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Influential Escapes: Six Days in Uganda with Ashley Wyndham



Meet Ashley Wyndham, New York City resident, avid traveler, and true 21st century romantic. If there were ever a rosier lens, we’d be hard pressed to find it. Ashley, whose resume includes stints at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gagosian Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, and Harper’s Bazaar, seeks beauty in all its forms wherever she goes. As such, she makes the perfect traveling companion—and the perfect subject to launch our new series, Influential Escapes.


Follow along as she guides us through her latest adventures.

 

It is my lifelong ambition to experience every country in the world. Throughout my life I have traveled to over sixty countries. I am often asked which is my favorite, and I could never possibly pick, as the cultural distinctions and overlaps of each I visit, enrapture my imagination and humble me. Every taste, note of music, piece of art, architectural line speaks not only to our shared histories but to the profound growth achieved through past explorations and adventures. In traveling, we learn the benefits of our differences, and how our unique cultural fabrics can weave together a more beautiful world.


Three years ago, I embarked on my first safari in Africa. I visited Kenya with an old friend from boarding school. Since my first misty morning game drive in Tsavo East National Park, in awestruck veneration of the regenerating Elephant herds that stretched out over the Savannah- I knew Africa would play an important role in my life.


Since, I have flown over Namibia’s ancient deserts and climbed her giant dunes. I have eaten and drank my way through Cape Town, dived in South Africa’s deep waters with Great White Sharks and adored the pocket-sized penguins of Boulders Beach.


My latest expedition proved to be no less than extraordinary, and Uganda has truly kept my fire for Africa burning.




 

Day 1 – Kampala, Uganda



6pm

I arrived in Kampala from Dubai and was escorted to the Latitude 0 Degrees Hotel, a mere 45 minutes from Entebbe International Airport. Stylish and sustainable, the hotel honors African culture and design. Through up-cycling and recycling antiques and collecting handcrafted objets d’art from craftspeople throughout the continent, Latitude 0 has refined the art of sustainable interiors.



Much like the international city itself, the mélange of perspectives exhibited in its detailed design, different yet complementary pieces, synthesize an atmosphere that is nothing short of delightful. Equipped with a spa, meeting offices, three restaurants, beautiful terraces, and internal courtyards for repose, I couldn’t have been more pleased to rest my head there my first night in Uganda.



 

Day 2 - Kibale, Uganda



6am - Kibale is the best place in the world to see chimpanzees in the wild, I was told. As such, I made a point to include a chimpanzee trek early on in my itinerary. Still half asleep, I met my guide, Latiff, owner of local bespoke tour company Entale Tours, to drive to Kibale National Park for a day of adventure.


8am - After obtaining my permit, which involved the purchase of a park ticket for 150 USD and a copy of my identification, I met with a ranger who led me into the forest.



Chimpanzee trekking is a vigorous game of hide and go seek that requires an able body and head to toe coverage in order to run, hike, jump and on occasion, dodge formidable flora and fauna. Without trackers on the chimps, trekking employs all of your senses, as you must listen to the forest, examine the foliage, and engage yourself fully in the patterns of the ecosystem.

10:30am - After two-and-a-half hours into the trek, we caught a glimpse of our first chimp. With no path to guide us, our ranger tells us to follow him. He begins to run and we along with him - unsure of where he will lead us. With great luck - and loud greetings from his community - we find he had led us to meet his family. Exhausted, though overjoyed, I rested on a log far beneath the canopy to watch them feed on figs and forest fibers. Within half an hour of my watching, the alpha came and sat beside me. Small as I am (particularly compared to my new friend,) I felt at peace, as he only came to demonstrate safety to the others. One by one they flocked to the forest floor around me, playing and brushing each other’s hair, checking for ticks and eating their proteins. So like us, I marveled for an hour at their gentleness and observed their frisky and often hilarious human-like behavior. Exhilarated by the activity, the hike back felt far shorter.





5pm - Before I knew it, I was back in the village, and I finished my day with sunset drinks and homemade local cheeses overlooking the Lake Kyaninga and the Rwenzori Mountains at the Kyaninga Lodge. Located the edge of a rare twinned volcanic crater lake, Kyaninga, the creation of London based architect Imogen Jenkins, boasts nine cottages comprised of hand carved logs and local materials, a spa, a pool, gardens and a dining room that serves a full three course meal made from regional ingredients with a European twist.









7pm - I took in an early meal and washed off the jungle muck, luxuriating in a free-standing claw foot bath. A perfect end to a magical day.









 

Day 3- Fort Portal, Uganda



5am - Each morning earlier than the next, I rose on Day 3 to begin a long drive to Kyambura Gorge Lodge, an ecolodge, in Fort Portal. Today would be my first game drive in Uganda, and soon after dropping my bags off at the lodge and having a quick lunch, we headed to Queen Elizabeth National Park.


2pm. -


On the three-hour game drive, I spotted leopards and herds of buffalo, struck a pose with the Ugandan National bird - the Crested Crane, stood beside a lake saturated pink by the density of flamingos, and chased after pumbas with childlike excitement.


6pm - Arriving back at Kyambura Gorge Lodge that night, I was immediately greeted by my assigned personal butler, who had prepared a Ugandan three-course supper for me based on my dietary needs - I have been a vegetarian since birth.


9pm - Once I had finished, I was escorted back to my solar paneled chalet, where I fell asleep under a canopy bed, my windows overlooking the starry dim of a restless African savannah.


 

Day 4 - Bwindi, Uganda



6 am - I woke for what would be my longest day in Uganda. Packing my bags and saying farewell to the plush lodgings of Kyambura Gorge Lodge, I then embarked on another very long car ride to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.


11:30am

In order to break up the long drive, we opted to do a water safari on Lake Edward on the way.


Around lunch time, we had a small picnic on the lake and spent an hour and a half cruising its shores in a precariously diminutive boat. Witnessing the wildlife from the water was remarkable, gliding dangerously close to bloats of hippos and bathing buffalo.

2pm

We returned to our car, grateful for this unexpected stop along the way. The remainder of the day was spent driving through the ever-green and ever-lush landscapes of the Pearl of Africa, snacking on matoke (a celebrated Ugandan fruit) in the back seat and sipping on provincially made banana beer and banana gin.


 

Day 5 - Bwindi, Uganda (Part Two)


7am - Day five was my final day in Uganda and the one I had been most anticipating. I woke up that morning, warm and refreshed by the heated blankets and downy handcrafted mahogany beds offered at the incomparable Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, deep in the core of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This was the day I would go Gorilla trekking. Warmed up from the Chimp trek I had done several days prior, I was prepared for the task, but weary in regards to my capability to keep up with our largest primates. Among the many benefits of staying at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is its adjacency to the gorilla trekking point, which was a mere five minutes from the camp. Unlike the chimps, due to the nature and cost of trekking a gorilla (from 450 USD,) the gorillas are microchipped so that the rangers can track their location. In addition, to make the venture slightly easier and thus more agreeable to tourists, it protects the Gorillas, ensuring their safety through awareness of their whereabouts and movements.


8am - Upon arrival I was already in good fortune, being told that the troop of gorillas we would be trekking were only thirty minutes from the camp in a nearby settlement, and that it consisted of approximately twelve gorillas in total, including two silverbacks. It is quite rare for more than one silverback to be in a band, as usually there is only one dominant male. However, this particular “whoop” consisted of brothers who did not wish to fight for dominion and therefore peacefully cooperated in their responsibilities.



9:30am - After traversing across a small river and into the jungle, we came upon a rural set of farm homes, by which the gorillas had decided to spend their day. Unhappy by these settlers, the gorillas have taken it upon themselves to stalk the homes, hoping that eventually, if they ate their crops and squatted on their land, the residents will come to their senses and flee their territory. Seeing them finally after so much anticipation, I was stupefied by their immensity and strength. Counter to the chimp’s playfulness and exuberance, the gorilla was austere, unafraid and, I believe, fully aware of its overwhelming prowess. A true king of the jungle, I watched more cautiously than I had the chimps, for these - while tranquil - demanded a cautious approach. I spent an unforgettable hour meandering around them with quiet trepidation, pondering their thoughts, wondering how they were perceiving me.


11am - Shortly into this adventure, my questions were answered. A young blackback with a tight grip came out of the tall grasses and grabbed my arm. Apparently, this doesn’t often happen and I can only imagine that my slight size translated as a potential playmate for the young male.


The few seconds that we stood there, looking into each others’ eyes (which, I learned later, you are advised not to do, as they might interpret this gesture to be a challenge,) was truly transcendental.

In that moment, I both literally and metaphorically understood the power which lie in us both, the connection between us as living, fated and fading creatures on this world- our needs, our curiosity, our fears were all but the same – only circumstance differentiated our experience- and isn’t that the truth of everything. As he let go, I felt calm- firstly, because I knew I was not in danger, but mostly- because it had satisfied my search; a rare moment of simply existing.



12:30pm - The hike home was short, and as we approached the camp it began to downpour (a likely event in the middle of a rainforest.) Thus, I returned to my tent and prepared a post trek soak in the bath. The side of my tent was screened, and in complete privacy, I laid in my bath watching the rain revitalize and rehydrate a sun-parched forest while small monkeys played in the shelter of an extensive network of leaves. The hospitality, food and location of the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp was the sublime, I cannot put into words how special this camp and place was for me, it was by all means the most perfect way to culminate my stay Uganda. I had but only one last stop, on my long journey back to Kampala before it was on to another country.



 

Day 6 - Kabale, Uganda



8am - On the final day we travelled farther south towards the Rwandan Border, to Kabale, where we boarded a boat in Lake Bunyonyi. This sail’s purpose was to meet - and expand our understanding of - some of Uganda’s most ancient peoples, the pygmies, who might be the world’s smallest but also arguably the most adept at survival. Isolated, the pygmies were forced from their natural habitat in Bwindi due to their skilled hunting. Thriving in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, their subsequent eviction rendered them foreign to a modern world, unable and unwelcome to apply their talents to contemporary life. It was a long journey down the lake and a one mile hike up a hill until we reached their makeshift village.


11:30am - When we arrived at their village, the inhabitants were kind and eager to show off their culture, even teaching me how to use their homemade bows and arrows. However, the infrastructure and education for a self-sustaining life, which at the same time celebrated their culture, was simply non-existent. Some of the children spoke English, well enough to tell us of their hardships, their loss of family members, their fears of violence from local villagers, as tales of Pygmy cannibalism, practiced long ago and sparingly – made them pariahs to the wider community. Victims to their stereotypes yet immensely rich in culture and knowledge – sadly not often deemed relevant to those around them, we decided to at least attempt to make a difference.


Latiff and I decided to sponsor the eldest and most learned in English for school. He is half-Ugandan and half-Pygmy, and therefore speaks three languages, making him an ideal representative of his people to the outside world and perhaps even a candidate to help elevate their circumstances and alleviate some of their shared strife.


Moses, who dreams of one day being a teacher, will now - part time - be leading tours to visit for foreigners and locals alike to visit his people- where he can teach them on their history and importantly, dispel the rumors that encourage their segregation. The entirety of the proceeds go to his community, providing them with necessary comforts, educating them and creating a sustainable economy where they can proudly exhibit and maintain part of their culture while caring for themselves. These tours now can be done, through contacting Latiff at Entale Tours (on instagram as @travel_with_latiff,) Uganda.



6pm - My drive back to Entebbe finally permitted me the time to reflect on my whirlwind adventure. Uganda was a truly gratifying experience that reminded me how fortunate I am and how much we can grow, learn and do for each other. It inspired me to explore that extra mile off the beaten path and get closer to the heartbeat of a country through meeting and exchanging dialogue with the people that give it its unique pulse.


Seeing ecosystems living relatively unadulterated is an opportunity sadly not often obtainable, and one I will continue to strive to see and protect, and one I would very much encourage to explore.


Lush, rare and encapsulated in beauty, Uganda is very much the Pearl of Africa.


 

Enjoyed Influential Escapes? Visit our other series, Influential Conversations.


All photos courtesy Ashley Wyndham.



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