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Saturday, May 14, 2022

African Adventure 2022: Travel to Lake Mutanda & Chameleon Hill Lodge

Boy, was that alarm brutal! Two nights of sub-5 hours of sleep was a bit rough. We hustled to get ready and check out of the lodge. Our driver was waiting for us when we got to reception at 5:40am. We did not have to wait long for our packed breakfast was ready and we were headed back to the airport.

Our flight from Entebbe to Kisoro was a small, 12-seat prop plane. Similar to the international flight the day before, this plane was operating on a loop. Our stop, Kisoro, was the fourth stop, so we got to experience our pilots, Roman & Albert, complete take-offs and landings on asphalt, grass, dirt/gravel, and a combination. They kept us informed with what was happening and let us get out at the first stop to use the washroom as that was our longest leg at close to an hour.

The views on the flight were incredible and varied throughout. That certainly help make up for the size, since my head almost hit the top of the plane while seated!

Before too long, we landed at Kisoro, where our driver guide for our time at Chameleon Hill Lodge, Michael, met us. We used the facilities and then jumped in the jeep to make the journey from Kisoro Airport to Chameleon Hill Lodge. The drive took the better part of an hour with most over some pretty bumpy dirt tracks. Michael explained that road works happen during two times of the year: beginning of rainy season and end of rainy season. It felt similar to Wisconsin's winter and construction seasons.

On our way out of town, Kisoro was alive with kids playing and people walking to and from church. It was cool to get a brief glimpse into normal life in the town. As we got further away from the city centre, the road conditions worsened to effectively a single lane for both directions of traffic due to the ravines cut through the dirt road. We also saw stack after stack of handmade mud bricks in various stages of processing. Most of the people in this area made their own bricks to use when building their home. Pretty cool to witness.

Another amazing sight to witness on the drive were the people, primarily women, carrying large loads along the dirt roads by foot. Many of the homes along the ridge do not have running water or electricity, this is a daily task to walk to the lake to fetch water among other things. Given we are at ~6,000ft, they are some seriously tough people.

We finally made it to Chameleon Hill Lodge! We were greeted by Agnes and Charles upon our arrival. Agnes brought us wet towels to clean our hands and face as well as water and juice. It was nice to sit on the lanai, overlooking Lake Mutanda and finally start to relax. We made it!

After a short briefing to learn more about what the lodge had to offer, we went down to our cottage to get settled and relax until lunch at 12:30pm. It felt nice to unpack the bags a bit and sit on our patio overlooking the lake to read. I read a brief history of the place and Uganda before examining the activity menu to see if we wanted to do anything in the afternoon. Kari used this downtime to wash some of her clothes to try to reduce the bug spray smell.

Before long, it was time to head back up to the lodge for lunch. They served a delicious three course meal: carrot & ginger soup with warm bread, roasted chicken with roast potatoes & veggies, and finished with fruit salad for dessert. It was pretty incredible. No sooner than we had finished our dessert did Agnes come over to get our request for dinner. We also asked if it would be possible to learn how to carve a gorilla later in the afternoon. Thankfully, the instructor was available later in the afternoon. While we waited, we ventured off on a walk down to the lake.

While intended to be easy, this turned out to be rather complex. First off, I *think* Charles meant to say to go through the gate on the right instead of the left. Not thinking going on a trail away from the lake seemed like the right call, we continued down along the cottages and asked a worker for help. He pointed us to the trail and we were off. That is when we hit issue number two: no signage and loads of different paths to go down. We picked one and ended up near a river with tall reeds and grasses. Thinking this couldn't be right, we went back up and tried a couple other trails to see if one would do the trick. Sure enough. We managed to stumble our way down to the lake and found the lodge's pontoon boat. We stood there in awe of the beauty until a few otters broke the water's surface, playing, before heading further out into the lake.

With our gorilla carving experience fast approaching, we made our way back to the lodge. Demas met us and took us to a shady spot to begin our carving lesson. Demas started off with something I had never really learned before. My uncle taught me how to woodcarve, but that was always from a sketch block. We took one of the small pieces of eucalyptus and started carving it down with a machete to make it roughly look like a gorilla. Once that was done, he gave us a shot at doing the same with a slightly bigger piece of wood. This was the one that we ultimately carved into what sort of looks like a gorilla. It was Kari's first time wood carving, and my first time solely using chisels with a mallet. In other words, it was pretty rough. Demas helped us throughout, which is largely why it looks decent. It needs a paint job, but we need it to dry completely first. Assuming we can agree on a color scheme, it will be painted when we get back to the UK.

After parting ways with Demas, we went back to the lodge to relax before dinner. We found Michael on the lanai and chatted with him about our upcoming day and life in the area. Agnes came out around 7pm to call us in for dinner. It was another delicious three course meal consisting of tomato & basil soup, pork chops with fried plantains, and caramelized fruit for dessert. Absolutely delicious!

Following dinner, we spent a little time on the lanai catching up on life in the outside world before heading to bed. Given the lack of sleep over the past couple nights, we were looking forward to an early bed time. After prepping for tomorrow's gorilla trek and getting ready for bed, we were under the covers by 9pm. It was glorious!

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