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Thought something was familiar when you looked at those photographs of gorillas? Human beings and gorillas share an astonishing 97% of their DNA. And of all the different races and sub-species of gorilla, it’s the mountain gorilla, that is the rarest of all the apes, and the mountainous rainforest that straddles Uganda, Rwanda and the D.R.C in East Africa is the only environment in which mountain gorillas are able to survive.
Only a few have been habituated for humans to visit, and these rare apes are sometimes not easy to find. This is what makes gorilla trekking such an exciting and privileged adventure. You can go gorilla tracking at two of Uganda’s national parks: Mgahinga on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes that border Rwanda and the D.R.C and in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The groups can be visited for one hour per day by six people; gorilla permits must be purchased well in advance (make sure you do this before you leave on your trip) and cost between US$500 and US$750 for 2012-2013, depending on whether you’re trekking in Rwanda or Uganda. (though watch out for price increases - ask your consultant about any recent rises in permit costs).
The hike is not a walk in the park: conditions under foot are wet and muddy, the terrain steep and slippery, and the weather generally wet, hot and humid. It’s a very expensive hour’s wildlife viewing, but more than worth it: looking into the soft brown eyes of a gorilla in its natural habitat is without doubt one of Africa’s greatest wildlife encounters.
The ancient Egyptians were certainly not into white water rafting on the River Nile but at Jinja inhabitants have been floating down the nearby Bujugali Falls for centuries. In the old days, it was fishermen in wooden canoes; now it’s thrill seekers in bright orange inflatable paddle rafts and streamlined kayaks.
Where the Nile spills out of Lake Victoria through the Owen Falls Dam - over which runs the Nairobi-Kampala road - it soon quickens pace and hits a 30-km stretch of world class white water rapids. Most are grade four to five, so you’re in for a turbulent time on a rafting trip.
For the real adrenaline junky, get a closer perspective of the Nile and surf ten kilometres of rapids attached to a body board. The Nile is also the only river in the world where you can raft under the light of a full moon, and if that’s not enough, thanks to growing demand, the rafting companies are now offering 5–day kayak courses.
The Nile High Bungi, the brainchild of New Zealand’s most experienced bungi consultants, is one of Uganda’s newest attractions. Attached by a piece of industrial elastic, you take a leap into thin air while over the source of the Nile to experience a few exhilarating seconds of plummeting through nothing - space and silence like no other sensation in the world.
A 12-metre steel bungee tower sits on top of a 32-metre high cliff above the river, and brave/foolish (you choose the adjective) jumpers can plunge themselves into the swirling water 44 metres below. And we mean into the water – a head touch is part of the deal if you’re up for it.
Quad-biking in Uganda? Yes, at Bujugali Falls near Jinja, also the location of white water rafting on the River Nile and bungee jumping just in case you need more adrenalin rushes. A quad bike is a four-wheeled motorbike. It’s an all terrain, roughty-toughty, 4x4 motor bike that can be ridden by anyone who knows the difference between an accelerator and a brake.
Protective clothes – helmets, gloves and very attractive bright orange overalls - are supplied, as are refreshments en route. For the more experienced, there are half day, full day, and overnight quad-bike safaris, for which a tent, lanterns, food and drink are strapped to the front of the bike. It’s the best way to get right into the heart of rural Uganda.
Most visitors to Bujugali Falls near Jinja are there to experience the adventure activities on offer at, on, and in some cases in the River Nile. But it’s also well advised to get into the community spirit and part with about US$5 of your cash to support the local villagers. There’s no better way to get to the ‘heart’ of Uganda than venturing into its villages, and all that is required is a warm smile.
Fun, informative guided walks are available to local homes and subsistence farms to see demonstrations of farming methods, crops, traditional skills, wedding ceremonies and cooking. Lunch is included and this is a rare opportunity to sample some traditional Ugandan food and see how it is prepared in an outdoor environment using basic equipment.
The interactive experience provides a great understanding of Ugandan rural life. Best of all, the fee paid for the walk goes into a Bujagali Falls community trust fund until it reaches an amount to be spent on something worthwhile that supports the whole community. Thanks to this excellent initiative, the village at Bujugali Falls now has a new primary school – completely paid for by foreign tourists.