My new absolute favourite corner of Africa is the Albertine Rift. This western arm of the Great Rift Valley just happens to be home to half of Africa’s birds, 40% of its mammals, 20% of its amphibians and plants and contains more vertebrate species than anywhere else on the continent. And if that was not enough, try this for size: strewn across the floor of the Rift is Lake Albert, the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains (identified with Ptolemy's "Mountains of the Moon”), Lake Edward, the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Kivu and the world’s second deepest and second largest freshwater lake in volume, Lake Tanganyika. All this beauty is located within six countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Oh, and did I mention it is the only home of the mountain gorillas?
So much has been written about the must-sees and must-dos including a couple of accounts I penned some years back when Kate and I galloped up and down and in and out of the Kyambura Gorge searching in vain for those Lost Chimpanzees. We never saw them. On this trip, however, I had a very close encounter with a rampaging chimp in the Kibale Forest, but that tale is for another day. Today’s story is about random but delightful discoveries, people and experiences I tripped across in the Albertine Rift.
Let me start by saying the beers are delicious and the names even more so: Banange, Nile Special and Virunga Mist. Perfect for post-primate-trekking.
Meandering through the Albertine Rift is only made both possible and world-class by being with the best guide of all and, in my case, this was Petrus Kiweewa who hails from Uganda and has been guiding Volcanoes Safaris’ guests for seven years. Petrus has a story for every nook and cranny and steers his going-on-vintage Landie with ease and grace. And his belly laugh is enough of a reason to explore Uganda all on its own. Be sure to ask for him — you will thank me.
Somewhere high up on a hill overlooking a lovely crater lake you will meet Basil of Ndali Lodge. Basil is the beloved four-footed child of Aubrey and Claire Price who own and run this delightful outpost. Basil’s siblings, Polly and Sybil, are no more but hanging out in the lodge is this photograph of Basil signed by Basil, aka John Cleese. Who would have thought out here in the middle of nowhere? Be sure to stay at Ndali when chimp trekking in the Kibale Forest — delicious food and fabulous lilos in the pool.
An unscheduled stop at the Rwenzori Founders just outside of Kasese town was a revelation. Please don’t miss it. The charming director and sculptor, Emmanuel Basaza, guided us through the indoor and outdoor galleries and shared the story of how this treasure came to be. Damien Hirst features in the story, naturally.
The Great Lakes region is famous for its delicious coffee, and I was treated to a Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (or VSPT as it is affectionately known) community coffee experience whilst staying at Kyambura Gorge Lodge. This was a whole heap easier and more fun than chasing chimps.
On the high street (if you could call it that) of Bwindi town overlooking the magnificently named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, please be sure to stop by at the Bwindi Bar for a cold beer, a rolex and a good chat. VSPT opened this bar in 2015 as part of their community outreach programme to upskill disadvantaged youngsters in the basics of hospitality.
Did you know that black tea and green tea come from the same leaf? I certainly didn’t. My VSPT community tea picking and tea processing deep dive taught me a whole heap of new tricks. Bud, top leaf and second leaf only, for starters. I could get quite good at this especially if I can stay forever at Bwindi Lodge.
Skipping across the border into Rwanda (the first tourist to do this in two years) I stopped by to see how the beautiful gardens at One&Only Gorilla’s Nest had grown since my last visit three years ago just before they opened. The gardens are gorgeous you will be happy to hear. But the delight of the morning was visiting the lovingly restored Jack Hanna Cottage. This charming cottage was acclaimed zookeeper Jack’s home in Rwanda — please don’t miss it.
If the road less travelled takes you from Musanze town to Gisenyi on the northern tip of Lake Kivu you will have a peek into days gone by as you drive down the palm tree-lined corniche on the lake’s shore. Drive five minutes further and you hit the border of Rwanda and the DRC and the town of Goma. It’s all happening right here.
As usual, I have lapped the word budget of this story — thank you for reading this far. Two more stories on my Albertine Rift adventures will follow: nearly being done in by a chimp in the Kibale Forest and the newly opened and extraordinary Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Until then, Albertine Rift dreaming ….
Nicky was hosted by Praveen Moman, owner of Volcanoes Safaris, TED speaker and committed conservationist. Kevin James, the company’s COO, accompanied her all the way and probably was the person responsible for the near abduction-by-chimp episode.
Filed under: East Africa Travel
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