1. Pack extra batteries as there is so much to photograph.
Kenya is littered with giraffe and other wildlife and Uganda has more shades of green that I have ever encountered. Access to electricity is not a sure thing, and in some places the power supply can be rather hit and miss.(For South Africans, read ESKOM!)
Photo opportunities are everywhere, even through the window of the bus. Be warned if you sit at the back your photos might all have “Emergency Exit” on them. Silly me!
2. Take Guide Books.
Chances are you will not be able to buy one once you are on the truck. No time and limited access to shops.
I found a great one for a mere ZAR200 at Bargain Books before the trip and it was so good that we decided if we saw anything and it was not in the guide book, it did not really exist! It certainly added value to the tour.
Wildlife of East Africa | A Photographic Guide by Dave Richards. First Edition 2013. Published by Struik Nature. It has information on climate, geographical regions, mammals, birds, snakes, plants and trees.
On returning home I bought the Bradt Guide to Uganda, Philip Brigs & Andrew Roberts. 7th Edition June 2013. ZAR 378 and
DK Eyewitness Travel: Kenya, 2013. ZAR 350. Both guides have comprehensive information on all aspects of the respective countries.
All 3 guides are highly recommended, so you can also know what could, eat, sting, bite, poison, stampede or impale you.
3. Figure out the currency before the trip.
If like me you are not so good with number and doing sums in your head, it is worth getting the conversion clear before you depart.
Kenyan shillings come in denominations of 50,100,200, 500 and 1000.
The exchange rate to South African Rands is 1 Kenyan Shilling = 0,12c, or 1 South African Rand = 8 Kenyan Shillings.
Then you go to Uganda and the banknotes come in denominations of 5 000, 10 000, 20 000 and 50 000 Ugandan shillings.
The exchange rate to South African Rands is 1 Ugandan Shilling = 0,0043c, or 1 South African Rand = 235 Ugandan Shillings.
Prices are also quoted in US dollars. None of the above are quick and easy sums to do in your head. Going from 1 Rand = 8 shillings to 1 rand = 235 shillings is also confusing. By the time I had done the sum in my confused head and was ready to barter, the traders had packed up and gone home.
So, figure out a quick and easy multiplication or division that will give you an idea of the value, and have it off pat before you try to bargain. Dont do what I did and hold the money out and ask “what colour would you like?”
4. Take gloves for the gorilla trek. We had the hiking boots, waterproof jackets, long pants and light backpacks but the most useful item were the gardening gloves given to us by friendly strangers in our camp at Lake Bunyoni. In some parts you need to pull yourself up and the only vegetation is a very prickly nettle. So easy to grab hold of with gardening gloves. Coming down after seeing the gorillas the gloves came in handy again, when too tired to walk without falling off the path, we ended by sitting down and sliding and slipping in the mud to the bottom. Gloved hands are great for steering to avoid trees, rocks people and small animals.
5. Allow for extra days before and after the tour.
The 14 day tour starts in Nairobi, and the 7 day tour begins in Kampala. Both these cities offer numerous attractions and require a day or 2 to explore. We arrived back in Nairobi at 4pm and were flying out at 4pm the following day. We thought this would give us plenty of time to do a little site seeing and shopping. Wrong! We did not understand East African traffic. We were advised to leave for the airport at 11am to drive just 15km to the airport. Nairobi has a population of 4 million and I think they all drive cars, all day.
In Kampala the traffic is even more insane even though the population is only pegged at 1.65 million. We hit the the outer limits of the city late on a Saturday afternoon, and arrived at our hotel at 10:30 at night. It took close to 4 hours negotiating insane traffic.
The pace of the Nomad Masai Mara and Gorilla Trek tour is hectic with loads of activities and sights packed in to the 14 days. This means that every day starts at anything from 4:40 am on the actual day you trek to the gorillas, to 5 or 6 am on regular days. Expect to be happy but wiped out by the end of it. A few days of sleeping a little later and just relaxing before returning to normal life and “post holiday depression” is a good idea if funds allow for it. ( I could not even afford a park bench as I can’t resist buying silly tourist trinkets, paid US 20 to have my hair braided and generally overspent as I never quite managed to master the Ugandan hundred million shillings for a cooldrink thing)
Talk to your new family on the truck and get to know them from day 1. Unless you are truly a terrible person you will end the tour with new friends, and hopefully offers of a bed if you are ever in the area, in a variety of foreign locations.
Talk to the locals, from shopkeepers and hotel staff to street vendors and the drivers of your game vehicles. Friendliness is greatly rewarded and everyone has a story, fairytale or entertaining load of nonsense , all which add to your overall experience.
We never got a sensible answer to our questions about this sign, however we were told that you should obey it as if you don’t you will be late, or miss work, and that is bad for the economy.
On Tuesday 11th February 2014 I trekked for 6 hours and spent an hour with a gorilla family in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Thank you, Nomad Tours for making this possible. You have no idea how proud I am of myself.