There are certain magical names in Africa, names which conjure up images of mystery, of exotic fauna and flora and even of certain danger. I had the pleasure of visiting one of these places last year; the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the south-west corner of Uganda, home to troupes of mountain gorillas. After a bone-jarring ten-hour drive from Kampala punctuated by traversing villages with the locals shouting "mzungu, mzungu" (white man, white man,) you reach the elegant Clouds Mountain Lodge, a 1930s inspired hill station building with commanding views of both the Bwindi forest and the Parc des Volcans in Rwanda.
The dense forest of Bwindi is reminiscent of the Vietnam jungles with steam and humidity rising from the green foliage. Hacking your way through, courtesy of the tough Uganda National park rangers, you will meet the tranquil beauty of the mountain gorillas at rest and at play, a sight which will stir the deepest humanity in every human who happens upon it.
From Bwindi, I traversed by Land Rover via the Queen Elizabeth National Park, home of the curious tree hanging lions, to the bottom eastern edge of Lake Albert. Semliki Lodge, situated in the Toro Semliki Game Reserve, had suffered much during the civil wars of the 1970s and 80s. It is now in a period of recovery and is home to a long-standing research project into chimpanzee behaviour and habitat. By boat and via a labyrinth of waterways I spied the extremely rare and prehistoric looking African Shoebill. If I was more of a birder, this sighting would have ranked as the summit of my passion and provoked huge jealousy amongst my peers.
Flying in the ubiquitous Cessna Caravan to the most northeasterly corner of Uganda, we crossed the Murchison Falls, another one of those seminal African names.
A simple hour and a half of flight and you arrive in the most splendid of wilderness areas, the Kidepo National Park which borders the newly christened South Sudan. If you enjoy your safari experience remote and exclusive, Apoka Safari Lodge is for you. The abundant game with large herds of elephant and buffalo, Rothschild giraffe and rarer breeds of antelope will entertain you in an area which was once earmarked for the personal lodge of Idi Amin. Dear old Idi is thankfully long gone but the skeleton of his lodge remains.
A delightful surprise is a visit to the remote local villages; these villagers carry on their business as they must have done for hundreds of years, with little modern intervention and are the perfect antidote to the most western cynic.
So there it is, Uganda, Winston Churchill’s "Pearl of Africa." I do not disagree.