Ishasha Sector and the Tree Climbing Lions
Having been woken up at 0600 hours that my tea was outside my tent, I jumped out of bed and sat on the canvas chair taking pleasure in the early African light, eavesdropping to the river rush past – normally a little stream with sandy banks, hippos and elephants crossing, feeling an African touch! The river had now turned into full flood after the deluge of rain a few days ago. This was the rainy season. My bush shower had previously been elevated up so after enjoying the morning light I went back into my tent for a quick hot shower before rising more awake to go on a game drive in this re-known Ishasha sector – famous for its tree climbing Lions.
Having taken a cup of coffee we set off for a short drive to the top of the ridge to listen to the African morning ensemble – a brew of bird calls as the sun attempted to rise through the early morning mist. It was overwhelming, all the different tweets, hoots, coos and clicks (which Ronald pointed out to us each time we heard a new sound) as the mist lifted from the valleys and the light changed and became day. The night before, it had rained and cleared the air so we had a breath-taking view of the snow capped Rwenezori Mountains in one direction and the volcanoes in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo in the other. Below us were herds of Elephant in the distance which we watched while enjoying a coffee before our guide (and host) said «We should go to the fig trees, seems like the lions are still up the fig tree and I don’t want us to miss them». We were so thrilled to hear this and couldn’t wait!
The camp was comparatively close to the fig tree we had found the lions in the day before as we entered Ishasha (the Southern part of Queen Elizabeth Nation Park) and when we got there we found 8 lions lounging on the large horizontal fig branches. The day before when we had entered the park, 5 females were in an Acacia tree and the four males in the fig tree we were now parked next to. The females had joined the rest of the pack overnight and we waited for that golden shine of the morning sun so we could take some good photos. After leaving the lions we headed across the plain on the Northern circuit and must have passed a thousand Kob, grazing and steadily moving as a large herd.
There were also plenty of Topis and Buffalo, Ring-necked Doves ,colourful European Bee-eaters still perched on trees, and Coucals with their feather puffed up to keep warm and Francolin’s running in front of the vehicle before taking off with their idiosyncratic ke-ke-ke-kekeke kuh call. On the other side of the plain the vegetation is thicker with more scrub and thickets. All of a sudden, Ronald stopped and signaled us to be quiet as he whispered «Leopard, in the tree!». Convinced enough, not more than 50 meters from the road was a bravura Leopard in an Acacia tree. He had already heard us and before long was elegantly climbing down the tree (unlike the awkward lions that seem to fall out). Soon all we could see with the feathery white tip of his tail and he disappeared into the long grass. We wished he could stay longer! We were happy about this but so sad to see him disappear…..
After this memorable morning game drive, we headed back to the Wilderness Camp for breakfast. We headed along the crest seeing more Buffalo wallowing in mud pools, Kob and Topi, then dropped down onto the river plain before inflowing the forest that borders the river bank where the camp is concealed. Ishasha wilderness camp is on a bend of Ntungwe River and the main dining and lounge tent is centrally positioned right alongside the river. Tables were already laid with fresh fruits and juice on our arrival.
George, the head waiter came and took our orders for our main mid morning breakfast breakfast – would we like eggs, beans, sausages and sandwiches? There is no menu but everything for a full English breakfast was available including mushrooms. Hot toast was brought and I was delighted to see I had pleasant yellow scrambled eggs instead of the white ones you find in the city- so tasty!
They can also make pancakes and have great home made honey roasted crunchy muesli and real coffee – just ask them to make it stronger if it is too weak for your liking.
After a long breakfast I headed back to my tent, found my book and enjoyed the comfort of my hammock which each tent has to one side. I was disturbed by a massive splash of water and found out the bank had been eroded so much that a tree on the bank had fallen into the river. Paul told us that when the river is low, lunch and dinner are sometimes served on the sand banks next to the trickling stream. Lunch was served in the same place as breakfast – the stream had turned into the Congo — muddy brown water with trees been washed down the torrent. Once again there is no menu for lunch but different food each day – salad, home made hot rolls, Mousaka, cold meats and cheese. It is not gourmet food, but very tasty, healthy and home made. We then retired to the lounge area where there is buffet tea and coffee table with excellent home made flap jacks and chocolate chip cookies to nibble away on while playing back gammon. This is also a good time to charge the camera batteries if the generator is on.
The camp has eight tents in all, each with twin beds, solar lighting, shelves for your clothes and a separate en suite bush shower and small bathroom with sink and eco friendly «night» toilet at the rear. You can roll down the canvas so that three sides of your tent are open and let the breeze blow through while enjoying the sounds of bush life outside. Ishasha really is in the middle on nowhere and you cannot hear any traffic and hardly get a mobile phone signal. The camp does not try to be ostentatious (there is no wireless internet, no spa, no air conditioning, no pool, no spa treatment and no fine wine cellar.) but is comfortable and practical.
The rooms are not lavishly decorated in grand campaign 1920’s style or classic safari camp antiques but you have all the comforts you require – hot showers, hot and cold water next to the wash basin and bottled water to wash you teeth with and ample privacy between tents. The tents do not have thatched coverings but instead use the natural shade of the trees and blend in with the environment. I particularly like the flushing «day» toilet which is away from the river and is open to the view of forest. You cannot beat a loo with a view and if you are a birder I recommend you take your binoculars to view the hornbills as they swoop between trees as well as all the other bird species in the trees.
Late afternoon we went for another game drive, first to the Kob lek (breeding ground) which was covered in dancing Crested Cranes, Warthogs as well as the Kobs and enjoyed a gin and tonic, beers, nuts and popcorn while the light faded before retuning for an early dinner. Dinner is a four course candle lit affair. A starter, soup, main and dessert. The soups were excellent – cucumber, tomato and basil, pumpkin and sweet potato, varied main courses each night – chicken, fish or beef with crunchy vegetables which included broccoli and cauliflower (a rarity in the bush), and one night an incredibly rich chocolate dessert. The food in unpretentious, as are the wines but tasty. After dinner we sat around the fire for coffee before retiring early to bed after an awesome day with nature.
We were unlucky on our drive to the Lake George flats not to see the Shoebill Stork but overall considering it was the rainy season had an incredible time, we did see the splendid Saddle-bill Stork and one morning saw more than 200 Elephant – some with massive tusks, found a lion kill, and saw some amazing bird life, especially all types of raptors including an Amur Falcon. There is something magical about game viewing in Uganda, especially Ishasha. They are such few other tourists that when you see game it is very much in an unspoilt environment. There is no hissing radio in your car and twenty other vehicles viewing the leopard. Not everyone sees the famous tree lions, but that’s what makes it even more special if you do.
Ishasha Wildness camp is the only camp to stay at in Ishasha unless you camp at the campsite near the park headquarters. The camp is eco friendly and works with the Kazinga-Bukorwe Community Trust which offers tourists alternatives to game drives like how the local community is undertaking issues such as crop raiding elephants. It is a long ten hour drive to get there but once you get there it is well worth it especially if you are on your way to or from Gorilla viewing. Forget your phone and internet — get back to nature and go and spend a couple of nights in this amazing corner of Africa-so magnificent!