Close Encounters in Uganda

Ann Hunt travelled on our 'Uganda - Mammals and Mountains' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.


Great Blue Turaco, Uganda

The man was holding a machete and shouting angrily in a language we couldn’t understand. It was an anxious moment. Our guide, Emmy, had stopped the van by a semi-cultivated patch of land complete with a small home at the far end. A pair of Great Blue Turacos were perched in the top of a tree: impressive birds indeed - bright blue and bigger than a pheasant. Emmy suggested we take a closer look.

‘But’, I asked, ‘what about the landowner? Won’t he mind?’

‘No, it’ll be fine’ said Emmy.

Andy and I jumped out of the van, took a few steps onto the land and proceeded to photograph the birds. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, the landowner appeared. Probably in his twenties, bare-footed and dressed in typical worn-out clothes of tracksuit bottoms and a torn T-shirt. He was carrying his garden implement, a machete and he was shouting at Emmy. Apparently he was complaining that Richard and Jason in the van were photographing him. Emmy quickly explained that they were just photographing the birds in the trees, to which Machete Man burst out laughing, after all why on earth would anyone bother to stop and photograph his regular garden visitors? They were probably just like robins to him. The laughter brought instant relief. Everyone relaxed. He chatted with Emmy, while we took more photos of the magnificent birds.

Back in the van we had some second-hand T-shirts that we’d brought with us to give to local charities and we told Emmy we’d like to give one to Machete Man. Emmy called him over and Richard passed the T-shirt through the window. What a response! None of us had ever seen anyone so elated at receiving anything. He was ecstatic. He jumped up and down, waved the T-shirt in the air, chatted away, laughed and wore a beaming smile. It was only a second-hand T-shirt that a friend had hardly worn and no longer wanted, but this was a precious gift to a man who had next to nothing. We were thrilled we had brought such joy but also very humbled. There we were travelling around this man’s country in a smart vehicle, with our camera equipment, relatively smart clothes and all the other travel paraphernalia while seeking new experiences at every corner, and yet this man was elated by this simple gift. We already hoped that by visiting the country we were contributing to the local economy, now here was proof that we were helping someone directly and positively, yet without any real effort on our part.

At the end of our fabulous trip we recalled the highlights while drinking sundowners on the shores of Lake Victoria. Uganda had exceeded expectations; we’d been very fortunate and had seen many birds and mammals, some insects and the occasional reptile - though, thankfully, no snakes! We’d achieved our main ambition and had spent 60 precious minutes with Mountain Gorillas. The trek to find them had certainly been hard work but the tiredness in our limbs evaporated as we communed with our distant cousins. Elephant encounters had been numerous and fantastic, especially watching the matriarch walk towards us with youngsters to either side with the extended family following. We spent many minutes watching soporific tree-climbing Lions, flopped on the branches of a tree just a few feet away. There was much excitement when a Leopard was in the bushes right beside us and then he emitted a little growl, flashed passed and escaped our prying eyes. There were Chimpanzees, monkeys and baboons; zebra, Hippos and Buffalo; Uganda Kob, Impala and Topi; all sorts of birds from diminutive Malachite Kingfishers to magnificent Bateleur Eagles. So many amazing wildlife encounters, but did any of these highlights surpass the humbling moment when we realised the local value of a second-hand T-shirt?

Read more about our 'Uganda - Mammals and Mountains' holiday.

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