A night up a tree

Tree House - Kibale Forest Primate Lodge

By Matthias Mugisha

From high up a tree, I watch as the day dies magnificently. The sun first turns yellow, while the sky turns pink colours above the vast green tropical forest. The painting in the heavens displays beautiful warm colours, until a blanket of darkness swallows them up.

With darkness, the forest suddenly bursts into life. Millions of bugs, ants and all else that can sing compete with each other. As the day folded, the birds, chimpanzees, antelopes, rats, duikers took off time to rest. But where are the elephants?

In my tree, I also prepare for what the night might unleash. My greatest fear is being struck by lightening. It has not rained today and it is unlikely to rain tonight.

With that assurance, my fear of lightning fades. And yet, while I count myself lucky on one hand, on the other, I am doomed without the rain.

Without rain, my mission is ruined because the elephants will not come to bathe in the pool of water that collects in the valley after the rain.

The tree in which I chose to spend the night is a good vantage point from which to observe their shower time. After a night of luxury and pampering at the Primate Lodge Kibale, I have decided to have a dose of the real jungle.

I have left my luxury self-contained tent, which goes for a cool $290 a night, for a tree, thinking it might be interesting to feel the tree shake as elephants rub their huge bodies against it.

This famous tree, is one of the hottest attractions at the new Primate Lodge in Kibale National Park.

The four-month-old lodge, which is run by Great Lakes Safaris, an indigenous tour company, has made visits to the park much easier.

Previously, because of the lack of accommodation within the park, visitors had to do all they had to do in the park and then go and find lodging in Fort Portal town, about 30km away.

The new Primate Lodge whose manager is Emmanuel Dali, a Kenyan with 21 years of experience in the hotel industry, is located at the park’s tourism centre at Kanyanchu.

Primate Lodge Kibale is an exclusive, eco-friendly lodge, which caters for visitors of all budget regimes. For the budget traveller, there is a camping site and stone bandas.

For the upmarket traveller, there are eight self-contained luxury tents on raised platforms. tentsunvisionThe safari tents have grass-thatched roofs that blend with the natural environment. The interiors are tastefully decorated with an African touch.

The beds have brightly coloured bedspreads and there are goatskin carpets on the hardwood floors. The ensuite bathrooms have wash basins, flush toilets and showers all finished with local stone and bamboo. The large windows allow a beautiful view of the forest.

Simple, but artistically made, chairs on the verandas allow visitors to relax and absorb what the tropical forest has to offer – colourful birds, trees, lizards, monkeys and sometimes chimpanzees.

Paved walkways that meander through the jungle join the tents to the central area, where there is the reception, the dining area and an open lounge area.

The lounge is decorated with large chairs, sofas and soft cushions, making it the ideal place to unwind and chat with friends.

At night, the numerous lights from paraffin torches, placed around the complex make it appear like another galaxy.

In the centre of all this is a fireplace where people gather at night to sip drinks, munch roast meat and share the day’s adventures.

While in the park, there are varied activities to entertain one. Those who want to enjoy a primate walk can join the rangers for an exciting encounter with wild chimpanzees or go in search of the great blue turaco bird in Bigodi Swamp.

One can also explore the beauty of the surrounding crater lakes or take a hike in the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains. At night, visitors fall sleep to the peaceful sounds of nature, the elephants deep in the forest providing the bass trumpets for the jungle orchestra.

In the early morning, soft sunrays piece the moist canopies and filter through into the rooms as the melodious songs of the numerous birds wake visitors up. In the dining area, Kenyan chef Collins Atiko, takes care of the tummies with both local and international menus.

But amidst all the luxury is the magnet for the adventurers – the Sky Tree House. The house is about 10 minutes walk from the lodge.

Its elevated position allows visitors to view the hundreds of elephants whenever they come to wallow in the area. Planted high up in a tree, the sh50,000-a-night room can accommodate two people.

Because of the high demand, the lodge is in the process of constructing two more similar tree houses.

The wooden tree house was erected around a tree trunk about 10 metres above the ground. It has additional support from palm tree poles. A ladder is used to access the house.

Inside, there is a bed and a spare mattress leaning against the wall. When it gets dark, a hurricane paraffin lamp comes in handy as I wait for the elusive elephants.

I sip some Uganda waragi, and wait. I begin to doze. Then I dream. Elephants are tearing my tree house apart. I see the trunk of one elephant elongate towards me. The trunk tightens around my neck and I begin to choke.

Then, the elephant yanks me out of the tree house and throws me high up above the forest. I begin to fall. With a thud, I hit the tree branches and yell. I wake up only to hear the mother of all battles raging below the tree house.

There is an animal chasing another. The hunted is screaming as if it has been bayoneted in the stomach. I get a torch to see. They are not elephants but wild pigs. In despair, I take an overdose of the gin and I am instantly hurled into slumberland.

As the golden morning sun rays announced another day, I wake up to the fact that the kibale elephants have rejected me.