Sea (Part 1); Namibia Part II: Where Wild Women Meet Wildlife; Deutsch-Südwestafrika

(Posted 4-15-2013)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy



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