Quarantine Day 84.
I had mildly high hopes that they’d follow through with their promise to release more travel-related details of Hawaii’s plan for re-opening to tourists (and resident’s travel off island) but no such luck. Perhaps later in the week we’ll be blessed with some good news.
Since I don’t have any fun underwater adventures to share I’ll back it up to where I last left off with my Africa trip. We’d just finished back to back gorilla treks in Uganda at Mgahinga National Park which was absolutely amazing. Amazing people, amazing park services, amazing scenery and epic gorilla experiences. We couldn’t have had a better time and now only one gorilla trek in Bwindi National Park remained which by all accounts was to be the most difficult of the trip. I was naively optimistic about all the other hikes, but basically every review I’d read about Bwindi said that it was VERY difficult and VERY long so we were both scared little travelers just praying it would be slightly less terrifying than expected.
After leaving Mgahinga we drove a while through more beautiful sprawling countryside and a couple of roadside mineral mines to arrive at the Rushaga Gorilla camp for lunch overlooking Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This property was absolutely breathtaking. There truly are no photos being used online that do it justice. It’s a very large property spread out over the sloping hills and offering guests a “glamping” experience in large canvas tents with wooden walkways and large covered porches each perched out on a little platform looking over the top of the forest. The bathrooms were gorgeous and very modern with nice warm showers. (our room pictured below)
Also on the property there is a huge lap pool, human sized chess game, and the restaurant also is just mind blowing with walls of windows on all sides opening into the forest. There are so many beautiful tropical birds here in hindsight I should have spent more time trying to photograph them, but I was too busy just staring at the views, enjoying a nice hot shower and enjoying their delicious food. Rushaga would actually be my favorite to date of all of the lodges/hotels I’ve stayed in. Good vibes, super peaceful, and epic beauty.
The next morning we had breakfast overlooking the forest as the sun slowly rose and the clouds which wove amongst the trees slowly began to burn off. Then it was a quick 10 minute drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to meet the last of our gorilla families. This was my least favorite gorilla experience for a number of reasons.
The hike itself wasn’t as difficult as some previous hikes, except for in one spot. It was the most dangerous thing I’ve done to date and in hindsight I’d never do it again. Ever. Most of the hike is pretty flat and winds around a nice flat path through the forest which itself is gorgeous. However, our guide unfortunately had very little patience and was on a mission to get to and from the gorillas as fast as humanly possible so taking a moment to photograph the beautiful area around you was not an option.
We eventually reached one area where the trail was maybe 3 feet wide and on one side you had a drastic hillside climbing about 30-40 feet upwards and on the other side was a sheer 100 foot drop off into the forest. It was muddy and narrow and if you fell you’re getting airlifted out at best. If you know me at all you’ll know me and heights are not friends. Not one bit. So this scenario is basically my equivalent of hell.
So we find ourselves on this narrow muddy trail with a massive dropoff and then we get to the end of the flat part and the only way to continue is to climb straight up the side of the very steep hill where there’s muddy ruts carved from water running down during heavy rains. There is no rope to hold onto, no branches, no bamboo, nothing. If you slipped on this muddy slip and slide hill off the side of the cliff you go. It was absolutely awful. It’s clear that they take this route all the time so it’s beyond me why they don’t at a minimum tie a rope to the trees at the top so people have something to hold onto to pull themselves up and prevent a disaster coming back down.
Again our guide had zero patience and we were met with impatient sighs as he stood glaring at the top of the hill of death expecting you to hurry up. He seemed to particularly hate me and my travel partner (me more so) and was constantly yelling at me for something. I have no clue why. I think I got chastised 3-4 times for taking my rain jacket off because I was so hot I thought I was going to pass out and he’d start yelling at me that I MUST have my jacket on at all times. Why you ask? Hell if I know. Last I checked the ferns we were walking past weren’t deadly. That cliff on the other hand…..
Once we reached the gorillas it was more crawling on all fours so you didn’t fall down the mountain while trying to traverse over bushes and weeds. The family of gorillas was in an extremely dense area on the side of the hill and there were so many white flies around them it looked like snow.
The camera lens wouldn’t focus half of the time for all of the bugs but that didn’t matter really because the guide kept yelling at me that I had to move to another location (where it was impossible to see or shoot the gorillas) because other guests should be where I was. This would have been sort of reasonable except that I was sitting on the ground in a tiny ball not blocking anyone whatsoever. All of us were in a tight group and everyone had a view, for some reason I guess this guide just decided that today was the day he was going to make my life as miserable as possible.
So after only 45 minutes we were told we had to leave. You pay $600usd for this permit to spend 60 minutes with the gorillas. So to lose 25% of the time you paid for is ridiculous. In reviewing other TripAdvisor reviews I see now that this seems to be common for Bwindi. I’m guessing that the guides just want to be done for the day and the earlier the better for them – at the expense of the tourists.
The trek back to the starting point was worse than the one going in. Me and my friend were at the end of the line of hikers and our guide was walking so fast we would have had to literally jog to keep up. And I’m one of the fastest walkers I know. So he gave us zero chance to rest or take a drink or anything. He was just being a jerk intentionally. Still to this day I have no idea why.
All I’ll say is I’m SO glad this wasn’t my first (or only) experience or I would have been crushed. As it was we were both just glad it was over and I never need to set foot in that park again. Nor would I in good conscious recommend it to anyone else who is going for photography. The guides are awful (the porters were too for that matter), the white flies prevent you from getting clean shots (I’ve now noticed this in lots of other Instagram photos from that park on social media) and they seem to often cut your already limited time with the gorillas to even shorter.
After Bwindi we proceeded on to our next hotel – Arcadia Cottages – which overlooked Lake Bunyoni. This lake is absolutely jaw dropping! The cottages all sit up on the top of small rolling green hills overlooking an expansive lake with gorgeous sunset views. Going into the trip this was the location I was honestly most excited to see. Our cottage was in the perfect location for unparalleled views and our living room and deck were to die for (see our cabin deck pictured below). The cottages were modern inside and very pretty. We had a door on one wall that opened into the adjoining cottage as well. Little did we know what a problem this was going to be.
We were notified on arrival that the property was being used to host a rave that night and so a gigantic stage was being constructed in front of the dining area and they brought in massive speakers and started blasting techno music by 6pm. We were promised at check-in that the music would stop by 11pm and that they would ensure it had as little impact on our stay as possible. What an absolute crock.
The party raged on with a bunch of highly intoxicated ex-pats sprinkled with a few locals drinking mass quantities of booze and walking around snorting god knows what until all hours. We were a bit freaked out to even leave the main building to walk to our cabin because it was really dark and we saw someone come flying out of the rave following us at one point.
We reached our cottage unscathed and immediately locked everything up, put in ear plugs and tried desperately to get some sleep. Come midnight all of the sudden the adjoining cabin erupts with 10-15 male voices and one female who were yelling and arguing and clearly very drunk. I banged on the wall to get them to shut up which was a bad decision because then they started to break into our cottage. For 20 minutes they slammed into our adjoining door, rattling the door handle while we screamed at them to stop.
I called security. I called the front desk. I called the hotel manager. No one would answer. I called for atleast 30 minutes. I left numerous voice messages. No one called back. Finally the people next door decided to go back to the party and we saw their shadows file by a few feet in front of our bedroom window. Needless to say we barely slept because we had no idea when or if they would come back and if they’d try to break into our cabin again.
The next morning we complained to the manager about it who didn’t care one bit. He said that there was no one staying in the room next to us and the only person who would have had access was the owner’s son who was there partying with friends. He also acknowledged that all services were shut down (front desk, security, his office) because they were afraid for their personal safety. Just to clarify, the staff was afraid for THEIR personal safety so they left their guests alone in a foreign country in the absolute middle of nowhere to fend for themselves?!?
Meanwhile we also complained to the manager that the night before our waitress overcharged my friends credit card by $100usd when she paid for our drinks. We were charged for food that the waitress refused to bring to our table and also charged for bottled water we ordered and kept asking for which she never brought. After returning to the states it’s probably no coincidence that this same credit card was turned off for fraudulent charges – along with my friend’s second credit card she had with her at this hotel.
I can say with absolute confidence this was the scariest experience I’ve had traveling anywhere to date. I have zero question what would have happened to us had that group of men been able to break through that flimsy door and none of it is good. Even more appalling is we were still charged full price for our stay. I left a detailed review on TripAdvisor in hopes that it will save others the same experience. The view was beautiful, but no view is pretty enough to die for.
Needless to say we couldn’t get out of there fast enough and set off early in the morning to start the safari portion of our trip far, far away.