Mabira forest reserve center is found 500m from the main road at Najjembe village. The site is run by the forestry department and not U.W.A., making it very cheap. Camping was $1.50 a night and the one time entry fee was$3. The camp was in the forest surrounded by tall trees, looked like a great spot to set up my tent. It’s possible to walk unguided in the forest here and they supply a map and the trails trees are color coded, making self navigation very easy. The main road ran through the reserve with about 1/3 on the campsite side and 2/3 on the other side. It was almost 3pm when I started hiking so I stuck to the shorter trails on my side of the road. There were many red tailed monkeys around but the monkey I was hoping to see here was the grey cheeked mangabey.
The reserve is very basic with long drop toilets, though with a western seat and a concrete cubicle for a shower. The walls of which went up to my chin so I could still watch the forest as I bucket showered. There was no one else staying here. After my walk and shower I go to Exodus restaurant but surprisingly for a restaurant, they had ‘no food’ this evening, so I ate a Little Kingston down the road. The Najjembe village is very small but it a major quick stopover for vehicles with sellers in blue vests running up to stopping vehicles to try and sell them water, skewered meat, fruit or anything else they wanted. They had a lot of fruit, mostly jackfruit, pineapples, mangoes, passionfruit, papaya and bananas.
I come back to the campsite at 8pm and although the site appears quiet, it’s not. I can still hear the thundering of heavy trucks on the road and people in the village screaming or whatever and blaring music, it kind of sucks because this place could be so much better. I try not to let that bother me though and concentrate on my first night walk. I was very happy to hear the forest officer tell me that I could also walk unguided at night. It would cost me $20 to take a guide at night, I’d see how things went on my own first.
Fireflies were all around the perimeter of the campsite in the forest. I walk for 30 minutes and don’t see anything. I begin to think, ‘ Watch, I’ll get back to the camp and then see something there!’ Well, literally about a minute before I arrive in camp I see my first eyeshine, about 5m away and about 5m high in a tree on a large horizontal branch. The eyeshine belongs to a primitive nocturnal primate known as a potto. These tail less primates are mostly arboreal and move slowly. The potto doesn’t move right away but slowly turns around and goes back up the branch, this is when I see no tail and know it’s a potto. They are small, 50 cm in length, up to 1.5kg and stoutly built with a bear like face. I knew what it was right away because I’ve looked through my African Mammals book so many times, but didn’t expect to actually see one! The first night walk was a huge success.
Last night was very loud until very late in the night so when morning came and it was quiet, I took advantage of it and slept in till 9. There’s no reason to get up early here to get on the trails anyway. The forest never really gets that hot and stays cool for a while into late morning and the animals seem active at any time of the day. I go to Exodus for breakfast of omelettes wrapped in chapathis. I take the main road for 2km before turning right onto the red trail. As I get deeper into the forest, the sounds of the road disappear and I actually feel like I’m in the forest. Mabira forest extends for 300sq. km and is the biggest area of semi decidious rainforest left in central Uganda. It is under threat though from encroaching sugarcane plantations and illegal logging. I hear crashing of trees to indicate monkeys are around. I settle down in a spot and wait till I can see them. It’s troupe of grey cheeked mangabeys. I don’t think they see me yet because I don’t hear any alarm calls. They stay in view and I get some distant photos.They are a medium sized monkey, mostly black but with a dirty grey mantle of hair on their shoulders.
The trail crosses a dirt road and leads to a radio tower with a lookout point. I get back to the village, eat chicken and chips for lunch and relax at the campsite for the afternoon. I was clothes and shower around 5.30pm. As I’m showering, red tailed monkeys are in the trees above my head. I’ve gone from one amazing shower location with views of the Nile and now to monkeys crashing around me. Wow, Uganda has the best showers ever! I end up eating dinner at a tiny table that looked better if in were in a primary school, but the food is cheap and tasty. Groundnut sauce over rice and a bowl of cabbage washed down with a Krest soda for $1. I take a bit longer of a nightwalk tonight, building up for an epic nightwalk tomorrow, but tonight I only see a set of eyes way high up in the trees. By its movement I think it’s a bushbaby. I arrive back in camp at 9 and hangout reading till I go to bed.