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At Mount Gahinga Lodge, enjoy sunrise over a volcano panorama, learn native traditions, and see primates in their element.
GETTING THERE - Catch a four-hour shuttle from Kigali International Airport into Uganda's lush Virunga Mountains. Brave the winding turns past potato crops, Kisoro's hectic markets, and pigs flopped precariously on rickety motorbikes. You'll know you've arrived when you see Mount Gahinga's volcano neighbors, Muhabura and Sabyinyo, forming a U on the horizon.
BEST MOMENT - In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, getting shoved aside by a 400-pound gorilla in search of bamboo. Her mischievous baby followed soon after, sauntering over and tugging my pant leg.
WORST MOMENT - Failing, repeatedly, to hit a target with a bow and arrow. At the Batwa Cultural Heritage Site adjacent to the lodge, the Batwa Pygmies, who have lived here for 60,000 years, demonstrate how they used to hunt small game in the surrounding forest. Their arrows whiz through the air with daunting accuracy, thwacking wooden rabbits after each pull. (The Batwa Cultural Heritage Experience is one of the activities developed and managed by Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT)).
FAVORITE CHARACTER - Gregarious VSPT employee Herbert Mfitundinda might insist on taking you for a four-mile hike through Gahinga's beautiful wheat fields. Along the way, say hello to an octogenarian farmer who has a knack for fixing Mfitundinda's circa-1970s radio, which breaks more often than it plays.
LOCAL LORE - Thousands of years ago, it's said, the Batwa settled disputes by shooting arrows tinged with a powerful, plant-derived poison. The deadly substance was boiled off long ago, but even today no-one will touch the arrows for fear of sudden death.
WHAT'S GREEN - Since the lodge opened, its owner and Founder, Praveen Moman, has used solar power to generate electricity and recycle rainwater. He also limits the use of power tools, preferring that his staff use manual labor instead.
WHAT'S NOT GREEN - Guests have the option to wash their clothes every day for free. So a lot of garments that could be reused are flung into the machine.
PLANET-SAVING OPPORTUNITIES - Guests can help the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust maintain the lodge's beehives, grow mushrooms, and tend to the on-site quarter-acre farm. Or they can donate money to the trust to help save the great apes.
Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.