So you can stomach the vaccines and endure thirty hours’ flying time. You can rock the attire and get down with elephant dung.
At this stage, you’re debating between Rwanda and Uganda, or you’re asking yourself if it’s worth it.
This is the nitty gritty.
If you want to see some of the 880 critically-endangered mountain gorillas, just go to Rwanda. There are clean, paved roads. The enforced speed limit is 40-60 kilometers/hour. Hotels, like the Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, are first-rate. And when you get to Volcanoes National Park to do your gorilla trek, you’ll feel safe. (Yes, you can bring your significant other. Yes, your 70-year-old parents will likely complete the “easy” or “medium” Rwandan gorilla trek. And yes, you’ll pay three times more for this experience than you would in Uganda or The Democratic Republic of the Congo—but there’s something to say for the price of perceived safety while traveling.)
Now here’s the rub: if you’re an adventure junkie, and if you are not risk averse . . . if you subscribe to Dostoevsky’s observation that “suffering is the sole origin of consciousness,” then go to Uganda. The gorilla trek was significantly more challenging (there were few to zero trails), and the opportunity for something to go awry seemed to grow with every footfall. Further, getting to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (the site of the gorilla trek) is no small feat. The pockmarked, potholed, unpaved roads are hard on the vehicle and harder on the passengers. One day, our Toyota Land Cruiser Prado broke down three times.
It was the ball joint. And I wouldn’t write about it if it were isolated, if it were specific to us. But based on conversations we’ve had with other travelers, this seems fairly normal in Uganda. These vehicles simply cannot win the daily battle against these roads.
We did attempt to make the most of it.
Each time our vehicle broke down, we became the center of attention. The kids, especially these kids, were charming, happy, inquisitive, delightful . . . and hospitable. (They invited us to their home for porridge!)
Here’s the deal. I thrive on uncertainty and a measured degree of chaos. I enjoy these sorts of mishaps. But when our vehicle broke down for the third time, and the same “mechanics” arrived on their red motorcycle to “repair” our vehicle, I felt unsafe.
I wasn’t concerned about my well being—I regretted bringing my wife to this country.
So what’s the takeaway? Every Ugandan we met was great. We enjoyed our interactions with the Ugandan people. The infrastructure of Uganda, however, has not aligned itself with the country’s ambition for the tourist dollar. Many tourists want to feel safe. That is why they’ll go to Rwanda. I may return to Uganda someday, but until I’ve been assured that things have changed, I’ll go alone.