This July and August 38 girls and 6 staff will be travelling to Uganda on one of two, three week trips organised by local Winchester company The Natural Travel Collection.
We are looking forward to spending time with girls and staff from our sister school St Katherine’s in Lira, undertaking conservation work together in Bodongo Forest (where the Jane Goodall Institute have an education centre - http://www.janegoodall.org.uk/), as well as going on safari together at Murchison Falls. Later we will track chimpanzees at Kibale and hike in the beautiful Rwenzori mountains.
Follow the adventures of both trips here. Trip 2 updates appear immediately below. Trip 1 updates appear after Trip 2.
This morning, breakfast was actually on time which meant we were able to leave promptly. As we began our descent, the trail was sloping downwards very steeply and a new sport, 'mud-skiing', was invented. Alex K holds the record of the most number of falls - 12!
Lunch was very early (10.30am) but was very welcome and as the terrain started to flatten out, the number of river crossings increased, which some of us found quite nerve-wracking. Tilly stood on an ants' nest and had several men at her feet (Abel and Richard) as the picked them out of her socks. She even got them to tie her shoe laces at the end - unbelievable!
At the end of the trek we were greeted with tea and real milk - a treat after 4 days of the powdered variety. Saying our goodbyes to the guides, we boarded the bus and travelled to an amazing hotel and had an eagerly anticipated shower. The foods, beds and general comfort were all wonderful and added to the satisfaction of a successful trek.
Rain in the morning was not welcome and breakfast was a little soggy, however the prospect of pancakes soon cheered us up. As we began day 3 of the trek, Tilly, Jess and Georgia (the front-runners) were banished to the back of the group and made it their mission to sneak back to the front.
The Lobelia Gardens, which were misleadingly called 'giant', were filled with spiders. Richard, our guide, explained that they could grow up to 10 metres (the lobelias, not the spiders). After the Harry Potter-esque spider garden, Issy and Eliza challenged themselves to some hard core parkour down the scree slope, where they discovered that Rev'd Dykes had a hidden talent for it.
At the camp, the porters performed a song about HIV/AIDS and even got Miss Brown and Jane to join in with the crazy dancing. For them, we performed a round of siyahamba, our go-to performance song, which involved a lot of last-minute organisation.
Afterwards, we retreated to our various tents and huts to find that Alex W and Jess' tent was broken. They were moved to a larger tent where they increased the inside temperature by an essential few degrees.
This morning we were informed that the trek would be steeper than yesterday, which we did not think was possible. Soon enough, the trail got so steep that Jess decided that 'trek' was the wrong word and that 'climb' would be more appropriate.
We had a few more ant incidents, which included Alex W sprinting up a path to escape them, ending up breathless and still surrounded by ants. As we climbed higher, the number of ants rapidly declined but the trail got even steeper, much to our disappointment.
The views were amazing and Abel, our guide, took time to point out where we has walked from. On arrival at the camp many of us immediately fell into our sleeping bags and nodded off.
After a long sleep and a delicious dinner, we sat around the campfire and were taught Rwenzori tribal culture and traditions, which were fascinating.
First day of the trek. Today we started our epic journey up Rwenzori mountains. We set off in high spirits, singing as we walked. However, we soon discovered that trekking is sweaty work. This led to a new game of "I'm sweating like a...". We had some stunning inputs from the likes of Eliza and Sasha. This along with our trekking snacks helped us to maintain a high morale.
After 5k we stopped for lunch and were told by our guides that we had 6k to go and that it only got steeper. We didn't let this dampen our mood as we soldiered on with our now full stomachs. After a while we came across a river that we had no obvious way of crossing. To our amazement our guides and porters constructed a bridge seemingly out of nowhere. Although some of us were afraid 'we felt the fear and did it anyway'. The last stretch up to camp was very steep and challenging.
We all made it up to the camp in one piece. We managed to ascend 1000m in 11k. After a huge supper we went to bed, ready for day two.
Today we travelled from Mubs to Rwenzori. Along the way we stopped off in Fort Portal to buy trekking supplies and some 'gap yah' inspired trousers. We took a scenic route to the hostel, along which the buses got stuck. Our valiant drivers tried their best to get us out of this sticky situation but alas, this could only be achieved when all the Swithunites vacated the buses. We arrived unscathed at the hostel to be greeted by tea and hot showers while we mentally prepared for the oncoming trek.
We have arrived at base camp ready for the trek to start tomorrow. We are very excited! There may not be a good mobile reception over the next 3 days so please don't be worried if we go a bit quiet.
This morning we split into 2 groups. Group 1 (Alex K, Barrie, Georgie, Suzannah, Becky, Alex W, Emma and Jess) had an early start and left to go chimp trekking. After about 5 minutes they saw a community of about 8 chimps, and followed an adult male for about 10 minutes until he retreated to a tree. Two hours later they came across a larger community of 20 chimps and watched them for a while. During this time, group 2 (everyone else) went on a forest walk. Robert, the tour guide, pointed out many monkeys, as well as different types of plants. He also pointed out the tracks that elephants had made.
After lunch the two groups swapped activities. Group 2 initially had a slow start to their chimp trek after only seeing 3 chimps in 2 hours, however it quickly sped up. An aggressive male was unhappy about how close we were to his pack. Grabbing a long stick, he puffed up like an angry cat and charged at us. We were terrified, but we were soon reassured by a lecturer that it was normal behaviour and that he meant no harm.
Group 1 went on a forest walk and saw a lot of butterflies, as well as fungi and monkeys. Afterwards they visited the botanical gardens and learnt about the herbal cures that the locals used. The day was very long and we were very happy to be in our beds at the end of it.
This morning we left early for the 7 hour drive to Kibale Forest. On the journey we all decided we needed to comfort break at exactly the same time, which resulted in some angry bus drivers, although we still have not managed to work out why!
In Fort Portal we stopped to replenish our food supplies and then on arrival at Kibale we immediately spotted some monkeys - very exciting. We are all looking forward to the next few days.
This morning, after an early start, we left Murchison Falls for Hoima, via some local markets and shops along the way.
We also visited a small local village and were given a tour and learnt about crop rotation, how tobacco was prepared and sold to market. Following a 6-hour journey, we finally arrived at the convent and had our first hot shower for 2 weeks.
Last night we arrived in Murchison Falls and were shocked to find hippos circling out tents. Nonetheless, the night passed quietly and we all awoke at 6.30am to cross the Nile and begin our walking safari.
We were greeted by hungry baboons who attempted to steal our packed breakfasts and, in the case of Emma and Becky, the baboons won (nobody was hurt!).
On safari, we were very fortunate to see antelope, waterbuck, giraffes and elephants. We were also very fortunate to see a male lion.
After our safari, we went to see the spectacular Murchison Falls - an amazing experience.
This morning we awoke with a shock to find that Miss Tait had the largest spider we had ever seen in her room. Luckily the kitchen staff were able to diffuse the situation and it was soon forgotten!
Today was it was the turn of Group 3 to see monkeys in the forest while Groups 1 and 2 travelled to Nyabyeya school to dig a rubbish pit for recyclable materials. However, after only a few minutes we realised that we were digging on an ants nest. Quite literally 'ants in our pants' for some of us.
After the ant disaster we decided to abandon the digging and move on to transporting rocks. Then, Groups 1 and 2 left for Budongo school. Group 1 went seed planting while Group 2 enjoyed some painting.
After a delicious lunch, the St Kats girls joined us for our daily football work-out and, inspire of the heavens opening after 2 minutes seeds, we finished the match in true St Swithun's style.
In the morning, group 2 (groups unchanged from yesterday) went on the nature walk which group 1 went on yesterday, and we saw monkeys!
At the same time, groups 1 and 3 travelled to Nyabyeya school. At the school, group 3 planted trees as part of a long term plan for sustainable wood. Group 1 travelled to Budongo school and painted signs for messages to be painted on.
Today was Jane, our group leader's, birthday and we persuaded our cook to bake a cake which we all enjoyed at lunch - particularly as it was the first sweet thing we had tasted in a week.
After lunch, groups 1 and 2 planted seeds in seed bags and with Livvie forming a very efficient production line, the job was completed in record time. Meanwhile, group 3 returned to Budongo to finish the signs.
In the evening, the girls from St Kats. taught us some Ugandan games and songs and in return, Eliza, Georgia and Sacha taught them Scottish reeling. At the end we were very tired and somewhat dizzy. All are well and in good spirits.
Group 2 (Sacha, Georgia, Eliza, Livvy, Jess and Emma) returned to Budongo school to spend time with the girls from St Katherine's. Group 3 (Emily, Emily, Lily, Issy, Becky, Alex K went to another school and, amongst other things, sang songs with them.
After a delicious lunch of local food we headed out to the football pitch to take St Kathrine's on. Unfortunately it appeared that only 3 of us had played football before, so we mixed the teams. Team Unite faced Arsenal and with 2 penalties and goals from Suzannah and Alex W, Unite won 4-0.
Manchelsea faced Liverpool and won 3-2. Miss Brown scored for Manchelsea, with goals from 2 St Katherine's girls securing the win. Both of Liverpool's goals were scored by St Kats girls. Great, hot and sweaty fun all round.
This morning we experienced a Ugandan church service and performed some of our favourite hymns, including a rather patriotic rendition of I vow to the my country.
After lunch, we continued to paint Budongo school. Livvy, Eliza and Tilly painted the alphabet and numbers on the wall, while Georgie painted a religious parable on the wall.
In the evening we went on a mile long walk through Budongo Forest. Some of us saw chimpanzees in the canopy and afterwards we drove through a forest village and saw several baboons, which often attack villagers (or so we were told).
We spent the day at Budongo School continuing to paint the murals ands also create a path. In between work, we played many games with the children. The walls looked amazing and we can't wait to finish them tomorrow.
We ended the day eating amazing marinated pork and practising hymns for the local church service tomorrow.
After an early start today we went to Bundongo Saw Mill primary school where we met their pupils. Sacha was especially good with them, introducing both the Macarena and the Hokey Cokey with a degree of elegance previously unseen with such dances.
We then split into 2 groups and while one made soft boards, the other white washed walls with the help of some the the primary school's eager students.
We also went to a trading centre to clear rubbish off the side of the road and, hearteningly, were encouraged by some of the locals who joined in.
All are well and in good spirits.
Sporting our new Uganda shirts, we looked a team at Heathrow. The U5 girls managed to adopt a small child, who hugged them all goodbye as we found our gate. We were all rather impressed with the glossy plane and we seemed to eat a meal far too often. At Abu Dhabi, we had a mad dash to make it to the next flight, which was a rather diminished and shabby version of our first plane. Popular movies were 'The Longest Ride', which caused us to sob embarassingly or Shawn the Sheep movie. Unfortunately, the mushroom omlette had run out, so we were presented with an omlette combined with minced beef and cumin chickpeas, which was a little different. A bit sweaty, we stood in an enormous passport queue for too long, but managed to achieve money changing, bag collection and get safely onto the buses.
Views from the bus were interesting: pineapples, shapely mannequins sporting the local fashions, motorbikes carrying three people, numerous sofas in the street and lots of school buses. The Red Hot Chilli Hideaway is gorgeous, but we are just too blooming tired to appreciate the scenary and pool tonight! We managed a massive pile of chilli and rice and listened to a man from the Jane Goodall Centre speaking about the community projects they run. Mosquito nets have been hung and we are ready for a good night's sleep. As we will be relying on old school phones without predictive text to write the next blogs, we may have to reduce our thoughts a little!
We are on our way to Kampala for our last night at Red Chilli before the flight home tomorrow. The last two days of the trek in the Rwenzori mountains were stunning reaching 3500m, visiting the lobelia gardens and enjoying the incredible views and sights. The campsites were amazing perched on the top of dramatic ridges. The guides and porters produced a fantastic variety of food. The whole trip in this fabulous country has been unforgettable. Everyone is sad to be leaving Uganda and the group but also looking forward to coming home!
Day 15 - Day 18 - The Mountain Trek
Following a transfer to the Rwenzori Tracking Hostel, where we stayed for one night, we then began our 4-day trek up into the mountains.
On the morning of the first day of the trek we woke up at 7am to eat breakfast and meet our individual porters who would be carrying our larger bags for the whole trek (a relief!). We set off on our 9.6 kilometre climb to the huts/tents which were at an altitude of around 2600 metres. On the way up we sat on rocks and had a picnic consisting of sandwiches and bananas by a fast flowing river which we would soon have to cross. The river crossing was a challenge, but very entertaining as we watched one another waddle and squeal across the logs between the many porters, who stood either side of us, knee-deep in gushing water.
We arrived at camp later in the day, after enduring a heavy rainstorm, and all tried to adjust to the colder conditions in the mountains by having hot drinks, huddled by the campfire. We decided to have an early night ready for the next day.
We woke up on Monday at 8.00am hoping to leave by 9.00am, but with further rain we stayed in our tents until the very English weather cleared. This didn't take long and we then embarked on a 5-hour walk to the next camp, which was at 3100 metres. The walk through the bamboo and heather trees was beautiful in itself, but was made even more stunning by views of the many peaks in the Rwenzori mountains.
Our second camp is similar to the first, located on a thin ridge with dramatic scenery either side. Arriving at lunch time, we had the afternoon to play card games and drink hot drinks whilst admiring the view. Tomorrow we will walk to the third camp and then begin the long journey back to Kampala and home!
Today we went chimpanzee tracking and ended got a bit of a surprise when the appeared 2 metres in front of us - exceptional trekking skills we thought! We also went for a forest walk during which we saw red tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and more chimps.
Following a lecture from some of the PhD students at the college, we have just had our delicious supper of pasta and chicken which everyone was thrilled about. A local women's group performed a dance for us which was amazing, after which we couldn't fail to buy necklaces from them for our presents to take home.
We transferred from Hoima to Kaible Forest which was a 6-7 hour drive. Tomorrow's trek in search of primates is our next challenge.
Today is Abbie's birthday! Happy birthday Abbie! Cake and bananas all round. We travelled from Bodongo to Hoima, stopping at a local market en route to stock up on fresh fruit. We are now staying at a local convent where, much to our delight, the chefs were trained in Rome and the menu features Italian cuisine - a great result. We have just had tea and cake and all are well and in good spirits.
We said goodbye to our friends from St Katherine's today in what proved to be a very emotional moment for us all having spent the last few days getting to know them so well.
We then transferred back to Bodongo, stopping at Boomu Women's Group along the way for basket weaving lessons and advice on how to use a loom properly - Mrs Curry would be delighted with our new skills.
Today we had an early start at 5.45am to go on safari with our friends from St Katherine's. Undaunted by our early departure, a baboon got into our bus and stole our cookies, the cheeky big monkey. Once on safari, we saw giraffe, elehpant, buffalo, antelope, hippo, and hyena. A fantastic experience!
In the afternoon, one group went on boat trip with St Katherine's up to Murchison Falls navigating their way past hippos and crocodiles in the water, while the other group took the safer option of going to the top of the falls and watching the drama unfold below!
In the evening, a couple of hippos visited our campsite and found some of our tents rather tasty. Very amusing!
Today we left Bodongo and travelled to Murchison Falls. The trip took 5 hours on very bumpy, un-made roads which resulted in a flat tyre. It all felt a bit like a 'Top Gear' adventure and made the 'sleeping policeman' on the school drive look like almost smooth. Once at Murchison Falls, we decamped to our safari huts or bandas.
This was our last day at the Bodongo Sawmills Primary School and we were very sad to leave such a special place and say goodbye to the children there. In the afternoon we organised a football tournament with mixed teams of St Swithun's and St Katherine's players. Mr Boyd-Leslie would have approved.
We swapped groups around from yesterday and continued with our tasks.
St Katherine’s and St Swithun’s performed the ‘cup song’ to the rest of the school, who took the whole experience well and even applauded!
Split into 2 groups with St Katherine’s girls:
Group 1 – trekked into the forest to look at the natural habit and ecology.
Group 2 – planted trees, painting and making notice boards (out of newspaper).
We taught the St Katherine’s girls the ‘cup song’ - we think they were a little bemused, but took it in good heart!
We headed back to school, split into groups and went to different classes to help teach lessons. Freya taught maths!
Then split into 3 groups: Planting hedges; painting the school; creating a tree nursery.
Lunch then back to Jane Goodall Institute. Had a telephone call with Jane Goodall (Freya sounded excited and it appears the girls may have invited Jane to St Swithun’s!)
The girls from St Katherine’s arrived - it was great to finally meet them and both groups had supper together.
After breakfast as the Jane Goodall Institute, we went the Bodongo SawMill Primary School. Were greeted by the Head and Deputy Head. We joined their assembly as they sang the Ugandan National Anthem and we sang Sweet Jesus Smile. The school has 8 teacher and 300 pupils - extraordinary.
In the morning, we spilt into 2 groups:
Group 1 – went to the Masinei Trade Centre and to begin a rubbish clearing exercise
Group 2 – painted a mural of the Ugandan flag and school motto at the local school.
After lunch we worked with the pupils of the local school who were grateful thaT Abi had brought bubbles, as were we.
At the end of the day, we all went for a forest walk to search for monkeys and taste jack fruit, with mixed success! The evening was spent in the Jane Goodall Institute.
Safely at Budongo and now working with the local school. Excited about the arrival of St Katherine's girls tomorrow. All are well and happy, if appropriately tired! No internet connection until we get to Murchison Falls so further updates when we get there.
Arrived at Entebbe with all bags and girls intact. Alison was bumped up to business class for the trip but was then short changed on her money transfer and had to sort that out so it all evens out in the end! It was a one and a half hour drive from the airport to the Red Chilli hideaway and I'd like to say we all took in the sights but most took the opportunity to catch up on a few zzzzzzzz's. Arrived in time to check the tennis score and have a dip in the pool before supper.
Day 1 - WE'VE ARRIVED!
Left school for Heathrow in buoyant mood and arrived with bags of time to spare. Take off was delayed but we were soon under way for Abu Dhabi. Once there we did a quick dash through the airport with no stopping - even for the loo - as Stu wanted to beat the 'green group' (also travelling to Uganda) to the check in.