If I had a scorecard for successful trekking experiences in Uganda, it would look something like this:
Gorillas treks 2/2
Chimpanzee treks 1/2
Now by successful, I am only meaning that I saw the animal that I intended to when setting out for the trek. We could define successful in lots of ways though: if success meant coming back safe and having fun, I’d be 2/2 on both of them.
One trek felt like a quest more than the others, and that was the chimpanzee trek through the Kyambura Gorge in Uganda. You see, with gorilla trekking, trackers go out long before guests to try and find the animals in advance, so you don’t spend loads of time wandering, and the success rate of seeing the gorillas is quite high. There are no trackers that go out ahead of time for chimpanzee treks, and in Kyambura Gorge, the success rate for seeing chimps is somewhere between 50-60%.
Several times I had contemplated giving the gorge trek a miss, as I was worried about the physicality of it, but decided to give it a go anyways. The gorge itself is around 150m deep, has a river running through it (with hippos) and the pathways along are often steep, muddy and slippery. On more than one occasion, rather than fall over, I sat down at the top of a hill and slid down the muddy path on my butt!
After the initial decent into the gorge, we crossed a very nice, sturdy bridge over the river to look for the chimps along the other side. And as we walked along the paths, up and down hills, through streams and over fallen trees, we passed several more bridges. But when our guide declared it was time to return since the chimps weren’t in the area, we were a good two kilometres from the nearest bridge, and so instead, we had to cross the river by crawling along a fallen tree!
Crossing on the tree wasn’t actually that bad, it was wide and sturdy, and while the bark bruised my knees terribly, I wasn’t scared I was going to slip and fall. But then I reached the other side and learned that to get off the fallen tree, I would have to stand up, bear hug a big branch, and take a step of faith to another tree lower down that was further away than my legs could easily reach… and then finally jump to the riverbank below. I wish I had photos of all that but even my GoPro was safely packed away in my bag. I was terrified taking the leap of faith at the end of the tree, but very thankful for the other people in the group that helped me out and walked me through what I needed to do.
I saw chimpanzees the next day at Kibale Forest, but the Kyambura Gorge walk sticks out for me just as much. As one of my new friends said “You’ll always have a story to tell because of this!”