Considering how pricey inter-Africa travel is, we decided to make the most of our trip to Uganda. D was able to get Monday off, but our flight left at daybreak on Tuesday morning, meaning that we could not venture too far from the Kampala – Entebbe area. Unfortunately, we were too tired to do anything Sunday afternoon after the games ended, which left us with just one day for sightseeing. We had read about a Chimpanzee Sanctuary that was located on an island in the middle of Lake Victoria; given Kampala’s other lackluster tourist attractions, we decided that it was the perfect day trip for us, and sought help from the hotel staff in setting up the trip. We might as well have asked them to arrange passage to Antarctica. Fortunately, we met some frisbee players from Kampala who were able to give us good advice and we managed to arrange the trip ourselves. The timing was perfect: 10:30am departure and 5pm return, allowing us to sleep in and make Monday an early night ahead of our 3:45am wake-up call.
Ngamba Chimpanzee Island Sanctuary lies just 23 km offshore from Entebbe. It is a forested island of about 100 acres that serves as a safe haven for chimpanzees – currently 44 individuals – that had been poached from their natural habitats in Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, and were fortunate enough to be rescued instead of being sold for bushmeat. The boat departed from the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, a small zoo that afforded us the chance to see some white rhinos, a pair of lions, a serval cat, and a leopard before we shoved off from the dock. We even got to pet a foul-smelling, morbidly obese hyena – the jury is still out on whether that was a worthwhile experience.
One thing you have to know about seeing apes is that 90 percent of the tour consists of prepping and getting to them. It took us two hours in a slow-moving ssese boat to travel the 23km to Ngamba. The lazy boat ride across Lake Victoria was idyllic in theory, but would have been much more pleasant in practice had it not been so chilly and rainy. Upon arrival, we were met by Innocent, one of the chimp caregivers, who proceeded to give us an unimaginably painful hour and a half long tour. Not only was his speech pattern slow and difficult to understand, but his stories also dragged on interminably as he added non sequitur details, all of which detracted further from his disjointed anecdotes, none of which were interesting to begin with. Mercifully, the tour eventually came to an end and Innocent led us to the viewing platforms.
All of our frustrations with the vapid tour melted away as soon as feeding time commenced. The chimps spend most of their day in the forest, coming back at set times to receive bucketfuls of avocados, carrots, and assorted fruits. By the time we arrived, they had already gathered in the clearing. A few of them played around, but most of them sat still, looking longingly towards the fence that separated us from them. No sooner had they spotted their caregivers with buckets of food, however, than all hell seemed to break loose. They began to run around, madly grunting and hooting in impatient anticipation of the moment it would start raining food. The scene that ensued for the next half hour is indescribable, and though we are happy to share some of our best photos, even the pictures fail to capture all the idiosyncrasies of the moment. Suffice it to say that the 45 minutes we spent with the chimps were well worth the wait, and we have resolved to return to Uganda, to combine next year’s tournament with a chimp trekking tour in Budongo Forest.